Wednesday, September 30, 2020

About last night's so-call Presidential Debate :(

Monday, September 28, 2020

The rest of us: Some small congregations & prayer groups trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic *also* ran HH services

The reports, questions, requests for advice, etc., were all over Facebook, particularly on the Dreaming Up High Holy Days 2020 page.  The sighs of relief, as well as the thank-yous now that Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is over, are also all over Facebook.

Large synagogues have rabbis, cantors, staff, and technical help, paid for by their large numbers of members and donors.  

And small congregations and prayer groups have . . . what?

Pre-recorded music from a choir?  What choir?

Pre-recorded musicians?  What musicians?

Musicians piped in from other rooms?  How many rooms do you think we have in our tiny, windowless basement?  We can barely accommodate a minyan in our chapel, and the other rooms are full of mostly-no-longer-used machzorim and megillot books, not to mention a freezer and a second refrigerator, 'cause, ya know, Jews like to eat.  :)

Clergy safely distanced in sanctuaries that can accommodate hundreds of people (under normal circumstances)?  With at least two separate cameras capturing the services?  Are you joking?

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, some prayer/community spaces have had to sell their meeting locations, and some of them have no place to return to after the pandemic.

And some small congregations and prayer/community spaces have lost most of their "donations" (from people borrowing their facilities for non-synagogue activities) as a result of being closed due to the pandemic, and are barely above water financially.

Do you know what it's like to run High Holiday services with *no* full-time staff, *no* full-time clergy, and only one (part-time) cantor who's, um, less than stellar, all the while worrying about whether your synagogue building will still be there in six months?

Do you know what it's like to have some of your "hard-core regulars" unable to join you on Zoom because they're so low-tech that they don't even have cell phones, much less computers, and don't feel like holding a landline phone for an hour and a half?  It's no fun, "discriminating" against people just because they're over 80 and don't want to learn a new technology.

Do you know what it's like to spend months as volunteers creating e-mail lists, e-mailing information and Zoom links to congregants and friends, trying to figure out what to include and what to exclude from Zoom services, studying nusach, practicing Torah readings, and writing sermons, only to have High Holiday services with such a small attendance that we never had more than 30 people on the Zoom at any service, and couldn't even get a minyan on Shabbat Shuvah?

It's not that large congregations aren't terrifically challenged by these difficult times.  It's just that the problems of large congregations are often completely different from those that some smaller congregations/prayer groups have to deal with.  Congratulations to all of you whose services went well, and my sympathies to those who ran into technical or other difficulties.  But while you folks with resources are busy congratulating yourselves and one another, how about giving some recognition to the rest of us?


Thursday, September 24, 2020

The silence finally got to me :(

 I was davvenning Shacharit (praying the Morning Service) on Zoom with B'nai Jeshurun (click on a photo to get to the Morning Minyan Zoom link) when Cantor Ari Priven starting singing the end of Avinu Malkenu, and the silence of the congregation, all on mute, was so deafening that it brought me to tears.     How long will it be before we can sing together again?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Cheater's" Stovetop Tzimmes: My simplified tzimmes recipe

I always make this for Rosh Hashanah, for a sweet new year.
Feel free to call me a cheater--one of my fellow congregants once did--but I don’t use the oven because using the stove-top is safer—there’s less likelihood of me spilling hot pineapple juice (or other ingredients) on myself when I’m using a pot rather than a clumsy roasting pan.


~1 fresh apple, with core removed 
(Do not peel, or you'll end up with applesauce--the skin keeps the apple from falling apart during the cooking process.)

~1 20-ounce can of pineapple chunks in unsweetened juice (no syrup allowed!)
(Since you want to be able to taste the pineapple, chunks work better than crushed pineapple or pineapple tidbits).

~1 and 1/2 pounds of baby carrots 
(Easier on the wrists and fingers than cutting full-sized ones, and there's no reason to cut them at all except for Rosh HaShanah, when you might want to slice at least one carrot because the sliced carrots are supposed to represent the coins/currency in your future), or 1 and 1/2 pounds of full-sized carrots (sliced or cut into chunks). [If you use 2 pounds of carrots, the tzimmes won't be sweet enough, but if you use only 1 pound, you'll wonder where the carrots disappeared. :)]
~ground cinnamon to taste

[I eliminated the sweet potatoes, which are a pain to cut and which I don't like anyway--you can serve the tzimmes with noodles or rice. I also eliminated the orange juice, which is bad for my acid reflux.

Possible health alert: This recipe contains neither honey nor sugar, but it may still not be good for diabetics because of the high natural-sugar (glycemic?) content, especially from the carrots and fruit juice. That said, it's an improvement for those of us who have trouble with refined sugar and/or honey (both of which give me leg cramps), but not with juice.]

Place the cored apple in the center of a three-quart pot. Sprinkle the interior of the apple with ground cinnamon, stuff it with pineapple chunks, then sprinkle the exterior of the stuffed apple with cinnamon. Alternate layers of carrots and pineapple chunks. Pour the remaining chunks of unsweetened pineapple and at least half the pineapple juice--I haven’t figured out the correct proportions yet--over everything. Sprinkle cinnamon on everything. Mix a bit, if possible, without dislodging the apple from its pride of place. Bring to a boil, then cook on low-medium heat until the carrots are soft, which should take approximately forever (over an hour?) .  Have a good and sweet year!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Al chet sheh-chatati l'fanecha: A plague of prejudice(s) :(

Al chet sheh-chatati l'fanecha--for the sin that I have sinned before You.

You might as well start here.  Seriously, is it even possible to be white like me and not be a racist?  

Here's what I read on Facebook (unfortunately, I can't copy and paste, so give me a minute to copy by eye):  Ijeoma Oluo said, "The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist.  Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself.  And it's the only way forward."

I'm working on it.

Then there's, well, I guess for me a few lessons needed regarding sexual and gender diversity.  When I was a teenager in the 1960s, there was no such thing as being "out of the closet''--you could loose your job, your home, your family, and even your life if anyone found out that you were gay.  (Unfortunately, I'm not sure the "losing your life" part ever went away.)  I was literally in my twenties when I first heard the word "bisexual," and roughly 68 before I first heard the term "gender non-binary."  And there was that interesting time about 15 years ago when a friend and long-ago ex-boyfriend came out as a transgender woman.  At his her recent Zoom memorial service, all of his her New York friends agreed that none of us had handled the transition very well, and that he'd had to leave New York State to become a she.

Really, Shira, did you have to stare at that trans woman for the several days of that group study session last December?  She didn't ask to be born in that body.  You owe her an apology.

I'm working on it.

This one is so new to me that I don't even know what to call it.  The closest I can get is "fat shaming."  It's a bias against people who are, um, heavier than average.  (?)  

Again, I'm copying by eye from Facebook (

"Stop moralizing food.  Stop demonizing food groups.  Stop worshiping diets.  If you're missing that inner calibration that tells you what you need to eat and when to stop, talk to an eating disorder specialist.  It astonishes me that I experienced decades of this madness before I was referred to someone qualified to help."

Honestly, it never occurred to me that will-power was not the problem, that being overweight might actually be a genetic glitch.  Does anyone blame anyone for having been born legally blind?

If you have access to Facebook, I strongly recommend that you read the entire post.  Many thanks to Eliana Light for sharing this on her Facebook page.

We shame people who are above average in weight, and sometimes even those who are under the average weight.  Why do we pay attention to such things, and allow ourselves to get distracted from what's really important?

Again, I'm working on it.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book review: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (by Robin DiAngelo)

I read this book several months ago and couldn't quite figure out how to review it here.  But I really have to talk about it during this Season of Repentance, so here's a copy of the review that I posted on the Goodreads website:

From page 100 of the paperback:

"several reasons why whites are so defensive about the suggestion that we benefit from, and are complicit in, a racist system:

Social taboos against talking openly about race
The racist = bad / not racist = good binary
Fear and resentment toward people of color
Our delusion that we are objective individuals
Our guilty knowledge that there is more going on than we can or will admit to
Deep investment in a system that benefits us and that we have been conditioned to see as fair
Internalized superiority and sense of a right to rule
A deep cultural legacy of anti-black sentiment

From page 121 of the paperback:

"Racism can only be intentional; my not having intended racism cancels out the impact of my behavior."

Ouch. I guess I can only say that accidentally running over a child with a car can kill them, so the fact that you did it accidentally is of no help to the grieving parents.

"Racists are bad individuals, so you are saying that I am a bad person."

See above--if your brakes fail and you run over a child and kill them, you may not be a bad person, but the child is still dead.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Multiple harmony-singers in one room! It's a miracle!

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic ate the entire human species, it's been almost impossible to find live multi-part harmony.  So imagine how delighted I was to read this announcement on Facebook:

Facefriends. I want to invite you to a special zoom service I’m leading tonight (and again on the 28th and sept 11th). I’ll be leading a small group of singers distanced and live from our sanctuary in Atlanta, and my hope is that it will be both meaningful and uplifting.
If you’d like to join us, you can find the link at for Friday night services.
Mincha will begin at 6:30est Friday, and services will be done by 8pm at the latest.
Wishes for a sweet shabbos

Back in the good old days pre-pandemic, when such things weren't potentially deadly, my husband and I attended Hadar's Rising Song Intensive.  That's where I met (now-Rabbi) Sam Blustin.  He was among those presenting short d'vrei Torah (words of Torah/Jewish learning) after dinner, and since he mentioned an independent minyan that he was involved in leading, I went up afterward to ask his advice on choosing tunes for our then-in-the-planning-stage lay-led minyan (which finally took place on Shabbat Shira in February 2020).  His advice was very helpful.  But unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, we never got to visit the Shira B'Dira Minyan before COVID sent it online and before Sam received his rabbinical ordination and left New York City for an Associate Rabbi position in Atlanta. So this zoom service was our chance to see a bit of what we'd missed.
What a delightful service!  There was Rabbi Sam up on the bima, leading several invisible singers in harmony.  Multi-part harmony, live, done safely in the middle of an airborne pandemic!!!!!  The senior rabbi joked that the sanctuary looked like a recording studio, presumably because of all the wiring needed to power several microphones scattered around the room.  But it was well worth it to hear a "sweet singer of Israel" and his accompanying meshorerim (choristers, harmony singers).  We hope to join Ahavath Achim again on September 11.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Adventures in online shul-hopping :)

Shul-hopping = visiting a synagogue other than the one to which one usually goes

Shul-hopping used to require one to actually enter a synagogue, but these days, virtual visits are the safest, and, except among the halachically observant, often the only, way to go.

The manner of presenting a virtual service can make one's visit interesting.

Some synagogues, minyanim, and other prayer groups provide a Zoom link to members only, while directing other pray-ers to a livestream.  That creates something of a "spectator-sport" effect for non-members, as we livestream viewers watch the members greet one another on the Zoom screen(s).

Other prayer groups open their Zoom link to all pray-ers.  This can result in some interesting moments.  There we were, doing our usual Friday-afternoon running around--finishing the cooking and getting all the food onto the hot-tray, setting the table for Shabbat, taking out the papers and the trash*--when it suddenly registered with me:  "Eek, this is a Zoom, not a livestream--we have to wear 'real' clothes!"  A quick wardrobe change ensued, with my husband switching from shorts to long dress pants and me exchanging my rolled-up jeans for a skirt.  :) 

Zooming into someone else's worship space can feel as odd as entering someone else's shul in real life--you don't know anyone, and no one knows you.  But we have been welcomed by members and/or clergy on several occasions.  Do go.

Then, of course, there's the "two rabbis, three opinions" problem--do ten Jews on a Zoom constitute a halachically-acceptable (acceptable by Jewish religious law) minyan or not, and what is the halachic status of a livestream?  Some rabbis make no bones about their opinion that the livestream that they're presenting instead of a Zoom (to avoid activating anything electrical on Shabbat/Sabbath) is *not* a minyan, and they simply skip all parts of the service that can't be done without a minyan (d'varim sheh-bi-k'dushah).  They may or may not count their weekday Zoom services as halachic minyanim.  Others take the exact opposite approach, and, counting their Zoom as a minyan, run some semblance of a standard Shabbat service (shortened to prevent "Zoom fatigue" and/or eyestrain).

And, naturally, there are the folks who can't make up their minds.  We were quite pleasantly surprised, when attending Friday night services online recently, to see the baal tefillah (prayer leader) begin with Mincha, the Afternoon Service.  That's a first for our online Shabbat "attendance"--we're never before seen a congregation pray the Mincha service before praying the introductory Kabbalat Shabbat service in any virtual visit. But the baal tefillah also surprised us by chanting the first and second paragraphs (Avot and G'vurot) of the Amidah prayer, then continuing silently.  For lack of a better description, that was the first time in all my 71 years that I've heard someone lead a heicha kedusha without chanting the kedusha.  Adding to the confusion, they then led the Mourner's Kaddish (Kaddish Yatom).  Huh?  Make up your mind--do you or don't you consider this Zoom minyan a halachic minyan, and, if not, why are you leading Kaddish?  Thoroughly confused, my husband and I stood up for the Bar'chu call to worship, only to have the baal tefillah skip it and go directly to the first b'rachah (blessing) of Maariv, the Evening Service--and then lead the Mourner's Kaddish again after the Aleinu prayer.  What gives???

Oh.  Okay.  I get it.  This would never happen in an Orthodox (or consistently halachically-observant) minyan, but I've encountered this before among my fellow "renegades"--even if you're willing to omit everything else that can't be said without a minyan, you just can't bring yourself to deprive mourners of the comfort of reciting Mourner's Kaddish, whether your prayers are taking place online or whether you're all in the same room with only seven Jews.

These are some of the interesting experiences that we've encountered while praying with groups online.  For those who accept online prayer services and attend them, I'd love to hear about some of your own experiences.

*Link for those too young to get the reference.

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