My Sukkot Wish for our Queer Jewish Community

Suzie and I are hosting the big Keshet and JP Shabbat Sukkot potluck again this year! (You should come!)

Boston is a great place to be queer and Jewish, so I really just have one wish for our fabulous local LGBTQ Jewish community this year: flirting.

Why bother having separate LGBTQ community events when many Jewish institutions have become more and more inclusive of LGBTQ Jews?

Because flirting.

Imagine you are a young queer Jew looking for a date. You’re bored with OkCupid and JDate, so you try going to a singles night sponsored by your local synagogue. You get all gussied up, maybe you drag along a friend as a wingman, and you head in to the venue. What do you see? A whole bunch of straight people. (Regardless of how inclusive the shul is, this is a numbers game. There are more straight people than gay people.)

Okay, so let’s say you’re not instantly discouraged by the fact that most of the people in the room are a) not what you’re looking for and b) not looking for you. Let’s say you don’t feel super weird about either feeling invisible or feeling like you stand out in the wrong ways. You’re resilient! You can do this! So you look around the room for other LGBTQ people. Hey there’s one! But that person is not a gender you’re interested in. Oh, there’s someone who might be the right gender for you! But that person seems significantly too old/young for you. Or perhaps you just don’t find them attractive. HEY! Over there! There’s someone cute, of an appropriate gender, the right age–and they turn out to be your ex. And now you’ve exhausted your supply of LGBTQ people in the room. Dang.

This is where the LGBTQ Jewish community comes in! After feeling like there is a dearth of romantic options available for you in your shul, wouldn’t it be nice to go to an event where everyone is Jewish and LGBTQ? So many more possibilities! You could date EVERYBODY! (Okay, well, at least a significant portion of attendees.) It’s like Jewish summer camp! Yayyyy!

This is why you should come to my house if you happen to be LGBTQ and in the Boston area on October 10th. (If you’re old and married like me, you should still come, because you’ll help introduce the single people to each other. It’ll make things less awkward, and we’ll all have a good time.)

This is why you should host an event like this if you’re LGBTQ and not in the Boston area on October 10th.

This is why Jewish LGBTQ organizations should still care about hosting local events for members once in a while.

This is why Jewish institutions who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ members should continue to help support Jewish LGBTQ organizations do their own things sometimes.

Because flirting.

Bourbon Tasting as Jewish Community

It has been a very dark time for Jewish news over the past few weeks. War and war crimes, chants calling for our death, us calling for others’ deaths, and overall nastiness.  Often times, even on the storied pages of Jewschool, we simply ignore the rest of the Jewish world during the perennial security operations taking place in the name of the Jewish people.

Yet there are other things happening in the Jewish world and some of them are good.  In fact some are even fun.  While this post deviates from some of the hard hitting topics we often discuss in this forum, it is an important one for more than the obvious reasons. More »

The “Right” to Play Ball

Over the past week, the Jewish paper of record (The New York Times) has reported a few times on the Shabbatroversy in Houston, TX.

Robert M. Beren Academy joined the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools for sports. Not surprisingly, TAPPS is dominated by Christian schools. It is Texas. When Beren joined, TAPPS told the school that there may be games during the playoffs on Shabbas. There were also no games to be held on Sunday, according to the by-laws.

After a week of pressure and very public backlash on the social medias and in the traditional press, Jewish orgs using very lame puns, and political and basketball stars chiming in, TAPPS has changed the tip off.

But I don’t care. It also seems that Beren didn’t care either. Sure the kids were bummed but the school made a CHOICE to join TAPPS and the school is filled with religious Jews. They clearly are going to pick Shabbat over B-ball any day and that is how it should be. I am lost at the outrage from the liberal movements and the community at large.

Congrats to the kids being taught that in a secular world, they can sue to get what they want religiously. Good luck with that in the real world. But now that they can play, I hope the beat the pants off those anti-Semites.

Americans for Peace Now starts up with Drashat Shalom

Americans for Peace Now has just announced that it is beginning a new feature: a weekly Torah commentary on Middle-East peace topics. This week is already up, and has a nice little drash on wrestling with angels and moving out of injury to blessing by new staff member (and Jewschool contributor) Rabbi Alana Suskin.


(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

This past weekend, the great city of Washington DC played host to Mechon Hadar’s fourth (approximately sesquiannual) Minyan Conference. Unlike the previous conferences, this one wasn’t called the Independent Minyan Conference (at least not exclusively). This wasn’t because the 10-1/2-year-old Kehilat Hadar is no longer an “independent minyan” by some definitions; it’s because the conference broadened its reach to other lay-led minyanim that are affiliated with larger institutions, such as synagogues and Hillels.

I was there representing Minyan Segulah (on the DC/Maryland border), and it was a great opportunity to network with organizers of other minyanim from San Francisco to London, discuss issues facing our communities, and yadda yadda yadda.

But I wanted to share one highlight. The prayer options on Friday night and Saturday morning included 5 local minyanim (including Segulah). For Shabbat mincha, there were two options at the conference location: a traditional egalitarian minyan downstairs, and a partnership minyan upstairs. Then during se’udah shelishit, they announced the same two options for ma’ariv. Some participants stood up and made another announcement: “We were also thinking about doing something alternative. If you’re interested, come to [location].” Multiple people shouted out “What is it?” They responded “Come to [location] and help figure it out.”

On the basis of no information beyond “something alternative”, 43 people showed up (out of around 120 participants).

As one might have expected from the announcement, there wasn’t a specific plan. A substantial fraction of the ~15 minutes allotted for ma’ariv was spent discussing what we should do. We also sang several niggunim (one of which had been taught at a session earlier that day, another of which was taught right then), and someone talked about transitioning from Shabbat into the week, and someone else connected Parshat Lech Lecha to her own recent experiences. And then it was time to join the rest of the group for havdalah.

A few of us were debriefing afterwards, and we agreed that this had been “Occupy the Minyan Conference”: get the people on board first, and the specific policy proposals come later. The significance of this event wasn’t the content, but the fact that so many people were attracted to it. There was a visible feeling of “We are the 36%”, and the excitement that we all knew from going to the first meeting of a new minyan, and a sense of empowered Judaism (two people spoke this gathering into being, and it was so). I don’t know what the larger message is (beyond the obvious – that anyone trying to generalize about the independent minyan organizer population (and, kal vachomer, the independent minyan participant population), by ascribing to them a particular religious outlook and style of practice, is being lazy and missing the mark). But it was a reminder not to let anything get stale.

א גוטן שבת אויף אײַך און אויף כל ישראל


A good shabbos to you and to all Israel from the Warsaw Maccabee Motorcycle Club. This photo was featured in a 1929 issue of Nasz Przeglad (Our Review), a Polish-language Jewish journal with Zionist leanings. The journal had about 23,000 subscribers in the late 1930s.

Strengths and weaknesses of indie minyans and why I don’t get to go to Zoo Minyan tomorrow

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

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.

Then, as I’m sitting here on this bus, I get this e-mail from BZ with this post from their blog:

Zoo Minyan – No Davvening, but some learning, Sat. Feb 26

Zoo Minyan is not meeting for davenning Sat. Feb 26.

Sorry folks! Insufficient leyning turn-out for Zoo this shabbos, wouldn’t be lichvod Torah. Apologies for the short notice / change of plans.

But feel free to stop by for some learning after davenning elsewhere (or after shaarei sheina / sleeping in, as is your custom).


So, it’s Fabrangen for more tomorrow, after all.

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.

Shir Chadash–a new egal minyan in Crown Heights

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle. More liturgical minutiae from the first meeting of Shir Chadash here.

We were planning on heading out to the Kane Street Synagogue on Friday night, but a last-minute email from Jewschooler Kung Fu Jew had us heading out into unfamiliar territory–Crown Heights–for the first ever meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan. I called KFJ to ask for details. He didn’t have many. He didn’t know if musical instruments would be allowed. (He didn’t even know if my ballpoint would be allowed–luckily, no one seemed to mind.)

For future reference, my answer to the question, “Do you want to go to the first meeting of a new egal minyan?” is always yes.

A perfect storm of Jewschoolers, former leaders of Kol Zimrah and some former leaders of at least one DC minyan are now living way the hell out on the far reaches of the 2 and the 3. For a long time, folks have been talking about starting a new traditional egalitarian minyan for the area.

Finally, last week, after a lot of talk, one guy–Brian Immerman, a fourth-year Reform rabbinical student and a former teacher of mine–decided to just go for it. He e-mailed some people and by the middle of Lecha Dodi, about 20 Jews were in his living room to daven.

My notes on the first meeting of Shir Chadash: More »

Snow Shabbat’s ripple effects

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

Back in February, we blogged about how Segulah‘s and other Mid-Atlantic Jewish communities’ Shabbat plans were affected by what some called “Snowmageddon”. It turns out that that snowy Shabbat has had more profound impacts on one family. Go and read Washington lawyer Viva Hammer’s inspiring story about it, published in the Jerusalem Post.

Two lessons of this story (beyond the explicitly stated ones) include:
1) When we build communities, they can have powerful effects on individuals beyond what anyone expects.
2) It’s always a good idea not to be intimidated by the snow, and to let life (and Shabbat) go on.

Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week.

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

Obama 20-Somethings & Shabbat Dinner

Sorry for the delay, but this is what happens when you only get around to reading last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine on Friday morning.

In any case, I loved this excerpt from the Magazine’s long piece on Obama’s rising-star junior staffers:

ERIC LESSER LOOKED out over the containers of Thai carryout, the bottles of wine and the Shabbat candles. “Should we do Shalom Aleichem?” he asked, and the whole table began singing a warbled but hearty version of the song that welcomes Shabbat. In Lesser’s group house of Obama staff assistants, Friday-night Shabbat dinners have become something of a ritual, a chance to relax and spend a few hours with friends, reflecting on the week. Sometimes it’s just the four housemates, sometimes it’s a large group from the campaign trail or the White House, sometimes it’s friends from college and people who happen to be in town.

Once it was even their bosses — “the Bosses Dinner,” they still call it. David Axelrod, Lesser’s boss, was out of town, but others came: Jake Levine’s boss, Carol Browner, the White House coordinator of energy-and-climate policy; her husband and her sister; and Ziskend’s boss, Jared Bernstein, the vice president’s chief economist, along with his wife and their two young kids. Linda Douglass, then the director of communications for the White House office of health reform, was also there.

Around the table on a late September night, the weekend of Yom Kippur, were the four housemates along with Samantha Tubman, a 30-year-old associate director to the social secretary who helps plan nearly every White House event, and Sam Wilson, 27, the deputy director of broadcast media for the White House office of communications. On the campaign trail, Tubman was a press wrangler, one of the most difficult and least glamorous jobs. She had to make sure the press corps was fed and on time, all while dealing with lost luggage and hotel mishaps. Tubman, who is petite and has a quick, engaging smile, was also an older-sister figure to a lot of the young staff members. “Do you remember when we met at a coffee shop in Keene, N.H., when I was still a college student?” Ziskend asked, turning to Tubman.

At the end of every Friday dinner, the tradition is that everyone goes around the table and says something from the past week for which they’re grateful. Over Whole Foods gingerbread and brownies, Lesser looked at his watch and announced, “O.K., we’ve got to do this and then get out of here.” They all had other friends they were trying to see that night.

Shabbos Dinner: All the cool kids are doing it…

So you’re looking online, trying to find some like-minded folks in your area to share a shabbos meal with. Maybe you’re new to town and are trying to meet new people. Maybe you just haven’t had a shabbos meal in a long time, and you’re looking for that sense of community. Maybe you start perusing Craigslist or Idealist in hopes of finding

EeGADS! Extra Eclectic Gentiles Are Doing Shabbos!

“SHABBAT IS MORE FUN IF YOU YOURSELF COME.” Meet with us Friday evenings for a little liturgy, music & meditation, poetry, prose, and prayer, BREAD & WINE…and of course a good vegetarian shabbos meal together. What more could you ask for?! Non-goyim are welcome, too. Straight friendly. We need all the help we can get! Most of us, though, are Christians, of one sort or another. For information:

(That was fully unedited, of course.) Vegetarian queers hosting a lovely shabbos dinner? What more could you want…? Oh right, some Jews…

h/t Leah!

Brookline KICKS!

This is a guest post from Rachel Silverman, 5th year Rabbinical student at JTS, and member of KICKS’ leadership team.

What do you call a new independent minyan that is neither new nor independent? The folks in Brookline, MA have decided to call it KICKS – Kehillath Israel‘s Community Kabbalat Shabbat. It fits few, if any, of the criteria that define the independent minyan movement – Brooklineand yet it is, without a doubt, the place you are going to want to be on Friday nights in Boston – starting March 12.

We can’t claim to be independent because not only are we meeting INSIDE a Conservative synagogue, but we are actually becoming the Kabbalat Shabbat service FOR the synagogue. That’s right. Kehillath Israel has graciously handed over responsibility for their Friday evening service to a group of young, empowered Jewish leaders, straight out of Kehilat Hadar, Kehilat Kedem, and the Washington Square Minyan (all great and vibrant places from which we are regularly inspired and have learned a tremendous amount).

Just as if we were creating a minyan from scratch, the leadership team has been meeting diligently to confront the big questions of how to make this happen. How do we balance quality davening with a sense of inclusivity? How do we create a feeling of community outside of our prayer space? How do we make the chapel a warm and welcoming place to be? Our answers are nothing earth-shattering, but they are the result of thoughtful, careful deliberations which will hopefully produce the right atmosphere for a prayerful experience.

I’ve never been one to predict what is to come, but if I had to take a gander, I’d say this is the wave of the future. The combination of being in a synagogue that feels like an independent minyan is a win-win situation. The synagogue gets active, engaged, passionate, (mostly) young participants through their doors – a group of people who otherwise tend to avoid synagogues at any cost. The minyan-goers get the spiritual, energetic davening and the warm, welcoming, peer community – both of which they’ve been craving. As the minyan participants get older, they have a natural connection to a synagogue for lifecycle events, nursery schools, and movement specific opportunities, such as Israel trips, USY, etc. Put all together, we create a vibrant intergenerational community.

Sure, working within a synagogue structure has its challenges. Changes require buy-in from the existing community and rabbi – and there is only so much change that will, ultimately, be permitted. But that structure also means that we can focus on what we’re good at (amazing davening and creating community), and not get bogged down in questions of things we can’t change (the set up of the room, for example). In our case, KI and Rabbi Hamilton could not be more open to the change that we want to create – and I’m confident that their support is what will ultimately make us successful.

One of the unique features of KICKS is that we have created a davening leadership corps that will meet monthly to cultivate intentional leadership of our tefilah. We will work together to establish goals for our davening, to consider the arc and flow of the service, to think together about tunes that shape the arc, the give and take of leader and kahal, and the use of space, voice and body in shaping davening and inviting the energy of the kahal. It is also our goal to reach out and train new leaders. We look forward to offering sessions to help develop these skills among people who want to learn and join our team.

KICKS is kicking off (yes, pun intended) on March 12. We meet in the Rabb chapel of Congregation Kehillath Israel, 384 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA. Mincha begins at 5:35, Kabbalat Shabbat will be at 5:55, and Ma’ariv will be at 6:30. We will meet weekly, but start times will vary depending on candle-lighting. We’re planning Shabbat dinners, both potluck and home hospitality, for future weeks.

You can join our facebook group here, and sign up for our mailing list (a google group) here. You can also email with questions, comments, or your desire to get involved.

Unplugging Expectations

I am not your typical Jewschooler.  True, I am liberal and Jewish, but I proudly work in corporate America, enjoy the occasional trefa banquet and, perhaps most egregiously, I am a member of a Reform Temple on the Upper East Side of New York City.

Please don’t take away my blogging privileges before you hear me out.

In September of 2008, I left the warm embrace of the professional Jewish world to enter the for-profit sector. It became clear that I needed a place for the High Holidays and to call my own Jewishly. In that my work environment would no longer be Jewish in content, I needed a Jewish home to learn, celebrate and work for the community.

I live on the Upper East Side, so I found a congregation on the Upper East Side. Not going to lie here, the $18/year under 30 memberships did help matters. So, with my wife, I joined Temple Shaaray Tefila just in time for some High Holiday action.

After the beginning of the year, I started getting invited to this Shabbat Unplugged service, catering to the 20s-30s set in the congregation. Always an open minded person,* I began to go to these cohort-specific services to see what was happening.  I was married, so I didn’t need a meat market, and I have a strong Jewish identity, so I didn’t need a line-by-line explanation, both real concerns with traditional outreach to this community with in the Reform Movement.

But I was pleasantly surprise to find a prayerful and intentional community of committed Reform Jews of my generation engaged in a local congregation. More »

Snow Shabbat

The DC area and other parts of the Mid-Atlantic region were hit on Friday and Saturday with significant amounts of snow. Many areas are still without electrical power (ours came back on around 5:30 pm on Saturday), many institutions are closed (some school districts have already preemptively closed through Tuesday), and only the underground parts of the Metro system are operating.

Because the snowstorm was over Shabbat, some Jewish congregations canceled their services, while others went on as usual. At Segulah, we went on with the show (thanks to our host, Tifereth Israel, which never closes on Shabbat), and I’m glad we did. We got a respectable showing of 20 people or so. The missing demographic was young children and their parents, who quite understandably stayed home, but all other ages were represented from 14 to 70s. We also had the earliest average arrival time ever: at least half of the people who showed up were there at the very beginning or right after, and almost no one arrived after the Torah service began. This is probably because on a day like that, you’re either going to do it or you’re not; it’s not worth trekking through a foot of snow (the streets and sidewalks hadn’t really been plowed/shoveled yet) just to show up for the last half hour. We continued with a potluck lunch in an apartment that was powerless and electrically heated, but well-insulated and naturally lit. Everything else may remain shut down for a while, but nothing stops Shabbat!

If you’re in the affected area, and your power is on (or you can access the Internet with your phone), how was (or wasn’t) your Shabbat affected by the snow? Share your stories in the comments!

Beged: the Question

The following is a guest post by Yisroel Bas. He blogs at אומשלאָף.

This past spring I decided that I wanted to start wearing tsitsis, at least on Shabbos. This decision came out of an embrace on my part of biblically-based Jewish symbolism/self identification. However, I was not attracted to the traditional undershirt variety and I wanted something a little more special. So I designed a T-shirt style beged to wear on Shabbos. I chose blue ribbons to match the color of tekheles. Although it took some time, I convinced my mom to make it for me. I wanted the garment to be as square and shirt-like as possible, and a preliminary look at the Torah yielded no problems with my design.

When my mom finished the garment, I spent an afternoon figuring out and eventually tying the tsitsis (Ramban Teymeni style). I was really happy with the final project and decided that I would wear it for the first time at Yugntruf‘s Yiddish Week retreat. While there, several people asked me why I had tsitsis on a shirt with closed sides. I was told that the majority of the beged needs to be open in order for it to be khayev tsitsis. I asked for the source of such a rule and was met by a lot of “I’m not sure”s and “gemora”s. After the retreat I started on a journey to find the source of this “rov beged” injunction. I would walk around on Shabbos with the shirt on and go from shul to shul asking the rabbis if my beged was khayev tsitsis. One told me that the source as Manakhos in the Gemora. Another had no clue. And yet another was convinced that as long as it has daled kanfes, it’s khayev tsitsis.

the completed begedI went home, found a translation of Manakhos, read it, and found no mention of “rov beged” or even the slightest hint of a definition of kanfe. Finally the Chabad Shliakh in my building found the injunction in his Shulkhan Orukh, but he did not know where the Shulkhan Orukh got it from. Finally after asking the shliakh at my school a million times to look up the source, he put me on the phone with the chief librarian at the Chabad library. He found the source: the students of the Maharam of Rothenburg (d.1293).

Okay, so my shirt is fine according the Torah and Gemora, but not the Maharam (nor anyone who thinks that the Shulkhan Orukh is from Sinai). On top of my own doubts and uncertainties, I now had several rabbis telling me that I can wear it all I like, but just not on Shabbos (because if the beged isn’t khayev tsitsis, then I am “carrying” them about when I wear the beged). I’ve been wearing it anyway, partly because I like how I feel when I wear the beged, and partly because I am not sure of how much the Maharam and what he supposedly taught matters to me. For all I know the beged is khayev tsitsis in that the majority of the beged is open (sleeves and bottom), just not contiguously. Right now I am getting ready to make another similar beged and I think I’m going to stick with “closed” sides.

ראה הפֿקדתיך היום הזה על־הגױיִם ועל המלכות
זע, איך האָב דיר געשטעלט הײַנטיקן טאָג איבער די פֿעלקער און איבער די מלכותן
לנתוש ולנתוץ
אױסצורײַסן און אײַנצוּװאַרפֿן
ולהאביד ולהרוס
און אונטערצוברענגען און צו צעשטערן
לבנות ולנטוע
צו בױען און צו פֿלאַנצן

Ride the Purple Line this Shabbat!

Purple Line

The short version: Segulah! DC’s newest independent minyan, with “full-liturgy, energizing, songful, and participant-led egalitarian davening in a warm and welcoming neighborhood community”. Shabbat morning services this week, January 2, 2010, 9:30 am, Shabbat Vayechi, Reamer Chapel at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 16th & Juniper St (7701 16th St NW; enter off Juniper), Washington DC, two-table potluck to follow at a nearby home. All ages are welcome. RSVP to segulahminyan at gmail or on Facebook, and/or join the email list.

The longer version:
DC Boundary Stone

All the way in the northernmost reaches of our nation’s capital, in the very last alphabet, is the neighborhood of Shepherd Park, and just over the Maryland line is the unincorporated urban area of downtown Silver Spring (home of NOAA, the American Film Institute, and the Discovery Channel). (The picture at right shows the north boundary stone marking the border between DC and Maryland.) This multistate (or one state and one something else) neighborhood is more affordable than central DC but more walking- and transit-friendly than the burbs, and therefore it’s no surprise that it contains one of the most diverse and fastest-growing Jewish scenes in the Washington area.

The Jewish epicenter of the neighborhood is upper 16th Street, or “Sheish Esrei Elyon”, where a single two-block stretch contains three congregations that are exceptional in different ways: Fabrangen is a historic first-wave havurah that started in 1971, born out of the activism of that time, and continues to this day. Ohev Sholom is an Orthodox synagogue that has reached out to the LGBT community. Tifereth Israel is home to JuggleK, a kashrut certification that certifies both conventional kashrut standards and ethical standards, whose first and only client is a vegan soup subscription service. Other Jewish highlights of the neighborhood include Moishe House Silver Spring, the offices of KOL Foods, and the former synagogue building that is now the Ethiopian Evangelical Church.

Segulah is the latest addition to this constellation, and meets in various locations on both sides of the state line. In addition to its other meanings, “Segulah” means “purple”, a reference to the Purple Line (pictured above) that will one day link Silver Spring to the other loose ends of the Washington Metro (and which Jews United For Justice is working on making fair). Attention New York: we challenge the Second Avenue Subway to a race!

In addition to being purple, Segulah is also a treasure! And we’ll be meeting this Shabbat to complete the book of Genesis, share song-filled prayer, and eat lunch. Details are at the top of this post. See you there!

BJ Men’s Havura Celebrity Death Match is a Feminist Endeavor

Editor’s note: The following is a direct response to the recent post publicizing this month’s meeting of the Men’s Havurah at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun featuring the NYC federation’s top dog John Ruskay and Jewish media guru Daniel Sieradski in a dialogue between the establishment and anti-establishment voices in the Jewish world today.

The response below is written by Yosef Goldman who is a cantorial and rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and served last year as the first cantorial intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. He is currently studying at Machon Schechter in Jerusalem and serves as the rabbinic intern at the Jerusalem Open House.

The BJ Men’s Havura is the place to be this Shabbat afternoon. If you identify as male, and not as female. And that’s just fine. I know, I know: it sounds sexist. But let’s back up for a moment; a little context goes a long way.

A year and a half ago Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, one of B’nei Jeshurun‘s three rabbis, decided that it was time to act to address a growing gender imbalance that had been apparent at BJ for some time, one that mirrors a trend affecting all areas of non-Orthodox Jewish religious life- men just aren’t as interested in “doing” Judaism as women are. In the words of Sylvia Barack Fishman in an important study published last year:

Today American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue and in every age, from school age children through the adult years. The descent of male interest is evident not only in domestic Judaism, as expected, but also in public Judaism, religious leadership, and secular ethnic attachments.

Whether or not it’s a direct effect of women’s empowerment in Jewish life, the fact is irrefutable- men are dropping out. The question at BJ was what to do about it.

At BJ, where I served last year as the first cantorial intern, the vast majority of lay leaders are female. Whether it’s the Torah readers, prayer service leaders or committee chairs, women dominate. The monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh group and the annual women’s retreat are popular and successful. Until the Men’s Havura was formed there had been no space at BJ for men alone since 1984, when Marshall Meyer became the rabbi and disbanded the congregation’s Brotherhood and Sisterhood. (To be technical, the BJ Men’s Havura is open to all people male-identified, regardless of biology and regardless of sexual orientation.) I think that it’s crucial for there to be female space, opportunities for women to gather with other women and feel proud and safe to express themselves Jewishly, to explore their identity as Jewish women. I think that it’s equally important for male space to exist in our communities. As congregations become more fully egalitarian, opportunities for men to explore together the meaning of contemporary male Jewish identity are increasingly rare.

Traditional models of gender roles in Judaism are responsible for thousands of years of oppression of women and non-heterosexuals. Jewish feminists, both female and male, have, in the past 40 years or so, changed the way that we think about those roles and opened up ritual and social space for women. The concepts of Jewish womanhood and femininity have been critiqued and updated to reflect the needs and values of the contemporary Jewish community. But, to ask a question posed by Sarah Blustain in the current edition of Lilith (entitled “boys are the new girls”): “Did women’s lib by some incredible, ironical twist of fate, leave men confined?” It is time to revisit Jewish manhood and masculinity. This is just what Rabbi Bronstein had in mind when he started the Havura (click on link for an interview in Zeek of the topic).

It’s important to stress that a male critique of masculinity can be a feminist endeavor, as I believe the BJ Havura is. Daniel Boyarin, in his book Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, quotes Tania Modleski to say that such a critique is feminist when “it analyzes male power, male hegemony, with a concern for the effects of this power on the female subject…” The very first meeting of the Havura, after a spirited Mincha service, we engaged in a Torah study, looking critically at models of manhood in the Chumash. Subsequent gatherings included a provocative discussion about sexuality and male-female relations with psychotherapist Esther Perel, author of the international bestseller, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.

As the cantorial intern at BJ, I co-facilitated all of last year’s Havura meetings, along with Rabbi Bronstein and Marshall T. Meyer Fellow Rabbi Ezra Weinberg, and I was at the committee meetings. As I see it, Marcelo and the Havura committee are seeking to meet the challenges of liberating Jewish men from the confines of inadequate gender roles and to create a spiritually relevant space for men. Meeting these challenges is certainly in the interest of Jewish women as well. To quote Blustain’s piece in Lilith again, “It may be the ultimate feminist undertaking in the coming decades to help men free themselves—and to demand that they do so in the ways that continue to free us as well.”

Now, this week’s event may not relate specifically to the issues raised above, but it serves another important goal: getting the target audience in the door. When asked last year by the Havura committee heads for a program idea that would interest my friends and get them to come to a Men’s Havura, I thought immediately about Dan Sieradski in dialogue with John Ruskay (a dynamic activist in his youth, and a BJ member). I figured it would pique the interest of my friends and like-minded young men – the group that is least represented at the Havura’s gatherings. From the excitement in the 84 responses posted so far, it seems that the program has done just that.

The other gender imbalance—the lingering inequity in representation and pay among women in the executive leadership in the Jewish community—is still a big obstacle, and any discussion of the former gender imbalance is incomplete without mentioning the stained glass ceiling, but the discussion is ready to be had. I think we should be celebrating and encouraging female-only and male-only space, like BJ’s Rosh Chodesh group and Men’s Havura, that reflect the values of truly egalitarian Judaism.