Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Jewish Rite of Passage

A friend and coworker died yesterday. I just found out. She had been
very sick recently. When I found out, my first reaction was "Baruch
dayan ha-emet". It gave me some comfort, even as I listened to my
other coworkers gasp and drop their pens.

It is not a happy day. I will miss her, her cheerfulness despite her
suffering, and most of all, her stories.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I can't believe it.

I just got off the phone with my mom.  We were talking about holiday plans (I will always celebrate Christmas with my family and exchange gifts with my friends).

She actually asked me if the Temple will be doing a Christmas service.  Of course they wouldn't. The cool part was that she asked if there would be any holiday services, which gave me a chance to explain Chanukah a little bit. She kind of gets it.

But I still can't believe that she'd wonder whether Jews would have a Christmas service.

Christmastime for the Jews

A little Saturday Night Live hilarity.

Friday, December 5, 2008


After the lovely Shabbat I had last week, I tried to set myself up for the same thing this week.  It pretty much worked.  Last week was very special, since a friend was hosting dinner.

This week I was ready again.  I had a fairly unpleasant task to do, so I saved it for the end of the day.  When I got off work, I felt accomplished.  I was ready to leave the office.  And the minute I hit that outer door, I noticed that the sun was down and was grateful that Shabbat had technically started.

I wished I was able to go straight home for candles and kiddush, but I had to run errands first.  Now that I'm settled in, it's a nice evening.  And I feel Jewish.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My mom, again

I just got off the phone with my mom. We were talking about our plans for the weekend, and I blocked off my time for Torah study and services. She mentioned that she'd talked to her pastor's wife about my studies (apparently relevant because I'm studying Hebrew, and they're studying Hebrews).

Sondra told her that one of the Rabbis in Anchorage had visited their church a while back and gave a presentation on the holidays and festivals. I don't remember this. Anyway, she wanted to know which synagogue I attend, to see if it was the same folks. I told her, even though I'm pretty sure it wasn't my Rabbi. Actually, I know it wasn't my Rabbi; she mentioned a wife. She sounded positive about the whole thing, and that makes me glad.

One of my worries is that if my mom doesn't know what to think, she'll ask Sondra (her friend and pastor's wife), and might get a more, well, fundamentalist answer than I'd like. But maybe I'm selling them all a little short. We'll see, I guess.

Shabbat rest

This past Friday night, I surprised even myself by declaring that I was ready for Shabbay rest. Maybe the others were surprised because the previous day was Thanksgiving and most people didn't have to work. Me, I was surprised because I had never said that before.

I had been ready for the weekend. I had been glad it was Friday night. But I had never been glad for Shabbat itself.

Part of it may have been because I worked hard last week. It may have been because I was sick but feeling better. It was almost certainly because I had arrived at Carrie's home for another of her wonderful Shabbat meals.

But that was one of those wonderful moments when I really felt Jewish. On the drive to Carrie's, I realized that it was dark and technically Shabbat already, and I felt more relaxed. But once those candles were lit, I really started to feel it. Rest. Shabbat rest. A real, definitive separation between worktime and holy time.

It was beautiful.

I'm not going to lie, though. I did work only hours later, cleaning up after the party had subsided. But even that had a sense of peace about it, because it seemed a part of the dinner, a part of the evening, a part of Shabbat.

I hope I feel that again this week. And the week after that. And every week.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Today We are All Chabadniks

I found this entry today on Jewlicious.  I agree with its ideas that we should all be united as Jews, rather than worrying about whether we're converts or Reform or Chassids.  To many, we are all the same, despite our sub-cultural differences.

The article also points out another personal connection: the rabbi and his wife are my age.  And her glasses are very similar to mine.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Another amendment

Reports are now that there were five victims at the Chabad House. The rabbi and his wife were American, as was one other casualty. Two of the dead were Israeli.

We should all say Kaddish, listen to "Imagine", and try to find a solution.

Addendum to my previous post

To be edited in when I'm at my computer:

There should be no honor in dying for one's religion; the honor is in living one's tradition.

Mobile blogging can be a pain. Even on an iPhone.

Baruch ata Adonai, Melech Ha-Olam, Dayan Ha-Emet

Islamic terrorists stormed Mumbai, India, taking over 10 buildings.  Most of the locations were associated with Western culture. The last article I read, over 175 people were dead.

One of the buildings that was chosen was the Chabad House. Two of the people who died were the rabbi and his wife, and I think 5 others from the Jewish center, all Israeli citizens. The cook managed to escape with the rabbi's two year old son. It is very sad.

Even though I'm not yet officially Jewish, and even though I tend to disagree with Chabad, I feel a personal connection. I imagine their Jewish community to be somewhat like mine: small and remote, but welcoming. A place for Jews to get refreshed by familiar traditions amidst a people who live very differently. I know the Jewish community in India, like the one here in Alaska, is very small.

I hope this situation doesn't discourage those who survived from their faith. I hope those who are also in small communities draw together, rather than dispursing out of fear. And I hope that the memories of the rabbi, his wife, and the others who died will be a blessing.

I also hope no martyrs arise from this situation. Religious fundamentalism is dangerous. We need no repeats; we have all suffered enough.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview With An Orthodox Jewish Survivor of Anorexia and Bulimia - Features

Interview With An Orthodox Jewish Survivor of Anorexia and Bulimia

A fascinating story.  Some of the things she talks about I recognize.  I found it through this post, which also tells stories I recognize.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Zach Braff might make Aliyah?

Zach Braff is one of those famous Jews I've had ambitions of writing about.  I think that he's smart, and he's funny, and that's all it takes to make me a fan, really.  I'd heard some rumblings before about his Jewishness, but I didn't want to speculate.

As it happens, he's very much Jewish.  Recently, he gave an interview to Haaretz about his experiences in Tel Aviv and what it's like for him to be in the Jewish community.  The way he talks about community is very interesting to me.  I'm also excited about the idea that he might write and make a movie about an American Jew in Israel.  That's something I'd really like to see from someone like him.  His comedy is very slapstick, but it's also very intelligent and sensitive.

Another thing that I find interesting, as someone who is very soon to convert, is how he talks about not being a minority when he's in Israel.  One of the reasons that it sticks with me is because he talks about he always felt like he was in the minority living in the United States, but he also points out how the communities he's lived had large Jewish communities.  I hope to someday be lucky enough to live in a place with a lot of other Jewish folks.  I'd also love to go to Israel someday.

Oh, and lest you think I read Haaretz and believe that I'm smarter than I am, I found this story on Mixed Multitudes.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I don't know if I should call this a blog, because even though it comes in weekly installments, it's not really just that.  is an attempt to animate the Torah, essentially.  Each week, the new parshat comes up, always with a new commentator.  I've been enjoying it since Bereshit, although my favorite so far is Lech Lecha.  I highly recommend stopping by every Monday for a quick dose of something to think about.

Monday, August 11, 2008


This past weekend, my entire family went on a camping trip.  We stayed in a cabin a few miles away from Seward, and it was incredibly beautiful.  I was glad that I had finally learned some of the blessings for experiencing the natural world.  Knowing that I'd probably forget (and I did), I decided to bring my siddur with me.

I had plenty of opportunity to say baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melach ha-olam, sheh-a-sah et ha-yam ha-gadol and baruch atah adonai eloheinu melach ha-olam, shekahcha lo baolamo and baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melach ha-olam, borei atzei v'samim.  It felt good, like a mitzvah should.

I also packed my Shabbat/Havdallah set, because I didn't feel right being away from it on Shabbat.  I wasn't sure if I'd use it, since my family is uninterested in Jewish ritual, and I didn't want to deal with an argument from my mother.  Still, something in me said to bring it.  As it happened, the cabin was very dark as day turned in to night on Friday, and everybody wished we had some candles.  

Since I had mine, I brought them out.  I explained to my mother what my ritual items were and what their symbolism was.  I silently said the bracha over the candles, and lit them.  I explained the wine and the bread to mom, as well, and she seemed fairly receptive.  I don't think she would have been as positive if I had said the blessings out loud, but, at the same time, I did not do anything that was contrary to was just different.

It was a good experience.  Mom still hasn't heard the word "conversion" from me, and I have not denied Christ to her yet.  Thus far, she is tolerant, but I am concerned that my Judaism would somehow disappoint her.  Her beliefs are well-intentioned and deeply held, but they are ultimately fundamentalist.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Meeting with the Rabbi

I had my meeting with the Rabbi today.  This time, I wasn't so very prepared.  I didn't feel like I'd been book-studying as much as I felt I should.  He asked me why, and I told him.  I've been enjoying my summer and going hiking and camping.  I told him about my Shabbat/havdallah set and how I always bring it with me on trips.  I told him that I've come to really appreciate Shabbat.  There have been a couple of times when I didn't light my candles for some reason, and the day just didn't feel right.  I talked about how, as I've integrated the rules for Shabbat into my practice, how the day has become such a pleasure.

I told him that I've been reading the book he lent me, and that it's really helping me to understand not only the meaning behind the words of the liturgy, but also how to let them inspire me.  The words themselves are something of a blank slate in terms of emotion, and the worshipper is free to use them to express his gratitude, fear, sadness, or even anger.  He can also use them to bring himself to a calm state.

Since I'm also working on reading another book, I told him about that one, too.  This was one of the ecology books that I'd found.  I told him who wrote it, and the group she is affiliated with.  He knew exactly who I was talking about, and was glad that I'd found it.  It was definitely a relief compared to the last conversation we had.  I talked about one of the essays I had read, about wandering and how it brings out something primal in people.  Since I've been watching a lot of The Dog Whisperer, I remembered that Cesar Millan had made a comment about what happens to dogs when they walk behind a pack leader, and how some of the points in the essay were somewhat similar to the ideas that Millan had talked about.
Naturally, this sparked some debate.  He asked me if I really believed that the Jews were following G-d around like a pack of dogs, and if that implied that we didn't really have a choice.  Of course not.  That's what makes us different from dogs.  The point was more that, in the wandering, we were forced to share a tight space, to learn how to work together for a common goal, and to accept our place in the group.  He kept poking holes in my analogy, which was fine.  It was never meant to be a perfect picture, just a way to understand a part of the story in a practical way.

We got in to talking about disagreements, and how religion can actually be a stumbling block to society.  This was at least partly because the Rabbi had been at a discussion group last night where they talked about a book that said, at least in part, that atheism might be an important key to world peace.  Which I do agree with.  I told him so, too.  I talked about how that's mentioned in the song "Imagine" more than once (Imagine there's no hell below us...nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too).  Which, of course, leaves us....where?  What role (do I think) religion should have in society?
We talked about that for a while, actually.  I think he wanted to hear me talk about religion in a general sense, so as to figure out how much of my understanding is based on Christianity, and how much on Judaism.  I talked about how religion, when done correctly, should encourage people to live ethically, and the spirituality should be a pleasant side effect, and I did talk about how I found that in Judaism.  He talked about how this might not necessarily be true of Orthodox Judaism.  I had an answer for that one: I wasn't sitting in an Orthodox shul.  I had chosen Reform for a reason.

It was a good conversation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


A friend recently asked my why I choose to convert.  What follows was my answer to him.

I converted for a number of little tiny reasons, really.  I abandoned Christianity for a few big ones, though.  What it came down to was that I felt that the Christian community had become so fundamentalist and closed-minded that I could no longer agree with many of their teachings, and because of that disagreement, I could never fit in with that herd.  When I started studying on my own, I was drawn toward the beginning of the Bible, because I realized that I didn't actually know that much about the Jewish origins.  Most of it had been taught to me as a child, so I got a very cursory once-over of the major stories, and then the Old Testament was infrequently revisited only when necessary to prove a point.  These points were almost always exclusionary or an attempt to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.  
On my own, I learned that there was a lot of richness and wisdom that I'd never really known before.  I also discovered that Jesus hadn't really fulfilled all the prophesies.  With that, I was no longer afraid to abandon Christianity.  As far as I'm concerned, the Messiah must fulfill all the prophesies.  If a candidate does not, then he is no messiah.  Maybe Jesus was the son of God and all that, and maybe he is going to come back.  Maybe he'll be the Messiah then, when he finishes the job.  I don't know.  What I do believe is that the God of Judaism is similar to the God of Christianity.  I think that sometimes Jesus gets in the way of God.  I don't really know if I think of Jesus as a second god, a facet of God, or an idol.  I haven't figured that out yet.
What I do know is that I started noticing more references to Judaism within things that I liked.  I was interested in Biblical Archaeology, and the parts that I was really interested in were Hebrew Bible stories.  My favorite TV show happened to have a Jewish host.  A song that I liked was inspired by a Jewish story.  Eventually, I contacted a Rabbi and started studying with him, because there was only so much that I could teach myself.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Injustice in Action: the Exxon Valdez judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled on Exxon's appeal.  I'm unhappy, to say the least.  Everything I understand about justice and tikkun olam is completely violated.  

This case has been long and drawn-out, and unpleasant at all turns.  The oil spill happened in 1989.  In 1994, Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, as well as some $500 million for compensatory damages, to cover the cleanup costs.  They appealed, and the punitive award was reduced by half.  I know that the State of Alaska appealed, at some point, on a matter of law, and I don't remember how that fits in.  I do know that Exxon appealed to the Supreme Court, and if I remember correctly, the State was not allowed to be a party to the suit.  In the end, Exxon was ordered to pay $507.5 million dollars in punitive damages, setting a new precedent for limiting punitive damages in maritime cases.

I read that CNN is reporting that the 32,000 claimants will each receive $15,000 I don't know where CNN got that figure.  That's not what Alaskan news is reporting.  They're saying that the average claimant is going to get about $3,000, and many will get nothing at all.  The damages aren't being divided equally; there's a formula, based on a points system, I believe.  Each claimant got a certain number of points based on how much their income was dependent upon Prince William Sound and its fisheries, and how much impact the oil spill had on their bottom lines.

It is completely unacceptable that they will pay only 10% of what their original punitive damages judgement was in 1994.  For all the people whose livelihoods were affected, it just doesn't seem enough.  It is not ethical to argue that giving people what they are due is too much.  I can guarantee that most lost far more than $3,000, especially over the course of the years it has taken, and will continue to take, to renew the destroyed ecosystem.

It amazes me that, even with the interest accrued in the nearly two decades since, Exxon will mail the checks to everybody within about three months.  About one billion dollars' worth of the mail, no problem.  That's wealth for you.  I also feel like it completely undermines their argument that the $2.5 billion bill was excessive.  It doesn't seem like an undue hardship to me.

A few tiny little good things came out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  I remember that day, about as well as someone who was 8 years old at the time can remember.  I was very angry, and the incident inspired me to make my first protest poster.  It had a broken boat on it, a big black splotch, and a bird with X's for eyes.  It said FIRE EXXON, because I thought that meant they'd go out of business.  I was a tiny tree hugger, even then.  I also remember thinking that their negligence was unethical, even though I didn't know those words at the time, it was part of the reason I thought they needed to lose their job.
Another was that my dad made a great deal of money repairing equipment being used for the cleanup effort that summer.  My family was very grateful for that.  The only other good thing I can think of is that my dad was stationed in Seward, which is a beautiful town my family still returns to with great frequency.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Service 6-21-2008

My first Bar Mitzvah ritual.  It was really very beautiful.  I loved how it emphasized and continually reinforced his new role as a member of Jewish society.  The Aliyot started with his peers, and went to various family members, gradually getting closer to the Bar Mitzvah boy, until eventually his parents were called to the bimah on the sixth aliyah, and the Bar Mitzvah took the seventh and final.
It was amazing to watch how proud of him his parents were.  I loved that he made a couple of mistakes, but corrected himself pretty confidently.  That takes guts and maturity, which are qualities adults definitely need.  It was clear that he did a lot of studying and preparation, which are absolutely vital to adult life.  He did very well.  I'd be terrified to do what he did, even though I think that I want to.

I was also struck by the speeches his parents gave about him.  His father talked about how he's always been a very determined person, and reminded him that it will take him far in life.  His mother talked about the idea of tikkun olam and always keeping the goal of making the world a better place, reminding him that it was not only a Jewish value, but a family value as well.

These things reminded me of well, firstly, that I don't know how my parents would react at my Bat Mitzvah (if I have one).  But that's mostly because of the Jewish label.  If they just talked about who I was, and who I am, they would be likely to talk about how I've always been pretty driven, but I've always held the same values that I find in Judaism.
In fact, I've recently realized that my years as a Girl Scout have very much shaped how I live as an adult, and I don't just mean my love for hiking and cookies.  The Girl Scout Law that my mother taught me as a little girl is still pretty paramount.  It's also a good way to ensure tikkun olam, I think:
  • -to be honest
  • -to be fair
  • -to help where I am needed
  • -to be cheerful
  • -to be friendly and considerate
  • -to be a sister to every Girl Scout
  • -to respect authority
  • -to use resources wisely
  • -to protect and improve the world around me
  • -to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions
That's really all I want out of life.  Well, that and a religion I can put my faith in, and that gives me the framework to base my choices on.  A girl can't live by "be prepared" alone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Carbon Footprint

Based on a calculator I found at Brighter Planet, I expel 14.7 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  I hope to reduce this as much as possible, even though I'm apparently below the average already.

It makes me feel good that I'm doing some of my part.  I think it's a mitzvah.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Weekend: Hide and Seek

I stayed in a campground near a lake, with a really nice trail that goes around the lake.  There was also a trail that went about a quarter mile to a nearby Veterans' Memorial.
The first time I took that trail, it was on a whim.  I was walking the dog, and I figured it would be as good a place as any to spend some energy.  When I got there, I found that there had been significant improvements to the area.  The parks system had built a scenic outlook toward Denali. And not only that, but the mountain was visible, and it was stunning.  There were clouds on either side of the two peaks, and another nestled below, at about the level of the surrounding mountains.  It made Denali look all the more impressive and mysterious.  One of the other people at the outlook said it looked like a ghost, and I wouldn't disagree.  Another person gestured to the mountains flanking Denali and pointed out that, at more than 17,000 feet, they would be imposing anywhere else in the world, except next to that particular peak.  And it's true.  I found myself drawn to that outlook; the dog and I walked there several more times, each time hoping to see the mountain again.  We didn't get the chance; it was always hidden by clouds.

It made me think about how wonderful Shabbat time is, that I was able to just drop everything and go for a hike.  I realized that I had spent the bulk of my weekend seeking, whether I was seeking a view that few people are blessed to see, seeking a nice rock to rest on, or seeking G-d.

I also started reading a really great book called Ecology and the Jewish Spirit by Ellen Bernstein.  So far, I'm through the first section, which is a series of essays about Sacred Place.  One of them talks about how Shabbat is similar to being in the wilderness, because of the way you're freed from clock-based time, instead depending on the sun and stars to tell you when to light your candles.  The big difference is that Shabbat ends with havdallah, but that there is no ritual to end your time in the wilderness.  The author of that essay (whose name escapes me now) said that's why s/he often feels sad when returning to normal life, which is pretty true.

I also realized that I've always had a ritual for ending my outdoor time.  A shower.  But not just any shower.  One that delights in the luxury of warm, running water and the feel of it on my skin.  One with a soap that's different from the one I used at camp, one that smells fresh and clean.  When I thought about it in my post-camping shower this time, I realized how similar it is to the havdallah ritual in its use of my senses, especially the smelling and the warmth.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Havdallah Hooray!

I ordered a really cool Havdallah set online a while back.  It seems like forever ago.  I finally got it today, and I'm so very excited.  It's really beautiful.  It's made of wood, painted blue with pomegranates and grapes.  The pieces stack to make something that resembles a vase.  The bottom part is the Havdallah candle holder, the kiddush cup fits in an opening on the top, and then there's a piece that goes on top of that which is a spice jar on one side and if you flip it over, it holds your Shabbat candles.  I think it's really cleverly designed.

I'm going to use it this weekend.  I won't be able to attend services, which is a bummer, but I'm also going to be celebrating a pretty proper Shabbat.  I'll probably end up breaking the carrying rule, and I might have to start a fire, but I won't be doing anything that I consider work.  I know that I don't set halacha, but that's good enough for me right now.  After work on Friday, I'm driving out to my parents' house, picking up their dog and some camping supplies, and then I'll go up near Denali for the weekend.  It's going to be nice, I think.  I hope.  I'll have a couple books to read, a dog that likes to go hiking, and some fairly unspoiled wilderness to enjoy it in.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blog Link: Shavuot (and my weekend)

This weekend was really disappointing for me.  I didn't get to keep Shabbat at all, and for the first time, I wasn't even able to harbor the delusion that I was going to try and it really bothered me.

You see, my bathroom wall decided to give out this past week, and Saturday was the only day my dad would be able to help me demo the old shower surround, because it was going to need a day or so to dry out before we put up new sheetrock.  And, of course, the only day we could do that was Sunday, which is also the day the Temple was planning a Shavuot gathering.  Granted, we finished putting up the drywall in time that I could have gone to the service, parents were planning to go to a wedding and needed me to watch their dog.  Plus, I haven't had a shower since Friday, so I'm not fit for being seen in public.

Ugh.  I was really looking forward to talking about the Torah portion at services this week.  And the Shavuot all-nighter.  Grrr.  But at least my bathroom will look good.

I did find this really neat article about Shavuot on Explore the Hebrew Holiday of Shavuot that talks about how Jewish holidays tend to have a strong connection to nature and food, and then talks about how that's true for this particular holiday.  I loved that it was on a secular blog about nature and living with a connection to the earth.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Blog Link: Shalom

This one starts out with a little bit about this week's parsha.  My favorite part comes at the end, when he breaks down the word "shalom".

Reb Shlomo taught that the very lettes of the word Shalom teach us important lessons about peace.  'Shalom' has three letters, Shin, Lamed, and Mem.

Shin - The first way to bring peace is to bring two sides together, like the middle of the 'shin'.  (The letter 'shin' consists of three 'vavs' which are joined at the bottom).

Lamed - The tallest letter.  It goes from the highest to the lowest.  If you want to bring peace, you have to stick out.

Mem - The 'mem' is closed, with no openings.  Shalom has to be complete, like a little wall.  The wall of peace has to be complete.  You can't say, "I am peaceful, but I have a little opening for getting mad in an emergency."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Meeting with the Rabbi

I met with the Rabbi today, for my consultation in lieu of classes.  We talked about the progress I was making with the Hebrew.  I think he thinks I'm learning quickly.  He gave me a chance to ask any questions that I had, and I didn't have too many yet.  There were some words in the book that I was working with that I didn't think I was reading correctly, so he helped me out.  The words didn't sound like Hebrew in my mouth.  One of my mistakes was that I had confused two letters.  You're never going to say the word correctly if you have the wrong letters.  So that was an easy fix, really.  I didn't know how to pronounce a particular vowel combination, so he helped me with that.  He also showed me an ending that was going to mess me up pretty good, because it involved a silent letter that wouldn't usually be silent.

Then we talked about why I'm interested in Judaism and its relationship to ecology.  I think he was scared that I was going too new age with it.  Its not that at all, really.  I think that some of the people who write about that area are doing it with a new agey perspective, but those ideas aren't intriguing in a satisfying way.  I mean, it's great to consider the patience of a rock, but ultimately, the imagery fails because patience requires free will or at least some kind of choice.  The Rabbi suggested that I try looking at a few scholars he was aware of, and I promised that I would.

For me, the nexus of G-d and nature is valuable.  I think that nature forces you to be in the moment.  When you appreciate the beauty of the mountains around you, your mind is drawn to the Creator of those mountains; in that moment that takes your breath away, you find G-d.  You need to have that same sense of awe when you light the shabbat candles.  When you're hiking, you're looking out for bears that might eat you and roots you might trip on.  You're not thinking about your laundry or your bills.  This is the same mindset you should have when you pray or study Torah.

Since I know a lot more about nature than I do about G-d, it seems like a good way in.  A way to teach my mind to focus on G-d and push the distractions to the side.  Surely there have been writers, in the past 5000 or so years who have written things that can help me with that.  I just wish that I had been better able to explain all of this to the Rabbi.  I got about halfway there.  When I leave his office, I always think of that genius thing I should have said, because I walk away thinking about the questions he asked and why I was unsatisfied with my own answers.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Kabbalah on Green: Consciousness and the environment

I picked up this book on a whim at Borders.  I'm exploring how Judaism interacts with nature, so the title piqued my interest.  And then I saw who wrote and published it, and, knowing how controversial the Kabbalah Centre is among the Jewish community, I thought it would make for an interesting read.   It is interesting, but it's also raising a lot of questions, a number of them with Berg's logic.  This book report is different than my others.  I'm writing this one as I read the book, so it is more of a dialectical than a report or a review.

The first chapter talks about Al Gore and how his Presidential campaign losses were destiny, and if he had not lost, he would not have gone on to do the projects he did.  Berg implies that Gore would not have been as green if he had been President.  I don't know about that.  It can never be disproven, of course, but the fact is that Gore has been a proponent of environmental concerns for a long time now.  I remember reading about things he was doing back when I was a kid and really into 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth.  I would argue that Al Gore's green-ness has nothing to do with what happened in 2000 or 2004.

Berg does make a good point about how people tend to think in terms of "cleaning up", rather than preventing a mess.  Especially when it comes to the environment.  It would be better if we could change our focus and prevent the types of crises we get ourselves into, but, alas.  We are who we are.  Berg loses me when he moves on to say that our negative thoughts contribute to global warming, because they somehow rearrange or change atoms into pollution and that if we gave off only positive energy, atoms would become beautiful things like roses.  As I understand it, atoms are atoms.  They are basic and can't be changed from one thing to another.  I have a really hard time with that concept.  People would need to have the power of G-d for that to work.

He uses a lot of observations of word similarities to bolster his arguments.  I don't know enough Hebrew to know if these hold any water.  Adam...atom.  Wholeness...holiness.  They're useful pneumonic devices, but pretty weak evidence.

Lest it sound like I disagree with everything Berg says, or that I read the entire book cynically, I do agree with some of what's written in chapter 3.  I agree that G-d manifests himself in nature, and that we needn't look to the Heavens to find G-d; we can look to the mountains and the trees.  Berg also talks about how everything is interconnected, which makes sense when you're talking about pollution from the United States having an effect on Southeast Asia.  I'm not as willing to believe that lies and disrespect can cause an earthquake.  I think Sharon Stone tried to say something like that recently, and it didn't go over too well.

In the end, I did not finish the book.  I got to chapter 4 and realized that it doesn't apply to what I'm interested in studying, so it's on the shelf.  I'll finish it someday, maybe.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Service 5-31-2008

The big thing that I learned today was mostly about myself.  I learned that I can follow along with the Hebrew now!  I couldn't have kept up with everybody else if I hadn't been pretty familiar with the prayers and liturgy already, but I wasn't a slave to the transliteration, and I feel proud of that.

The moment that I'm most proud of had nothing to do with the actual service.  There was a woman who was wearing a tallit that had Hebrew text on it that didn't have any vowels on it, and I still managed to read that it said "Jerusalem".  I haven't been that excited to read a single word since I was about three years old.

I'm very glad that I've been studying.  Even though I'm a complete nerd and would have wanted to learn the Hebrew anyway, I had no idea how rewarding it would actually be for me.  Language is a big part of culture, and now that I'm starting to make the language part of the way that I think, I'm really starting to feel like I belong.  I've said it before, but it's very true.  I felt much less like an outsider and more like a participant today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Informed Choices

Some people think that Reform Judaism disregards halacha and that its members pick and choose their mitzvot.

I think it's more about making informed choices about your practice.  For me, the relative non-emphasis on keeping all 613 commandments has given me the freedom to incorporate them thoughtfully into my life.  Every change that I've made in my life so far has been purposefully done.  Because I have embraced each as a choice, I do them joyfully and as an act of free will.

If they had all been thrust upon me, and if I were going to be judged by how well I performed them, it all would have been rote and mechanical.  I would not have had the luxury of time to understand why G-d wants what He wants, why it's done a certain way, or what lesson I should learn by doing it.

Since G-d went to the trouble of granting us free will, He wants us to make our own decisions.  Granted, He has also prescribed us a way of living which pleases Him the most.  It is our job to reconcile the two, both by learning and by doing.

It's not necessarily that you're making informed decisions about what mitzvot to ignore, rather, it's about ensuring that there is knowledge and intention behind the action.

In services on Saturday, the Haftarah was from the book of Joshua.  It wasn't a very happy passage.  My Rabbi talked about how, at the time Joshua was writing, Jerusalem was under siege.  Theology based on divine retribution was difficult to comprehend in a world where innocents - women and children - were starving and dying in the streets.  He also said that in the Talmud, the Rabbis wrote, in an imaginary dialogue, that G-d said if the Israelites had just done the covenant, even if they forsook Him, He would have saved the city.

He said there is a lot of controversy on this point.  According to him, Orthodox rabbis don't much like it when he brings it up.  I honestly don't understand this yet.  It would seem that the Orthodoxes, with their emphasis on halacha and mitzvot would support the idea of a 
G-d who says that doing is more important than faith, and that by doing your faith should grow.  Conversely, I would expect a Reform rabbi to say that believing should be put first, and trust that it would lead to doing.  I'll have to ask about it at our next meeting.

I'm still in the learning phase right now.  I know I'm not ideally observant, but I also know that my learning is going well and that so far I've been consistent in applying lessons into lifestyle.  I started with faith.  I'm trying not to intentionally or knowingly break halacha.  It may happen recklessly or unknowingly at this point, though, and for that I'm sorry.  All I can do is my best.

Monday, May 26, 2008

DIY: Tallit

I've been thinking about getting a tallit for a while now.

At first, I put it off because they were so very expensive to order online, and I decided that books and candlesticks and kiddush cups and the like were more pressing needs.

Eventually, I decided that I would order one to celebrate my conversion.  As I did more research, I found that they are a traditional gift for a b'nai mitzvah, because that is when the obligation to wear a tallit essentially takes effect.  It seemed appropriate.

I spent some time shopping online for a tallit, trying to find one that would be affordable and still somehow represent me.  There were some really amazing custom tallitot, some that were made to reflect a bat mitzvah girl's personality, others that represented the bar mitzvah boy's torah portion, some that were quilted, others that were woven, but none that were really what I imagined myself wearing.

So I decided to make my own.

At shabbat morning service this past week, I found myself really noticing the tallitot on the people around me.  A few had selected theirs from the rack available for public use.  A few had brought their own.  All of them I had seen before, but for some reason, they seemed extra spectacular this time.  I noticed that I really liked the fringe on one; it was a little more intricate than the others, but still very elegant.  I saw that another woman had techelet in her tzitzit.  The woman next to me had a tallit that appeared to have been handmade, maybe.

In the time when we were supposed to be meditating, I was designing my tallit.  I'm not sure if that's something I should admit or not.  I wanted it to be out of fleece, like the jacket I was wearing, probably because it occurred to me that if I had a nice, cozy tallit, I wouldn't have needed to wear my jacket.  But also because that seemed to be the perfect fabric.  Its presence is comforting and warm, and it is also a fabric that is almost always near me.  Like many things Judaic, it just seemed right.  I also knew that I wanted to use a soft green ribbon for stripes and the atarah, and that a line or two of backstitching with a similar green and a nice blue would set it off nicely.  I haven't yet figured out how I will decorate the atarah specifically, but I like the idea of outlined Hebrew letters.  Maybe they will say "etz hayim" or "HaShem ehad"...or both, separated by the Magen David.  I also want to do some needleworked pine trees, and maybe some black-capped chickadees, but I'd have to find a nice pattern for that, I think.  Or maybe I could sew on some patches with those designs, if I could find them.

When I got home, I was obsessed with the idea of making a tallit.  And then I did a bad thing: I went shopping on Shabbat.  I had to buy the materials.  I bought some ivory fleece, ivory crochet thread for the tzitzit and fringe, pale green ribbon with pinstripes, embroidery floss in pale green, slate blue, ivory, brown, and pine green, and some lame flower-shaped patches that I was going to put in the corners, but have now decided to return.  I tried really hard not to start working on it, but I was slightly unsuccessful.  I researched how to tie the tzitzit and how big most people make their tallitot and found patterns for the Hebrew lettering I had envisioned.

As of now, my tallit is 24" by 72", has one ribbon stripe sewed on one end, a blue backstitched stripe sewed below that, and is about halfway fringed on that same end.  I also have one tzitzit tied, ready to be attached.  I feel compelled to mention that it's very clearly a hand-done thing.  I'm not sure there's a perfectly straight line on the whole thing.  But it's mine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The New Reading Hebrew

Reviving book reports back from the dead...

My Rabbi suggested that I start my Hebrew studies with this book.  He said that it might seem a little childish, but I should be able to learn my aleph-bet with no problems.  And he was right.
This book is very simple to follow, due mostly to clever formatting.  

Each page has 4 sections, each a different color.  Lesson 1 is green, lesson 2 is blue, and so on.  You read the section for the lesson you're on, which is only a couple sentences.  Invariably, the last sentence is a fill-in-the-blank question.  The answer will be on the next page, along with the next couple sentences.  When you're answering so many questions in rapid succession, with instant feedback, it's very easy to breeze through the lesson.  

At first, you feel a bit like you're on Sesame Street, but that feeling wears off pretty quickly.  Once you realize that you're actually retaining the information, it's all worth it.  Plus, you're learning the alphabet, and the last time you did that, you were probably a child.  It seems natural and logical.  
I made it through the book in about 2 weeks, and I definitely feel like it was time well spent. You don't learn much vocabulary in this book, but by the end, you can phonetically read Hebrew.  I probably sound like a first-grader when I do it, but I'm reading, and it feels good.

Now, on to learning what the words mean!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blog Link: Paying Attention to Detail

I'm at a point in my studies in which my Rabbi is allowing me to direct my own curriculum, for the most part.  At the moment, we're focusing on learning to read and understand Hebrew, and liturgy.
So I've been reading a lot of blogs lately, trying to find out what other Jews are talking about on the topic of prayer and ritual (its also much less dry than reading the siddur).  I liked this article, because it explains one of my biggest questions right now: why is Judaism so darned complicated?

And I love its basic answer: so one must continue learning.
This article is focused on the brachot related to eating various types of foods, but that simple premise applies to much of Judaism, I think.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Service 5-17-2008

I've made it about halfway though my Hebrew alphabet book so far.  There's still a lot that I have to learn about how to phonetically read Hebrew, but it was fun to practice at service this morning.  I tried really hard to follow along with the rest of the congregation, based on what I know so far.
I had a hard time keeping up, but it felt really good to try.  Knowing just the little bit that I've got so far makes it a little bit like being in kindergarten again, but I've certainly come a long way in only a week!

I'm really excited to finish learning the sounds, and even more excited to learn what all the words mean.  It's going to be really gratifying.  I'll feel less like a stranger in a strange land, and much more like a Jew.

My Rabbi also noticed the tattoo on my foot for the first time today.  He didn't say anything about it being against halacha.  He just said that he'd never seen one on a foot before and asked if it hurt.  I was kind of half worried about that.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Blog Link: Sustainable Judaism

From Radical Torah: The Questions We Must Ask

I found this really interesting.  One of the areas that I'm studying is Judaism and ecology.  I came across this blog entry, and it definitely made me think.  We usually use the word "sustainable" in terms of green living.  Here, that philosophy is applied to spirituality.
It's actually a really strong metaphor.  There are people who go to pretty extreme lengths to make environmentally ethical decisions.  They buy specific products, avoid certain activities, and are conscious of their impact on the planet.
These are wonderful things to do, and I do them to the best of my ability (and budget).

I think religious devotion deserves those same standards.  The Torah asks that of us.  
It also asks us to be ethical stewards of the earth.
This just happens to dovetail nicely.  Torah certainly is a tree of life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

News Link: New Einstein letter about religion found

This is one of those stories you just have to comment on. I found it at, but it will fall off their servers in a couple of weeks. I printed it to an image and attached it to this posting.

I've always been a bit fascinated by Einstein and his stance on religion. There was so much room for contradiction.

You have a man who was incredibly logical and yet very imaginative. He was raised a Jew, but lived during a time where even God himself seemed to forget about the covenant. It's sometimes hard for people now to figure out how to keep their faith in the face of scientific discoveries. It must have been even harder when that struggle was compounded by the Shoah.

I wouldn't blame Einstein a bit for thinking that belief in God is childish. It certainly must have seemed futile in his mind, given the events of his time.

Even though certain Einstein quotes about religion (especially "science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind") have
been cited as proof that a man of faith can also be a man of science, this new information says Einstein wasn't an example of that phenomenon. And that's a fine thing.

Einstein was, after all, only a man. He left us an amazing legacy: the theory of relativity, as well as a face to the very personal struggle between faith and reason.

I still find the quotes inspirational. They aren't an answer; they are more of a trailhead for your own journey toward truth and understanding. You can agree or disagree with his statements, use them to raise your own questions, and ultimately, come to your own conclusions, just as Einstein did.

Previously, people would bolster their arguments with something along the lines of, "Science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life." That might still be valid, but Einstein would probably end it with this: "I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever."

As I read through Einstein quotes to choose a few for this article, I realized that my favorites have nothing to do with religion or science. They are merely observations about life:
"Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do — but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it."
"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."


Shopping Spree

I finally bought myself ritual items. Finally. I didn't feel ready before, I guess.
I ordered some shabbat candlesticks. They're travel-sized, so they're easy to put away.
I bought a kiddush cup that sort-of matches them.
I also bought a havdalah set. I think it's really clever. It was designed for travel, I guess, so it all fits together into one unit for simple storage when it's not in use. But the most clever thing, I think, is that it doubles as a shabbat set. The spice box, when flipped over, holds two candles.

It will be nice to celebrate properly, with hiddur mitzvah, rather than just making do. I know that my Judaica won't be the most beautiful in the world, but it's a start. The milestone is that they are mine now, that I'm finally taking ownership of shabbat.

A bunch of books are also headed my way. The first of them arrived today, my books on learning Hebrew. I also ordered a couple books on Judaism and environmental stewardship, as well as siddurim for both the Reform and Conservative movements. I'm really excited about studying and learning these things. I can't wait until I don't have to flip through the prayerbook to find the transliteration!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Treyf: Parents just don't understand

I spent the weekend with my family, celebrating both Mother's Day and my sister's birthday.
Mom planned our menu and brought the food.  For dinner on Saturday, she served barbequed pork sandwiches and shrimp stir-fry.  Talk about treyf!

I ate it, though, and it tasted pretty good.  I hope that the idea of shalom beit covers me for the day.  It's not like I keep kosher all the time, but I do try to celebrate Shabbat with kosher foods.  It's one of the ways that I try to give God his day.

Oh, well.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I call myself Jewish

I identified myself as a Jew for the first time. It was at work, because I needed to leave early in order to attend a meeting with the rabbi for my conversion.
I probably could have just said that I had an appointment, but I asked for a religious accommodation instead.

I've been studying for about six months now, and it feels like time to finally stop being between religions.

I recognize that I don't know enough yet. I've finally gotten though all the major holidays, so now I'm in charge of my curriculum. My rabbi and I have decided that it would be good for me to learn Hebrew, at least at a prayerbook level, and study the liturgy. I want to understand the prayers that we say during the services and have them mean something to me while I say them. After I get though that, we'll move on to the connection between Judaism and the natural world and tikkun olam.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Messiah Question

My mom called me today.  She's been at a Women of Faith conference in Vancouver, BC with my aunt, and some other friends.
One of those friends studies Hebrew at her local synagogue.  Mom asked her questions about what she studies, what she believes, what Jews study, what Jews believe.  Then she called me.  She wanted to know what I'm being taught, and what I believe.

I halfway chickened out.

I told her that I'm still learning, and that I believe in God.  She pressed the issue, saying that forgiveness only comes through Christ and the cross, and if they're teaching me things that are making me waver in my faith that I should stop going.

I told her that I still have my faith.

I told her that I haven't asked the question of why Jews don't believe that Christ was the Messiah, which is kind of a lie, but kind of the truth, too.  I told her that I wasn't sure how it all worked, but that I was enjoying learning, but haven't made it to the prophesies yet, and why Jews don't believe Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies.

She said that her friend told her that he didn't fulfill them all, but that he would when he returns.  Even though that's the conclusion I reached myself, that's the first time I've heard it form anybody else.  I think that the Messiah will fulfill all the prophesies, and when he does, he earns the title.  Jesus just might be that person, but he'll have to wait until he comes back to finish the job, I guess.

I don't know about the forgiveness part, though.  I feel like I should have an answer for that, but I don't.  I'll have to ask the Rabbi, when we get through with talking about mourning.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mental Tikkun Olam

In my ongoing search for ways to improve myself and to help perfect the world, I came across a pretty cool organization: To Write Love on Her Arms.  They work to raise awareness of depression, drug addiction, self-mutilation, and related issues; they do this by partnering with rock bands who are receptive to the message and don't mind sharing the stage for a few minutes.  

This is, I believe, a valuable service, because there are a great many people out there, particularly young people, who don't know where to go for help.  There are others who choose not to get help due to the stigma associated with mental illness, and feel like they are the only ones who suffer, but when someone has the courage to stand up in front of an audience and say that there are others out there, it can help to give sufferers the strength to seek necessary treatment.

It's a pretty powerful thing.  There are talented writers who maintain a blog of the group's activities, and document stories of lives transformed.  I've spent days reading every article.
Eventually, I decided to join their Street Team, in an effort to continue their good works.  I hope to encourage them to come to Alaska, and to help the people here.   As a state, we've got huge suicide problem (particularly in the villages), and many of us are afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If you want to join, click here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Service 2-23-2008

Today's Torah portion covered the Golden Calf Incident.
The discussion didn't center on idolotry, though, which was pretty cool.  Instead, we talked about God's discussion with Moses.  I hadn't really ever noticed that Moses found out about the idol from God, while he was still up on Mt. Sinai.  
The Rabbi pointed out that the way it was phrased (...what YOUR PEOPLE have done...) was a lot like how spouses argue.  The relationship between Moses and God was that personal, familiar, and passionate.  It's a powerful picture.
What comes next is equally revealing:  God tells Moses to go away and deal with the people, because God is so very angry that he needs to be alone, because all he wants to do is destroy the Hebrews.  Incredibly, Moses is the one to calm him down.  Moses points out that God had just brought the people out of Egypt, and that it wouldn't make sense to kill them now, because what would the Egyptians think?  God agrees to give them another chance, the Hebrews live on, and God...apologizes.
This brings up a terrifically interesting issue: if God did something that requires an apology, then does that mean he can make mistakes?  The Rabbi says that there are midrashim that say, yes, God is falliable.  And since God isn't perfect, he likewise does not expect perfection from us.  What he wants is for us to follow the laws as best we can, and admit when we've done wrong.  

It's beautifully freeing, especially for me, being a perfectionist...from a Christian tradition that always felt like it demanded absolute perfection in order to be worthy.  I know I'm not the only one who felt that way; when I was in high school, there was a huge problem with eating disorders among the high school youth group.

Service 2-16-2008

We talked about the menorah which God commanded the Hebrews to make on Mt. Sinai.
It was supposed to be put on display outside the meeting tent.  That's interesting, because you'd expect a holy object to be kept safely inside.  It was also supposed to be built to a very specific design, and probably looked a lot like a gold tree.  A 100 pound gold tree.
The Rabbi wasn't there, but the lovely woman who was leading the discussion asked us to consider what that might symbolize.  We talked about the light and warmth, and how that would be a natural gathering place for the community.
She also asked us to consider what the significance of the light might be.  She brought a whole bunch of texts for us to read in order to give us ideas.  We talked about how Torah is meant to be a light unto our lives.  We talked about how fire keeps animals away, which would be a very practical thing.  I thought about how the appearance of the menorah was similar to that of a tree...and trees are like bushes...and this one was on in the burning bush, which would have been a relatively recent event.  It would have made God seem like he was very nearby, and might even speak again.

Conversion Class

We haven't been having conversion class the past couple weeks.
Yesterday, it was decided that the class would disband in favor of individualized instruction.  This is probably a very good thing, because as it stands, there are three candidates (including myself), and we're all very different.  One is converting in order to start a Jewish family, and it's a very beautiful thing.  The other seems to be more interested in the etherial, whereas I'm a bit more practical and philosophical, I think.

Now, we will be meeting with the Rabbi on an individual basis, once per month.  Because of this, the study will have to be much more independent, and I will try very hard to make more frequent updates.  I will also be more diligent in writing about the services I attend.  I know I've said it before, but I really mean it this time.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Conversion Class

Again, I was the only student in attendance, so it was just me, the Rabbi, and our songleader meeting in the Rabbi's office.  If it stays like this, I think I'll like it.  The discussion has been very informal, with the Rabbi quizzing me about the week's topic to figure out how much I already know, and then we talk about the rest of what I need to learn.  And then we talk about other things.

Today's talk was about Purim, which is a celebration of the Jews' victory over the evil Haman.  Except for it may not have ever happened...  The story goes that the King of Persia, needed a wife, so naturally, he held a beauty contest.  He found a very beautiful woman named Esther, who just happened to be Jewish.  She didn't tell her husband that she was Jewish, on the advise of Mordecai, as there was a lot of persecution of the Jews going on in Persia at the time.  Eventually, Haman asks the King to order that all Jews should be killed.  The King goes along with this, and Esther and Mordecai have a problem with that idea.  So Mordecai talks to Esther, and convinces her that she's in a position to save the Jewish people, as long as she risks her life by revealing her true identity to her husband.  She does this, and the King gives a very illogical answer: that he cannot reverse his original decree; he can only order that the Jews have the right to defend themselves.  Esther and the king also host a dinner and invite Haman.  They get him drunk, and then they kill him, as well as all of his sons.  After that, the army goes out after the Jews, and they fight back, and there's a bloodbath, with thousands of Persians dying left and right.  

The Jews survived, so now we eat and drink to celebrate.  And since Haman was brought down with a plan devised by a woman, we mock him roundly.  Every year on Purim, the book of Esther is read to the congregation.  Every time Haman is mentioned, the crowd is supposed to blot out his name by booing, stomping, or using noisemakers.  My Rabbi likes to have people cheer when Esther's name comes up.  
Another Purim tradition is that everybody dresses up in costumes.  Some congregations only dress up the children.  Others restrict the costume choices to characters from the story.  Our Rabbi likes to have everybody dress up, and they should wear whatever they want.  He said that he's gone as a Renaissance figure, a Star Wars character...lots of things.  Some Jewish families also use Purim as an alternative to Halloween.
A vital part of the Purim celebration is eating and especially drinking.  Lots of drinking.  It is said that we should drink until we can't tell the difference between "arur Haman" and "baruch Mordecai", which mean "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordecai", respectively.  That's pretty drunk.   It's a day of merrymaking and mockery, and it's kind of like a Jewish Mardi Gras...back in the day when Mardi Gras wasn't about pure debauchery.
Purim is also the only Jewish holiday which prescribes gift-giving.  Traditionally, food-gifts are given to friends and family, and money and food is given to charity.  It's a mitzvah to give those gifts.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Conversion Class

I went to class again today.  It had been cancelled last week due to a Shabbaton celebration.  I was the only one who attended today.
We talked a bit about Havdallah, which is the ceremony that ends Shabbat and begins the regular week.  It's celebrated with wine, spices, and a braided candle.  The wine is just a standard Jewish thing, according to my Rabbi.  He says that any time there's a celebration, there's wine, and there's no special significance to it in this case.  The spices are because Jewish tradition holds that we are granted a special extra bit of soul to help us celebrate Shabbat, and at Havdallah, it departs from us.  Usually, when your soul departs, if you don't die, you feel faint.  When you faint, you get smelling salts to bring you this case, the spices are meant to stand in place of the smelling salts.  The braided candle is symbolic for a number of reasons.  The two that my Rabbi pointed out to me (that were significant to me) were that Shabbat begins and ends with lighting candles, and that this candle is braided, or woven, to represent paths we take in life, and how we're interdependent.

We also talked about Tu B'Shvat, which is new year for the trees.  I really like this holiday, because of its emphasis on nature and hope (but not cheesy hope).  It celebrates the cycle of dormancy and growth, because it marks when the sap starts flowing through the tree again, bringing the tree back to life.  That's hopeful. It also celebrates that Spring is coming, which is huge for me.  Living where I do, Spring seems so far away...
My Rabbi also told me about a Kabbalistic seder that's done on Tu B'Shvat.  He says it's really beautiful.  From his description, there's lots of wine, lots of fruit, and then a meal.  And some readings to go along with it all.  If I can talk some of my friends into participating, I just might try it this year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Apt Torah Portion

Commentary on this week's Torah portion.  It has a stunning parallel to events currently happening in my life.

I just quit my night job.  I've been working two jobs for over a year and a half, and it just got to be too much.  I want to be able to have friends, and spend time with them.  I want to eat food that doesn't come out of a package.  I want to go to the gym.  I want time to read and learn.  I'd maybe even like to have a romantic relationship again.
Still, it's a drastic change in my life.  I barely know what to do with myself on those rare occasions when I get a weekend off.  It's daunting, and I don't even really have my freedom yet, because I have to serve out my two weeks.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Shabbat service: I skipped

I woke up and didn't feel well, so I didn't go to the service on Saturday.  I feel kind of bad about it still.  But I really did need the rest; I've been fighting a lingering ickiness for most of the past month, and my schedule hasn't been helping matters any.