From Where I Am To Where I Want To Be

Elul 23 5774

Lately I’ve been overswamped and underprepared for the things that have been thrown my way. Between the oven catching on fire (twice!) last Friday and thus denying me a real Shabbat for the second week in a row, my kids not being able to come over because one of them was sick, having to explain to the former rabbi in e-mail that I’d chosen a different (though still Jewish) path, having to exchange my High Holy Days tickets at the synagogue offices for later services because there was a miscommunication about which services I planned to attend, and yesterday just being a day of being pecked to death by ducks, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. I didn’t even manage to make the Friday Feature happen here last Friday.

It’s Elul. It’s the time when we’re supposed to be thinking of what we’ve done wrong and how to correct it, when we’re supposed to think about the 13 Attributes and how to put them into action in our lives. And I’ve felt pretty guilty about not keeping up with my blog as I ought to have done (never mind all the other things I have been feeling guilty about, and trying to decide who I need to reach out to and make amends with).

But I have been reading a lot around the Jewniverse online. I get emails from various blogs written by Jews of various stripes beyond what I read on my WordPress reading page. I’ve also been listening to music that sustains me. So I still have a foot in the mikveh (so to speak). I’ll just share some of the best writing and best music I’ve recently come across before I run off to work for another day, and I’ll try to write about Elul in the next day or so (while we’re scraping carbon out of our oven and restoring it to useful status, so I can actually bake challah for the first time in, oh, three weeks).

Rabbi Josh Bolton muses on how, After All That’s Happened, I Meet God Halfway over at jewschool.com. This is a powerful piece, especially for someone like me, who loves rules because they make decisions easier. I may write one of my own as I weigh which rules are meaningful to me and which ones really aren’t.

Rabbi Bradley Artson at MyJewishLearning.com explains that Judaism is not about being wrapped up in How We’ve Always Done Things. Instead, he says, we should remember that On This Day God Calls To You.

Jenn, at Spark of a Jewish Soul, muses on her second day of Intro to Judaism conversion classes with A Little Jewish Humor.

Finally, I want to share (again) the Maccabeats’ amazing song for the New Year, because it has helped me understand what’s actually expected in this run-up to the Days of Awe.

The Book of Good Life 

The Maccabeats (Lyrics By: Immanuel Shalev and David Block)

Woke up and realized yesterday
Think it’s a bummer end of the summer
Kinda nervous that we’re almost there
At the days of awe

Prayers in a language that I don’t know
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-e-e-e
What it is we’re praying for

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we’re doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present, the here and now
Easier than regret and planning out
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Got my future to think about

When you’re sitting there in shul
Wishing it was over
You gotta take a beat
And let it all sink in

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Hopefully
This year will bring us happiness and peace
Hopefully
Sensitivity to others will increase
Hopefully
We’ll open our eyes and think more consciously
Cuz Hopefully
We’ll go from where we are to where we want to be

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Oh yeah
Book of Good life
Ooh

Listen
Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we’re doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun
Easier than regret, what’s done is done
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Shana Tova to everyone!

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Getting Jewish things…

14 Elul 5774

Sometimes you just want to exult about small milestones that seem huge to you.

Two days ago, my fiancé and I hit Michaels and bought crafty things. I am now in the process of painting a spice box for Havdalah purposes. I have also glued together bits and bobs of wood to make a Havdalah candle holder, which is drying overnight, which will also be painted. And I’m searching for a kiddush-appropriate wooden cup, and food-safe clear-coat, so I can make my own miniature self-made version of a Yair Emanuel Havdalah set. My father painted and created most of my family’s holiday things, so I am now following in his tradition.

It’s kind of neat. I’ll show pictures when I’m done.

I have plans for a hanukkiah, next.

And my hardbound copy of the Torah arrived yesterday.

I think that calls for a Shehecheyanu.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam,

Shehecheyanu, viki’imanu, vihig’ianu, lazman ha’zeh. 

I am very happy right now.

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The Spirit of the Law and the Value of NOT Doing It All

"Sunrise Los Angeles" by Bryan Frank on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

“Sunrise Los Angeles” by Bryan Frank on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Things looked better on Shabbat morning. And fortunately, that continued for the rest of the day into our afternoon at home and our evening with friends. 

Things usually do look better in the morning, did you ever notice that? Something about sleeping on it really does help fix most of the problems of low spoons, lack of energy, and general overwhelm.

Of course, I was trying too hard. I was trying to live by every rule, everywhere, to be a perfect Jew, even as I had admitted that it’s okay not to be perfect. There’s a definite difference between saying it and practicing it, and G-d called me on it on Friday, I think. I was at the end of my rope, frazzled, tired, worn out, overwhelmed, and still thinking I could somehow put together the equivalent of a holiday dinner AND bake challah for the next day’s temple Kiddush service when I was almost completely out of cope and energy. I was convinced that I could still follow all the rules and make things somehow come out perfectly even though I was scraping the bottom of the energy barrel.

Reality. It hits you in the strangest ways. Obviously none of those things happened. I’m just glad that the fallout was a few pieces of dough hitting the coffeemaker and the carpet, and nothing worse than that (like a cut hand due to a knife accident, or a concussion because I slipped and hit my head on a wet floor). 

It occurred to me this morning that one of the things I find so healing about Judaism is that Reform Judaism is not a rule-bound system. I grew up with a strong and frightening sense that if I didn’t follow every rule perfectly, all the time, to the letter, then I was in big trouble. Yesterday’s experience at temple in the morning, where I participated in the mid-service Torah study, and where I was reassured that everyone has had kitchen disasters and not to worry – we’ll love to try your challah next week, showed me it’s the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law, that we’re trying to get at here. People (and G-d) don’t expect perfection. They expect an honest effort. They don’t expect me to do it all correctly the first time. They expect me to focus on doing my best to do a little bit better next time.

It’s not about perfect adherence to the rules. If that was all it was, any religion would do. 

My life before Judaism didn’t allow a lot of time for contemplation or doing things deliberately. Due to some disabilities I have, for example, getting dressed in the morning can be a very complicated process. If I put on my jeans before I put on my socks, it’s harder to reach my feet, for example, because that restricts motion enough that bending my knees far enough to reach my feet becomes almost impossible. But there have been times when I’ve been rushing because I feel like I’m late (I rarely am) and then I have to undress and start all over again, usually berating myself for not paying attention well enough. Eating deliberately? What’s that? I have still caught myself being halfway through the meal before I realized I haven’t really tasted it (and that I haven’t said the brachot yet), and then kicked myself for it. I wasn’t raised with the habits of deliberation or contemplation. I was raised with the habits of rushing, doing it quickly, getting it done, and getting on to the next thing. While going to church was calming, it was only one hour a week. That’s not enough to get used to being calm and quiet (and for me it was always upset in the middle by the angry sermons I had to sit through). 

But with Judaism (at least as I’m practice it), it’s not about rushing out of bed and running around like a headless chicken trying to get six things done before breakfast so that things are always perfect. It’s about staying in bed when I wake long enough to remember to say the Modeh Ani before I get out of bed. It’s about taking the time to remember to say the brachot over my morning coffee. It’s about remembering to slow down and take time so that those become things I remember before I need to do them, not after. It’s about taking an entire 24-hour period every week to NOT rush, to NOT hurry, and to let that peacefulness carry over into the rest of the week. It’s the complete opposite of what I was raised with – reflection, rather than rushing.

The rushing seemed to me to be required. If you aren’t running around “looking busy,” you’re lazy, aren’t you? But then I wonder how many people would call a Buddhist monk “lazy” for his meditation practices. I know a few Westerners who probably would, but that’s not the point here. The Type-A personality should not be setting the standard for what reasonable effort looks like – they’re at one end of a very long spectrum. It is possible to be unrushed and not be automatically lazy. It is possible to take time to think and contemplate and not be lazy. 

And it is all right to take a day where rest, contemplation, consideration and thought take precedence over running around trying to do everything all at once. It is all right to live by the spirit of the rules as much as, if not more than, their letter. A blogger I follow on Facebook calls this “living hands-free” – to stop worrying so much about what everyone will think and start focusing on the moment, the process, rather than the goal. 

This is still very hard for me to grasp. We live in a culture that values speed and efficiency and the goal over reflection and deliberation and the process. But living a hands-free kind of life – which for me, more and more, means a Jewish life – demands adherence to the spirit of the rules over the letter of the rules, more often than not. It’s also about bringing that sense of reflection and consideration into the rest of the week, not just leaving it on Shabbat. I had had an entire week of no reflection or consideration, of feeling rushed, of trying to do too much at once, and I paid for it on Friday evening when things finally fell apart because I couldn’t keep all those balls in the air and the plates all spinning at the same time. 

This week, I will forgive myself for dropping the ball. This week, I will not punish myself for taking time to reflect and consider. This week, I will work on reducing my need to live up to every rule and stress myself out by rushing through every process. This week I will make room for contemplation. 

And next week will take care of itself. It always does – have you ever noticed that? 

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Shocheradam And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Erev Shabbat

Ever have one of those Shabbats that goes so fantastically wrong that you can’t imagine it ever going right again? Read on.


 

Sad

“Sad,” by Kristina Alexanderson on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

I really should know better than to write about perfection.

After I put up my post that I made just before the Friday Feature, it feels like everything just went south for me this Shabbat, or at least on erev Shabbat. I had to go to a job HR intake thing that I did not feel prepared for, for starters, having got the command, er, invitation to come in at 10 on Friday morning the previous night. I do not do well with “Surprise! Come here RIGHT NOW!” kinds of e-mails at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. It had been quite a rough week, all things considered. So, resigned to losing my entire usual erev Shabbat morning routine, I went in. The HR person was not a nice person. I felt very conspicuous in my kippah, which made me feel defensive. Probably not the best thing.

I wasn’t in the best of shape when I got out of that meeting. First there was the exhaustion that happens after I have to meet someone new under circumstances I don’t control. Then there were student emails to answer and other work to do that I normally do in the mornings, which was now pushed to the afternoon. Then there was the nap that took away most of the later afternoon. Then there was the realization that someone I’d added on Facebook was a person I had had a very bad interaction with under an IRC handle 12 years ago, and being shook up over that as I defriended them. And the issues the HR person continued to send to me in e-mail all afternoon, some of which are fires I can do nothing about until Monday. And we didn’t really have lunch as such; we just had a late breakfast, so I had a lovely low-blood-sugar episode that I didn’t realize was low blood sugar until I was far beyond the point of no return, and ended up babbling and incoherent, as well as weepy and unable to cope. The phrase that I, and most of my friends, use for this situation is “out of spoon error.” Go read this link for more on that. (Basically, when I’m that low on cope, I become a babbling idiot and I can’t even find my own feet without help.)

Long story short, we didn’t even make it to the grocery, so I started Shabbat (such as it was) without any grape juice or challah, no new flowers on the table, and a sink still full of dirty dishes (morning stuff that didn’t get done thanks to the HR intake intervention blah blah). I resigned myself to a dinner of reheated random leftovers, with no candles, kiddush, or ha-motzi. Basically, my life became a whole big world of no, after the sun went down.

And then, thinking that at least I’d make a loaf of my grain-free challah and bring it with me to Saturday morning service’s Kiddush as I had promised to last Shabbat, I managed to instead make the stand mixer lurch across the counter, flinging hardened batter everywhere and wasting ingredients that don’t exactly come cheap.

Suffice to say that it was a really bad way to go into Shabbat.

Fortunately, after sleeping on it, things seemed some better. We did go to services on Saturday morning and it was refreshing, and my stories of the demon-possessed stand mixer after services were over made people laugh (although I promised that next time I would absolutely have grain-free challah for them for morning Kiddush). Singing the service is getting easier already; I’ve been picking up the melodies. The Torah teaching session that seems to be a standard part of the services was enlightening and made me feel like I belonged, since I could contribute to it intelligently. My partner looked, well, very Jewish in the green handmade kippah I loaned him. And just being among fellow Jews was a hugely calming thing.

Last week, when praying the Birkhot Haschachar, I sang Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam with everyone else. Where our congregation then sings the rest of each prayer in English, however, I fell silent at the line “Thank you for making me a Jew.” This week, I sang it out with everyone else, with tears stinging my eyes. It was a much-needed reminder: I may still be a ways off from my entry into the mikveh and full membership in the Tribe, but my soul is a Jewish soul. And like I said on Friday afternoon, I do not have to be perfect to be a Jew. I just have to keep trying to do a little bit better each time.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, she’asani Yisra-eil.

 

 

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

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 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.


 

10 Elul 5774

Shabbat CandlesI have a lot to be thankful for again this week, starting with my work situation. Add-drop is over as of midnight tonight, and after that I’ll have stable populations in all my classes (well, as stable as college students ever get) and we’ll be able to get into more of the meat of the classes and what I want them to do. I also got my hiring paperwork taken care of at the school I’ll be starting at mid-semester for an online class, and got as much of the paperwork as possible taken care of. I have research that I’m doing which is going well, too, so on the whole I’m pretty pleased with this past week’s work.

My partner got a story published and we finally decided that it was time to take the plunge; we’ll be getting married and we’re both really excited about it.  While I’m worried for my younger daughter, who injured her ankle pretty badly last week, I’m glad to know that it’s not as bad as it might have been. Her sister’s birthday is this weekend, and we plan to be in touch that day to just say hi on Skype at least, since it’s my ex’s weekend with them. We also have a birthday party to go to tomorrow night for my friend Eric, who turned 40 last weekend. It’s been a while since we’ve had real social time, so this is all to the good.

My health is reasonably good, and I am able to purchase my prescriptions even in a month that is somewhat money-low due to a month of unemployment. 

The apartment is so clean from my last two weeks of erev Shabbat deep-cleaning sprees that I won’t have to do much this evening beyond cook dinner and bake a couple of gluten-free challot (one of which will go to services with us tomorrow morning for use at the Kiddush afterwards). We are considering getting a cat, but that’s still kind of up in the air.

I’m almost ready to start my own independent conversion study again, working on Hebrew and transliterating Torah, mainly. This is an independent study, and I wish I had someone to study with, but perhaps that will simply have to come with time. 

I’m thankful that the cease-fire in Israel continues to hold. 

What are you thankful for this week? Maybe you could talk about it over your Shabbat table. 

In any case, I’ll be seeing you on Sunday or sometime thereafter. Shabbat shalom!


Image credit: “Shabbat Candles,” by slgckgc on Flickr. URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/13316760215/in/photolist-9d9PUP-uz1c4-62cznH-bFb8W7-4VhB5f-dXbo4N-mhKSS4-aXNxrB-99kMQA-4dPSMa-4dTXuw-4dTW2W-4dPTJH-4dPUdv-4dPW68-4dPYSr-4dTVzb-4dTUfq-4dPTfc-4dTUGm-4dPXVH-4dTYBG-4dTWww-4dTTHN-4dTZ8s-9nHiyz-8bq8Gg-9EiE-bo1Kr-j7wrA3-6RZZyi-8bqcBM-8bq8T8-8bq8Pa-A3srd-525Abj-8btq2y-bXcH8-8bqcBr-8btq11-8btq4s-6PDNQX-a4pe1X-dPuz2S-Bts1-GvC3m-5q6My2-4EzwEx-9cnnzU-9c3gQ4/ Used under Creative Commons license. 

 

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Before the Friday Feature, a thought or two on other writing.

Sometimes it seems like being a convert means denying everything you were before. Sometimes it seems like you have to be more Jewish than anyone else in order to be accepted as a Jew at all. Is there a better way to look at this?

You all know I struggle with perfectionism (thanks, Mother. Thanks, Catholic upbringing). I have had moments lately where I have felt that my Jewish practice was not all that it could be. Part of this is probably Elul and leading up to the High Holy Days, because we are instructed to consider what we could do better, as well as what we’ve been doing wrong all along, so that we can repair both and address them.

And I’ve been trying very hard to do that. So, every time I forget to say the Modeh Ani on waking, and every time I’m halfway into a meal before I realize I haven’t said the brachot, I feel awful. Like I’m not a good enough, not an observant enough, Jew.

Then, this week, I got to read this essay by Robin Washington on MyJewishLearning.com.

Washington was raised Reform, he says, but had to go to Catholic Masses for a while as a religion reporter. Before that time, he’d felt uncomfortable being called to the bimah. Although he doesn’t articulate it at the beginning of this piece, it becomes clear that the idea of making a mistake when called to the bimah is intensely uncomfortable for him.

Then he notices that even Cardinal Law does not always do things exactly the same way. He is not always perfect. And, occasionally, he goes off-script and says something that sounds suspiciously Jewish. For example:

Most extraordinary was the Sunday that Law departed from what I would presume to be Catholic orthodoxy to articulate a very familiar passage: That for transgressions against God, the gates of repentance are always open, but for sins against your fellow human, you must seek forgiveness from that person.

Huh? I thought—that’s straight out of the High Holiday prayer book, and not quite consistent with the concept of priestly confession.

Heck, I grew up Catholic, and that’s definitely not part of the Catholic dogma. Quite the contrary – it’s in direct opposition to it.

So either Law made a mistake by the codes of his church, or he decided to buck the system. Either way, he wasn’t perfect in his performance of his liturgical duties.

This allowed Washington to realize that being called to the bimah doesn’t mean you have to be perfect in your readings. You will not get in trouble if you make a mistake pronouncing a word. It’s not the end of the world if the service isn’t perfect every time.

As someone who has always struggled with perfection, this means a lot to me, especially with the Catholic tie-in there (due to my own Catholic upbringing).

And that brings me to the other writing that I find important this week. On the blog The Mikveh Lady Has Left The Building, a blog post by José Portuondo-Dember has me reconsidering the idea that I should shun or drop everything that went into my former religious upbringing in order to be a better Jew both now and in the future. Portuondo-Dember points this out about the mikveh (and, indeed, about having changed identities from one fundamental way of viewing the world to another):

When I went to the mikveh to mark my return to the Judaism of my ancestors, I wasn’t going to wash away the Catholicism I had been raised in. I’ve never wanted to pretend that I didn’t grow up Catholic. It’s a part of my personal history that I will always cherish. Going to the mikveh wasn’t about not being Catholic anymore, it was about entering Judaism. I was going to mark my full immersion into Judaism: heart, body and soul. [...]

I see going to the mikveh as analogous to glazing ceramics. The dunking isn’t about leaving something behind—it’s about picking something up. It’s about being immersed and coated, and bringing some of that essence back with me as I engage my future.

That feels like a relief. It means I don’t have to be a “perfect” Jew. I just have to strive for the best I can do. I don’t need to pretend I was never anything else. I just need to be the best Jew I can be, now, here, and strive to do better without beating myself up for imperfection.

 

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An Upbeat Take on Elul

Adam:

It’s Elul. It’s leading up to the High Holy Days. This song by the Maccabeats really speaks to me (thanks to Rabbi Adar at Coffee Shop Rabbi for posting it!) because it isn’t just about, or even mainly about, beating ourselves up for what we’ve done wrong. It’s also about mindfulness – about being aware and paying attention. It’s about noticing the person struggling with the stroller and the toddler as they try to descend the steep steps. It’s about giving joyfully to the street musician as he’s busking. It’s about participating in Jewish life – and in life more generally – wholeheartedly, unreservedly, noticing our fellow human beings and reaching out a hand to help.

May we all have a mindful, solemn, and yes, joyful Elul as we approach the New Year and the Days of Awe.

Originally posted on Coffee Shop Rabbi:

Feeling downbeat after a week of soul-searching? Feeling discouraged, knowing that there are three more weeks to Rosh HaShanah?  Here’s a video that both celebrates the joy of the coming new year and speaks to the task of making ourselves new in time for it:

It’s a classic from the Maccabeats. Enjoy!

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

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 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.


Shabbat ShalomToday I have an enormous amount to be grateful for, both from the past week and going into the new week. 

I have been offered a class at a new school, and the hiring paperwork meeting will be this coming week, which will get that squared away and get me started on an online class for the last half of the semester. I’ve also got many students petitioning to add my classes, which is admittedly a big ego boost for me. And I’ve finished my first full week of classes, mostly unscathed! And I’ve been told I’ll have a full schedule in the spring at at least one school, which is also fantastic news.

My partner and I have moved towards our marriage plans – tentatively, but it’s still motion towards. My kids were here last weekend and that was simply lovely; the older one was a huge help with chores and the younger, although laid up with a sprained foot, was wonderful company. Tonight my partner is going to go with me to temple and the pre-service oneg, which has me very excited that he’s showing interest in my conversion. 

My health seems to be all right. Even though I’ve had a bad backache, I can still move and do what needs to be done, which is a good thing. 

I got in four hours of cleaning in my home today, including (finally) deep-cleaning the bathroom where our late cat, Mimi, had lived before she had to be put down. I have had trouble going in there but today I finally got it taken care of, which is an accomplishment. It’s now a usable bathroom again. I’m trying out a new smaller reduction of my challah recipe to see if it will work in the little pan. A half reduction still rose wayyy outside the pan edge when I last tried it, which resulted in a mountain of bread with a little challah on top. If this one works (I reduced my original recipe into one-third), I’ll take this small loaf with me to the oneg tonight and cook a larger one for here at home – or, maybe, the other way around. Who knows? (Edited to add: It worked! Exactly the right amount of dough for that pan. I’m making a second one as I write this, to take to the oneg. Whee!)

I’m also considering finding repurposed items to use as ritual items, instead of spending money on spendy items that I can’t afford. I am not sure what I’d repurpose for a Havdalah candle-holder, but I can see repurposing a spice jar as a Havdalah spice-box, for example. Some of my ritual items are already repurposed; most notably, a goblet a friend of mine gave me is my Kiddush cup. 

Now that my preps are done and my classes have started, I can start really working on my Hebrew studies again. That starts this coming week, with actual scheduled time for me to spend on it every single day. No more shirking!

I am very thankful for the new cease-fire in Gaza and the intimations that a longer peace may be coming. Long may it hold. 

What are you thankful for this week?

Shabbat shalom! I’ll see you on Sunday, most likely.


 

Image credit: “Shabbat Shalom” by Karen on Flickr: “Shabbat Shalom” by Karen at Flickr:http://preview.tinyurl.com/lbayfzu Used under Creative Commons License.  

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August 29, 2014 · 1:08 pm

Something I didn’t expect…

2 Elul 5774

When I was a (technical) atheist, I used to get really offended when bigots would use G-d to justify their hate. I found it offensive not just because it was hate, but because their reason for being hateful was so completely illogical to me. 

I didn’t expect it to become more offensive when I became religious, but it did. Today, my partner asked me if I’d heard about this: 

Pastor calls to imprison gays for ‘ten years hard labor’ with new constitutional amendment

Of course I had. And I was livid. My partner said “How can people believe that G-d believes that?”

And out of my mouth came words I did not expect. “That’s not the G-d I believe in, that’s for sure.”

For me that’s a sea-change. It used to be I was offended because they had a non-logical reason for their hate. But now, I’m offended because they’re besmirching the G-d I believe in, and love, and worship, and find meaningful. How dare they? How dare they take my G-d, or even their imitation of my G-d, and denigrate him that way? Who does that?

Hateful people, of course. They’ll do whatever they have to do to justify their hate. 

I just find it very sad that one of the things they do is drag G-d through the mud to justify their hate. 

I find that very, very sad. 

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

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 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 have a lot to be thankful for going into this coming week, and finishing this past week. For starters, as long as enrollment holds up and funding holds up, I’ll have classes in the fall. I’m also almost done with my preps for those classes, except for their exams, which I’ll be tweaking and polishing over the next week or so. Today I plan to work on editing the final groups of Powerpoints so I’m all set to go on Monday. 

There are a number of possible jobs that I can apply to for full-time work starting next fall, and that’s the other major thing on my plate work-wise. There’s one in Los Angeles that is especially tempting so I’m going to work on that next week. 

I presented a paper with my co-author at a conference a week ago today, and it was very well received. My partner and I then spent the weekend with friends in the Bay Area. We stayed at a friend’s house; she’s also a convert and we had a very meaningful Shabbat dinner with her. Afterwards, she gave me my very first Havdalah candle, and I was very touched that she would think of me that way. Overall, the weekend last weekend was a very good (and Jewish!) one, spent with people I care about. (Completely coincidentally, my co-author is also a Jew, although a secular one.)

My kids are healthy and happy, my partner is healthy and happy, and most of my friends are in a good place right now, which is good. 

My health is reasonably good at this point. I’m trying to pay more attention to what I put in my mouth (I tend to be a stress eater) and that’s helped me have fewer pains and problems. 

Getting to talk with the new rabbi was a really big deal for me. I’ve arranged for the services I want to attend for High Holy Days, so that’s also in the works, and that makes me really excited. Now that the stress of the preps is winding down, I’ll have more time to crack the Hebrew studies again. The rest of my study is pretty much “on hold” until formal classes start in the spring. My partner has also expressed some cautious interest in going to the classes and, perhaps, converting with me. (This makes me tremendously excited.) Right now, my conversion is largely focused on practice, as it should be.

In terms of miscellaneous life stuff and the wider world, I’m trying to focus always on the positive, while still being realistic about it. I had a bad bout with depression last week but it got better once I was able to throw myself back into prepping and working. Also, Robin Williams’ death, while a horrifying thing in itself, has raised public awareness of depression, bipolar disorder, and Parkinson’s disease in ways that I don’t think he would have expected it to. (And for his death: baruch dayan emet, and may his memory be a blessing.) I also admit that I’m meanly pleased that his ashes were scattered in San Francisco Bay the day after his death, and that the Westboro Baptist “Church” won’t have a chance to protest his funeral because it was done before they even began to plan to disrupt it. 

The situations in Gaza and Ferguson are upsetting, of course, but even there I can find things to be thankful for. I am thankful for all the community members in Ferguson who stood guard over stores to either stop looting that had begun or prevent it from happening in the first place. I am thankful for the cease-fire lasting as long as it did in Gaza, and hopeful that we will soon see a longer truce. And I pray, every day, for the victims in both of those places and hope for a speedy resolution to the tensions. 

And as long as I’m mentioning Ferguson, here’s some specifically Jewish food for thought. Why Jews Should Care About Ferguson

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. I’ll try to update again on Sunday. 

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