“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
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?
I, and I’m sure others here, don’t identify with either the father or the son of this dialogue, but I think these characters are reasonably realistic. However, what really struck me about this piece is what they didn’t talk about. They debate about priorities, politics, and God, but not the institution at the center of the piece. The father is asking his son to visit and feel more welcome in his synagogue. It is the institution of the parent where the ideal is that the son learns to love and connect with his father’s institution. A key paragraph from the father is:
About the time you were born, I realized that I needed wisdom older and deeper than my own. So I returned to the synagogue, and I began to find answers. You’re right — the synagogue does not speak in my voice. That’s what I love about it … the opportunity to listen. There is wisdom here. There are resources for living life. I don’t go to shul to express myself. I go to listen. So don’t build your community entirely of people who look like you, think like you, live like you. Don’t just talk to yourselves. Find the humility to hear wisdom. Open the Torah and listen deeply.
We learn and become a better people by listening, but holy communities grow and build connections with dialogues and mutual respect. The father follows the paragraph above by talking about the ways his generation created and shaped new communities and new communal priorities. This dialogue takes for granted that, if the son is creating something, it’s going to be his own community and not their joint community. Listening is important, but how many people of any age want to devote their time to an organization where they must listen, but are never heard?
When I think about the healthy, long-lived Jewish institutions in my own life, I am struck by how they not only welcome intergenerational dialogue, but also look to multiple generations for real leadership and real influence. The father and son’s dialogue shouldn’t end when they break fast together. Perhaps the father can ask his son how his synagogue could change to make it their synagogue. Perhaps the son could give serious thought to realistic ways to improve their synagogue. Perhaps the synagogue leadership could join this dialogue and also learn to listen and adapt to also be the institution of another generation.
In other news I'm topping the charts over at the Forward: The hed on my piece is 'What Would You Call Me?'
Right. So I wrote this op-ed for the Forward about how I underwent a Conservative conversion because I go to a Conservative shul these days, but I came from a patrilineal Reform background and so forth. And in it I suggested that it’s time for the Conservative movement to start accepting patrilineal descent.
Then the internet discharged platoon after platoon of Jew-baiting Jewish commenters with all kinds of nonsense on their minds. There were also some thoughtful comments and a ton of kind emails from friends and acquaintances.
Here’s one of the emails:
I so wanted to comment on your Forward article, but I simply could not wade into the aggravating mess of Jews baiting each other.
So for his benefit and yours, I waded neck-deep into the muck to pluck out the best of the comments — not only at forward.com, but on Facebook and twitter as well. And I’ll respond to a few too.
[I started writing this post yesterday so there are probably even more comments now that I haven't even looked at.]
This is a guest post by The Neo Nazir, a nomadic Jew who spends zes time worrying that the US might actually elect Santorum and that ze and everyone reading this post will be hurled into a den of wild, indigenous mountain lions, only to be devoured limb by limb.
Newsflash! Orthodox Judaism is not the bellwether of queerness. Given Orthodox Judaism’s official position on non-heterosexuality, one hardly expects Orthodox communities to offer a fully understanding dialogue on homosexual identity. But today, even the orthodox are realizing that they can no longer simply sweep LGBTQ issues under the rug.
Tonight in the Chicago area, a controversial event originally scheduled for early January, will be held at Congregation Or Torah, a large modern-Orthodox community in Skokie, IL. This event, sponsored by a number of major Chicago-area Orthodox synagogues and a local Chabad community, will attempt to broach the subject of homosexuality in the Orthodox community, featuring two out-of-town speakers, described by the event’s promotional blurb as “two of the world’s leading authorities on the Torah’s perspective on homosexuality,” Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel and Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. More »
Thanksgiving celebrators around the country, here ye. Amidst all your holiday planning and travel, and your decisions on how to spend “Black Friday,” please consider how you might conclude this festive weekend. On Saturday evening, Rosh Chodesh will be upon us. On Sunday morning it is traditional to give praise to the Most High. One way to do this is by Occupying Rosh Chodesh, as some of us are doing this Sunday at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. All are invited. For more information see below:
What is Rosh Chodesh? This Sunday November 27th we are entering into the darkest month of the year, Kislev. However, during the month of Kislev, we celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of light.
Why be Occupied with it? It’s easy to celebrate when life is pleasant, when victory has been achieved and when the weather is warm. Rosh Chodesh is a monthly celebration fueled by a historical memory of enslavement. No matter where we are in the struggle for freedom and justice, Jewish tradition commands us to find ways to join forces and sing together – to experience the feeling of what redemption will truly taste like.
How will we celebrate it? On the Thanksgiving Sunday, two days after Black Friday, we will welcome the Hebrew month of Kislev with song and praise. In contrast to the melodies used to urge us toward the season of ‘holiday shopping’ we will sing the traditional Hallel / songs of praise sung on Rosh Chodesh. As part of the service, there will also be a chance for some learning and reflection on how Rosh Chodesh connects to the wider Occupy movement. The whole service should last no longer than one hour.
Who is invited? We welcome people of all backgrounds, races, gender identities and religious/faith affiliations.
Urgent question: Anyone out there have a concise statement about Occupy Wall Street that would be a show of solidarity with the protesters. I need one suitable for a rabbi to read to his/her congregants on Kol Nidre this coming Friday night. The Collective Statement of the Protesters is a powerful manifesto, but the strong tone of confrontation on a night that stresses self reflection does not feel in the spirit of vidui (confessing sins) and forgiveness. If a well crafted statement that acknowledges the galvanized efforts of people around the country around the issues of economic justice and corporate responsibility exists, it should find its way to many pulpits this Yom Kippur.
I posted about the Jewish Futures Competition a few weeks ago. It asks how Jewish life, living and learning will change as we move to a society in which individuals are not only consumers of information and culture, but also producers of their own and others’ experiences. I think the question has it wrong. There never was such a divide between Jewish consumers and producers.
If you tried to picture the upbringing of a Jewish producer, it wouldn’t be mine. My formal Jewish education consisted of synagogue supplemental school, one year of Jewish Summer camp, and one college class. I have been an active participant in Jewish programming wherever I’ve lived. Does this make me a Jewish consumer?
I was elected to a synagogue board of directors at the age of 26. How did someone in the famously non-joining age group get on a synagogue board? They asked me to serve, and I said yes. When I moved to a new city, I helped start parent-led Shabbat services for preschoolers in my new synagogue, using the approach, designed by my previous community. Now that I have a child entering kindergarten, I’ve been working with several other families and Jewish professionals to organize a 4-5 day per week Jewish afterschool program that will provide robust Jewish learning (mixed in with a lot of play time) during hours when many children are already in supervised afterschool programs. More than fifty families in our community have already expressed interest in this program.
So when did I switch from a consumer to a producer? The answer is the same as it has always been. A Jewish consumer is someone who hasn’t (yet) found the motivation and outlet to produce. If you chose to be involved in a Jewish community you are a producer. You don’t need any title or degree to lead prayer. The lifeblood of Jewish organizations from Federations to minimally structured minyanim are the volunteers who step forward to inspire and organize.
So, what inspired the original question? Most Jewish producers have been hyper-local. Our synagogue walls are filled with plaques honoring our predecessors, whose devotion, ideas, and energy created these communities. Sadly, few people outside their own communities would recognize these names. Technology is shrinking the barriers that kept local voices local and expanding the types of communities that are possible. A good idea, adapted by one community, can spread well beyond the word of mouth of the members of that community. What looks like more consumers becoming producers is really local producers starting to grasp the possibilities of a larger network.
So, take my collaborators’ efforts to create an aftercare program as an example. We’ve identified and compiled detailed information from similar establishedandemergingprogramsacross the country in just a few months. We’ve gotten advice from Jewish educators working across the country and down the block. People I’ve never met are writing to me offering to help or asking about potential jobs.
Even though individuals can do more, institutions still matter. To launch our aftercare program, we’re collaborating with threelocalsynagogues who have offered classroom space and we’re trying to collaborate with others. People inside and outside the professional Jewish world have given us their time and money. Our local Partnership for Jewish Life & Learning is giving us advice and a small grant for our preparatory year. Programs like ours can’t succeed in a vaccuum.
What does this mean for the future? The increasing number of voices bringing innovation to national Jewish living and learning is a good thing. Good ideas don’t all need to come from our Federations, academic programs, and other Jewish institutions, but our institutions will need to adapt. They must figure out where centeralized support is needed and where networks of local producers can do things better and cheaper on their own. This will require the broader Jewish community to significantly re-evaluate the ways we distribute and share resources and to better understand the technology tools that are strengthening our producers. I can’t tell you the best way to do all this, but I look forward to being part of what happens next.
On April 28, 2001 (Shabbat Tazria-Metzora), about 60 people crowded into an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to participate in a new egalitarian Shabbat morning minyan. This minyan would be named Kehilat Hadar several months later, and it has grown dramatically in both size and influence, becoming a household name around the world and inspiring many spinoffs and imitations. So today we congratulate Kehilat Hadar on reaching its 10th anniversary. (The community celebrated its anniversary several weeks ago, on Shabbat Tazria.) We wish it many more years of success if it continues to meet a need, or a graceful end if it ever outlives its mission.
But today marks an even more important milestone. As of today, according to some (including Hadar founder Rabbi Elie Kaunfer), Kehilat Hadar is no longer an independent minyan.
How is this possible? Let’s look at the evidence.
The 2007 Spiritual Communities Study, sponsored by the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute and Mechon Hadar, restricted its sample of communities based on certain criteria. The report says “For the purposes of this report, we define a qualifying community as one with the following features:”, and among these features is “It was founded in 1996 or later.” (Other features of independent minyanim include “It exists independently of the denominational movements” and “It meets minimally once a month for worship”.) At first it seems like the 1996 cutoff (10 years before the study began) is just about defining the scope of the study and nothing more. But later parts of the report attribute more real-world significance to this categorization, such as the infamous bar graph which illustrates that “these communities … have grown in number more than five-fold”. (Of course you’re going to see huge growth after 1996 if you only include communities founded after 1996! If “synagogues” were defined as “synagogues founded after 1996″, then a graph of the “number of synagogues” in each year would also necessarily show some year x such that the “number of synagogues” increased fivefold between x and the present.) Agree with it or not, the idea here is that the period after 1996 is different in some way from the period before 1996. And because 1996 is in the past, you might think that whatever happened in or around 1996 already happened, and this historical cutoff isn’t going to change.
But you’d be wrong.
In Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s book Empowered Judaism (published in 2010), he writes “What is an independent minyan? They are defined by the following characteristics:”, followed by a familiar list that includes “No denomination/movement affiliation” and “Meet at least once a month”. But there is one crucial difference between this list and the list in the 2007 report: instead of “founded in 1996 or later”, Kaunfer defines independent minyanim as “founded in the past ten years”. (At the time of publication, that meant founded in 2000 or later.) Since he has essentially adopted the definition from the S3K/Mechon Hadar study, he seems to understand the significance of 1996 not as a specific moment in time, but as 10 years before the study’s data collection. (For the Excel users out there, it’s the difference between E2 and $E$2.) On the next page is another version of the same bar graph, but this time it begins in 2000, and doesn’t claim to be linked to a particular sample, but is instead labeled “Total Number of Minyanim”. (This graph also features the humorous caption “Growth of independent minyanim in the United States, 2000-2009. Includes six minyanim in Israel.”)
So if we extend this dynamic definition of independent minyanim into the present time, then as of today, a community is only an “independent minyan” if it was founded after April 28, 2001. So Kehilat Hadar doesn’t make the cut.
If Kehilat Hadar, once viewed by many as the flagship independent minyan, is no longer an independent minyan, then what is it? Is it a synagogue? Is it a havurah? (Kaunfer writes that the purpose of the 10-year cutoff for independent minyanim is “distinguishing them from the havurah movement”.) Is it something else?
As Kehilat Hadar enters its second decade, it will have to figure out what it is. Either that or it can remain an independent minyan (after all, that’s what it’s good at), and we can stop pigeonholing communities based on an arbitrary chronological cutoff. We can acknowledge that independent minyanim (any way you define that) existed before 2001 (and even before 1996), and at the same time see that this takes nothing away from the significance of the work that a new generation of minyanim has been doing for the last 10.01 years. We can explore the substantive similarities and differences among independent Jewish communities, whether they were founded around the same time or decades apart.
So this time of the year we are all asking ourselves the great question: how can I get my car cleaned and not support the exploitative practices of most carwashes? Well, if you are in the Los Angeles area there is an answer. Temple Beth Am (with support from CLUE LA and cheering from Shtibl) is sponsoring a Car Wash for Justice. This is a chance to clean your car before Pesach and, at the same time, support carwashers who were locked out and fired from the Marina Car Wash (for organizing activities).
When: April 10, 9am-noon
Where: Temple Beth Am parking lot
1039 S. La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles Ca 90035
Car Wash includes: * Waterless Hand Wash * Interior Vacuum * Windows * Tires/Rims
Suggested Donation: Wash: $15 Wax (wash included): $35
Interior Detail (this is L.A.): $100 Compact Car $130 SUV/Truck
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:
Zoo Minyan, an independent minyan that meets in the neighborhood around the zoo in DC, is not meeting for davening this week. Why do I care? And why is this interesting? Let me back up:
I’m on the Bolt Bus, headed down to DC for the J Street Conference. The conference proper doesn’t start until Saturday night, but I’m heading down to spend Shabbat in DC, hoping to get some good shul-hopping done for your reading pleasure.
My plan was to go to multi-denominational, non-membership, convention-defying synagogue Sixth and I tonight and to the still-extant, just had their 40th birthday, proving all the “indie minyans will never last people wrong,” first-wave chavurah Fabrangen tomorrow morning.
But then, while emailing back and forth with Mah Rabu blogger and fellow Jewschooler BZ, he suggested the I try out Zoo Minyan instead. Apropos my post from the other day about feminizing the theology of Kaddish Shalem, he thought I might like Zoo Minyan. During their service, they apparently alternate between masculine and feminine names for God. So I got a little excited to see that in practice.
But it’s not a total waste because I have some thoughts to share that came out of this failure to launch. The first time I heard such an attitude from an indie minyanaire was from an organizer of the ultra-lightweight London minyan Wandering Jews. They don’t organize anything other than a place and time. They refuse to beg people to be hosts. If no one volunteers to host, there’s no davening. If not enough people bring stuff for the potluck, there’s no communal dinner. Etc.
I heard a woman speak about this approach at Limmud Colorado a couple of years ago. She said, if people value Wandering Jews, they will make it happen. And if they’re not making it happen, then it isn’t valuable and they should just let it go and slip away. This stands in about the starkest contrast possible to the synagogue continuity-obsessed folks.
And at Zoo Minyan, it seems there is a somewhat similar attitude. And now I don’t get to go. Oh well, their loss. And Fabrangen’s gain.
I gave the service three and a half ballpoint pens (|||-), and said that I’d be going to Romemu the following week for Shabbat morning. To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.
This can be harder to do because people have to drag themselves out of bed–and when it comes to liturgy, it’s harder to make me happy because there’s more to do on Shabbat morning than on erev Shabbat.
So I went. As I said, it was about a month ago, so my memory is a tad rusty. But I took a lot of notes while I was there and I started drafting this the day after, so I think I’ve got most of my thoughts in order. This is the first review I’ve written since I refined the Five-Ballpoint Pen Rating System. What I’m going to try to do is go through the copious notes I took first, as bullet points. Then I’ll do a more concise write-up at the end using the new rating categories. In the service notes, the section on the Torah service may be the most interesting and insightful about Romemu as a community.
Shir Yaakov, Romemu’s [musical director/insert correct title here] provided me with a copy of the song list he was using that week, so I’ll be able to provide correct [read: coherent] descriptions of the music this time.
Began with “Hareini Mekabel Alai” by Gabriel Meyer Halevi, which I think I’ve identified as being by Kirtan Rabbi once before. That was wrong, although Kirtan Rabbi does a cover of it.
There is a guy playing a cajon, Shir Yaakov is playing a djembe–though he also played guitar throughout–and a guy playing some very lovely classical guitar-type stuff.
Rabbi David Ingber, of course, is leading. He’s using a mic, which it doesn’t seem to me that he needs. He’s a loud-voiced fellow. I asked him about it later and he said he does need to keep his voice from getting destroyed every week. However, does he really need a flesh-tone pop star mic? And does he need to be so loud? And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything? The whole things engenders and odd atmosphere, in my opinion.
There are, as we begin, about 20 people. They don’t fill the space at all. It feels quite empty. Ingber later told me that the previous night’s service had been one of the most packed they’d ever had. (This, mind you, was not the one I was at, which had been the previous week.)
The set-up is quite similar to B’nai Jeshurun, in that there is a rabbi leading from a podium, plenty of open space between the rows pews and the rabbi, and a semicircle of musicians behind and to the left of the rabbi.
Architecturally, the space is more similar in style to Anshei Chesed. I figure that they were probably built around the same time. Major difference: Romemu is in a church. It’s a wonderful space. If Romemu bought it from the church, they could turn it into a fantastic sanctuary for their purposes, but for now, I’m quite unsettled by the imagery around me. I’m actually a big believer in the notion that Jews ought now pray in churches. After services, I chatted with Ingber about this. He said that many in their community actually like that it’s a church. It’s a sign to many of the radical atmosphere of welcoming they want to engender at Romemu. I think you’ll all get my drift if I respond to that with an unenthusiastic “Whatever.” More »
Yesterday, I was at Makom Hadash for the first time. Makom Hadash is a shared office in New York City, operated by Jewish environmental organization Hazon. It also currently houses GLBTetc organization Nehirim, Jewish learning conference of awesomeness Limmud NY and probably some other groups.
The office is not finished yet, but here are the plans, which I perused while I was poking around:
Notice the bike next to it. One of Hazon’s big programs is a series of annual bike rides. So it was nice to see a couple bikes laying around the office, not to mention a clear attention to sustainability in the office kitchen area.
But it gets better. In the final plan, there will be an office bike rack!
It’s gonna be a pretty cool office when they finish it. And the point is that it’s great to see an organization’s values reflected in its offices. I was thinking about this while I was at home in Austin over break, when I discovered that the synagogue where I grew up currently has no recycling. Which is even more troubling than it would be on its own, given that the congregation makes a lot of noise about environmentalism. More »
Somehow, a copy of the Jewish Week Singles Supplement found its way into my apartment, and because I am a glutton for punishment, I looked at it. Here’s the breakdown: There are places other than the Upper West Side to meet people and find Jewish community. Orthodox Jews who are divorced would like to date again, and it’s hard. It’s also hard to be a single Jew when you’re over 40. Also, sometimes, being single makes people sad and they make theatre out of it. Of course, there is nary a gay mentioned anywhere in the magazine, because we all know gay people just want to have a lot of sex and no relationships, ESPECIALLY the Jewish gays.
On the upswing: There is an interesting piece about Jewish women who become single mothers by choice, and another about interfaith relationships and how they might actually galvanize, and not destroy the Jewish people. What I thought was the most important part of the supplement was a piece by Sandy Brawarsky called “Tuesday, the Rabbi Went Out,” about single rabbis and the stigma they deal with regarding their marital status. Apparently, many folks who were interviewed for the article declined to be named, because ”they feared for their rabbinic careers as well as their dating lives.” I’ve heard from a lot of rabbinic students that it’s hard to reveal their chosen field to potential dates, but the idea that one’s career could be jeopardized by not having a partner is beyond ridiculous.
It’s also problematic that both male and female rabbis (again, no one who identifies outside the definitive gender binary was involved in the making of this article) are lumped together in the conversation, because as single folks, they face very different issues with respect to dealing with their situation. A single female rabbi is challenging to our beliefs about women, that women have babies, especially Jewish women. Without a partner, how will this happen? Single male rabbis face a challenge to their masculinity, because in addition to being the head of a shul, they’re also expected to be head of a household, and if masculinity and femininity isn’t demonstrated in the way we’re accustomed to, we’re threatened, and the last place we want to be threatened is in a Jewish space.
Trust me when I say that the organized Jewish community, or maybe all Jewish communities, are lonely places for single people, even (especially?) if you aren’t interested in changing your status. Interviewed for the article, Rabbi Felicia Sol, of Bnai Jeshrun on the Upper West Side, said, “It is a challenge to the Jewish community to create as many avenues for people to find partners and be supportive of all kinds of families, but it is just as important to be inclusive to those who are single.”
Seriously, though, is this ever going to happen? My money is on probably not, because, after all, religion has become about family and we remain inflexible as to what that concept is, and about letting people define that notion for themselves. The article does end with some hope, though. Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, offered this: “I think we could do more to change the culture where marriage is the highest value.”
Far beyond my usual complaints, it was a night club, complete with Israeli bouncers at all entrances and exits. The only thing to distinguish the gyrating mass of Jews from night club was the sprinkling of people dancing with sifrei Torah.
For me, events like this are a spectator sport. I felt most comfortable when the dancing was over and the Torah reading began. During the dancing hakafot, I stood off to the side, sporadically annotating my siddur and chatting with the many friends I was running into. It all reminded me a lot of summer camp. I was always that kid standing off to the side during Israeli dancing, grotesquely fascinated, but utterly unwilling to join in.
Amid all of this, there’s a piano playing, rabbis are singing loudly into microphones. Everything sounds beautiful.
Except for one thing. Four of five times during each half-hour dance hakafah, one rabbi or another would shout over the music into the microphone, “No pictures, please!” People were indeed taking pictures–with flash!–of the rotating clod of Jews. To me, far more distracting than the odd flash here and there were the announcements admonishing us all to stop taking pictures.
But I can understand it. The flashes distract. One person I chatted with said the flashes were more distracting to her than the announcements. Fine. The microphones enhanced the dancing worship, while the flashes detract. I get it.
But more than anything else, I was amused by the notion of shouting into a microphone to tell people not to take pictures. There’s something halachically hilarious about it.
And then some rather officious woman in fanny pack decided that my note-taking was a problem and told me to stop.
So now we come back to my original point: If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made.
If there will be amplification, mixed dancing, totally nonreligious Jewish high school students, at least two well-known Orthodox rabbis (that I spotted), admonishments over the mics not to take pictures, My Number One Fan, a handful of Jewschoolers (hey guys!), etc., there’s no way to know what’s appropriate.
In a Conservative shul, in a Reform shul, in and Orthodox shul it is, with the occasional exception, pretty easy for someone as ritually literate as I am to know what it’s acceptable to do and not do.
So, fanny pack lady, despite the look of disgust on your face, it was perfectly non-obvious that what I was doing was wrong in any way.
If I can’t write in your shul, please have a sign made to go along with your no cell phones sign. How else is anyone to know what is appropriate? (Or, dare I say, allowed?)
Repentance shouldn’t be about wallowing in guilt. In his sermon last night, my rabbi spoke about this at length. It’s something I’ve thought about before, and it really speaks to me.
These days I’m pretty much never at synagogue. Back when I was at school (I’m currently taking a year off), I participated in the Chavurah minyan each week, which I loved. But here, I find that praying congregation-style just doesn’t do it for me. And last night I realized for the first time that one of my personal sources of guilt on Yom Kippur comes from actually being at synagogue, precisely because I’m so rarely there. I feel guilt for not being more a part of the community. Guilt for being so unfamiliar with the liturgy. Guilt that my Hebrew is so bad. Guilt for not truly feeling that the path to repentance involves asking for permission to repent.
So, like last year at Brown, I didn’t go to services today, albeit for slightly different reasons. I’m at home, on my own. Here I can observe Yom Kippur guilt-free, thinking about ways in which I can repent for me, myself, and I. My lack of belief in G()d in the traditional sense of an entity or concept that has at least some manifest control of my life or the world leads me to understand that I repent for my own benefit, and for that of those around me. Repenting helps me become a better person. I take responsibility for my flaws, my problems, my errors, and I ask those around me to understand them, and join with me as I try to grow past them. That growth might involve additional involvement with the community. Or it might not.
This approach to observance is a source of conflict with my family, who feel strongly that going to shul is a family operation. And while I respect the desire to observe the day together, I can’t subvert my feelings on what it means for me to be a Jew to the family’s feelings on what it means to be a Jewish family. The same holds for a congregation. Yom Kippur is too important for me to follow anyone’s patterns of observance but my own. I’m sure that those patterns will continue to change, and as they do, I’ll do my best to understand and remain true to them.
As a Reform gay shul, we should expect a siddur that does not shy away from playing with the liturgy and rushes straight in to right perceived liturgical wrongs. Reform siddurim are adept at this and, if Siddur B’chol L’vavcha is anything to go by, so are siddurim created by LGBTXYZETC (LGBTQIQ, according to this siddur) communities. That’s exactly the kind of eclectic siddur we get here.
As with any thoughtfully constructed congregational siddur, SSZ is full of references to the history of the synagogue, unique minhagim and character. In terms of liturgical structure, it follows recent Reform liturgies such as Mishkan T’filah quite closely, while delving further into the gender politics of the liturgy than mainstream Reform siddurim do. At the same time, some of their theological gender posturing falls short, perhaps defeating the purpose of the liturgists. And as for the size and ease of use of the siddur, it is the largest, most unwieldy siddur I have ever seen.
Let’s deal with the physical nature of SSZ first. Like I said, it’s gigantic. I’ve heard older congregants complain till kingdom come about the size of Gates of Prayer or MT. I can’t imagine what they would say about this tome. It’s large enough to prevent me from using it. Praying the Amidah with this thing might send you to a chiropractor. As you can see in the image below, it is thicker than its Manhattan gay siddur counterpart (a Friday night volume anyway) by far and even noticeably thicker than the not-so-inconsiderably girthy GOP and Plaut Torah commentary. More »
Last night, I heard Prof. Jonathan Sarna give a lecture on Democratization in American Jewry in the years following the Revolutionary War. He explained, using a couple of fascinating examples, that in that period of time you start to see the waning of the authority of the synagogue, and the Jewish community more generally: break-away shuls, a Kohein marrying a widowed convert against the wishes of the shul leadership, and a learned individual finding halachic solution to issues involving the excommunication of intermarried Jews, against the wishes of the kahal.
During Q&A, someone asked about the relationships of the break-away shuls to the organizations from which they departed. Prof. Sarna explained that, in time, exterior threats would cause these groups to come together. I’ve heard a similar explanation about the relationship of the Hasidim to the Mitnagdim after the haskalah. The modern example given was an Orthodox Rabbi sitting on the bimah of a Conservative shul in Boston during Cast Lead, claiming that differences between them needed to be put aside when Israel was threatened.
I understood his point, but the example made me cringe. I remember there being some level of objection from within the Jewish community, even during Cast Lead, and it pains me that the best example for the uniting of Jewish community is around a mythic threat to Israel (which is not to say that I approve of rockets, either). It being erev Yom Yerushalayim, I’m also reminded of the mythic existential threat from ’67, but I digress.
We’ve done an OK job of covering a number of recent cases of civil rights problems in Israel (here, here, here). Over at Zeek, Moshe Yaroni sums things up beautifully:
Israeli democracy is under siege, and it’s no less stark than that. For years, the peace groups in Israel have been warning that occupation cannot co-exist with democracy without one eventually strangling the other. It is no longer a theoretical argument. More »