Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Jewish Identity #2: What helps a Jew reconnect?

An article of mine was just published on It's called It's Still Shabbat Just in case you want to read it.

On the same website is the following article:
Please read it and tell me something. My experience in school was somewhat similar to this author's. I actually went to a public school with only about 4 other Jewish students, none of whom was observant. But somewhere along the way I locked into observance, mostly around rewnewed love of Shabbat. This author did the same even when her other Jewish friends didn't.

So I have to post this question: What makes some Jews reconnect, even under the same circumstances as those who do not?

I think for me it had something to do with the people who reintroduced me to Judaism, and my lack of of interest for the other people in my school. But what do you think about this?


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Jewish Identity #1: Fictional Characters and Their Creators

Happy Thanksgiving.

Last night I returned to the Jewish Book Festival at the JCC and heard a writer read selections from his short fiction and poetry. I don't have his name in front of me and would not wish to embarass him anyway by writing about him.

It was a small turn-out and I remember feeling a little uncomfortable, not only that I appeared to be the only openly observant Jew in the room (of course, you can never just tell by a look at faces). I'm especially nervous and, frankly, judgmental when I'm about to hear a JEWISH author at a JEWISH book festival in a JEWISH community center, and he's not even wearing a kippah. I don't mean that I wanted him to don one of those flimsy pop-up cones that you see on being who don't wear them very often. I only mean that I want to hear more gritty and true fiction from Jews who ARE observant. (I need models to follow for my own work.) What really sort of annoyed me was a brief series of comments that were made, sort of off-the-cuff, which I didn't take too seriously but that I need to mention nonetheless:

It was a small turn-out and they were trying to decide whether to start or to wait a few more minutes. The speaker quickly counted through the room (you're not supposed to count Jews!!!) and said, "Well, we have a minyan." Then he and the program organizer began to banter back and forth whether or not they were counting women for this minyan. It was all just good-natured chatter, but it made me feel awkward as a Jewish feminist who still prefers for deep and trying reasons to go to a shul in which women are not counted in a minyan. (A halakhic women's only prayer service would be my ideal, but as long as we're in a community setting with women and men, there are good reasons to follow the halakha of men-only minyan, not the least of which is that it IS the halakha. I have come to terms with it partly from observing poor attendance from men in egalitarian minyanim.) I just felt like I didn't fit into the room because of this conversation. Frankly, I was a teeny bit offended.

Anyway, I haven't even gotten to the point yet... The reading was fine. There were two fiction pieces. The first was in the voice of a 53 year old woman, a professor in comparative literature. The second piece was in the voice of a 23 year old man on trial for killing a neo-Nazi. What intrigued me was that immediately after the second piece, the author made a disclaimer. The young man in the story has a protestant mother. So the author said that sometimes people get confused when they hear his stories read in first-person because they think they represent the author himself. Now, he was not concerned about our thinking he was a 52-year old female professor of comparative literature, nor was he concerned about whether or not we thought he had ever killed anyone. But he wanted to make sure we knew that both of his parents are Jewish.

This concern WAS absolutely essential. Because his identity would not be compromised by our disagreeing with his words or principles or even actions. It would be compromised by any proof that he is not a Jew.

Why is this identity so important even to those who don't live by the Torah? (And I'm not saying that he doesn't.) It's a flag towards something deep and profound that can't really be said, and it doesn't invalidate the love we have for friends who are NOT Jewish.

Lastly, on the subject of his fictional characters being misunderstood to be him.... I was amused. I'm struggling with a fiction piece myself right now that is told from the point of view of a woman who became baal teshuvah in her teenage years. She is not me. She is close sometimes. But she is not me. And both of the friends I have shown the piece too have asked how close to me it is, and I had to assure them that I do not think I am as judgmental of those outside the tradition as she is. Nor am I as accepting of the tradition. Parts of her express one side of me, but so close to home, that I've decided to rewrite the piece in third person. Because WHO I AM and HOW I THINK and WHAT I BELIEVE could be misunderstood and I would then have to undo damage of being seen as this other character who is not me.

And the last last last note on this is that lately I HAVE found myself getting judgemental of people around me. It's a safety mechanism to keep people at arm's length rather than get to know them. But the truth is, I don't know WHO these people are. I don't know their souls yet. And I have no right to discredit them without knowing them. (Once I know them, I won't even want to discredit them anymore. Individuals always fascinate me too much to do that. At least I hope they do.... If I ever talk to them a little.

I should write more on getting to know people before discrediting them. That's one of the fundamental problems in all sectors of the Jewish world right now.

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Monday, November 22, 2004

State of Mind #1: Needing to be Needed

Today I feel yucky.

It's not an all-out cold but could become one if I am not careful. I called the various places where I was expected to be today and told them I wouldn't be there.

I hate doing that.

I have always wanted to wait until the last minute. "Maybe I'll feel better," I say. "Maybe I'm not sick." Am I just denying the fact that I don't feel well?

Sometimes I think that if I admit I need time for me, that I will begin only giving time to me. That I will become selfish and horde my strength away from others. That suddenly I will be transformed into a person who is irresponsible.

It takes all of my powers to remember that this is ALWAYS how I feel when I am ill. And that no one ever needs me so badly that they can't stand my taking a nap instead. (Doing so is the only way I can hope to make myself well for tomorrow.)

What sort of people are like this? Obsessive people for sure. People who want to feel that their work is so important that the earth would stop turning on its axis without us.

But it won't.

And yet I know that when I am feeling better and do go back to doing the things I said I would do, those things will be important to me and to the world that receives it.

It's ok to wait.

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

The blog #1: What the hell am I doing?

I'm about to finally fill out my first entry on this blog and I feel giddy and apprehensive. I've been thinking about doing something like this for weeks. (Like everything, I have been taking this VERY seriously.) And now the time seems to have come.

Why am I doing this:

1. I first grappled with starting a blog on November 4th, 2004. Why then is crucial. I was, like so many of my friends, in mourning after the results of the U.S. election. I spent all of Nov. 3 in grief. By the 4th I was ready for action and had some idea of a nonactivist's activist page. It would be a place where I would tell who I was - a teacher, a religious Jew, a democrat, a writer, an Oberlin College alum - but not a political activist. And yet now that we are citizens of an extremely powerful country that is being completely run by a single political party, none of us can refrain from activism. If the government itself has no checks and balances system, it is up to the people. So I thought that on a nonacitvist activist website I could keep myself in check, and inspire friends, to do little things. (For example, I would love to join a debate club or something to help me with my speaking under pressure skills. I have not been able to find one yet and would love to hear of any that you know.) However, that is not the sole purpose of this blog.

2. I began to want a place to just say what I thought about things. I have so much to say and get exhausted from not saying it! One of the questions I asked myself was whether I could justify spending time on a blog. How egoistical and irresponsible! To throw my thoughts out to the world and expect anyone to care. I have decided that no damage can be done by my sharing carefully selected thoughts with anyone who will read them. I hear and see others ads all day long and there are points of view in the world that everyone must endure. Why not throw my voice into the cacaphony? If people don't want to hear or see it, they won't, but it is healthy and democratic for me to become more willing and confident about speaking my mind.

As for time... I am a writer already. The bouncing myriad of thoughts all day need some outlet, and they do not have to all become finished pieces. How great to have a public composting ground in which some of my thoughts can inspire my friends or me to write more developed and helpful pieces about whatever appears on this brainsite.

(I am so curious about whether strangers will discover and appreciate this site. At this point, I could not hope for that. But I will see where this goes.)

3. When I first considered doing this blog I had plenty to say about the act of blogging itself. I k new I would have to metablog for my first entry. But I am going to make a point of restraining myself from writing too too much. (Huge entries are a pain to read.) I also don't want to use up too much time this way. But the last comment I will make is that when I told my dear friend Joel who runs the Mishkaneer site that I was reconsidering blogging. I told him I didn't think I could spend the time on it. That maybe it wasn't worthwhile. He said, "Oh." It was a sad "oh," a disappointed "oh" and it made me hate to miss the opportunity to at least just try this out.


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