Temporary Jewish Record Store

I read an article in the Chronicle yesterday about a temporary record store that will set up shop in the Mission District for the month of December.  The man behind this project rented an art gallery and is turning it into a mid-century American living room to highlight Tikva Records.  I was not around when Tikva Records existed, but the article summarizes it as:

“…the flagship independent Jewish record label of 20th century America. Founded in 1947, Tikva’s catalog was wide-ranging; everything from Israeli folk songs to Jewish-American swing, from klezmer pop to cantorial singing, from Catskills comedy to key political speeches of Jewish leaders- and it became something of a “Jewish Motown”, home to the Jewish music world’s biggest names.”

which sounds pretty cool to me (not that I fully embrace the titles of history buff and nerd/geek or anything).  From the website, it sounds like this man tracked down the original recordings and artists over the last decade, raising the funds to restore them and recording some of their stories.  Talk about a labor of love. 

They have a website where you can listen to some of the remastered tracks, purchase albums, and find out what events are going on in the store.  I already ordered two albums, one of the label’s “best of” from over the decades and one of a Jewish-Latin combo (could that BE any more perfect for me? Creo que no!)

So, if you’re in the area, looking for something to do on a weekend, love mid-Century decor, or are simply interested in cultural interaction and Jewish American history, I suggest you check it out!


It’s not stealing if there’s attribution

Erika, blogger extraordinaire of Black, Gay, and Jewish, got back from Israel and I’ve been reading through her posts, and those of other people who went on her trip.  I found the blog of one extraordinary writer who traveled as well.  I’ve copied and pasted a few of my favorite passages from Scott’s Blog below but you should totally go check it out yourself:

Finally on the plane, two rows in front of me, there is consternation with seat assignments.  Apparently, a woman has a seat between two haredi men.  The men are youngish.  The woman is probably in her 60s or so.  She is no Bar Rafaeli.  To the extent I am able to tune into the conversation, it seems that the man who has the window seat is offered a seat in, as they say in Hebrew, “biznez.”  I wanted to blurt out, “Lama lo notnim lagveret lashevet bebiznez?”  Why don’t you let the lady sit in business?  Seems like the easier way to solve the problem.  But I try not to yell on planes, even El Al, and don’t want to antagonize my neighbors.  Besides, maybe the man is a premium frequent traveler and is entitled to the seat.  Maybe he offered to pay the upgrade and I didn’t hear.  Mostly, I guess, it’s just not my problem.  The woman looks PEEVED AS HELL, but keeps quiet. 

The other haredi man, who has the aisle seat, asks the man sitting in the aisle seat in the row between him and me if he would change seats with him.  There are only men in that row.  The man says fine.  I’m glad I’m a row back and he didn’t ask me.  What would I have said?  The woman glares quietly at the haredi man as he packs up his stuff and moves.  He doesn’t notice, of course. 

I can‘t help but wonder when humiliating a random Jewish woman on an airplane became a Jewish value.  

Probably around the time conversion could be undone, retroactively, and not even for your own error but that of some other ger sponsored by your rabbi?  Or the time some Orthodox stopped eating strawberries and broccoli because their rabbis said there was no way to verify they were clean enough (i.e. devoid of insects) for their hechscher? 

One can certainly criticize Israeli government policies.  One can believe that Israel has made many mistakes, even committed sins, over its history.  It’s especially easy with 20/20 hindsight.  But none of that, nothing at all, can convince me that it is a legitimate position to maintain that of all the peoples in the world, Jews are the only ones not entitled to their own nation-state.  The denial of the national rights of the Jews smacks of anti-Semitism, (or anti-Jewish prejudice, if you prefer that term).  Yes, I know there are people of good will, including some Jews and Israelis, who reject Zionism and believe in a one-state solution in which everyone would be equal.  There are people who say that that Jews and Palestinians have much in common and would quickly learn to live together in peace.  I’d like to think so too.  Maybe that day will come.  But in the meantime, there needs to be two states.  Let them learn to live together.  Then we will see how idealistic the future may be.  In the meantime, the Palestinians are stuck with checkpoints and barriers and collective punishment.  I cannot deny that it is oppressive.  But it is a lesser evil than suicide bombers’ blowing up teenagers at a pizza parlor.

Amen, amen, selah.

Profound Truths

One of the thoughts that the leader of our tour asked us to keep in mind as we began our journey is that the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.  Nowhere is this truer than in Israel.  Pick a side, or embrace the contradictions, or both. 

Holy Moshe, that blurb should be required reading for all of humanity.

Modah ani…

I love that Jews start each day with this phrase (or modeh ani if you are a dude), grateful to experience life, all of its blessings and all of its hardships, for just one more day.

Lots of family issues have surfaced this week and it’s been hard to find and truly acknowledge the goods in my life as I struggle in my role as daughter and sister.

But, on this one specific day my compatriots set aside with this specific purpose, I will try to articulate all the people who make this process easier, richer, and oh so worthwhile.

To my G-d, for bringing me home,

To my family, for building my home, and to my friends, for filling it,

To my boyfriend, for building our own.

To meaningful work, to gifts of expression,

To wonder at the world and Creation all around,

But mostly, to life, to all of its potentials and possibilities, to all of its surprises and heartaches, to its opportunities and letdowns.

This is the chorus my heart sings today.

And I wish you all, my readers, a great day, reminiscent of all that you have in your own lives.

Operation Get to Israel

I’ve purchased my flight to LAX.  I really wanted to fly down on Christmas Eve, rent a hotel, and take like a 6 am taxi to the airport even though my flight leaves at 1:30 pm on Christmas Day.  Instead I leave at 6 am on Christmas morning.

Birthright sufficiently frightened me with their warnings of arriving at least 4 hours early because apparently flights to Israel are always overbooked AND not to mention there are always possibilities of storms or fog that mean  you might lose out on your ONE chance to go to Israel.  I’m really just trying hard NOT to think about this anymore.  Thinking leads to what-ifs, and that’s a horrible road to travel.

So, to save some money and to not completely alienate and upset my parents (note to self: do not look at mother’s face when you say you’re going to Israel… and leaving on Christmas Day), I decided to leave very, very early on Christmas morning.

I’ve also received all vaccine updates.  None of them were necessary for traveling to Israel (can you tell I’m used to Latin American destinations?), but rather for general life.  However, I do appreciate a mobile jaw, and I assume they have rusty metal in Israel just like we do here.  I’ve also received new inhalers and was pleasantly surprised to see that a formerly way-too-expensive preventative inhaler has been added to the list of covered meds under my medical plan. Woot.

I received my order of shekelim I ordered from BofA (one of three reasons I will never entirely disassociate myself from the Big Banks, sorry Occupy movement) after arriving to an airport once that had no open exchange offices.  I don’t even know how that’s possible, but leave it to me to encounter it.

I started making packing lists.  This weekend I will begin assembling everything into one corner of my bedroom that I want to take but am likely to forget.

I rented a cell phone, with an American number, so I can call home and even text.  I’m hoping this will be easier for my parents than having to figure out the enigma that is dialing a cell phone in Argentina from a landline in the United States.  This expense is entirely so my parents have SOME peace of mind.  They have no conception of Israel beyond the headlines involving rocket explosions and are (naturally worried).  Of course, I have not mentioned the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations.  Nor the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN general assembly and their award of membership in UNESCO.  Nor that Gilad Shalit has returned home, at the expense of releasing hundreds of terrorists.  That Israel and Gaza have experienced an escalation through the tumultuous “negotiations” for statehood.   Before the approval of additional construction in contentious sites.  That Iran and Israel seem to be involved in a nuclear peeing contest.  As Almost Jewish said, “The prospect of all-out war seems much closer and more real than it did when [I] thought, “Hey, let’s go to Israel!”

I also rented a cell because I have no idea how I’m going to survive 10 days without any contact from The Boy.  I never thought I’d turn into THAT girl, but I have.  Haven’t exactly determined how I feel about that yet.

Last weekend’s task, besides housework, was researching a new digital camera.  There is a really amazing camera shop in Palo Alto that has many models and will actually let you PLAY with them, no pressure, until you decide which one to buy.  If you even decide to buy.  The Nikon Coolpix P300 was on sale until the 19th, so I ordered one from Amazon on the 18th with the idea of returning it in 30 days if my hands-on and virtual research turned up another contender.  Good thing Black Friday and Monday are so soon!

Those are all the practical preparations.  My coworkers keep asking me, “are you excited yet?”  And the answer is, “I haven’t even gotten there yet! Seems so far off, so distant, like any other day in my life.  Why would I get excited about that?”  I don’t know why I’m not more giddy, but I’m not.  I tend to be of the philosophy that given the choice, look at the glass half empty because if it turns out to be half full, then you’re not let down or disappointed by the demands of your expectations.  So far it’s seemed to work out well for me.  I’m planning on entering the Holy Land with a clear and open mind.

Confirmation Code

I went to my coworkers’ daughter’s Bat Mitzvah a few weeks ago.  I was one of three people from his work that was invited, so I made a special effort to attend.  Five minutes in, I knew that this was going to be a loooooong Shabbat morning service. It was so Reform-y that I think it was a shock to my system.  And deep, resounding, confirmation: oh yeeaaaaaaah, this is why I left years ago and never looked back.*

Many years ago, when I was still a young padawan, I went to a Reform synagogue.  They were the ONLY national (liberal Jewish) organization at the time with a thorough website section devoted to conversion.  They had outreach programming, they had classes, they, on the national level, looked like they actually gave a poo about us.  (10 years later and despite the wonderful website overhaul, Conservative Judaism still looks like they could care less about us while they eagerly attempt to court every independent minyan, excuse me, I mean kehilla..  It’s attrocious.)

Feeling so welcomed into their communities, I was a happy camper.  For every Shabbat in a 5-month period in Texas, for a whole school year in NY, for the better part of a year in the East Bay, it worked out okay for me for a while. 

But three or four years in, I realized I was unhappy.  I realized that I wasn’t happy there, not so much that I wasn’t happy with Judaism.  So I bravely went to the scary Conservatives!  You know, those crazy people that didn’t even marry GLBT couples at the time.

And holy Moshe, talk about a difference. I’ve loved every single dingle service since.

I do not like organs or choirs or cantors.  I do not like Friedman-esque singing/clapping permeating the services as though we’re at summer camp singing kumbaya.  I do not like rabbis dressed to look like Protestant denominations with a thin stole-like tallit around a black robe.  I do not like an oneg with dairy and meat out at the same time.  I do not like 5 minute long introductory explanations of each part of the service before singing only the first two lines of that portion of the service and moving on to the next introductory explanation.  (Seriously, at my first Conservative Kabbalat Shabbat, I closed my siddur after saying minofet tzuf v’chol ta-am.  What, you mean there’s more to Yedid Nefesh? Crazy talk!)  I do not like knowing more Hebrew than was ever used in the service.*

Do I think these represent all Reform congregations everywhere? No. Absolutely not.  There’s too many of them, with too many rabbis and too many communities for this to be wholly representative (or at least I tell myself this daily).  But these things did make my skin crawl and I eventually had to say enough is enough. No more.

So then I tried Conservative.  And it was exactly what I wanted, like Goldilocks’ porridge.  Mussaf, full kriah, kippot AND tallitot, tefillin, Hebrew…. AND women and men on the bimah with no mechitzah.  Woot.  Score.

(*Some of my Reform readers and friends may be feeling pood on right about now.  That’s not my intent.  These things make MY skin scrawl, but they make YOURS toss off your shoes, put up your feet and go, “aaaaah, home!”)

Meeting the Parents

The Boy’s parents flew in for the weekend before Halloween. I think anyone meeting the parents for the first time is nervous, but this time left me even more anxious. This was 6 months in. Not a huge amount of time granted, but long enough to have developed a serious emotional attachment and to fear the influence that his parents’ evaluation might have on the relationship. (I don’t think he’s the kind of man to do what his parents say just because they’re his parents, my concern was more that no one likes being the cause of or the reason for there being distance between your sig-o and their parents.) 

In addition, his dad was born in Russia and became an adult in Israel. His mom was born in America and became an adult in Israel. That’s a lotta cultures to throw into one room and specifically two that I’m not very familiar with. What if I said or did something wrong?

Add in the history of disapproval over the phone from the past (his dad saying to leave me, to go out with someone else and his mom voicing concerns over the Conservative conversion at least once) and I’m surprised I could even go to my coworker’s kid’s Bat Mitzvah that morning.

We only met for a few hours, but it didn’t go as badly as many of the possibilities conceived by my imagination. Which is good. Now, when his dad calls, he even tells The Boy to say hi to me. And they’ve offered to help me with my Hebrew. And they were disappointed that I wasn’t coming up for Thanksgiving.  it’s a start!

I don’t even

Mikvah Burrito. Imagine my surprise when I looked at my blog stats this morning and this awesomely weird phrase was listed as the third most popular search term that delivers internet visitors to my blog. (The first and second are jewsbychoice.org and Jewish San Francisco. Perfectly reasonable search terms.)

I’m now trying to imagine water and tile in a ginormous tortilla wrapped in foil.

Stolen from Jewminicana: “Talking to Converts”

I stumbled upon this post on B’Tzelem Elohim last month and totally forgot to post it.  I think it should be required reading for all members of the tribe. 

Don’t ask.
The number one question you want to ask a convert is exactly the question you shouldn’t. Asking someone why they converted, just after meeting them, is a little like asking to see their underwear. It’s like you’re asking us to get very naked about something deeply personal when we’ve just met. Like anything else, wait until you really get to know someone before expecting them to bare their souls. People will often let you see the skeletons in their closets when they’re comfortable with you.

Don’t tell.
If a convert does tell you about her conversion, that doesn’t mean it’s your story to tell. My friend Danielle says her former roommate told everyone Danielle was a convert. Danielle didn’t want people to know (and no, not because she was embarrassed about it). It just wasn’t her roommate’s story to tell. I know you’re wondering, “Why can’t I tell someone that Danielle is a convert, it’s a fact!” Remember how Judaism feels about gossip? What if people were discussing your personal business behind your back without your permission? Indeed, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b-59b) forbids us from oppressing converts by treating them as anything other than a regular member of the tribe.

Remember, no one looks like a convert.
“James William? That’s not a very Jewish name!” People of color and blondes with oh-so-blue eyes, the “exotic” faces in the Ashkenazi Jewish fold, frequently get questions like this that try to get around directly asking, “Are you a convert?” In The Color of Jews, Yavilah McCoy, whose ancestors were converts, says, “When I walk into a room and say to people I meet ‘I’m Jewish’ often I will get the response ‘but you’re Black.'” Since when are the two mutually exclusive? People often make offensive racial assumptions about Jews (and converts) of color. Just like we’re not all named Rosenberg, one convert of color says it’s helpful to note that “Judaism is not a ‘race’ of white people. One of the things people should be mindful of is not to assume all people of color in the synagogue are converts (or the help, for that matter).”

Converts are not therapists.
The worst is when “Why did you convert?” turns into “Why would anyone convert to Judaism?”
We’re converts, not therapists. We’re not here to help you figure out why you can’t imagine that people would find Judaism so amazing that they’d turn their lives upside down just to be a part of it. If you’re staring at us in disbelief, you may not be prepared to hear the answers.

It wasn’t for marriage.
After I met my husband midway through the conversion process, I noticed that people stopped asking me why I had decided to convert. They just assumed I was doing it for him. Okay, but I’m off the hook, right? I wasn’t part of a couple when I first made my decision so obviously I did it for the right reasons? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Just because someone is or was in a relationship doesn’t mean that they’re converting for marriage. Things are always way more complicated than that.

People convert for many reasons. My friend Vilma says, “Often people assume someone converted due to marriage. As if people couldn’t make up their independent minds to join a faith! There are people with whom Judaism resonates and [they] find their home in the religion. There are single people who convert. There are people who convert to reclaim their family heritage. There are so many reasons people convert.” And remember, none of them are any of your business.

Goy jokes are not funny.
But one reason that frequently gets thrown around and isn’t very nice, and doesn’t work so well for someone from a non-Jewish family, is the idea that we converted to Judaism because Jews are just better than everyone else. One fellow told me that all that inbreeding has led to all those Nobel Prize winners. So, what, I’m polluting the sacred bloodlines? Sadly, people don’t think twice about whether a convert is sitting in their midst when they tell the latest “How many goyim does it take to put in a light bulb?” joke.

 Words like shiksa and shaygetz, both derivations of dirty in Yiddish, don’t make converts feel welcome either. (And note from MikvahBound, if you call me shiksa, especially to my face, I can’t promise to control my fist very well as it lands in your face.) Blondes with blue eyes, converts or not, tend to hear these words more often than converts like me with olive skin and big brown eyes. Still, my first Pesah went south after someone repeatedly threw the word shiksa around along with some other ugly words about non-Jews. At the first bar mitzvah I attended jokes about non-Jews were flying all over the place.

And don’t forget to say, “You’re welcome.”
There are things I still can’t believe people have said to me. Fresh out of the mikvah, I heard, “But you’re not really Jewish. I mean I’m still more Jewish than you, right?” Oy vey. In the end, all converts want to be accepted as good Jews. We want to fit in. Possibly the reason Jewish tradition goes out of its way to tell you to be kind to us is that there are so many ways you can make us feel left out. It only takes one insensitive word. So, be careful with us. Changing our lives to join your ranks should at the very least earn us a little respect. And maybe even a “Welcome home.”

LaShon Hara: or How I Learned to Shut my Pie Hole (Again, but Probably Not for the Last Time)

I sat in my boss’ office yesterday, recording some tasks she wanted me to get done today while she is out.  She noticed my necklace and asked what it meant. 

When I converted, my bff purchased a silver, 1” Möbius band pendant with the first line of the Shema in English and Hebrew.  She thought it was just geeky enough, just Jewish enough for me.  She was right.  I’ve worn it just about every day since, and often fiddle with it when lost in thought.

I explained how it was supposed to represent the Jewish conception of G-d, particularly Echad. 

“Oh. That’s so cool! You know, [Gal that I’m really close to and that used to supervise you] converted to Judaism a while back and I had the hardest time finding an appropriate gift. That would have been perfect! Instead some Jewish neighbor of mine told me to get her a … a Ten… a Tan… a book.”

“The Tanakh.  It’s our holy text.”

And off I went with the rest of my day, thinking nothing of it until I got to lunch and shared my news with said bff. “Hey, did you know Former Boss Lady converted?! Isn’t that cool?!”

“Where’d you hear that?” Her tone told me something …that there was something there she couldn’t decide to expand upon or to ignore.

“Oh ,um Boss Lady.”

“Look, you can’t tell any one this, but she was engaged to a Jewish man. She converted for him. Conservative. They broke up.  A few years later, her sister asked her to be G-dmother to her nephew.  In the Catholic Church.  So she de-converted.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why Judaism has prohibitions against lashon hara, commonly translated as gossip, but really much larger in scope than I could ever explain here in a single post.

Because as soon as I heard this, I lost some respect for Former Boss Lady.  Because I was angry at her for making us gerim look back by fulfilling one of the most pervasive stereotypes about us.

Who converts for marriage alone?!  Like seriously, if you’re only doing this to appease your future spouse, or the in-laws, stop. It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to Judaism or the process.  And what kind of sponsoring rabbi could not sense this during the conversion process?!  Would allow two other colleagues to sit on a bet din and risk their reputations for such a candidate?

And it made me angry.  I cannot count how many times I’ve had to explain, NO, I did NOT convert for a man.  Nope, until 7 months ago, there was no Jewish male in my life.  I was doing this on my own accord.  I was doing this for ever, for me. That I’m binding myself to this people, and my children’s children to this people, that even if some hypothetical Jewish husband left me, Judaism would never.  It could never.

All of this went through my head in a matter of seconds.  I should seriously get me a black robe and a job at the local courthouse because wow, Judgey McJudgerson-ette made quite an appearance in those few seconds.

I have no idea what went on in her life, what she experienced, what her priorities or values are.  They are not mine, and that’s okay.  I should be humble, compassionate, and assume that she was doing the best she could, with what she had.  That’s one consequence of talking about stuff that’s not my business.

The second is that now I’m dying to know.  It’s like a drill in my head.  I will never ask her the questions rumbling in the background because I have been socialized by this society successfully, but now I will always want to KNOW.  It’s like a pest, like the mosquito from some African  folk tales, buzzing in your ear.  It invites FURTHER sources of bad things into my life: more gossip, more potential to judge, more potential for impatience.  It’s a cycle.  I need to get off this merry-go-round.