Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cloth sneakers in winter, or sensitivity training needed

Aliza's response to my comment to this post of hers inspired this post.

Over thirty years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, one of my younger co-workers astounded me by repeatedly coming to work in cloth sneakers in the dead of winter. "How can you wear those things?," I chided her again and again. "Your feet will freeze."

It wasn't until years later that it finally dawned on me that she hadn't been wearing cloth sneakers to be fashionable--she'd probably been too broke to buy more protective shoes, and too proud to explain that to me.

How mortifying. Even after all these years, I feel terrible about how terrible I must have made her feel, rubbing her nose in her own poverty practically daily.

This year's Rosh HaShanah/Jewish New Year resolution: I must learn when to offer advice and when it would be better to remain silent.

As someone who once went so long without new glasses--because my parents couldn't afford to buy them--that I had to ask to sit in the first row of the classroom, I should have understood that my co-worker had no money to spare for decent shoes.

And, as Aliza said here, "In general, don't offer people advice about their health unless they've asked you for it. It's not helpful. When people complain about their health problems, they want you to listen, not solve them."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur report, etc.

First, the prequel:

Tashlich "tantrum"

"How long are we going to keep doing this?"

"Oh, no," I thought, "my husband's fed up with our annual Tashlich subway schlep." Every year, sometime between the day after Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), or, if worse comes to worse, at least before Hoshana Rabbah, we have to hop on the subway to do Tashlich, since there's no available free-flowing body of water within walking distance of our home.

But apparently, the trip wasn't the issue.

"This is paganism. The rabbis opposed it, and so do I."

Oh. That.

The then-rabbi of the synagogue where we met and were married was of the opinion that Tashlich originated as a pagan sacrifice in which people sought forgiveness from the river god(s). His theory was that the rabbis, having concluded that they'd lost the battle against Jews being influenced by this practice, won the war by adding a psalm or two and turning the sacrifice into a tradition that our sins are being cast into the depths, or, perhaps, to the more popular mind, that we're feeding our sins to the fish (and/or, depending on where we do Tashlich, to the ducks [79th Street Boat Basin] or the sea-birds [Chelsea Piers]).

"You don't have to be so literal. Just think of it as a hope that our sins are being cast into the depths. If it really bothers you, just say the psalms, and don't bother throwing the crumbs."

Final verdict: Fun wins over logic. He said the psalms and threw the breadcrumbs.

Yom Kippur

I started off the holiday on the wrong foot by completely forgetting to do Minchah/Afternoon Service on Sunday, because I was so busy taking care of business (literally--I was writing checks) and making the pre-fast meal at the same time. Yet another sin to add to the list. :(

The Kol Nidre service went pretty well. The Shacharit/Morning Service was . . . well, overdone. The between-jobs rabbi whom we'd hired didn't have a good feel for which parts of the service to sing slowly and which ones he could sing at a faster speed, so everything sounded like an aria. Bottom line: Shacharit took at least half an hour longer than it should have, and we had only one hour, exactly, to rest between Musaf and Mincha.

There were, of course, the requisite man and woman dressed thoroughly inappropriately in blue jeans. No, they weren't related to each other, and were not seated near one another. (Yes, the woman's blue jeans were pants, but she wasn't the only woman there in pants.) And so many women were dressed completely in black--contrary to the minhag/custom of my parents' synagogue and of my first synagogue in New York, in which wearing white on Yom Kippur was practically an entrance requirement--that there seemed to be neither any possibility of, nor any point in, trying to explain the minhag to all of them.

On the plus side, my husband did a pretty decent job of chanting Maftir Yonah (the entire book of Jonah, plus a few verses from elsewhere), and, considering that he had maybe a month's notice to practice, a reasonably decent job of leading Minchah, as well.

High point:

Realizing that I can now davven/pray quickly enough to say the entire Yom Kippur Amidah prayer (except for the Amidah of the Neila/Closing Service) in Hebrew, rather than having to switch to English to catch up in time for Kedushah. For the record, I'm not yet fast enough to say all of the Rosh HaShanah Amidah in Hebrew, so I switch to English for the parts over which I'm stumbling. I refuse to miss the U-N'taneh Tokef prayer.

Low points:

  • Watching a third of the attendees walk out immediately after the Yizkor (Memorial) Service. It's depressing to see so many people take advantage of a free service offered to the entire Jewish community by a dying congregation, knowing that many of these fine folks are not only never going to become members, but some may choose not to make a contribution, either. And if the synagogue building is sold and torn down by next Yom Kippur, will any of these people care that a long-time member like me no longer has her own local shul in which to say Yizkor for her mother, or will they only kvetch/complain that they have no place to pray?
  • Realizing that, since I've not yet developed the ability to davven both quickly and with kavvanah (focus, intention), and that, consequently, keeping up with the shaliach tzibur/prayer leader means going through my tefillot/prayers on autopilot, I got little meaning out of this year's Yamim Noraim/High Holiday prayers. Sadly, I can say the same of my davvening at morning minyan, as well.

And, to boot, holding a siddur/prayer book for hours on end aggravated the carpal tunnel of my left thumb, so back to the occupational therapist I go.

Paranoia, or just world politics as usual?

Is it just me, or do you also think it's no coincidence that Iran tested its new missiles on Yom Kippur? Oh, I guess it's not me--Jameel got there first.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The USCJ's Magen Tzedek--is it a viable initiative?

Taking a hint from commenter JDub's complaint yesterday that I've been kvetching/griping too much about "groups with which I don't affiliate," I now return you to my usual sponsor, the Conservative Movement.

The New York Jewish Week published this article about the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's new Magen Tzedek initiative, an attempt to establish verifiable standards of ethics and environmental responsibility for kosher food businesses.

I think Magen Tzedek is a wonderful idea, but, as with the healthcare proposals currently under consideration by the US Congress, there's the question of who's going to pay for it.

What's your opinion of Magen Tzedek (roughly, the Seal of Righteousness), and do you think it will sell? Would you pay extra for an already-more-expensive kosher product that also had a "justice certification?"

Of synagogues & politics--your opinion requested

One of our local politicians has been extremely helpful in getting our synagogue reimbursed for sponsoring such non-sectarian community programs as computer classes for seniors. So the president, in his infinite wisdom (meaning that, as usual, he didn't consult anyone else), decided that the shul would sponsor a kiddush in that politician's honor. Unfortunately, the politician's schedule was so crowded that the only available day was less than a week before a primary in which s/he was running for re-election.

I registered my official protest at a recent board meeting, saying that I considered the timing of the kiddush a classic case of marit ayin (roughly translated, "it looks bad"), since I thought that the congregation was skating dangerously close to endorsing a candidate, an action prohibited by law for any not-for-profit organization. I quoted the old saying, "If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck." The charge was roundly denied by everyone, including my husband, on the grounds that the kiddush was not publicized outside of our synagogue and there were no political speeches.

What's your opinion? Is it appropriate for a non-profit organization to sponsor a "buffet," for members and invited guests only, in honor of a helpful politician only days before an election?

See much for planning, round two :(

See here.

The tallest flowers I've ever seen

Shira's Shot, Wednesday, September 17, 2009

Don't bother looking for these flowers--they've already fallen off their stems.
After one of the most chilly and rainy summers on record (according to a local news report), autumn arrived yesterday.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Different (literal) views of Orthodox Judaism

It might be helpful in understanding the difference between Modern and Centrist Orthodox Jews, on one hand, and Yeshivish (somewhat more right-wing religiously) and Chareidi ("fervently Orthodox") Jews on the other, if you take a look at these photos.

Here's what the (male half of) the Yeshivish and Chareidi world looks like.

And here's what the (male half of) the Modern Orthodox and Centrist world looks like. Since it's harder to see details in the online version of this photo, I should mention that not only are some of the men wearing blue shirts (gasp!), some are wearing polo shirts (double gasp!!), and some are even wearing multicolored horizontally-striped polo shirts (triple gasp!!!).

There's an old saying that "clothes make the man." It appears that, in some circles, the levush/"uniform" makes the man Orthodox. From my perspective, what the color of a man's shirt has to do with halachah/Jewish religious law--if anything--is beyond my comprehension.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rosh HaShanah: "Beef fry" for lunch, & other tales

Here's my lead-up to Rosh HaShanah. Visitors from DovBear's blog, where I left a link in the comments to his Holiday debrief post, may find the second "this post" link particularly interesting.

And now, for the wrap-up.

Since my husband and I have never made a point of eating hot food for Shabbat/Sabbath lunch (and, in fact, it was only a few years ago that I learned that some people think that eating or drinking something hot on Shabbat is a major big deal), we've never needed to figure what survives well on the hot-tray overnight. So we took our chances when we decided to indulge over Rosh HaShanah and have hot lunches, leaving the hot-tray turned on, instead of putting it on the timer to turn it off automatically after 11 PM. We figured that my homemade parve fruit-and-juice-sweetened tzimmes had enough juice in it to handle an overnight on the hot-tray quite nicely, and that barbecued chicken would probably be okay, but we took a gamble on some of our brisket.

The tzimmes and the chicken were delicious. But the poor brisket slices came out as crispy as beef fry. Who ever heard of eating beef fry on Rosh HaShanah? :) Oh, well.

Rosh HaShanah round-up:

At the last minute, the synagogue president found a between-jobs rabbi with a decent voice to lead Shacharit/Morning Service, so my husband only had to relieve our regular chazan for Mincha/Afternoon Service. But we anticipate that the hubster will, in fact, lead Shacharit/Morning Service for next Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), as he thought he'd be doing this year.

There was also another last-minute surprise: Mr. Shirker/Show-off called the president this past Thursday to let him know that he'd be praying elsewhere on Rosh HaShanah and wouldn't be here to chant the haftarah on the second day. My husband got the honor of taking his place on less than three days' notice.

Sadly, the pathetic head-count at our synagogue was not really much of a surprise. I don't think we had more than 65 people in attendance at any Rosh HaShanah service. The second-night "crowd" was particularly depressing--I'm not sure we got more than 15 people. Junior Congregation is a thing of the past.

For the record, most of our food was provided by the congregation, courtesy of ye friendly not-so-local kosher caterer, in gratitude for my Ritual-Committee-chair husband's hard work in helping coordinate the services, not to mention leading Mincha. (The congregation also provided food for the rabbi, cantor, and synagogue secretary.) We plan to sneak in a repayment in the form of a Yom Kippur pledge. (We weren't planning on giving, since we already made our contribution when we paid about 1/3 of last year's High Holiday chazan's salary after he called just before Pesach/Passover to say that he was still waiting for half of his pay.) But the tzimmes was homemade by yours truly. Here's my sugar-free, honey-free parve and vegan recipe, which I assume is at least slightly healthier than the usual honey-glazed version, and feeds about 3-4 people:
  • 1 pound baby carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato or yam (about 3/4 lb. to 1 lb.)
  • 1 20-oz. can of pineapple chunks in unsweetened juice (Dole brand is kosher)
  • 1/2-1 cup orange juice (may vary according to size of potato or personal taste--I used 3/4 cup this year with a potato of about 3/4 lb. Taste while cooking to determine quantity required or preferred)
  • 1 apple
  • cinnamon

Peel the sweet potato/yam. Cut it in quarters lengthwise, then cut it into medium-sized chunks. (If you cut the chunks too small, the potato will turn into mush. You want it to stay in discernible pieces.) Put the potato chunks into a (parve) 2-quart pot with the baby carrots. Mix with a (parve) spoon.

Leave the skin on the apple so that it won't fall apart. Scrub the apple and cut out the core, making sure that all seeds and surrounding inedible pieces are removed. Sprinkle cinnamon inside. Place the apple in the center of the pot, on the bottom, displacing the carrots and potatoes as necessary to do so.

Open the can of pineapple, and stuff the center of the apple with pineapple chunks. Pour the entire reminder of the can of pineapple, including all the juice, over the contents of the pot. Pour at least 1/2 cup of orange juice over the contents of the pot, then sprinkle with cinnamon.

Cover the pot and cook the tzimmes on low heat for approximately forever, until the carrots are reasonably soft but not falling apart. (Check occasionally for "done-ness" and to see whether you want or need to add more orange juice.) I've never really timed this precisely, but I'd say you should leave about 2 1/2 hours, just in case. Enjoy!

We demolished the leftover tzimmes, straight off the hot-tray, tonight. I just poured the leftover juice from the pot into a glass and drank it. The juice was nice and sweet, and I probably got about three days worth of vitamin A in one shot. :)

G'mar chatima tovah, may you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year .

Have an easy fast today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's almost Rosh HaShanah--have a (literal) blast . .

. . . listening to the shofar. Shanah Tovah u-M'tukah--Have a Good and Sweet Year!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rosh HaShanah observance details

I'm taking a shower (without a shampoo) on the second day (not on the first day, because the first day is also Shabbat/Sabbath), and I'm eating a no-bread non-junk-food snack, after saying Birkot HaShachar with the full Sh'ma, before I go to synagogue in the morning. See the end of this post for the opinion of rabbis who think that both showering on a Yom Tov/holiday and eating before synagogue on Shabbat are permissible. (It might help you to understand this current post if you follow the links in that post--particularly the "this question" link in the Public Service Announcement re hot-water showers on Yom Tov and the "this post" link in Public Service Announcement #2 re eating before praying.) Personally, I can't stand the idea of going to synagogue smelling, and I also can't understand how one can be expected to enjoy a holiday while "fasting" until after the hours-long Rosh HaShanah morning services.

Shanah Tovah u-M'tukah--Have a Good and Sweet Year!

So much for planning :(

See here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Worth it for the photo alone, & the post's good, too

See this post by SM on DovBear's blog.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Liturgy: Griping about grammar

I suppose that, just as part one came to you courtesy of my egalitarianism, part two, here, comes courtesy of my background as the holder of a BA in French with a built-in sensitivity to language.*

Anyone who's ever been a baal(at) koreh/leiner/Torah reader, chanting directing from a sefer Torah, knows all too well that Hebrew grammar was not always as stable as it is now, as evidenced by the numerous times that a baal(at) koreh has to read "hee" ("she," or the feminine form of "it") where the word is actually spelled "hu" ("he," or the masculine form of "it") in the text, because the tradition recognizes that "hu" is no longer grammatically correct.

The instability of the grammar in older Hebrew texts is visible in the siddur/prayer book, as well.

For example, there's this prayer, from Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings: "U-t'neinu hayom, u-v'chol yom, l'chen u-l'chesed u-l'rachamim b'einecha u-v'einei chol roeinu, v'tigm'leinu chasadim tovim." The usual translation is roughly "And give us this day, and every day, grace, kindness, and compassion in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us good kindnesses."

For openers, the phrase "chasadim tovim, good kindnesses," a term used frequently in Jewish tradition, is interesting in itself. There's such a thing as bad kindnesses?

But what about that other major detail, namely, the repeated use of l' (l'chen u-l'chesed u-l'rachamim? If my limited understanding of Hebrew is correct, l' usually means "to," "for," " of," or "by." The l' is conveniently ignored in the translations that I've seen. Honestly, I was going to deem the l' anachronistic grammar and skip it, and say simply "chen, chesed, v'rachamim" until it occurred to me that the l' opened the possibility of a completely different interpretation: "And give us this day, and every day, for grace, for kindness, and for compassion," actions that we could do, and HaShem, for His part, would bestow "good kindnesses" upon us.

Further along, we get to the weekday "Yotzer Or (Who forms light)" b'rachah/blessing. There, we find the phrase "L'Kel baruch n'imot yiteinu, l'Melech Kel chai v'kayam, z'mirot yomeiru v'tishbachot yashmiyu," which the Koren Sacks Siddur translates "To the blessed God they offer melodies. To the King, living and eternal God, they say psalms and proclaim praises." This time, there's a different problem with l'--it doesn't include "the." The text should read laKel . . . laMelech . . . to the God. . . to the King . . ." The literal translation of the Hebrew as written would be "to (a) God . . . to a King."

Here's another instance of the same grammatical inconsistency, this one occurring just before the Amidah prayer: " . . . l'Melech Kel chai v'chayam . . ." To a King, God who lives and endures?? Nu, last I heard, there's only one King who qualifies as God. The text should be written ". . . laMelech, to the King . . . "

Reversing course, there's an unnecessary "la" in the "Yotzer Or" b'rachah of Shabbat/Sabbath: "Zeh shevach sheh-la-yom ha-sh'vii . . . " This is the praise that is of the seventh day . . . ," which should logically be written "Zeh shevach shel yom ha-sh'vii, This is the praise of the seventh day . . . "

In my opinion, the winner is this beauty (also from the "Yotzer Or" b'rachah of Shabbat, just a few lines farther down): "Shevach y'kar u-g'dulah yitnu l'Kel Melech yotzer kol," which I would translate, as literally as I'm capable of doing, "Praise, precious and great they will give to the G-d, King [___] forms (formed?) all." Say what? No, there isn't a "who" in the original Hebrew--not for nothing I left a blank there! Dikduk/grammar geeks, help me out: How should the Hebrew be written, "haMelech hayotzer et hakol?"

The floor is open, especially to the aforementioned dikduk/grammar geeks. Have fun with the siddur, Haggaddah, and other liturgical texts.

*See also "Musical license,"* or the case of the misplaced comma--A different way of listening to words and More "misplaced commas" :).


A Beautiful Morning

A pink and blue sky
So far on high
Each cloud like a jewel
On my way to shul
In the east, the golden light of the early-morning sun shines through a cloud
HaShem, Who formed the heavenly lights, must be proud

[Informal label--poem]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"We are experiencing technical difficulties . . . "

If anyone has any idea how I can get my blogroll back into alphabetical order, please let me know.

In addition, it's become an increasingly frequent problem that, when I do a search for a previous post on my own blog in order to link to it, the search can now take me more than 10 minutes, and sometimes, I do better searching my archives in Word. When I take words that I know I included in a post and type them into my blog's search window, the post simply doesn't appear in the search results. Sometimes, no posts appear at all. The problem may be worse for older posts. (For example, if I type either "kol ishah" or "kol isha" in my blog's search window, neither my 2004 "Men in Halachah: Shirking their responsibilities (part 1)" nor my 2006, "Damn if we do and damned if we don't" series--respectively my first post on that subject and my most thorough treatment thereof--appears.) If anyone has any idea how I can make the search function work properly again, please let me know.

A bittersweat Bat Mitzvah celebration

The young lady, a Jewish day school student, did an excellent job of leining (chanting the reading from the Torah/Bible scroll) and chanting the haftarah/reading from the Prophets. There were plenty of children present. The synagogue was nicely designed but not opulent, and the meal, a cold buffet, was so delightfully unpretentious and reminded me so much of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah meals of my youth that I complimented the parents.

But I couldn't help thinking that if I'd only listened to my husband and moved to North Jersey 26 years ago, our son would have had a neighborhood such as that one, much more Jewishly-involved than ours, in which to grow up. Insisting on staying in New York City was the worse mistake I've ever made, and celebrations such as this one, precisely because they're so delightful, rub salt in that old self-inflicted wound.

Black hats for men, sheitlach (wigs) for women?

If DovBear and E. Fink consider it bad news that the black hat has become the required identity-marker for Yeshivish and Chareidi men, they should consider the fact that the identity-marker for Yeshivish and Chareidi married Orthodox women can be downright painful, and not only in the wallet.

Shifra discussed this a while back. But Aliza approaches the subject of a married woman covering her hair from two different different angles, that of someone with "foot-tall" (see the comments) kinky hair that doesn't really fit under anything, and that of a person already in pain from fibromyalgia. Sometimes, covering the head can be physically painful. But heaven help the woman who lives in a community that considers her a rebel, non-Orthodox, and/or someone whose conversion should be revoked if she wears the "wrong" type of head-covering or if there's even a rumor that she's been seen bareheaded in public.

Friday, September 11, 2009

From the hilarious to the absolutely serious

Leave it to Aliza Hausman, the self-described "Jewminicana," to go from this adults-only laugh-fest to this none-of-your-blinkin'-business protest.

And here's the follow-up.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Liturgy:Egalitarian changes that I do or don't accept

First, my ground rules:

  • I never change quotations that come from any book of Tanach/the Bible. We take Tanach as it is--we may argue about the text, but we never change it.
  • On the other hand, any prayer written by the rabbanim/rabbis is fair game (in my personal opinion).
  • On the third hand (you should pardon the expression :) ), I concluded some years ago (see my post "Hem u-n’sheihem (them and their wives)" . . . : A woman’s place—if any—in the siddur") that, since the Hebrew language does not have a neuter, any word in the masculine can be assumed to include the feminine unless otherwise specified. The most common form of specification is "Avraham, Yitzchak, v'Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)," which clearly excludes women.

So, what changes do I make?

  • I say "Modah ani (I thank you)" using the feminine form of the verb, wherever the text says "Modeh" the masculine form of the verb.
  • I go for the positive in the Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings, praising HaShem for having made me a Jew (sheh-asani Yisrael), a "bat chorin/free daughter" (it's actually somewhat difficult to say "free 'person'" in Hebrew), and a woman (sheh-asani isha).
  • When praying silently, I add the Imahot (Mothers), Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, v'Leah (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah) to the Avot ("Fathers"/Ancestors) section of the Amidah prayer, and, in addition to "Magen Avraham (Shield of Abraham)," I say "u'Fokeid Sarah." (I not sure of the exact tranlation--"the One who keeps His commitment to Sarah"--but it comes from Tanach/Bible, B'reishit/ (Genesis), I think from Parshat Vayera--"HaShem pakad et Sarah kaasher diber," quoth she from memory, having heard her husband lein/chant that Torah reading on Rosh HaShanah, not to mention practice leining it, for many years).
  • When praying Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals silently or leading a group in which changes are acceptable, I add "v'al mitzvotecha sheh-chatamtah b'libeinu/for the commandments that you have sealed in our hearts." I swiped this phrase from the birkon/bentcher/Grace after Meals book Shaarei Simcha/Gates of Joy, edited by Adena K. Berkowitz and Rivka Haut. I mean, get real folks, Judaism doesn't believe in "circumcision" for women (thank heaven), so how can we women thank G-d for the covenant sealed in our flesh when it just isn't?
  • When praying Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals silently or leading a group in which changes are acceptable, I also add "v'imoteinu Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, v'Leah, heitiv tuvat malei tov/and our Mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah" (um, don't know the exact translation, but it has to do with goodness and is based on biblical quotes--I think a former rabbi [male] taught me this one.)

And what changes don't I make?

  • I don't say that "Moses and Miriam and the Children of Israel sang a song to You/Moshe u'Miriam u-v'nei Yisrael l'cha anu shira. . . " because the mention of Miriam occurs a paragraph or two later in the original biblical text, and, to me, it seems somewhat forced to say it here.
  • I don't feel entirely comfortable with the Kos Miriam/Miriam's Cup at the Seder table, because, as a former rabbi pointed out, the Haggadah emphasizes our liberation from slavery by HaShem--if even Moshe/Moses barely warrants a mention, why bring in Miriam?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Bad4Shidduchim blogs about NBN flight

Mazal tov to Katrina on her recent marriage!

Congratulations to the kallah (bride), and welcome to New York City!

2 Orthodox men oppose the black hat as "uniform"

Speaking of black hats . . . :) (See previous post.)

From this post by DovBear:

" . . . this new habit of treating an ordinary hat as if it were a sacred ritual item is why the hat is one of the things I like least about Orthodox Judaism."

From the comments:

"Black Hat wearing is very ironic.

Chassidim get railed by litvaks for "wearing antiquated Polish Royal garb" ie streimels.

But now, when Black Hats are just as antiquated (unless you're a member of the mob or post-modern hipster) as the streimel. How is Borsalino still in business? Does anyone else buy these things? At $200 a pop?

So really litvaks and chassidim are not that different after all...

E. Fink Homepage 09.08.09 - 6:20 pm #

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Our 1st 100%-observant Shabbat (thanks, L & ME!)

It all started with a hat. And the question, about a year later, of whether I'd actually ever have any use for it.

The answer came in the form of an invitation from Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff to spend Shabbat (Sabbath) with them in their Highland Park, New Jersey home.

What followed was a series of e-mails re our dietary requirements (of a medical nature) and whether our manner of dress would be acceptable for their community, given that the Punster doesn't own a black suit and would be wearing a multicolored "s'rugi" (kippah s'rugah--a "knitted" [crocheted] kippah/yarmulkeh/scullcap/beanie), and I'd be wearing a pink short-sleeved blouse (and praying in a tallit/prayer shawl on Saturday morning before leaving for synagogue). I also asked whether I could sing in the presence of their male guests and/or wear a kippah while in their home, neither practice being universally accepted for women by the Orthodox community. Having received clearance for all of our clothing and my singing, and Malka Esther's assurance that she's used to dealing with all sorts of dietary restrictions, we looked forward to our get-together.

Naturally, there had to be some complication, or it wouldn't be normal. So, the poor Punster having left home over two hours later than planned, and the two of us having gotten stuck in traffic and spent two hours just getting out of Manhattan, we finally arrived with only about half an hour to go before Shabbat.

But once we got settled, what a Shabbat it was! First, Malka Esther explained to me that, if I lit Shabbat candles while keeping in mind that I was not actually accepting Shabbat upon myself at that time, I was permitted to hop into the car with Larry and the Punster and ride to synagogue (after which we would, of course, walk home, leaving the parked and locked car to be retrieved after Shabbat). Then, off we went to the Carlebach minyan in the library (Bet Midrash?) at Congregation Ahavat Achim. Larry said that there was even more singing than usual. The singing was delightful.

True to her word, Malka Esther, a real kitchen maven (expert), served a dinner that included dishes for Mr. Low-Sodium and Ms. No-Pepper, plus a wheat-allergic guest, a nut-allergic guest, and a vegetarian guest. Everyone was quite well-fed. No one objected to me shedding my hat and my long-sleeved jacket and showing up in a kippah and short sleeves, and I joined in the singing, as well, without anyone's protest.

After the other guests had left, we stayed up yacking 'til about 2 AM and had a wonderful time. How any of us got up in time for services the next morning is beyond me. :)

But I did manage (thanks to my turns-itself-off Shabbat alarm clock) to get up early enough to davven Shacharit (pray the Morning Service) through the end of the Amidah prayer while wearing my tallit. This not only enabled me to wear a tallit through the Amidah without risking offending anyone at synagogue, but also, ensured that I would have davvened at least through the Amidah, in case I lost my place in the Sefardi siddur (prayer book) used at Sefardi Congregation Etz Chaim. That proved to be a good strategy, since, as expected, I lost my place numerous times. It was well worth the visit, though. The Sefardi customs are really quite fascinating for an old Ashkenazi Jew like me. I wonder how--or whether--the congregation coordinated the choice of readers in advance, since the (male) congregants took turns reading the b'rachot (blessings), psalms, and other biblical and rabbinic quotations in the earlier parts of the service. Some of the older boys participated in the early parts of the service, and some younger ones sang at the end.

The most fascinating part of the Sefardi service for me was the K'riat HaTorah/Torah reading (reading from the handwritten Bible scroll). The teenaged baal koreh (Torah reader) was excellent, especially given the additional challenge of reading from a scroll enclosed, in accordance with the Sefardi tradition, in a metal case that was not removed. Every time he came to the end of a column in the scroll, he had to stop and turn the scroll using special handles that were invisible when the case was closed, or take a large scarf that had been draped over the case and turn the klaf (parchment roll) itself. That was generally about a one-minute process. How he managed to stop, turn the parchment, and nonchalantly continue without forgetting how to read and/or chant the words correctly was beyond my comprehension. But he made very few mistakes. Having been a baalat korah myself, I was quite impressed by his skill.

After a quick kiddush of grape juice and snacks, off we went to lunch, at which Malka Esther served quite a nice spread. I probably gained a few pounds.

We walked back to Ahavat Achim for Mincha-Maariv, davvening in the main sanctuary this time. It did not escape my attention that the women saying Kaddish there were saying it loudly enough to be heard easily in the men's section, and no one seemed the least upset by that. (Some in the Orthodox community are of the opinion that a woman is not permitted to say Kaddish at all, a view obviously not held by this congregation.) I also noticed that some of the women at the mixed-seating Seudah Shlishit (third Sabbath meal) were singing along with the men during z'mirot (Sabbath table songs) and Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), and no one seemed to be bothered by that, either--apparently, this congregation doesn't hold the stricter views that favor separate seating for men and women on almost every occasion and disapprove of women singing in the presence of men.

I had told Larry that I'd be willing to davven (pray) in any synagogue that didn't have a "Berlin Wall mechitzah," and I'm sure Ahavat Achim's open-mindedness was a reflection of the approach that allowed for a reasonable mechitzah. (A mechitzah is a physical barrier separating women from men in an Orthodox synagogue. Here's an example of what I call a "Berlin Wall mechitzah," which leaves little or no provision for women to see the Torah scroll, or anything else on the men's side.) The mechitzot at both Etz Chaim and Ahavat Achim were topped with transparent glass, and, though taller than I, were low enough that even Ms. 5-feet-2-inches could hold a siddur over the top and touch the Torah scroll with it or reach the v'samim/spice box for Havdalah when it was handed over the top to be passed around the women's section.

We were fortunate that the dry and not-too-hot weather, my husband's semi-reasonably-good health, and the state of my sometimes-bad foot enabled us to have a pleasant, albeit long, walk to Ahavat Achim and Etz Chayim, neither of which is particularly close to the Lennhoff home. (I took my trusty cane, just in case.)

Highland Park, New Jersey appears to be a very nice place for those seeking a diverse Jewish community. With at least four (I lost count) Orthodox synagogues (among them one Chassidic and one Sefardic), one Conservative synagogue, and an independent minyan, (all, to the best of my knowledge, within the Highland Park eruv), there's something in HP, NJ for probably most synagogue-goers. I also appreciated the diversity of clothing styles, in terms of tzniut/modesty, "levush/dress code," and formality. In tzniut terms, I saw women wearing everything from long sleeves to short sleeves that covered only the shoulders (even in synagogue), and I also saw both married women with fully-covered hair and married women who went bareheaded except in synagogue. In "levush" terms, I saw plenty of black kippot on the men, but honestly don't remember whether I saw any actual black hats, and I also saw multi-colored s'rugim, which means that this community doesn't have a standard levush, thank goodness. In terms of formality, I saw men in everything from full suits with ties, on one hand, to dress pants and dress shirts without jackets or ties, on the other, and women in everything from full suits or dresses to nice but informal skirts and knit tops. In other words, anyone headed for synagogue who is dressed reasonably modestly by American standards and dressed nicely enough not to appear to be headed for the golf course would probably fit into the community.

Rav todot, many thanks, to Larry and Malka Esther for introducing us to the Jewish community of Highland Park, NJ, and for helping this 60-year-old and her 67-year-old husband to celebrate a completely-observant Shabbat/Sabbath for the first time in our lives.


Miriam Shaviv is now linking to her new blog

. . . from her old blog. I think she has some interesting things to say.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Information and/or opinions requested

Here are some topics that I'm trying to find out more about.

The dress code of the Cohanim/priests

In connection with this post and its follow-up, why am I under the impression that the Cohanim went barefoot in the Ohel Moed/Mishkan (Tabernacle in the Wilderness) and in the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple)?

What the Tribe of Levi did for a living

We know from the Torah/Bible that the role of the Levites in the Wilderness was to do the sometimes-literally heavy lifting--they were among the original "roadies," responsible for (helping in the) disassembling and reassembling (of) the Ohel Moed/Mishkan as our ancestors wandered from place to place for 40 years before entering The Land. But what was their role after the construction of the Bet HaMikdash? Why was the entire tribe of Levi, which included the subset designated the Cohanim, entitled to become a dependent class, in need of tithes in order to survive, instead of having to earn a living like everyone else? Let's face it, only just so many Cohanim could perform sacrifices in the Bet HaMikdash, and one would hope that the singing of psalms in the Bet HaMikdash was restricted to those Leviim who could carry a tune. :)

The literal ins and outs, etc., of tefillin--how and why?

Questions, questions, questions.

  • Why are tefillin considered by many to be men's garments, when the Torah doesn't even call them garments? The shel yad (hand tefillin) is described by the Torah/Bible as an "ot" (pronounced "oat"), a sign, and the shel rosh is described as "totafot," whatever that means--2 Jews, 3 translations. :) (Pure speculation on my part: Is the word "totafot" a "loan word" borrowed from another language?)
  • Why are there two kinds of tefillin, Rashi and Rabbenu Tam? Zeesh, couldn't this grandpa-grandson duo agree on anything? :)
  • Why are there two different ways to tie the bayit (box containing the parchments) to the strap (ratzuah?) of the shel yad, one way leaving the bayit positioned above the knot (like my husband's), thus necessitating an extra winding to keep the bayit from falling over, and another way leaving the bayit positioned below the knot (like mine and our son's), so that it just hangs in place naturally?
  • Speaking of straps (ratzuot?), why is the knot that ties the bayit to the strap knotted in such a way that one must twist the strap to get the black part facing forward, as required? Why can't it be knotted to lie flat, black side out, naturally?
  • Why do Ashkenazim wind the strap of the shel yad one way and Sefardim (and B'nei Edot HaMizrach/Children of the Communities of the East?) wind the strap another way?

. . . and a hernia, while he's at it :(

Sigh. Just follow the link trail that starts here.

My husband went back to the urologist to check out a sore spot, and found out that he's going to need more surgery. This'll be round two on the hernia repair--last time, he was on the operating table when his mother died.

Meanwhile, the urologist still has to determine whether there are any more kidney-stone fragments still inside the hubster, and if so, he has to remove them. Such fun. Not. :(

The good news is my husband--whom I asked several times, just to be sure--insists that he's feeling well enough to stick to our our Labor Day weekend plans. Hot sauce!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

!#$%^&*!!!! Growing golf balls (so to speak), plus (:

So the hubster goes back to the hospital for removal of the stent left in after his recent surgery--and the doctor has to leave the bleeping thing in, because he finds more pieces of kidney stone! What does the Punster have in there, a golf-ball farm? :(

Next time, I'll take my mini-ArtScroll Siddur (prayer book) rather than either my new pocket Koren-Sacks Siddur or my good old "baby Birnbaum," because neither the Koren-Sacks nor the Birnbaum Siddur contains the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms, and having one with me might have come in handy yesterday. When I went out into the hall to davven Shacharit (pray the Morning Service) because the television in the family waiting room was too distracting, not only did a man follow me into the hall, he stood within roughly four feet of me almost the entire time I was davvening! How thoughtless, to invade someone's personal space at such a time. (My baseball hat really came in handy--the nice big brim hid a good portion of my face from his view, and hid a good deal of him from me, as well, alleviating the distraction somewhat.) Next time, I'll read as many psalms as necessary to discourage such a person from getting in my face.
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