December 26, 2014
The Terrifying Bread Machine at work.
I studied a bit of practical Torah today with a woman who has been my friend for years. She was my conversion mentor (not my rabbi, just a friend who showed me the ropes) and since then we have become friends and partners in teaching. I still look to her when a bit of practical home-based Judaism is tricky for me.
A year ago (a year ago!) she gave me a bread machine as a housewarming gift. I have always made bread by hand, and was suspicious of machines. I am also very busy, especially on Fridays, and so I bought my challah at the store, because I was afraid of the bread machine. I decided “Enough of that nonsense!” and asked Dawn to teach me how to use the terrifying bread machine.
Yes, I am making fun of myself. It is ridiculous for a grown woman of nearly sixty years to be afraid of using a bread machine. I am pretty sure – almost certain – that it will not blow up. Dawn assures me that it won’t. And it is not a crime to use a machine to allow me to do other things.
I know for sure the challah that comes out will be good – Dawn uses the same machine! I love her challah!
How do you get your challah? Do you bake it? Make it with a machine’s help? Buy it from a particular store? Make it with your children or friends?
Has there ever been a mitzvah you were afraid to try because you might mess up?
Anyway, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, and tasty challah however you obtain it!
December 25, 2014
This has been a very active year for this blog. Activity here as more than doubled since last year, and I thank you for your readership.
These are the ten most frequently read posts on this blog among the posts I wrote this year:
How to Succeed at Congregational Life: Ten Tips
What to Wear to a Jewish Funeral
What to Wear to Synagogue?
Blogging While Black: Yeah, It’s a Thing
Prayer for the Opening of Baseball Season
“Blood Moons” and the Meaning of Prophecy
A More Meaningful Chanukah
Never Say This when You Welcome a Visitor!
Thinking of Conversion to Judaism? 5 Things to Do
The five most read posts of all time (well, the five calendar years this blog has been online):
Bar and Bat Mitzvah Etiquette for Beginners
10 Tips for Attending a Jewish Funeral
What’s “Yasher Koach?”
Choosing Synagogue Membership
How to Succeed at Congregational Life: Ten Tips
The Blogger and her Helper
The goal of this blog has been basic information for newcomers and others who may feel awkward in Jewish community. There’s a tremendous amount of information available in books and on the internet, but sometimes it’s too much all at once. I hope that by offering topics in small bites they have been more manageable.
Mixed in with those “basic info” articles are posts about growing Jewish identity and about living a meaningful Jewish life. I am not interested in Judaism as an exercise in historical reinactment. The prospect of Judaism that gives meaning and purpose to real 21st century lives is much more exciting to me.
So here are my questions for you: Which posts have been most helpful or interesting to you? What would you like to read about in 2015? Is there a topic about which you’ve heard “enough already!?”
I wish you a happy secular New Year of growth and bloom!
December 24, 2014
Lighting the candles at our Chanukah party.
Long-time readers may remember my Hospitality Challenge: 16 months ago I challenged myself to grow in the mitzvah of hospitality. Yes, it is an actual mitzvah: Abraham and Sarah are famous for their hospitality. The Torah commands us to follow their example. After all, this is how all of us learn to “do Jewish:” not from a class or a book, but from observing the mitzvot with other Jews.
What I didn’t expect was that hospitality could also be an avenue for personal and spiritual growth.
Here’s where we started: I’m an introvert married to an introvert’s introvert. We are not great housekeepers, nor are we good cooks. We were both intimidated by the idea of opening our home to people who might (eep!) judge us on our housekeeping and cooking.
We’ve had fewer Shabbat guests than I originally hoped, but we have hosted more people in the past year than ever before. We have celebrated almost every Jewish holiday with friends and family and some new friends (aka “strangers.”) Sukkot and Chanukah each saw a large gathering at the house. During the summer, I hosted regular Torah study gatherings here, and we’ve had countless folks over for an afternoon or an evening.
We’ve had great dinners, and burned dinners, gatherings where we were overrun with guests (who thought they’d all say yes?) and gatherings we canceled for lack of guests. There have been some wonderful people here, and a few who’ve been a challenge. And yet one thing has been constant: after the guests left, there was a glow that remained, a sense that home was indeed a holy place of warmth and friendship.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
- Nobody cares that the rabbi’s desk looks like a tag sale.
- If the main dish is a bust, the pizza place down the hill delivers.
- To carry out this mitzvah, I had to learn to ask for and accept help.
- People will bring food if you ask them to ahead of time.
- A plan for the evening is nice but not necessary.
- All guests go home eventually.
- Jewish warmth and Jewish blessings make everything glow.
- Jewish hospitality grows our Jewish souls.
Taking on this mitzvah has made me grow into a happier person and a better Jew. Here’s to 16 more months (and more!) of sharing the joy.
December 22, 2014
Tevet 5775 began last night at sundown, on the evening of December 21, 2014.
Welcome to Tevet! It’s the month that begins in the middle of a holiday. We are celebrating Chanukah, and last night, when we lit six candles, the month of Tevet arrived to join us.
Despite its fancy beginning, Tevet is a quiet little month for Jews. The biggest things to happen in it are not Jewish days at all: Christmas and the Gregorian New Year (January 1) usually fall in the month of Tevet.
The only other official Jewish day of observance in this month is Asara b’Tevet [10th of Tevet] on which some Jews fast to remember the day in 588 BCE when the army of Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon, laid seige to Jerusalem. In the month of Av, a year and a half later, they would enter the city and destroy Solomon’s Temple, which we refer to as the First Temple.
One of the quirks of the Jewish calendar as we know it today is that it is in some ways a hand-me-down from ancient Babylon. Before the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile, we know that Jews followed a lunar calendar that began its months on the new moon and that had adjustments to keep the agricultural holidays in their proper seasons. We have a few month names from that calendar in the Torah, but most of the months seem to have been like modern Hebrew days. They went by number, “In the First Month” etc.
But the names of the months we use today came back from Babylon with our ancestors. Tevet in Babylon was Tebetu or something similar. If you are curious about the Babylonian calendar there are a few Internet sites that explore it, including this one.
Enjoy the last remaining nights of Chanukah and don’t forget to add the greeting, Chodesh Tov! Happy New Month!