Tag Archives: gerim

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

Coming Up For Air

So, a few things have happened since my last post.

1. I got legally married. My husband and I planned very carefully to make sure we could get married on a Friday without violating the Sabbath. We got married about ten minutes before sundown on October 31st, surrounded by friends. It was lovely.

2. There’s a very good chance that we will reprise the wedding next year as a religious wedding, with a huppah and everything. The other night my husband told me that there’s a 99% chance he’s going to convert with me. We’ve started attending the Taste of Judaism classes at our temple, and we’re definitely taking the Introduction to Judaism course that starts in January. There’s a very good chance we’ll take our mikveh dip at the same time.

3. I have purchased our own copy of the siddur used at our temple – the Mishkan T’Filah Reform Siddur. Last night we did Havdalah together and included a few readings from the siddur as part of it. (I wish I could find a recording of Elana Jagoda’s Havdalah song that was available as an MP3 instead of only on YouTube, though.)

4. There is no fourth thing.

5. I have been overwhelmed with work and other issues, which is why I haven’t been posting. I’m sure that “getting married” counts as something overwhelming, doesn’t it?

I’m also working on my antipathy towards the fundamentalists in my own faith. I have to get past this; it’s making it hard for me to practice tikkun olam. Reading part of Spiritual Activism by Rabbi Avraham Weiss (an Orthodox rabbi who calls for unity among all Jews and does not judge non-Orthodox Jews – for the most part) helped. I may talk about that in a few days.

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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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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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For We Were Strangers in Mitzrayim

11 Tamuz 5774

Trigger warning: This is about the boys who were killed in Israel and then in Palestine just recently, whose deaths have caused such a furor that Hamas and Israel are exchanging massive firepower at each other right now.

I don’t quite know what to say. I’ve hesitated to write anything for more than a week, for various reasons.

We were strangers in Mitzrayim. This is a hell of a way to demonstrate that we remember that. Actually, it’s about the farthest thing from a demonstration of remembering it – it’s demonstrating that we are forgetting it.

What we are seeing is former victims now becoming bullies. This happens a lot with children. The bullied kid gets big enough that he begins to bully.

By the way, I don’t care who started it. Neither should you. That isn’t the point. The point is that children were killed, mostly by adults, because some people decided it was okay to throw their weight around and bully someone weaker.

I think it’s horrifying. I think it’s horrifying that Hamas operatives felt it was okay to harm children. I think it’s equally horrifying that Jewish extremists then felt it was okay to retaliate against children. Nobody’s hands are clean in this situation. Nobody gets to say “but they started it.” That’s a childish excuse and it doesn’t hold water even on the playground or in the sandbox. It certainly should not hold water in an international conflict.

As far as I know, none of the boys involved were part of any political movements in Israel or in Palestine. None of them were soldiers (most of them weren’t old enough). None of them signed up to be sacrificial victims. And none of them deserved what happened to them.

The Israeli boys were killed by adults. The Palestinian boy was killed by a gang of teenagers, from what I understand, and his cousin was severely beaten by three Israeli police officers (who were also adults).

Why? I cannot come up with a good reason why. It’s the playground bully written large. It’s the fight for control of the sandbox. It’s senseless. And the reasons given by either side are also senseless (and often very childish).

As a new member of the Tribe (almost) I also didn’t know if I had any right to write about this. I’m not a Jew, yet. I’m only Jew-ish. I’ve never been to Israel. I’ve never been in the thick of this situation. But I’m taking on not just the Jewish belief system but the entire tribe, right? So I’m going to go with “I have a right and a responsibility to write about this because I will be a Jew, and soon, and this is part of what I’m accepting as the burden of being Jewish.”

Moving on.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. So why do we keep on doing it? Why is it that we keep on trading bomb for bomb and life for life? What is wrong with us? Are we so married to our ideologies and our territoriality that we aren’t willing to see the people on the other side of the firing line as human beings? Do we not remember how it was in Egypt and in Babylon? Do we not remember what it was like being second- or third-class citizens? We talk about it every year on Pesach to keep the memory fresh. Has everyone already forgotten for the year? Do we only remember it during the spring?

There has to be a solution that provides both for Palestine and for Israel. There has to be a two-state solution, where we respect boundaries and borders and stop insisting that everyone else should stay out of our sandbox. I don’t think that what’s going on right now in Gaza and in Tel Aviv is what G-d wanted of his children (and what drives me the most crazy about this? It’s just a continuation of sibling rivalry – Isaac and Ishmael – bickering over whose idea of G-d is going to be more important). This is insanity, folks.

None of those boys should have died. And none of them should have been “avenged.” And the people who carried out the revenge killing and beating are equally guilty and should be held equally responsible for what they did as the Hamas terrorists should be for what they did to the three Israeli teenagers.

Because this? Is not the act of a nation that shows mercy to the stranger. Not at all.

I can’t say it’s not what I signed up for. But I am going to say that it’s not what I was hoping to see in the people I’ve chosen to join. Because we can be better than this, and we should be better than this. And if that knowledge doesn’t frame our discussions and our negotiations, even in blog posts, then we’re no better than the Egyptians that enslaved us.

For we were strangers in Mitzrayim, and we are admonished over and over again in Torah to remember that, and to be gentle to the stranger. Now the Palestinians are the strangers, and we really ought to be better than this.

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