Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Faux Judaism: Some further thoughts

Here's my link (with comments) to Rejewvenator's original post concerning "Faux Judaism . . . the divorcing of Jewish practice from reality . . . living in an imaginary sphere of halacha [Jewish religious law] that is only tangentially connected to the real world.."

I'd like to add my two cents.

B'rachot (blessings)

1) I bought a book that's supposed to tell me which b'rachah (blessing) to say over various foods, but some of the foods aren't listed. Surely there are Orthodox Jews who eat quinoa. And what about croissants? A person is supposed to recite the b'rachah "borei minei mezonot" over pastry, but is a croissant consider a pastry or a type of bread? I asked an Orthodox acquaintance, and got the rather interesting answer that a croissant is a pastry, but if you make it into a sandwich, you have to "wash" (do "n'tilat yadayim," the ritual handwashing before bread). Gee, thanks, that certainly clarifies matters. Not. :(

This leaves, of course, the more fundamental question: Isn't it enough to thank HaShem for food? Is it necessary for us to be so obsessed about exactly how we thank HaShem? Do we truly believe that HaShem will be upset if we make the "wrong" b'rachah?

2) While we're on the subject of b'rachot over food, here's something else that I find a bit hard to swallow (you should pardon the pun): In both Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals, recited after every any meal that includes bread) and the "snack" blessings over foods for which Israel is supposed to be famous (wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt, dates, olives, grapes, figs, and pomegranates), why is there such an obsession with Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel? I thought we were supposed to be thanking HaShem for food. Were these prayers of any relevance to those of us or our ancestors who lived in the days after the destruction of the Second Temple and before the founding of the State of Israel?

Tefillah (prayer)

As Rejewvenator said, "Our davening [praying] has turned dry and distant from our hearts . . ."

From a comment to this post of mine:

Larry Lennhoff said...
The entire fixed corpus of Jewish prayer is, IMHO, the triumph of keva [fixed form] over kavana [focus, intent]. . . . a more common benefit I get from prayer is the recitation of the world's longest mantra. Even if I'm not paying close attention during the silent amidah the quiet rhythmn I'm reciting under my breath has its own beneficial effects.)
Thu May 07, 10:42:00 AM 2009

Here I am, trying to recite the Kaddish for my mother with a focus on what the words actually mean, while the guy in the row in front of me is chanting it in a ritualistic fashion. What disturbs me is that his "rendition" sounds more "authentic," while I feel constrained to recite the Kaddish quietly lest I give the impression that I'm trying to be "holier than thou" simply because I'm trying to pray with feeling.

Have we Jews, as a group, become completely unaccustomed to thinking about the meaning of the words of the prayers as we're saying them? Does the fact that our services and rituals have become so lengthy over the centuries militate against reciting the words with feeling, simply because doing so would take too much time? (I speak from experience--I find it very difficult to davven with kavannah [pray with focus] unless I pray at roughly half of what most regular davveners would consider a normal speed.)


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bouquet on a summer day:Flowers&Wed.-Sun.links

Bouquet of "babies"
(June 9, 2009)

Sunshine at ground level
(June 28, 2009)

Pretty surroundings
(June 28, 2009)

A "lampshade" hat's lament

Hi. Remember me? My owner bought me almost exactly a year ago--you can read about me and find links to photos of me on my owner's head here.

As stated, my owner bought me so that she'd have a dressy hat to wear if she and her husband ever got an invitation to spend Shabbat/Sabbath in an Orthodox home.

What on earth was she thinking?

The only Orthodox Jews whom my owner sees on a regular basis are her Orthodox co-workers. She isn't close enough to any of them to expect any of them to invite her and her husband for Shabbat, nor is she close enough to any of them to be chutzpahdik (nervy) enough to ask for an invitation. The only time my owner actually wore me was when she showed me off to her office's women's Tehillim (Psalms) group.

It's a good thing I'm collapsible, because otherwise, my presence on the shelf would be a constant reminder of what a waste of money I was. But it's getting awfully boring, sitting here in this plastic bag.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I saw the trees, the other person saw the forest

See the comments.

Oo, a neat post about tzitzit!

Here's a little something by Woodrow of Conservadox re Sh'lach L'cha, where the mitzvah/commandment to wear tzitzit is found. (Okay, it's the parsha for last Shabbat, but better late than never.)

Conversion invalidations:End of united Jewry or of deception?

I recommend that you check out this discussion at Brooklyn Wolf's blog.

Here's a sample:

"Rabbi Avraham Sherman, the head of the Israel's High Rabbinical Court, has been making some very threatening and ominous statements concerning conversions. He started out by stating at the Eternal Jewish Family conference in Israel last week that the majority of potential converts do not intend to keep the commandments (generally viewed as a sine qua non of conversion). This is the same Rabbi Sherman who made the decision to annul thousands of conversions performed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, who was the head of the state Conversion Courts. This is also the same Rabbi Sherman who, this past week, invalidated another conversion (although, to be fair, I don't know the grounds on which this was done).

[ . . . snip . . . ]

. . . Rather than accepting all conversions as valid (barring evidence to the contrary), his opinion seems to be that all conversions are to be viewed as suspect until and unless there is evidnece validating it. Indeed, according to a Ynet article, Rabbi Sherman has instructed municipal registrars to question every conversion certificate that they are presented with.

At this rate, one has to wonder... why bother with conversions at all? Why would anyone in their right mind want to consider a conversion when it can be challanged years down the road? Why would anyone consider a conversion in the United States when there is no guarntee that it will be accepted when one gets to Israel, despite one's best efforts to get the highest standards of Orthodox conversion? Why would anyone want to start the process of conversion when they know, in the back of their mind that years down the road, after they are enmeshed in a marriage and have children and grandchildren that it could all come crashing down on them... even for factors over which they had no control?

[ . . . snip . . . ]

. . . It's one thing (and a separate debate) to set up higher standards for conversions going forward. But it's another to start demanding extra evidence of converts (and whose to stop him from requiring it of descendants of converts) that their conversion from years ago is valid when they have a valid certification. To start questioning every past conversion (or marriage, or divorce) is not only a complete departure from established precedent, but also can only lead to irreperable harm to the Jewish nation."

ClooJew said...
I don't see, lulei demistafina, how this qualifies as a "madness."The wholesale tossing of conversions is a reaction to the wholesale nature of the conversions themselves. You don't seem to bring any evidence to the table as to why Rabbi Sherman should stop undoing conversions that, in his Halachic opinion, flouted Halachic standards. I spoke to a rav in New York City who is involved in geirus (a YU musmach, as it happens), and he confirmed that the lack of standards for conversions is deplorable and destructive.As for sincere converts, yes it is unfair to them; but that unfairness does not fall on the lap of Rabbi Sherman. The people to blame are the insincere converts and, moreso, the rabbis who acted as their enablers. They cast significant doubt on the entire process."

This situation is beginning to sound depressingly familiar.

Faux Judaim (guest post by rejewvenator on DB's)

Here's the original.

Here's a good chunk of it:

" . . . so much of Jewish practice today happens not in the real world, but in some strange, disconnected, halachic [Jewish religious law] bubble. For example, Judaism has long benefited from a tradition of fastidiousness, and we've got lots of washing rituals that served to keep us healthier than the people around us. Today, however, we moderns have better means for keeping clean, like anti-bacterial soap. When it's time for dinner, I wash my hands with soap, and then I perform a 'faux' hand-washing, a netilat yadayim, so I can say a bracha [blessing]. Its value is purely symbolic, and has no meaning, outside of metaphysical or kabbalistic reasons. The notion that cleaning up before I touch food is a Godly one gets completely swallowed up. But no Orthodox Jew would suggest that I could make a bracha on washing my hands with soap!

Faux Judaism is the divorcing of Jewish practice from reality. It's living in an imaginary sphere of halacha [Jewish religious law] that is only tangentially connected to the real world. It's liviing in a world where so many of your actions or deviod of Jewish significance. Collecting your spare change every day and giving it to tzedaka [charity] is just tzedaka. It's not Peah [the corners of one's field.] Maybe you got the idea from Peah, but it's not Peah. We're not allowed to make that leap. Once upon a time our leaders were able to say that Tefillah [prayer] is Korbanot [sacrifice], for example, but we don't have that right, or maybe we jsut don't have the courage to make those kinds of changes.

Our Judaism has turned from a very practical religion whose rituals carried both pragmatic and symbolic meanings into a religion where nearly everything is only symbolic, and thus kind of fake. In the meantime, values like democracy, equal rights, or environmentalism find no real home in our Jewish life, or at best, get strung onto a handful of pesukim [verses], with no real halachic expression or force of mitzvah [commandment] behind them, even thought they resonate strongly within us as true, and good, and important. Our davening [praying] has turned dry and distant from our hearts, our Torah has turned into halachic acrobatics and midrash-style apologetics, and the world does not look to us as an example for how to treat your fellow man.

Maybe it's time we dusted off both our traditions and oursleves, and started living once again in the world of the real."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Borrowing from someone else's nusach

Let’s start with the basics—here’s a definition of Nusach.

From my own post re the Koren Sacks Siddur:

“ . . . Some siddurim [prayer books] arrange the words [of B'fi yesharim] in such a way that the third letter of the third word of each phrase spells out the name of the matriach Rivkah (Rebecca), just as the first letter of the second word of each phrases spells out the name of her husband, the patriarch Yitzchak (Isaac). It would have been nice if that prayer had been arranged this way:

B'fi y'sharim titromam
U'vdivrei tzadikim titbarach*
U'vilshon chasidim titkadash
U'v'kerev k'doshim tithalal

*Note that, in Hebrew, the b and v sound are sometimes written with the same letter."

[ . . . snip . . . ]

[Commenter] Raphael Freeman said...
The B’fi Yesharim order that you suggest is nusach sefard, not ashkenaz."

From the comments to this post by Heshy at Frum Satire:

• “BiggestFish // Jun 24, 2009 at 4:30 am

[ . . . snip . . . ]

Interestingly, the Italian Jews say in their nusach, Nusach Italki, she-asani Yisrael [(bless the One ) who made me a Jew] instead of shelo asani goy [(bless the One) who did not make me a non-Jew], they also say she-asani ben-chorin (free man) instead of shelo asani eved [who did not make me a slave] and they said she-asani gaver [who made me a man] instead of shelo asani isha [who did not make me a woman].
So basically same thing but different way of saying or looking at it.”

I’ve encountered both the nusach s’fard version of the “B’fi y’sharim” prayer and the nusach Italki version of some of the Birkot HaShacher (Morning Blessings) in various non-Orthodox prayer books over the years. I’m happy to know that the innovators borrow from different sources, when they deem it appropriate, rather than creating from scratch.

Personally, I’m a great fan of the nusard s’fard “B’fi y’sharim” and the nusach Italki Birkot HaShachar. I use them no matter which siddur (prayer book) happens to be in my hands, and despite the fact that I, myself, happen to be Ashkenazit. Some would say that I’m betraying my Ashkenazi ancestors, and that everyone should stick to his/her own nusach. They may have a point, but, for me, other considerations—not “blaming” people for being what they are (sheh-lo asani goy, eved, ishah*) and recognizing the matriachs/Mothers/imahot (and not just the patriachs/Fathers/avot) in our prayers—are more important.

*For the record, I should add that I also say "Baruch . . . sheh-asani ishah, Blessed (is the One) who has made me a woman." Many non-Orthodox siddurim use "Baruch . . . sheh-asani b'tzalmo, Blessed ([is the One) who has made me in G-d's image." I prefer either version to the Orthodox "who has not made me a woman" or, for women, "who has made me according to His will." Not even all Orthodox Jews are comfortable with those particular b'rachot/blessings. One Orthodox former blogger once wrote that his wife finds the women's version so offensive that she just skips that b'rachah completely.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The nature of the Internet

Since I am, at 60 years of age, relatively ancient for a blogger, I grew up in an era when print was king, and, apparently, there are some aspects of electronic media that I haven't gotten used to. Imagine, if you can, that you write a movie review for the alumni newsletter of an obscure college that's largely unknown beyond a 200-mile radius--and that, a week later, you get a letter from the film's director. In your wildest dreams, would you ever have imagined that such a person would even be aware of the existence of such a publication, much less pay attention to it? That's how I felt when the editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur (prayer book) commented on the post I published about that siddur. It never occurred to me that any person of such importance (adam chashuv?) would even be aware of my blog's existence, much less read it, much less comment on it. I can only assume that Rabbi/Dr./Mr.(?) Freeman has software installed on his computer that notifies him whenever the name "Koren" appears on the Internet. Frankly, it freaked the heck out of me (in case my slang is already outdated, that means "I was thoroughly unnerved") to have my complaint about what I thought was simply an uncorrected spelling error questioned as a possible challenge to the meaning of a Talmudic quote. I'm not even learnèd enough to give an adequate response.

The moral of this story is "blogger, beware." I may have thought that I was writing for the fourteen or so people who read this blog on a reasonably regular basis. (I'm so technologically impaired that I can't even read my statistics properly--I don't really know how many regular readers I have.) But anyone can be reading, at any time. I'll have to be more careful about what I write.

I was a bit too preoccupied with a combination of major projects at the office and my mother's last days to submit any of these posts to Haveil Havalim at the time, so I'm going to cheat and post a link for anyone who might not have read my Orthodox and non-Orthodox Judaism series.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Link fest between coughs

Last Thursday evening, I went to Minchah-Maariv (Afternoon and Evening Service) at my "kaddish shul." The next morning, I got on the subway at 6:15 AM to go back there for Shacharit (Morning Service). By Shabbat/Sabbath, I was already feeling ill, and by Saturday night, my nose was running like an Olympic track star. Today, my voice is so hoarse that I might get away with singing ( if I could sing) even in a right-wing Orthodox synagogue, where the belief is held that a man is not supposed to listen to a woman sing (see my umpteen posts re kol isha), 'cause I sound like a baritone anyway. Lesson learned: I can't go to both Minchah-Maariv and Shacharit at an out-of-the-neighborhood synagogue and still get enough sleep to stay healthy. I'm hereby back to davvening bi-y'chidut (praying alone) for Minchah and Maariv. Mom gets one set of Kaddish recitations per day. :( Shacharit is better, because only Shacharit includes Kaddish D'Rabbanan/Kaddish of the Rabbis and three rounds of Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish, one after the psalm "Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit, L'David," and one before and one after Shir shel Yom/Psalm of the Day.

So I've been home from work today, and expect to stay home tomorrow, as well, which accounts for the multiple posts today. Blogging sure beats writing condolence acknowledgments. :(

Notice how I've carefully avoided linking to any posts that are directly concerning my mother's death. Just scroll down to June 12 and keep going--my most recent post on the subject was published today. I had enough literal grief writing those posts in the first place.

Star-K Program For Mashgichot (Jewish Press)

Unfortunately, I can't find it online, but the Friday, June 19, 2009 Jewish Press article states that this fall, after the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays), Baltimore's Star-K kashrut supervision agency is holding a seminar specifically for mashgichot (kashrut supervisors who are female). "Featured topics will include: determining acceptability of products; understanding the dynamics of kashrus in America; setting up a kosher kitchen; shul kitchen guidelines; effective vegetable checking for infestation; and challenges in the workplace--including establishing authority in the kitchen." (Bold added.)

So, Rabbi Gil Student, you think that women aren't allowed to be shochtot (kosher slaughterers who are female) because a woman is not allowed to hold an appointed communal position? (Notice the preponderance of male names among the commenters.) What's more of an appointed communal position than supervising kashrut? Would you insult your hosts by refusing to eat at a wedding if it turned out that the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) were female? Humph!

For the record, my understanding is that the Rambam/Maimonides, on whose ruling Rabbi Student relies, lived at a time when it wasn't considered respectable for women to leave the house, except perhaps, to visit their parents. If that's the case, then obviously, he couldn't have imagined women in roles involving communal authority. Nu, isn't there any Orthodox rabbi with a more modern perspective on what women are and are not allowed to do, according to halachah/Jewish religious law?

Attention dikduk/grammer geeks: Niftar???

I've heard this word at work, and read it in the Jewish Press newspaper and on various blogs, and it seems to mean "died," but not quite--people seem always to say, "s/he was niftar."

Is "niftar" related to "poter"? The text of Ba-meh madlikin (Mishna, Shabbat, chapter 2), found in Orthodox siddurim/ prayer books between the Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv/Arvit/Evening Services for Shabbat/Sabbath tells us, "Rabbi Yosé poter b'chulan, chutz min ha-p'tilah, mipné sheh-hu osah pecham, Rabbi Yosé absolves him in all these cases except that of sparing the wick, because he thereby turns it into charcoal."

So "s/he was niftar" means "s/he was absolved," presumably of sin? This is a euphemism, to say that the deceased had sinned rather than that the deceased died???

And what's the connection, if any, between "poter" absolved, and "mutar," permissible?

A few thoughts on the Koren Sacks Siddur

I wouldn't dignity this post with the description "review." For that, I recommend that you read the one by ADDeRabbi, republished here. I'll just say a few words about this new siddur/prayer book. (Okay, when have I ever written just a few words? :) )

As ADDeRabbi/Rabbi Ellie Fischer points out, "Koren characteristically breaks lines up thematically, as in poetic verse. This results in an abundance of white space, but makes the prayers more intelligible. " I do find it easier to follow the prayers because of this arrangement. Sometimes I get lucky, and the English is lined up to match, more or less. At other times, one language flows onto the next page before the other, making it tough for someone not fluent in Hebrew, but that's not unusual for siddurim/prayer books in general. The only thing I miss from the ArtScroll Siddur is the way ArtScroll sometimes goes out of its way, using bold letters or starting new lines, to indicate that a portion of a prayer (Kel Baruch G'dol Deiach, in the first brachah/ blessing preceding the Sh'ma) or a psalm (see Psalm 34, p. 377 in the ArtScroll Siddur Kol Yaakov, Nusach Ashkenaz) was carefully written in alphabetical order. I tend not to notice that, unless it's pointed out to me. The Koren does mention the alphabetical order in the commentaries at the bottom of the page, but it would have been a nice touch to make it obvious in the typeface. Overall, however, I think the Koren Sacks Siddur is easier to read.

Much has also been made of the more female-friendly nature of the Koren Sacks Siddur. (See JOFA endorses Koren Sacks Siddur, especially the ADDeRabbi's comments, not to mention his linked post re the ArtScroll Women's Siddur, for which he has no kind words). I certainly appreciate the fact that the grammatically-correct "modah" ("thank") is given for women reciting prayers that include the masculine "modeh." The simple acknowledgment that women actually use siddurim is already something new (to the best of my knowledge) and commendable.

Rather than enumerate more of the female-friendly points, I'll copy ADDeRabbi/Rabbi Ellie Fischer's comment (see link immediately above), since he's more learn
-->èd and a better writer:
"The Koren Siddur is more inclusive of women both in terms of its content and in terms of its instructions. The content includes the liturgy (imported from the Sephardic rite and increasingly prevalent in Israel) of the “Zeved ha-Bat” celebration upon the birth of a daughter (it appears in the excellent “Life Cycle” section of the siddur). It furthermore includes the thanksgiving prayer recited by a women after childbirth, which includes “Birkat ha-Gomel”. The ArtScroll Siddur makes no mention of this obligation (and the practice is even discouraged in the ArtScroll Women’s Siddur, which follows the minority opinion of the Mishna Berura on this matter without recording dissent). With regard to zimmun, the ArtScroll Siddur applies the practice to “three or more males, aged thirteen or older”. The Koren Siddur, on the other hand, states that “when three or more women say Birkat ha-Mazon with no men present, then substitute “Friends” for Gentlemen”.

I am sorry, though, that Sacks didn't think to rearrange the order of B'fi yesharim. Some siddurim arrange the words in such a way that the third letter of the third word of each phrase spells out the name of the matriach Rivkah (Rebecca), just as the first letter of the second word of each phrases spells out the name of her husband, the patriarch Yitzchak (Isaac). It would have been nice if that prayer had been arranged this way:

B'fi y'sharim titromam
U'vdivrei tzadikim titbarach*
U'vilshon chasidim titkadash
U'v'kerev k'doshim tithalal

*Note that, in Hebrew, the b and v sound are sometimes written with the same letter.

Major gripe: As if the Hoshanot aren't incomprehensible enough already, you had to skip the translation, too?

Minor gripe: The textual variants (page 1237) do not include all of what appear to me to be spelling and/or grammatical errors.

1) I find it annoying that the Rabbi Yishmael Omer quotation at the end of Birkot HaShachar continues the differentiation of "echad (one)" in verse 9 and "acher (other)" in verse 10, a difference, in Hebrew script, of exactly one letter. I assume that this error resulted from the similarity of appearance between the letters daled and resh, and probably originated with a typesetter of a previous siddur. The same error appears in the 1941 siddur of Sacks' predecessor as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Hertz. If anything, the manner in which these two verses are laid out in the Koren Sacks Siddur makes it even more obvious that this is an error. As recently as the 1949 Birnbaum Siddur (Ashkenaz) and the 1977 DeSola Pool Siddur According to the Custom of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, the word was correctly spelled "acher" in both verses 9 and 10. When did this obvious typo become so sacrosanct that it can't be corrected?

2) What's with the l', la, business? In K'dushah D'Yotzer, the text clearly calls for "laMelech Kel chai v'kayam," not l'--we're talking about The King who lives and endures, not a king. Same with the blessing after the Sh'ma, "b'rachot v'hodaot laMelech, blessings and thanksgivings to The King." These errors (and probably a few more that I've missed) are found in most siddurim, but I was rather hoping that Sacks would correct them.

Some have also complained that the Koren Sacks Siddur does not include the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms, which is included in many other Orthodox siddurim. That would have been nice, but the drawback would have been a much longer and heavier book. What's your opinion?

Okay, enough nitpicking.

I strongly recommend Rabbi Sack's very informative introduction, which I'll have to reread--I began writing this post on June 8, and, having sat shiva for my late mother (deceased/niftar June 12) in the interim, have forgotten what I wanted to say about it.

Bottom line: Nitpicking to the contrary notwithstanding (independent soul that I am, I ignore anything I dislike in any siddur anyway and "correct" it to my preference), I find the Koren Sacks Siddur outstanding in both lay-out (readability) and content, and strongly recommend it to anyone seeking a first-time or new Orthodox siddur.

June 23, 2009 update

Here are some major kudos than I neglected to mention:

1) The lay-out of Hallel makes it very easy to read. The lines that are supposed to be repeated, starting with "Od'cha ki anatani," are printed first in "regular" size, then, directly underneath the first reading, in smaller script. The Birnbaum's "Each line is repeated twice," with the verses laid out on successive lines, isn't hard to follow, but the ArtScroll Kol Yaakov Ashkenaz's "Each of the following four verses is recited twice," with the verses laid out with nothing but commas in between, is a real pain. I've davvened (prayed) Hallel from all three of these siddurim, and the Hallel in the Koren Sacks is the easiest to follow, by a long shot.

2) The clear differentiation in print between the kamatz katan ('oh' sound) and the kamatz gadol ('ah' sound, in S'fardi pronunciation), and between the sh'va na (pronounced) and the sh'va nach (silent) makes for far greater ease in using the proper pronunciation than even the ArtScroll's differentiation in print. The kamatz katan and the sh'va na are both printed in a larger size. For me, davenning from the Koren Sacks is actually something of a pronunciation lesson, and a very welcome one, indeed.

June 24, 2009 update

I have one small request: In future additions, could the citations/"sidenotes" (printed in the margins, which makes them easier to find, I'm happy to say) include not only the chapter numbers, but the verse numbers, as well? This would make it so much easier for those of us who have a limited Jewish education to track down quotes. Thank you.


Worse yet, I had to update my misheberach list

That was even worse than putting a strike-through over my mother's name in my phone book--for my Mi-Sheh-berach (prayers for the sick) list, I really had to delete. It was bad enough when I had to delete my grandparents' names from the list. Deleting my own mother's name was horrible in its finality. I can no longer pray for her during "R'faeinu" (the "Heal us" petition in the weekday Amidah prayer). She's as well now as she's ever going to get. I can only be grateful than she died without pain.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sometimes, updating one's address book is tough

It's a pretty strange sensation to put a strike-through across one's own mother's name in one's own phone book.

Our memory-impaired father's address will be changing, too, as soon as we can find a good place for him to live, now that Mom's no longer alive to keep an eye on him.

Sh'lach L'Cha: HaShem rubs their noses in their sin

No sooner has HaShem finished telling the former slaves that they're going to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all the adults die because they lacked the faith to believe that they could conquer the Promised Land, than He turns around and tells them what they--or rather, their children--are supposed to do once they enter The Land. Nasty.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Death waits for nothing, not even a simcha

Imagine my husband's surprise when, stopping at the nearest major book store to pick up a textbook he needed to teach a college accounting class, he discovered that a kosher bakery-cafe had opened nearby since last he'd been there. It being a short subway ride away, we went there on Thursday night, June 11, to order a cake for the kiddush that we were sponsoring at our local synagogue that Shabbat/Sabbath morning in honor of our 32nd wedding anniversary on Friday, June 12.

I got the call informing me of my mother's death about four hours later.

The synagogue president was kind enough to pick up the cake, and the kiddush took place as scheduled, but I wasn't there.

Yes, the date of a Yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) is determined by the Jewish calendar, not the secular one. But somehow, I don't think our wedding anniversary is ever going to feel quite the same.

It's a wrap--but not yet, unfortunately

I had planned to buy a new tallit for my sixtieth birthday in February, but, what with breaking both wrists, then returning to work to face a major project, I never got around to it.

Then my brother called from Jerusalem and told me that our mother didn't have long to live.

The very next day, after work, I went to a Judaica store, figuring that, if I were going to have to say Kaddish for my mother, it would show more respect for her to say it in a new tallit (prayer shawl), rather than in an old beat-up one with the atarah (neck band) falling off.

I chose to shop in a store that has to serve an extremely mixed clientele, from Chareidi to completely non-practicing Jews, in order to stay in business, so that I could see a variety of tallit styles and also not get too many weird looks for being a woman ordering a tallit for herself. The store had some very nice-looking colorful tallitot, some of which were "unisex" and some of which were obviously intended for women. But, the more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to avoid the whole man-woman thing. I didn't want to continue to wear a tallit that looked like what my great-grandfather probably wore, but neither did I want a tallit that screamed "beged ishah, woman's garment." I remembered reading, in Haviva Ner David's Life on the Fringes, that she had bought a tallit that was all white (S'fardi style?), and decided to order one, but with Ashkenazi tzitzit (ritual fringe/tassles). (The one I was shown had S'fardi tzitzit, which I'd never seen before--the manner of tying appears much more complicated, with one thread wound diagonally around all the knots.)

The order was duly placed. But alas, by the time the tallit arrived, my mother's n'shamah (soul) had already departed.

Since the Shloshim (the thirty-day post-burial mourning period) for my mother runs right into the Shalosh HaShavuot/Drei Vachen/Three Weeks leading up to the fast of Tisha B'Av (commemorating the destruction of the Temple), and one is not supposed to buy new clothes during either period, I'll be saying Kaddish in my old tallit until early August, a few days after Tisha B'Av.

I tried, Mom.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No time

It's not bad enough that Minchah-Maariv (Afternoon-Evening Services) at the not-far-by-subway egalitarian Conservative synagogue at which I'm saying Kaddish for my mother lasts less than half an hour total, forcing me to skip most of the (optional?) "Baruch HaShem l'olam" brachah/blessing and to say Aleinu on the subway or after I get home.

What really has me upset is that I can't add personal prayers within the brachot/blessings of the Amidah prayer.

I have no time to express the hope that our son will continue to do well in grad school (during the brachah/blessing "chonen ha-daat," thanking HaShem for graciously giving knowledge).

There's no time to pray for good health for my father, and for a couple of friends who've recently undergone a couple of surgeries ("R'faeinu, Heal us . . .").

I have no time to to express the hope that my family and friends will manage during these difficult economic times ("U'varech sh'nateinu ka-shanim ha-tovot, and bless our year like the good years").

There's no time to pray for help for all those in need of help ("Sh'ma koleinu, Hear our voices"), especially the missing chayalei Tzahal/soldiers of the Israel Defense Force .

Praying on a stopwatch. I hate it.

Lasts, firsts, and yet to come, as a mourner

The last time I spoke to my mother was probably during Chol HaMoed Pesach. If I'd known that she'd be gone less than three months later, I would have kept track of the date. She asked me a lot of questions about what I was cooking and eating. It occurred to me--after the call, of course--that, with her by-then circumscribed mobility and the necessity of being home with my memory-impaired father most of the time anyway, food was one topic that was still available to her for conversation, and, therefore, I should keep better track of what I was cooking and eating so that we'd have something to talk about in future phone calls. Alas, there was never another phone call.

This past Sunday evening, when I stood to lead the shiva minyan in Minchah (Afternoon Service) for the first time, I suddenly realized that since, even when we used to get a minyan in the morning, we always did a heichah K'dushah, it was the first time I'd ever led a chazarat ha-shatz (repetition aloud) of the entire weekday Amidah prayer. It was a bit unnerving. I later realized that it was also the first time I'd ever led a weekday Minchah. I think that, since my parents had been bound and determined to ensure that all four of us kids got a better Jewish education than either of them had received, my mother would have been very pleased to see how much my Jewish knowledge has grown.

Yesterday morning, I davvened bi-y'chidut (prayed alone) for the last time for the next 11 months. One of my former rabbis called yesterday afternoon, and suggested that I end my shiva by saying Kaddish at synagogue with the morning minyan. When I mentioned that I'd been davvening bi-y'chidut (praying alone) because we haven't had a minyan on a Monday or Thursday morning in over a year (we gave up holding minyan on other weekdays years ago), he said he'd call another member of the synagogue and put her to work making phone calls. Sure enough, the woman who sits next to me in synagogue worked the phones, and we got a minyan this morning. It was very gratifying to me to end shiva in a minyan, with a lot of help from my friends.

I'll start going to the nearest egalitarian Conservative synagogue for Minchah-Maariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) tonight, and for Shacharit (Morning Service) Monday through Friday mornings tomorrow morning. (I'll take my chances at our neighborhood Conservative synagogue on Sundays, when we often get a minyan.) Truth to tell, I'm going to miss davvening alone, because I'm still a pretty slow davvener, and I can davven at my own pace when I davven bi-y'chidut. But, according to halachah/Jewish religious law, one is not permitted to say Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish without a minyan. So I'll stand and be counted, literally, to honor my mother's memory.

I cleared this with my rabbi: He said it's okay for me to davven the entire Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings section at home first, then go to shul, since that's the only way that I'll be finished that section in time to say Kaddish D'Rabbanan with the minyan.

Yet to come
My siblings and I seem to have responded to our mother's death in different ways. My Israeli brother and my sister were hit hard immediately. My brother in California and I seem to be having delayed reactions. It really hasn't hit me yet. I spent shiva in ritual and remembrance. I've been told that it'll hit home later, when I least expect it--one shiva visitor said it took her over a year. I guess time will heal, and unheal, and reheal my wounds.

Al gerei ha-tzedek, v'li-y'rushalayim, modim

Continuing on the theme of how the brachot/blessing of the Amidah prayer call my mother, zichronah li-b'rachah (may her memory be a blessing) to mind, here are some thoughts that I spoke about between Minchah and Maariv yesterday night, our last night of shiva:

We ask HaShem's blessing "al gerei ha-tzedek, on the righteous converts." My mother never differentiated between born Jews and Jews by Choice--a Jew was a Jew, period. My sister pointed out that Mom also won a place in the heart of a cousin of ours by marriage, who told my sister that, since she came from a family decimated by the Shoah (Holocaust), she would always remember fondly how our mother had welcomed her into our family. All were welcome in our home.

One of the visitors commented that our mother sounded like a real "Eishet Chayil, Woman of Valor." That comment brought to mind something I'd neglected to mention before: Our mother was very proud of having served her native U.S. as a Woman Marine during World War II, and bragged that her unit was the best marchers in the Washington, DC area. She also met the description, in the same "Eishet Chayil" passage from Mishlei/Proverbs, that has a good wife earning money to provide for her household. When our father broke his leg and was out of work for six months, Mom put her youngest child in nursery school and went back to work as a bookkeeper because she refused to go on welfare. After Dad returned to work, Mom, realizing that she'd have to have an employment record so that she'd be able to support us if anything happened to Dad, continued working part-time throughout our childhood, then full-time as we got older, until she and our father retired to Israel.

"V'li-y'rushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashuv, to Jerusalem, your city, in compassion, return." My parents eventually settled in Yerushalayim to be near my brother and his children, and it was there that my mother ended her days. Even when she was no longer so mobile, she enjoyed just looking out a window and seeing the sukkot in her neighborhood.

"Modim anachnu lach . . . al tovotecha sheh-b'chol eit, erev, va-voker, v'tzohorayim, we thank You for Your goodnesses that are at all times, evening, morning, and noon." Finally, on the last night of shiva, I expressed my gratitude for the good life that our mother had. It certainly wasn't an easy life, and my parents never had much money. But they made the best of it. Realizing that, with four kids, they couldn't afford hotels, they became great fans of camping, accumulating a tent and camping gear in the basement and taking us camping just about every summer. (I forgot to mention it last night, but I still have fond memories of our camping trip to Canada when I was a teenager--I was very impressed by Niagara Falls, and thought the parliament building in Ottawa was beautiful.) That same can-do spirit led them to spend some of their early years in Israel living like chalutzim, pioneers, in a trailer in a town under construction on a mountaintop in the Galil (Galilee). And when they finally got old enough to want to be near our brother, they thoroughly enjoyed living in Yerushalayim, surrounded by their three sabra (native Israeli) grandchildren. My mother had a good life, and I will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

L'kabeitz galuyoteinu, hashivah shofteinu

Continuing on the theme of how the brachot/blessing of the Amidah prayer call my mother, zichronah li-b'rachah (may her memory be a blessing) to mind, here are some thoughts that I spoke about between Minchah and Maariv last night:

"L'kabeitz galuyoteinu, to gather our exiles" is certainly what my parents had in mind when they made aliyah/moved to Israel. They had visited my brother in Israel--he made aliyah shortly after our wedding--and had fallen in love with it, so they decided to retire as soon as my father was eligible for the minimum Social Security and move there while they were still young enough to enjoy it.

My parents grew up in a time and place when being a Jew could be hazardous to one's health and/or wealth. While they were very fortunate to have been born and raised in a major U.S. city in the northeast, and, therefore, were spared the horrors of the Shoah (Holocaust), they feared for their safety as children and for their jobs as adults, since anti-Semitism was pretty public and accepted in the U.S., particularly before World War II, but even afterward, until legislation was passed banning discrimination on the grounds of religion. My parents simply loved the idea of "lihyot am choshi b'artzeinu, being a free people in our land," and never having to worry about being a minority again. They spent some years in the Galil (Galilee), then a while in Ashkelon, then moved to the same Jerusalem neighborhood as my brother and his then-wife and their children. When we visited them in August 2005, they were still hopping on buses and going to Midrachov Ben Yehudah (the pedestrian mall on and around Ben Yehudah Street) to shop, window-shop, and enjoy a schwarmah sandwich. My mother loved it when her and Dad's helper brought them fresh chummus, and kept pestering me, Ms. Kitchen Klutz, to try making a sauteed onion, lentils, and rice dish (majadara, mujeddara?) that's popular in Israel. She thoroughly enjoyed living in a country where there was a sukkah on every balcony and lawn during Sukkot.

"Hashivah shofteinu, restore our judges." Okay, my parents weren't judges, but they sure knew how to pick judges. My parents were very big on civic responsibility, and always voted. They were also very big on Jewish communal responsibility. They were members of and supported the local Conservative synagogue, in terms of both attendance at services and in financial terms. In addition, my mother was an active member of Hadassah. After their aliyah, and once they settled in Yerushalayim, they were very active in the Association of Americans and Canadian in Israel. My mother was particularly active in a chug/club for English-speaking olim (immigrants) with hearing loss.

Speaking of the hearing-loss chug, I received this fine tribute to my mother from a total stranger, forwarded by my uncle, my mother's brother:

We were very sad to hear about the passing away of ____.

I do hope she did not suffer though her last few months.

I still remember meeting her during my Gallaudet college [of the Deaf, in Washington, DC] years.

Since I returned to Israel in 1985 we were in contact mostly by several longs calls every few months and by visiting [ ____ ] and [ ____ ] once a year in their apt. in [ ____ ] Jerusalem.

[ ____ ] also kept me up-to-date about other members . . . who gave me my scholarship.

If there is any way by which I can be of any assistance just let me know and I'll do it.

That says it all. My mother not only accepted her hearing loss, she was active in both the U.S. and Israel in self-help groups for those with hearing loss, taking responsibility for reaching out and helping others who were dealing with the same challenge.

Monday, June 15, 2009

M'chayei ha-meitim, chonen ha-daat, ha-rotzeh bi-t'shuvah

Here are some thoughts that I spoke about between Minchah and Maariv tonight:

One way that I interpret the blessing "m'chayei ha-meitim," blessing the One who gives life to the dead, is that the dead continue to live for as long as we remember them.

So what do I remember about my mother?

In the blessing "chonen ha-daat," we express our gratitude to the One who graciously gives knowledge. My mother was a great advocate of equal educational opportunities for girls at a time--the 1950's and 1960's--when such an attitude was not a given, perhaps even less of a given when it came to Jewish education. Plenty of women my own age never had the opportunity to get a Jewish education because that was considered to be for boys only, and they still struggle with reading Hebrew to this day. My sister and I were spared such nonsense, for which I have always been grateful.

We also praise HaShem ha-rotzeh b'tshuvah, for desiring repentance. My mother's growth in Jewish practice was the opposite of many people of her and her parents' generations--instead of keeping kosher while the kids were growing up, Mom waited until we were all grown and out of the house, and then she went kosher. But not only did she kasher her kitchen, she completely stopped eating non-kosher meat and, much to my shock, lobster--which had always been her favorite food--even when she was not at home. From the day she kashered her home, she never ate treif meat or shellfish again for the rest of her life. She was a heck of a role model for increasing one's observance later in life.

V'zocher chasdei Avot

Usually, when we say "and [HaShem] remembers the kindnesses of our Ancestors," we're referring to Avraham, Yitzchak (Isaac), and Yaakov (Jacob) (and Sarah, Rivka/Rebecca, Rachel and Léah). But, as I said last night between Mincha/Afternoon Service and Maariv/Evening Service, these words also remind me of my parents.

I talked about how I can still see my mother--who spent much of the time on the High Holidays in a synagogue classroom, minding the younger kids--walking around the synagogue's block like a mother duck, with a string of children behind her. And I spoke of sedarim/seders where we were so packed around the dining room table that we practically had our elbows in each other's soup because my mother always invited so many people.

Hearing of our sedarim, one person asked whether our mother was traditional, but my sister said that she was not, because there was never any question that both of us girls would go to college. My parents didn't differentiate between us girls and our two brothers in terms of Jewish education, either.

Perhaps it was because we were discussing educational opportunities that it dawned on me that my mother had had more of an influence on our son's education than I had realized, even though my parents made aliyah (moved to Israel) when our son was still a toddler. My mother was a person who accepted whatever came her way and dealt with it, rather than pretending that it wasn't happening. Not for her any of this, "What do you mean, I can't hear?" nonsense. It took her a while to figure out that she was missing a lot of what my father was saying because she was losing her hearing. But, once that fact became clear to her, she just went right out and bought hearing aids. She was only in her early forties at the time, but I never once heard her complain that hearing aids would make her look old, or any other such narishkeiten/nonsense. There was no denial and no vanity. She never pretended that she wasn't hard of hearing, and was very involved in a chug/club for English-speaking people with hearing loss after she and my father made aliyah. I now realize--too late to thank her, alas--that I inherited my "park-your-ego-at-the-door" attitude toward our son's disabilities and delays directly from my mother. It was because of her example that it would never have occurred to me not to get my son hearing aids. It was because of her example that I personally requested that our son be returned to special education classes when it became clear that mainstreaming him was not working.

So it turns out that I owe her even more gratitude than I'd realized. Thanks, Mom.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Crossing the threshold, literally: On becoming a mourner

I decided several weeks ago that it would be best if I did not attend my mother's funeral and sat shiva here. My father barely remembers me (or anyone or anything else) anymore, my brother has his children to sit shiva with him, and, in addition to not knowing anyone else in Israel, I don't speak Hebrew well enough to conduct a meaningful conversation in it, so I thought it would be more helpful to me to sit shiva among friends. I also had to consider my sister, who lives within commuting distance--not only did I not want her to be alone, but, in addition, since her health prevents her from keeping her apartment "visitor-ready," she would need a place to sit shiva. My California brother is on his own, I'm sorry to say.

But I missed the shock-to-the-system confrontation with finality of shoveling earth into my mother's grave.

I got a taste of that on Friday night, standing outside the door to the sanctuary, waiting to be called in with the traditional prayer that I be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Upon entering the room, I entered publicly into my status as a mourner for the first time.

I am grateful to the synagogue president, who left the building just long enough to corral a tenth person for a minyan so that I could say Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish. It's fortunate that he not only knows practically everyone who lives or works within 15 blocks of his home, he also knows who's Jewish, even if they never set foot in synagogue.

Our biggest service is always Saturday morning, and it felt strange to be one of the people saying Kaddish, rather than one of the people responding "Amen."

It was particularly comforting to see the woman who usually sits next to me, plus three of the seniors, show up for Mincha-Maariv so that I could say Kaddish.

Tomorrow, I'll be sitting shiva in my apartment. It'll be a long day. It'll be long week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Baruch Dayan Emet

My mother died this morning in her sleep, with no pain. My brother tells me that Israelis say, when a person dies in this manner, that they were "kissed by angels." I am at least somewhat consoled by the fact that Mom had a relatively easy death.

Our mother was buried before Shabbat/Sabbath in Jerusalem, where she and our father have lived for many years. She was in her mid-eighties, and had been in declining health for several months.

When my Israeli brother spoke to me last Sunday, he made it clear that our mother didn't have long to live, but even he didn't know whether her remaining time would be measured in days, weeks, or months. I didn't really expect her to be gone last than a week later. It's hard to believe. I'll miss our weekly phone calls.

My brother in Israel has his children with whom to sit shiva. My sister and I will be sitting shiva together. Sadly, my brother in California has no family with whom to sit shiva.

As I understand the tradition, a mourner is not supposed to reply to a greeting, and, therefore, I'm not sure that I should be responding to comments (though I will be reading them). So I thank you in advance for your kind words.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Joshua Nelson, Neshama Carlebach sing

Last night's concert was a trip. Joshua Nelson had me dancing in the aisles with his blend of Jewish lyrics and an African-American singing and piano-playing style. (He expressed some annoyance at the assumption that he's a convert just because he's black. Apparently, his family has been Jewish for generations.) If you have an opportunity to see him, do so--you won't be able to sit still!

Neshama Carlebach has a beautiful voice and a wonderful pianist, and was accompanied, at this concert, by a choir with some very fine singers. Do try out a concert or CD of hers, and enjoy.

A "habit" best avoided, in my opinion

I just saw a female visitor to our organization dressed in a solid black top and long solid black skirt, with a long black snood. So help me, she reminded of the nuns of my childhood (or more contemporary nuns).

When I was a child, the only women who dressed exclusively in black and white every day were Roman Catholic nuns. To my eyes, this recent trend toward some--thank goodness far from all--yeshivish and chareidi women dressing entirely in black and white smacks of nothing more than imitating Catholic "religious orders."

I'm much better now . . .

. . . , than I was six months ago tonight, thanks to my surgeon and my therapists. Though I'm still nicely scarred on the right wrist and palm (from my two rounds of surgery) and a bit bent out of shape, literally, on the left, I'm now pretty close to normal in terms of my ability to function.

Here's a special, heartfelt thanks to my husband, without whose help I don't know how I would have managed.

As you can see, I've already celebrated. :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Faster than a speeding bullet . . . " :(

This morning, I took my future "kaddish minyan" for a test drive, so to speak. It went about as badly as I expected.

The whole service took half an hour. I had to stop in mid-Birkot HaShachar to respond "Amen" to Kaddish d'Rabbanan. I skipped truckloads of P'sukei d'Zimrah to get to Bar'chu with the congregation. I had barely reached the first paragraph of Sh'ma when the congregation began reciting the Amidah aloud for a heichah-K'dushah, which means that I missed K'dushah. I skipped Tachunun and went straight to Ashrei, skipped La-m'natseiach and K'dushah d'Sidra/U-va l'Tzion Goel, and still had to stop in mid-Aleinu to respond "Amen" to Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish. I was the last person to finish davvening, of course, and, of the two people who left the Bet Midrash/chapel (whatever) after me, one of them was the guy waiting to lock up. Apparently, this is a "commuter minyan"--unlike the morning minyan at our local synagogue, no one sits around schmoozing over coffee afterward. I could go there for the whole eleven months of kaddish and still not get to know any of the other minyannaires.

So this is what I have to look forward to, every weekday morning for eleven months. As if being in aveilut/mourning for my mother isn't going to be depressing enough.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Before my injury, I didn't consistently avoid Israeli folk dance sessions that are popular enough to be notoriously overcrowded. I didn't avoid modern wooden dance floors, preferring to dance on older wood floors (such as that at Haim's session) or carpeted ones, such as the nice-sized patch at the entrance to Rennert Hall at the Kraft Center, where Ruth Goodman's Monday night Israeli folk dance session takes place. And I certainly didn't wear removable wrist splints as a precaution.

But there I was at the Kraft Center last night, all decked out in my wrist splints, when Ruth and company started playing the dance "Mal'achit." At first, I took a seat, figuring that I would just sit that one out. And then I said to myself, "Oh, why not? I'm wearing my splints, and there's enough room for me to dance on the carpet. I'll dance carefully, with baby-steps and no jumps, and I'll cut the spin-turns. But I want to try to relearn it."

Yes, Virginia, "Mal'achit" is the dance that I was trying to learn when I fell and broke both wrists almost exactly six months ago.

But it's a good dance.

And, baruch HaShem (thank G-d), I'm still a dancer.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Let's review, shall we?

So there I was, trying to follow my commenters' advice and keep an open mind about kashrut. But the troops weren't being cooperative. At my current favorite egalitarian Conservative synagogue, I am not always able to check labels, but last Shabbat, I got lucky. Or not. It turned out that the crackers and tortilla chips were all labeled kosher, but none of the cookies were.

Me: Do these people think that everything from [supermarket X] is automatically kosher? They do have a very good selection of kosher cookies, and even pies, but these particular cookies didn't have a hechsher (rabbinical seal indicating that they were kosher).

My long-suffering and probably exasperated husband: If you're not happy with their kashrut, why don't we just join [one of the local Orthodox synagogues]?

Me: It's Orthodox! How do you think it'll go over if I show up there in a tallit?

Him: Not very well.

Me: Nu? Not for nothing I called my blog "On the Fringe." I've known for years that I'll never really be completely comfortable in any synagogue.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A purple post :)

Purple pair
(May 28, 2009)

And more
(June 2, 2009)
Okay, maybe my definition of "purple" is a bit broad, but why quibble about details? I just thought that, since I don't want to publish "purple prose," I'd publish purple posies instead. :)

I hope you enjoy this round of Shira's Shots.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Salute to Israel Parade, 2009

You ain't heard nothin' 'til you've heard "Sisu et Yerushalayim" played by a bagpipe band. Unfortunately, you won't hear it here because Ms. Bozo Blogger didn't think to get some extra memory cards for the camera and promptly ran out of storage space.

Here's my best video, or rather, my best half of a video--I have no idea how to edit these things, so just ignore the second half. If anyone knows the name of this singing group, please tell me!

Holy Moses, it takes forever to upload a video directly into Blogger. But I'm experimenting, in the hope that I'll be able to see this at the office--the 'Net Nannies there block YouTube and MySpace. [Update at the office: Bummer--All I see on my office computer screen in the above space is a blank space. Oh, well, I'll use YouTube in the future, since the IT folks seem to block Blogger videos, too.]

We forgot to check the starting time for the (supposedly) post-parade concert in Central Park, and arrived about an hour and a half late, just in time to hear Yaakov Chesed play my favorite song of theirs, Sh'ma Yisrael, a very fine arrangement, in my opinion. We also heard Pey Dalid play their Am Yisrael Chai, among other fine tunes, and HaMakor rocked the house with Abba Shimon. N.O.S.H. (Noam Segal and Josh Alpert) were neat, as were the father-and-son special, Dr. Meyer and Baruch Abittan. I knew Chaim David as a very fine composer and guitarist, and not a bad singer either, from the recordings produced by MoChassid in memory of his father, and was happy to hear him in person.

Real life intruded on the fun, sadly, when Gilad Shalit's father took the stage and expressed his hope for his son's release from captivity. May it come soon.

On a lighter note, just about literally, I was pleasantly surprised when Shloime Dachs introduced his band, which was backing up some of the singers and supplementing some of the bands, and it turned out that the trumpeter was Jordan Hirsch, a frequent blog commenter, especially on Trep's blog. Jordan, trombonist David Bogner/Trep, and bass player Mark Skier/PT are all Shlock Rock veterans, as you can see here. I was amused to see that Jordan was flipping the "yeshivish" stereotype on its head--instead of wearing a black hat, black suit, and white shirt, he was dressed in an off-white hat and suit with a dark tee-shirt. Way cool. And he plays a mean trumpet, too.

The loud latecomer, and other annoyances

Call this a kvetching post, a rant, a gripe session, or whatever, but if you find complaints boring, just skip this.

The loud latecomer
The problem isn't that this person frequently comes to services late. The problem is that this individual apologizes loudly to one and all and explains the reasons for said lateness. A little seichel/common sense and/or derech eretz/common courtesy would be nice. If you come late to services, take a siddur/prayer book and take your place, and don't disturb people who are in mid-prayer.

The shirker/show-off
In this particular case, I must specify that I'm talking about a man because his gender is relevant. Our local Conservative synagogue does not give aliyot to women and is extremely short of men, and, therefore, my poor husband, the Ritual Committee chair, spends most Shabbat mornings biting his nails hoping to have enough men to whom to give aliyot. The party in question has taken to making it a point to come late, making it difficult to assign him an aliyah. He also refuses either to chant a haftarah without prior notice (despite being one of the congregation's most fluent Hebrew-speakers) or to make a commitment in advance to chant a haftarah, with the result that he usually ends up chanting a haftarah a grand total of once a year, in honor of his father's yahrzeit. This, in a congregation in which the number of members who attend synagogue on a regular basis and know how to chant a haftarah can now be counted on one hand. He also shows up after Kabbalat Shabbat/Maariv Services on Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Evening, just in time for our little Oneg Shabbat of coffee and cookies, and after Minchah/Afternoon Services on Shabbat, just in time for S'udah Shlishit/the Sabbath Afternoon "Third Meal," thus usually helping to ensure that we don't have a minyan.

Yet, for all that, he loves to present divrei Torah (words of study from our sacred literature)--ironically, from a perspective far to the right of his personal practice--at the S'udah Shlishat, and it doesn't seem to occur to him that there might be anything hypocritical about his behavior. You can look at this one of two ways. You can say that this person may not like praying, but at least he loves Talmud Torah/the study of Jewish sacred texts. Or, as I said, you can say that this is a person who shirks his responsibilities to the congregation, but still expects us to listen to his words of wisdom. Sorry, folks, but having seen what my husband goes through, trying to drum up enough men for aliyot, and how he often ends up doing the haftarah himself for a month of Shabbatot in a row, and having felt how annoying it can be to have someone walk in after we need a minyan, I simply find it difficult to show this shirker any respect.

The shnorrer (beggar)
This particular individual happens to have some Jewish and general skills that make it useful to the congregation to pay for his/her services, on occasion. But while it's true that the person in question has serious mobility challenges, she or he somehow always manages to get to synagogue when there's money to be earned or a special kiddush or holiday meal to be eaten (often at the synagogue's expense), but she/he never comes to synagogue just to pray.

The snob
Every Erev Shavuot it's the same story--the rabbi refuses to participate in our Tikkun Leil Shavuot study session because he insists that a real Tikkun is supposed to last all night. He may be correct, technically, but why can't he give a d'var Torah before going home to study? He acts as if any participation in our study session would be beneath his dignity, and I resent it.

The speed-davvener
Okay, here's where I'm going to get myself in trouble with my more traditional readers, in all likelihood, but, for the life of me, I can't understand how anyone can pray an entire weekday Shacharit/Morning Service in only about half an hour and still manage to pray with any semblance of kavvanah (intent, focus). Sure, I can now davven Shacharit in about half an hour--but that's only on weekdays when I'm in a hurry and skip all of P'sukei D'Zimrah except for Baruch ShehAmar, Ashrei, Psalm 150 (Hallelu Kel D'kosho), and Yishtabach, not to mention skipping Tachanun, La-m'natzeiach and K'dushah D'Sidra (U'va l'Tzion Goel). And why does the prayer leader bother to davven that quickly on a Sunday, when s/he's just going home anyway? Even our chazzan/cantor says that this person's going too fast.

Okay, rant over. You can come out now. :)

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