Get your feet off the couch.

I wandered for a long time on spiritual paths, even after I had settled on Judaism as my faith tradition. I wandered to be certain of my decision. I wandered to make sure I had explored all other options, fully, as an adult, to see which spoke to me, which I could intellectually and emotionally adopt, which I could live with for the rest of my life. I tried my best to explore respectfully—the last thing I wanted was for me to make a “hobby” of other people’s faiths. That’s a mockery of their morality and history, their rituals and experiences. I know there were times I failed, but I hope (and believe) the times I succeeded far outnumbered them.

Which is why it took me a day to cool down to respond to one of the New York Times’ latest pieces on Gentiles adopting the practice of hanging mezzuzot on their door ways. This is a Jewish ritual, with a portion of the Jewish Holy Text that in many ways is the central portion of the Bible for us. This is a Jewish marker of space and identity. And when I hear about Catholics making a blessing over it in the name of the Trinity, my jaw clenches up just a little bit tighter. Especially when I hear that a Jewish neighbor hung the mezuzah for her. What kind of Jew would do this? What did that neighbor think would happen to this object in a Catholic home? And equally important, why did the Catholic feel the need to take on a custom of another faith—one with a testy history to say the least—when her own faith provides blessings and objects to be decorate the door?

I know that as a 70-something Catholic, her opinion of Jews could be far worse. What harm is there in hanging this little wooden box with some scroll in it? Why do I care so much about yet another display of the majority culture cherry-picking from the minority culture, without caring in the least about the meanings, purpose, and implications? I wouldn’t take Holy Water from a Catholic Church and use it to clean out the chametz or pray for rain on Sukkot. I wouldn’t take Eastern Orthodox icons and hang them on the walls just because they’re so pretty. I wouldn’t use puja lamps to light up my house just because they’re so cute. Do people really have no respect for others’ cultures and religions anymore?

Why I <3 Labor Day sales

It’s been a few weeks, but I realized I never wrote about class. I’ve been busy with the High Holy Days and car troubles and yeah. The first class was good. Not great, but still good. It was really hard to interact with the other people in the class because we sat in pews facing the rabbi. I hope once High Holidays are done that we can use the meeting room with chairs and tables. It will be easier to take notes and have a discussion in that setup than the chapel.

That said, the rabbi’s got a great sense of humor, a pragmatic approach to belief in these modern times and an interesting historical perspective the explains many of the rituals without invalidating their personal draw. He said the next meeting will also offer us the chance to give our “elevator stories” to Judaism to the other students. I’ve never had that happen in a class, and I really hope people are comfortable enough to share. I think it will be interesting to listen to everyone’s individual path, to understand where they’re coming from when they speak in class.

I will say though, that I think if this had been my first ever Introduction to Judaism course, with the intent of converting or not, I would have been totally lost. I was reminded of all of the feelings of being overwhelmed from the very beginning. We covered the calendar, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. In 90 minutes. That’s a lot.

When I got home, I reviewed the syllabus and was glad to find that many of the books already sit on my shelf. I planned on visiting a used book store to see if any of the remaining titles were there, but at the time, I didn’t know they were having a Labor Day sale. I generally need supervision in bookstores, but I only purchased what was on the syllabus and walked away very proud of myself. There are a few more I couldn’t find that I’ll order from Amazon, but the majority can be borrowed from the local libraries. I even picked up an `85 Sim Shalom for 8.95. Love it. And now I’m actually able to pray the bedtime Shema without like, making it up as I go along. Amazing.

Where on earth did you hear that?

Google News Alerts are a really good way of keeping up-to-date with the latest events, not only in Jewishlandia, but also in the blogosphere. “Jewish Conversion,” “Conservative Judaism,” and “Judaísmo Latinoamérica” are some of my most fruitful keywords; in addition to keeping abreast of current events, recent publications, and local happenings, I’ve found amazing bloggers detailing their paths, similar enough to my own to build a sense of community but distinct enough to keep it interesting. Makes for good reading on the BART ride home.

But every now and then, I encounter someone’s post that just makes me want to scream. Today’s source was the reflections of some well-intentioned South African describing her relationship with a Jew. She was previously unfamiliar with the religio-culture, so I can only imagine the multitude of comical and frustrating experiences since they got together. And yet, while highlighting many unique features of the Ashkenazi Diaspora, she cited erroneous information. Jews do not engage in marital intimacies through sheets with a hole in the middle. Really, I promise. That thing’s an undershirt for the purpose of being able to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit on four cornered-garments all the time. Not a sheet, not a cloak of modesty for sexual relations.

I know this seems like one of the more comical myths circulating the world, and therefore one of the most harmless. But I really find it no different from any of the other attempts to make the Jew into the Other, to misinterpret our intentions in condescension and ignorance while failing to research one’s claims. And in this heightened era of Islamophobia, I can’t help but connect the two. As a white member of this society, I recognize the white privilege I enjoy. I only wish (Protestant) Christians and Christian-secularists would recognize their own privilege and act from a point of humble curiosity when encountering those of other faith traditions. A burqa or niqab is not a veil for jihad-based terrorism. Sikhs wear turbans, too. Catholics and Mormons are really, truly Christians. Hindus do not worship statues.

People of privilege need to listen more and talk less. Consider the consequences of your words and their historical origins. You might be surprised at what you’re perpetuating.

LiftKits and the Sabbath Manifesto

The most emailed story (as of 10 am PST) on the Chronicle’s website, usual home of trolls and neocons, relates the story of one local rabbi’s quest to empower Gen-X Jews to do Jewish things. Her approach is simple, invigorating, and yet powerful in its ability to connect with this generation’s way of life. Her brainchild is a group, “Nita,” that provides events and kits to Jews looking to Jewish things outside the walls of formal institutions.

The idea is that the formal institutions do not meet their needs, but that that does not mean Judaism cannot. It’s not judgmental, it doesn’t appear to have an agenda, and it is exactly the kind of thing I think young Jews need in this world. I recognize that I am the minority when I say synagogues work for me. (And even then, I should condition that with, at this moment, in this community.) But this group offers High Holiday services, a kit with some ritual Jewish items that aren’t like your Bubbe’s and a level of acceptance of Jews, and their Judaisms, just as they are. I don’t think any other rabbi could have pulled this off. The way her parents raised her, her husband’s career, her own career… all worked together to produce a unique understanding, and even a calling.

Browsing her site lead me to the Sabbath manifesto (included in the kit for 118 dollars—I know Timbuk2 is expensive, but Sweet Moses. I am broke). A group of Jewish artists seeking to disconnect/unplug from today’s technology-addicted, rat-race oriented world articulated 10 principles any Jew would recognize as Shabbat-oriented. The nice thing, though is that the (deceptively) simple wording leaves them open to diverse interpretation, and thus implementation (how Jewish!). They appeal to secular and religious folk, Jews and non-Jews, those who want to do one thing and those who want to do all ten.

I live at home right now and can’t entirely do my own thing (i.e., if I asked my parents to leave the tv alone for 25 hours they would laugh in my face), but they do provide good outlines for what I envision my eventual Sabbath observance to look like:

avoid technology

connect with loved ones

nurture your health

get outside

avoid commerce

light candles

drink wine

eat bread

find silence

give back

Details to be worked out in the future, of course (i.e., how do I connect with loved ones if I’m miles from them? Tin can and string? Does that still count as technology?).

Connecting the two, I tried to think of what could be made into a simple (read: cheap) Shabbat kit for young adults. I’ve got too much on my plate this year (hello job search and conversion), but it would be interesting to explore grant funding in the future for 100 outreach kits consisting of tea lights, grape juice, pre-measured dry ingredients for a mini challah loaf, cell phone and laptop “sleeping bags”, and a local guide with a list of card games, board games, parks, and drop-in volunteer opportunities. Seems simple (read: cheap) enough on a bulk scale.

Come out, come out wherever you are

I’m a convert. Or will be. Whatever. My Jewish identity is ultimately religious, or at least primarily so. Yes, there are the cultural aspects, and the national, and the tribal. And yes, they all impact me to some degree or another. But for me, my Judaism is, and always will be, a religion.

I like services. I like Torah study. I like the mitzvoth (well, a lot of them anyway). And when I go to Friday nights, I’m almost always the youngest one there. Which can be great, because I’ve got a lot to learn from them. Not just about Jewishness, but simply life in general. They’ve lived through things I never have, but that might be applicable in some weird way to my own life.

But, sometimes, old(er) people are old(er) people and there are stumbling blocks to developing friendships with them. I do crave relationships with my peers, but alas, most Jews my age are simply NOT principally religious Jews. They look at me like I’m sprouting wings or something for enjoying the melodies that plagued their childhoods. And I, of course, return the favor by snarling my lip at their preference for events full of libations and loquacious potential dates being sized up for their ability to simultaneously satiate their mother’s desire for a nice Jewish boy/gal and their own libido.

Chevrei is different. I think D. is a great leader and did a wonderful job creating the “right” tone. Of course, by right, I mean what I liked and approved of and have sought all along. Yes, I made some new friends last time. And yes, there were candles and challah loaves and Kiddush and enough food for an army. But there was also really great discussion, and people who, shock and awe, WANTED to participate in religious ritual and services. I left so damn happy to have found people that finally valued some of the same Jewish experiences I did. And I even volunteered to help plan the next one.

And now it’s coming to bite me in the butt as I attempt to reach out to other young adults in the SF East Bay region for our Sukkot event. (9/24. CBS. 6:30 services, 7:30 kiddush, 8:30 sup on veggie potluck dishs in the sukkah. Be there or be square.)

We can’t ask other congregations or minyanim; who would agree to post flyers for a competitor’s event?

U.C. Berkeley Hillel would probably work with us, but surely they also have their own Sukkot stuff going on? Much closer to home, with the people you now live with and study with and are friends with, all of which serve to disincentivize our event.

Jewish Federation has its own Young Adult Group but would probably be willing?

JCC would most likely be willing to work with us.

There are plenty of online groups I could spam.

But my problem is that these all reach out to Jews who, already, in some way, commune with other Jews. They are already established in groups, and while there is most likely a portion dissatisfied with the organization, the most involved Jews are already doing their thang.

So how do I reach out to the Jews who aren’t in any Jewish groups because they don’t like what the groups currently offer? How do I put myself in contact with them, whether they seek services or socializing? Help me Obi Wan Kanobi.

The world’s horrors are merely opportunities to make it right

I stumbled upon Velveteen Rabbi’s blog so many years ago that I don’t even remember what search led me there. All I know is that I love the haggadah she lets the world use for free each Pesach, and that I’ve enjoyed reading her journey into motherhood documented via her poetry.

Last week, after I got home from shul, I wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep. So I started checking around my weekly reading sites and read about her act of kindness. It touched me so much that I immediately reposted on facebook, despite it being Shabbat (sorry G-d, promise, it was for a good reason!). She launched a campaign to accept donations to replace prayer rugs a drunk bigot ruined with his urine in a New York masjid.

What blows me away is the quantity of donations over 48 hours, in $5, $10 and $20 dollar increments: $1,180 dollars.

Via twitter, facebook and blogs. In 48 hours. $1180.

I don’t know if this is a mitzvah, or if it’s tzedakah, or if it’s tikkun olam, or all three wrapped together. All I know is that this is a powerful reminder of the ability to do good in the world, the agency of one individual changing the world for the better, and an encouraging demonstration of humanity at a height of ignorance and hatred.