This post has been re-published once before, but it’s one of my favorites. The story of my mother and her escape from Nassar’s Egypt in the late 1950′s. And I think my days suck sometime. It’s all perspective….
Tag Archives: Jews
The Jewish holiday season continues. It’s not just Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur folks, there’s a couple more to squeeze in this month. Sukkot started on Monday night. Simchat Torah is around the corner.. we should be pretty busy about now, but you know..
We did not build a sukkah in the back yard this year. Much to the next door neighbors delight we do not have what looks like a cardboard shack made out of corn shocks and fruit hanging to look at for the next week. Shame too because I always enjoyed having one. The sukkah is a booth if you will, that Jews build this week to observe the holiday of Sukkot, aka the Jewish version of Thanksgiving.
The sukkah, or booth, is a nice way to express your creative juices, inner architect if you will. There are no rules about the construction, other than you have to be able to see the stars through the roof. This reinforces the idea that this is a temporary structure. In California, and in Israel, the traditional roofing materials are palm fronds. They are nice and long, sturdy and can be laid across the top the thing while still allowing you to see through them to the sky. In Minnesota palm fronds a little hard to come by, but corn shocks are readily available and make a nice regional statement that says; Midwest.
Corn shocks aren’t perfect however. Three years ago after spending the day with family building a lovely sukkah on the deck I came home from work one afternoon to find the thing almost completely destroyed, courtesy of the local squirrels who had left the thing alone for the first three days, and then realized that the fat guy wasn’t there in the daytime, and literally shredded it our beautiful sukkah. Looked like a bomb had gone of inside it.
Traditional Jews will take all of their meals out on the sukkah. We are not that traditional. We live in Minnesota. The word “snow” was included in the forecast for the first time this week. For Mrs S, “snow” and “eat outside” contradictory terms. For me, unless I’m ice fishing, when eating outside is a nice way to flip Mother Nature the bird, I don’t wanna do it either. Makes my coffee cold.
Thursday we’re supposed to go from highs in mid 70’s to highs in low 40’s and hard freezes at night. I’m not sure that bundling up in a parka and gloves to eat my bowl of cereal outside at 5:30 in the morning will do much to connect me to my faith. But then again, I’ve never tried it.
And as I mentioned, we didn’t build one this year. In the past I’ve had the boys around to help, especially the middle kid who is extremely handy with tools and design. Without him around I lost the mojo. I also lost all the muslin I used for the exterior the last several years, and I lost some of the lattice I put on top. The convergence of these circumstances provided me with the perfect excuse to watch football all day on Sunday and not bother with to take on this project.
I am weak.
The good news is one of our local grocers, Byerlys, has built one in their patio so if I want to keep the commandments I can always run over there and do it. (the commandment meaning say the blessing and do this thing with a bouquet of tree branches a citron. This being the only use of the citron that I know off.) And if that’s to much of bother the Synagogue has built a “drive through” sukkah this year where you can meet all the obligations of the holiday whilst sitting in your car, presumably with the heater on since it’s going to be quite chilly this weekend.
If we lived in New York I could have gone, and I kid you not on this, to Sukkas R Us and bought one. Neat idea until you checked out with $1200 of PVC and canvas that you could have purchased at Home Depot for $50.00. Oy vey, (Offda for those of you in Northfield) Buddy Ken in Northfield sent me a note this Sunday, apparently Sukkah building comes right after slicing bagels on the list of causes of accidental injuries which bring middle aged Jewish guys to the ER. Ah, the bagel, or as I always say, the hand surgeons favorite breakfast treat.
Well, I guess I’m going to have to check off yet another holiday in the “unobserved” column. The good news is I’m not alone. 90% of Jews don’t build a booth or buy the bouquet and oddball lemon. For the vast majority of us, a sukkah is that thing they build behind the shul, which most of us take a passing notice of when we pick up and drop off time at religious school.
I mean who can blame us non-observant types right? We just got done with a 25 hour fast and somewhere between 2 and 12 solid hours of pew time for Yom Kippur, (depending on your level of atonement and tolerance for shul time) and now there’s another holiday? Seems we could space these out a bit.
AHh who am I kidding… no more rationalizing, next year I’m planning a little better and we will see the return of the Sank-a-sukka. Now that I realize I have no help… I’ll make sure we’re ready. Chag Samaiach to my Jewish friends.. Happy fall to the rest of youse.
Tonight I saw in on my 96 consecutive Seder, maybe give or take a few. We’ve been doing two a year for the last 48 odd years. I love Pesach, I love Seders, after Thanksgiving Passover is my favorite holiday. Coincidence that it’s really the Jewish version of Thanksgiving; family, meals, prescriptive food. Of course Pesach is a little more formal than Thanksgiving, we actually have a script to go through. We have the pre-meal program, lots of stuff to go through, including the story of the Exodus.
The most popular line in the Seder is of course “Dinner is served”. After dinner there’s a few other things to do, including some games and fun traditional stuff to do. Among them of course is the all time favorite from the Pesach greatest hits collection- “Echad Mi Yodea or Who Knows One”. You go around the table and repeat “Who’s knows one, I know one”.
13 who knows 13
13 I know 13
13 are the attributes of God
12 are the Tribes of Israel
11 are the stars in Joseph’s dream
10 are the commandments
9 are the months before birth,
8 are the days to the brit milah
7 are the days in a week till Shabbat
6 are the orders of the mishnah
5 are the books of the torah,
4 are our matriarchs,
3 are our forefathers
2 are the tablets of the commandments
1 is Our God who is in the heavens and on earth.
Well, overheard at our house this year-
“Hey who knows who wrote the 13 attributes of G-d?”
“My favorite Jewish philosopher?” They got it then. Maimonides.
“Hey, who can name the 4 matriarchs?” “Ooo I can Dad, Sarah, Rachel, Leah and uh.. Miriam?” Sigh.. that was a miss but she was close. Excusable kinda.
“Hey who can name the 12 tribes?” Blank. “Who can tell me how they were named after?” Red had that one, “Joseph’s brothers?” Yes.. Names? And to be honest I couldn’t name them without some help.
But I can assure that Jacob did not name a kid Aztec or Zulu, two of the names that came up this evening.
I’m considering asking the religious school for a refund. Mrs S pointed out that the point of Seder is to pass just this sort of information along to our kids. And with that in mind, the failure might be on me.
I guess that means we need to go back to the Seders of my youth, hours long, boring as hell, if they aren’t going to drink knowledge you switch to instilling it.
Or maybe we’ll just keep slacking off and pour another glass of wine. I’ve lost this generation, I get the Grandkids one day. In the meantime, anyone for another matzo ball?
The Twin Cities Jewish community is rallying against the proposed marriage amendment coming up in November. You can check out the article and the information about the rally here:
Reading the article Madeline Harms writes “In order to defeat the amendment, we need EVERYONE who believes that marriage is a fundamental human right to come to the polls this November and vote NO.”
I’m having some trouble with the tone and the assertions in these statements and I have to comment.
I’m going to assume that my position on same sex marriage is well established here, I’ve written many pieces about my unwavering support for marriage equality and for an end to discrimination against Gay people. Should I find my way to my polling station on the first Tuesday in November I will be voting against it. Given ok?
But I think Ms. Harms has over-reached in her assertions here, and it doesn’t help and ins some cases may even offend.
To begin with, can we stop calling marriage a “fundamental human right”. In the United States, no one has the “right” to be married. There are certain benefits, imposed by government on certain kinds of formal relationships. (that would be “marriage” Cletus) Denying those rights, those social and statutory benefits based on how you view those relationships is really the argument at hand. Lets keep the “rights” word out of it. You don’t have a right to be married but you have a right not to be discriminated against in eyes of the state simply because of orientation. That’s what this argument should be about.
Nuff on that one.
My bigger issue with this article is wording of the headline,
“Help defeat… with the Jewish Community.”
This headline would lead you to believe that the Jewish Community is lock step in favor of marriage equality, when in fact we are not. Contrary to many opinions, Jews have diverse political views and the community is not uniform in political thought, just like any other community of faith we have varied opinions. In fact there are many branches of Judaism; ultra-orthodox, Hassidic to name few who are against anything but traditional marriage, and strongly oppose any kind of Gay anything. I’m not saying it’s right, it just i But even in the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations, almost of all which have come out strongly against this amendment there are members who are conservative and who I’m sure feel like they don’t have a much of a voice when politics and issues like this are discussed at the local Shul.
I may be knit picking here, but I worry about sweeping generalizations regarding the political and social opinions of the Jewish People. We Jews have a concept of Klal Yisrael, the People of Israel. It’s a concept that roughly says “we’re one people”. It implies a spiritual, historical and cultural connection that transcends denomination and background. It’s the idea which causes Israel to assimilate immigrants from the most cultured European capitals and the most backwards medieval Yemeni villages. It sees Black Ethiopians immigrants and White Russian immigrants in the same army unit. It says we are inclusive and we are one people.
But, it does not imply that we are of one mind, especially not when it comes to politics.
The concept of Klal Yisrael has certainly been strained of late, especially in Israel where Ultra Orthodox and Secular Israeli’s have been at each other’s throats over the very nature of the State recently, is it a secular democratic state or a religious theocracy. For that matter, who is or isn’t a Jew, at the very core of this argument
My Dad used to tell a joke, it’s dated now, but it makes my point. Richard Nixon and Golda Meir were chatting one day and Nixon commented how much more difficult it was for him run a country of 400 million people that it was for her to her country with it’s small population of 5 million. “But” Golda replied, “you have 400 million citizens, I have 5 million Prime Ministers”. Anyone who’s ever spent more than a few minutes talking politics with Jews, or follows Israeli politics understands fully the nuance here.
And despite the fact that I’m a fat old liberal myself, I know there are conservatives, even in my synagogue and I know that on social issues their views are squashed. I think it would be very difficult for a person with conservative political views to feel at home in most American Synagogues, and frankly this wrong. They’d have to keep their opinions to themselves. As a matter of fact, they’re even discounted at times with a “Jewish values” argument. I just couldn’t imagine sitting at post Shabbat service luncheon, talking current events and suggesting that I might be Pro-Life or supportive of traditional marriage. It would be, honestly, pretty danged ugly.
I find this interesting because, when I to go out into the world and look at the political opinions of people in the general population I would find define themselves as pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, supportive of immigrants rights, pro-gun control, and I would find that they align very well with most Jews personal politics and the stance their synagogues take in public debate. This alignment works is strong until, well, until you introduce support for Israel, and all of sudden on that issue, the coalition between Liberals and Jews falls apart.
If you were interested in really stirring up the pot at a Shabbat lunch, try proposing divestment from Israel, a hot topic on college campuses these days. On issues of Israel Jews are far more closely aligned with the Conservatives, and the more Conservative (and more Christian one could argue) the stronger the support. Likud politicians get this in spades and do a lot of catering to the Conservatives. Jews in America have a harder time with it.
My point: it’s not accurate to invite folks to “join the Jewish community” in support of any political activity. It would be better to say “join members of the Jewish community”. Lets be honest here, when it comes to politics and social issues our opinions and our opinions are far from aligned, which is exactly how it should be.
Happy Holidays everyone.
Holidays, not Christmas. I’m trained to say Holidays, although typically I don’t say anything, ‘cause I’m just not prone to dish out gratuitous salutations being curmudgeonly and all, Holiday season or not.
I was looking at the calendar this weekend, looking at our rigorous travel schedule, and I realized that, based on our flight dates and times I don’t think we can fit in Hanukkah this year with out some gymnastics I’m not interested in attempting. My tolerance for change is low . I sort of nonchalantly and without looking up from my calendar announced to the family “I think we’re skipping Hanukkah this year”. Hanukkah is so late this year, and we’re flying out the morning of the first day and coming back the last day. It would be really inconvenient to try to insert a celebration other than perhaps a candle or two, into that mix.
That went over well, the family, specifically the daughter, filed an immediate appeal with the Warden. My counter, it’s just Hanukkah, not a big deal. But before you go attacking for being some sort of Scroogenberg gimme a second to explain.
I find Hanukkah to be the little holiday that could, by all rights it should be a quiet little observance, but it’s not. In the list of important Jewish Holidays, the festival of lights falls somewhere between Purim and July 4th which isn’t really a Jewish holiday at all but I would advocate it’s observance because it has enabled the freest, happiest and most successful Jewish community in our history.
Hanukkah’s proximity to Christmas however, gives it a serious shot in the arm.
My mother grew up in Egypt, a country that doesn’t have much of a Christmas tradition. My Mom remembers the Hanukahs’ of her youth as being, well she remembers lighting candles on the Channukia, she remembered the old school kind where you put a little olive oil in a small cup added a wick and lit that and she remembers little else. But what about the gift a night? Blank stare. Latkes, did you make latkes? Nope, potato pancakes more of a European thing. Fact is they didn’t do much in Egypt.
Note- technically the 9 branched candle holder Jews light at Hanukkah is not a menorah, it’s a channukia. A menorah describes the 7 branched candle holder found in the Temple and in synagogues today.
My Dad’s parents immigrated to the United States in the 1910’s from Damascus. In Syria, from what they told me when I was young, they’d never heard of Christmas. When the family moved to Texas they were “adopted” by a neighbor who helped them assimilate into American society. One of the things they adopted for a while was a Christmas tree. The woman who befriended my Grandparents helped them observe American holidays and Christmas was one of those holidays. It was a while before they realized what Christmas was about and discontinued the practice.
I often find myself quite conflicted about Hanukkah. Growing up it was certainly a great holiday for me, I got lots of presents, we always lit candles, we bought into the gift a night thing. We had ourselves a jolly old Hanukkah
I can’t help think we Jews have really lost our perspective on this whole Hanukkah thing. For a lot of us this holiday carries the same weight as Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, Shavuot and even Yom Kippur. We have holiday dinners, we put up decorations for the it, something I don’t’ see for any other Jewish holiday, and have created a Hanukkah holiday observance that is uniquely American.
And this, in my opinion, is a sad thing, we have allowed Christmas to dictate our holiday observance. I’m sure a lot Jews feel like they’re missing something because we don’t have a big flashy colorful holiday with carols and wrapping paper and music and TV specials this time of year.
And I’m the first to admit, it’s difficult not to fall into the Christmas paradigm. Many of my Christian friends like to find Hanukkah cards for me, while they wouldn’t know to send me a New Years card at Rosh Hashanah or wish me an easy fast on Yom Kippur the go out their way to say Happy Hanukkah. They mean well. I get it.
The local schools used to ask us to come read a Hanukkah story in the class when the kids were small, (which would require a trip to library to find such a book) the idea was that kids would learn about different “holiday traditions” not realizing that really we don’t have a big holiday this time of year. But these days we don’t want the kids to miss out on something. That the line of thinking, that we Jews are missing out on something is what I really don’t like this time of year. South Park’s resident Hebrew Kyle summed it up on “Hard to be Jew on Christmas” It is at the heart of the reason Hanukkah winds up competing with Christmas this time of year in many Jewish homes.
If you want me to come talk about our “holiday traditions” let me come in the Spring when we’re about to celebrate Pesach or Passover. The observances are much more interesting and much more meaningful.
I’m not going to be some kind of hard ass who denies his kids the fun of opening some gifts on this holiday, but we have changed our observance significantly to make it more Jewish in nature. We do a small gift exchange, and we do it all on one night, to be selected based on every other thing we have going on in our lives, after all it’s not a big deal. We do light the candles every night, and say the proper blessings. I’ll make latke’s one night and we’ll go to Cecils in St. Paul for more latkes because, frankly, mine suck. We’ll do a movie night or family game night. Drediel is fun for a few minutes but if you really want to exchange some Hanukkah Gelt you have to come buy into a Sankary Family Hanukkah Poker game. They tend to go long into the night and have, on occasion, included full contact discussions.
And so here’s my thoughts on this time of year. Christmas is a magnificent holiday. It has significance and meaning way beyond a the observance of a military victory and extended burn oil lamp. I love the Christmas lights my neighbors put up, I love looking at the trees and the decorations. I’m impressed with manger scene the Church on the main drag puts up. I like Christmas music, for most of the season, I don’t even care if my kids have to sing carols at school, I can un-program them later.
Heck coreligionists wrote some of the best Christmas music out there much to local anti-Semite, Unitarian hater and all around windbag Garrison Keillor’s apparent disgust. You can read the details here.
Celebrate Christmas, do it up big, it has great traditions and lots of cool observances. I will leave it for others to determine where the observance of the birth of Christ starts and the horrible midnight Thanksgiving shopping commercial holiday craps ends. But I would ask my Jewish friends, and their Christian friends who are enabling this behavior to stop turning Hanukkah into the Jewish Christmas. We have 5000 years of our own magnificent traditions and observances and we really don’t need to feel left out of anything.
Go the neighbors Christmas party, enjoy the season with them, drink eggnog and fruit cake, but when you feel like sharing your traditions and observances with your Gentile friends, skip Hanukkah and try inviting them over for a Pesach Seder, I actually think you’re more religious Christian friends would jump at the chance.
Happy holidays everyone.
Phew- The Jewish Holiday season is now behind us. We Jews cram a lot of observances and holidays into one 4 week period. Now we really got ‘nuthin until Pesach in the Spring. I know, Hanukkah is in there in December but I don’t count that as a real holiday to be honest. It’s become Christmas’s little cousin, the importance of it in the Jewish calendar so overstated that even Jews are confused. In reaction I like to downplay it at our house.
Now here’s the good news about this lull in the calendar, coming out of the intensity of the High Holidays, the fun and games of Sukkot and Simcha Torah, I’m all energized and ready to get my Jew on. The good thing about all this opportunity for piety, is that this season comes in the fall, which corresponds nicely with Back To School and the de facto start of what I like to call the Programmatic Year in the United States. Seems that every thing starts in the fall, and runs through to summer. If it were up to me I’d suggest moving the secular New Year to September 1st or the first Sunday in September, something like that. We Jews do ours right around there and with school starting, and weather changing and days getting shorter.. really feels right. Mid-Winter just doesn’t do it for me.
Now is actually the best time to get serious about the observance of my favorite Jewish holiday, and frankly the one that Torah really gets serious about admonishing us to observe, Shabbat. Aka, the Sabbath. The older I get, the more the peace and quiet of a traditional Shabbat observance entices me.
Here’s the bottom line on Jewish thinking around the Sabbath, it’s a view of what life was like in the Garden of Eden, and it’s a preview of what life will be like in the world to come. A once a week reminder of the promise of G-d’s covenant. Keep it, and G-d keeps you.
Little primer on what a “traditional” Shabbat looks like, as I remember from my Orthodox family observance. Between sundown on Friday night and Sundown on Saturday night, we are prohibited from doing “work”. The Reform interpretation of this is we are prohibited from doing things which contribute to going process of creation, or the changing of creation. One of the things I’ve never liked about Orthodox Judaism is the tendency of it’s adherents to elevate the strict literal observance of Jewish law above the actual purpose of the same. For example, Orthodox Jews wouldn’t swim on Shabbat. Not because the act of swimming is prohibited but rather because when you swim there is a chance that you might squeeze the water out of your towel or your swim trunks, a violation against the prohibition of work. There’s also the possibility that you might swim in a heated pool. Heating water on Shabbat is prohibited, hence so are heated baths, and by extension, swimming. Swimming in natural bodies of water is prohibited because that violates purity laws around ritual bathing.
Bottom line. Technically if you care to swim on Shabbat you have to do it in an artificial body of water, that isn’t heated, on your property to prevent unnecessary travel, with people only of your own sex, mixed gender swimming is prohibited in all circumstances, and uh.. best to just air dry when you done. Halachic (Halacha refers to Jewish religious laws, and the interpretation of them by religious courts) authorities have just prohibited it all together to avoid any possible transgressions. Oh, and you should probably have the swimsuits already at the pool to prevent any excessive “carrying” that would violate another body of law on what is or isn’t “work”.
A favorite Shabbat dilemma of mine, the Jewish Dairy. Not a lot of them in this country, but you know it’s a nice academic discussion. The essence of the Shabbat observance is the world rests, recharges. What do you do about your cattle who have to milked every day, or they would suffer. Jewish Halachic sources have said that despite the prohibition of work, you are required to alleviate the suffering of your animals and thus milk your cow. Best plan is to employ a Gentile to do the work, (a fully documented Gentile so you don’t get into the trouble Agriprocessors down in Iowa did.. side snark.) but if you can’t you are obligated to do so.
What do you do with the milk? Sources differ here. Some would say spill it since it’s production occurred on Shabbat and therefore it’s not kosher. BTW, There is kosher milk, that would be milk from non-kosher animals or milk that has been mixed with products other than “milk”. Other sources say this Sabbath milk is to be donated to the poor. Later sources say that if the milk is harvested using modern robotic machines, i.e. untouched by humans, it’s the same as any other milk. Confusing.
In my Grandmothers house, here’s what was not allowed on Shabbat.
- Anything electronic and fun UNLESS.. it was turned on before the Shabbat started. And then no changing channels or turning it off.
- Stoves and ovens could not be turned on, but if they were turned on, they had to be left on but the temperature could be changed. Thinking there, the creating of the spark is the violation, the size of the flame is not. That one..seemed fishy to me. Now, if you forgot, you could 1) Ask the building super to come to your apartment and turn on or off anything, he wasn’t Jewish. All the neighbors were. 2) if desperate ask your visiting Grandson who was Jewish, but not the observant kind, he’s “reformed” or something like that. There’s ways around it.
- Smoke. No SMOKING on the Sabbath. Can’t light a match. But, if you were my Grandfather on the other side, you could get around this with a can of snuff. Dipping snuff is fine, one of the benefits of America that they didn’t have in the old country; Copenhagen.
- Driving. Even driving to Shul. (Synagogue). Now, on the walk to Shul, about 6 blocks down we could pass the cars of religious people parked outside the 4 block “someone would see you here” radius. Looked like you were walking you see, not just parking few blocks away. This despite the fact that everyone knew these people drove, for many it would take several hours to walk from the far reaches of Cote St. Luc to Sherbornne to get to the Synagogue.
- Elevators. “Shabbat Service” was allowed. That’s an elevator programmed to go to every floor in a building with out having any buttons pushed. Sucks to be on the 20th.
But, here’s what was allowed, and what I’m most interested in today.
- Family time. Every Shabbat afternoon the family would gather at someone’s home for a big spread of salads, croc pot stuff, humus, pita, babaganoush, tehina, usually some fish dish.. anything that could either be cooked the day before, left in a warm oven over night or eaten cold. Since there was no TV on.. all we had to do was converse and plan what we were going to do that evening when the sun went down. It was like Thanksgiving every week.
- No phones. Didn’t have cell phones back then, but if we did I’m pretty sure they would have been turned off all day Saturday and left in a basket somewhere. That sounds great.
- Read. Reading and studying are highly encouraged. One beloved Uncle in particular would make a game out of quizzing all the kids on Jewish topics as we all sat around the table. I couldn’t compete with my Yeshiva cousin.. but it did leave a memory for me.
- Read some more.
- Food and Drink- good food, wine, beer, what ever brings a family.
- Later I learned that uh.. as they say spending some intimate time with one’s spouse on Shabbat is not only allowed but encouraged since enjoying the company of family and especially spouses is a preview of a better time to come, what could be better. Of course the risk is, I’ve heard this fight.. when it becomes expected that every Friday night, you know what happens when expectations are introduced into a relationship.
- Nap. Seriously, is there anything more indulgent than a nap on a Saturday afternoon? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to take a nap every afternoon? Whew.. the Spaniards have that one right.
All of this is great, but what’s the application to me you ask, or didn’t maybe…
5 days a week my time is not my own. Big chunks of my day are dictated by the demands of work, Masons, Kids, all kinds of stuff. I’m connected 24/7 to email and texts and tweets and a few other electronic leashes. I pencil stuff in, I cancel stuff, I move things. I meet, I think, I design and I create. My goal is change something everyday, make the world different and better with my hands and my intellect. I stay up too late, and get up to early.
At home at night, I cook, I argue with the kids, I talk to my wife while the laptop is open on my lap, I check the iPhone, respond to late night emails, I write blog posts, tweet what comes to mind and ignore what’s going on around me. It’s ok though because they’re ignoring me back.
The things I’ve read during the week are business related. I’ve regretted not playing guitar, not asking my kids about school and not engaging my wife in meaningful conversation. I’ve said things I shouldn’t and I haven’t said things I should, and the sad thing is, that’s exactly how we lead our lives these days. More common that not.
And, by about Friday afternoon, folks.. I am spent. Some weeks more than others, but I’d drained.
And, despite a daily 5 minute regimen I adopted last year to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and Daven (Pray) in the morning, I’m spiritually spent. But, I have the weekend to recharge!!
Who doesn’t relish weekends? I’ve always done so, although the reasons have changed over the years. In my youth it was the anticipation of the upcoming parties and socializing. When the kids came along, sports, classes, chauffeuring around town, shopping trips, lawn mowing…
At some point, I started to notice that I was starting Monday’s as tired as I had been on Friday. The modern day fatigue blah thing that everyone complains about was seriously setting in on me.
A few years ago at some retreat with the kids or something associated with a one of our Beni Mitzvahs, we had a discussion about Shabbat observances. We sat for a few minutes in complete silence. It was awesome.
It hit me that my weekends were just as hectic as my workweeks, only with different stuff. But what if I could carve ONE day out of the week. One day and devote it “being” instead of creating and doing. And what if I added a few rituals around that day to set it apart from the rest of week.. I think I’d be on to something. And you know what.. it’s kinda been there all along.
I started becoming more interested in Shabbat observances. I started attending services more often. I started turning off the phone, the TV… reading.
It was a great three weeks.
Three short weeks and then, back to the old model. Modern life is a really pervasive beast, especially when the family’s ideas of what to do on a Saturday aren’t the same as mine. But I’ve come to a really good place on Shabbat observance for me anyway. And this is where the real brilliance of the Reform movement in Judaism comes out.
I’m taking my Saturdays back. I’m doing a few things differently and it’s making a significant difference for me. Here’s Sanks Shabbat Guide
- No fighting. Rule #1. What. For a while I was making my personal observance more important that every one else in the families. This doesn’t work, and I don’t think answers my desire to set the day apart. Kids have a play on Saturday afternoon, go. Don’t be literal just to be literal, remember why I’m not Orthodox.
- Turn off the phone. Serious. Unless I’m somewhere where there isn’t a phone, (lake) or expecting a call (all last week when Mrs S was gone.) If you can’t turn it off, take it out of your pocket. Better than having with you.
- Turn off the TV. Or try too. I’m a sports fan. College football is one of my passions. Missing every college football game for the rest of time isn’t going to happen. BUT, there’s hours and hours of time when the TV is on by default. What if I turned it off when the game or movie or what ever I wanted to watch wasn’t on. Not have it on all day on nothing, or worse stop channel surfing. Tell you what, that little tip alone has made the house 100% quieter, and folks around here have started reading and chatting.
- Cook. I’m not worrying about breaking rules on stoves, I’m more concerned that there are some really good things to eat laying around on Saturday. That the family can gather around a table and enjoy a meal and talk. Food is a great motivator.
- Appreciate the gift of day where I’m not wearing a watch or over-scheduling myself. It’s OK just to “BE”. Just to sit in the house and read. Think, play the dusty guitar.
This observance has had an impact on our whole family. Over time, kids started to look forward to Saturdays. We’re still not waiting in the car for Dad to take us to Shul, but the do realize that the day is different from the other six.
Now I get it, keeping the Sabbath does in fact keep the person. Keeps me from losing my mind some weeks.
The Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service probably the most high profile service of the year for a Rabbi. It’s the Jewish version of Christmas and Easter. The Synagogue is packed with once a year congregants for whom this is their annual connection to their faith. It’s also packed with congregants like me who are somewhat regular attendees, who have a slightly stronger connection to the place. Bottom line, the Kol Nidre pulpit is the Rabbi’s big chance to address more congregants than any other time of the year. I like to think that this night is the big one in the Rabbinical sermon calendar.
This year we were privileged at Mt. Zion to h hear one of the more moving sermons I think I’ve ever heard. So moving in fact, that by then end of it, one of the cantors had teared up and the congregation had been moved to applause. Frankly, the first time I’d ever heard applause after a sermon.
So uh, what was the topic this year? Marriage equality, and specifically the call to justice that we Reform Jews have and how supporting marriage equality and the rights of GLBT people is in line with our values, and consistent with our history.
I wish I had written it. I’ll post it here when I get a chance.
A few points he made, some of which I didn’t realize-
- 1965 the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods resolved at their Biannual meeting the following “We…deplore the tendency on the part of community authorities to harass homosexuals. We associate ourselves with those religious leaders and legal experts who urge revision in the criminal code as it relates to homosexuality, especially when it exists between consenting adults.”
- 1977 the Central Conference of American Rabbi’s passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults.
- 1987 the Reform Movement’s national body passed a resolution officially recognizing Gay and Lesbian partnerships. It also passed a resolution stating that gay and lesbian Jews should be granted full inclusion in synagogue life. It urged congregations to ” encourage lesbian and gay Jews to share and participate in the worship, leadership, and general congregational life of all synagogues.”
- 1998 The Central Conference of American Rabbi’s passed a resolution supporting the rights of Gay persons to civil marriage.
- In 2006, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Eric Yoffie, stated, “Gay Americans pose no threat to their friends, neighbors, or co-workers, and when two people make a lifelong commitment to each other, we believe it is wrong to deny them the legal guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit the broader society.”
In November of 2012 the Citizens of Minnesota will have the opportunity to vote down an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Minnesota which will legislate discrimination by denying civil rights to a certain percentage of our population simply because some of don’t like what they do, or who they are. Rabbi Spilker was adamant about just how wrong this is, and how as Jews, a people who have been the subject of legislated discrimination in the past, we are compelled to act against this measure. As I’ve written in this space before, I’m in 100% agreement with him. I believe we are compelled as Jews, to oppose this amendment and fight for rights of the oppressed among us.
Our synagogue has put in place a committee to coordinate our efforts to fight this measure. I have submitted my name as candidate to serve on this committee and do some small part to make a difference in what I believe is the civil rights issue of our time.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I have me a little secret. Well it’s not exactly a secret per se, but it’s not something that I exactly wear on my sleeve because frankly, it’s no bodies business. Funny to say that because at the same time it defines who I am in a rather fundamental way.
I’m happy to share, and I’m a bit more open about it now than I was in my youth, when it actually caused issues for me at school and with peers. Even today occasionally I find myself in situation where I just don’t feel comfortable being open. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that and there are those in my community who would be offended to hear this about me.
If you were to look at me, talk to me, you’d have no idea. I have none of the stereotypical characteristics which have been identified with my community, as a matter of fact there’s been a time or two in my life when I’ve been questioned by others, even ever so slightly, whether or not I’m actually a part of this group.
Guessed yet? I’m talking about being a Jew. Growing up in a religious household, my faith has never been questioned, being adopted my ethnicity sometimes has and in the Jewish world faith and ethnicity go hand in hand. I’ve had more than a few incidents of anti-Semitism directed at me over the years, nothing major thank G-d. Some underhanded comments growing up, a membership in California where the second question after “are you interested” is “oh.. uh what Church do you go to?” and my response ended the interview with “that very interesting, we’ll get back to you.”
Or hearing folks talking shit and not realizing that I happened to be the subject of their discussion. The proprietor of the gas station on our corner for example remarking to a customer that “Jews are responsible for these gas prices” and “one day we’re going to have to deal with those people”. I shudder to think what that means.
A few weeks ago I happened to overhear a conversation between a good friend of mine and his family, folks I consider as close as my own family. As they were talking about negotiating on one thing or another for a business, the comment “we can Jew them down on that” came wafting over, leaving me disappointed that this was they way the talked behind closed doors.
Despite these little setbacks and reminders I can’t complain about injustice or prejudice and it’s impact on me other than to say this, sometimes it is a subtle reminder about who I am.
I mention all this because recently I was quite honored to receive a compliment from friend of mine who also shares the experience of having a little secret about herself that she chooses, or not chooses as the case may be, to share. My friend happens to be a Lesbian. She was recently married and in her response to my congratulatory message on her wedding she included the following regarding my blogs on marriage equality;
“THANK YOU for your awesome blogs on that topic! You are my hero and more than just an ally to the community!!!”
This is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about this stupid blog, and certainly a comment that I’m extremely proud off. Proud because someone noticed that I do stand up for what I think is right.
I think there are some striking similarities in our society between the experience of being Jewish and the experience of being Gay, when it comes to being out and up front about who you are. And, more importantly when it comes to not being up and out front about who you are. Which sucks BTW. I wish I could claim that I’m always upfront, but I can’t.
And, in some ways, there is no similarity what so ever. Most people are at some level, ashamed of their prejudices. No one wants to be called out for being a racist, an anti-semite, but for some reason in our society today it’s still ok be prejudiced against Gay people. As a matter of fact we’re about to legislate prejudice. It wasn’t all that long ago that the same prejudices were institutionalized in Jim Crow laws. Ironically 50 years later we’re voting on institutionalizing prejudice, turning the clock back, and creating a special class of citizens who will not enjoy the same legal protections that I do. Sorry, that’s just wrong regardless of your motivations.
So, once again, why do I care about this, simple. Based on my experiences, I feel compelled to act. I believe that I have a responsibility to call out prejudice when I see it and do what I can to not let others get away with being bigoted. So, sorry to friends who find themselves on the wrong side of these issues, singling out a segment of the population for special treatment, whether that’s denying them the protections of marriage, or simply creating an environment where people feel compelled to hide who they are, it’s all wrong and I’m calling you on it
So, we weren’t the only people having a Seder last night.
There are two things remarkable to me about this picture from last nights Seder at the White House. Three things actually;
1) Based on the sunlight coming through window, they started the event early. But hey, so did we, and so did most other folks. What that tells me is that when the President wants to play Jewish, he’ll play Reform Jewish, and who wouldn’t really.
2) The Hagadahs they’re using. The Hagadah is the text that is used during the Seder. There are 1000′s of them available. In my family we like one that have a certain “brevity” to their nature and which include some modern commentary and alternative things to think about. The Hagadah, we believe, was complied during the period immediately after the destruction of the second Temple, about 70 CE. Some of the oldest existing pieces of Jewish literature are Hagadahs or Hagadot to be correct in the plural, some of which go back to the 10th century. There’s a very famous illustrated Hagadah from Sarajevo that dates back to the 15th century which you check out on line. The lettering style from that text is still used today. Look here to learn about the remarkable story of the codex. Today there are literally thousands of Hagadahs out there, many works of art. So what Hagadah did the POTUS pick? Well taxpayers and tea partiers, you’ll be happy to know that the Official Hagadah of the United States this year is.. drum roll please, one of the most famous Hagadahs in the American Jewish Experience. Yup.. The President has broken out the Maxwell House Hagadah.
The publication of its Passover haggadah by the Joseph Jacobs Advertising Agency beginning in 1932 made Maxwell House a household name with many American Jewish families. This was a clever marketing strategy by owner Joseph Jacobs, who hired an Orthodox rabbi to certify that the coffee bean was technically more like a berry than a bean and, consequently, kosher for Passover. Maxwell House coffee was the first to target a Jewish demographic. It was also reportedly used for a Seder held at the White House in 2009 by President of the United States Barack Obama.
Finally 3) If you notice in the picture, everyone at the table has got a finger in their glass of wine. During the telling of the story of the Exodus, there is a special section that deals with the 10 Plagues which G-d brought against Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. Traditionally you are to dip you finger, or a spoon, into your wine glass to remove 10 drops of wine as you recite each of the 10 plagues. This purpose is to symbolically lesson your joy a bit because the Egyptians were G-ds children as well.
Pesach is traditionally 2 Seders, the first and second night. In the past the we’ve done the first night with friends and the second night at home. My folks used to do the second night at the Temple for the Congregational Seder, or as I would suggest, the Rubber Chicken Seder. I like the second night because we try to make it a bit different from the first night. This year we decided to make it more conversational. Sometimes I forget I have teenagers.
This Saturday and services the Rabbi spoke about the more modern customs we have of making Seder’s fun and engaging. She got on her soapbox for just a minute and made the comment, which she prefaced by saying “this isn’t going to be very popular”, that while she enjoys a good time at the Seder, she not really ok with making light of the Plagues. It’s a custom in many homes to have plastic cows on the table, to throw cotton balls as you mention hail, plastic frogs, etc. Heck we used to this back when we were invited to a local Seder, the hostess would go all out with the Seder and everyone had a great time.
Now that the kids are older and we don’t really get invited anywhere anymore we have to create our own traditions and I’m thinking along the lines of Rabbi on this one. However, I am going to miss the Frog Song.
One morning when Pharoah awoke in his bed
There were frogs in his bed, and frogs on his head
Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes
Frogs here, frogs there
Frogs were jumping everywhere.
Of course none of my kids will sing it anymore, Laura gave me the pre-teen sneer when I suggested that she preform. So.. we’ll be taking a decade or so off from this one until we have Grandkids..
I’m keeping the frog song. But the rest I can go.
Which opens up the question we asked at this evenings big Seder, or as we say Second Night. “What are the modern plagues that you think afflict Humanity.”
Top answer at our house-
- Famine. An excellent example.
- War. Another good one shows the kids are thinking.
- Cancer. Good which we expanded to Disease in general because I was pretty sure the kid was going to list 7 more diseases to get out of this whole discussion.
- Gadaffi- We lumped this into bad leaders who hurt their own people. I thought that was a good one.
Now were stretching the brain cells.
- Prejudice/Racism. “isms” in general a bad, we all agreed to that.
- Obesity. Hmm that came from somewhere on the table, and I don’t like who they were looking at when it was said. But the point is good.
- Putting causes ahead of what’s right. That’s mine. So many people these days put their political or religious zeal behind bad ideas or failed policy simply because. No one else wanted to talk about it.
Now we were out of ideas.
- Matzo Bindings.. Ok that’s a real plague, but specific to Jews this time of year. Eat matzo for a week and you’ll experience the same.
- Republicans.. that was mine but apparently we don’t all share the opinion on that one. See my last one.
- Gas prices.. that was the kids. Doesn’t count.
Laura suggested that Disease could go with access to health care (She’s been listening to me complain in the car when the news is on). Not exactly a plague.
What about slavery? Are there still slaves? How are you enslaved?
Turns out the institution of slavery is doing quite well worldwide. Lots of people are indentured to various instiutions around the world. Like chocolate.. cocoa plantations are among the worst offenders. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia for example have genuine old fashioned slave markets.One of the purposes of the Seder, until everyone is free we will be called to hold a seder.
What about you Kiddo? i asked the middle kid. He didn’t get the question. “Facebook, you, my son, are a slave to Facebook.”
And so ended what was an interesting evening of family discussion that thankfully, only happens once a year.
Word of the day. Oy Shit
I would be surprised to find one Jew in America who has not, at somepoint in the last few days since Thanksgiving NOT looked at a calendar and said “Oh SHIT! Hanukkah starts WHEN??? Or some version there off, shit being a Yiddish word for dang.
Yeah.. that would be Wednesday, as in tomorrow.
I haven’t even finished the damned Thanksgiving leftovers.
Lunar calendars suck, explains why the rest of the world switched a long time ago. Clearly we need that Adar II or as we Jews refer.. leap MONTH. When you’re timing stuff by the moon, you’ll find Hanukkah in the summer in no time unless you periodically add a month.
Lemmie clear up a thing or two about the festival of lights for my non-Jewish friends. Every year I get asked lots of questions about this holiday, and oddly never one about Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. Here’s the greatest hits FAQ from your old pal Sank.
- First, the single most common question I get about Hanukkah; Don’t you give your kids a present every night?
- No. For a couple reasons. A few hundred years ago no one got gifts for Hanukkah, they got some coins and fried food. DONE. Oh, and they learned how to make odds on a spinning top. The whole gift thing got out of control the year after the Macy’s made the Christmas gift thing spin out of control. Keeping up with the Jones’s you know. We don’t give gifts every night because Mrs S does not like to drag out the whining and begging. We pick a night and do some gifts and potato pancakes, eat some jelly donunts from Fishman’s and call it a festival. In my youth I got to open 7 packs of socks and underwear every night for a week until the last night when I got something I was interested in. Didn’t make feel all that special, nor reinforced the idea of MIRACLE.
- Are you taking time off for Hanukkah?
- Nope. I’m taking time off for Christmas.. because I can. Ha.
In the pantheon of Jewish Religious observances Hanukkah is right up there with Purim and Jewish Arbor Day. It’s proximity to Christmas makes a lot of people blow it WAAAY out of proportion. Interesting story- when my grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1900 they were sort of “adopted” by a gentile neighbor in their Fort Worth home. They learned that Americans put up Christmas trees and did so for years and years. You see, they emigrated from Syria and as such had no real exposure to Christian holidays. They really thought it was an American deal, and when the kids got older and knew what was going on.. never said a word and why would they? Who doesn’t like presents. Of course I would drop dead before I’d do a Christmas tree now.. which answers the next question-
- Do you put up a Hanukkah Bush?
- NO. That would be called a Christmas tree. And the answer is NO. I’d have to move.
- Do you do anything special?
- Why yes. Hanukkah celebrates a miracle after all, and to commemorate the miracle we do light our hanukkiah every night. BTW.. it’s not a menorah it’s a hanukkiah, next time you’re having a beer with a Jewish friend, you can use that bit of trivia to win a round. Almost always works. It’s traditional to eat some fried foods, soofganyot being the traditional pastry. You can get them at a kosher market for about $104.40 a dozen. The annual Hanukkah challenge, put 3 $3.00 soofganyot and 3 regular $.50 jelly donuts from Cub in a bag and see who can tell the difference. The answer? The guy who had to shelp through damn snow to FIshman’s Kosher Market in St. Louis Park after work during a snow storm to get them? No. Not even him. Believe me I know. Good thing I saved the box last from last year, they’ll never know. However corned beef and knishes.. worth the trip right there.
- We also do some game night and hang out.. Fun isn’t really in our repertoire, BUT the Timberwolves, the local NBA franchise is hosting Jewish Heritage night next week. I’m at a loss to understand how you show that you are Jewish to get a discounted ticket. I had an idea, but Mrs S assured me that would not be the case, we have gone to such great lengths in the more liberal Jewish community to get to gender equality and all.
- What did you get your wife?
- Why does this come up all the time? BTW this is a gender linked trait. Women around the office, in social circles are fascinated for some reason to learn what men other than their husbands get their wives as gifts. Benchmarking me thinks. Well, this is exactly the sort of keeping up with the Jones’s or Schwartz’s as the case may be that has turned this little festival, a festival not all that popular with Talmudic Rabbi’s BTW due to its military connections, into the Jewish Christmas.
Fact is, I don’t know what I’m getting her because it was just this afternoon that I, yes I the most organized man I know looked at the calendar and said those fateful words,
“She-IT, Hanukkah starts WHEN?”