Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What would Jewish celebrations look like without the assumptions of female servitude?

Copied from Facebook:

This morning, I asked a Passover question on my page: What would our cultural celebrations look like without the assumptions of female servitude.
The thread included some honest answers about women's exhaustion and about the OCD-inducing minutia of some of our less meaningful rituals. It also included, predictably, some men insisting that there is no inequality in their lives because they are amazing partners.
I wasn't on my computer at all today because I was, predictably, preparing for passover for much of the day (along with my husband, who works as hard as I do, and that's not the point....) So I didn't get to engage in the conversation or explain what I meant. But I just now wrote a comment to elaborate, and I thought maybe it's worth sharing here:
My point was not to hear about all the men who help out, as nice as that may be (even though for the record, I do NOT necessarily trust husbands' self-reports on how great they are to their wives. I believe it when I hear it from the wives....) Anyway, my point was not for people here to deny the role of female servitude in our cultural heritage, because that's just gaslighting. (If you have never felt or experienced the impact of patriarchal structures in your life, consider yourself lucky.) Rather, I'm suggesting that we think about the effect of these expectations on the way our culture evolved. Because I would like us to rethink the whole thing. Because assumptions of female servitude construct the whole way we mark everything -- pesach, chagim, even shabbat. Everything
We have designed cultural events that rely heavily on someone -- usually a wife/mother -- devoting their entire life to getting it done so that someone ELSE can enjoy the experience with freedom. (And of course, the entire culture is built on heteronormative paradigms -- single women, non-parents, divorced women, gay couples, don't really exist in the way our culture was constructed for most of its history.) The culture was created to enable a man, no matter how many wives or children he had, to practice whatever religious rituals his religious school determined, completely unencumbered. Even the idea of three times a day minyan outside of home relies on the idea that SOMEONE will hold down the fort at home during that time -- making lunches, getting kids dressed, cooking, cleaning, homework, putting kids to bed. If the people creating the rules of the culture could not rely on such servitude, would they have made such demands like 3x/day minyan? That's my question.
So for seder, for example, if the rabbis who felt like sitting around all night drinking wine and discussing pilpul did not have servants/women around to do the work of executing their ideas about what seder should look like, would the rabbis have crafted the seder the way it is, with so much kitchen labor and such unrealistic expectations for kids and families about how the meal might go?
I'm asking, if the people making the decisions about what the culture should look like were ALSO the people charged with getting it done, is this what we would have done? A late, long meal with zillions of rules and weeks of work that induce OCD? Really? Is that the way we would like to transmit our oral heritage? Maybe there are better ways.
Because I think that if the people doing the heavy lifting and the people getting to enjoy it were one and the same, we wouldn't be doing all this. We might have a more common-sense, easier-to-produce, better-for-relationships event. Maybe go to the park and have some fruit salad. More flexibility and creativity and less indoctrination. Maybe less of that measuring a kzait thing or reading passages about 50,000 plagues that nobody even understands. Maybe daytime and not into-the night. Shorter. Less preparation. Less rules. More compassion. More humanity. Less meaningless rote ritual. That's my theory. It would look different.
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Our son has a somewhat-related question: He wants to know what kind of religion designs its rules in such a way that the religion can't operate without the help of people of a different religion. He's referring to the so-called "Shabbos Goy," without whose help it would be much more difficult for observant Jews to keep the Sabbath or holidays.

A world turned upside down: Judaism

You can read part 1 of this "World turned upside down" series here,  click on the link at the end of that post to read part 2, then click on the link at the end of that post to read this third and final post in the series.


I'm 72 years old and I never expected to see such radical changes in my lifetime.  But the incredible changes that I've seen in the attitudes of some Jews toward Judaism have been unexpected and disheartening, to say the least.

Once upon a time, I looked forward to spending my senior years in a thriving synagogue with a rabbi, a cantor, a Hebrew School, and a congregation of several hundred members of various ages, where I would have numerous friends and where I would enjoy watching children grow from infancy to young adulthood.  Instead, I belong to a synagogue that has no rabbi, a part-time cantor whose voice was never good and is getting worse with age, no Hebrew School, fewer than fifty dues-paying members, only two members under the age of 50, and barely a baby or child in sight.

As I wrote here, many younger Jews have no interest in joining a synagogue, possibly because they find synagogues obsolete.  Here's a ". . . short synopsis of what I've heard [on Judaism Unbound]:  Jewish history has recorded a major "crash" in a paradigm previously central to Judaism--the "crash" resulting from the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple in Jerusalem--and the creation, over time, of a successor paradigm--the synagogue and the prayer-book(s).  [My husband adds "and the study of Jewish sacred texts" to this successor paradigm.]  Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofeberg and guests are of the opinion that the synagogue paradigm has now "crashed" and that a new paradigm is currently "under construction."

Consequences ensue.

Some Jews choose to pray in independent minyanim or chavurot (prayer and/or study groups led exclusively by members, not by paid clergy), and many of them don't belong to a synagogue at all, even if their services are housed in synagogue.  Others opt for what some call "Off-the-Grid" or "Do-It-Yourself" Judaism, which *I* call "Do It *For* Yourself" Judaism--this group includes both those whose primary spiritual practice (meditation, chanting, and/or "spiritual dance," for example) may or may not involve the Jewish community; as well as parents who hire private tutors for their children, holding Bar and/or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies in homes, hotels or catering halls and completely bypassing the Jewish community.  A third approach involves flipping an old trend on its head:  While some older synagogue buildings were constructed to enable Jews to pray and play in the same place--a synagogue like that was sometimes affectionately dubbed "a shul with a pool"--some Jewish Ys and Jewish Community Centers are now offering High Holiday services and/or Jewish education programming for children, thus becoming, as it were, "a pool with a shul."  :)  Yet another trend is one that I would call, for lack of a better description, "Tikkun Olam" groups--their main, and sometimes exclusive, focus is on social-justice work.

What all of these approaches have in common, to a greater or lesser extent, is that they ignore Hillel's dictum, "Al tifrosh min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community."  (Pirkei Avot, 2:4)  And that has consequences, too.  Minyanim have been known to find themselves without a home after the synagogue that housed them closed its doors or merged with another synagogue for lack of funds.  The same thing might happen to meditation retreat facilities.  Parents who raise their kid(s) with little or no contact with other Jewish children with whom to socialize might find that their kid(s) lose all interest in any form or aspect of Judaism.  Ys and/or JCCs have been known to merge in order to save money on administrative staffing, in the process changing their names to something not identifiably Jewish and revamping their advertising to target their mostly-non-Jewish users in order to survive financially.  (Been there, seen that.)  And it doesn't seem to have occurred to some "Tikkun Olam" Jews that, while social-justice work is *essential* to Judaism, it's not *exclusive* to Judaism.  To the best of my knowledge, there's not a faith tradition on this entire planet that doesn't do social-justice work.  In other words, Christians *do* strive to help people in need, but Christians *don't* do Kiddush. 

So we're back to Shimon HaTzaddik, Simon the Righteous, who said, "The world stands on three things:  al haTorah (on the Torah, or, more broadly interpreted, Jewish sacred texts), al haAvodah (on the Temple service, or, more broadly interpreted, Jewish worship), v'al Gemilut Chassadim (and on the practice of acts of piety, or, more broadly interpreted, the practice of acts of service).  I would also add, "the world stands al haEdah, on the community," because without the Jewish community, it would be difficult to sustain any of Shimon HaTzaddik's three.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Second dose makes dizzy dame dizzier 🙂

Yay! All three of us--my husband, our son, and me--have now received our second shots of COVID-19 vaccine! Two weeks from today, we're ditching the online grocery shopping and going to the supermarket in person! (Masked, of course.)

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A world turned upside down: Zionism

Start with A world turned upside down:  the United States.

I'm 72 years old and I never expected to see such radical changes in my lifetime.  But the incredible changes that I've seen in the attitudes of some Jews toward Israel, the Jewish State--or perhaps Israel as the Jewish State--been shocking and disheartening, to say the least.

I've known for years that there were anti-Zionist Jews in the world.  I just never anticipated that some of them would turn out to be my friends.

Some Jews of younger generations, among them my anti-Zionist friends, look at the Jewish people and the State of Israel and see no threat to survival for either entity.  As someone once commented to me, "They think Jews are safe."  Why worry about an "escape hatch" when you don't think you'll ever need one?  Perhaps it's never registered with them that millions of lives might have been saved if the State of Israel had existed before the Holocaust.  But all they see is that David has become Goliath.  And some of them would rather kill Goliath than try to heal him.  To paraphrase an old saying from the Vietnam War era, "We had to destroy the country in order to save it."  American Jews accuse Israel of occupying a West Bank that doesn't belong to it.  What hypocrisy!  American Jews ourselves live on land stolen from Native Americans, and even the Native Americans aren't telling us to go back where we came from (as far as I know).  Why can't we try to help Israel become a more just country, instead of tearing it down?

As for Jews being safe, it took only a little encouragement from a hateful demagogue to bring out the antisemitism that was always lurking among the haters in the U.S.  What makes younger Jews think that Hitler couldn't happen here?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch-house, I can't participate in the Women's March because it's come under the influence of anti-Zionists, as if the existence of a Jewish State has anything to do with the Women's Movement.  And efforts to reform policing in the United States have been tied to problems with policing in Israel.  It seems to me that even local progressive politics gets connected, somehow, to the Jewish State.  In other words, it would appear that one must park one's Zionism, and perhaps, even one's Jewish identity, at the door in order to get involved in just about any social-justice cause.  Otherwise, you may risk getting sidetracked by arguments over Israel when you originally volunteered to work on, for example, getting more trees and flowers planted on local public property to help make a tiny dent in climate change.

And this is the world that I have to live in during my later years. 


Next up:  A world turned upside down:  Judaism


Related: My Wednesday, February 27, 2019 post, A word about Zionism, in response to an anti-Zionist Jew

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A world turned upside down: the United States

I'm 72 years old and I never expected to see such radical--or is it reactionary?--changes in my lifetime.  But the incredible changes that I've seen in my own country since roughly the beginning of Donald Trump's first presidential campaign have been shocking and disheartening, to say the least.

First and foremost, our would-be emperor won the 2016 presidential election by using the classic divide-and-conquer tactic:  Instead of trying to help heal our wounds and bring us together as Americans, he tore off every bandage and reveled in--and profited from--the resultant infection.  Now we can hate anyone we want, and we can say so in public, without worrying about "how it looks."  When I was a kid, my parents threatened to wash my mouth out with soap if I ever used "the N word."  These days, there's a large chunk of the country that doesn't give a d@mn.  When did diversity become a dirty word?

Second, our would-be emperor tried to destroy the republic from the inside out, quite literally--he made it his personal campaign to dismantle the U.S. Federal government.  Hundreds of hard-working public servants were driven out of the government, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and were deliberately replaced by people who either had little or no knowledge or experience regarding, or were openly hostile to, the department or agency that they were appointed to lead.  I never expected the federal civil service to be treated as if federal employees were personally responsible for trying to ruin the country instead of trying to ensure that it worked.   Full disclosure:  Both my late father and my husband spent decades as federal employees, so I take this insult rather personally.

Third, our would-be emperor took what should have been a completely apolitical subject--science--and weaponized it.  As a result, thousands of people have died unnecessarily because the mere wearing of a face-mask during an air-born pandemic became a loyalty test, and a large swath of this country believes that climate change is "fake news."   Next thing you know, they'll declare Galileo a heretic all over again.  :(

(For better and/or for worse, I can't hold Trump entirely responsible for this country's seeming inability to legislate gun control.  Unfortunately, the U.S. has had an open season for human-hunting for years, as tragically demonstrated by the recent mass murders in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado.)

Trump may be gone, but the poison he laid is still killing this country.  Hatred, distrust of government, and disbelief in science will be here for years to come.

And this is the world that I have to live in during my later years.

Next up:  A world turned upside down:  Zionism

Monday, March 22, 2021

Freebie week :)

A few days ago, our grocery shopper/delivery person delivered four three-packs of broiler pans at no extra charge--I'd ordered only one pack.

Then our favorite online purveyor of vitamins and gluten-free food sent us an extra bottle of vitamin C for free. 

But the piece de resistance was one of my Pesach (Passover) orders. I'd ordered a five-pound package of white-flour matzah, two cans of plain coconut macaroons, and one can each of honey nut and chocolate chip macaroons. Imagine my surprise when I opened the shipping box and the macaroon cans just kept coming.  I felt as if I'd opened the door to one of those overstuffed clown cars at a circus.  The final tally:   six cans of plain coconut macaroons and three cans each of honey nut and chocolate chip macaroons! 

The irony is that I'm not even sure I can give the extras away, since both of the sederim we'll be attending will be Zoom seders.  And I can't donate any macaroons to our synagogue to use for kiddush, either, since we're still holding services on Zoom instead of in our building.  I guess we'll be eating macaroons for a good while.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

My e-mail to our congregation on the anniversary of the closing of our synagogue building due to COVID-19 :(


  • This is for those of you with young kids or grandkids--or for those of you who are "kids at heart" :) :
These days, we might all need to be cheered up by a children's show.  See below.


The world of Jewish "spiritual" music was struck in its soul by the death, just days ago, of poet, rabbinical student, and frequent music collaborator Stacey Zisook Robinson, who succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of only 59 after a years-long progressively-disabling health condition.  Said Chava Mirel (on Facebook), "I don’t know what to say so I’ll tell this story. Back in April 2017 my new poet friend
Stacey Zisook Robinson
sent me this message:
“wanna write a barchu? the one I hear building and blending and rising in my head?”
She sent me her exquisite poem (with the caveat “I have some words, they may not be perfect, but they are a start”) and it is now my most “popular” song.
She offered me many opportunities to compose in collaboration with her. I wish I had taken more of them. I wish she was still here.
Your memory is a blessing to all of us Stacey. 💔 "

Here's a link to that Barchu, "Come," with lyrics by Stacey Zisook Robinson and music by Chava Mirel:
Today is March 10, 2021.  It was almost exactly a year ago, on March 13, 2020, that the JCJH closed its doors to religious services.  We were far from alone in closing our doors.  A year of devastation has followed, with millions dead worldwide: elders dying alone in droves in assisted living facilities and nursing homes and hospitals and at home; parents and grandparents separated from their children and grandchildren on pain of death; millions out of work or forced to work from home (some sitting on their beds for entire workdays with laptop computers on their laps because they have no room to work elsewhere) or with their hard-earned businesses, restaurants, theaters, etc., shuttered, some permanently; young kids "bouncing off the walls" for lack of exercise and in-person playmates; children forced to leave their schools and separated from their friends, trying to keep up both academically and socially by computer; adults overwhelmed by the necessity of working, parenting, and serving as "teaching assistants" all at the same full-time pace and in the same place; teens and young adults losing an entire year of their social lives (and now more) at what may be one of the most important times of their social lives; newly-minted college graduates going straight from Zoom classes into uncertain futures in which the careers that they had carefully planned and studied for might never happen; holidays and other celebrations, and, for many folks, religious services, reconfigured, as Jewish singer/songwriter Beth Hamon put it, to be "crammed into a two-dimensional rectangle the size of a cereal box;" a year of "permanent Purim" in which we wear masks every day; a year of social distancing in which we literally avoid other people like the plague because of the plague; a year of constant hand-washing and stocking up on hand-sanitizer, disinfectants, and liquid hand soap; a year that saw the birth of the "Zoom funeral" and the "Zoom shiva" and the death of the handshake.

I have run out of words.  What more can I say?  I can only pray for the speedy vaccination of everyone on earth, and hope that medical researchers--bless them--can keep up with this quickly-mutating plague.  My heart goes out to all the exhausted health-care providers and to all of those who provide essential services that cannot be provided online.  May we all live--literally--to see a better day.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

A new look for when I'm using today's tech

One of the odder things that I realized when I started co-leading Zoom services was that most of my necklaces were practically invisible on Zoom, especially when they were half-hidden under a tallit (prayer shawl). If I wanted to stop looking boring, I just had to go big and bold. How do you like my new necklace? 😀

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Good news, bad news: A hairy story--or not :)

The good news:  I have my mother's hair. 

The bad news:  I have my mother's hair.  :)

On the one hand, my hair is brown by nature, not from a bottle--my mother never went completely gray, and here I am, mostly brunette at 72.

On the other hand, what hair?  :)  My hair is as thin as my mother's.  I haven't had a haircut since February 2020, and this is all I have to show for over a year's growth.

To be fair to my late mother, the fault is partially with my last haircut--my bangs were cut super-short and now barely stay tucked behind my ear, and the back of my hair was cut at least an inch longer than the sides, so I have noticeably less hair on the sides.  At this rate, it'll be years before I can rock the "headband nation" look.

In the meantime, my husband and I agree that, when I tuck my hair behind my ears (which is about all I can figure out to do with it), I look a bit like a Chassidic man with his payes (payot, ear-locks) in the wrong place.  :)

Three in one: All three of us received our first COVID-19 vaccinations in the same week

My husband got his first shot on Monday, March 1, I got mine on Tuesday, and our son got his on Friday, all at different locations.  (Go figure.)  So we're all scheduled for our second vaccinations during Pesach (Passover).  What a way to celebrate a holiday!

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Our first COVID-19 vaccinations (yay!)--& a warning about an unexpected & dangerous effect of this pandemic on memory

After weeks of looking for an opportunity to get a literal shot in the arm, my husband got an appointment in midtown Manhattan--he got his first COVID-19 vaccination on Monday, March 1.  It took me something like another half day on the internet to find an open appointment for myself--I got my first COVID-19 vaccination within walking distance of our apartment but at 10:45 PM (!) on Tuesday, March 2.

It wasn't until after I got into a taxi to come home after my vaccination that I realized that I'd completely forgotten something life-saving--I'd completely forgotten to use a seat-belt in the taxi on the way to the vaccination site.  I hadn't been in a car since October, and I'd literally gotten out of the habit.  Here's a reminder for those of us who don't own cars and aren't using public transit or cars except when necessary:  DON'T FORGET TO USE A SEAT-BELT!

Monday, March 01, 2021

A sweet surprise from a dentist, of all people--I saw my sister in our dentist's office!

We haven't been in the same room at the same time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a short get-together--I was there to get a tooth drilled, unfortunately--but I'm not complaining. 😀
Bonus: It was warm enough for a short walk in Central Park. Here's a quick look at a couple of geese and a flock of ducks.
I give up--this bleeping blog refuses to upload videos.  Here's the link to this video on Facebook.
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