Tag Archives: Jew-ish

“Deus meus, ex toto corde paenitet…” an ex-Catholic’s reflection on Yom Kippur

So, it’s Kol Nidre – also known as erev Yom Kippur. Think of it as “Day of Atonement Eve,” if you like. The last of the ten Days of Awe.

When I was a kid growing up Catholic, going to Confession was a Big Deal. As part of this uncomfortable ritual where you sat in a little box in the wall with the priest in another little box in the wall separated by a screen (so that anonymity could supposedly be preserved), you told him everything you’d done (or thought!) wrong in the past week or month: lies, anger, impure thoughts, impure deeds, sins you’d committed, sins you’d committed by failing to act… the list went on and on.

At the end of this little recitation, you recited the Act of Contrition. I’ve provided the beginning of it in the title of this piece. Translated, that means (essentially): “O my God, I am most heartily sorry.”

The entire prayer – which has to be said before forgiveness comes from the priest – goes like this.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and amend my life.  Amen.

There are other English translations. Some say “I firmly resolve to go and sin no more.” Well. That’s a little unrealistic, don’t you think? (Especially since in the Catholic tradition, thoughts are also sins.)

Yeah, it is unrealistic. But I realized in the last few days that it’s also my image of what “contrition” – and thus atonement – looks like. To me, this doesn’t look especially healthy. It looks like self-guilt-tripping and it brings up the whole God-As-Cosmic-Bully problem that I’ve mentioned before.

The Ashamnu and Al Cheyt prayers, which are part of the Vidui services on Yom Kippur, are different from this in one very important way. They are communal confessions, not individual ones. They are communal statements of wrongdoing and a communal resolution to do better in the future. That means you’re not being singled out for what you did. We’re all atoning at the same time, for the same things, in the same way. We can lean on each other for support while we confess and repent.

One online source I found gives the Ashamnu as a list of 24 sins that we, as a community, must improve upon:


Ashamnu: We have trespassed.

Bagadnu: We have dealt treacherously.

Gazlalnu: We have robbed.

Dibarnu dofi: We have spoken slander.

He’evinu: We have acted perversely.

V’hirshanu: We have done wrong.

Zadnu: We have acted presumptuously.

Hamasnu: We have done violence.

Tafalnu sheker: We have practiced deceit.

Yaatsnu ra: We have counseled evil.

Kizavnu: We have spoken falsehood.

Latsnu: We have scoffed.

Maradnu: We have revolted.

Niatsnu: We have blasphemed.

Sararnu: We have rebelled.

Avinu: We have committed iniquity.

Pashanu: We have transgressed.

Tsararnu: We have oppressed.

Kishinu oref: We have been stiff-necked.

Rashanu: We have acted wickedly.

Shichatnu: We have dealt corruptly.

Tiavnu: We have committed abomination.

Tainu: We have gone astray.

Titanu: We have led others astray.

To me, this seems to be the “confession” part of the atonement process. We’re admitting we did these things. So far so good, right?

The contrition part, or atonement part, come with the Al Cheyt (Al Chet, in some transliterations). This has 44 statements of petition for forgiveness. A search online tells me that the Al Cheyt is like the Pesach haggadah; many people have written their own Al Cheyt to address sins that are not listed in the original Al Cheyt (like environmental sins, or homophobia, or sexism). Examples include this one from the Velveteen Rabbi and this one from Zeh Lezeh.

In Hebrew, “chet” or “cheyt” means “sin.” It’s one of the three main kinds of sin. Knowing that the translation of is literally “To miss the mark” – it comes from archery, where you didn’t quite hit the target you were aiming for – I have written out my understanding of the 44 statements below.

For missing the mark before You both under duress and willingly;

For missing the mark before You through having a hardened heart;

For missing the mark before You thoughtlessly or without awareness;

For missing the mark before You through our words and our deeds;

For missing the mark before You in public and in private;
For missing the mark before You in our immorality;

For missing the mark before You in the use of harsh speech;

For missing the mark before You with knowledge and with deceit;

For missing the mark before You through our inner thoughts;

For missing the mark before You through the wronging of our friends;

For missing the mark before You through insincerity or false apology;

For missing the mark before You by gathering to do harm to others;

For missing the mark before You by our will and by our carelessness;

For missing the mark before You by false statements towards our teachers and our parents;

For missing the mark before You by the exercise of our power and our privilege;

For missing the mark before You for through desecration of Your Name through our words or actions;

For missing the mark before You through thoughtless and foolish words;

For missing the mark before You with vulgarity and unpleasantness;

For missing the mark before You through hedonism and disregard for goodness;

For missing the mark before You through our actions against those who know and those who do not;

For missing the mark before You through bribery;

For missing the mark before You through false promises;

For missing the mark before You through gossip and negative speech;

For missing the mark before You through scorn and disrespect of others;

For missing the mark before You in our business and workplace practices;

For missing the mark before You with food and with drink;

For missing the mark before You through the exploitation of our financial agreements;

For missing the mark before You through arrogance and incivility;

For missing the mark before You through our facial expressions and our gestures;

For missing the mark before You through excessive and unconsidered speech;

For missing the mark before You through our self-righteousness;

For missing the mark before You through ignoring the moral consequences of our actions;

For missing the mark before You through ignoring or refusing our commitments and responsibilities;

For missing the mark before You through our judgmental behaviors and actions;

For missing the mark before You through violating our friends’ boundaries;

For missing the mark before You through envy and jealousy;

For missing the mark before You through frivolity and shallowness;

For missing the mark before You through refusing to see another’s point of view;

For missing the mark before You through rushing through the good and prolonging our time in evil;

For missing the mark before You through repeating gossip to its target;

For missing the mark before You through taking our vows in vain;

For missing the mark before You through our hatred of those who are not like us;

For missing the mark before You for avoiding acts of charity;

For missing the mark before You through the confusion of our hearts.

For all of these things, O God, forgive us, pardon us, and permit us to atone. 

Obviously, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur have brought up some uncomfortable echoes out of my Catholic past. This Act of Contrition is obviously one of them. Another is the fast. The all-day, 26-hour fast. Sundown tonight to sundown tomorrow.

And how I wish I could do that. Mortification of the body is a really penitent-feeling thing for me.

But medically, I am not able to fast. I feel awful about it, too. I fasted every year from the time I was eleven years old on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday) until I left the Catholic Church. But I wasn’t a diabetic back then. My diabetes diagnosis five or six years ago put an end to fasting for me. I’m completely diet-controlled, so far, but if I go more than six hours without protein and fat, I get suicidally depressed as my blood sugar bottoms out. And because of the damage that diabetes does to a diabetic’s kidneys, I am medically not allowed to go without hydration.

Instead of the mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur like every other Jew I know, I’ll have to settle for the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh. It just doesn’t feel as righteous to me, somehow. It bothers me.

But it’s also not something I can do without making myself physically ill. So, no fasting.

Instead, my partner and I are going to coordinate. He doesn’t feel ready to go to Yom Kippur services, so he will be doing our laundry that day while I go to services all day, starting at 11 a.m. I will eat something before I go to temple so that I can hold out for a few hours while he goes and does other things. He’ll drop me off, so we won’t have to worry about “where do I park?” (a big problem at my synagogue; all the parking is street parking) or “how do I drive when I’m low-blood-sugary?” He’ll stop by once in the middle of the day to see if I need a snack and a drink, and I know I will. He’ll bring me some nuts and string cheese and a bottle of water at around 3 p.m. so I can have those and then go back into services. Then, he’ll pick me up after the fast-breaking when the sun has gone down.

It will be enough. It will have to be enough.

Today I’m going to bake gluten-free crown challah for the break-fast tomorrow night at temple, and go buy a few things for the food collection drive that happens tomorrow as part of the Yom Kippur services. Kol Nidre, for me, is at 8:30, which means I need to leave at about 7:30 to make sure I get parking.

I know that I’ve been missing the Friday Feature, and I’m sorry. Today does not feel like erev Shabbat. It’s erev Yom Kippur.

G’mar Chatima Tovah, everyone. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life in this coming year, and every year.


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Filed under Holy Days, Jewish Practices, Wrestling Matches

Shabbat Shuva redux

Erev Shabbat this week started out very stressful for me. My daughters don’t get out of school until 3 p.m., and I have to pick them up from my ex’s mom’s house, which is about 16 miles away.

16 miles away, you say? Not a bad drive – 20 minutes, right?

Try an hour and a half at that time of day. It’s awful. I can’t get there sooner, because the kids won’t be home yet. Getting there later means even worse traffic going back home. Welcome to Southern California.

So I spent most of the morning doing work that I could do: cleaning up the kitchen from the Rosh Hashanah meal the night before, setting up exams for my students (four of my six classes have an exam starting on Sunday morning, and not all of them were up yet), answering emails, doing a gasoline-and-grocery-run with the fiancé now that his check for the week had arrived; the usual stuff. I had one more exam to finish when I left at 2:45 to pick up my kids, and I knew that my fiancé would be at work that evening because that’s how his work runs and we can’t make them let him off for my religious holidays.

I got to their home at 4:15. We took streets home and that was another hour plus, with a stop at the grocery to pick up a couple things I’d forgotten in the earlier grocery run.

We didn’t arrive home until close to 5:30. So I decided that from now on, Shabbat starts when I light the candles, because no way was I going to be able to bake challah AND make dinner before sundown. Daughter #2 helped me make the entire Shabbat meal, and both daughters took over cleanup when it was done.

Shabbat meal, though late, was lovely: raisin-honey gluten-free challah (I made three loaves: two braided-mold and one piped-spiral crown challah); apples with honey (natch), tomato-garlic soup, plain potato kugel (which Daughter #1 LOVED – which is great, because she’s a picky eater), roasted chicken thighs with spices, Kedem grape juice for kiddush, ice water. I had planned on a dessert of apples and strawberries with Greek Gods honey Greek yogurt, but we were all too full! And I cooked for armies; we had enough soup to fill two quart containers, four pieces of the chicken, half the kugel, and even some apples left over.

Crown Challah

Crown Challah

To make the crown challah, I put a little over a third of the batter into a plastic bag and turned it into a giant piping bag, and piped it into a round baking pan in a spiral. I ran out of batter just before I would have been able to make that little spiral on the top, but it was definitely recognizable as crown challah. I was pleased.

The kids also stood with me while I said the blessings, lit the candles, and said kiddush and ha-motzi. We put away one of the braided loaves, and the round loaf for kiddush at temple this morning (about which, more later) but the one loaf we left out disappeared halfway through the meal. I think Daughter #1 got most of it.

I finished putting together the last exam, and then I collapsed into bed and slept the sleep of the righteously exhausted until pretty late this morning. I didn’t wake up until nearly 9 a.m.

The fiancé and I went to temple while the kids stayed home, which was fine. I was running on coffee and a bagel; I didn’t realize that my fiancé was running on short sleep and only a cup of coffee until halfway through the service. He had to get up and leave for a while. It was also not being run by the rabbi; he was with the B’nei Mitzvah seventh-graders at a thing at the park today, so it was the other fellow leading the services. He’s a great guy, but he’s not the rabbi, and my partner’s patience was very frayed due to hunger and headache. It was also awkward when he led us in “I am a Jew because…” as the main prayer and made a point of saying “I don’t want those who are our non-Jewish guests to feel excluded.” Um, dude… that’s only for me to mention, okay? I also wondered if I wasn’t allowed to say this prayer yet. Awk-ward.

No. It was an accident on his part. I am certain there was no malice. But damn it, I’m on the path, I’m not turning back. Sh’esani Israel. I am as Jew-ish as I can be without the mikveh dip. And that will come, hopefully no later than early June (I want it earlier, but that’s going to be up to the rabbi). But it still made me and my fiancé uncomfortable. I may take the man aside after High Holy Days are over and say “I would have been better with it if you had not made a point of it, okay?”

On the other hand, the crown challah we brought with us got a very happy reception when the worship leader lifted the challah cover and revealed not just their usual big loaf of regular challah but our little gluten-free crown loaf. The response was this sort of breathless chorus as it was revealed: “CROWN challah!” to which the worship leader responded by explaining a) it was gluten-free and b) the significance of a round loaf during High Holy Days. Everyone tried it. It was slightly more cake-y than I’d hoped, but it still tasted good. The alterations I’d made to the recipe (increasing potato starch and decreasing all-purpose gluten free flour, adding two more eggs and a half-cup of honey, and adding raisins) really worked well.

I got asked to submit the recipe to the new Sisterhood temple cookbook.

Then we came home to the discovery that Daughter #1 is without her anxiety meds for the weekend. We’re all trying to be patient with her; it must be hell for her. So we’ve all eaten (mostly leftovers) and now we’re at our corners of the apartment, trying to take the day easy.

After havdalah tonight, I’m going to be back on the emails and student work stuff. But for now I’m going to rest. Tonight I’m going to do some grading so that I can start making headway on it and not be wiped out all day Sunday doing nothing but grading. But that can wait until after sundown when the day changes.

Shabbat Shalom, all.


Filed under Conversion Process, Identities, Jewish Practices, Judaism

Getting Jewish things…

14 Elul 5774

Sometimes you just want to exult about small milestones that seem huge to you.

Two days ago, my fiancé and I hit Michaels and bought crafty things. I am now in the process of painting a spice box for Havdalah purposes. I have also glued together bits and bobs of wood to make a Havdalah candle holder, which is drying overnight, which will also be painted. And I’m searching for a kiddush-appropriate wooden cup, and food-safe clear-coat, so I can make my own miniature self-made version of a Yair Emanuel Havdalah set. My father painted and created most of my family’s holiday things, so I am now following in his tradition.

It’s kind of neat. I’ll show pictures when I’m done.

I have plans for a hanukkiah, next.

And my hardbound copy of the Torah arrived yesterday.

I think that calls for a Shehecheyanu.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam,

Shehecheyanu, viki’imanu, vihig’ianu, lazman ha’zeh. 

I am very happy right now.

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The Spirit of the Law and the Value of NOT Doing It All

"Sunrise Los Angeles" by Bryan Frank on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

“Sunrise Los Angeles” by Bryan Frank on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Things looked better on Shabbat morning. And fortunately, that continued for the rest of the day into our afternoon at home and our evening with friends. 

Things usually do look better in the morning, did you ever notice that? Something about sleeping on it really does help fix most of the problems of low spoons, lack of energy, and general overwhelm.

Of course, I was trying too hard. I was trying to live by every rule, everywhere, to be a perfect Jew, even as I had admitted that it’s okay not to be perfect. There’s a definite difference between saying it and practicing it, and G-d called me on it on Friday, I think. I was at the end of my rope, frazzled, tired, worn out, overwhelmed, and still thinking I could somehow put together the equivalent of a holiday dinner AND bake challah for the next day’s temple Kiddush service when I was almost completely out of cope and energy. I was convinced that I could still follow all the rules and make things somehow come out perfectly even though I was scraping the bottom of the energy barrel.

Reality. It hits you in the strangest ways. Obviously none of those things happened. I’m just glad that the fallout was a few pieces of dough hitting the coffeemaker and the carpet, and nothing worse than that (like a cut hand due to a knife accident, or a concussion because I slipped and hit my head on a wet floor). 

It occurred to me this morning that one of the things I find so healing about Judaism is that Reform Judaism is not a rule-bound system. I grew up with a strong and frightening sense that if I didn’t follow every rule perfectly, all the time, to the letter, then I was in big trouble. Yesterday’s experience at temple in the morning, where I participated in the mid-service Torah study, and where I was reassured that everyone has had kitchen disasters and not to worry – we’ll love to try your challah next week, showed me it’s the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law, that we’re trying to get at here. People (and G-d) don’t expect perfection. They expect an honest effort. They don’t expect me to do it all correctly the first time. They expect me to focus on doing my best to do a little bit better next time.

It’s not about perfect adherence to the rules. If that was all it was, any religion would do. 

My life before Judaism didn’t allow a lot of time for contemplation or doing things deliberately. Due to some disabilities I have, for example, getting dressed in the morning can be a very complicated process. If I put on my jeans before I put on my socks, it’s harder to reach my feet, for example, because that restricts motion enough that bending my knees far enough to reach my feet becomes almost impossible. But there have been times when I’ve been rushing because I feel like I’m late (I rarely am) and then I have to undress and start all over again, usually berating myself for not paying attention well enough. Eating deliberately? What’s that? I have still caught myself being halfway through the meal before I realized I haven’t really tasted it (and that I haven’t said the brachot yet), and then kicked myself for it. I wasn’t raised with the habits of deliberation or contemplation. I was raised with the habits of rushing, doing it quickly, getting it done, and getting on to the next thing. While going to church was calming, it was only one hour a week. That’s not enough to get used to being calm and quiet (and for me it was always upset in the middle by the angry sermons I had to sit through). 

But with Judaism (at least as I’m practice it), it’s not about rushing out of bed and running around like a headless chicken trying to get six things done before breakfast so that things are always perfect. It’s about staying in bed when I wake long enough to remember to say the Modeh Ani before I get out of bed. It’s about taking the time to remember to say the brachot over my morning coffee. It’s about remembering to slow down and take time so that those become things I remember before I need to do them, not after. It’s about taking an entire 24-hour period every week to NOT rush, to NOT hurry, and to let that peacefulness carry over into the rest of the week. It’s the complete opposite of what I was raised with – reflection, rather than rushing.

The rushing seemed to me to be required. If you aren’t running around “looking busy,” you’re lazy, aren’t you? But then I wonder how many people would call a Buddhist monk “lazy” for his meditation practices. I know a few Westerners who probably would, but that’s not the point here. The Type-A personality should not be setting the standard for what reasonable effort looks like – they’re at one end of a very long spectrum. It is possible to be unrushed and not be automatically lazy. It is possible to take time to think and contemplate and not be lazy. 

And it is all right to take a day where rest, contemplation, consideration and thought take precedence over running around trying to do everything all at once. It is all right to live by the spirit of the rules as much as, if not more than, their letter. A blogger I follow on Facebook calls this “living hands-free” – to stop worrying so much about what everyone will think and start focusing on the moment, the process, rather than the goal. 

This is still very hard for me to grasp. We live in a culture that values speed and efficiency and the goal over reflection and deliberation and the process. But living a hands-free kind of life – which for me, more and more, means a Jewish life – demands adherence to the spirit of the rules over the letter of the rules, more often than not. It’s also about bringing that sense of reflection and consideration into the rest of the week, not just leaving it on Shabbat. I had had an entire week of no reflection or consideration, of feeling rushed, of trying to do too much at once, and I paid for it on Friday evening when things finally fell apart because I couldn’t keep all those balls in the air and the plates all spinning at the same time. 

This week, I will forgive myself for dropping the ball. This week, I will not punish myself for taking time to reflect and consider. This week, I will work on reducing my need to live up to every rule and stress myself out by rushing through every process. This week I will make room for contemplation. 

And next week will take care of itself. It always does – have you ever noticed that? 


Filed under Day-to-Day

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,” 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.


10 Elul 5774

Shabbat CandlesI have a lot to be thankful for again this week, starting with my work situation. Add-drop is over as of midnight tonight, and after that I’ll have stable populations in all my classes (well, as stable as college students ever get) and we’ll be able to get into more of the meat of the classes and what I want them to do. I also got my hiring paperwork taken care of at the school I’ll be starting at mid-semester for an online class, and got as much of the paperwork as possible taken care of. I have research that I’m doing which is going well, too, so on the whole I’m pretty pleased with this past week’s work.

My partner got a story published and we finally decided that it was time to take the plunge; we’ll be getting married and we’re both really excited about it.  While I’m worried for my younger daughter, who injured her ankle pretty badly last week, I’m glad to know that it’s not as bad as it might have been. Her sister’s birthday is this weekend, and we plan to be in touch that day to just say hi on Skype at least, since it’s my ex’s weekend with them. We also have a birthday party to go to tomorrow night for my friend Eric, who turned 40 last weekend. It’s been a while since we’ve had real social time, so this is all to the good.

My health is reasonably good, and I am able to purchase my prescriptions even in a month that is somewhat money-low due to a month of unemployment. 

The apartment is so clean from my last two weeks of erev Shabbat deep-cleaning sprees that I won’t have to do much this evening beyond cook dinner and bake a couple of gluten-free challot (one of which will go to services with us tomorrow morning for use at the Kiddush afterwards). We are considering getting a cat, but that’s still kind of up in the air.

I’m almost ready to start my own independent conversion study again, working on Hebrew and transliterating Torah, mainly. This is an independent study, and I wish I had someone to study with, but perhaps that will simply have to come with time. 

I’m thankful that the cease-fire in Israel continues to hold. 

What are you thankful for this week? Maybe you could talk about it over your Shabbat table. 

In any case, I’ll be seeing you on Sunday or sometime thereafter. Shabbat shalom!

Image credit: “Shabbat Candles,” by slgckgc on Flickr. URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/13316760215/in/photolist-9d9PUP-uz1c4-62cznH-bFb8W7-4VhB5f-dXbo4N-mhKSS4-aXNxrB-99kMQA-4dPSMa-4dTXuw-4dTW2W-4dPTJH-4dPUdv-4dPW68-4dPYSr-4dTVzb-4dTUfq-4dPTfc-4dTUGm-4dPXVH-4dTYBG-4dTWww-4dTTHN-4dTZ8s-9nHiyz-8bq8Gg-9EiE-bo1Kr-j7wrA3-6RZZyi-8bqcBM-8bq8T8-8bq8Pa-A3srd-525Abj-8btq2y-bXcH8-8bqcBr-8btq11-8btq4s-6PDNQX-a4pe1X-dPuz2S-Bts1-GvC3m-5q6My2-4EzwEx-9cnnzU-9c3gQ4/ Used under Creative Commons license. 


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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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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 can be thankful. In terms of work and career, my grades are filed and I’m on vacation for the next three weeks, during which time I’ll be able to set up my fall courses without too much hassle. I am presenting research at a conference in the middle of the month, which will be fun, and I’m working on my book (though not as much as I probably should be). I also got permission from a former student to use her absolutely stellar research paper as a good example for future classes. Finally, I have a job interview next Tuesday for a class or two at a new school, which will bring me up to full-time income for the fall should I get it.

Family and friends – we’ve seen friends almost every day this week, and it’s been great. We are having one friend who’s moving out of state to Shabbat dinner tonight, and I’ve got a bang-up dinner planned. We’ll have lunch with my kids tomorrow and see them for at least that time, which will be good.

In terms of health, I seem to be doing mostly okay. I’ve been pretty tired because it’s been hot and swampy here (not normal for this area) and that wears me out, as well as not letting me sleep. But otherwise, I seem to be doing okay.

We were able to get some needed things for the household when I got paid, and that was helpful. Earlier this week I rearranged the kitchen to make challah-making easier, and that’s also helped. We will be emptying out our storage unit in our old hometown this weekend, and that will also help.

My conversion studies, right now, are mainly meditation, prayer, and music. I returned the 22 books I’d checked out of the library, and I might go back and get one or two of them for a re-read, but at this point I’m sort of booked out. Part of this is due to being tired due to the weather (see above); my concentration is pretty shot. But I’m glad that I’m still learning and remembering prayers.

In the wider world… well. I wish that I had more to be thankful for there. I suppose the recent Uganda decision to invalidate the anti-gay law qualifies, but what’s going on in Israel has me in tears if I think about it too much.

What are you thankful for this week?

Shabbat shalom, and I’ll be back sometime after Shabbat is over!

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“Deserve” is a Toxic Word

22 Tamuz 5774

Ursula K. Le Guin, an author I admire tremendously, has one of her characters say this in her book The Dispossessed:

“We each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free yourself of the idea of deserving, of the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.

In the scene in question, the speaker is quoting Odo, the founder of the anarchist community on the planet Anarres, which has rejected capitalism for communalism. Much of the book’s description of Anarresti life looks a lot like the life of Israeli kibbutzim, so to me this is a special book. But that quote above, especially, resonates with me.

We use the word “deserve” in a toxic way far, far too often. Many times, recently and not-so-recently, I’ve seen the word used towards a group as if each person in it were homogenous and exactly like all the other members of that group. I’ve seen that word used to exclude, to shut out, to oppress. The Palestinians in Gaza “deserve” to die from Israeli bombs because they were warned the bombs were coming and they refused to get out of the way; the Israelis “deserve” to be called murderers for defending their borders against Hamas’ terrorism (although the news media often conflates Hamas and the Palestinian people – an inaccuracy that enrages me every time I see it). In the United States, poor people “deserve” their fate because they’re somehow “lazy.” New college graduates “deserve” low-paying jobs because they should have to “earn” their way up. I’m sure you can think of other examples, none of them flattering. And let’s not start on the comment threads on these news items, okay?

I’ve also seen that word used to encourage people to buy things, not because they need them or because the things are especially useful, but to show off how special they must be if they own one of these things. You “deserve” that new car, that diamond ring, that new house, that expensive meal. Why? Because you are rich enough to afford it, and you should be ostentatious about it.

Can the word “deserve” be used in any positive way? I don’t think it can. It’s inherently a value judgment, and a negative one. It’s not based on the individual human being’s personal traits or their actions, but on their group identification or on their material circumstances (which, most of the time, they have only limited control of). And I think this ties into one of the big differences between Jewish thought and non-Jewish thought, for me. Remember that whole thing about “thoughts are not sins, only actions can be sins”? That means we should only be held responsible for our actions, right?

The poor rarely did anything to be poor. Many of them were born into poverty. Many others were victims of unpredictable economic shifts. Those who are members of marginalized groups rarely chose to be part of those groups (converts being an exception). And nowadays, there are very few self-made rich people, either. Most of them inherited their wealth, so they didn’t do anything to “deserve” their wealth. They just got lucky in the birth lottery.

And yet, more and more, our Western societies insist on the “deserving” poor being the only ones who “deserve” to get any help – if any – at all. Who are the “deserving” poor? Apparently, they’re the people who show enough shame at having to use an EBT card to buy their groceries, who drive crappy cars, and who have no internet-worthy machines (smartphones, computers, etc.). If they have an iPhone, they don’t “deserve” any help, apparently.

In what world does the word “deserve” show even the slightest bit of compassion? In what world is the word “deserve” worthy of any consideration?

We all “deserve” an adequate standard of living because we are human beings. We are the children of G-d – Jews and gentiles alike. Life and the support of life should be our birthright. And if it is not, for some reason, then it is everyone’s job to make it so.

I challenge you to go a week without using the word “deserve” or any of its related synonyms. See what it does to your ability to be compassionate when you stop using that word for other people’s situations – and your own.



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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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