Not in my back yard

Yesterday morning, as parishioners gathered to celebrate Ash Wednesday, it was discovered that a Catholic Church in my hometown was defaced and vandalized.  They broke a wood cross, spray-painted on the sides of the building, and defaced statues of Mary and Joseph.

The media coverage has been swift and thorough.  They report that clergy from other faiths have reached out to the community on one of their most important days and that the police are investigating this crime. 

Hate crimes are tools of intimidation that have no place in a democratic society.  Cowardly vandalism is not the appropriate method of dealing with any issues a person might have with the Catholic Church, or a member of this congregation.

I don’t know what kind of society we live in anymore.  Sure, my hometown has its racial tensions, but we’ve always been pretty tight knit given our size.  I can’t believe people would do this here.  Or that people break into mosques and urinate on prayer mats.  Or that  last winter, the Jewish community back east witnessed a string of vandalism.  It’s unacceptable.

I had to turn off the interwebs yesterday.

Everything was going fine yesterday until I checked Facebook at lunch.  First I read a story about a small Baptist Church in Kentucky that voted recently to not allow interracial couples to join as members.  Sure, they could come to worship, but they couldn’t participate in any services unless it was a funeral.  I’m not sure why that matters to the church, why a funeral is different than regular Sunday worship or baptisms or marriages.  But it apparently does.  And they want you to know, of course, that they’re not racist! They’re just… this isn’t appropriate.  Or something.

It took me a while to calm down.  It boggles my mind that in 2011 we are still having these discussions, even in rural Kentucky appalachia. What’s even more disgusting is that 9 people voted for this, 6 people voted against, and approximately 25 other people in attendance “abstained” from voting at all.  I’m sorry, is this a convoluted gray issue? Are you too chicken-shit to call out your “brothers in Christ” on their crazy stupid idea that some of us are “more” or “better” Children of G-d than others, based on pigmentation levels in skin?  I guess the one benefit of stumbling across this article is that it provides excellent ammunition for the next person I meet who denies that racism is still alive and well in this country.

But then, I realize another of my friends posted this article from the Atlantic about an ad campaign airing “in at least five American communities that warn Israeli expatriates that they will lose their identities if they don’t return home.”  Okay.  Fair enough.  The pressure to assimilate can be strong, I get that, and we ARE two different cultures and societies.  But then I actually watched the videos.  I’ll let them speak for themselves:

(I guess the one small benefit is that I could read 75% of the Hebrew on the screen and understood about half of it.)  This Yom HaZikaron ad is at once hilarious and perplexing.  The male actor looks nothing like 90% of Jewish young adult men I’ve met in my life (save the Renewal crew in the Berkeley area…), what with his long pony tail and awkward accent and intonation when speaking in English.  And why is this guy supposed to read her mind? Why is she not capable of saying “Hey, you know what, I’m not all that interested in hanging out with friends tonight.  Today is Israel’s Memorial Day, and I always feel sad about all the lives that were lost in the wars and how my cousin was affected by his time in the IDF. Can we just stay home and let me have some space?”

Instead, this ad makes it seem like American significant others are deliberately obtuse or that Israelis live on some other planet and are alien creatures that are impossible to relate to.

I’m sorry, but what?! If little Nuraleh doesn’t understand the significance of Chanukah (and of COURSE the government chose the holiday specifically about assimilation!), isn’t that the fault of the “will always remain Israeli” parents?  The parents who haven’t taught their Jewish daughter enough about Judaism or Jewish identity?  I know plenty of Jewish kids in America who wouldn’t fail that “test” administered by the grandparents. But once again, no, it’s our American Jewish culture and education that’s inadequate, not at all the precious Israeli parents.

It’s a backhanded slap in the face to American Jews and I can’t believe the Israeli government ever thought this was a good idea. Klal Yisrael and Am Israel! Right?! Not.

I think I’ll just copy and paste the last paragraph of the Atlantic article here to finish my thoughts on the matter:

These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the “Christmas” ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren’t in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I’m not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that’s for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)

The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

Haters gonna hate

And man, am I hating today.

I know I shouldn’t. I know it’s Elul and precisely the time I should be turning inside to check myself before I wreck myself.

But there is this sorta-kinda friend, a high school classmate of my Bro-In-Law-To-Be, that makes me want to scream every time she mentions Judaism.

She is a Christian. An Assemblies of G-d Christian who writes wonderfully Christian Facebook posts like “Has never been more grateful for Jesus’ death & the LIFE that came when He rose again! Happy Easter!” and is thankful that it looks like she may have a pew buddy for worship.

That’s cute. That’s very Easter-y. It’s very Christian-y. I’m glad her faith means so much to her and that the holidays really speak to her and that community is important to her.

She interned at Hillel a few years back, however, and I wish she never had. I know it’s WRONG but I’m always really skeptical of Christians that want to learn more about Judaism. I’m horrible, I know, I’m always talking about how the Majority needs to check its privilege and try to understand what it’s like to be the Minority. But strangely, the Christians that do this never seem to learn where the line called “Approriate” is drawn.

Through the internship, she made lots of Jewish friends and knew she wanted to learn more.

So she signed up for the JCC’s Intro Course. What does she call this class? “My Jew class.” As in, arguing with Jews about the importance of holidays, and when proved incorrect, “apologizes” by saying “Oh, I must not remember my notes from Jew Class!”

Or, when wanting to hang out with the friends she made there, she’ll write them, “wanna be Jews on Friday?” meaning, can we go to Kabbalat Shabbat services?

Apparently she doesn’t know the history of this word. Or that epithets in general tend to be monosyllabic with harsh consonants because they are easier to spit out of your mouth in that certain condescending, patronizing, hateful tone.

And she goes to services so often that she wrote a D’var Torah. This bothers me. D’vrei Torah are typically given from the bimah. That, to me, is something only for Jews. If this were a Torah study class, and we’re all talking about what a parsha means to us, or what we learned from it, I have no problem with people of other faiths giving their views and gleanings. Maybe it’s my own sense of decency, but I would never agree to give the equivalent of the sermon, which, let’s face it, the D’vrei Torah have become on Friday nights, in someone else’s worship service. Give a lecture? Attend a class? Cool. Sermon giving? Not cool. In my not humble opinion.

This somewhat friend even once wrote “off to [services] with [A Dude] and {Another Friend], but won’t be allowed to sit with them 😦 my first segregated Shabbat! I do love being Jewish :)”

I do believe I flipped my mother fricken lid.

That fb post was too much for me. I responded snarkily, “Since when did you dunk in the mikvah?” and her response was “No mikvah for me… I def play for Team Jesus 🙂 still love a good Shabbat tho :)”.

My blood pressure was too high to respond further. You’re not a Jew. Saying you are, as though it’s an outfit that you can dress up with or take off at your convenience is not okay. It is not okay because of the relationship and history between your religion and mine. It is not okay because converts work their butts off to become Jewish and are still questioned about their authenticity years later. It’s not okay because it sounds disgustingly fetish-ish, as though we’re some entertainment and not you know, actually worshipping G-d and keeping and remembering our Sabbath.

She’s leaving the area for work travel in a few days. Her friend responded to the Facebook post announcing this, and once again, this morning, I read Sorta Kinda Friend’s response of “Let’s be Jews on Friday!” I am two seconds away from responding. And it won’t be pretty.

Dear Sorta Kinda Friend,

You are not a Jew. PLEASE stop saying you are. It belittles the ten years of work I did to go before a bet din and to enter a mikvah. Worship services aren’t entertainment. The title Jew isn’t some play thing. Going to midnight mass doesn’t make me Catholic any more than Kabbalat Shabbat makes you Jewish. Have some damn respect. This isn’t funny. It’s infuriating.

Mikvah Bound

Race Fail

My parents love the show Survivor and record it and watch it together.  I happened to be in the living room when they were watching last week’s episode, where one player, the lone black man, accused another, a white man, of being racist.  My parents were both appalled at this man’s use of the “race card.”

I was appalled at their used of that phrase. I hate that term.  I hate that white people willfully ignore and/or remain ignorant of the subtle and blatant experiences afforded to us by our white privilege while invalidating the everyday situations POC face.  I do not know what the white player was thinking or feeling when he called the black player crazy.  It may have been a euphemism, like when black men were(/are) called “boys.”  Or it may have been that the black player’s argument made no sense to the white player and his behavior defending it was interpreted to be illogical and wildly aggressive, aka crazy.

But, I never hear people talking about women pulling the “sex card,” or religious minorities pulling the “faith card.”  I explained to my parents why I do not think we should use this term, and I think they’re still chewing on the arguments I made to them.  That is all I can ask for at this point.

And then I get in my inbox today an email from the leader of a “support group” for Bay Area converts.  She wanted us to read and share our thoughts on the latest post of a blogger I’ve come to respect and admire, cross posted onto a popular Jewish site.  Email obscures tone and intent more so than face-to-face conversation, but I was pretty sure I read between the lines (like any good instructor, this leader sometimes employs the Socratic method of instruction) and understood her frustration with the piece.  The way the piece is presented on the site can lead to multiple interpretations of the title, one reinforcing stereotypes JOCs (Jews of Color) routinely encounter.  I wish this Jewish site would be more socially responsible and not provide additional opportunities for white people to read malintent into the words and actions of POC.

And I wish I could live one day without so much race fail.    I hope making that statement doesn’t put me in the same category as the people who say they wish they could get cancer so they could lose weight.

Say what?!

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an event listed in the NEXT enewsletter that I get for young adults in the Bay Area.  I’ve not been on Birthright, but I figure this would be a good way to meet Jews my age that are involved with their Judaism in their own way.

One event, hosted last night, was about the Jews of India.  Considering my BFF is Indian and we’re in the conversion class, I thought it would be great to go learn about the Jewish communities in a country she is familiar with.

I know I’m a nerd and would probably be the only one super excited about a 30 minute documentary or lecture on the topic followed my socializing and mingling.  I’m just super disappointed that of the entire 3 hour event, 15 minutes were spent sharing facts about our “assigned” community of India.  The rest of the time was clearly meant for socializing.  Which is fine, but then I feel the event should clearly state that.

Once socializing did happen, my sense of Otherness was totally reinforced.  One person started talking about Gentiles who use Yiddish words and how that really annoys him.   I almost choked on my daal.  Some Yiddish words have made it into the English vernacular–chutzpah, schlep and schmuk are English (at least American English) words now.  They do not belong to Jews or Gentiles.  Claiming ownership of language really revealed how ignorant of language he is.  All languages are changed by their speakers and the speakers of other languages that they encounter.  I really felt like asking if he thought only Spanish people should be allowed to say alligator or if only French people should be allowed to say ballet.  Maybe only Arabs own pajamas and Indians khakis?  I didn’t feel comfortable outting myself at that point, so I kept quiet, but it was really offputting.

I did meet a Fellow though, who I wouldn’t mind hanging out with again.  She goes to the Orthodox synagogue around the block from my own; I said we should go to each other’s one time and she seemed into it.  I’d love a buddy before showing up at Orthodox services for the first time.

Oh, and I’m in the editing stages of my conversion essay.  I’m hoping to have it all done by Sunday.  We’ll see.  Shabbat shalom y’all.

Ramblings of a still irritated mind

I didn’t write about the second class because while it certainly touched upon a very different, but completely valid, aspect of Sukkot that most conversion courses I’ve been in ignored completely, it didn’t really work for me. It may be that I view Sukkot, after the month of Elul’s preparations and the wild and crazy highs and lows of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, to be this deeply… quiet? holiday. After rushing around for 6 weeks, it can be nice to come together, build the sukkah, and then just BE in it. Quietly. With yourself. With G-d. With nature. With your thoughts about what the holiday season that just ended meant for you. So while I’m all for sharing my sukkah with guests of both a genteel and contentious nature, I kinda just wish everyone would bring a cushy pillow with them and sit quietly. I’m not an introvert or anything though, nope.

This third class, on Torah in all of its potential meanings, was really powerful and really frustrating to me. The content was amazing. It can be really empowering to hear the Torah of other individuals, to find the millennia-old lessons, wisdom, and content highlighted anew in Art that speaks to us today, singularly and communally. The rabbi’s last question really has challenged me to articulate my own sense of faith, something that I’ll probably attempt in a blog post in the future.

On the other hand, I’ve been in enough conversion courses to know that there are a few… archetypes shall we say, and boy were they out in full force last night.

Think back to college years if you will. By the second or third week of class, you generally know that one (G-d forbid there should be more than one in a class/section!) student who is going to annoy you for the rest of the semester. They’ve never heard of office hours, let alone considered using them. They don’t do the reading for that week, or skim it at best. You’re in a literature class and they’re bringing up connections to chemical bonds. The prof asks for questions and they bring up material from last week they still don’t get or preface what could be a five second question with a rambling 5 minutes preamble.

Remember that classmate? That student in college courses has appeared in every single one of my four conversion classes. And the person has ALWAYS been Catholic (or a questioning/former Catholic). Sure, there were Catholics or former-Catholics that WEREN’T like that (and they always outnumbered the annoying ones), but I still do not get what it is about Roman Catholicism that produces this kind of Intro to Judaism student.

I find it strangely amusing because of all varieties of Christianity, I think Catholics have the best potential to “get” Judaism. Tradition, community, right deeds… it’s not exactly Judaism but I find it most representative of Judaism compared to faith-only Protestantism and mysticism-heavy Orthodoxy. But the students who were most insecure, most vocal, most assuming… have always been Catholic. Four classes for a total of 90 students are not data; I know its not a statistically significant sample, but I almost find it entertaining. Almost.

I thought we had escaped this with this group of “students” but no, last night the individual showed up. And after correctly assuming that I’m of Irish descent, the person said “Oh, I’m Catholic too.”

I’d like to pause for a moment so we can fully consider how stupid that statement was given the history of that shared Island. I know the person was nervous, it was admitted when they first entered the room. I know anxiety can cloud the mind… but why would you assume that at all, of someone you just met?

The second Archetype is the Foreigner. They tend to look down on us dimwitted Americans, thinking we’re not enlightened with their millennia of history and art and culture that their amazing nativelands have. And because we couldn’t possibly have the same experience in America, they feel the need to explain to us. There was an Italian in my first class in Houston. A Russian in my second. An Israeli and a Turk in my third. And now we have a Frenchman who thinks we don’t experience the problems of religious Fundamentalism in this country. It took every bit of strength to not blurt something out.

Your country was an imperialist invader who ruined their political and social systems, stole their natural resources, treated the citizens like poo, and then wiped your hands clean after fighting wars with them when they tried to get rid of you. To “be nice” you let them into your country to do work you wouldn’t do, and you expect them to be just like you, to give up their language and culture and religion in exchange. Maybe if you started viewing them as humans, and thus entitled to their own cultural norms, they wouldn’t revolt in the streets and turn to crime.

I’m well aware of America’s own imperial history and our own issues with immigrants from the very beginning of this country. But how ignorant do you have to be to say that I’ve never experienced the horrors of religious fundamentalism just because I live in America? There’s a fear in Europe of IslamoFascism? Oh, except for when you need them of course, like on the German World Cup roster.

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?

They Are Not Puppies In The Window

Needless to say, I disapprove of any soldier taking pictures of captured individuals and posting them on social networking sites for all the world to see. Soldiers are humans, they have family back home, and they want some way to document the portion of years they served their country and risk their life. I get that. What I don’t get is an IDF soldier taking personal pictures while on duty, let alone of Palestinians in handcuffs.

I’ve seen the Facebook and MySpace profiles of cousins who served in the forces. I’ve seen pictures of their antics, and I’ve been thoroughly disgusted, knowing that their actions are the reason the Ugly American stereotype exists. But at least they were doing it on their own time.

But, I’m already sick of hearing this situation compared to Abu Gharib. Men in these pictures were not crawling around on all fours. There were not only in their undergarments, with a leash around their necks. They were not required to form dogpiles while in the (nearly) nude, violating their religiously-based sense of modesty, let alone human dignity.

I expect the IDF to investigate this occurrence, but more importantly, I think it’s time for the military institutions in this world to question the culture maintained within its ranks. Are these crude humans drawn to the institution, or are they created there? Either way, the situation calls for some serious change. Perhaps the IDF can start by clarifying for this (deliberately obtuse?) former soldier why her actions are so disgusting.

Memo to American Public: Rights not determined at the ballot

Rights are not subject to popular vote or public opinion. I don’t understand why this concept is so difficult for so many Americans to understand. The majority does not get to infringe on the constitutional rights of the minority just because they wield the might of numbers.

This summer has brought two topics to the forefront of American culture—gay marriage and religious freedom. Seemingly unrelated topics until you consider the societal structure of the debate. We have civil marriage in this country. Moral objections of some private citizens—not even an overwhelming majority—should not legislate the discrimination of some 10% of our population.

Similarly, the use of privately owned land in accordance with city ordinances and state law should not be dictated by the outraged bigots taking to the streets over some perceived indignation for desecrating the memory of their loved ones.

I don’t even remember when I first heard about the controversy surrounding the mosque being built in downtown Manhattan. I refuse to call it the ground zero mosque after becoming more familiar with the facts surrounding the situation. It’s not at ground zero, but two blocks away. It is not visible from ground zero due to the height of buildings in between the two sites. It is on a side street, away from main thoroughfares to the original TwinTowers. It is destined to be a community center, analogous to a JCC—with room for prayer space, but also educational wings, a fitness center, and craft rooms.

It intends to nurture the American Islam that the world needs so desperately right now. One that sees no conflict between democracy and al-din. One that educates their women. One that encourages adoption of religious customs according to a person’s personal conscience. One that believes in the power of dialogue to resolve conflicts. One that defends the religious tolerance and plurality that makes up the fabric of American life.

Over the weekend, President Obama defended the group’s constitutional right to build the Islamic center. And he is already receiving critiques from the GOP who plan to use the statement to its advantage in the midterm elections. How un-American could you be? Where is the outrage over the blind hatred displayed in Tennessee this summer? Where is the outrage over government-mandated discrimination? Where is the outrage in denying Constitutional rights to American citizens?

Religion has thrived in America precisely because of the separation between church and state that maintains a religious free market. You may not like Islam, but you do not have the right to legislate that preference. I would donate to the construction efforts if I could locate such a fund.

Then all that has divided us will merge

And then compassion will be wedded to power

And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle

And then both women and men will be strong

And then no person will be subject to another’s will

And then all will be rich and free and varied

And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young

And then all will cherish life’s creatures

And then all will live in harmony with each other and with the earth

And everywhere will be called Eden, once again

–Judy Chicago

Intellectual integrity, Jews for Jesus: get you some

I jinxed myself.  Just the other day I was thinking “Wow, the commute in DC was so much more frustrating–no fixed schedule, TONS of tourists, and Jews for Jesus.”  Well wouldn’t you know, they appeared yesterday at my BART station.

I don’t understand what they hope to accomplish.  There is not a soul in this country who is not aware of Christianity (oh how I wish followers of other faiths could say the same in reverse), of Jesus, of Jesus’ followers. There’s a church on just about every corner–and sometimes more than one.  If people were interested in learning more about Jesus, they know exactly where to go.

Believing in Jesus as Christ is a choice, it’s a faith, it’s a belief.  It is a Christian belief, however.  Let’s be real: you can’t believe in Jesus Christ and be a Jew at the same time.  Religion in the United States–based on yes, the Christian model–is not a four-part identity of religion/tribe/nation/culture.  Our market economy of religion does not care where your currency comes from, so long as you make your purchase where you feel most at home.  You can be Jewish ethnically but be a practicing Buddhist.  You can be a Jew nationally, but believe in Christ.  But have some pride in your faith and stop tarnishing the name of your former religion and your forever-culture/nation/tribe with games of semantics.  Own your choice.