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Friday Feature: What Good Thing(s) Happened To You This Week?

20 Tamuz 5774

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.


And we’re back again with the Friday Feature!

In terms of work and career, I finished the lectures for my summer class and I’ll be done with their grading on Sunday. I am planning to spend part of the day today working on a literature review for my writing partner (I hope). Next week I’ll be setting up my fall class Blackboard pages so that they’re all ready to launch.

For family and friends, I’m thankful that my friend Missy’s daughter Cassie was diagnosed and treated for a very dangerous medical condition. I’m also glad that my partner is having a productive week at work both at his workplace and with his writing, and that my daughters will be spending the weekend with us starting this morning. My best friend was over yesterday and we had a splendid time.

In terms of health, I’m still able to walk a mile even after standing for three hours lecturing, which is a good thing. I’m currently free of injuries, my arthritis is behaving itself, and my sugars are mostly under control. All to the good.

My apartment could use a little cleaning, but the kitchen is clean and ready for Shabbat cooking. I got paid earlier than I was expecting, so I’ll be able to catch up on some bills, which is good. The gas tank is full, we’ll be clearing out our old storage unit this weekend, and the laundry will be done on Sunday night after the kids go back home. And the test grain-free challah I made two days ago, with the new recipe tweaks, probably needs two more eggs and a higher mixing speed, but it’s much, much better than the previous grain-free attempts I’ve made, so I’m happy about that too.

My conversion studies have been somewhat on the back burner this week, but I’ve still managed to work on Epstein and my Hebrew studies. (Part of that is that I’ve read alll these library books and now I need to absorb what I’ve read. I should probably renew them, too.) I’ve sent an e-mail to a new rabbi and I’ll be calling him later today if I don’t hear back, to find out if maybe he’s on vacation or something (which is what happened with my last rabbi, too). Listening to new Jewish musical artists has allowed me to memorize the Modeh Ani prayer, which has actually been really neat.

In the wider world, I’m glad that the heat wave here has cooled off. We’re back to temperatures in the low 80s instead of the mid-90s F.

Last but not least, in miscellaneous life: I’ve finished my coming-out process about my conversion by posting about it to Facebook, and I got an enormous amount of support (which is a huge relief).

So overall, things are going pretty well for me this week. How are things going for you?

I’ll see you on Sunday – and I wish you Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday Feature: What Good Thing(s) Happened To You This Week?

13 Tamuz 5774

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good thing 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.

Work and career: My summer course is going very well. My “how to write well” class opened a lot of eyes and got my students thinking, which is awesome.

Family and friends: My partner got promoted at work, and that’s been great for him. He’s also doing a lot of writing projects, which is fantastic for him. Another friend of mine recently got published in an academic journal, which is great.

Health: I have been sleeping reasonably well with one day not-so-good sleep (for me that’s really a big deal; usually I don’t sleep especially well).

Household: My new kippah arrived today, and two days ago all the ingredients and tools for my grain-free challah arrived: potato starch and parchment paper and a sifter that hasn’t been contaminated with wheat, a couple of pastry brushes to replace the one we seem to have lost; xanthan gum to make it stretchy like bread should be. This means that I can make my challah again for Shabbat! I admit I’m excited.

Conversion and conversion studies: I’ve made the hard decision and have contacted another rabbi. I am still studying Hebrew and reading every book I can get my hand on and I’m really enjoying it. I have about two people left to come out to and then I can go public on Facebook about my conversion.

So now I ask my readers: What are you grateful for this week? What are you going to talk about over your Shabbat table?

I wish you Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll see you back here on Sunday.

 

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Friday Feature: What Good Thing Happened to You This Week?

6 Tamuz 5774

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good thing 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.


In terms of my work and my career, I filed grades on Sunday this week and my students had an 86% pass rate, which makes me happy. My current class is keeping up with the work and we’ve had some amazing and enlightening discussions. The structure I put together for the course is working better than I could have hoped, too. And I’m going to spend part of this week working on the book that is closer to being finalized than I could have hoped for, so I can get it onto Amazon and get students to buy it so they can succeed in school this coming school year.

In terms of my social relationships, I got lucky enough to spend time with several friends this week: my best friend was here on Wednesday, and yesterday I got to see an old friend from graduate school whom I hadn’t seen in months. I was asked to be part of someone’s elevation ceremony in my medieval group in a couple weeks.

In terms of my health, I got a good night’s sleep last night and I’m feeling better now that my blood pressure is under control. I’m grateful that all my pharmacy stuff is taken care of for the month so I don’t have to worry about medications. I’m glad that walking a mile is no longer an exercise in pain and frustration, and that I was able to do that a couple of times this week, too.

For my household, we have a full refrigerator and gas tank again. My bank is working with me on the fact that one of my paychecks is going to be here much later than I wanted it to be. Our library books are renewed and I was able to afford a copy of Epstein’s book for myself when the library copy was called back on a hold. We were able to reserve a local storage unit for a reduced price from the one we have in another city, and we’ll be spending part of the weekend going up and getting our things out of the other unit and moving them here, so we can stop having to pay that bill and so our things will be close by.

In terms of family, my partner and I have been having a good week with each other, with lots of down-time and time spent together. My kids won’t be here this coming weekend as originally planned but that’s okay; we’ll have time with them soon again.

In terms of my studies, I’m still learning and growing, and I find almost everything I read fascinating. I’m glad that I came to the realization that I need a different rabbi early on, instead of later on when it would have been more difficult to switch.

In things that don’t seem to fit into any category, an older man saw my kippah while my friend and my partner and I were waiting to be seated for lunch on Thursday, and said “Shalom alecheim!” to me. I’ve been positively recognized as a Jew again in public, and that was exciting. I’m excited that I have more followers here at WWG. I’m glad that I am reaching people and that they’re responding positively.

In the wider world, I’m grateful that so many people have reacted so strongly to the Hobby Lobby ruling, and that it’s spurring greater voter registration and activity out there. I’m also grateful that more marriage-equality rulings have come down on the side of the GLBT community (most recently the 6th Circuit ruling and what’s happened in Colorado).

So tell me. What good things happened to you this week?

And that said, I’ll wish you Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll see you again on Sunday.

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Friday Feature: What Good Thing Happened To You This Week?

29 Sivan 5774

Telushkin’s Jewish value for day 69 (in his book The Book of Jewish Values) asks: What good thing happened to you this week?

This is going to be a regular Friday morning feature for me from now on, I think. 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, so I’m going to make this my regular Friday morning feature.

In yesterday’s post I talked about making gratitude part of my daily practice even before the idea of converting to Judaism had become part of my reality. Gratitude doesn’t have to be about Big Things. It can be about little things, too. Being little doesn’t make a thing trivial. And over the past week, I have had all kinds of things to be grateful for.

In terms of my career and my job, my summer class is completely prepped, which is a new thing for me – I won’t have to worry about scrambling to get anything set up for students, because it’s all done. That gives me an extra hour or two per week, at least. My online course will be done on Sunday and I hope to have grades ready to file at that point. Both of these make me thankful because I get to be with and interact with students, which is a powerful experience for me. They also make me thankful because they will produce a paycheck, with which I can meet my family’s needs. I will have time on Sunday to write, very likely, which will allow me to finish the student-success book that I want to put up on Amazon for sale well before the school year starts.

In terms of my health, I’m grateful that my blood pressure is back down in a normal range. I’m grateful that my blood sugar is mostly stable. I’m grateful that I am getting good sleep every night and that I wake up rested instead of tired.

In terms of my household, I’m grateful that my car has nearly a full tank of gas. I’m grateful that the refrigerator is full of food after my grocery run on Tuesday. I’m grateful that we made it to the laundromat on Sunday so I have clean clothes, and that the kitchen is clean so that baking challah for Shabbat dinner will not be a problem. I’m thankful that my partner got paid and that the bill that was waiting is now paid as well.

In terms of my studies, I’m grateful that I can now write out transliterations for most of the Hebrew I’ve been studying, which means I know the letters and the nikkudim well enough to stumble through it. I’m not fluent yet by any means, but it’s coming along. I’m also grateful that I have been able to take the time to read through most of the library books I picked up two weeks ago, and that I have the ability to go online and renew some of them so I can take a deeper look at them this coming week.

In terms of friends, I’m grateful for getting to have lunch with one of my newer friends yesterday, for seeing another friend for most of Monday after work, and for having plans to see other friends this weekend. I’m grateful that I have so much love in my life.

In terms of family, I’m so glad that I got to see my children this past weekend, and that my partner and I have been able to see each other every day this week. I’m grateful for his presence in my life. I’m grateful that my other partner is in my life.

I’m also grateful for the music of the Josh Nelson Project, Neshama Carlebach, and Aryeh Kuntsler. I’m grateful for authors: Telushkin, Epstein, Diamant, Leaman, Kushner – all of whom have enlightened and educated me this week as I work towards conversion. I’m grateful for the good weather we’ve been having locally, and that I was able to walk to and from my lunch appointment yesterday with minimal pain.

And, in the wider world, I’m grateful for the recent court rulings in favor of marriage equality, which tells me that justice may take its time in getting here, but once it’s here, it stays.

As you can see, once you start listing the things you’re grateful for, it can get out of hand. But perhaps that’s a good thing to do on erev Shabbat. We often look at our lives and only see the bills, the worries, the stressors. While it’s human to notice the bad things first – because in an evolutionary sense, that helps us avoid danger – an over-focus on bad things can be damaging. So take some time today to list the things you’re thankful for. Talk about them with your family over Shabbat dinner.

One of Josh Nelson’s songs, “Seven,” talks about the Sabbath being a time to slow down and consider what the seventh day means:

I am waiting for the sunset

I am waiting for the peace

I am waiting for this holy moment

For a moment of release

Seven days, take my worries

Taking time to catch my breath

Seven days, start me over

Slow me down and clear my head…

Now I ask you – what better way to enter the seventh day than with gratitude? What better way to calm down and catch your breath than by spending a little time listing and thinking about what you’re grateful for?

So let the day take your worries. While you wait for the sunset, let yourself start over and clear your head (from negativity and stress) by listing the good things that have happened to you during the week. Feel free to use the comment thread here to state it, if you like.

And that said, I wish you Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll see you back on Sunday morning.

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Counting My Blessings: Gratitude is a Choice

28 Sivan 5774

Even before I realized that Judaism was the path I needed to take, I was doing things that were Jewish. Gratitude has been one of the main ones, but it wasn’t always that way.

My partner, bless him, is an everlasting optimist. He rejects the negative in the same way I rejected the positive. He may get hurt sometimes, but he’s generally happier.

Two years ago this January, I posted something to my private LiveJournal blog about religion. I noodled about the idea that religion might be more about practice than belief – which, for me at the time, was a completely novel concept. I talked about studies I’d read that show that religious people seem to be happier and more grounded than people who are not religious. I wrote about AJ Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically and what the author seemed to get out of following every rule in the Bible for a year (which he did not expect): more calm, more focus, and more aware of his life and what was going on around him. I admitted, even back then, that even if you do not believe in the deity in question, the practices do things to and for you that you can’t get otherwise.

I think this was a helicopter too, although I didn’t know it at the time. Realizing that religious people are happier, and that the reason might be the practices, rather than the beliefs, really shook me up.

That post also had me admitting that I had a problem with Something being out there that I couldn’t sense with my five senses, but instead of saying “and so there’s no proof of it,” for possibly the first time in my life I asked if maybe there was something broken about me, that I couldn’t sense this Something that everyone else seemed to be able to sense. And I admitted that my anger at people who believed in G-d (at the time) was because I was scared that their ability to sense/perceive G-d when I couldn’t might be evidence of me being broken or wrong – and I know I’ve already discussed the roots of that particular hangup here in this blog, since.

It was a big step for me at the time, realizing that I needed a religion that was practice-focused, even if I didn’t say it in quite those words. I did admit at that time that I missed the practice of religion, even though I was still totally turned off by the belief systems.

In the spring of last year, I attended Renaissance Faire several times during the season for the first time as a prospective volunteer, rather than just a patron. At the end of the Faire season I was invited into a Faire family, and the open acceptance blew me away. It blew me away, in part, because logically I saw no reason why I should have been invited or accepted, but I still was. I admitted at that time that “logic is how to go perfectly wrong with confidence,” and that with my doctoral degree in social science I really ought to have admitted that humans are illogical, and run with that, instead of insisting on logic. I apologized to people who I’d been angry towards because of their religious beliefs. And I said “My insistence on logic and my rejection of anything that didn’t have hard concrete proof? Was my own stupidity and arrogance and…. misguided protection of the vulnerable person inside me, that didn’t know how to believe or trust without organization and structure and proof and logic.”

Then, this past January, I realized I was only looking at the negative things in my life – money worries, problems with my health, issues with my students. I’d always called that “realism,” but let’s be honest here; it was pessimism. For me, the positive simply didn’t exist.

At the same time, my partner the optimist had read a book called 10% Happier by Dan Harris, and he shared some of it with me. One thing that struck me was that research had shown that if you ask someone to list three things they’re grateful for every morning, their focus eventually shifts and becomes less pessimistic and more optimistic. If there had been no research, I probably would have pooh-poohed it, shrugged, and ignored it. But I’m a researcher, and so I am convinced by research evidence… so I decided to try it.

At first it was hard to come up with things I was grateful for. And it was equally hard not to think of them as trivial. But having a hot cup of coffee in the morning – I was grateful for that. I was grateful for this amazing apartment that my partner and I moved into last fall. I was grateful that I had friends who would reach out to me when I was hurting. So I began listing three things I was grateful for, every morning, and posting them to my Facebook as a sort of gratitude-accountability thing. At first, it felt really awkward – as any new habit does.

But then something amazing happened. I got happier. Slowly, but surely, I got happier. Sure, I still have my bad moments, but I can’t deny that I got happier by simply reminding myself of the things I’m grateful for.

How does this tie to Judaism? Well, most Jewish prayers aren’t about petitioning G-d for things. They rarely, if ever, say “G-d, do this or that for me, please.” They’re about praise and/or gratitude: Praised are you, G-d, for your works. Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, who makes me sleep peacefully. Thank you, G-d, for being there for me when it hurts; for giving me a body that works;  for this food which sustains me; for giving us the Torah at Sinai.

The Modeh Ani, one of the first prayers taught to children after the Sh’ma, is a waking-up prayer that starts the day with gratitude:

מוֹדֶהאֲנִילְפָנֶֽיךָמֶֽלֶךְחַיוְקַיָּים. שֶׁהֶֽחֱזַֽרְתָּבִּינִשְׁמָתִיבְחֶמְלָה. רַבָּהאֱמֽוּנָתֶֽךָ׃

Modeh ani lifanekha melekh chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmati b’chemlah, raba emunatekha.

I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for you have mercifully restored my soul within me; your faithfulness is great.

So Jewish prayer is rarely a petition for help; it tends to be a thank-you note or letter to G-d instead.

And now, having gone through this gratitude practice for over half a year, I am ready to pray that way.

Maybe I had to go through these seismic shifts in order to find a religion that was based on practice and gratitude. Maybe I wouldn’t have found Judaism if I hadn’t gone through them. So that’s another thing to be grateful for, isn’t it? Thank you, G-d, for the seismic shifts. Thank you for your still, small voice. Thank you for being there and being patient. Thank you for my yiddishe neshama and my pintele yid.

I’m thankful for my readership – you folks. I’m thankful for my mind, that allows me to take these steps and make these changes. I’m thankful that the rabbi accepted me as a conversion candidate.

What are you thankful for today?

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