Wednesday, September 25, 2019

“Gam Ki Eilech” (2019) by Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lost--& found--in the wilds of Westchester--Hadar Ensemble concert & Selichot

Naturally, since we had to make a 50-yard dash--or, rather, take an eight-block speed-walk--to our rental car as soon as we could get our gear together after making havdalah last night--we were already running late.  Then we messed up the GPS, so it messed us up--it sent us to White Plains instead of New Rochelle.  (Both towns are in Westchester County, New York State).  But we did, eventually, make it to Beth El Synagogue Center.

And this is what we saw and heard.

Shir HaMaalot (music by Joey Weisenberg, with Deborah Sacks Mintz singing lead and Anat Hoffman singing harmony).  Many thanks to Hadar's Rabbi Elie Kaunfer for recording and sharing this video.

You'll have to go to Deborah's Facebook page to see more videos from the concert and a snippet of Avinu Malkeinu (from the Selichot service following the concert)--I'm, apparently, too tech-challenged to figure out how to find workable links to these videos on Facebook.

We got two pleasant surprises at and after the Selichot service.  Neither of us had any idea that one of the local Israeli-folk-dance teachers with whom we dance frequently is a cantor--he was one of the leaders of the Selichot service.  The other surprise was that one of the former cantors of our former synagogue, who was another one of the Selichot leaders, still recognized us even though we probably haven't seen her for about 20 years--what a delight to be greeted with a hug!  She actually grew up in our former synagogue--we've known her since she was a child.

All told, and even though we got there ridiculously late, it was worth the trip to see old friends in new places, enjoy part of a wonderful concert, and participate in a musical Selichot service with over 200 people instead of probably fewer than 15.  It's hard to feel that one has an actual viable congregation when, practically every other Shabbat (Sabbath) morning, we have to stop the service and wait because we "lose" our minyan every time someone leaves the sanctuary.  So it was a real pleasure to davven ba-rabbim, to pray among a multitude.


Monday, September 16, 2019


Here are some delightful recordings from Nava Tehila:

~ Sham'ah Va-tismach (Psalm 97: 8)  As befits the lyrics (which are all in the feminine in Hebrew), all of the singers of this particular song are women.  (Audio only.)

~  Oseh Shalom (live-performance video).  My husband and I first heard this at a recent Kabbalat Shabbat/Maariv service at my old "kaddish minyan."

~ Halleluyah (audio only)

Want to jazz things up a bit?  Here's a good song from Noah AronsonEileh Chamdah Libi

I like Elana Arian's L'cha Dodi so much that I've borrowed the melody for use as Adon Olam at our shul.

And here's Chava Mirel's Achat Sha'alti, from the special psalm recited at the end of every Shacharit (Morning) and Maariv/Arvit (Evening) Service during the month of Elul.  In this version, she sings in three-part harmony all by herself.  (Would that I had the tech skills to create a split-screen video.)  And here, for people like me who get so distracted by lovely harmonies that we have trouble learning the melody :), is the melody-only version, so that we can learn it.  :)


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Links to two important posts on Halachah and the LGBTQI community

For lighter reading, see my Friday, September 13, 2019 post (complete with photos), Last hurrah of summer 2019.

Note:  I first saw the links below on Facebook.

On Halakha and LGBT (By: Aaron J Koller, YU Professor of Near Eastern Studies),  | September 10, 2019

 "This is the most disturbing part of the “akedah theology” (as Ronit Irshai calls it): it invariably is framed as self-sacrifice, but actually involves the sacrifice of another. I may be called upon to put aside my liberal values, but the person who actually pays the price is the LGBT friend who is not allowed to get married, not wished a mazel tov in the weekly community announcements, not welcomed with their partner into myriad communal frameworks.

. . . 

So, in short: In a clash between humanity and halakha, opt for humanity, and have enough faith in halakha that the problem will be solved. And if somehow the conflict remains intractable, I would rather suffer for being a good person than sacrifice someone else’s life on the altar of my religiosity."

Sep 12 · 9 min read
"While I don’t read many self-help books, there is one that I swear by, “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. Long story short, the book is a fable about four mice and how they are able or unable to adapt to new circumstances of the cheese in their maze being moved. The lesson — when circumstances in life change the best way forward is to move with the change (the cheese) instead of pretending that nothing has changed.

. . .

Orthodox Shuls, still stuck in 2009, have now fallen behind general society in the United States. Feeling ever more empowered, queer Orthodox Jews now expect to live full lives — coming out young, even in high school (something unimaginable a decade ago), getting married, having children, and living religious lives. And we have done so without the Chesed of Orthodox rabbis. We have been able to find our own spaces, albeit not always Orthodox.

Consequently, an Orthodox rabbi no longer holds the same power when meeting with a queer congregant. The queer millennial/gen-z’er knows that they will not be stuck in this community their whole life. They’re not asking for the rabbi’s approval for their coming out or their wedding, they’re asking for his/her blessing. If they don’t get it they can [happily] go elsewhere. There is already a list of Orthodox rabbis performing gay weddings, and an Orthodox-ordained rabbi (yours truly), and many halakhically conversant queer people. The power dynamic has dramatically shifted.

So now Orthodox rabbis are stuck in their behavioral inhibition as the power slips away. Sympathizing with the gay person no longer cuts it. People want action that speaks to where they are in life now — marriage, recognition, opportunities for leadership as rabbis and community leaders. So rabbis avoid the situation altogether and put the blame on queer people for being too pushy, shocked that we are not happy with the fact we are able to just be gay. i.e., shocked that we are not satisfied with 2009. It was amazing for me to see the contortions some rabbis made in order to blame me for my being denied ordination last Spring, with made up stories about contracts that I had signed and absurd, unconfirmed and frankly inappropriate speculation about my intimate life and living situations. Why couldn’t people just say we don’t believe in an openly gay rabbis? Why couldn't they debate that question? Because they are still in 2009, a different stage of the cheese. And in 2009, that was not a question up for debate.

. . .

So how can we adjust as a community? I would like to offer some suggestions as to how we can move with the cheese.
  1. I do not think rabbis have reckoned with the fact that the cheese has moved and that they no longer hold that power. Rabbis — and rabbinical schools in particular — need to realize that it is 2019, not 2009. Which means not just that the conversation needs to change, but the dynamics need to change. Rabbis need to realize (and I’m saying this as a rabbi as much as a member of gay community) that a conversation with a gay congregant is now a conversation of equals (in some sense). The rabbis do not hold all of the cards anymore. As rabbis have rested on their laurels over the past decade, queer people have been learning and gearing up for battle. Rabbis cannot get insulted or offended that queer people are not satisfied with sympathy alone. If there is something a rabbi cannot do either for Halakhic or political reasons they need to be upfront and realize that they may not be able to have their cake and eat it too. The decision to keep your membership in a rabbinical organization may come at the cost of some queer members of your Shul. But that is a decision you are making.
  2. For a while rabbis were able to sidestep any Halakhic conversation; that is no longer the case. Rabbis can no longer get away with statements that hold no water in Halakhic discourse, such as saying that the Torah prohibits same-sex marriage based on an Aggadic passage that is not codified in the Shulchan Aruch. Many rabbis may not feel trained for this conversation, as rabbinical schools have not prepared them for this. They still do not — when I was in YCT just last year “LGBT issues” were relegated to pastoral counseling class, with no discussion during morning seder, the portion of the day in which we learn Halakha (despite my requests to do so). Rabbis need to study up. If they have not spent time learning Halakhot related to queer people (and for the most part, they haven’t), this is a great time to start. I am happy to connect rabbis with resources in doing this learning.
  3. Conversely, queer people need to use our newfound power to educate our rabbis. Ask rabbis the halakhic questions. When a Halakhic answer is given, ask for sources. When a political answer is given (“this will set back the cause”), ask what the specific political strategy is being employed to accomplish these goals. Ask for a specific date when this issue will be discussed at the next rabbinic convention.
  4. Queer people need to stand up for ourselves, but also be generous. No we do not need to accept discrimination. We do not need to accept marginalization or second-class status — I certainly do not. But the cheese has moved for us too, and we need to recognize the power that we do hold. Because there are a lot of good rabbis out there who have a lot to offer but they are going to need our help.
  5. And most critically, we need to establish healthier power dynamics. No one man or woman should hold the keys to who can come to shul, who can get married, or who can become a rabbi. If we as rabbis find ourselves dictating the terms of the conversation (i.e. find ourselves being behaviorally activated) that is a sign that we are holding too much power and we are begging for another crisis. If we are taking no risks as rabbis, we are just holding on to power that is slipping away.
Because the cheese will move again at some point. And the next time it moves I hope we can all move with it in a way that avoids the hurt and pain that has come with the current change in circumstances."

Friday, September 13, 2019

Last hurrah of summer 2019

Montauk Lighthouse
Shira's Shot, Labor Day 2019

Montauk Lighthouse from the path to the beach

  View from the top
I climbed 136 steps on a circular staircase to see this!

Celebrating Giorgina Reid, Savior of the Montauk Lighthouse

"She came uninvited. She was 60 years old at that time. She was about 4 foot 11. And she said she believed she could save the Montauk Lighthouse from falling into the sea."

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

My public apology to Rabbi Angela Buchdahl

I was thoroughly rebuked by a reader of this blog, and rightly so:  "You can't call out someone without checking first!"

My rebuker was referring to my assumption, seen in this post of mine, that Rabbi Angela Buchdahl had never converted to Judaism.

I told my rebuker the truth, which isn't much of an excuse:  Since the Reform Movement accepts patrilineal descent, it never occurred to me that it would matter to Hebrew Union College (the Reform seminary for rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators) whether or not a person with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother actually converted to Judaism before becoming a member of the Reform clergy.  I have since checked, and found that, while HUC will not admit persons to the rabbinical or cantorial programs if they are involved in a serious relationship with a non-Jew, their stipulation regarding Jewish status is a rather vague statement that the person must "identify as Jewish."  (Click here and scroll down to "Do you have an intermarriage policy?" and  "Do I have to be Jewish to be admitted to HUC-JIR?")

That said, had I looked, I could easily have seen for myself that Rabbi Buchdahl chose to convert to Judaism.

I apologize to Rabbi Buchdahl for any embarrassment and/or upset that I may have caused.

This is the month of Elul, when we pay particular attention to trying to improve our behavior.  I commit myself to doing a better job of guarding my tongue--and my keyboard--in the future.
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