Monday, January 17, 2011

Our wonderful weekend at Limmud NY (part 1)

They were playing “Jewish Geography” before the charter buses had even arrived at the JCC in Manhattan to take us to Limmud NY—two women combing their hair in the Ladies Room discovered that they were both from Michigan and one knew the other’s cousin.
It only got better from there.
The opening ceremony ended with a short but delightful performance by Joshua Nelson and the Kosher Gospel Choir. They really got everyone clapping and singing.
Following the opening ceremony, we lit Shabbat/Sabbath candles, then went to davven (pray) in a traditional egalitarian minyan being run by Yeshivat Hadar, where we and a few other older folks collectively raised the average age by about 25 years. :)
After a communal Kiddush and table-by-table motzi (prayer praising G-d for bread), we had a very nice dinner of Moroccan fish. (Communal meals at both Limmud NY and the National Havurah Institute are always dairy [April 6, 2014 update--at Limmud, Erev Shabbat dinner is now b'sari/fleishig/meat or poultry, with vegan options], almost always with vegan options, to accommodate the many vegetarian attendees.) Then we bentched (prayed Birkat haMazon/Grace after Meals) at our table and headed off to our first classes.

Unlike the National Havurah Institute, with its entire week of classes, the Friday afternoon-Monday afternoon Limmud NY presents a smorgasbord of one-time-only classes and other activities lasting 1 ¼ hour each. So I’ll give you just a sample.
Out of pure curiosity, I just had to check out Rabbi Ethan Tucker’s class reconsidering the mechitzah—what on earth would a hard-core egalitarian like Tucker have to say about the mechitzah, of all things? Here’s the Hillel (that is, the standing-on-one-foot) version:
  • Women are a distraction.
  • Maybe that used to be true, but we’re so used to being in mixed-gender settings these days that it’s no longer an issue.
  • You shouldn’t kiss your child in synagogue.
Say what?
Maybe sexual distraction isn’t the only issue. Maybe another issue is that we should have a space in which we’re focusing on our relationship with G-d rather than our relationship with our spouses, families, and friends.
Or maybe we just need a place that’s clearly differentiated from secular space. In an Orthodox synagogue, a mechitzah creates that differentiation. Non-Orthodox synagogues might create a differentiation by other means, such as a higher-than-usual level of decorum.
Very interesting.
On Shabbat afternoon, after services and lunch, Rabbi Jill Hammer gave a course on Miriam the Priestess. She said that there’s both archeological evidence—of which she showed photos—and textual evidence that the role of women as ritual drummers was quite common at the time of the Exodus. She also came up with the very interesting idea that the banishment of Miriam for having criticized Moshe’s (Moses’s) marriage resulted in her receiving the same purification rite as that undergone by a kohen/priest being anointed—the purification for a “leper” consisted, in part, of having blood from a sacrifice smeared on the right ear, thumb, and big toe. Unfortunately, Miriam disappears from the story after this. But her leadership role sneaks in through the back door, as the rabbis, in their midrashim (interpretations of biblical stories) credit her with having been the reason for the Israelites receiving water in the wilderness. It might reasonably be assumed that the rabbis were sufficiently uncomfortable with her disappearance from the story that they felt the need to “bring her back.”

I put my two cents in, saying that I'd always found it interesting that Aharon/Aaron seems to have been Teflon-coated: He was never punished for his part in the Egel HaZahav/Golden Calf incident or for joining Miriam in complaining about Moshe's/Moses's marriage to a Cushite. I also picked up on Rabbi Hammer's comment that it was ironic that G-d told Miriam and Aharon that He/She never spoke directly to anyone but Moshe, and, in the process of thus rebuking them, He/She was, in fact, speaking to them directly for the first and only time! So I mentioned the similarity between that incident and the one in which the only time G-d spoke directly to Sarah was to rebuke her for laughing when He/She told Avraham that he and Sarah were going to have a baby despite their advanced ages.

I went from Rabbi Hammer's class to Mincha, and from there to a delightful Seudah Shlishit (Third Sabbath meal) with the singing couple Rachel and Matti. After Shabbat, we bought their CD, and we can’t wait to listen to it.
(Sun., Jan. 23, 2011 update: here's a video snippet of Rachel's and Matti's Sunday-night performance.)
Saturday night brought a beautiful Debbie-Friedman-style havdalah service marking the end of Shabbat, followed by lots of singing and dancing. We then attended a Lights Ignite Change performance by Naomi Less, Sarah Aroeste, and Chana Rothman, singing as a group and individually, alternating among Less’s “rocker chick,” Aroeste’s Ladino, and Rothman’s folk-rock Jewish music. Naturally, I was dancing in the back of the room. Same on Sunday night. No wonder I'm exhausted enough to wish that I could have a vacation to recover from my vacation. :)
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bed to fall into. To be continued when I'm awake.



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