A New Conservative Approach to Conversion and Intermarriage

Crossposted from InterfaithFamily’s Network Blog.

“I am worried that our present policy is internally conflicted and thus strategically self-defeating,” the rabbi said. “The idea of refusing to be present for the wedding and then expecting the couple to feel warmly embraced by the Jewish people strikes me as a policy constructed by someone who doesn’t know the mind of a young couple…. I am not exactly clear on the message the Conservative movement is sending out into the world, and I am not sure if it is a viable policy in the long term.”

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of NYC's Park Avenue Synagogue

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of NYC's Park Avenue Synagogue

This quote is from Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue, a Conservative shul in NYC. He’s not talking about a policy shift within his synagogue or the Conservative movement, but sharing his thoughts on conversion and intermarriage, as reported in the New York Jewish Week (Time To Rethink Conversion Policy).

He likened [the current approach] to joining a gym, noting that a potential gym member is not told first to exercise, get in good shape and then join. Rather, if the person is willing to join, he or she signs up and then the work begins. Moreover, the rabbi added, this logic is not just one of good consumer policy but is consistent with traditional Jewish teaching.

In one of the most famous Talmud stories, the man who wants to learn all of the Torah while standing on one foot is shooed away by Shammai, who has no patience for him, but welcomed by Hillel.

“First, Hillel converts, and then Hillel teaches,” Rabbi Cosgrove said. “First you join and then, once you are a vested member, you figure out what it’s all about.”

In that way, the rabbi suggested that it might be more effective for Conservative rabbis to first accept converts and then teach them.

This would be a huge shift! Compare it to the usual course of action someone follows if converting within Conservative Judaism: a year of study followed by formal conversion (going to the mikveh, and brit milah or brit hadam if the convert is a male).

Imagine if, when an interfaith couple approached a Conservative rabbi to officiate their wedding, the response wasn’t “I can’t officiate, but consider conversion!” or “I can’t officiate, but you’re still welcome to come to synagogue!” but instead was “Welcome! Let’s bring you into the community, celebrate your wedding, and then, as you and your partner establish this next phase of your lives together, let’s make sure Jewish learning is included!”

“My priority is to create Jewish homes, and everything I do is toward that goal,” he said. When a congregant’s adult child comes to him with a non-Jewish partner and wants to get married, he now describes the yearlong conversion program requirement that is a prerequisite to the wedding. Many of them, he says, never come back, choosing a justice of the peace or other [Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal] clergy to marry them.

As Rabbi Cosgrove points out, “love trumps religious affiliation, with the result being that few families are immune from the situation of a child coming home with a non-Jewish partner and wanting to be married in a Jewish ceremony.” So the question becomes: how do rabbis keep up? Do you think Rabbi Cosgrove’s idea to convert the partner who isn’t Jewish so that Conservative rabbis can officiate their weddings and then bring them to study would work? Do you have other ideas?

Attracting Interfaith Families to the Conservative Movement Day Schools

Cross-posted. This was originally posted on the InterfaithFamily Network Blog.

Last week, the Rabbinical Assembly (the rabbis’ guild for the Conservative movement), sent out a press release. Together with representatives from the Schechter Day School Network (the Jewish day schools affiliated with the Conservative denomination), they met in late-October to talk about “outreach to and inclusion of intermarried families.” Great!

This isn’t the first time we’ve looked at how to attract and include interfaith families in Jewish day schools. We blogged about the AviCHAI foundation’s conversation and I participated in their day of meetings, which brought together teachers, school administrators, other Jewish educators, parents, and community professionals such as myself.

Back to the Rabbinical Assembly’s press release. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the consensus reached in their meetings would likely continue to alienate the families they want to attract and include.

The rabbis expressed their commitment to conversion according to the standards of Conservative Judaism, as the ideal for our keruv (outreach) to these families.

Our studies have shown that having conversion as the focus of the Jewish community’s outreach creates barriers to inclusion and welcome. “Perceived pressure to convert” is ranked as a barrier to expanded connection with Jewish community institutions, such as synagogues and, I’m extrapolating here, day schools. If that pressure is a deterrent from going to Shabbat services, wouldn’t it also be a deterrent from sending kids to day school?

The focus on conversion as the ideal continued, as exemplified by one of the “challenging questions” the group discussed:

What is the optimal timeline for conversion after admitting a child who is not yet Jewish to the school?

Before getting to a timeline, let’s take a step back. A great place to start would be using inclusive language. If a child is going to your school, chances are their parents are raising them as Jews. So clarify what you actually mean, but do it in a way that does not further alienate these families. How about,

What is the optimal timeline for conversion after admitting a child who is a patrilineal Jew?

I would, of course, recommend defining such a term on your forms. Make sure to explain why the Conservative movement does not view patrilineal descent as “Jewish,” unlike the Reform movement. (Conservative Judaism determines who they consider to be a Jew through matrilineal descent — a Jew is someone who is born to a Jewish mother, or who has converted to Judaism in a ceremony that meets their requirements.) For these children of patrilineal descent, the assumption is that their parents would want them to convert, that their families need additional support and Jewish education as well. In some cases, sure; we’ve received plenty of feedback from parents over the years, telling us they’d love to learn along with their kids. But for others, the additional resources might not be wanted. (I wonder if all families at the schools are viewed equally: are resources offered to parents who have in-married but who do not practice Judaism at home? What about intermarried families where the mother is Jewish, thus the Conservative movement considers the children Jewish — are they offered resources too?)

As my colleague, Ari Moffic, wrote in February, 2012, you might also consider creating “A Pledge for All of Our Families” for your schools. Her suggested template offers inclusive language that could be inserted in every school’s handbook and/or posted to the school’s website.

It’s great to see that the follow-up activities will include “drafting recommended language for admission applications to the schools.” Hopefully the resources on our site will help with that process.

And when you start looking for professionals to join your focus groups, you know where to find me.

New York’s Jewish Population Study and Intermarriage

Cross-posted from InterfaithFamily.com’s blog.

While I was away from the office earlier last week, the UJA-Federation of New York released a big, giant, whopping study of Downstate NY’s community. (Downstate being, of course, the opposite of Upstate NY. That is, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County and Westchester County.) More than 250 pages long, there’s a lot to think about – and I’m still thinking. But there are some highlights that readers of InterfaithFamily.com might especially want to know about. I’m going to do a brief fisking, for ease of navigation.

From 1991 to 2002, the number of Jews in the eight-county New York area held steady, while from 2002 to 2011 it grew dramatically. The contrasting changes in the number of non-Jews in Jewish households — consisting mostly of spouses and children in intermarried homes — are even more striking. In the earlier period (1991–2002), the number of non-Jewish people in Jewish households almost doubled; since 2002, though, it has declined slightly, falling to 231,000. With respect to the slightly declining numbers of non-Jews in Jewish households, the Jewish population in the New York area sharply contrasts with most Jewish communities in the United States and, indeed, the entire Jewish world outside of Israel. In every other large Jewish diaspora community, rising intermarriage has brought increasing numbers of non-Jews — spouses, partners, and children — into Jewish households.

Are outreach initiatives working in NY while falling short in other communities? Are Jewish communal organizations, such as synagogues and JCCs, more welcoming and inclusive of partners and other family members who aren’t Jewish in NY than elsewhere? Or is this solely a statistical game, with the number of non-Jews in Jewish households smaller in NY than elsewhere due to the large number of Orthodox (who have lower rates of including non-Jews in their Jewish households)? Indeed, the study attributes it in part to the high birthrate of Orthodox families, but also to the “dramatic increase in the number of people who consider themselves ‘partially Jewish,’ many the children of intermarriage.”

Unlike major religious groups in the United States, major segments of Jews do not necessarily identify being Jewish with Judaism as a religion. Significant numbers of Jews claim their religion as “none.” This configuration is particularly common among the intermarried, children of the intermarried, and less engaged Jews, as well as Russian-speaking Jews. However, Jewish identity without religion is by no means isolated to these Jews; it is also expressed by those influenced by certain Zionist and Yiddishist movements in the United States and Europe. Still others lay claim to Jewish identity even though they maintain religious identities tied to something other than Judaism.

After reading the first two sentences here, I started to wonder about those Jews who have identified as cultural Jews for generations, but was reassured that intermarriage wasn’t being (solely) blamed as I continued reading the last two sentences.

Growing up in Canada, our Jewish population studies are slightly different. According to the Canadian census, one is considered Jewish if one identifies as Jewish by ethnicity, by religion, or both. Additionally, one is counted as Jewish if identifying as Jewish by ethnicity and with a religion that does not require conversion (such as Buddhism, but not, say, Catholicism). Using definitions such as these, perhaps there wouldn’t be a negative connotation to being Jewish but listing religion as “none.”
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Women of the Wall

By now I’m sure many of you have heard about today’s monthly Women of the Wall gathering. The short version is that the police, allegedly present to protect the women from those who do not believe they have a right to daven at the Kotel, approached many of the women, said they weren’t permitted to wear talleisim, and took the names and id of three women who’ll be “further investigated.” You can read more about it in the JTA and Jerusalem Post, or check out a blog post by one of the three women (who happen to all be rabbinical students). You can also watch their reaction in this interview on YouTube.

Police, defying the mechitzah, to teach Deb how a woman ought to wear her tallis.

It wasn’t long before I spotted the photos on Facebook, counting several friends among them. Based on the two photos included in this post, I decided to talk to Deb (pictured) about her experience today and each month she joins Women of the Wall for their Rosh Chodesh davening.

Right off the bat, Deb made clear that she hasn’t historically connected to the kotel as a place where she’s wanted to daven. However, she finds that the more she goes with Women of the Wall, the more she wants to go. It’s the community Women of the Wall is fighting to create that speaks to her more than the wall itself.

She told me, the group is “called ‘women’ but it’s actually creating a space for all who want to daven there, who have the right to access this public, Jewish space.” The group’s mission states they “seek the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall – Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people hood and sovereignty.” Deb appreciates that they’ve also created a “queer-friendly space,” and that they “call attention to the need for spaces that are friendly and welcoming to all. There are folks who identify as genderqueer and trans who are invited to lead services, read from the Torah, and take on other roles. Likewise, Women of the Wall creates a welcome space for all genders, including male-identifed folks, to participate in the Torah services” that they hold at Robinson’s Arch after they move from the Western Wall.

Wearing a tallis in a hijab-like manner is apparently permitted.

When I showed Deb the two photos from Facebook, she said that she feels like she’s being “singled out each month” by the police, because she wears a tallis that is more traditionally considered a man’s, and not a colourful tallis that might be more “feminine.” Today, a policeman asked permission of Anat (co-founder of Women of the Wall) to demonstrate, using Deb and her tallis, how women should properly wear a tallis like a shawl. The idea being that this would avoid the 2001 law that makes it illegal for women to perform those religious practices “traditionally done by men” at holy sites, like reading from the Torah, wearing tefillin or a tallis, or blowing the shofar.

“He folded it up, and put it around me like a fake scarf… Of course I unfolded it and ended up wearing almost like a hijab instead!”

Her other response to the police? She davens extra loud when she’s with Women of the Wall. I asked if that was a way of protesting the police interference, but she corrected me. “The truth is that I’m extra loud so that the women feel a presence. And it’s for the policemen, so they hear the truth of the davening, rather than the protest of the women. Because that’s really why I am there: so that I can pray and sing and so can any other person. I guess I like to think I bring some davening confidence…”

Her confidence, and the monthly return of so many woman (and folks of all genders) reminds us that they’re fighting over a public space. A Jewish space. And women (and those who identify outside the gender binary) have just as much right to pray in public as men.

A Storahtelling B Mitzvah

Cross-posted form the InterfaithFamily.com Blog.

Last night, I attended a gala celebrating Storahtelling. And it was great*.

If you’re not familiar with Storahtelling, they’re a ritual theatre company, focusing on bringing the Torah, and Judaism, to wider audiences, making it more accessible and relevant today. I didn’t crib that from their mission statement, so allow me to Seriously, I <3 Jackie Hoffman. @Storahtelling, thank you...excerpt it here:

Storahtelling restores the Torah Service to its original stature through a revival of the lost craft of the Maven, the traditional storyteller who translated the Hebrew Torah into local language. Rooted in biblical text and ritual practice, Storahtelling uses dramatized interpretations, traditional chanting, orginal music and live interaction to bring Bible off the page and onto the global stage.

The event was great, celebrating Storahtelling’s “b mitzvah,” which, as founding director Amichai Lau-Levie explained, is a “bar mitzvah, a bat mitzvah, a b mitzvah inclusive celebration for all genders.” And what a b mitzvah it was! Storahtelling turned 13, honoring their founding director, their incoming executive director and members of the board.

But what’s a b mitzvah without a little Torah? Jackie Hoffman, Jewish actress and comedian extraordinaire, studied with the Storahtelling staff, learning the Torah parsha that would have been her bat mitzvah parsha when she was a girl (raised Orthodox, Jackie didn’t have the option). She tackled a topic that many shy from: the rape of Dinah.

She broke the story up, making it more palatable, relevant and interesting. She interspersed chanting and discussion – with a healthy dose of humor, of course. (Amichai gave the English translations to Jackie’s Torah chanting on the fly.)

With more than a little (much appreciated) feminism flavoring her words, Jackie gave voice to Dinah. Dinah, the central character of this story, does not have any of her own words in the Bible. So Jackie, channeling Dinah, asked why the women of the Bible were too often chattel, to be swamped and shared amongst the men. She set the scene: Dinah had “two Jewish mothers. Think about that for a moment. And 12 stinky brothers.” She asked why Dinah’s mother was so willing to marry Dinah to the man who had raped her. (“Was she so desperate to see her daughter married, she’d ok a man who would defile her? Oh wait, that’s my mother!”) And she might have relished in her telling of the circumcisions of the men of Shechem: “They were in penis pain for three days!”

But it was an impromptu statement after she finished (and after she accepted her present from the “Sisterhood,” two gay Storahtelling staff) that summarized Storahtelling’s work so perfectly: “I’m a person who hates everything, and I dug this experience hard.”

And that’s just it. For Jackie, it was about bringing in some feminism, giving voice to the silent and suffering Dinah, and wrapping it all up in some jokes. For others, it might be highlighting gay characters or interfaith families, placing the Torah stories in contemporary settings, drawing and singing and acting the stories… bringing them to life. If you have the chance to get to a Storahtelling event], I highly recommend it.

*The only thing that would have made this night better? Had I gotten my photo taken with the hilarious Jackie Hoffman. And had she performed her Shavuot song, just for me.

How Welcoming is “Welcoming”?

Cross-posted from the IFF Network Blog.

On Monday, the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (of the Conservative/Masorti Movement) posted a video to YouTube explaining the importance of having a welcoming website. Aimed at synagogues, the video was publicized by an email sent out by the FJMC.

What’s interesting about the video (and email) is that it never explicitly states something like, “synagogue websites should say, ‘Our synagogue is welcoming of all families, including interfaith families and families of diverse backgrounds.’”

Instead, it suggests:

Your congregation’s website is your most important tool to attracting today’s Jewish family. Your website’s ‘welcome’ must be obvious. It needs to greet the visitor in a meaningful and sincere way. For example, if you’re welcoming interfaith families, children and adults with different ethnic backgrounds, or gay and lesbian families, words like ‘welcome,’ ‘open,’ and ‘diverse’ need to be prominent and obvious.

Buzz words aren’t enough. If you’re welcoming of “interfaith families, children and adults with different ethnic backgrounds, or gay and lesbian families,” say so! Use those descriptive words! The video shows interfaith families (a family standing in front of a Christmas tree and a menorah!) and shows that we should be welcoming to interfaith families (the word “interfaith” on a doormat!), but doesn’t say to use the words on the websites.

It seems like the Conservative Movement wants to be welcoming of interfaith families, but doesn’t think it can outright say so. But it can. And should.

This is a great start. I appreciate that the FJMC is making this effort, and we all know that making changes in synagogues can be a slow and arduous process, but… Let’s just take it a step further.

What do you think? Watch the video and leave a comment:

Oy, Texas

So some of us have been waiting to see our favourite recent addition to the Texas rabbi-ing scene* (yeah, such a thing exists) on the Daily Show for a week now. Seems there’s something happening in Egypt that kept bumping the segment?

John Oliver was in Texas to investigate a clash between the Christians and Jews, Republican style:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jewish Speaker of Texas State House

Happy Yom Chechecheche folks!

*Link is an excuse for the hover text only.

Thanksgiving, B”Ch!

dlevy pointed out to me that our local Chabad had sent out some important words in their latest newsletter:

By divine providence this year thanksgiving coincides with the 19th of Kislev Rosh Hashana Lachasidus. Which we celebrate on Thursday night. It is time to appreciate the contributions that Chassidic teaching and living has brought to this world. So tonight say L’chaim for the inner Dimension of Torah.

Of course! How had we not realised the divine providence of Thursday night?!

So, Thursday night, don’t forget to throw a Rosh Hashanah l’chasidus party. We believe it is celebrated by giving vodka to underage undergrads. L’chaim, indeed!

Freezing Jews in the Great White North

Yesterday, Slingshot announced this year’s honourees. 50 “innovative” Jewish nonprofits are included in their annual guide. Great and worthy organisations (including my place of employment)!

And, for the first time, one of the fifty was a Canadian nonprofit: Makom.

a joyous, grassroots, downtown community, building traditional and progressive Jewish life in Toronto. Makom creates an inclusive and diverse space, committed to Jewish questioning and learning, arts and culture, spirited prayer and ritual, and social and environmental activism. Makom is bringing back vital, multi-faceted and creative Jewish life to a place where it once thrived. This vibrant new community is based in the Kiever Synagogue, a beautiful, historic synagogue in Kensington Market, Toronto’s old Jewish neighbourhood.

Congratulations to them (and, really, I mean it – many of us at Jewschool are friends with some of their organisers).

But this announcement spurred a bit of a discussion amongst us bloggers. Is an indie minyan in Toronto really “innovative”? Is this really the most innovative thing Canada has to offer? Is it really an indie minyan if they have a “rabbi and spiritual leader”?

The parametres for Slingshot are (really, really boiling it down here) “innovative nonprofit.” Most of the indie minyanim and havuros that I know of back home (says the Canadian living in the US) are not registered/incorporated as nonprofits, so they don’t make the cut. Should we be surprised that Canada’s only recognized-by-Slingshot organisation is in Toronto? Toronto has the largest Jewish community in Canada and most American organisations/funders overlook the other cities/communities entirely. So, no, it’s not surprising that a winner (of an American competition) would come from Toronto. (Begrudgingly admits the Vancouverite.)

What other Canadian communities could have been included in TWJ’s not-Slingshot guide? Here are just a few cool organisations happening north of the border:

Obviously this list isn’t comprehensive or exhaustive. (Though, unlike Slingshot, it includes at least a couple organisations in “fly-over country.”) And, obviously, some of these organisations wouldn’t meet Slingshot’s criteria for many reasons. But it doesn’t matter. They make my list.

Do you know of other orgs in Canada that should be included or noted? Leave a comment. (And if you know of other organizations (look at my American spelling!) in the US that could have made Slingshot’s guide (or your personal guide), let us know in the comments too.)

Innovations in Post-Progressive Kashrus

Those following along at home know that dlevy and I like to cook. (What, you mean you’re not still dreaming of our Deep-fried Tofutti Cuties? Don’t tell me you forgot about our pancakes too?)

Well, we’ve been at it again. And by “we’ve” I mean “I’ve.” With dlevy’s encouragement, of course.

It all started on Friday when my housemate dlevy, tweeted:

I WANT THIS INSIDE OF ME! RT @mwecker Scary yet oddly enticing! RT @WendyRosenfield: 1st, OMFG. 2nd, who’s in? is.gd/fRvFq

PIE-STUFFED CAKE!! on Twitpic by @thewanderingjewI was oddly mesmerised and horrified by this cake monstrosity. Clearly, I had no choice. Forget the fact that I had planned down to the very last minute until shabbos, and did not have time to bake, essentially, two cakes and two pies before sunset. Forget that our shabbos meals were to be fleishig and this monstrosity would only be milhig. Next thing I knew, I was offering to figure out how to bake it myself in our kitchen.

I dashed to the grocery store on my way home from work, bought the essentials, and somehow, b’ezras haShem!, managed to whip up two cake batters, two pies, drop said pies into two 10″ round cake pans, fill ‘em up with the batters, and bake them – all within an hour. ‘Twas truly a shabbos miracle!

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicThen there was the frosting. It had to be butter cream. My icing, which I used to hold the two cakes (“layers”) together failed. (Though, it turns out, the bottom vanilla layer absorbed that rum icing in a tasty way.) So motzei shabbos I was off to the store to buy (gasp!) pre-made icing. Yeah, I admit it. (Though I never will again.) Iced, the cake was ready to go.

Now here’s where this post takes a turn: I’m going to tell all you curious yidden out there NOT TO ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME. Read that as a warning. Take it to heart. Because, you see, that one small piece I tried? I got about halfway through it before feeling… ill isn’t a strong enough word. And I’m pretty sure my teeth all instantly rotted before jumping out of my mouth.

Bottom line? While most of our adventures in progressive kashrus are great, tasty fun, this one is a punch in the gut. Leave it for the goyyim.

Who Blocked the Sky?

There’s an article in the current Washington Jewish Week, of DC not the state, that addresses this week’s parasha, specifically those sticky parts we say in the daily Sh’ma. You know, the passage about God rewarding us or punishing us by manipulating the rain.

Written by Joelle Novey of Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, it’s well worth reading. I’m just going to copy the whole thing here. You’ll thank me.

We are turning away from God’s command
by Joelle Novey
Special to WJW

I’ve been having a hard time with a passage in Ekev, this week’s Torah portion. Unfortunately, I’ll be reading it again soon, because the words appear in our daily liturgy, after the Sh’ma:

“If you heed my commandments, then I’ll grant your land’s rain in its season, that you might gather your grain, wine and oil. I’ll grant grass in your fields for your cattle, that you might eat and be satisfied.

“Take care that you not be seduced and turn away to serve other gods. Then God’s fury will turn against you. God will block the sky. There will be no rain. The earth will not grant its produce. You will quickly perish from the good land that God grants you” (Deuteronomy, 11:13-17).

It’s harsh, and some prayer books have omitted it, uncomfortable with divine judgment. But that’s not what concerns me.

For me, it’s hard not to notice that the threatened curse itself seems to be coming true.

The global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees in the past 150 years, and is rising faster and faster. Spring is coming one to two weeks earlier across the Northern Hemisphere. We have just lived through the hottest April, May and June ever recorded.

Around the world, rain isn’t coming in its season. Draught and other climactic changes have caused $5 billion in crop losses annually for three decades. Many are finding it more difficult to eat or to be satisfied.

Why is this happening? We have blocked the sky. Coal-fired power plants, airplanes, cars and agriculture are generating greenhouse gases. They accumulate and trap the sun’s heat, causing the Earth to warm. The safe carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere is 350 parts per million. We’re near 400 already, and rising.

“Isn’t the weather God’s department?” writes Rabbi Julian Sinclair of the Jewish Climate Initiative. “In traditional Jewish theology, climactic conditions are part of the divine prerogative.” But now, “the natural climactic systems are responding to human actions … [that] are creating their own retribution.”

Some teachers of Jewish ecology have suggested that we understand “turning away” to describe people polluting. Then, the climactic punishment fits our crime. The text, at least, is fulfilled.

Unfortunately, what’s really happening isn’t anywhere near that fair. We have turned away, but it is others who find that there is no rain, and the earth won’t grant its produce. Those perishing from the good land have done least to contribute to the problem. Already, the World Health Organization estimates that 300,000 people around the world are dying from direct effects of climate change, most of them in developing countries.

In the weeks following Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, we seek consolation.

In this, what is our consolation? Maybe Americans will call on Congress to pass strong climate legislation. Maybe in our homes and communities, we will find ways to reduce our carbon emissions. Our society may yet come together to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Maybe this work will leave us ultimately with a better world.

But today, as I anticipate hearing that threat read from the Torah, I don’t feel ready for consolation. I’m just too sad to be living in a time when human beings have managed to cause, for ourselves, the most terrifying divine punishment our biblical forebears could imagine.

It’s lonely to be in uncharted territory, beyond even the harshest rebuke from nature that the Torah describes.

Who are we in this story? We are both those who heed the Torah and those who interfere with rain in its season.

No matter what we do next, we’re already partly too late. I grieve that even those of us who say the Sh’ma — who call on our people to hear, three times daily, about the unity of all — I grieve that we, of all people, haven’t been listening.

Joelle Novey directs Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, which works with local congregations to respond to climate change.

Environmental Jewish Camp a Reality

They’re sure getting a lot of press these days. And why not? Tomorrow is their grand opening: they will be the first Jewish environmental sleepaway camp, welcoming the first session of “134 campers from 17 states and 4 countries with smoothies from a bicycle-powered blender, solar-oven cooked snacks from our farm, live music, campfires and more.”

Sounds pretty great to me! Read more about Eden Village Camp below the jump.
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From the “Wait, Seriously?!” Files…

It’s just so dumb…

Are you tired of your yarmulke falling off every time you run to catch a frisbee? Do you ever wish your yarmulke could block the sun from your eyes? Well, it sure seems like the Daily News wishes so, and today they included a hard-hitting news report all about the “yamulkap,” a new half-yarmulke, half-visor that protects your forehead as well as it protects your soul.

You should go read the full summary on Gothamist.

No, wait, you’re not actually going to click over to it, are you? I’ll just give you the rest of the stupidity (yarmulke’s, not Gothamist’s), here:

The yamulkap was created by Seth Mosler, a visionary charter school business manager who lives on the Upper East Side. Where some might only see young Orthodox children playing in a field, Mosler saw an opportunity to change the status quo: “When you’re talking about yarmulkes, you are talking about thousands of years of tradition. But this has a practical purpose.” Struck by inspiration, Mosler cut up an old baseball hat, and started searching for a manufacturer. Since then, Mosler set up a website two months ago to help spread word of his revelation, and “has sold about two dozen so far.”

But there will always be people who don’t get it: Manhattan mom Lea Haron thought the hat was a little silly, since religious rules say wearing a baseball cap is fine, just as long as one’s head is covered. “I feel bad. I hope he didn’t put too much money into it.”

Jew York. Again.

How many Empire State of Mind parodies are there with “Jew York” as the theme? Too many.

The question is, which is the worst? Here’s one option…

Keep Your Wives Away!

Last night I went to the JCC for a book launch event. Fresh from the printers, Keep Your Wives Away From Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires is a new anthology by and about Orthodox queer women (including those on the transgender spectrum who were raised as women or now identify as women).

A half dozen authors read excerpts from their contributions to the book (or related publications), to a sold-out room. (Ok, ok, it wasn’t sold-out, because it was a free event. But there were chairs set up for maybe 50 people, and there were easily 150 there last night.) We heard stories of struggle and triumph, sadness and humour.

I was especially happy to hear another chapter from Leah Lax; she was an Artist-in-Residence at the NHC Summer Institute in 2007 and brought an entire room to tears with her story of births and abortion struggles as a still-closeted, married to a man, frummie.

What can I say? I was persuaded enough by those few excerpts to pick up a copy of the book for myself. If you’re interested in the intersection of orthodoxy and sexuality, check it out.

Star and Shamrock

We’d like to believe that a new restaurant in DC, Star and Shamrock, was inspired by dlevy and my innovations in progressive kashrus (read: let’s deep fry!) and brave experimentation with organic spray food.

We’d also like to think that we could have come up with this idea ourselves. (And, seriously, we did. We just weren’t thinking big enough. Next time, we won’t limit our culinary cleverness to our kitchen – we’ll strive to open a restaurant!)

So what the heck am I talking about? I’ll let DCist tell you about it:

Think deli with an occasional sprinkle of Irish/Jewish fusion sprinkled in.

There’s a fried food-heavy appetizer menu, featuring fried kosher pigs in a blanket, fried pickles, fried chicken livers, fried matzo balls, and latkes all priced at $5.

The matzo balls are cut in half, griddled and served with sautéed onions and “au jew” instead of au jus. The balls stand well enough on their own with a slightly crisped exterior – not too hard, not too fluffy – especially when you combine a bite with the caramelized onion. Dip a forkful in the “au jew,” a salty chicken consommé, and you get a more traditional matzo ball soup taste experience.

…This Irish/deli-themed bar is far from a kosher joint with bacon included in a number of menu options. Not to mention the nods to an Irish kitchen are few and far between. There’s Shepherd’s Pie, Irish Potato & Cheddar Soup, and a McTuna Melt with Irish cheddar. There’s also The Clogger, a disgusting (or delicious! -ed.) sounding sub made with beef brisket, provolone, bacon, gravy, garlic butter, and mayo.

Ireland is more appropriately channeled via several Irish whiskeys, including selections from Jams, Knappogue Castle, Yyrconnell, Killbeggan, Connemara, Greenore, Clontarf, as well as several standards. And naturally you can choose from Guinness, Harp, and Kilkenny Cream Ale on tap. The rest of the beer list is heavy on Brooklyn Brewery, Coney Island, and He’brew bottles. If you’re in the mood for rye, their list is lengthier than most, but doesn’t feature any stand outs.

There were no ballads or klezmer tunes playing in the background on our visit, though there is a small stage to host the occasional Irish band. There’s not a wall full of “Guinness is Good for You” or too much baloney about all the craic you’ll have (though there is Jewish Bologna on pumpernickel for $6.50). But perhaps that lack of manufactured flair makes for a more authentic Irish tavern experience in the end. That and a menu full of Jewish kitsch.

Folks in the DC area, let us know what you think of the knew eatery.

Tip o’ the nib to JMG.

If you’re 22-32 years old, this is for you!

Holi throw painting to celebrate the many milestones and celebrations in our community this year!The National Havurah Committee Summer Institute 2010 is now accepting application for the Everett Fellows Program. Fellows participate in the full Summer Institute programming and in four workshops designed specifically for them. As a Fellow, you receive a scholarship for tuition, room, and board, and are expected to pay only for registration and dues ($120) for the full week.

Fellows also join the ranks of some of (y)our favourite Jewschool bloggers who were Everett Fellows in past years.

Summer Institute is a week (August 2-8) of learning and teaching with 350+ of your closest friends from across North America (and a few other places too). To quote BZ, “if a multigenerational Jewish community were inclusive of educated laypeople, respectful of individuals with or without families, and open to experimentation, would it be a place for 20-and-30-something Jews like [me/you/us]? Yes.” You can also see what we’ve had to say about the Summer Institute in the past on Jewschool.Everetts 2009

To apply for an Everett Fellowship, you must be 22 through 32 years of age, interested in exploring havurah Judaism, and willing to participate fully in the Summer Institute. Preference is given to first time Institute attendees. Please click here for more information or call the NHC office at 215-248-1335. The application deadline is May 1.

Questions? Ask your NHC Summer Institute experts in the comments below!

Oooh… Elijah!

With more than just a simple hat-tip to Judaican’t, the, uh, amazing patented ElijahDrinks Cup! (Post-seder sale on now!)

And to think my parents made do with a simple kick to the table, causing the full cup to splash down onto the saucer and, wow!, less wine in the cup! Eliyahu drank! Yeesh, clearly I missed out on the magic!