Monday, December 28, 2009

Blog Link: Heeb'n'vegan

Interesting discussion about what it means to live a both vegan and Jewish life and the compromises one must consider.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Miracles and Grieving

Just yesterday I was part of a Chanukah service at a hospital, put on by the Jewish chaplain there. It was the first Chanukah at that hospital, which is a Catholic institution, so that was cool. Part of the service involved a speeches by the chaplains and my Rabbi about the origins and meanings of Chanukah.

The Jewish chaplain talked about miracles. The one she highlighted had nothing to do with oil; the story was about a baby that was life flighted to the hospital, her mother, and the chaplain's experience of the whole situation. She talked about spiritually and emotionally supporting the mother, about praying with the mother (who wasn't Jewish), and the joy of the baby's survival. She explained that she felt the miracle wasn't that the baby survived; it was that the doctors did their best. That their best was enough to save the baby was a bonus.

I thought that was a refreshing take on miracles, and a very interesting insight into how a person deals with death and the grieving as a profession. She talked about how Jewish tradition holds that if you save one life, it's as if you saved the whole world. That's a big miracle and a mitzvah. She talked about how important it is to see the small miracles, like the doctors and nurses and the whole medical staff being focused, working together well, and performing at the top of their games. This is also a mitzvah.

She also said that it's important to be surprised by what you encounter in life. If you are shocked at the violence one person can inflict on another, that means you aren't resigned to it, you haven't accepted it, and you can fight against it. If you are surprised when things go well, you can fully appreciate them. She said that she feels you can never be adjusted to what life throws at you; she happily proclaimed that she is the most maladjusted person in the world. I liked hearing that, because I also find that when I'm complacent for a while, it soon follows that I will be unhappy.

I was also very touched by her stories in a more personal way. My Aunt died of cancer just after Thanksgiving. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile seeing how far medical science has come in treating cancer, but still having it not be enough to save a loved one. Some of the fault is her own, because she didn't seek treatment until the very end, but even feel like there should have been more. Don't get me wrong, she defied doctors' expectations twice.

When she went in for an MRI on the Monday before Thanksgiving, they found that the tumors were in bad places near her stomach and had to do emergency surgery; without it she would almost certainly die, and with it there was a pretty good chance she wouldn't wake up, and if she did they expected her to be uncommunicative. Tuesday was a good day for her, though. Her son is in prison, but somehow managed to get out with a 3rd party custodian to pay her a visit and say the goodbyes and all. Wednesday was a bad day; she was depressed about her situation and her physical condition similarly suffered. The doctors thought that she would pass away in her sleep that night.

When I visited her on Thanksgiving, she was entertaining the whole family with her trademark baudy stories and witty quips. She was also eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, which really should have been impossible. Things were similar on Friday, because she was a tough old bird. When I saw her again on Saturday night, she seemed slower. Not as funny, and like she was missing that spark she always had. I got scared that she was going when she started talking about my grandmother, who died 10 years ago. Her breathing was very labored, and she seemed like she was in a lot of pain (this resolved when the nurse refilled her machine). My Aunt passed away at 64 years old the next morning.

Even though it was expected, and probably for the best (you can't have a high-quality life from a hospital bed), it's not easy to deal with during such a family and miracle oriented season. Perspective is everything. I think this is part of the reason why it's a mitzvah to visit the sick; cheering them up is important and valuable, as is caring for them. We also need to see the small miracles that happen around them because death and waiting for a miracle that never came can shake a person's faith, but we need to respect and appreciate life and the miracles that do come.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why all the fuss about Chanukah?

For much of the American and European (Christian) world, the halls are decked, and 'tis the season to be jolly. Twinkly lights, cheesy spangles, and rampant commercialism fills the air. Possibly in an effort to appear more accepting of alternate traditions, advertisements hocking gifts say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", or if they say that dreaded C-word they include Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. I've heard many Jews express the opinion that Chanukah is a minor holiday and all the hooplah is purely a figment of the media's imagination.

I think that Chanukah is underrated in terms of the value Jews place on it. Yes, it's a light "party" holiday with a couple very different legends behind it, such that it's easy to be confused as to what, exactly, you're celebrating. But as my Rabbi pointed out, Chanukah is one of the few religious holidays that has historical evidence supporting the events it commemorates: the Maccabee rebellion happened and they did rededicate the Temple after the Greeks desecrated it. My Rabbi also took it one step further: if it weren't for the Maccabees and their reunification of the Jewish people and rededication of the Temple, world history would be completely different.

For example, it's very unlikely that the Christmas story would have even been possible. Due to the fighting at that time between Syria and Egypt, as well the infighting amongst the Jews who supported Syria versus those who backed up the Egyptians, it would have been difficult for the Jewish community to hold a census some 300 years later in the City of David so Jesus could be born there as the prophesies required. It is more likely that the Joseph and Mary would have assimilated and acted like Hellenists instead of Jews, or at the least, been too involved in war for such an undertaking.

I also think that having a Festival of Lights at this time of year is vital, because I live in a place that doesn't have much daylight now that we're approaching Solstice and it's easy to feel a little down because of it. Really, this is one of the reasons why many religions that originated in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrations in mid to late December. It is believed that Chanukah incorporated aspects of a more ancient Solstice practice, but it is known that European pagans celebrated Yule and Christianity chose to celebrate Christmas at a time to coincide with those celebrations in order to suppress paganism (and/or because they felt they really needed a pick me up as the days got shorter).

From a more religious perspective, Chanukah is very much a holiday that celebrates a value near and dear to most Americans: the right and ability to practice religion in a manner of the individual's choosing. When we light our menorahs, we put them in windows in order to publicize the miracle of the oil. We couldn't do that in times of oppression and we're lighting the candles in order to celebrate and commemorate our victory over an oppressive military regime. The Greeks wanted us to assimilate. We wanted our Temple back, so we fought and won. Supporting the idea that it's not just about Jewish freedom is the fact that our victory allowed Christianity as we know it to exist.

Honing in on the Jewish angle, and touching on what you alluded to, Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates the Jewish identity. We came together. We rebelled. We won. We regained the Temple and we experienced the miracles. This is why we bristle at comparisons to Christmas, which in my opinion, is why we tend to downplay its importance. It is certainly the reason that, despite my interfaith celebrations, I reject the term "Christmukah".

Granted, not all Jews celebrate Chanukah, notably those with roots from Iraq and the Eastern parts of the Greek empire. This definitely supports the idea that Chanukah is a secondary holiday. I would never argue that it's as important as Yom Kippur, but I do believe that it has value.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blog link: FrumSatire on wilderness

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

blog link: Mayim Bialik on mikveh

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mikveh and Naming

Today was a bit of an adventure. I drove out to Portage Glacier to scout out a mikveh site. I tried talking to the ranger at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, but she didn't know much about swimming in the area. Well, other than the water is cold and that the lake is 35 degrees. She was also good at pointing out the creek on the map, but couldn't tell me where it's deep. I thanked her for the map and set off for some scouting.  

I decided that it would be pretty cool to be near Explorer Glacier and the map said there might be beaver activity there. Where there are beavers there are often deeper areas in creeks, so I headed that way. I made a slightly wrong turn that turned out to be a great place. I think it's the old Beaver Pond Campground; it looked like it had been a bit developed at one time. They closed that campground a few years ago, so that would make sense. I found a spot where the creek looked about waist deep and it was a beautiful place, so I hid a geocache. Then I realized that the snow cavity I was looking at was the remains of an avalanche and not Explorer Glacier, so I drove on to find the Explorer Glacier outlook point.  

The Explorer Glacier area was perfect. The water was blue in the way only glacial water can be. I also noticed that the water was shallow for about a meter out and then there was a steep drop off. Exactly what I was looking for. So long as there were no people in the area, that would be the place. I would have moved my geocache to my mikveh, but there was already one nearby.  

Now just to wait for my friend who doubled as my witness. A family was throwing rocks into the creek right at my chosen spot. They left a few minutes later, so it was time. As I took off my clothes, I thought that this might not be such a good idea. The ambient temperature was 53 degrees, and it was very chilly against my skin. I was not looking forward to getting wet on top of that.  

I stepped into the water. At about my knees, I wanted to leave, but my friend encouraged me to push on. It was a bit easier after I laughed at my dog, who was trying to follow me into the water. We had to tell her to stay, because she can't be Jewish. I got about waist deep, and I was too cold for comfort. My friend again encouraged me, and I dunked under. I popped up, and believe me, I knew I was alive. I was very cold, and I said the first blessing as fast as I could. My friend said I looked scared, but I think it was a purely physiological reaction. My body was not interested in staying in that water, but my brain knew I had two more dunks and another blessing. I did them, and by the time I was done, it wasn't so bad. I felt peaceful, rather than cold. I can't promise that was a spiritual experience and not a physiological reaction, but it was nice.  

I had a hard time putting my clothes back on. I had forgotten my towel, so I had to wiggle into them still soaking wet. When I got to my car, I used my t-shirt to wipe off excess water and put on my raincoat to keep the water off my car seat. Then I drove back to the Visitor Center, got dry, and changed my clothes. Then I drove back to Anchorage.  

My friend hosted a Shabbat dinner; the food was wonderful. It felt nice to be around Jewish people and hear the blessings for the first time as a Jew. My friend tried to get me to light the candles, but I didn't know the melody for the blessing, so I asked not to.

After dinner I had to run to the synagogue for services. I had already told my Rabbi that I would be there, so he was planning to do my naming ceremony. I couldn't miss that. He surprised me and had me light the candles at the beginning of the service as well. I almost laughed, but I did it. I just recited the blessing and just about biffed it. I almost forgot l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat.  

Toward the end of the service, my Rabbi called me up to the bimah. He brought out the Torah and read a passage about how the Torah is the Jews' greatest treasure. Then he handed the scroll to me and asked me to say the Sh'ma. I asked him if I should sing it or if I should recite it, and he told me I could choose. I sang it, because it didn't seem right to say it. Then he said that I have been known by the name my family gave me, and I will always be that person, but I will also be known by my Hebrew name, Miriam Tzipora.  

It was a good day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Your People will be My People; Your G-d will be My G-d

I'm Jewish now. I finished with the Beit Din an hour ago. I go to mikveh on Friday. I don't feel much different. It's kind of like the difference between Friday and Shabbat; almost imperceptible, but significant only because I've made it so.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Elijah came

I forgot to mention in my last post that Elijah came to our Seder last
night. Tradition holds that he's disguised when he arrives, and this
year it was a good one. He dressed up just like my friend's boyfriend.

When we went to open the door for Elijah, we saw him standing on the
other side.

It's either a sign or a coincidence. He'd probably say coincidence.
But isn't that exactly what he'd say if he was Elijah and the world
just isn't ready yet?

Pesach 5769

Two years ago, I never would have imagined myself doing what I did
last night and in preparation for last night.

Last year, I thought it was possibly somthing I might do in the
future. But I never would have imagined that I could accomplish it
only a year later.

This year, my friend hosted a Seder. It was my first one in a home;
last year, I went to the one at the synagogue. There is a lot that
goes into putting a Seder together, and she did a fantastic job. The
food was amazing, the group was pretty ecclectic, and I think it was a
successful night.

One task that comes with Seder preparations is choosing a haggadah.
She invited me to help her with that. It was a nerdy honor. When she
asked, I was daunted. I had never really read a haggadah the whole way
through. I couldn't tell you what needed to happen. But I read and I
learned. And I basically copied a haggadah I found on the Internet.

Let me tell you, I feel much more connected to the Seder now. For
someone who loves the Exodus story, that's probably a good thing.

One of the only parts of the text that I actually wrote was the bit
about Miriam's Cup. Which is why I've been thinking a lot about
Miriam's role in the story. About how she not only hoped for a better
day; she believed it would come. And Miriam's Song, what it sounded
like, what else was in it.

When I left the seder last night, I was listening to a Jewel CD, and
the song "Life Uncommon" came on. I don't know what she wrote it about
exactly, but it fits in well with Miriam and that moment (even if it
fits a bit better with the Midrashic story about her first
prophecies). A big part of the connection comes from our haggadah's
emphasis on social justice and being instruments of change, but I
think it works.

The lyrics:
Don't worry mother, it'll be all right
Don't worry sister, say your prayers and sleep tight.
It'll be fine, lover of mine
It'll be just fine

And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from
Fill your lives with love and bravery
And you shall lead a life uncommon.

I've heard your anguish, I've heard your hearts cry out
"We are tired, we are weary, but we aren't worn out"
Set down your chains, 'till only faith remains
Set down your chains

And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from
Fill your lives with love and bravery
And you shall lead a life uncommon

There are plenty of people who pray for peace,
But if praying were enough, it would have come to be
Let your words enslave no one,
And the heavens will hush themselves to hear
Our voices ring out clear with sounds of freedom
With sounds of freedom

Come on, you unbelievers, move out of the way
There is a new army coming, and we are armed with faith
To live, we must give, to live

And lend our voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend our strength to that which we wish to be free from
Fill our lives with love and bravery
And we shall lead
And lend our voices only to sounds of freedom
Fill our lives with love and bravery
And we shall lead a life uncommon.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cleaning out the Chametz

Between Purim and Pesach, it is traditional to clean out the chametz from your home.  In the traditional sense, chametz is anything leavened and it's done in order to prepare for Pesach, when Jews are forbidden to possess leavening.

I'm not so traditional.  Plus, I share my home with a non-Jew, so I think that simply refraining from eating bread and the like is enough.  It is simply not practical to banish non-Passover foods from my kitchen.

But, inspired by a haggadah I read this weekend, I'm still cleaning out chametz.  In my case, it's all the extra stuff that I don't need, the stuff that I don't want, and the clutter that makes my life less enjoyable.  I spent a couple hours each of Saturday and Sunday, and since it's a 3-day weekend for me, today's the day for some heavy lifting.  My focus has been on my bedroom, and it already looks much better.  I'm getting excited to see my chametz-free room.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Miriam's Cup

A little bit about the symbolism and ritual of Miriam's cup. I like
this article, because it does not focus on feminism. I think it need
to be deeper than that in order to be worth adding to the Seder. This
explains why including Miriam's cup makes sense and adds reflective
value to the evening.

I know I will include Miriam's cup in my future Seders, but I haven't
decided how. Since I won't be hosting this year, I have plenty of time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Well, I just made another huge Judaica order, most of it things for Passover. I got a seder plate (with six tiny bowls) and a Miriam's cup. I also got a wine bottle cork and some things to donate to the congregation upon my conversion.  I'm excited about them, even though I probably won't host a seder this year.

What will happen is that my mother will join me at the community seder. That ought to be interesting. She still doesn't quite get it, but I think she might get more than I give her credit for. She asked if the temple was going to have an Easter gathering, which is a silly thing, but I think she was just trying to figure out if I was going to be busy on Easter. I hope the seder goes okay.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


No, I'm not talking about Jewish SAT questions.

For the past few months, the Rabbi's been presenting us sections from his dissertation on the Exodus and how it happened. He contends that it was not nearly as described. Today's segment focused mainly on geography, and then on wordplay. One of his key points is that when people tell stories, the geography is accurate, even if the story isn't. We all know that Juneau is far to the southeast of Denali, and we'd never describe it any other way. If the Israelites were living in Goshen...then where is that?

One of the first things he talked about was how ancient geographers described locations. Apparently, they were pretty consistent in the words they used and spacial relationships. This makes it especially interesting to uncover the fact that the Hebrew and Aramaic texts say they crossed the Yam Suf. In all other Hebrew and Aramaic texts, Yam Suf refers to what is now called the Gulf of Aqaba, which is on the other side of the Sinai Peninsula from the Red Sea. The first time the text refers to the Red Sea is when it was translated by the Septuagint, and for some reason it has stuck, even though it's inaccurate. This implies that the Israelites weren't necessarily in the Nile Delta. If they weren't in the Nile Delta...then where were they?

The Rabbi made a list of places referred to in the Exodus story, the "itinerary" sites. He then went through the Biblical texts to see how they're described, paying special attention to things like "blank is near blank", and then cross-referencing the known locations and putting them on a map. All of them are east of Egypt, most are northeast of the Sinai Peninsula...not in Egypt. There are records of Egyptians in some of these areas, but not so much about Pharaoh in these places. It's interesting, especially for a geography nerd like me. There's a lot that makes sense about it, because it does pull from the historical record. If we know that Goshen is near Egypt, and Midian is in Saudi Arabia...then what can we extrapolate from that?

Next came the wordplay section of the evening. The Rabbi started with having us read Exodus 1, in which we learn that Pharaoh has decided that the Israelites are "too numerous", so something must be done and in all his wisdom, the best idea he can come up with is slavery. That doesn't work, so Pharaoh decides to be extremely illogical and kill all the boys at birth. The Pharaoh is outsmarted by a couple of midwives, there are still too many Israelites, and Pharaoh decrees that all toddler boys must be killed. In the Biblical text, the Hebrew words for "increase" and "people" appear seven times. That's a significant number, and tends to mean that those words are important in some way. If they're significant...then what are they trying to say?

In another story, the wise Judean King Solomon enslaves the Israelite people in order to build a temple and a palace. He is cruel and the people rebel, and they are unsuccessful. Solomon dies and his son Rehoboam takes over. He is even more cruel, and the people rebel, led by a man named Jereboam. Any guesses what Jereboam means in Hebrew? If you guessed "the people increase"...then you'd be right.

There are more parallels between the Jereboam story and the Moses story. They both fled a leader whose rule they found tyrannical. They both returned after the leader died, confronted the new leader, and brought their people out of slavery. Apparently, their stories align on 14 points, even though I don't remember them right now. This is also a significant number and suggests more than a coincidence. If the two stories are linked...then what does that mean?

The Rabbi suggests that the Moses story is an allegory. Fiction. His theory is that it was written by the Judeans as the Jereboam events were happening as a way of protesting. This is why there's no archaeological evidence of the Israelites in Egypt in the time that the slavery was supposed to have happened. This is why the itinerary sites aren't in Egypt, but are in Moab, Judah, the Negev, the Jordan River valley, and the body of water they crossed was outside of Egypt's defended borders. If the Exodus from Egypt never happened...then what does that mean for Judaism?

It's a very good question. Of course, what the Rabbi did with the story was simply a literary analysis. 
The Judeans could simply have noticed the parallels between Jereboam and the oral tradition of Moses and wrote the story in such a way as to point them out. 
Since we are dealing with a story that survived orally for hundreds of years before it was ever written down, it could simply be a case of people forgetting or omitting some itinerary sites. This wouldn't explain the lack of archaeological evidence, though.

I don't care if it's allegory or if Moses just existed somewhere slightly different than Egypt. It's still my favorite story in the Bible.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I know my name

I will choose Miriam Tzipora.

I like that these names are associated with Moses and the stories of Exodus. I like that they appear in the parshiot that correspond with my birthday. I like that they are very clearly Biblical names, but they do not refer directly to G-d; they refer to nature. I like that they were both pretty amazing women, one a prophetess, the other the great woman behind a very special man.

I even like that they are opposites, in a few ways; Miriam had a problem with Moses's wife, who goes unnamed in that particular story, for being dark (and probably for taking up so much of his attention), so HaShem makes Miriam snow-white by afflicting her with leprosy for a week. They are also opposites in terms of background. Miriam was born an Israelite, the sister of Judaism's great leader and also of the first high priest. Tzipora, however, was not born into the tribe; she would have been a convert like me, from a different religious background (also with family ties to a high priest, being the daughter if the high priest of Midian).

I choose Miriam, partly because it is the name my mother suggested for me when I asked her. It was one of the names I asked her about and she liked the meanings behind it. She thought it fit me best. It's not completely clear what Miriam actually means.
In Egyptian, it could mean "beloved", which my mom thought was good, partly because when we watched the movie (based in the Toni Morrison novel), Beloved's mother tells her "you're my best thing", and my mom always thought the same of me.
In Hebrew, Miriam means "bitter water/sea", which almost sounds like a bad thing. But I've always loved being near the ocean, even though I don't love swimming. So a reference to water makes sense for me. To explain the bitter part, I like thinking about a Chinese idiomatic 
expression, "to eat bitter". This is how they would talk about perseverence. To me, that is very important, because that which is worthwhile is not always easy. It also seems to apply to the Biblical Miriam, because she was known for her kindness and generosity of spirit, even when she was going through difficult times personally.

That is something I asipre to and, I think, very worthy of a name.

I choose Tzipora, partly because it refers to my mother's pet name for me, in a way. Tzipora means "little bird", and as best I can tell, usually refers to a songbird. Mom liked to call my sister and I her "little chickadees". She doesn't say it about my sister as much anymore, but she still says it to me. Chickadees are very common birds in my hometown, and they used to congregate in our backyard to eat the tiny crabapples on our flowering crabapple tree. I also like Tzipora because I have always pictured her as dynamic, graceful and intuitive. Part of how I picture Tzipora is very dependent on how I perceive the relationsip between Moses and his wife, and therefore in how I understand marriage. Because Moses was clearly very special, I picture Tzipora being special, too. I think she was there to support Moses and help him find the courage to do what he needed to accimplish, whether it was dealing with his guilt after he killed the Egyptian, pulling himself together enough to confront Pharaoh, or constantly acting as a go-between with HaShem and the Israelites.She also showed that she understood what Moses taught her about HaShem and the covenants when she thought fast during the bridegroom of blood incident and saved Moses' life (or maybe Gershom's).

I think this is especially important to me and worthy of a name, because she, like myself, learned the mitzvot as an adult and took on the challenge of adapting to life with slightly new rules.

Try as I might, I couldn't decide between the two. Both names hold a great deal of meaning, both in Jewish culture and for me personally. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would never be able to pick just one. I think it is best to take them in combination 
and hope that I can live up to them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another Meeting

I met with my Rabbi again today.  We talked about what I've been studying, which is pretty much just Torah.  I've been reading as many commentaries and listening to as many podcasts as  I have time for.  

Naturally, since I've been gathering so much information, I want to write a report about anything I find interesting.  I'm a nerd; I'm okay with it.  So I've been updating my Torah blog a little bit, but it's not really anything worth sharing at this point.  I wouldn't even call it up to date, since my recent pattern is to post the week's parsha on Saturday evening.  Still, I think it's slightly valuable as a type of dialectical journal.  If I manage to keep up with it, it will be interesting to compare what I wrote this year to what I write next year.  The few entries that I wrote last year are very different to what I put up recently for the same parsha.

My rabbi thinks that it's good that I'm joining the commentary conversation.  He seems to think that when students realize that they can write their own midrash or insert themselves into the characters, they learn more.  I'm not sure if it's because we become more eager to study when the element of creativity is added, or if it's because it just becomes more personal, but I would tend to agree with that.

We talked a little bit about this week's parsha, about the commentary sources I've been using, and about whether it's valuable to read (or listen to) commentary that brings up an interesting idea, but is factually incorrect.  I think we slightly disagree on the last one.  I think that as long as you know where the facts fail, it's possible to learn a moral or philosophical lesson; my Rabbi is a bit leery on that idea.  But if I understand his logic, it's mostly because that would mean that the moral or philosophical lesson was not meant to be taught by that parsha, so you're focusing on something that's not entirely relevant.  In my experience, this seems to happen most on commentaries from a specific point of view (social justice, feminism, ecology, etc.).  We agree that commentary with failed logic is awful and not worth one's time.

At the end, we also talked about the actual conversion.  The Beit Din will almost certainly be on Shavuot, either the first day or the second.  He said that I should not have any problems getting through that part, since it will be all oral questions and I do well expressing myself in our conversations.  My official conversion certificate will bear the Beit Din date.  Then comes the mikveh.  There are still a few unresolved questions here.  He's not sure how many witnesses I might need.  I have already chosen one attendant, and he thinks she is a good choice and can help me with the blessings.  We're just not sure if I'll need more to say that they were there and I most certainly dunked.  The last question is the not-so-small matter of where.  This shouldn't be too awful much of a problem anymore, since there is no time limit.  It just has to happen after the Beit Din.  I'll get another certificate saying that I immersed on whatever date.  During some Friday night service after that, I'll be introduced to the congregation, given my Hebrew name, and given the Torah.  I'll recite the Shema, and that will be that.  I'll be a real, full-fledged Jew.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I have a date

At our meeting yesterday, my rabbi and I set a date for my conversion. Well, not really a date, more of a range of dates which will hopefully work for everybody involved.

I want to do it on Shavuot. Or at least near Shavuot. We will talk about it more next month, because there are logistics to work out. Like, which creek will I mikveh in, and who will be my attendant.

I know last year they did an all night study session for Shavuot. It would be really cool to incorporate my naming ceremony in to that. Or have it after the megilla reading, maybe. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tu BiShevat

Last year, I vowed to host a Tu BiShevat seder this year.

I didn't. It just didn't seem right hosting a holiday gathering
before my conversion. My guests wouldn't have been Jewish, so I'd have
had to explain everything, and it felt wrong to knowingly put myself
in that position. I would have been representing myself as a Jew when
I am not quite Jewish yet.

However, I did make a special dish for dinner. Or, as it happens, a
side dish.

I got to thinking about the traditional foods to eat on Tu BiShevat:
dried fruits, nuts, wine. And I got to thinking about a seder, and
when I put the two together, it seemed natural to make a haroset.

On, I found several recipies for haroset. One in
paticular stood out to me for this occasion, the Italian haroset. His
may be partly because my family has Italian background, but it was
also because of the ingredients.

I like the apples and the pears. The texture is great for haroset, and
since they are tree fruits, they fit right in on the new year for the

As I mentioned earlier, dried fruits are traditional (no wonder I love
this holiday), but this recipe included an especially symbolic one:
the date. It is one of the seven species, and I read something about
it being significant for Tu BiShevat, but I don't recall where. The
recipe also called for raisins and prunes.

Now for the nuts. These were a big part of why I hose this haroset.
Most recipes that I've seen use walnuts, but this one does not. It
calls for almonds and pine nuts. Almonds are very traditional for Tu
BiShevat, because the almond trees are in bloom in Israel this time of
year. I appreciate the pine nuts, because they are from my favorite
type of tree, and it felt good to honor them on this day as well, even
if they're not commonly thought of as a food source.

Other ingredients that had significance to me as I added them to the
pot were the wine and the honey. The wine, because it called to mind
the joy and rest of Shabbat (I used my leftovers from this weekend).
The honey, because it reminded me of the last time I mixed apples and
honey: Rosh HaShana, another new year.

It's very delicious, which is good, because it was a large recipe. I
originally served it with turkey breast. I'm eating leftovers now like
applesauce. Both are tasty ways to go. I may even use it to stuff a
chicken breast later. We'll see. But mostly, I wanted to share.

I hope your Tu BiShevat was a lovely one. Remember, it represents the
beginning of spring which brings renewal and, most importantly, more