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Differing opinion? That’s fine, but…

Recently I had someone do what I can only call an anti-Israel, pro-Palestine info dump in a comment to my post about why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders.

I realize not everyone will agree with me. That’s fine. You don’t have to.

But you do have to understand that I’m not interested in having a fight about this, especially when you sail out of nowhere and give me a broadside blast.

If you have a differing opinion from one of mine, and you can’t express it without insulting people who hold my opinion, feel free to start your own blog to talk about it and make it public. I have no obligation to host your opinion on mine, and I reserve the right to delete and block any commenter who decides to push that particular envelope too far.

Have a nice day now.

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Hyper-religiosity

My mother-in-law is an awesome person. She’s done a lot of growing since I came into her son’s life. She’s accepted that he’s gay, that we’re married, and even that we’re Jews. It’s been a lot for a conservative, Catholic Republican to take in, and mostly, she’s managed to take it in.

But I still can’t take the hyper-religiosity. With her it’s mainly through Facebook. Around this time of year, I know I’m going to be using “Hide Post” quite a bit when it comes to her posts.

My husband’s mom and one of his older aunts LOVE Jesus, okay? They don’t just think Jesus was a good guy, or even just that he was the son of God. They LOOOOOOVE him the way teenage girls LOOOOOOVED Elvis back in the day, and they’re militant about it.

It’s disturbing to me.

So far this morning, I’ve had to hide three posts my mother-in-law made to Facebook which were so Jesus-y that even the other Merry Christmas posts from fairly religious friends were mild by comparison. The cross-shaped birthday cake, for example, was just… over the top for me. The memes that demand a “Merry Christmas” instead of a “Happy Holidays” were downright offensive. But that’s not something I can say to my mother-in-law without hurting her, because she wouldn’t understand. She’s hyper-religious.

Hyper-religiosity and fundamentalism aren’t the same thing, for me. Fundamentalism is Mike Huckabee, or the W*stb*r* Baptists, or Hamas/Daesh/Hezbollah, or the haredim who are zealously guarding the Western Wall from – gasp shock horror – women who want to pray with a Torah scroll. Fundamentalism is the attitude that “I have the ONE TRUE WAY and if you don’t agree with me I will, at minimum, make your life miserable.”

Hyper-religiosity may go along with fundamentalism, but it’s not the same. Hyper-religiosity is the sense that of COURSE you’ll agree with me! Why WOULDN’T you agree with me? It makes no SENSE that you wouldn’t agree with me, because this is just The Way Things Are, don’t you see? How can you have a problem with a Nativity scene on the front lawn of City Hall? Why can’t you understand that saying anything other than “Merry Christmas” is offensive? What’s wrong with you for not understanding that Jesus Is The Reason For The Season? Well, bless your heart, as they say in the South. You’ll understand eventually.

Unlike fundamentalism, which is generally in-your-face and usually aggressive about your refusal to accept their views as the One True Way, hyper-religiosity is passive-aggressive. It never comes right out and says “You must believe what I believe,” but it’s patronizing and condescending. A gigantic cross-shaped birthday cake? A meme saying “It’s MERRY CHRISTMAS, not HAPPY HOLIDAYS”?

Those are hyper-religiosity.

In a way, it’s like dealing with fans of a certain sports team, or even in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom world (fights about who was the better captain – Kirk or Picard?). You don’t want to get on the wrong side of someone’s fandom. And the hyper-religious Christians like my mother-in-law and my husband’s aunt are Jesus fangirls. It’s almost like they’ve turned Christianity into a cult of personality, where Jesus is the focus.

When I look at it like this, I can relax a little bit. It’s just the way they are, and they’re not going to change.

But it’s why I’m glad that Facebook comes with a “hide post” option.

 

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

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


 

Sad

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

I really should know better than to write about perfection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Something I didn’t expect…

2 Elul 5774

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find that very, very sad. 

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Just an update for Tisha B’Av

So I scheduled a job interview for Tuesday, not knowing that it was Tisha B’Av… but once it was scheduled, it could not be changed. Unfortunately.

However, even if I had been able to reschedule it, I can’t fast. I am a diabetic with other health problems; fasting is not part of what I’m able to do safely for any length of time. (Trust me. Me with a below-70 blood glucose = raving crazy uncontrollable hosebeast. Not a good thing.)

So then, when you cannot fast and you must meet obligations you created before you realized the significance of the day, what do you do to observe Tisha B’Av?

Well, I spent the afternoon and evening after my interview thinking a lot about the trials that the Jewish people have endured and survived. Yes, the destruction of the two Temples, but also the Shoah (of course), the expulsion from Spain and the Inquisition, and many other horrific and horrifying events over the last few millenia. I devoted some time to praying for all those who have died and who will die in Gaza, and praying for peace (as unlikely as I think that probably is). I spent some time thinking about my father, too.

In essence, I treated the day as a day of mourning once I got home. I can’t say that that’s all I did, but I did everything deliberately, not mindlessly, and focused on remembering what our people have had to go through at the hands of others.

תן לנו שלום בזמננו – Give us peace in our time.

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A Random Post

2 Av 5774

I think I need to expand this blog a bit. So far I’ve written mainly about my studies, the books I’ve been reading, my struggles with Hebrew, and of course the situation in Israel. But there’s more to me than just “guy who is working towards conversion.” So I really should address some of that here, as well.

That said, my posts here are going to move towards “my life, with Judaism” instead of “Judaism, with mentions of my life here and there.” Judaism is important to me, always will be important to me, but there is much more to me than just my Yiddishkeit, and I ought to be acknowledging that. In doing so, I will probably highlight some of the things that I struggle with that are not G-d or Judaism. So:

I tend to be one of those folks whose temper will smolder for a long, long time before blowing like a powder keg. I hold grudges – I admit it. It isn’t just what my mother did to me; it’s my inherent nature, I think, to hold a grudge and bide my time. I know that it’s a mitzvah to forgive and let go, but it’s one of those mitzvot I struggle with.

I tend to be a starter, rather than a continuer. I’m good at beginning things – I go all-out (witness, for example, this blog). But then I kind of peter out and move on to other things. I have learned not to do that with my teaching, and I doubt that I’m ever going to do that with my Judaism, but as it becomes less of a new thing and more of a given, I am going to settle down and it probably won’t be as front-and-center for me as it has been. It’ll just be part of who I am, part of my life.

I tend to be a negative person, and I’ve been trying to change that with daily gratitudes and prayer. But my default still tends to be “I can’t” or “that’s not possible,” especially when confronted with something new and unfamiliar. I think I want to get better at saying “Give me some time to think about that,” which is something I rarely got to have as a child and young adult.

Despite being a better starter than finisher, I tend to get into mental ruts. I get “stuck” and I don’t want to change – for example, my main music for the last two months has been Neshama Carlebach, the Josh Nelson Project, Aryeh Kunstler, Dan Nichols, and Matisyahu. Now, that’s great (and I’m learning a lot of Hebrew this way), but my partner has been twitchy because it’s all I listen to. I don’t know why this is. It just is.

I finished grading and applied for unemployment yesterday. It was wrenching. I have a long history of feeling like that’s a bad thing to do, but right now, I have no choice. I can’t teach classes that aren’t meeting until September, and I have no guarantee that my classes scheduled for the coming year won’t be canceled due to budget shortfalls or drops in enrollment. So, I have to file for unemployment. Two hours later, I got an e-mail asking me to interview at a local community college for an adjunct gig. That’ll happen on Thursday. My first words when I saw the email were “Thank you, Father!” so I guess that’s an indicator of my increasing religious mindset.

I have a list of things that I was going to blog about, but lately they don’t grab me the way they did when I first wrote the list. I may comb through them and see what, if anything, grabs me – but I’d also like to know what you all would like to read. Any questions? Please ask them here.

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Back to Epstein: What About the Body?

18 Tamuz 5774

In Chapter 4 of The Basic Beliefs of Judaism, Epstein asks us to consider the following question:

What is your religious attitude toward the body? In what ways do you treat it as sacred and in what ways don’t you? 

Wow, Rabbi Epstein. You sure do like to open those cans of worms, don’t you?

I admit that I have a very troubled relationship with my body. I’m overweight and have been most of my life. I have diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, neither of which are fun. I’m short, too. So I don’t like the way my body looks. Since finding out that I am allergic to most grains, I am at least taking better care of my body’s physical needs. I try to walk more than I used to. I’m trying to eat better. I’m not perfect at it, but I try to at least give my body what it needs and avoid the things that can damage it.

But the idea of treating my body as sacred is very difficult. I have always seen it as a meat sack – a vehicle. It’s hard for me to even feel that my body is me, most of the time. I live the life of the mind because the life of the body is sweaty, uncomfortable, and often painful. Sometimes I resent the fact that I got stuck with this body. Okay, maybe more than sometimes.

So what lesson should this question teach me? If we’re supposed to treat the body as holy, as sacred, how can I do that when I can’t even figure out how to accept my body in the first place? It’s a conundrum, but then again isn’t that what Jews are supposed to be good at – figuring out conundrums? I don’t have answers yet, but the questions are sure piling up in a big way from this exercise.

It’s easier to talk about the ways I don’t treat my body as sacred. I will admit I don’t like treating my body as anything but a nuisance. I do the minimum necessary, most of the time. I shower, I shave, I comb my hair, I make myself presentable for social interaction. But I often forget to brush my teeth. I put off eating until I’m dizzy with hunger and I ignore my body’s signals about it until I can’t any more. I hate exercise because it makes me aware of my body. And let’s not even mention sex, okay? That’s not somewhere I’m willing to go.

Most of the time, my body just gets in the way of what I want to do.

Do I have to stop hating my body to be a good Jew? That’s going to be really, really difficult. Right now the thing that’s weighing on my mind about the conversion process the most isn’t all the reading and studying, or learning a new language (Hebrew), or even the social awkwardness of joining a culture that I am not yet as familiar with as I want to be.

It’s the mikveh.

It’s the knowledge that, on the day my rabbi and I decide I’m ready, I’ll have to get naked in front of strangers. That’s terrifying. I never let anyone see my body; I’m covered not from modesty but from shame.

That has to change. I don’t want the day of my dip in the mikveh to be one where I’m walking in a cloud of shame.

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Frustration

I corrected the timestamp on my post two days ago, and since then NONE of my posts are showing up on Reader. I have tried all the “fixes” and they have not corrected the problem. Help!!

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