Thursday, June 30, 2011

A word on behalf of the rest of us

Cross-posted on DovBear's blog here.

Nearly forty years ago, I was having a nice Shabbat lunch with some friends when someone mentioned the name Michal. “Who’s Michal?,” I asked. “Am Haaretz! You don’t know who Michal is?!” I left the apartment in tears, my Shabbos ruined. Sure, I knew that I was an Am Haaretz, a Jewishly-illiterate Jew, but I never expected to have a simple, civil question answered with an insult that left me humiliated in the presence of a roomful of guests. I was so mortified by the experience that I was afraid ever to ask that question again, lest I find myself embarrassed once more. It would be several years before I finally learned, on my own, that Michal was the daughter of Shaul HaMelech (King Saul) and the wife of David HaMelech (King David).

Fast-forward almost 40 years. I just received a kind offer from some old friends to make a donation in memory of my recently-deceased father. In their e-mail, they asked whether my father’s correct name was Baruch Dayan Emet My-Father’s-Last-Name. After the initial shock of realizing that my friends of over 20 years had no idea what Baruch Dayan Emet meant, I reflected on the likelihood that I was in the same boat a few decades ago. I thought that it would be appropriate for my response to reflect both my own late start and my memory of how I’d felt at having a simple request for information thrown back in my face. So I answered that Baruch Dayan Emet means “Blessed is the True Judge,” and is the phrase traditionally used to send, or respond to, news of a person’s death, and I told them my father’s first name.

Those of you who were raised Orthodox and/or had the privilege of attending a full-day Jewish school sometimes take your Jewish knowledge for granted, and don’t understand just how fortunate you are. By the time you became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you already knew what I’m still learning at the age of 62. My question is, how do you interact with the rest of us?

You have two choices.

You can mock us and/or humiliate us in public, and thus, drive us away from Jewish tradition.

Or you can answer even what appears to you to be a stupid question with patience, respect, and a smile, and draw us closer to Jewish tradition.

The choice is yours. Please think responsibly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Parshat Chukat

You can read the basics here.

I honestly don't understand why there are those who believe that a woman shouldn't touch a Torah scroll until she's gone to the mikveh. What makes a man any more tahor (ritually "pure"), given that no one has been sprinkled with the waters of the ashes of a red heifer since the destruction of the second Temple?

As for the story of Yiftach/Jephthah and his doomed daughter (of which we read only through verse 33 as the haftarah) I have no kind words for anyone (except the poor daughter) in this tragic tale . :(

Summer classes at Mechon Hadar

Sorry I neglected to mention this earlier, but New York City metropolitan-area residents may be interested in knowing that Mechon Hadar is offering classes on Tuesday nights for the next few weeks, along with some interesting lectures on Sunday or Monday nights (see calendar here). The classes and lectures are free, though, of course, donations would be much appreciated.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Out of practice

Those who e-mailed their condolences got my thanks e-mailed in return, but I thought it proper to send "snail-mailed" condolence-acknowledgment cards to those who mailed me cards, paid shiva calls, and/or made donations in memory of my father. I was surprised at how difficult that turned out to be. First, I realized that I'm completely out of the habit of writing by hand just about anything longer than a shopping list, and found that my handwriting has deteriorated. Then I realized that I'd been thanking people without mentioning that their visits, cards, and/or donations were shiva visits and/or were on the occasion of my father's death. Oy. It's fortunate that I'm getting better at this, since, with 19 cards written, I still have roughly 15 to go.

A pest

He comes to synagogue late on Friday nights, usually after Maariv/Evening Services, just in time for our now-minimal Oneg Shabbat (tea and cookies for maybe six Yidden plus the Shabbos Goy) . He comes at least an hour late every Shabbat/Sabbath morning, even though he knows that every male is desperately needed for the Torah reading in a radically-underpopulated congregation that won't give women aliyot. (Since our synagogue counts women for a minyan and, in recent years, has rarely had a minyan before the Amidah prayer of Shacharit/Morning Service, I've discontinued my former practice of praying through the Shacharit Amidah at home [in order to pray at my own pace], and now pray only up to the P'sukei D'Zimrah section at home before going to shul.) Despite being fluent in Hebrew, he never volunteers to chant haftarot (readings from the prophets) anymore, and will no longer help read the Torah when the chazzan/baal koreh (cantor/Torah reader) is on vacation. But he complains if we try to rush him through his beloved Torah-study presentation at Seudah Shlishit (the "Third Meal," between Minchah/Afternoon Service and Maariv/Evening Service), despite the fact that he's usually missed Minchah altogether. (I've long since given up mentioning to him that, since there's no eruv in the neighborhood, he shouldn't be carrying texts to synagogue for the Seudah Shlishit study session.) And, despite his late arrival at, and early completion of, Shacharit (Morning Service) on Sunday (I assume he only comes for the post-service breakfast), he got insulted when I accused him of not being serious about prayer. (Judging by the fact that he stands and prays for a few minutes, then puts on tallit and tefillin and stands and prays for another few minutes, I'm assuming that he goes straight from Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings to the Amidah prayer without benefit of Sh'ma, or much of anything else.)

This week, though, he got my goat even worse than usual: After nagging the chazzan to rush through Maariv at the end of Shabbat, this guy had the unmitigated gall to leave before the Amidah prayer, only about halfway through the service. My husband takes it all in stride and just shrugs it off, figuring that that kind of behavior is pretty much what we can expect from this guy. Me, I'm still fuming. This guy insisted that I davven/pray considerably faster than my usual so-called speed, but didn't even have the courtesy to stay put while I attempted to do so. As far as I'm considered, he's just a selfish show-off with no concern for the needs of the congregation. One of these days . . .

Friday, June 24, 2011

Kitchen-sink pizza

My husband and I apparently got our signals crossed night, and neither of us cleaned the kitchen sink. Since I was the first one to get up, I got the dubious privilege--it took me roughly 10 minutes of hard scrubbing to remove the bits of dried-on shredded-cheese "decorations." Ugh. I prefer my cheese as food, thank you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Parshat Korach

Basics here.

DovBear's posts on Korach are still on my recommended-reading list. (Ignore the comment count, which sometimes shows nothing, even when there are 80 comments--just go ahead and click on "comments.")

I already stated my view of the status of the tribe of Levi here--I think Miami Al is on to something. I repeat: What did the Kohanim (Priests) and/or Leviim (see DovBear post #1) do to earn such a choice piece of the pie (see Numbers, chapter 18, verses 8-21)? Was this really a reward for their service in the Tent of Meeting, and later, in the Temple? In that case, the number of men chosen--all the men of an entire tribe--was considerably higher than the number needed. (I wonder whether the choice of this text for Haftarat Korach might indicate some discomfort on the part of the rabbis--see here for most of the haftarah.) Or was it tribute in return for military protection, as Miami Al posits?

On the other hand, is it possible that I'm misreading the Ancient Near East? What was the status of firstborn men, which the tribe of Levi replaced/usurped?

For the record (and maybe it's just because I have the good fortune to be a citizen of a democracy), I think Korach had a point.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Golan give-back a good idea? Maybe not

Here's another discouraging Lee Smith article in Tablet Magazine.

You might as well start here.

Toward a Sustainable Egal.Judaism(R.Ethan Tucker)

I hope this video works. [Thursday, June 23, 2011: I've copied a better link--it should now work.] This presentation certainly sounded good when my husband and I heard it in person last night at Mechon Hadar.

Honestly, Rabbi Tucker's goal sounds wonderful in theory, but, if my own experience is any indication, observant egalitarian communities are hard to find.

A yahrzeit in the midst of Shloshim

"Why we need the hora," by Lenore Skenazy

Here's an interesting Jewish Daily Forward article on Israeli folk dance as a way for people to connect with Israel. As a veteran Israeli folk dancer, I would update this article by saying that Israeli folk dance didn't stop with "Mayim," and that many of the current dances are choreographed with arm movements, often making holding hands impossible (which might open up these dances to traditionalists who believe that males and females who are not close relatives are not permitted to touch one another).

My husband's reaction to this article was to wonder who, other than Israelis (or former Israelis and, perhaps, their children), would still be going Israeli folk dancing once we older folks are gone. It's sad, that many younger people are not being given the opportunity to learn Israeli folk dancing in school or camp.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Parshat Sh'lach L'cha, take 2

The first take is here.

Naaseh v'nishma ("we will do and we will hear"), applied
First, HaShem commands us to put tzitzit (fringes or tassles, depending on your translation) on the corners of our garments. Then, He tells us why.

It's Developmental Psych. 101--First, light the Shabbat/Sabbath candles, then tell the kid about Shabbat.

Haftarat Sh'lach L'cha: Rachav, Yishmael, and Eisav
Rachav, Yishmael/Ishmael, and Eisav/Esau have one thing in common--all of them honored their parents. Yishael's father Avraham kicked him out of the house, yet he still returned to help bury his father. Eisav, learning that his parents disapproved of his choice of wives, took another wife of whom he thought they might approve. And Rachav bargained not only for her own life, but for her family's, as well.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day photos with our son

Here are the Sonster and the Punster in Grand Central Station (photo by me).

Sisterly silliness: In honor of Father's Day, my sister was trying her darndest to capture the "Who's your Daddy?" sign in the store window behind Dad, Son, and Mom. :)


Adventures in observance

First, our visiting son complained that I wouldn't take him to the kosher deli of his choice because I'd heard that it wasn't kosher. Okay, so I did an Internet search afterward, and it turns out that the restaurant in question does have rabbinic supervision. Presumably, some people either don't trust the supervision and/or have other reasons for not eating there.

Then, our son complained when I wouldn't touch or move on Shabbat/Sabbath certain objects that one is not allowed to touch or move on Shabbat (objects traditionally described as "muksteh"). He found the notion of not being allowed to touch a turned-off laptop ridiculous. And, of course, as a Physics grad student, he had no kind words for the prohibition against turning electricity on and off on Shabbat, insisting that electricity is not a form of fire.

On Sunday, the restaurant problem popped up again in a different guise--my sister, who has multiple chemical sensitivities and can get sick from just about anything, put a tissue over her mouth and said that the odors (which none of the rest of us could smell) coming from the kitchen of the kosher restaurant were bothering her. She wanted to leave for a treif (non-kosher) restaurant with which she was well enough acquainted that she knew she'd feel physically comfortable there. I refused. Our son was upset that I was putting kashrut above my sister's health. Frankly, I'm not sure which one of us was right.

Having non-observant (and/or not-so-healthy) family and friends definitely complicates observance, as I mentioned previously.

Family Physicist has fun with family's funds :)

Okay, it's for our--well, mostly my--benefit.

First, our son the Physics grad student helped me choose an iPod, so that I could stop schlepping around my CD player.

Then, last time he visited, he took us shopping for a new camera.

And yesterday, he schlepped us to a Barnes and Noble bookstore, from which I emerged the owner of a Nook e-reader.

Eventually, I'll get the hang of 21st-century technology.

(Photos to follow, as soon as I get around to uploading them.)

Update: Methinks my husband just got himself a Nook, if he wants it--I forgot that touchscreens don't respond consistently to my fingers, for some reason. When I touched the same "key" 10 times, and another key five times, and nothing happened . . .

Evening update: The, er, no-longer-resident expert says that I'm supposed to tap touchscreens very lightly and quickly. So maybe the problem is that I'm too much like a typist in the way I'm handling this contraption. I'll give it another try tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yahrzeit confirmed

My Israeli brother tells me that our father died quite late on Saturday night, June 4, meaning that he died after Shabbat/Sabbath. Therefore, our father's yahrzeit is 3 Sivan.

My brother said that sitting shiva for our father was difficult because, since he'd been in decline for years, he was, as my brother put it, "pre-mourned." I told him that I agreed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Madmen in the Middle East

Here's Lee Smith's chilling analysis of internal Middle Eastern politics, published in Tablet Magazine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011 update
Um, easy come, easy go--not only is my link not working, but the entire Tablet Magazine website seems to be inoperative, at the moment. So here's Lee Smith's premise, standing on one foot (as best I can remember it): The Western world can't have a coherent policy for dealing with North African, West Asian, and South Asian internal politics until we accept the fact that we're dealing with sociopaths who won't hesitate to bomb a whole town into oblivion in order to wipe out their own country's dissidents.

3:00 PM update
The link is now working again, but here's a chunk of the article, just in case:

"Our inability to actually think like the people we are trying to influence or defeat is ultimately a much more fundamental problem than the challenges of securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Both our adversaries and our allies in the Middle East—the political and military leadership of countries like Syria and Iran and Iraq and Egypt alike—are the products of a kind of finishing school that makes Rikers Island [a New York City prison] look like Miss Porter’s prep school. What they had to do to secure power and then maintain it is beyond the imagination of any U.S. official who thinks Rahm Emanuel is a tough guy or that the West Wing of the White House is a snake pit or is stung by a slighting mention by Bob Woodward.

So, who are these people? Bashar al-Assad, for instance, has astonished the international community with his slaughter of unarmed civilians because the leaders of the Western democracies are incapable of imagining a “Westernized” ophthalmologist being capable of such violence. His Arab peers know better, which is why they are saying nothing; they’re scared of him, because he is a sociopath who tortures, maims, and kills children without blinking. NATO thought Muammar Qaddafi was a lunatic in funny robes who would fold at the first—or fifth—aerial bombardment of Tripoli. What they missed was the fact that Qaddafi is the kind of funny lunatic who held onto power for four decades while gleefully slaughtering his political opponents, manipulating Libya’s tribes, and stashing billions of dollars away for exactly the moment when the West would try to drive him from power, and who pays African mercenaries a thousand dollars a day to rape his own people.

And so we wonder why things go wrong when we try to engage the Syrians and Iranians, or to get the Pakistanis to choose a side (our side). The fact is that we don’t see the world the way they do.

But thank God for that."

Outsourcing strikes too close to home

The globalization of the economy has local effects, and not all of them are pleasant.

Nine years ago, our son entered the field of physics as an undergraduate. He had it all planned--he'd earn his Ph.D. and make a decent, though probably not spectacular, living in research and development.

That was the way the world looked to him nine years ago.

Imagine his dismay when he realized that, in the interim, many of the jobs for which he'd planned to apply had been shipped overseas.

As luck would have it, our son's planned doctoral research project didn't work out, forcing him to have to decide whether to leave graduate school with the Master's that he'd already earned or find a new research topic. Given the current employment outlook, he concluded that it would be best if he stayed in grad school. Since the U.S. job market in R. and D. is much smaller than he'd anticipated, he assumed that he'd have even more trouble finding a job with just a Master's than with a Ph.D. And the fact that, as long as he stayed in grad school, he'd keep his lab job, and its accompanying medical coverage, is no small consideration in this rotten economic climate.

It's not just manufacturing and "call centers" anymore, folks. Everything is getting outsourced, including computer and other technology and science jobs. By the time our son finally earns his Ph.D., he'll have been in college for at least a decade. Will he be able to find a job in physics, and, if so, will it be in this country? Or will he end up ditching his hard-earned degrees and working as an electrician?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More re showering on Yom Tov

Posted too late for Shavuot (because I was sitting shiva for my father at the time and just saw it today), here's Rabbi Yehuda Hausman's pre-Shavuot presentation of the rules for taking a shower on a festival.

See toward the end of this post (below my so-called artwork) for other opinions (some say that shampooing is forbidden), and for links to yet other opinions.

A kind surprise

I just got a condolence call from the rabbi of my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan. Since I haven't lived in Manhattan for over 25 years, I'm not a member of his congregation, though I pray there frequently. So it was unexpected, and kind of him, to call.

Too funny--and true (oy)--to, er, pass :)

Parshat Sh'lach L'cha

See the basics here.

The Incident of the Spies can be summarized in two words: Slave mentality. The people were completely lacking in self-confidence because they'd been slaves for centuries and didn't believe themselves capable of conquering the Promised Land.

Personally, I don't think it was very nice of HaShem to take the moments after He'd informed the Israelite camp that they'd wander for 40 years, leaving only those under 20 to enter the Land, to inform them of how they were to present sacrifices after they'd entered the Land. That's like taking some of that sacrifice-accompanying salt and rubbing it in.

As for Rachav, seen in Haftarat Sh'lach L'cha here, Jewish tradition may deem her a hero, but I suspect that her fellow and sister Jericho residents were not as enamored of her choice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 update: I really should try to remember to check my previously-published posts first--Been here, blogged this (and got an interesting comment).

On the other hand, here's a new thought.

Best peace plan ever

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cartoonist does study of anti-Semitic cartoons, II

I knew there was something I forget to mention in Part I!

The other thing that I (now) remember Mr. Kirschen pointing out is that the name of the conflict itself has changed. Thirty years ago, it was known as the Arab-Israeli conflict, meaning that Israel was pictured as a tiny nation surrounded by numerous and often-larger enemy nations determined to push it into the sea. Somewhere along the line, there was a name and attitude change--now, it's the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The narrowed focus has deliberately cast Israel, the former David, in the role of Goliath, completely eliminating the rest of Israel's enemies from the picture--now, Israel is visualized as the home of the mighty Israel Defense Forces that are taking on the (allegedly) unarmed Palestinians, an established nation fighting homeless, helpless refugees over a tiny strip of land.

How quickly people forget--the story of David and Goliath shows that a well-placed stone can kill a person just a well as a sword can. And one homicide bomber, well-placed in a pizzeria, on a bus, in a college cafeteria, or at a hotel Seder can kill and injure as many civilians as a bomb dropped from a plane on a house.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A public thank-you to Rabbi Gil Student

As mentioned in the comments here, I e-mailed my "G-d Squad" (my contacts "category" of rabbis, cantors, rabbinical and cantorial students most of whom I've "met" online) last Sunday to ask for advice on observing the laws of mourning. Rabbi Student was kind enough to send me a copy of Rabbi Maurice Lamm's The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. Rav todot for your chesed, many thanks for your kindness.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Three yahrzeits and an anniversary

Had it not been for the intervention of first Shavuot, then Shabbat, I would just have gotten up from sitting shiva for my father yesterday morning--and today is our 34th wedding anniversary. Under the circumstances, our celebration is going to be pretty subdued (just dinner in a casual kosher dairy restaurant). And every year from now on, we'll be celebrating our anniversary within weeks of my husband's mother's yahrzeit and smack dab between my mother's yahrzeit (20 Sivan) and my father's yahrzeit (3 Sivan).

Blue June, indeed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Deleting my Dad :( :( :(

As I did when my mother died, I chose to sit shiva at home when my father died last Saturday rather than going to Israel, not only because I can't speak Hebrew well enough to be comforted in it, but also because our sister is not well enough to "host" her own shiva. She was able to join me on Monday.

In both instances, I missed the finality of throwing dirt on my parents' coffins.

When my mother died, reality "hit" when I was waiting outside the sanctuary to be invited in after L'cha Dodi with the traditional "May The Place comfort you . . . "

When my father died, reality "hit" the first time I said Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals following his death and realized that I couldn't pray for a blessing for Avi Mori, My Father, My Teacher, anymore.

And deleting my father's name from my cholim/mi-sheh-berach list, the list of ill family and friends for whom I pray during the weekday Amidah prayer and at Torah readings, wasn't any easier than deleting my mother's name had been. :(

Back to my old "kaddish-minyan" commute

Bright and early this morning, I hopped on the subway to go back to the same synagogue at which I'd said kaddish for my mother for 11 months. One thing has changed, though--their Bet Midrash/chapel was renovated in the interim. It's much more comfortable now--no longer are the seats so close together that one can barely turn around. On the other hand, I'll have to find a new m'kom k'vuah (customary seat), since my old one no longer exists. And it's no longer possible for me to spare my formerly-broken wrists by resting my siddur/prayer book on the window's wide ledge. Methinks I'll now be using my paperback Koren Sacks Siddur for a good portion of the service there.

I got lucky this morning--the baalat tefillah/prayer leader was praying at close enough to my usual snail's pace that I was actually able to catch up with the minyan in time for the Kedushah prayer. Though I always say the Musaf (Additional) Kedushah of Rosh Chodesh (New Month) with my "kaddish minyan," this is the first time, to the best of my recollection, that I've ever been "there yet" to recite the Kedushah of Shacharit (Morning Service) with them.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Shavuot stories

Hairier than thou
In his rush to help me prepare for Shavuot after I got up from sitting shiva for my father, my husband completely forgot to shave, and spent the entire Yom Tov/holiday looking like a grizzly bear. A casual observer could be forgiven for having assumed that he'd decided to do something completely different and grow a beard after Sefirah.

Um, I don't know exactly how to tell you this, but . . .
One of our synagogue "regulars" is so enamored of, on the one hand, leading study sessions on Shabbat/Sabbath afternoon and, on the other hand, showing up quite late for every service that I've long since concluded that he's far more interested in study than observance. Still, in keeping with the tradition of not embarrassing a person in public, it may be just as well that no one had the heart to mention to him that, the entire time that he was sitting at the Tikkun Leil Shavuot and discussing the reason for the plague among Akiva's scholars, he had a pen in his hand.

Music by accident
Imagine my dismay when I found out the hard way that I'd accidentally set the alarm on my "Shabbos clock" to the "music" setting. (Hmm, this fancy new version has a cover that slides over the buttons on Shabbat.) Not only was I violating the rule against playing music on a holiday, I was also violating the rule against a mourner listening to music during the 12 months after a parent's death. On the plus side, listening to seven repetitions of four bars of boring music doesn't exactly constitute entertainment.

Fressing frenzy
The bourekas were too salty, the potato blintzes too peppery, and, after one and a half days of cheese cake, the thought of having yet another round of cheese blintzes on the afternoon of the second day of Shavuot made this lactose-intolerant individual ill. Methinks we'll stick to fruit blintzes next Shavuot.

On the other hand, after a late night at the synagogue's Tikkun Leil Shavuot fueled only by coffee and cheesecake, coming home to a meal of cold salmon (cooked before the holiday), Kirby cucumbers, raw baby carrots, and fresh fruit was perfect.

(DovBear says that, when it comes to essing (eating) and/or fressing ("stuffing our faces"/"pigging out") we should each follow our own/our family's own/our community's own minhag/custom, and not be intimidated by a possible misunderstanding of a Talmudic statement.)

"Evicted" :(
First, the office staff rented out the sanctuary on the first night of Shavuot, forcing the congregation to hold services and the Tikkun Leil Shavuot in the lobby. Then, they rented out the sanctuary again on the second night to a rather noisy group, forcing us to davven downstairs in the chapel. Finally, to add insult to injury, they not only rented out the sanctuary and the lobby before the end of Shavuot, they also rented out the chapel--for a band rehearsal!!! This forced us into the only remaining space, an office next to the chapel. I managed to get through Minchah (Afternoon Service) while the band was still warming up, but when it became clear that they were going to conduct a full-fledged rehearsal during Maariv (Evening Service), I went home and davvened (prayed) by myself. Not only would it have been impossible for me to concentrate, but, in addition, since I'm in my year of mourning for my father, I'm not supposed to be listening to music.

In our congregation, rental income takes priority over everything, even the primary purpose for which a synagogue exists--prayer. To paraphrase an old Vietnam War saying, the powers that be (meaning the president) have apparently decided that they have to destroy the synagogue in order to save it.

I'll be davvening at my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan this coming Shabbat. I'd rather take the subway to synagogue on the Sabbath than risk being "evicted" yet again.

Please pardon my "graveyard humor"

The last, er, lunch
In a fit of irony, I decided to eat, as part of my last meal as a mourner, what should have been the first thing I ate as part of my first meal as a mourner, namely, a hard-boiled egg. This one, I cooked for myself, though. Oh, well.

It's a conspiracy, I tell ya
When my mother died, I went straight from Shloshim into the Shalosh HaShavuot/Drei Vachen/Three Weeks proceeding the Fast of Tisha B'Av, and couldn't get a haircut for almost two months. With my father's death, I'm going straight from Sefirah into Shloshim, and, again, won't be able to get a haircut for almost two months. Nu, do you think my parents wanted me to grow my hair longer?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Mourning: The role of the community

This is what can happen if one has no connection to any Jewish community.

I have been very fortunate--even in this Yid-forsaken neighborhood, where there are so few synagogue-going Jews left that neither the Conservative synagogue nor either of the remaining Orthodox synagogues can get a minyan on a weekday, I still got a minyan at my home for Maariv (Evening Service) on Monday night and for both Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Maariv yesterday. I was also quite surprised and touched when one of the minyanim with which I frequent pray at my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan had a platter of deli, several containers of cold salads, and enough pre-cooked fleishigs/b'sari/meat dishes to last us through Shabbat (Sabbath) delivered from a glatt kosher catering establishment that normally doesn't deliver to this neighborhood. I was also pleased that my sister was well enough to join me yesterday in sitting shiva for our father .

Rounding up a Meal of Consolation got a bit challenging, however--here's the reason why I sent my husband to the synagogue to raid its kitchen for my breakfast on my first day of shiva (see page 116 in Volume 4, Chapter 205 of the Code of Jewish Law/Kitzur Shulchan Aruch by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried, translated by Hyman E. Goldin, copyright 1961, 1963):

"1. On the first day of mourning, the mourner is forbidden to eat his own food at his first meal. It is, therefore, the duty of his neighbors to send him food for the first meal, which is known as the meal of condolence. The meal should begin with eggs or lentils, which are round and have no mouth (dent), just as the mourner presumably has no mouth. But these may be followed by all manner of food, even meat. . . .

3. A married woman is not allowed to take the first meal of her husband's food, inasmuch as it is his duty to support her, it is considered her own food."

I had a most interesting conversation on this subject with an old friend who came to sit shiva with me on Sunday afternoon.

"Sure, the community is supposed to provide the meal of consolation, but you'd better believe that the mourner is expected to pay for it."

No amount of suggesting that perhaps the rabbis were trying to alleviate not only the stress of funeral planning, the actual funeral, the burial, and/or mourning, but possibly, also, some of the financial burden, could convince her otherwise.

And I realized that, in some non-Orthodox communities, if you ask your own synagogue to order food for your meal of consolation, you can, indeed, expect to be billed for it.

Does this approach--that the community should do the work, but the mourner can foot the bill--miss the point?

And/or is the problem that the Shulchan Aruch was being literal when it said that the neighbors should provide the food, and expecting a neighborhood synagogue to do so, instead, is a tircha d'tzibbur (burden on the community) and also misses the point? Does the responsibility for nichum aveilim (comforting the mourners), like the responsibility for finding a sukkah in which to eat during Sukkot, devolve upon individuals, rather than on institutions?

Monday, June 06, 2011

A tale about time . . . of death

My sister and I spoke to our Israeli brother today, and it turns out that he only knows when the doctor called him, not when our father actually died. There's a good chance that he actually died after Shabbat, Israeli time. So we don't yet know when our father's yahrzeit (anniversary of death) will be, and won't know until our brother check's Dad's death certificate.

Sunday, June 19, 2011 update: Our father's yahrzeit is 3 Sivan.

My orphanhood doesn't feel new, I'm sorry to say

From my September 28, 2010 post "Ki avi v'imi azavuni . . . "

The sad truth is that it was difficult for me to mourn for my mother when she'd already been largely absent from my life for over two decades. And my father, with no memory left, is, from my own perspective, as good as gone already, as awful as that may sound. I'm actually having trouble trying to figure out what to say when the time comes for me to sit shiva for him--he's been in decline for so long that we haven't been able to have a decent conversation for several years.

[ ¶ ]

So a psalm that says that "my father and my mother have deserted me" strikes a little too close to home."

Sitting shiva for a long-time-not-really-there father who moved to Israel when our now-28-year-old son was less than 3 years old is . . . well, not the easiest thing. It's tough to talk about the father I once had, since only a shell remained by the time he died, and difficult to mourn someone who was, in all ways but physical, dead already. I tried to write a few words to say at the shiva, but my words felt hollow--the man I described hasn't existed in years. The truth is that I'm relieved, since the only thing that continued life would have brought my father was more suffering for no good reason.

As far as I'm concerned, I was as good as orphaned months, if not years, ago. Sitting shiva for my father is just a public acknowledgment of a private long-held truth. And low-level, drawn-out private mourning is a tough gig.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Mourning: Breaking rules that I don't even know :(

Okay, there are some rules that I do know.

When my Israeli brother called yesterday, shortly after we'd awakened from our Shabbos nap, I figure I'd return the call later--I haven't answered the phone on Shabbat (Sabbath) in years. But when he said, "I know it's Shabbat, but . . .", well, I knew that he had to have a really serious reason for asking me to violate the Sabbath.

"Cheit's (sin's) on you."

"Dad's suffering is over."

What could I say but "Baruch Dayan Emet"*?

I still haven't gotten the exact details of my father's death, but I assume that he died on Shabbat. I can't imagine any other reason for my brother calling me then.

I broke the rules again when I told everyone the news at Minchah/Afternoon Service. Years ago, a former rabbi taught that one shouldn't announce a death on Shabbat.

Concerning unknown rules, there was a bit of a timing problem.

After we finished Maariv (Evening Service), I deemed it appropriate, with Shabbat over, to check our Kitzur Shulchan Aruch abridged explanation of practical halachot/Jewish religious laws. As luck would have it, I should have looked before Shabbat was over. I wasn't supposed to have said Maariv, only the Sh'ma biblical quotations without their accompanying b'rachot/blessings. I wasn't supposed to have recited the b'rachah for Sefirat HaOmer either, but instead, was supposed to have waited until this morning and counted without the b'rachah.

It gets worse. :( When I woke up this morning, figuring that my father had already been buried and I was no longer an onenet (onanah?)--someone whose close relative has died but not yet been buried--but, rather, a full-fledged aveilah (mourner), I davvened Sharcharit (prayed the Morning Service) in the usual manner. Then, since I'd forgotten to change to a clean blouse last night, to prepare for mourning, I opened up our Kitzur Shulchan Aruch to see whether the prohibition against wearing clean clothes was a minhag/custom or an actual law. It appears to be a law, so here I am in Thursday's blouse. But while I was looking, I spotted two more laws--(A) A mourner isn't supposed to wear tefillin on the first day of aveilut/mourning, and (B) A mourner is not supposed to eat her own or her husband's food on the first day of aveilut, but should eat only food provided by the community. So I goofed by laying tefillin this morning, and now my husband's en route to the synagogue to see whether he can raid the kitchen there for my breakfast, at least.

Is there anything else that I should know?

"Praised is the True Judge," the traditional response to news of a death.

Baruch Dayan Emet--My father passed away

Considering the declining state of our father's mental heath--he's been suffering from senile dementia for years--his death is sad, but not necessarily bad. At least he died before his physical health caused him much pain beyond bedsores and the like. He'll be buried in Israel, his home for over 20 years, later this morning.

Shiva will be shortened due to Shavuot. It's going to be pretty strange, celebrating a major holiday just days after my father's funeral.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Haftarat Naso is subversive

Start with Parshat Naso.

Then consider the Sotah ritual described therein, in which a man could have his wife tried for adultery by public ordeal on mere suspicion (a right later restricted by our rabbis, in their wisdom).

Now consider Manoach. His barren wife tells him that a man who appeared to be an angel came to her and told her that she was going to have a child. Instead of automatically suspecting her of infidelity, he asks G-d to have the angel appear to him, too.

The obvious reason for pairing this haftarah with this Torah reading is that the Torah reading discusses the laws governing a Nazir, and this haftarah announces the birth of Shimshon/Samson, who will be a Nazir for life. But perhaps this haftarah is also an indirect response of our ancient sages to the injustice of the Sotah ritual--at least try to ascertain the truth before making assumptions.

It's amazing (and annoying) . . .

. . . how much easier it is to wake up early on a bright June morning than on a still-pitch-black morning in January. Sigh. Most employers don't particularly care that you have to add the Yaaleh v'Yavo prayer, the Hallel psalms, and the Musaf Amidah additional prayer to your Shacharit (Morning Service) on Rosh Chodesh (Beginning of a Month). They still expect you to get to work on time.

June or not, I'm still yawning. That extra-early wake-up time is a killer.

Chodesh Tov, (Have a) Good Month!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A must-read by Daniel Gordis

See his Are Young Rabbis Turning On Israel? Very serious, indeed.

Parshat Naso—a mixed bag

Here are the basics.

The Census of the Men of the Tribe of Lévi
Let me get this straight—we really needed 8,580 men between the ages of 30 and 50 to transport the components of the Ohel Moed/Mishkan/Sanctuary-of-the-Wilderness?! (See chapter 4, verse 48 here.) There has to be a better explanation for the status of the tribe of Levi.

Frequent commenter Miami Al once posited that Moshe, having been raised as an Egyptian prince, trained his own tribe, Lévi, in the art of war, thus enabling their ferocious attack against the idol worshippers after the incident of the Egel HaZahav/Golden Calf, and turning them into the Twelve Tribes’ chief fighting force. (See the comments to my “Gender discrimination at the Cohanic dinner table?”) Later in the Torah, we read that the Leviim, while not receiving portions (of agricultural lands) to settle, did receive a certain amount of land surrounding the cities. This would make sense, if they were, indeed, the Chosen Warriors of the Chosen People—it would force them to be the closest to the cities, in the event that defense was needed.

Eviction of the “impure”
Lepers and the “unclean,” out of the camp! Chapter 5, verses 1-4. And speaking of “impure,” . . .

Sigh. Been there, blogged that. And, in case I missed anything . . .

Priestly Blessing
Chapter 6, verses 24-26.

Senseless self-deprivation, in my opinion
Why would anyone volunteer to be a Nazarite? Chapter 6, verses 1-21.

And more gifts for the Mishkan than you can shake a stick at
Just read the rest of the parsha, in which the prince of each of the 12 tribes (minus Lévi, but including Ephraim and Menasheh separately) brings exactly the same gift. Easy reading for the leiner/baal(at) koreh/Torah reader, at least. :)

Friday, June 3, 2011 update: See my Haftarat Naso is subversive.

I found the Maariv for Yom HaAtzmaut (a bit late)!

See the original discussion here.

The Maariv (Evening Service) for Yom HaAtzmaut/Israel Independence Day begins on page 910 in the Koren Sacks Siddur (prayer book). To the best of my recollection, that's the one I heard (and participated in). Thanks to all of those who told me about it and encouraged me to look for it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cartoonist does study of anti-Semitism in cartoons

Last Tuesday, at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale , Yaakov Kirschen, of Dry Bones fame, presented a PowerPoint-illustrated discussion of his work as Artist in Residence at YIISA, Yale's Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism, along with a pitch for the support of Z Street, a new Zionist initiative. Mr. Kirschen posits that anti-Semitism is a behavioral virus—a view also expressed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book Future Tense. But coming from a cartoonist’s angle, Mr. Kirschen was able to collect, as proof, hundreds of anti-Semitic cartoons and classify them as belonging to the Dehumanizing (e.g., Jews as animals), Stereotyping (e.g., Jews as controllers of the media), and Moral Inversion (e.g., Jews/Israel/Israelis as Nazis) families. I strongly recommend that you read his Secret Codes Hidden War. Parental Advisory Warning: Some of the cartoons are quite gruesome, and are not suitable for viewing by young children.

Probably the most startling thing I can remember that Mr. Kirschen said was that the term West Bank is actually a modern term invented by the Jordanian government. Mr. Kirschen stated that, prior to Israel’s War of Independence and the take-over of the western bank of the Jordan by then-Transjordan, the West Bank was actually known by everyone (including the Arabs of the surrounding and nearby nations) as Judea and Samaria. That’s what all the maps show, he stated. How ironic, that any use by Israelis and Diaspora Jews of the name originally used by Jews and non-Jews alike for centuries brands the users as fanatical right-wingers. :(

Related: The New Anti-Semitism--What it is and how to deal with it, by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.


Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Reunification Day

There seems to be some confusion as to which day is correct, but, as far as I can figure out, today's the day. 28 Iyar. (No Tachunun! Yay!)

From Miami Al, via e-mail, an Al HaNisim or two (rav todot/many thanks!):

From the group arguing for Nusach Eretz Yisrael, etc. Most famous for ruling
that Kitniyot are permissable for Ashkenazim in Israel.

Not saying that this is mainstream, but as Orthodoxy continues to follow idiocy
from the Chareidi camp and will probably STOP saying Hallel, perhaps this will
stand in it's place. This makes more sense anyone.

Yom Ha'atzmaut is celebrating a new Purim (though commemorating the declaration,
NOT the resolution) and Yom Yerusalayim is celebrating a new Chanukah."

Now all I need, as an American Jew who's only semi-literate in Hebrew, is a translation. Some of it sure sounds familiar, though, borrowed from the Chanukah and/or Purim versions and from Tehillim/Psalms. If you can read at least fluent "prayer-book Hebrew," I recommend that you try reciting this Al HaNissim.

It's a bit too political for my taste, but here's something from the Orthodox Union.

"As we mark 44 years of a reunited Jerusalem this week," doesn't help much. Are they too afraid of their right wing to mark the date on their z'manim calendar?

In the hope that day's the correct day, I'm posting. If not, apologies for my stupidity. In any case, hurrah for the reunification of Yerushalayim! Considering the fact that we Jews had no access to our holy sites for all the years during which the Old City was under non-Israeli jurisdiction, why should we trust anyone else now? I say Israel should keep the whole thing. That's not a political statement, that's just plain seichel/common sense.



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