Monday, February 11, 2019

A new meaning for "double-click," or social media rules the world :(

I check my e-mail for the time of a social-action group's next meeting, and find that I have to click again--I can't get that information without going on Facebook.

I check my e-mail for information about a free pot-luck Shabbat dinner sponsored by a local Jewish group, and find that I have to click again--I must go to a site that reserves tickets, even though there are no tickets for this event.

I check a website to find some information about another social-action group that I just heard about recently and find that I have to click again because, aside from the introductory video, almost no information is available on the actual website--if I want to know anything about the local chapter, I have a choice of Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

What's the point of having a website if all it's there for is to direct people elsewhere?

What's the point of sending e-mails if the reader can't find any information about the subject allegedly being discussed without going elsewhere?

I feel that I'm being forced to participate in social media whether I want to or not, and I resent it.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Happy Birthdays to us (To the tune of the Beatles' "Hey, Jude")

I sang this to my husband after spending an hour cleaning the kitchen:

Hey, Dude
Go put soup on
Heat some veggies
and make us dinner
Remember to cook a pot of brown rice
It would be nice
to eat together.


In honor of my 70th birthday (Friday, February 1) and my husband's 77th birthday (tomorrow, February 4).

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Trump shutdown: A civics lesson

Pick your title for this post.

We'll start with the one that I used.  Does anyone teach civics anymore?  Is part of the problem that many people have no idea what governments (local, county, state, and/or federal/national) do?  More on this later.

Here 's another possible candidate:  "The Trump shutdown:  'It's the economy, stupid.'"

Our son the cynic insists that Trump and his supporters won't change their minds about anything Trump says or does unless it affects them personally.  I'm inclined to agree.  I joked with my husband that Trump wouldn't re-open the government until his Washington, DC hotel started losing business because no one could fly into any of the DC-area airports.  That's pretty much what happened.  Someone on AM Joy this morning said that the shutdown had ended because some of the people involved in running the Super Bowl football game were afraid that they'd lose a fortune if fans couldn't fly to the game.

On a humorous note, I could have tried a play on lollapalooza as the name of this post:  Pelosi-palooza, anyone?

My personal favorite, though rather long for a blog-post name, would be "The Trump shutdown:  I hate to tell you this, Mr. President, but it's the so-called "Deep State" that keeps our airplanes safe."

Full disclosure:  My husband is a retired federal employee.

And I fiercely resent any implication that his 30 years of auditing federal government contracts was a waste of taxpayer money.

Who do think finds the $600 toilet seats, if not federal government contract auditors?  They don't waste taxpayers' money, they try to save taxpayers' money!

Federal employees prevent mid-air collisions.

Federal employees check luggage for weapons or explosives.

Federal employees provide medical care to Native Americans.

Federal employees monitor our food supply to try to prevent illness.

Federal employees make sure that we get our tax refunds.

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the Trump administration is our president's adamant refusal to acknowledge the fact that anyone other than he has any expertise in anything.  If you think that you can run the entire country single-handedly, then shutting down the government is no big deal.  Heaven help federal employees.  And heaven help this country.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Welcome to Social Security. But not yet. :( You're forewarned

The Social Security Administration employee assured me that every person born on the first day of any month was eligible for Social Security the month before their birthday, and therefore, I would be eligible for Social Security in the month of January.

I was counting on getting that money when I was eligible for it.

No such luck.  :(

Over a week after I expected to receive my first check, I finally got the bad news in the mail--apparently, when one is eligible in the month of X, one actually receives one's first payment the following month.

You couldn't have explained that to me several months ago, when we spoke on the phone?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"What's in a name?," Jewish edition

Recently, my husband and I went to Hadar to hear Rabbi Jason Rubenstein give the Dr. Eddie Scharfman Memorial Lecture 2019, "All Revelation Begins With Heartbreak--Radical Faith in Torah and Ourselves, From Maimonides to Plaskow."  The presentation was fascinating and, apparently, almost too popular--the place was packed, and the only reason I got a seat was that a kind gentleman had mercy on this older woman carrying a cane.

Afterward, I spotted Rabbi Shai Held in the crowd.  "Rav Shai, I have two comments.  One, this was great!  Two, when are you moving?  This is crazy.  Hadar needs a bigger place, and it has to be wheelchair-accessible."  Ever since Hadar had to make an emergency, last-minute rental of Lincoln Square Synagogue's event space to accommodate the "over-subscribed" panel discussion "What Feminist Torah Needs to Look Like," it's become increasingly clear that Hadar has outgrown its current facility.

But the space issue wasn't the remarkable thing about this conversation.

My "greeting" was.

To paraphrase the Haggadah, I am a woman of nearly 70, but I can't remember ever before having called a rabbi by their first name.

Rav Shai?!

Where on earth did that come from?

When I was a kid growing up in South Jersey (er, southern New Jersey) in the 50s and 60s, it would have been unthinkable to call a rabbi by his first name.  (Yes, "his"--all rabbis were male, at that time.)  Even after I moved to New York City and joined first a Reconstructionist, then a Conservative synagogue, I continued to call my rabbis by their last names, as did most of the other congregants.

In fact, when women first began being ordained as rabbis and cantors, I found it downright offensive that they were frequently called by their first names.  Why should it be Rabbi or Cantor Last-Name for a man but Rabbi or Cantor First-Name for a woman?  Was a woman's rabbinical or cantorial ordination worth less than a man's, that she should be treated with less respect?

But lately, I've noticed a shift in practice.  It started when an old friend roughly our age joined a Orthodox synagogue in which it was a given that the entire rabbinical staff was called by their first names.  All of a sudden, it was "Rav Avi" and "Rav Steven" and "Rabba Sara."  Was my Conservative background suddenly making me more traditional than the Traditional?

I guess I'm just catching up with the times.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?"

Parshat Bo

Exodus Chapter 10

ז   הֲטֶרֶם תֵּדַע, כִּי אָבְדָה מִצְרָיִם. 7 . .. knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?' 

The United States of American is plagued by a modern-day pharaoh.

Our pharaoh has plagued us with the plague of "dahm/blood."  Trump's policy of favoring business interests at the expense of the environment have almost literally turned our rivers red and threatened both our health, with cutbacks to protective regulations, and our public lands, through extraction of resources.  
His policies and/or the lack thereof on guns have led to deadly violence in places such as a concert in Las Vegas and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

His not-too-well-hidden willingness to ignore, if not encourage, racist attitudes led to a death at a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

His indifference to human suffering has contributed to the deaths of two would-be-immigrant children at our southern border

And he's trying to deprive people with pre-existing conditions of the right to life itself by attempting to destroy the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) without providing a substitute.

He may be putting lives at risk with his hoped-for ban on Muslim immigration and his legal maneuvers to take away a woman's right to choose.

(Speaking of Trump's attitude toward women, is it true that he fired Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellin because he thought she was too short?!)

Now we're dealing with a United States federal (national) government shutdown that leaves the nation at risk, especially in terms of safety and health, with hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors either not being paid or at risk of missing a paycheck by this weekend if the federal government is not re-opened.

The only reason why the federal government is still shut down is that Trump has hardened his heart regarding his plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and is throwing a temper tantrum to get his way.

As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said,
“American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage. […]"

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it:

“Many federal workers will not be receiving their paychecks, and what that means in their lives is tragic... the president seems to be insensitive to that,” Pelosi said. "He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can’t.”

She added: “If you don’t understand financial insecurity, then you would have a policy that takes pride in saying ‘I’m going to keep the government shut down for months or years unless you totally agree to my position.’”

How can we change the government when voter suppression sometimes keeps the majority from having their voices heard

We are truly in a leil shimurim, a night of watching (Parshat Bo, Sh'mot/Exodus 12:42).  When will we be liberated from this pharaoh?

See also Vayera, pipe bombs, & a mass murder in a Pittsburgh synagogue--yes, there's a connection

Friday, December 21, 2018

An odd way to observe the rules of tzniut/modesty (in my opinion)

This is something that I've rarely seen in the Orthodox community, but I've seen it occasionally, and it startles me every time:  a woman wearing a top that covers her elbows but exposes a hint of cleavage.  In what world are a woman's elbows sexier and more enticing to straight men or gay women than a hint of breasts?

(For an example, see the movie "The Women's Balcony," which I recommend--I'll put the spoiler in the first comment.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A little palate--and palace--intrigue

I thought I'd given up sugar for good (or at least, cut way back).

Famous last words.

Over two decades ago, when I was still singing in my former synagogue's choir, one of my sister singers, a dietitian, explained that there's a reason why many children prefer milk chocolate, while many adults prefer dark chocolate--our taste buds change as we get older.  That seems to me what's happening to me.  It appears that I do still like sugar, but not in such high concentrations.  So I'm now trying to figure out which gluten-free cookies (and other sweetened foods) are not too sweet for me.  This is especially crucial because popcorn seems to aggravate my arthritis.  I would say that my health challenges keep me on my toes, but if I keep eating popcorn, I won't even be able to get on my toes.  :)

And speaking of famous last words, remember the retirement that I was talking about?  Well, there may not be much more rest for the weary in the near future than there was in the recent past--I've been asked to consider staying with my current employer as a part-timer specializing in the long documents for which I've developed something of a reputation in over a decade of working on them.  For those keeping score at home, you may be amused to know that I took one look at the ridiculously-long list of names and titles at the end of my most recent document, reformatted that list into two columns instead of one, and thereby shortened that document by a whopping 10 1/2 pages.  That's what they pay me for, and, apparently, that's what they may decide to continue to pay me for  (not to mention that I found a major omission in that document and saved my organization from public embarrassment). Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

No rest for the weary

This will probably be my last post until December--I'm working not only today, but also next Sunday, and probably Black Friday (yes, that's "Thanksgiving weekend" in the U.S.), as well.  Due to a deadline and other factors, the nearly-300-page document on which I'm doing lay-out and (re)formatting and helping with the editing must be completed by November 29, without fail.  I'm 72 pages down, with 228 pages to go.:(

Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A salty story, of sorts

It all began a few weeks ago, perhaps during Sukkot--I began to notice that some of the yummy baked goods that we were getting at good old gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher By the Way Bakery  were suddenly too sweet for me.  This went on for maybe two or three weeks before a startling thought finally occurred to me--was it possible that, after decades as a sugar addict, I might actually have outgrown my taste for sugar?  So I "went cold turkey" and just stopped eating sweet desserts almost completely, and it worked--over roughly the past month, I've had only one very small piece of cake, about a teaspoon of ice cream, about a scoop and a half of sorbet, the chocolate icing and sauce from my husband's tiramisu, about a teaspoon (literally) of cheesecake, and a sample from By the Way Bakery, and I've hardly missed sugar at all.  I'm eating about as much sugar in a week as I used to eat in a day or two.  My current favorite treats are Mary's Gone Crackers, original flavor (an acquired taste, I'll admit) and popcorn.  I'm currently on the look-out for an organic or non-GMO popcorn with the perfect balance of sea salt and oil for my personal taste.  (The other balance I have to worry about is trying to choose treats that are just salty enough to be tasty but not salty enough to aggravate my kidney-stone problem.)  Wish me luck with my mostly-sugar-free lifestyle.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018


Start with Al & Larry explain Conservative Jewish practice.

Based on my personal experience, I would say that one of the main differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is that, among the Orthodox, the sense of community is based on observance, whereas, among the non-Orthodox, the sense of community is based on attendance.  The Orthodox feel that they're part of a community because they all observe the same mitzvot (commandments), such as reciting b'rachot (blessings) before and after eating.  Many of us non-Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, derive our sense of community from attending synagogue on a regular basis, even though many go to shul mostly on Shabbat (Sabbath), rarely on weekdays (even if it's a holiday).  This explains why many non-Orthodox Jews show up in shul with very young children in tow, whereas in some, but certainly not all, Orthodox communities, it's common for women with young children, or even women who don't need to stay home to care for family members, to observe Shabbat and holidays at home and rarely be seen in synagogue.

But what happens if non-Orthodox Jews can't find a synagogue that suits them?  Sometimes, in keeping with a long-standing Jewish tradition :) , they simply start another one.

In our particular neighborhood of "outer-borough," and in some relatively-nearby areas, several small Jewish prayer-and/or-social/learning/activist groups have sprung up in recent years.  Some are actually small congregations, others are neighborhood groups, while still others were created with the intention of attracting Jews from a number of neighboring areas.  Most are limited in how often they can run services or other Jewish activities because of the cost of renting space.  As a consequence, some of their events take place in people's houses or in the apartments of those with adequate space to host a minyan or more.

Since we know people in one of these groups, we have benefited from being included in their mailing list, er, listserve--we have attended numerous Kabbalat Shabbat services followed by pot-luck dinners, and a few other Jewish events, all within walking distance.  (I'm sorry to say that the most recent event was a service honoring the memories of the murdered Jews of Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue.)

Some members of these independent Jewish groups may feel uncomfortable attending a mainstream synagogue because they are members of the LGBTQI community.  This is a shame, because they wouldn't be the only LGBTQI members of our Conservative congregation, which also frequently hosts LGBTQI-community activities.

Some other members of these groups make my participation in their activities a literal mixed blessing.  Among the fine folks with whom we've been saying Kabbalat Shabbat are some who are not halachically Jewish (that is, they aren't Jews according to halachah/Jewish religious law, since they have non-Jewish mothers and have not converted to Judaism) and/or who have non-Jewish spouses or partners, which is rather awkward for the Conservative Jew that I am.  As my husband puts it, this is a classic "Don't ask, don't tell" situation.

There's also the major detail that almost none of the folks involved in these groups takes days off from work to observe Jewish holidays, so it's rare to have an event sponsored by any of these groups on a holiday that occurs on a weekday.

Yet the fact of the matter is that many members of our Conservative congregation either live in apartments too small to host more than a few guests--we're in that group--and/or are too old to do a lot of cooking.  Consequently, it's been a long time since we've had anything resembling a Judaism-related social life outside of the synagogue building itself.  Recently, we were invited to Shabbat dinner at a larger apartment, and sat around singing z'mirot (Sabbath songs) with at least five other people for over an hour.  It's been literally years since we've done that!

So we're ignoring all the details and enjoying what there is.  We'll take our sense of community with whomever we can find it.  And if some of my readers (if I still have any), particularly my more-observant ones, think that some of us non-Orthodox Jews are reinventing the wheel, you're probably right, but I don't care.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Vayera, pipe bombs, & a mass murder in a Pittsburgh synagogue--yes, there's a connection

See Parshat Vayera, B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 18, verses 9-15.

When Sarah laughed at the thought of having a baby after menopause, she described Abraham as being old.  Some of our sages/rabbis were impressed that HaShem didn't tell Abraham about the "old"  part--they said that HaShem was trying to spare Abraham's feelings and preserve Shalom Bayit (peace in the home).  Personally, I think the sages missed something major in this interchange--why did HaShem mention this internal conversation of Sarah's to Abraham at all?  Isn't this a classic example of "lashon ha-ra ("evil speech"), a term usually applied to the spreading of information which, while factually accurate, causes damage of one sort or another to its subject"?  How did knowing that his wife was a bit cynical about HaShem's promise not diminish Sarah's reputation in the eyes of her husband?

Now we have political candidates and/or elected or appointed officials committing motzi shem ra--slander (see the link above)--on a regular basis.  Candidates have said that Mexican immigrants are bringing drugs and crime.  Government officials have targeted all Muslims as potential terrorists and/or imposers of Islamic religious law (Sharia).  The news media have been targeted by government officials as "enemies of the people."  Candidates and government officials have encouraged violence against protesters and/or journalists.

Why are we surprised, then, that a reactionary individual targeted some opponents of those in power with pipe bombs?  Why are we surprised, then, that an anti-Semite entered a Pittsburgh synagogue in the middle of Sabbath services and opened fire, killing 11 people just because they were Jews?

Over the course of this past week, I have become increasing upset with the attitude of President Trump.  While he certainly did not order these murderous actions, his adamant refusal to acknowledge that his own words can encourage life-threatening acts strikes me as flagrantly dishonest and shockingly irresponsible.

Never in all of my 69 years have I seen a more powerful demonstration of the fact that, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, what we say--or what we choose not to say--can be quite literally a matter of life or death.

Words matter, Mr. President.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

So much for resting on my laurels

I just finished reformatting, doing lay-out on, and helping edit a document over 200 pages long only a couple of weeks ago, and had expected to coast into my retirement, planned for a couple of months or so from now.  Famous last words.  By coincidence, several other similar documents are currently facing looming deadlines within roughly the next couple of months, coincidentally just prior to my retirement.  And not coincidentally, I've been singled out as the best person in any of our New York City or Long Island locations, in terms of skills, experience, and availability, to do the reformatting and lay-out and help with the editing.  My last few months on the job may turn out to be my busiest ever.

Apparently, I've developed quite a reputation over the years--see Congratulate me:  I'm now a published, er, something-or-other

That said, I've never had to help complete this many major projects in such a short period of time.  Hang onto your hat, Shira--it's going to be a wild ride.

A few words about "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness"

Especially in the early chapters, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander, reminded me of Rabbi Jonathan Sack's description of anti-Semitism as a treatment-resistant virus--every time it seems to have been cured (finally!), it simply morphs into another form. (Jews are capitalists, Jews are communists, Jews are victims of the Nazis, Jews are Nazis--you get the picture.) Racism can also be described as a treatment-resistant virus, as The New Jim Crow makes clear. The United States abolished slavery, and Jim Crow discrimination and segregation replaced it. Now, the U.S. has outlawed discrimination and segregation, and replaced it with a new racial caste system that treats minority neighborhoods, and especially young black males, as if they are responsible for most crime, even though whites are just as likely to smoke marijuana as blacks are. Locking up a huge proportion of the male black population for drug use and/or sale that would be ignored if the guilty were white, and stripping convicts and former convicts of their right to vote and to get government-subsidized food and housing, coupled with the challenge of getting an honest job as an "ex-con," has created a permanent underclass in the Black community and deprived children of their fathers. And affirmative action has been a double-edged sword, putting blacks in the dubious position of having to enforce laws that discriminate against their own community or lose their jobs.

Current laws encourage both overt and unconscious racism, and it has always been political expedient to pit working-class whites against working-class blacks. Unless and until we end the "War on Drugs" and, instead, spend our tax dollars on providing true educational and job-training opportunities
for all, racism will continue to have a devastating effect on communities and individuals of color.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A politically-conscious friend looks at Lech L'cha

Here's an overview of Parshat Lech L'cha.

I've often said that Hagar was one of the first surrogate mothers on record.

But a more politically-conscious friend of mine pointed out something frankly offensive:  Hagar was sex-trafficked by Sarai.


Read for yourself--at no point in the text is Hagar ever asked for her consent.

As if it wasn't bad enough that Sarai was sex-trafficked by Avram.  Yes, she was asked, but whether she was actually free to say no is an interesting question, and it's clear from the text that Avram benefited financially from Sarai's time in the house of Pharoah.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Kayin and Kavanaugh

I've been reading the weekly Torah reading nearly every week for over 40 years, but every now and then, I still spot something that I've never noticed before.

B'reshit/Genesis, Parshat B'reshit, chapter 4, verses 8-15

ח  וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן, אֶל-הֶבֶל אָחִיו; וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם בַּשָּׂדֶה, וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל-הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ.8 And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother. And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
ט  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-קַיִן, אֵי הֶבֶל אָחִיךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יָדַעְתִּי, הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹכִי.9 And the LORD said unto Cain: 'Where is Abel thy brother?' And he said: 'I know not; am I my brother's keeper?'
י  וַיֹּאמֶר, מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה.10 And He said: 'What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground.
יא  וְעַתָּה, אָרוּר אָתָּה, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר פָּצְתָה אֶת-פִּיהָ, לָקַחַת אֶת-דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ מִיָּדֶךָ.11 And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.
יב  כִּי תַעֲבֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, לֹא-תֹסֵף תֵּת-כֹּחָהּ לָךְ; נָע וָנָד, תִּהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ.12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be in the earth.'
יג  וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן, אֶל-יְהוָה:  גָּדוֹל עֲוֺנִי, מִנְּשֹׂא.13 And Cain said unto the LORD: 'My punishment is greater than I can bear.
יד  הֵן גֵּרַשְׁתָּ אֹתִי הַיּוֹם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וּמִפָּנֶיךָ, אֶסָּתֵר; וְהָיִיתִי נָע וָנָד, בָּאָרֶץ, וְהָיָה כָל-מֹצְאִי, יַהַרְגֵנִי.14 Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the land; and from Thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth; and it will come to pass, that whosoever findeth me will slay me.'
טו  וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יְהוָה, לָכֵן כָּל-הֹרֵג קַיִן, שִׁבְעָתַיִם, יֻקָּם; וַיָּשֶׂם יְהוָה לְקַיִן אוֹת, לְבִלְתִּי הַכּוֹת-אֹתוֹ כָּל-מֹצְאוֹ.15 And the LORD said unto him: 'Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.' And the LORD set a sign for Cain, lest any finding him should smite him.

What do you mean, "My punishment is greater than I can bear"?  You just killed your brother, and this is the only thing you have to say?

Kayin (Cain) expressed no remorse, no sense of guilt.  The only thing that upset him was that he'd been caught.  And then had the unmitigated chutzpah (gall) to complain that he was being punished.  Did he expect not to be punished?

And why was he punished with exile?  Later in the Torah, it is written (quote approximate), "A person who sheds another person's blood, by another person will that murderer's blood be shed."*  Evidently, G-d believes in capital punishment, but G-d doesn't necessarily inflict it G-dself.  Why, then, did G-d mark Kayin's forehead to prevent any human from avenging Hevel's (Abel's) blood?

Apparently, nothing's changed in over 5,000 years--perpetrators of violence are still getting away with a slap on the wrist from the powerful.

*Monday, October 15, 2018 update:

Genesis Chapter 9 בְּרֵאשִׁית

[Parshat Noach/Noah--sorry about extra space that I can't seem to delete]

ו  שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ:  כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים, עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם. 6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Back to normal

When I got to the office today and took off my usual baseball cap, I realized that it was the first time in days that I'd gone bareheaded in public--I've had a kippah under my baseball cap since Saturday.  :)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A woman's name: On this matter, feminism and Jewish tradition agree

Just to make this post less awkward to read, I'm going to skip the Mr. First-Name Last-Name designation and refer to my husband as Mr. Punster Partner.

On our wedding day, my mother-in-law congratulated me on having become Mrs. Punster Partner.  I replied, "I have no problem with being called Mrs. Partner, but don't call me Mrs. Punster.  My parents gave me a perfectly good first name, and I intend to use it."

In my opinion, a Jewish woman's name is both a feminist issue and a Jewish one.  To this day, many Jews follow the time-honored tradition of naming their children after persons whom they'd like to honor and remember, with Ashkenazi Jews often naming their children after deceased relatives and Sefardi and B'nei Adot HaMizrach Jews often naming their children after living relatives.  If you take away a married woman's first name and replace it with her husband's, it's an insult not only to her, but also to her parents, the person after whom she is named, and Jewish tradition.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Here's the news in a nutshell:

And the ugly.  Which is where this post comes in.

Trump once famously said, speaking of the late Senator John McCain, "He's not a war hero.  He was a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren't captured."

I could never understood how even Trump could say anything so callous.

But it recently dawned on me that Trump has spent his entirely life trying not to get caught, and thinks that anyone who does get caught is a sucker.

In other words, anyone who serves in the military is a sucker.  Why die (or get captured) for your country when you can get someone else to do it?

According to Trump, anyone who pays taxes instead of avoiding paying them as much as possible is a sucker.

According to Trump, anyone who pays employees and/or contractors instead of declaring bankruptcy (again and again) is a sucker.

Trump's bottom line:  Anyone who acts in a responsible manner is a sucker.

I find this personally and politically distressing, and even frightening.  In my worst nightmares, I would never have thought that my native land would fall under the spell of such a self-obsessed, irresponsible, overgrown child who's not only ignorant but doesn't care and who routinely wages verbal and/or legal war against anyone who gets in his way ("fake news," and Stormy Daniels, anyone?).  Nor did it ever occur to me that, worse yet, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, which have the Constitutional responsibility to protect the United States of America from a would-be despot, would simply refuse to do so, more concerned with being reelected than with upholding the law and serving this country.  America was great until Trump came to power.

A farewell salute to an American patriot

I did not vote for the late Arizona Senator John McCain when he ran for President--he was too conservative for me.  But he served this country in accordance with his conscience and to the best of his ability.  He was an honorable man.  We could use more of those, these days.


When I was a kid, homosexuals were strictly in the closet.  It was too risky to come out publicly.  The word "homosexual" was barely whispered in polite company.

I was actually in my 20s before I first heard the word "bisexual."

Now, the LGBTQI community has come out into the sunlight.

I'm even learning new vocabulary, such as "gender non-binary," and I'm getting accustomed to using "they" and "them" in the singular, when appropriate.

The current administration may disagree, but many of us see no good reason to turn away from progress.

As far as I'm concerned, there is a brachah/blessing for LGBTQI individuals--it's Baruch . . . sheh-asani qir'tzono, Praised is the One who made me in accordance with the One's will."

Friday, August 17, 2018

Farewell to the Queen of Soul

I've been watching Aretha Franklin videos all afternoon (and I have a partially-burned Shabbat dinner to prove it).  This is my favorite.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Some thoughts about the book "Democracy in Chains"

I wouldn't dignify this post by calling it a book review, but I do have a few things to say about Democracy in Chains:  The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean.

This book is a not-so-quick--and discouraging--introduction to libertarianism, and a history showing how libertarianism has come to affect the United States.  Libertarianism is not a belief in liberty, but rather, a belief in freedom from almost all taxation.  Essentially, libertarians believe that anyone who can't afford to pay for food, clothing, shelter, education or healthcare should simply go without. They hold that the only legitimate role of government is to provide security (police, border, and military). Regulations such as environmental safeguards, labor laws, consumer protection, etc., simply interfere with an individual's right to earn and keep as much money as possible, and should be eliminated. And any group advocating a larger role for government, such as labor unions, should be opposed. Everything should be privatized, right down to our sewer systems, to maximize profits.  And anything necessary should be done to prevent the government from interfering, up to and including lying to the majority and deceiving them in order to persuade them to vote against their own interests.

Reading this book, I could not help but think, "How unChristian/unJewish." Do these people pay nothing but lip-service to the Bible? Haven't they ever read the Book of Isaiah? 
 If the following words sound familiar, they should--they're from the haftarah/prophetic reading for the morning of Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement:  " this is the fast that I desire; to unlock the fetters of the yoke; to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin." (58:6-7)

Libertarians don't care who said these words--they spit on all of them.  And these are the people, both inside the government (Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, etc.) and outside the government (Charles Koch, etc.), who are currently (mis)leading my country.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Observance vs. the freedom to make my own decisions (revised)

[Originally posted Sun., Aug. 5, 2018.]

Start with my Concerning vows:  A pre-Yom-Kippur post.

". . . on the subject of vows, even though the Torah ShehBichtav (Written Torah) itself clearly states  that it's better to avoid making a vow than to break one (I forget where in the Torah I read this--please lend a hand [see below]), the rabbis went in exactly the opposite direction with their interpretation, making it almost impossible for any Jew not to make a vow.

I honestly don't understand why the rabbis of old seem to have gone out of their way, even contradicting the p'shat (literal meaning) of the Torah, to make sinners of us all."

Here are the references, which I've finally tracked down almost three years after that post:

Ki Tetze/Deuteronomy Chapter 23

כב  כִּי-תִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לֹא תְאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמוֹ:  כִּי-דָרֹשׁ יִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מֵעִמָּךְ, וְהָיָה בְךָ, חֵטְא.22 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it will be sin in thee.
כג  וְכִי תֶחְדַּל, לִנְדֹּר--לֹא-יִהְיֶה בְךָ, חֵטְא.23 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 5 קֹהֶלֶת

ג  כַּאֲשֶׁר תִּדֹּר נֶדֶר לֵאלֹהִים, אַל-תְּאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמוֹ--כִּי אֵין חֵפֶץ, בַּכְּסִילִים:  אֵת אֲשֶׁר-תִּדֹּר, שַׁלֵּם.3 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou vowest.
ד  טוֹב, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִדֹּר--מִשֶּׁתִּדּוֹר, וְלֹא תְשַׁלֵּם.4 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Now check out this translation of Hatarat Nedarim, the formal annulment of vows (traditionally recited before Rosh HaShanah/Jewish New Year), of which I'm copying an excerpt:

"In the last year I have from time to time made vows, sometimes speaking them out loud or had an intention, a resolution to change something in my actions, behavior and attitude in my mind. Some of these are in relation to myself, my body, my mind, and my soul. Some of these deal with the way in which I conduct myself in relation to other people. And most of all, there are those that deal with my relation to God.
Sometimes I took on a practice or a custom and did it at least three times and have since either willingly or unwillingly abandoned it and I know that this, too, has the power of a vow.
Many times when I ask for prayers for some people whether they are prayers for healing, for blessing or for the repose of souls departed, in which the formula includes “Because I shall contribute to tzedakah” and I may have forgotten to do that or not been aware, I ask you to release me from that, too.
All these I regret and I ask you to recognize my regret and release me from all those vows."
The vows to which the Tanach (Bible) refers clearly involve payments, presumably to the Kohanim (priests) for use in worship.  As far as I can determine, there's no connection whatsoever between the types of vows described in the Tanach and the presumably-rabbinically-defined vows described in Hatarat Nedarim.
So how did we get from there to here?
I'm going to go way out on a limb and take a completely-uneducated guess--the following is 100% speculation:  After the destruction of the second Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple), the rabbis, in their zeal to preserve whatever they could of Temple-based practices, completely redefined the nature of a vow by removing from the concept of vows any hint of dependence on the existence of a Temple.  In the process, they turned many of our decisions, made with or without witnesses, and even many of our unspoken thoughts, into vows, thus making it almost impossible for any Jew to avoid making a vow, thereby making sinners of us all.
In plain English, I get no choice in the matter--I'm making vows, and therefore committing sins, all the time, whether I intend to or not.
You may say that that's no big deal--I can always do Hatarat Nedarim.  But if I'm, essentially, making vows against my will, why should I have to?

Let me make another argument--what if rabbinic law puts the health of our planet at risk?

This planet is currently facing the most serious ecological disaster of my lifetime, namely, global climate change.  How could we waste precious resources by running our air conditioners for 25 hours straight, rather than turning them on and off as needed? Even the energy-saving setting on an air conditioner uses electricity, as do the numerous timers that we've always used.

From the comments:

Shira Salamone said...
. . .
If the ruling against using electricity on Shabbat was a mistake to begin with [our son the Physics Ph.D. insists that electricity is neither a form of fire not a form of the act of building], why perpetuate the mistake by continuing to observe the prohibition? There are other, far better reasons to avoid using communication technology on Shabbat, as I stated in my post. But I must respectfully state that, in my opinion, refusing to push a button on Shabbat doesn't seem to be the best way to mark oneself as observant.

I see no good reason *not* to "shed prohibitions and limitations" once they're been proven incorrect, have outlived their usefulness, and/or have become downright offensive.
WED AUG 09, 12:14:00 AM 2017

After years of serious consideration, I've finally concluded that I will probably never be an observant Jew, whether Orthodox or halachic egalitarian, mainly for this reason:  I will not relinquish my right to say that the rabbis are wrong when I think they're wrong!

Labels: ,

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>