Category Archives: Identities

Posts about stuff that deals with identities – Jewish, GLBT, and many others.

A visit to the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles

Peter Krasnow. The Wanderers. 1927.

Peter Krasnow. The Wanderers. 1927.

Today my husband and I took a tour of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles with our Intro to Judaism group.

It was surreal. For one thing, Mr. Christian was there when we walked in. I knew he was going to be, and yet I’d hoped that something might keep him away. But my husband and my best friend were both there with me and he didn’t approach me except the once, and then he left when he saw he wasn’t welcome. Which was fortunate.

Most of the Skirball tour was artifacts showing Jewish history from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the beginning of the Diaspora through the modern day. I was intrigued by the 19th-century artifacts they had from people who had come here with nothing and then begun new trades to support themselves (a woman lawyer’s diploma and a woman doctor’s diploma were both prominently displayed – and dated 1934 and 1925, respectively). I was also fascinated by the different Torah dressings from different Diasporic nations (Italian Torah crowns are impossibly detailed, with tons of filigree; German ones almost impossibly plain by comparison). But then we got into the room that was a duplicate of a big synagogue in Berlin… and it included a display of some pieces of the synagogue from its destruction during the Second World War. Seeing pieces of marble with burn marks still on them made my stomach do a backflip.

That hit me pretty hard. It was hard to follow the docent’s lecture because a) I was in some pain as my arthritis was acting up in my knees – never fun and b) there was music or narrations playing on various displays in each room which made it hard to hear her. But I was able to look at things nonetheless.

I mentioned to my rabbi there that I don’t know if I have any Jewish ancestry. If I do, it’ll be from my mother’s father’s people from Hungary, but the only records I have of them are from the mid-1830s with the last name Horvath. Horvath was a name EVERYONE Jewish took in Hungary. It basically means “not Croatian.” Think “Smith” for how common a last name it is. But the only records are from the Catholic Church (baptisms) and I don’t know if there were conversos in Hungary too, or only in the Iberian Peninsula. The names are all suspiciously Jewish though, apart from the surname. But there’s no way to know for sure.

Anyway.

This museum has actual copies of the Nuremberg Law declarations with Hitler’s signature on them (spit). It was chilling to look at them. Right after that we had to go through a fairly narrow (and darkened almost to black) passage that was called “Six of Six Million,” which showed the photographs (eerily made 3D in the wall) and histories of six Holocaust victims ranging in age from five years old to elderly (age unknown). I was weeping when we left that room. It was like going through a haunted house. Then we came out into an area which had video screens showing Holocaust survivors talking about their experiences. Here’s the one I remember (I saw the captions, but I couldn’t catch the man’s name):

“It was 1944 when the Allied tanks rolled into France. I remember one of the tanks coming up to the camp, and the captain who put his head out of the tank was wearing a star – a Mogen David. And I just stared at him. And he looked at me, saw me, and said in Yiddish, “Du bist Yid?” (Are you Jewish?) and I said “Yes!” and he took me up onto the top of the tank and I was saved.”

I wept, then. I was already crying when I got out of the tunnel but now I was full-on weeping. My friend got me over to one side to sit down, and my husband was also crying – for him, it’s because he has German heritage and he felt deep shame even though none of his family were in Germany at the time. That’s when Mr. Christian tried to approach. My friend glared at him and he apparently thought better of it and backed away, which was a good thing because I was not ready to talk to him then.

My husband said on the way home that there were several places where he felt like he’d been there, or been through it – a display of a 1930s-1940s kitchen set for Shabbat, and when he was walking through the Holocaust tunnel. He felt like he connected to each of the people who were shown in that tunnel. He was also crying a little bit.

It was powerful. It was moving. It was… something I still can’t quite wrap my head around.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you should make a point of visiting the Skirball.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conversion Process, Identities

The Rules Lawyers

Michael Benami Doyle said, in his description of his conversation with the beit din, that there is a prophetic element to being a Jewish convert. I’m experiencing that this week since the Women of the Wall managed to actually read from the Torah and dance with it at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5775.

One of the jobs of a prophet is to draw attention to what’s wrong and how it can be repaired. Prophets are often disliked when they do this; people don’t like being told that what they’re doing is wrong.

And yet. And yet.

It is still wrong to deny Jewish women the right to pray at the Kotel, as the Haredim continually try to do.

It is still wrong to deny Jewish women access to the Torah at the Kotel, as the Haredim continually do.

It is still wrong to harm anyone who helps Jewish women have access to the Torah at the Kotel, as the Haredim did on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, when they beat Charlie Kalech and Alden Solovy.

This Haredi man continued insisting "sefer sheli!" (my book!). Yeah, no. The Torah belongs to ALL Jews.

This Haredi man continued insisting “sefer sheli!” (my book!). Yeah, no. The Torah belongs to ALL Jews.

Nothing excuses the behavior of the Haredim in these instances. They are fundamentally wrong. They are extremists, and they are damaging the Jewish faith far more than women who pray at the Wall, wear tallitot and tefillin, and read from Torah. They are, to borrow a term from gaming, rules lawyers.

Rules lawyers miss the spirit of the law by adhering so hard to the letter of the law. They never see the bigger picture.They never win in the long term, but they do a lot of damage in the short term. The Haredim are harming themselves and don’t know it. They are harming Judaism and they don’t know it (or perhaps they don’t care).

Regardless of their justification for their actions, I cannot see Adonai supporting the behavior of the Haredim towards the Women of the Wall or the men who helped them. Adonai is not a petty God who needs defense against people who want to worship him. If their God is, well – then the only conclusion I can draw is that their God is not Adonai.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, lo yil’madu od milchamah. 

Perhaps the Haredim should look at that verse and think about their behavior.

3 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Identities, Jewish Practices

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.)

1 Comment

Filed under Day-to-Day, Identities

An Epistle to the Christians on Quora

Someone on Quora posted a question:

Religion: Jews: What are your top requests to non-Jews everywhere?
Please be respectful in your answer.

Here’s my answer.

Specifically to Christians, please stop assuming the following things:

1. That Judaism looks like Christianity, but without Jesus. It doesn’t. It’s so far removed from it that the two religions have almost nothing in common. The term “Judeo-Christian,” which has been used by your evangelical and fundamentalist branches to claim a deep connection between our two religions, is a fabrication. Please stop using that term. Saul of Tarsus took pretty much all of the Jewish roots of Christianity and severed them when he started trying to get Gentiles into the tent. Judaism may be, in some ways, Christianity’s ancestor, but Christianity has changed so much from its original Semitic roots that it is a disservice to both faiths to conflate them that closely. To put it another way: Judaism may be a parent of Christianity, but children are not clones of their parents, and Christianity is very, very different from Judaism.

2. That we believe in your version of what a Moshiach (Messiah) is supposed to be. We don’t. The Moshiach is a political and military leader, not a spiritual leader. All that stuff about him being a spiritual leader who’s going to come back from the dead and achieve a bunch of stuff? Not Biblical. Not Scriptural. Not based in any Jewish scriptures.

At the time when Yeshua ben Yosef (that guy you call “Jesus”) was alive, there were some small Jewish sects that wanted the Moshiach to be a spiritual leader too, but they were small and not supported. Saul of Tarsus took their ideas and ran with them. Essentially, he made it all up.

Also, in Judaism, we rarely talk about the coming of the Moshiach. We are predominantly more intensely concerned with this world and our duties to it and to each other in the here and now. Yes, the Moshiach will come someday, but we’re really not that concerned about when. We know it won’t be anytime soon because the world is such a mess. We have our own work to do, right here and now. That’s our responsibility.

3. That we agree with your view of what “sin” means. We don’t. In Judaism, the word for “sin” (“cheyt”) means “missing the mark.” What mark? The mark, as set down by the Law in Torah and Talmud, that we’re supposed to aim for (think archery). It does not mean you’re a horrible, evil, bad person if you sin. It means you need to do better next time.

You also can’t get away from your sins by praying and asking God for forgiveness in Judaism. You have to actually go to the people you hurt or harmed, ask them for forgiveness, and make amends as best you can. As a Jewish friend of mine said once, “If I go to HaShem (God) and say ‘I hurt Moishe ben Avraham and I want forgiveness for it,’ I’d expect HaShem to say ‘Nu, why are you coming to me? Why haven’t you gone to Moishe to work this out?'”

Your sins are your responsibility, in Judaism. Nobody else can take the punishment for them. That is not a Jewish teaching. (Many of us find the idea of Yeshua/Jesus being sacrificed for the sins of the whole world somewhere between laughable and horrifying. It is categorically NOT a Jewish view of sin.)

By the way, we don’t believe in “original sin,” either, and the Adam and Eve story is pretty minor for us.

4. That being religious is about what you believe and that what you believe needs to be the same as what everyone else believes. It’s not that way for us. It’s about how you behave. When Jews ask each other if they’re being observant, we tend to say things like “Have you given tzedakah this week? Are you observing Shabbat? Did you go to Yom Kippur services? Did you fast? Have you been to a Seder during Pesach (Passover)?”, not “Do you believe that God is X, Y and Z?” In Judaism, a person’s beliefs about God and anything else are their own business, although we’re more than happy to share them, argue about them, and disagree about them.

5. That when we tell you that you’re assuming something that isn’t true about Judaism, we’re actually right and you’re actually assuming, even if you don’t think you are. The number of times that someone non-Jewish, right here on Quora, has insisted that they know more about my religion than I do would fill an egg carton, at least. (No, Jews do not believe in heaven and hell. That’s the most recent one thrown at me. We also don’t have a devil. That’s a Christian thing. The thing Christians label as “the devil” in Jewish texts is a metaphor, not literal.)

6. That Judaism is conducted in a funnel-teaching, memorizing, by-rote manner. Like memorizing Bible verses, for example. By this I mean, Jews do not learn how to be Jewish by being told what we are supposed to believe (see #4). We are told about the history of the Hebrews, and about the moral lessons we learn from the Torah and the Tanakh and the Talmud, and then we argue, discuss, and debate those lessons and what they might mean or did mean or could mean. The idea “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is not just nowhere to be found in Judaism; it’s actually considered quite ridiculous.

Most of this response is going to annoy Christians no matter how respectful I am about it, because in my experience, Christians are very touchy about the idea that the way their religion works isn’t the way other people’s religions work, but I hope that maybe, just maybe, people will become more aware of just how not-Christian and different from Christianity Judaism is.

Leave a comment

Filed under Identities, Jewish Practices, Judaism

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Day-to-Day, Identities, Jewish Practices

Hanukkah Redux, and a poem.

What do you say about Hanukkah when it’s your first-ever celebration of it?

Well, first, you might want to look up the order in which you’re supposed to put the candles in the menorah. The first two nights, I did it wrong, as you can see from the photos. My Jewish best friend, who is very tolerant, said nothing while we lit the candles on the first night, which she was here for, and for which she sang the brachot (although I sang the Shehecheyanu with her).

First Night of HanukkahSecond night of Hanukkah

After that, it got better:

Third Night of HanukkahFourth Night of Hanukkah

Getting my phone to take photos that were clear seemed to vary from night to night.

The fourth night was Shabbat, and we had friends over. That was the first night I tried to sing the bracha (apart from the Shehecheyanu on the first night). I didn’t quite succeed. That was one of the three gift-giving nights. I gave my husband gifts on the first day and the fourth day: a new sheet set, a small pillow he liked, a book, silicone baking sheets, and other stuff. The friends who came over got tea, wee books, pens, and a couple of other silly gifts that, in my Catholic days, I would have identified as stocking stuffers.

My best friend and I served up a great dinner of brisket (yes, an actual brisket – the first one I’ve ever cooked, and which turned out beautifully), cauliflower-leek soup, gluten-free challah, grape juice, and lemon-Worcestershire Brussels sprouts (don’t knock it until you try it!). Oh, and of course latkes with sour cream and applesauce and, for the brave, cranberry sauce (because it’s wintertime, that’s why).

And my husband made a bread pudding that, with vanilla ice cream, was to die for. Even with Los Angeles Friday-night traffic, we had a splendid time with good friends who are like family.

Bread Pudding!Fifth night of Hanukkah

The next day the husband and I made it to services at the shul for the first time in a month due to work schedule conflicts. We got to see a very poised young Bat Mitzvah lead the Shabbat Hanukkah service, which was wonderful. After that, we picked up my kids and brought them back here for an overnight visit.

That night, the fifth night, my older daughter reluctantly gave up the desk for us to light the candles (right after we did Havdalah). We gave the kids books that they loved and which they spent most of the next day with before they went home, and we had a mean game of dreidel (which my daughters won).

Dreidels and Gelt

The sixth night, it was just me and the husband again. but I think this is the best of all the menorah pictures we got.

6th Night Hanukkah

On the seventh night of Hanukkah, we had another guest over to dinner, a friend of mine from grad school. She got there early with a ready-to-cook chicken in hand (which I roasted for dinner), asked question after question, put up with me playing music and singing and reading from the siddur, and stood by and witnessed me and the husband lighting the candles (him) and singing the brachot (me).

7th Night HanukkahFinally, on the last night of Hanukkah, my best friend was here again. I sang the first bracha and she sang the second while my husband lit all eight candles. (Sorry about the blurriness of those flames; I tried several times and I couldn’t get the picture to be clear no matter what I did.) My best friend told me later that she watched me sing, and saw and heard a Jew singing, which is an enormous compliment in my opinion.

8th Night Hanukkah

So, how was my first Hanukkah?

Well, here’s a poem for you.

I sing the brachot
Shocheradam

I sing the brachot
In a voice that harkens back to no Uncle Hazzan
In stumbling Hebrew syllables not learned from a Grandfather Rebbe
In hope that my humble offering will be accepted

I sing the brachot
Knowing I am not a Jew yet but a certain seeker
Knowing I am now a ger but someday soon mishpachah
Knowing I am the stranger that will become a brother

I sing the brachot
In memory of those who have gone before me
In appreciation of those who support me
In anticipation of those who will one day follow me

I sing the brachot
Honoring eight nights of miraculous light
Honoring my ancestors of spirit and of bloodline
Honoring my family both those given and those chosen

I sing the brachot
To bring light to the darkness
To bring fire to my purpose
To bring spirit to my being

I sing the brachot:
Baruch atah Adonai, Elocheinu melech ha’olam,
Asher kidshanu b’mitvotav
vetzivanu l’hadlik ner
shel Chanukah. 

For eight days and eight nights
For memory and for history
For the past and for the future

I sing the brachot.

3 Comments

Filed under Conversion Process, Holy Days, Identities, Jewish Practices

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Conversion Process, Day-to-Day, Holy Days, Identities

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Conversion Process, Identities, Judaism

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Conversion Process, Day-to-Day, GLBT

Shabbat Shuva redux

Erev Shabbat this week started out very stressful for me. My daughters don’t get out of school until 3 p.m., and I have to pick them up from my ex’s mom’s house, which is about 16 miles away.

16 miles away, you say? Not a bad drive – 20 minutes, right?

Try an hour and a half at that time of day. It’s awful. I can’t get there sooner, because the kids won’t be home yet. Getting there later means even worse traffic going back home. Welcome to Southern California.

So I spent most of the morning doing work that I could do: cleaning up the kitchen from the Rosh Hashanah meal the night before, setting up exams for my students (four of my six classes have an exam starting on Sunday morning, and not all of them were up yet), answering emails, doing a gasoline-and-grocery-run with the fiancé now that his check for the week had arrived; the usual stuff. I had one more exam to finish when I left at 2:45 to pick up my kids, and I knew that my fiancé would be at work that evening because that’s how his work runs and we can’t make them let him off for my religious holidays.

I got to their home at 4:15. We took streets home and that was another hour plus, with a stop at the grocery to pick up a couple things I’d forgotten in the earlier grocery run.

We didn’t arrive home until close to 5:30. So I decided that from now on, Shabbat starts when I light the candles, because no way was I going to be able to bake challah AND make dinner before sundown. Daughter #2 helped me make the entire Shabbat meal, and both daughters took over cleanup when it was done.

Shabbat meal, though late, was lovely: raisin-honey gluten-free challah (I made three loaves: two braided-mold and one piped-spiral crown challah); apples with honey (natch), tomato-garlic soup, plain potato kugel (which Daughter #1 LOVED – which is great, because she’s a picky eater), roasted chicken thighs with spices, Kedem grape juice for kiddush, ice water. I had planned on a dessert of apples and strawberries with Greek Gods honey Greek yogurt, but we were all too full! And I cooked for armies; we had enough soup to fill two quart containers, four pieces of the chicken, half the kugel, and even some apples left over.

Crown Challah

Crown Challah

To make the crown challah, I put a little over a third of the batter into a plastic bag and turned it into a giant piping bag, and piped it into a round baking pan in a spiral. I ran out of batter just before I would have been able to make that little spiral on the top, but it was definitely recognizable as crown challah. I was pleased.

The kids also stood with me while I said the blessings, lit the candles, and said kiddush and ha-motzi. We put away one of the braided loaves, and the round loaf for kiddush at temple this morning (about which, more later) but the one loaf we left out disappeared halfway through the meal. I think Daughter #1 got most of it.

I finished putting together the last exam, and then I collapsed into bed and slept the sleep of the righteously exhausted until pretty late this morning. I didn’t wake up until nearly 9 a.m.

The fiancé and I went to temple while the kids stayed home, which was fine. I was running on coffee and a bagel; I didn’t realize that my fiancé was running on short sleep and only a cup of coffee until halfway through the service. He had to get up and leave for a while. It was also not being run by the rabbi; he was with the B’nei Mitzvah seventh-graders at a thing at the park today, so it was the other fellow leading the services. He’s a great guy, but he’s not the rabbi, and my partner’s patience was very frayed due to hunger and headache. It was also awkward when he led us in “I am a Jew because…” as the main prayer and made a point of saying “I don’t want those who are our non-Jewish guests to feel excluded.” Um, dude… that’s only for me to mention, okay? I also wondered if I wasn’t allowed to say this prayer yet. Awk-ward.

No. It was an accident on his part. I am certain there was no malice. But damn it, I’m on the path, I’m not turning back. Sh’esani Israel. I am as Jew-ish as I can be without the mikveh dip. And that will come, hopefully no later than early June (I want it earlier, but that’s going to be up to the rabbi). But it still made me and my fiancé uncomfortable. I may take the man aside after High Holy Days are over and say “I would have been better with it if you had not made a point of it, okay?”

On the other hand, the crown challah we brought with us got a very happy reception when the worship leader lifted the challah cover and revealed not just their usual big loaf of regular challah but our little gluten-free crown loaf. The response was this sort of breathless chorus as it was revealed: “CROWN challah!” to which the worship leader responded by explaining a) it was gluten-free and b) the significance of a round loaf during High Holy Days. Everyone tried it. It was slightly more cake-y than I’d hoped, but it still tasted good. The alterations I’d made to the recipe (increasing potato starch and decreasing all-purpose gluten free flour, adding two more eggs and a half-cup of honey, and adding raisins) really worked well.

I got asked to submit the recipe to the new Sisterhood temple cookbook.

Then we came home to the discovery that Daughter #1 is without her anxiety meds for the weekend. We’re all trying to be patient with her; it must be hell for her. So we’ve all eaten (mostly leftovers) and now we’re at our corners of the apartment, trying to take the day easy.

After havdalah tonight, I’m going to be back on the emails and student work stuff. But for now I’m going to rest. Tonight I’m going to do some grading so that I can start making headway on it and not be wiped out all day Sunday doing nothing but grading. But that can wait until after sundown when the day changes.

Shabbat Shalom, all.

2 Comments

Filed under Conversion Process, Identities, Jewish Practices, Judaism