Category Archives: Jewish Practices

In Praise of the Women of the Wall

I found myself singing along.

Yasher Koach to all these brave women and the men who stood in solidarity with them, and shame on the Haredi man who tried to stop them from praying and reading Torah.

A religion that does not change is a religion that will die out. The Haredim are just hastening the death of Orthodoxy with their behavior.

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Filed under Current Events, Israel, Jewish Practices

Chag Pesach Sameach!

As my husband says, we went to two and a half Seders this week. The first one probably doesn’t “count” as a Seder, which is why he is saying “a half.”

First was our practice Seder with our Intro class. That happened on Wednesday night. Rabbi walked us through it with a haggadah that I don’t think my husband and I will use; it’s aimed at families with young children, and we don’t really qualify. Mostly, that Seder went all right. We brought our own gluten-free matzah and nobody had a problem with it. We also brought a salad (my husband put it together). Of course, Mr. Christian had to interject inappropriate questions and comments, but we’ve gotten used to that. We also brought three jars of horseradish to use as maror. Note to self: jarred horseradish is mild compared to the maror we had later in the weekend.

Then we held our own Seder for a few friends on Friday night. It came out well, but I’m not using the Maxwell House haggadah again – it’s just too preachy. As it was, my best friend and I spent a lot of time changing, editing, and taping-in changes over the text, and it was still too much. I have one started at haggadot.com for next year’s Seders. We made the mistake(?) of using fresh, refrigerated pureed horseradish for the maror; when I took my tablespoon of it I couldn’t hear anything for a minute or so as I struggled not to show that it hurt. It made my eyes water and my ears ring, and wow do I know that I have sinuses now. It’s almost as bad as my friend’s dad’s completely fresh ground-that-afternoon maror – oy!

Our Seder plate (center of the table) had:
– Italian parsley for karpas
– A lamb shank that my best friend roasted and brought (z’roa)
– A roasted hard-boiled egg that we roasted here (beitzah)
– A tangerine (we couldn’t get oranges) for inclusiveness
– Endive for hazeret
– A spoonful of my charoset
– A spoonful of the fresh-jarred horseradish, for maror

On the individual Seder plates, we replaced the lamb shank with chicken wings that had been roasted in the oven along with the roasted boiled egg. Those were easy: toss them with olive oil, three spoonfuls of minced garlic, salt, and pepper, and then just put them on a cookie sheet and bake for an hour at 375F. I know that on some Seder plates, gefilte fish is traditional, but I’m allergic to what they make it with, so we substituted.

Here’s my charoset recipe.

2 Asian pears
1/2 cup dried cherries, minced
1/2 cup pinenuts
1/2 cup pomegranate pips
1/2 cup kosher red wine
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon each of ground cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and 1/3 teaspoon of ground ginger

Dice the Asian pears fairly small, and mince the dried cherries. Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate. That’s it!

There wasn’t a lot to the cooking; the charoset was the hardest part. We had two roasts in the crockpot that I’d marinated since Wednesday with ground ginger, cloves, some red kosher wine, salt, pepper, and dried onions. Those cooked all day in a little more red wine and were fall-apart tender when we got them out of the crock (we still have one of them in the fridge!). My husband made his amazing salad, our friends brought gluten-free egg noodles that had been tossed with garlic and olive oil, and I made a quickie asparagus that I’ve always been good at. And of course, we had matzah.

Gluten-free matzah doesn’t hold its shape very well. It’s more brittle than regular matzah, and it tends to show up if you have it shipped with no whole pieces. In four boxes, we found three whole matzot. Next year we’ll buy it from a local Jewish grocery my husband found in our city. (I recommend the Yehuda brand matzah; the Manischewitz is very, very dry and bland.)

Running the Seder was stressful for me but worth it. Like I said, though, we need a different Haggadah. I also need to learn when it’s okay to skip ahead; that’s an art form, I think. It was also really awesome to have my friend D there – he’s Israeli, and he read the Hebrew flawlessly. (Someday….) I asked a couple of questions that didn’t really go anywhere – what is your personal Pharaoh?, for example. Eh. I’ll get better at it, I’m sure. Still, we got through it, and we still have leftovers.

Last night we went to the last Seder we’re going to go to during this Pesach. It was at my best friend’s father’s house. This was the Seder that my husband and I went to last year at this time, when I was just beginning to think that Judaism was for me and my husband was humoring me and going because I was going. This time, we showed up with our kippot on our heads, our Mogen Davids around our necks, and ready to fully participate instead of just spectate. Everyone who was part of the regular Seder group congratulated us both on our decision and on our wedding (157 days ago today, by the way) as we got in the front door, and several of them wanted to make sure that we hadn’t felt pushed or proselytized into it by them or anyone else. (Such a refreshing thing, that was.)

My charoset was very well received, and the maror hurt all of us (my friend’s dad grinds his own from fresh horseradish root while wearing an Israeli gas mask made in Germany). After Friday, I’d learned my lesson and I think the bit of maror I put on my plate was about the size of a marble. My husband loves horseradish, however, and he had so not learned his lesson – he had tablespoons of the stuff. However, he had been struggling with a knee injury, and after having two or three tablespoons of the maror he said “well, my knee doesn’t hurt much any more…” A, one of the seder regulars, opined that it was because the fresh maror kills off the nerves that tell you something hurts.

My friend’s dad runs the Seder by having people read bits and pieces in a round-robin sort of way. I did something like that at our Seder, but I wish I’d had a better haggadah. Eh. I have to get off that topic.

Anyway, one of the seder regulars asked about how we had time to take all this wealth away from Egypt but not bake full loaves of bread or get any provisions together. I pointed out that any culture that holds slaves has much of its wealth invested in those slaves, and perhaps what we took away as wealth was ourselves. That got raised eyebrows and some good discussion.

At one point one of the other seder regulars misread “beasts” as “breasts,” and she and my husband got laughing so hard that we were worried that he’d choke or something. That was probably the high point of the seder for me, watching him laugh and eventually laughing with him.

During the festive meal, my husband and I both talked about our intro classes, and people asked questions, and it was good. It felt very much like “this is my place and these are my people,” to me.

At the end of the Seder, when we came to the point where it talked about the Omer, one of the other guests asked about that, and my friend’s dad looked to me and said “Go ahead, tell it.” I was kind of shocked, but I explained about the Omer as best I could, and it seemed to go over fine. That meant a lot to me that he was willing to let me talk about it.

Finally, when my friend’s dad was trying to read his paragraph of “Chad Gadya” and kept blowing it, my friend (sitting next to him) took away his wineglass, and then for good measure I reached over and took away the wine bottle, and everyone cracked up. So there was a lot of good laughter and fun and teasing, which made it fun.

Her dad said to both of us, “We’ll see you next year.”

Today is the second day of the Omer. Hayom sh’nei yamim l’omer.

Chag sameach, everyone.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Holy Days, Jewish Practices

Shavua Tov!

On Havdalah
by Shocheradam

For a good week let us do all things deliberately.

Three stars light the sky, and it is time.
But do not light the candle, not just yet.
Let us savor this moment before its light dances
On the backs of our hands, on the walls, in our eyes.

Do not pour the wine, no, it can wait.
Its sweetness would overpower our tongues.
Let the cup stand empty for a moment still.

Leave the spices standing just a moment more.
The b’samim would overwhelm our senses.
Leave them on the shelf and take one look
At the table standing bare before we start.

Meditate on table, braided candle, empty cup,
B’samim box on the shelf, all waiting patiently.
Three stars light the sky above, but savor just the same
The fading moments of this holy time, this sacred space.

Think upon these fading moments ere we begin.
Think of something you will carry forward into the week.
Think of something you have set down to leave behind.

Think of this moment all week long,
For patience,
For courage,
For strength,
For shalom.

Now fill cup, light candle, sing the prayers:
Baruch atah, Adonai… Amein.
Lift the cup and b’samim box, lift the candle, see its shadows.
Say a word or two about sacredness and holiness.
Sip the wine and bid Shabbat farewell.
Dip the flame into the wine and sing to one and all:
Shavua tov, shavua tov, shavua tov.

For a good week, let us remember holiness.
For a good week, let us remember sacredness.
For a good week, let us remember this pause in time, this place in space.

For a good week, let us do all things deliberately.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

3rd Day of Hanukkah

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

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

A continued Chag Chanuka Sameach to you all.

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Friday Feature: What are you thankful for this week?

13 Kislev 5775

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

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

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


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

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

Menorah

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

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

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

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

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

What are you thankful for this week?

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New Music: Eric Komar, “Justice, Justice”

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

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

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

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

I’ll just put the lyrics here.

Justice, Justice
Eric Komar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tirdof tzedek, tzedek.

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Seven Things About My First Yom Kippur

Here’s seven things about my very first Yom Kippur (and yes, I did say a shehecheyanu for it):

1. Over the course of two Torah services, I was called for four (group-based, granted, but still) aliyot. “All guests stand to say the first aliyah” at the first service, and “all teachers,” “all artists,” and “everyone” at the second service. And I still can’t quite pronounce the whole Hebrew blessing on the Torah, but at least now I can reliably sing the beginnings and ends of them.

2. I did eat something before services because my doctor would have killed me if I didn’t. But I was able to wait until services were over before I felt the need to eat, which was nicely taken care of by my fiancé when he picked me up.

3. I made a couple of new acquaintances when we got talking after the anger-management workshop in the middle of the day. We talked so long that we missed the Yizkor and made it to second service just on time. Whew.

4. I am learning the songs rapidly. The words, not so much.

5. At the break-fast afterwards, my grain-free challah went over really well and I got multiple requests for the recipe. Many people couldn’t believe it was gluten-free – “But it doesn’t taste like a rock!” was the most common objection.

6. I symbolically fulfilled the mitzvah of beginning to build a sukkah right after breaking my fast by driving a nail into the communal sukkah that was waiting outside the temple after services were over.

7. The most stunning thing that I’ll remember from this is watching as the sky in the windows above the Ark went from bright day blue to medium afternoon blue to dark twilight blue to black as the services progressed. It really gave me a sense of “the gates are closing!!’ and of urgency, to see that as it was happening.

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