Tag Archives: community

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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Community and Hallelujah

27 Elul 5774

It’s almost Tishri, and I find myself thanking God for that.

It has been… a rough couple of weeks. Although last Friday I managed not to set the oven on fire while baking, I still managed to forget to bring the loaf of grain-free challah I’d specifically made for kiddush after services to services on Saturday morning. I’ve been facing a lot of whelm (as in, overwhelmed) at work and outside of it, even though positive things are happening. Depression – the clinical kind – has been an inconsistent, but constant, visitor. It’s been hard sometimes to keep my mind on what I’m heading for. 2014-09-19 at 18.38.53

See? And I felt so bad, and so idiotic, for not remembering to grab it on my way out the door.

But… I also got to talk about what this last Shabbat’s Torah parshah (Nitzavim – Deuteronomy 29:9 – 28) meant to me in Shul that morning. I’ll just quote the part that the rabbi had us read, and then talk about the Torah study that our rabbi makes a regular part of our Shabbat morning services, in lieu of a sermon.

 “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, 10 you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water-drawer — 11 to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; 12  in order to establish you this day as God’s people and in order to be your God, as promised you and as sworn to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 13 I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14  but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day.

I had tears in my eyes, reading that, for two reasons. I started out with a copy from a website, and then I went and got my copy of the Torah and copied it out here, because the wording matters.

“even the stranger within your camp” and “with those who are not with us here this day” was what brought me to tears that morning. All people who want to be part of it can be. Anyone who wants in, can be in.

I want in. I said that back at Pesach, didn’t I?

Everyone in the shul that morning who heard me say that for me, this was God saying to the stranger and the not-yet-Jew, “You are also part of this covenant,” told me that they were happy I was there and part of their community.

I’ve been going for two weeks. Then I missed a week due to the oven fire. And still, they already see me as their community member. As part of what they are doing and who they are.

I can’t express what that means to me. To already be accepted. To already belong. To be, in some small sense, already a Jew in their eyes.

This part of this parshah also speaks to me as a ger, because those who are not there in body may still be there in soul – as at Sinai, nu? And my soul is being braided into this community, into this place, into these people, with every time I go to shul.

God is in this place, and how could I not know?

Afterwards, I got to talk to J, the man who usually leads song, and asked if he could teach me some of the songs so I could maybe lead sometime when the rabbi asked. He was more than happy to have another singer in the group.

Again, belonging. Perhaps someday, mispachah.

2014-09-19 at 11.43.37

Front of Havdalah candle holder.

I also had my first-ever Havdalah this past Saturday night, and it was more special than I thought it was going to be. I made my own havdalah candle holder and my own bisamim box from crafting materials and acrylic paint over the past couple of weeks, and on Saturday night, they were ready to use for Havdalah. I’m trying to create these items just like my father created so many of my family’s holiday decorations that were so important to us every year.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

I can’t honor my father in most ways that are religious (although I bought a yarzheit candle for him so I have one when January rolls around), but I’m going to make as many of my own ritual items as I can, and what I can’t make, I’ll purchase carefully.

2014-09-19 at 11.44.07

Bisamim box.

I plan to at least make a hanukkiah and a kiddush cup (I just have to find an appropriate cup). I may draw the line at a Seder plate, though.

I stumbled sometimes, and stammered, and I admit that I didn’t have all the prayers down, but this production from Moishe House Rocks helped me a lot (the song is also really catchy):

I’ve been thinking about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up much faster than I thought they would. For Rosh Hashanah, I can only point to this rendition of Psalm 150 (Hallelujah) by Hillel Tigay and the community of IKAR, in Los Angeles, for the joy that the thought of Rosh Hashanah fills me with.

And finally, although I know I’ve shared it before, sometimes music just speaks for me more than words can. So once again, I give you the Maccabeats and their amazing Yom Kippur song, Book of Good Life.

I am thankful for all these things. I am thankful for you who read my posts. I am thankful for my life and for the people who sustain me.

On Rosh Hashanah, that’s part of what I’ll be singing Hallelujah for.

And as Yom Kippur is coming up very soon, I ask forgiveness. If I have wronged you in the past year, please let me know. I will do whatever is necessary to make amends.

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

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


 

Sad

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

I really should know better than to write about perfection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gaza update: Five-day ceasefire extension.

I’ll just leave this here. 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28782224

Let’s hope the ceasefire continues and that somehow we get what needs to happen out of it. 

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

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

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

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

 


This week, I’m thankful that I finished my lit review and presentation slides for the conference coming up in one week. I’m thankful that the job interview I had on Tuesday produced an offer for an eight-week online course in the fall (later in the fall, so I can train for their system and set up the course well in advance). I’m thankful that I am feeling almost ready to start applying for full-time positions again, which is a place I wasn’t sure I would ever come back to after last year’s experience of being on the job market.

I’m thankful that my younger daughter has a great day planned with her friends for her birthday today, even if it means I don’t get to see her (there was a miscommunication, and I’m not going to derail her party with her friends). I’m thankful that my partner has had another story published this morning and that he’s working on a new one. I’m thankful that I got to see several friends again this week, including my co-author for that conference paper. I’m thankful that my partner has the day off and can spend the day with me. I’m thankful that my best friend is safe on the ground in Philadelphia after a two-week trip to Europe and will be home soon. And I’m glad that our friends from Chicago made it here safely and that we have a great day planned tomorrow with them.

I’m glad that my health is doing all right and that I’ve been able to walk better than 5,000 steps a couple of times this week (for me, that’s a lot). I’m thankful that we have healthful food in the house and that I can cook. I’m thankful that today is Shabbat and I can make a grand dinner for us for tonight. I’m thankful that the bills are paid.

I’m very glad to have heard back from the new rabbi and to have an appointment with him for next Wednesday. I’m glad that I am finally no longer in a mentally dead state and can get back to work on my Hebrew studies. I’m glad that the new rabbi has a structured program for conversion and that it looks like my work schedule will allow me to actually go to the classes.

I am very grateful for the pro-equality court decisions in the past week. I’m grateful that justice was served in the case of the young woman who was shot by a homeowner at point-blank range simply for approaching his house for help after a car accident. I’m thankful that my town elected a gay man as mayor. And I’m thankful that this blog and this blogging community exists.

What are you thankful for as we go into this week’s Shabbat? I’d love to know.

Shabbat Shalom. See you on Sunday.

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Tikkun Olam and the Kindness Boomerang

4 Av 5774

I sign a lot of online petitions. I’m a slacktivist – I sign, I repost the link to my Facebook, and I do what I can to make my voice heard. I draw the line at “let us know you called” petitions because I can’t hear on the phone very well, so I avoid the phone generally. For a while, I blogged politically for the things I thought were important: marriage equality, anti-poverty programs, education funding, a few other things.

The problem with signing these petitions is that it gets you onto email distribution lists. And then you get emails. Lots and lots of emails.

Right now, almost every email I get from a political organization is asking me for money to help with some issue or other. And how I wish I could, but it’s money I don’t have right now. It’s summer, work is over for most teachers, and I’m living carefully until school starts again and I have some assurance that my classes will remain populated for me so that I’ll get paid for them. It’s a shaky life at best.

But the issues – man, the issues! There are more than you can shake a stick at, and all of them are important, and all of them are interlinked, and how will we ever find our way out of this morass?

Just off the top of my head, here’s a few of the issues that these groups are emailing me about:

  • Gaza and Israel
  • The refugee children coming up here from war-torn Central America
  • General funding for different progressive candidates’ midterm races
  • The GOP lawsuit against the President
  • Comcast’s attempt to kill net neutrality
  • Attacks on servicemembers’ rights to their own religious practices in the military
  • Constitutional amendments to overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Supreme Court decisions that gave personhood to corporations
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Marriage equality fights across the nation
  • Veterans’ health and disability funding
  • Unemployment funding renewal
  • The adjunct crisis and funding for higher education
  • Protecting James Risen, a reporter for the New York Times who is refusing to reveal a confidential source and is now facing prison time, in blatant violation of the freedom of the press
  • Fracking in California, where I live
  • The drought in California, where I live

And on and on and on. It’s overwhelming. There’s just too many issues and I can’t process, let alone handle, all of them. And this is just a sampling – it’s certainly not every issue that has hit my inbox in the last 72 hours.

There are times I get really discouraged about this stuff. There are times I think that as a human being – never mind as a Jew-ish person, just as a human being – it’s my responsibility to fix it all. Tikkun olam, you know? Heal the world? But how can I do that with only 16 usable hours in a day? I do need to sleep, you know.

When I get into this kind of I-must-fix-the-whole-world despondency, it helps me to remember a passage from one of my favorite books on medicine: Psychward, by Stephen B. Seager. Seager is a white, middle-class, originally-from-suburban-Utah physician who spent nine years as an ER doctor and is now entering psychiatry due to PTSD from having worked in the ER too long. The book is about his first year as a psychiatric intern in The Bin (Los Angeles County General Hospital), which is located in the heart of the ghetto. Seager gets education on more than just psychiatric terms and medications; he gets an education on what it’s like to be blindingly poor. He has to interact with the homeless and turn them away from the hospital on a daily basis during triage because they don’t have mental illnesses. He sees grinding poverty and the anguish that goes with it.

And at some point, it overwhelms him.  On the day he finally reaches his breaking point, he sees a five-year-old who found his parents’ cocaine stash and tried a few lines, resulting in a cocaine overdose. He has to help other people who have problems bigger than he can handle. The last straw comes when has to deal with a woman who is both a cocaine addict and who admits to having sold her children to the “baby man” in exchange for cocaine. He can’t handle it. He leaves in the middle of his shift and goes home to his suburban middle-class house in a nice part of Los Angeles. The next morning, over breakfast, he tells his wife he can’t handle the job any more. The issues are just too big.

On her suggestion, he goes back to tell everyone that he’s leaving, to apologize for leaving in the middle of his shift, and to pick up his stuff. And it turns out that his wife called in one of his friends who works on the ward to cover for him, and told the people at work that there was an emergency at home. Him leaving call blows over, and that same friend, a brilliant doctor named Glen Charles who grew up in and still lives in the ghetto, takes him to lunch.

This is where Dr. Seager gets a lesson in how much (and how little) we can actually do about the big problems. I’ll quote from the book here.

“Everything comes to a head,” [Glen] continued, “when we realize the ghetto exists not because ‘they’ tolerate it but because we ourselves tolerate it, you and I. This place is like it is because we allow it to be so. That’s the conflict,” Glen said. “The kernel for the explosion. How can this place be, and why did I permit it? That’s a heavy cross to bear.”

I felt like running from the room or punching Glen. He’d found a sore spot and was leaning down hard. I think I actually pulled at my shirt collar.

“There is a way out, however,” Glen said with a reassuring look. “Since you were part of the problem, you have to become part of the solution. Not the entire solution, just your part.”

“What’s my part, Glen?” I said, thinking back to the overwhelming rush of emotion I’d felt while driving through the ghetto streets.

“Your part,” Glen continued, “is to take it one person at a time. To realize that all these people are human beings […] That they didn’t ask for this, just as you didn’t ask for the troubles in your life. Do the best you can for each patient that crosses your path and you’ve done your job. The larger issues here are too much to comprehend. But the little ones we can handle. And if enough little ones go away, one day so will the big ones.”

Seager, Stephen B. 1991. Psychward. New York: Berkeley Books.

The value of tikkun olam often feels to me (and, I’m sure, to other Jews and Jew-ish people) like we have to fix everything, right now, all at once. I know that when I point out to my students that there is no one right answer, and that there is no one quick fix – that higher taxes are linked to how we get people out of poverty, and that poverty is linked to a lack of education, and that education isn’t as much of a help as it used to be because we’ve culturally devalued knowledge and value ignorance, and that that ignorance leads to discrimination against people who are different (non-Christian, nonwhite, female, poor, queer), they get really uncomfortable. They ask me “Then what’s the answer?”

The answer is exactly what Glen Charles said it is. Take it one person at a time. Handle the issue you can handle, today, now. Make the world a slightly better place where you are, and let the rest go, because we are human, not superhuman. Reach out in kindness to the stranger. If you can help someone today, help them. If you can say a kind word, say it.

Research has shown that acting kindly towards others makes you feel better about yourself. But it’s also shown that it acts as the start of a kindness boomerang for most people who witness or experience someone else’s act of kindness. A perfect example is this video from Live Vest Inside:

As a Jew-ish person, my job is to be a light to the world, to be an example. So today I’m going to make a point of thanking people for their help. I’m going to make a point of helping people who need it if I can provide the help. I’m going to try to set off kindness boomerangs everywhere I go.

If you do the same, we can make the world a better place, one person at a time.

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Epstein: A Common Ancestor

19 Tamuz 5774

Epstein asks us in chapter 4 of The Basic Beliefs of Judaism:

“What would it mean if we all shared a common ancestor?”

This bothers me, the idea that having a common ancestor should be this important. Of course, religiously, Epstein means Adam and Eve (and, I suppose, Noah and his children, since nobody else survived the Flood). But he also acknowledges genetics in the chapter that precedes this question. Chapter 4 is largely about balancing scientific findings about evolution and natural selection with Biblical teachings about the origin of humankind.

If we all shared a common ancestor in the sense that we all looked alike, we’d still find other ways to separate ourselves out and treat others as less-than. I’m a social scientist; I study this stuff.

However, we do (technically) all share common ancestry, if not a single common ancestor. And as such, we need to talk about things like race, and how we let this social construct separate us in ways we should never have let it separate us from each other.

Race is entirely a social construct. Evolution has a lot to do with it, but there are no separate “races.” There is the human race, and variation within it. The darker you are, the closer your ancestors were to the equator, and the more sun they were exposed to. Our bodies protect us against skin cancer by increasing melanin content. Conversely, the farther away from the equator your ancestors lived, and the more Vitamin D you needed to attract, the paler you’re going to be, to protect yourself from rickets.

But both of these things are just evolutionary responses to environmental stimuli. There are no “races.” There are only human variations.

I really wish people could understand this better.

The problem is, humanity is, by its very nature, an ingroup-outgroup kind of creature. We like our groups and our tribes and we often define ourselves by what we’re not (the outgroup). I think, as a social scientist, that ingroup-outgroup is sort of the fundamental problem with humanity today. We can’t seem to see everyone as part of our group.

This applies to race, and it applies to gender, and to religion, and even to occupation. When are we going to get our act together as a species and see that we all share common ancestry?

So, what might it mean, if we all understood that we have a common ancestor? Maybe the end of us-and-themism. Maybe the end of ingroup-and-outgroup. Maybe the end of fighting with each other.

Yeah, I can dream, can’t I?

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My Jewish&

MyJewishLearning.com is a fantastic site for converts. It’s got blogs, resources, references, all kinds of stuff to help us gerim get into the swing of things in our new chosen community.

12 Tamuz 5774

A recent blog post asks: “What’s YOUR Jewish&“? This post is a simple list of people’s responses – “I’m Jewish AND (&)…” So I thought I’d just do that here for fun. (Be aware: there’s a LOT of “&” for me.)

I’m Jew-ish&…

… white.

… Scots-Irish, German, French, English, Welsh, Hungarian and Dutch.

… raised Catholic.

… queer.

… polyamorous.

… a parent of two non-Jewish kids.

… a teacher.

… a scholar.

… fat. (Yes, this is an important one for me.)

… diabetic.

… grain-allergic.

… arthritic.

… educated.

Now let’s get into some of the other stuff that MJL might not have considered. I’m also Jew-ish&…

… angry about what’s going on in Israel and the Gaza strip.

… disappointed at the state of education in the United States for many reasons.

… tired of people othering everyone. For example, on a comment on the Josh Gad interview on Kveller the other day, someone just had to self-righteously say that Gad, a descendant of Shoah survivors and the parent of two children who are being raised interfaith with his Catholic wife, is a “tragic outcome” of the American melting pot. I happen to think that’s a bigoted opinion and that it qualifies as lashon hara. (Shame on you, Pinchos Woolstone.)

… sick to death of violence, hate, bigotry, and stupidity.

… hopeful that things can change for the better.

… determined to make them so.

So what’s YOUR Jewish&?

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From My Readings: Acting Cheerful is Not A Choice (Telushkin, Values)

Today a friend of mine posted a link to Facebook that said “Maybe the reason you get bad customer service is because you’re a bad customer.” She works in customer service and takes a lot of abuse from her customers. I sympathize, because I’ve been there and done that – both as the service person and, to my chagrin, as the customer.

I need to remember not to do that any more, for a number of reasons – most of which are fundamentally Jewish reasons. I will explain.

First, in Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, one of the values (day 33) is “Acting Cheerfully is Not a Choice.” This seems to be a little much at first reading, but Telushkin’s explanation points out that it’s not our right to inflict our bad moods or bad tempers on other people. People serving us in a business transaction did not ask for our bad mood, and it’s not our right to dump it on them. He quotes Prager saying “We have a moral obligation to be as happy as we can be.” A passage from the Talmud backs his up for Telushkin as well: “The man who shows his teeth to his friend in a smile is better than one who gives him milk to drink.”

For me, this also ties into the I-Thou relationship as opposed to the I-It relationship (which comes from Martin Buber’s work). We tend to see people who are serving us in business transactions as Its, rather than Thous. We don’t see them as people. And this even goes beyond business relationships to other relationships, when we start just thinking of other people as a means to an end, rather than as human beings. The mechanic produces a functioning car. The grocer supplies food that is quality enough that I can eat it. The storekeeper sells me a kippah so I can wear it. But do I know anything about these folks as human beings? Do I care? If they died tomorrow, would I notice it in any way other than the basic material irritation of having to find another mechanic?

Well, this value tells me I should care. If that’s my regular mechanic, I should know more about him than just that he fixes cars. I should know the shopkeeper where I buy my Judaica, ideally by name. Even in the process of conversion, it’s easily possible to slip into thinking of the rabbi as a gatekeeper whom we must “get something” from, instead of another human being who has knowledge we do not have.

But that can only happen if we stop seeing them as their role, and start seeing them as a person. Instead of Jim the mechanic, I should be seeing Jim Smith, whose wife is having surgery next week and who is pretty stressed out. Instead of seeing Rabbi Jones, I should be seeing David, my rabbi, whose son is moving towards a bar mitzvah in two weeks. I should know more about them than just their names and their roles.

I work hard with my students so that they know that I don’t really see my doctorate as something that puts me “above” them. I work hard to make them see me as a coach, not a high-muckety-muck. But I’ve known professors in my time who really needed their students to see them as minor gods, and who maintained that I-It relationship for all they were worth. I refuse to do that. I try to learn names as quickly as I can. I make time for casual chit-chat to know more about my students. I do my best to be open and honest with them about myself (they know I’m queer, and that I’m converting, for example). And I think it makes a difference. They remember me – and I remember them – as people, not objects.

It’s harder to see people as people when we’re grumpy, or tired, or otherwise negatively framing the world. So being cheerful is a good first step. Some research has shown that just smiling will put you in a better mood. There’s also the “fake it till you make it” idea, which has worked for me as well – just keep acting cheerful, even if you aren’t. When we do that, we’re more likely to see people as people.

Maybe that’s the lesson in this link I read today. We have to see all people as people, not as obstacles or tools. Until we do, we have no chance of healing the world.

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