Category Archives: Day-to-Day

Posts about my everyday life.

Back to Shul Night

13239323_1043186402383629_2280513267283682438_nLast night, my husband and I and my best friend went back to shul for the first time in about four months. Our shul is a welcoming congregation, and they were holding Pride Shabbat last night, in celebration of GLBT Pride happening in our community specifically, and Pride more generally. (This month’s tzedakah box is being donated to the local LGBT center.) There was an actual dinner before the service (donation $18 per adult).

Most of the people who came to this Shabbat were straight couples and families. Many of them were older folks, too. This gives me hope that being gay and being Jewish are not mutually exclusive, at least not for our congregation.

The service was wonderful. Our cantor was hired last summer and it appears she’s made a lot of changes in the musical programs, all to the better. She was on my husband’s beit din last October, which made him very happy because she’s just an awesome person. She included not just a ton of traditional Hebrew prayers but also some modern music that spoke to both acceptance and the gay rights movement. The words were projected onto a screen at the front of the sanctuary in both English and Hebrew, and much of the music was new arrangements by our cantor and two of the other musicians who are congregation members.

At the dinner, the cantor asked all three of us to do a short reading after the Mi Kamocha.

Mine was:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

My best friend read this:

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” – Harvey Milk

The cantor gave my husband what I feel is the most moving Harvey Milk quote ever:

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” – Harvey Milk

Each of us had a small breakdown moment. My husband cried during the Sh’ma; I cried during the silent meditation after the Mi Kamocha; and my best friend had a few moments during the Hashkivenu and the Mi Shebeirach. But it did what it was supposed to do; it was an emotional service that touched and got to everyone.

Was it good to be back at shul? Yes.

Will we be back again soon? Yes.

Am I glad we went? Yes.

But like I said – emotional.

Shabbat shalom, everyone.

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Filed under Day-to-Day, Judaism

The Lie I Told Myself About Being a Good Jew

So today, scrolling through Facebook, I came across this article on Kveller:

The Lie I told Myself About Good Jewish Mothers

Much of it resonated with me – not because I’m a mother, of course, but because I’m a Jew who is also struggling with what it means to be a “good Jew.”

I’ve probably said before that I’m a perfectionist and that I want to do everything “right.” It’s hard to remember that “doing Jewish” means doing it the way I can do it, the way I am equipped to do it, and the way that I am able to do it – and that may not look like the way everyone else does it.

Before conversion, and even right after conversion, I really thought that I was going to be that Torah-reading, tallit-wearing, Hebrew-studying, reaaaaaally observant Jew who went to shul weekly, attended Torah study every Saturday morning without fail, and made my Judaism the first and most important thing about my life. But the world got in the way, and, well….

Since November, less than three months after my husband and I completed our conversion processes, we have had to be – paradoxically – far less active Jews than we were hoping to be. We haven’t been able to attend a real Friday night shul service in several months, because of his work schedule (he works for an amusement park; November to March is “peak holiday time” and lots of mandatory overtime for him) and the inopportune arrival of several illnesses that kept me and him both flat on our backs and unable to function. Due to a personal conflict at our Torah study group, we stopped going for a while because it made us uncomfortable, and we still haven’t really resolved that, either.

In short, we have not been good members of our community, and although the reasons are valid, guilt’s still a real thing and I’ve been feeling it.

Here’s the thing about feeling guilt for not measuring up to some standard that you or others have set for your behavior: it makes it less likely that you’re going to try to fix it. At least, it makes it less likely that I’m going to try to fix it. Every time I’ve thought about going back to shul, the guilt has come up and hit me with “but then people would ask you where you’ve been and you know that that would really mean ‘why are you only showing up now, you half-asser?'” That’s a deterrent, not an incentive.

We missed Purim entirely, because we were sick; but was that a good enough reason? We haven’t been to Torah study in months because of illness and over-stress; is that a good enough reason? We missed a concert at our shul with a Jewish musician that I love because of stress and exhaustion; is that a good enough reason? And of course there’s also the cost, and right now we’ve had to penny-pinch, so we haven’t had the money to buy tickets to concerts or food for Purim baskets or, well, pretty much anything.

And yet…

All during that time, we still managed to have Shabbat dinner with a friend at least twice a month, and take Shabbat pretty much “off,” even if that meant catching up on missed sleep the majority of the time.

I have still worn my kippah and my Mogen David, and I haven’t backed down when someone says something anti-Semitic.

I have still said the Sh’ma every night, and meant it.

I have still experienced the world as a Jew, even if I’m not especially active at my synagogue right now.

And that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

As the author of the Kveller article said:

Embracing Jewish motherhood (and motherhood in general) isn’t about following every rule and winning the game. It’s about showing up and staying in the game, even when you don’t know which rules apply to you, or what it even means to win.

I’d argue that the same thing applies to Jewish identity. Recently, I have not been able to follow every rule. But I have done what I can to keep my foot in the door, even if it’s been mostly outside of the community of Jews in my area. And once I have recovered from the stress, exhaustion, and overwork, I’ll be getting back in the game in more substantial ways. For starters, we’re going to a Seder on Saturday evening, and hosting one here the following Thursday, and ideally we’ll be going back to shul after Pesach is over.

But I also think Adonai will understand if, just at the moment, I can’t quite do it all.

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Filed under Day-to-Day, Identities, Jewish Practices, Judaism, Wrestling Matches

Countdown -1: The 11th of Elul and Trust

Today is the 11th of Elul, which is less than 24 hours from when I officially join the Tribe and become a Jew. Tomorrow, I will no longer be a ger or a convert or a person who wants to be Jewish; I will simply be a Jew.

BlogElul 2015

Today’s theme is “Trust.” And hooboy – this isn’t asking for much at all, right? Riiiight.

Trust has always been enormously difficult for me. Part of this is because I am autistic. Do you know how much trust is established by nonverbal, non-worded means like soothing tones of voice, facial expressions that just “look” honest, and body language? Well, I don’t have access to any of that. For me, the world is worded, and if it can’t be expressed in words, it’s hard to take it seriously or believe it exists. Or, for that matter, trust it.

There’s also the issue of trust being context-dependent, which, again, is hard for me to understand. But in the last few years I’ve finally learned that someone you can trust with your ideas may not be someone you can trust with your car (or vice-versa). Just because you can trust someone to check on your cats while you’re away from home doesn’t mean they’d be a good babysitter. You can trust someone to pick out amazing food at the restaurant, but you wouldn’t trust them to boil water without burning it.

So trust is one of those hairy things for me that I’ve never really been able to deal with in any satisfactory way.

This, of course, raises the question: if you can’t trust, then how exactly do you believe in God, or in what Judaism teaches?

Well, because trust is only part of it. It’s not all of it. And it’s not blind trust. It’s informed trust.

One of the things that allowed me to believe in God again was when I learned that yes, my emotions were a trustworthy source of information about certain kinds of phenomena. That took a long time to learn, but when I did learn it, and finally “heard” what God was trying to say to me, Judaism was the natural outcome of that lesson. Because only Judaism gives me a framework for my trust. And only Judaism allows me to say that sometimes I am going to doubt and be worried (which means not trusting in that moment) without being penalized for it.

But I trust myself more than I used to, too. I stopped judging my behavior so much by social standards that I could no more live up to than a person with no arms could do the butterfly stroke, and started judging it by the standards that I am able to live up to. And you know what? That allowed me to trust other people a little more, too.

Trust is not an all-or-nothing thing. It’s okay to trust a little, or not at all. It’s okay to say “I don’t trust that.” But it is also okay to say “I do trust that.”

This is just one of many lessons I have learned on my journey into Judaism.

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The Rules of This Blog

So Rafi asked me in a comment where the rules were, so that he could read and understand them. And although I’ve alluded to them in other posts, I realize I’ve never written them down. So, here they are.

  1. This is the blog of a Jew who practices his Judaism in the Reform manner. Don’t diss Reform Judaism here, or for that matter any form of Judaism. Don’t state or imply that it’s less than any other stream. Discussing the differences between Reform and other streams of Judaism is not dissing. Saying that Reform (or Masorti, or anything not haredi) Judaism isn’t real Judaism is dissing, and I won’t put up with it. The No True Scotsman argument goes in all directions here, too. Orthodox and haredim, despite their behavior sometimes, are also Jews. Got it?
    1. Note:  If you are a Messianic, that’s fine, but you are an evangelical Christian, not a Jew. This may seem to contradict rule 1, but here’s the definition of Judaism in its absolutely most general, most inclusive sense, and the one I use on this blog: God is One. If you follow Jesus, you’re violating that definition. Moving on.
  2. I’m Reform, not uninformed. Don’t assume that I know less than you do about Judaism just because I’m Reform. I may actually know more than you do, as happens frequently with converts.
  3. This is the blog of a Jew who has been through some pretty serious emotional and religious abuse over the years. So step lightly, and be prepared to hear a “no” or “that’s not your business” without taking it personally. I may quarantine comments and email people and say “Change the way you said this, or I’m keeping it blocked,” if I feel generous. If I don’t, I will apply the banhammer.
  4. This is the blog of a Jew who is a gay man. Homophobia, sexism, and transphobia of any flavor are absolutely not allowed here, and will receive an automatic banhammer and blacklisting. There are no second chances on this one.
  5. This blog has been largely for the issues of the convert. Most readers are converts or have converts in their lives. Those issues, therefore, are going to be pretty big on this blog. Details of Talmudic argument, probably not so much.
  6. No trolling, no flamewars. We are discussing some sensitive topics here, and I expect everyone to be an adult about it. Those who cannot be adults will be introduced to the banhammer.
  7. Wil Wheaton’s Rule applies: Don’t be a dick. This is my electronic living room – or Shabbat table, if you like. I expect you to be on your best behavior.

Harsh? Probably. But it’s still the way I run this blog. So if you’re good with these rules? Great! Welcome! Pull up a chair. If you’re not, well, nice seeing you, and the door to other areas of the internet awaits you over there.

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Friday Feature: Special Edition

I am thankful.

I am thankful that I am (about to be) a Jew.

I am thankful that I am part of a liberal tradition.

I am thankful that my marriage is recognized by my family, my friends, my co-workers, my employer, my state, my religion, and now my nation.

I am thankful that five Justices of the Supreme Court chose to take the moral pathway. I am thankful that they prevailed. I am thankful that I can now go to any state in my country with my husband and that we will still be recognized as husbands to each other.

I am thankful for this: Jewish groups celebrate Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage nationwide

Oh, I don’t doubt that there will still be pitfalls. I’d rather not be in a small town hospital in Alabama or Kentucky with him if something goes wrong, for example. But for now, just knowing that he and I are equal to the rest of the people in this nation is really hitting me hard.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha’olam,
Shehecheyanu, viki’yimanu, vihigi’anu, lazman hazeh.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. Shabbat Shalom.

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Filed under Current Events, Day-to-Day, GLBT

Snapshots of my Jewish Journey

– Tikkun Leil Shavuot was amazing. The husband and I went to it together. There was song, a Kabbalah class (we were part of a living representation of the Tree of Life, which was really neat), some videos that Rabbi felt we should watch on how big the universe really is (which he then related to Torah teachings) and a small service in the sanctuary to close things up.

– My husband and I went to lunch yesterday and admired a very cute baby at the next table. The baby’s father smiled and said “He actually has a Hebrew name.” (For the life of me, I can’t remember it – I know it started with “N” and had a “ry” sound in there somewhere, but that’s all.) So we said “Well, shalom, little guy!” I was wearing my kippah and we both had our Mogen Davids on, so I don’t know if the father was Jewish or not, but he felt the need to tell us that his son had a Hebrew name, which I thought was kind of cool.

– My best friend, my husband, and I went to a used bookstore next door to the local Jewish deli a few weeks ago, and she found this amazing siddur and bought it for me as a gift. It has a metal cover, and inside the siddur itself covers most of the holidays and the Shabbat service.

siddur-avodat-metal-turquoise

– My husband and I are going to start a Beginning Hebrew class in July, and our second conversion class starts on the first Wednesday in June. I’m excited and nervous about both of those things, and I wish Duolingo would get their Hebrew class up and running already (but hey, at least it’s in development).


I realized the other day that it’s been more than a year since I started this blog, and I’ve learned a lot since I started it. At the same time, I’ve also settled down. I will be officially a Jew before the High Holy Days – in fact, I need to contact the mikveh folks to see if they’re open on the morning I want to go there, because it’s a Friday – and it seems like the most natural thing in the world to me. Occasionally I’ve felt a twinge of “am I being presumptuous?” but that, I’ve found, is more about past abuse and not about whether this is right for me or not.

It is right for me. It is me. She’asani Israel.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Day-to-Day

(Jewish) Life, in a Nutshell

My semester is pretty much done. I filed my grades on Thursday and Friday, and hopefully I can plan better for the next semester. This semester was insane – I overloaded myself with grading, and because I was sick early in the semester, I was running behind right up through the last week of classes. That wasn’t fair to me or to my students. I have resolved to do better in the coming semesters.


Before our last Intro class on Wednesday, the husband and I also had to go to the make-up class on Yom Kippur, which we missed because we were both sick with the flu in the fourth week of the class. That was interesting as it was just 45 minutes in the rabbi’s office with two other people who were also taking the make-up. There was no Mr. C. We had a good class, and part of me feels that it was because he was not there.

My husband made an observation that “Yom haKipurim” had “Purim” in it, which floored Rabbi. He said “You’ve gone about six levels deeper than I’d planned to!” Then he told us how the Kabbalists feel that “kipur” – the root of “kipurim” – can be read either as “kipur,” or “to afflict,” or it could be read as “ki” – “like, or similar to” and “purim” – the celebration of Purim. Some Kabbalists apparently feel that in the World to Come there will only be two holidays observed – Yom Kippur, and Purim. They are balances to one another; Yom Kippur is about repairing our over-indulgence, while Purim is about repairing our under-indulgence.

My husband is going to be a Kabbalist. I can see this happening.


Our Intro class finished up on Wednesday. The class was about Shavuot, but most of the class time was taken up with Mr. Christian once again trying to hijack the discussion. By this point, my husband and I knew that everyone in the class finds Mr. C irritating, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been otherwise, but I did finally have to get up and leave for a few minutes (ostensibly for the bathroom) when Mr. C. got into it with one of the other group members, who had finally called him out on something he said. Later, I told her that I hadn’t left because of what she said, but because I wanted to brain Mr. C with my laptop. (Her comment: “That’d be a waste of a good laptop.”)

Thankfully, Mr. C. won’t be in the later class for those who will be converting. Rabbi sent out an email saying that for those who are formally embracing Judaism, the new class will start in June. Since Mr. C. is only interested in “learning” (read here: telling us all about how HIS religion does what we’re talking about, even though none of us could care less), he isn’t part of that group.

Rabbi also took Mr. C. aside during the break of the last class and informed him that it would not be appropriate for him to be part of the new class. Apparently Mr. C. got upset (his back was to me, and it was loud, so I couldn’t hear his reaction – but those who could hear confirmed he was upset) but oh well for him. I have so little sympathy for him at this point that it’s sad.

Another class member said to me, “Now he’ll say that the Jews hate him, too.” (He’s already said the Episcopalians hate him. Gee. I WONDER WHY. Christians, if you want people to take you seriously, trying to hijack a class that’s about a different religion so you can talk about your religion is not the way to go about it. I know that 99% of you don’t do this, but the 1% that do make all of you look bad, just as the behavior of the haredim at the Kotel makes all Jews look bad to the rest of the world.) As an autistic man, I know I’m socially clueless, but this guy makes me look like a social virtuoso by comparison.

I’ve friended almost all the other class members on Facebook, and most of them are going on to the formal class. I’ve sent in my final exam, so I should be getting a shiny certificate saying that I completed the class. Whee!

One of the things that came up when we finally did get into the Shavuot lesson was how Shavuot was a move from just celebrating the harvest to celebrating the receipt of Torah, and the argument about how to measure the calendar days to it. The Sadducees (who were the urban, upper-class, priestly class, who rejected the Oral Torah) wanted to measure it in a way where it would not be the same date every year; the Pharisees (predecessors of the Rabbis, who were the regular Joes who argued for the Oral Torah, among other things – the liberal group) wanted it measured so it would always fall on the same date every year. The Pharisees won that argument.

I find it somewhat amusing that so many Christians lack the context of rabbinic argument, so they read the Christian Bible and see its stories of the Pharisees and the Sadducees challenging Yeshua ben Yosef on points of Torah interpretation as “they’re trying to trip him up and make him look stupid!” when that isn’t the case at all. It was, frankly, description of a discussion between rabbis of different branches, and in many ways similar to what we see in the Talmud of descriptions of rabbis arguing fine points of Torah law and interpretation. There is some evidence that Yeshua was an Essene (another, smaller sect of Jews at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction). In that case, the “challenges” from the Pharisees and the Sadducees were simply rabbis arguing points of Torah interpretation. That sort of knocks the props out from under Christianity for me (again).

One other thing that came up just in passing during that last class: the Mishnah is the Law, and the Talmud is the interpretations of that Law. Good to know! If the beit din asks me that in September, I won’t look like a fool when I answer them.


In other news, the husband and I are planning to go to the Tikkun Leil Shavuot at our shul later this month. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s different from the one I went to last year at the Shul Down the Street.

My husband has told me he’s not ready to go to the beit din and the mikveh yet, and he’s planning on spring for that. I’m fine with that; it’s totally his decision, of course. But the other day he said “We’re Jewish,” for the first time. Up until now he’s avoided saying it because he hasn’t been to the beit din or the mikveh, but I think something clicked for him that becoming Jewish isn’t something that just happens when you go into the mikveh. It happens along the way.

I read an article a few months ago about the mikveh (I wish I could find it, but a Google search hasn’t helped me). I liked the idea behind it – it was a convert saying that going to the mikveh does not wash away his past. Rather, it adds a layer of Judaism to what’s already there. The mikveh as an additive process, rather than a subtractive one, is a powerful idea for me.

So that’s what’s going on in Shocheradam land. How about you?

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Filed under Conversion Process, Day-to-Day, Identities, Judaism

Why I became religious

Someone on Quora asked if people only become religious because they’re weak, or because they lack confidence. Here’s my answer.

I didn’t become religious for affirmation or for strength. It has nothing to do with how confident I am.

I became religious because I need ritual, and poetry, and a shared community, and stories that make me think. I became religious because I need connection. I became religious because being part of something bigger than myself gives me solace and satisfaction.

So no, religious belief is not for the weak. (It’s also not weak to admit that you cannot do everything entirely on your own without any help or support – it’s realistic. The only entities who believe that they can do everything all on their own are house cats and libertarians – neither of which realize that they do, in fact, rely on other entities in order to survive and thrive.)

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My Father’s Yahrzeit

Today is my father’s yahrzeit (death anniversary) by the modern calendar. I have decided that, since he was not a Jew, I’m going to observe it by the modern calendar.

Normally, Jews observe yahrzeit in a couple of ways. They go to shul and say the Mourner’s Kaddish after naming their loved one who has passed on, and they light a yahrzeit candle at home. It’s just a small paraffin candle that burns for 24 hours. You’re supposed to light it at sundown on the erev, or eve, of the person’s death anniversary.

I can’t leave a candle burning unattended for 24 hours in my home. It’s too dangerous; we have cats, and I have to go to work before my husband gets home. So I am compromising by burning it for as long as I can before I leave for work, and lighting it again when I get home. I lit it last night after sundown, and cried some. It’s on my desk, next to a photo of my father and my grandmother holding my oldest child when she was an infant.

My father was my rock. He would have been proud of my conversion. He was just that kind of man. It’s because of him that singing is prayer for me. It’s because of him that I value my intellect. It’s because of him that I have been successful – he is my model for success.

Six years ago, my father died of cancer –  far too young. He was just 63. My dad had health problems all his life – headaches, back problems – but when he hit his 50s, he was diagnosed with type II diabetes. Shortly after that, he had surgery to remove a slow-growing kidney tumor.

When he was diagnosed with fast-growing esophageal cancer at 62, they did a scan to see how advanced the tumor in his throat was, and discovered his liver was raddled with it and that there was no point in doing any more surgery. They gave him a year. It was an estimate. What he got was about half that time. What eventually killed him was not the cancer, but the gangrene that set into his feet in mid-December.

It was horrifying. I still can’t think about it rationally.

But I can light a yahrzeit candle for him and say the Mourner’s Kaddish. I said it at shul on Saturday after mentioning his name. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to ask for his name to be listed in the synagogue bulletin with the family members of other shul members who have passed on or not, since my father was not a Jew. But I might – next year, when I’m a member of the shul and not just a conversion candidate.

Grieving is difficult. I didn’t really get to grieve when my father died. I had to help hold everyone else together. And then there was graduate school, and finding a job, and…. somewhere along the line I didn’t get the chance to really grieve. I remember saying on an old blog of mine at one point that I wished there was some kind of culturally accepted, structured grieving process for non-Jews like shiva. (Maybe that was a spiritual helicopter even then…?)

So every year, when January rolls around, the depression surges in and incapacitates me if I let it. I am hoping that burning this candle on my desk today will go some small way towards making this pain less bad.

Baruch dayan emet, they say. May his memory be for a blessing, they say.

Yes, his memory is for a blessing. Every time I think of him, it’s a blessing.

But I miss him more than I can say.

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Friday Feature: What are you thankful for this week?

This week I am thankful for many things.

I will be receiving my back pay from my raise that is retroactive to July 1 very soon. I filed grades for my intersession class and should be paid for that soon, as well. Then I can pay off some bills completely, which will be good.

I am continuing to get add requests from my students and my spring classes are almost full.

I saw the doctor today and my blood pressure is normal. Normal! Yay!

I see friends this weekend.

Our Intro classes are well underway and I’m loving it.

My husband got me a cute card and a tiny stuffed Kermit the Frog (my favorite Muppet) to cheer me up today. He and I have been married 84 days.

Life is good.

Shabbat shalom.

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