Grief

Image: Gabi and I at the computer in 2013.

I have started to write a new message 25 times, and I keep stalling out. The only thing I know to do is to write about the thing that is keeping me from writing: my dog died.

Many of you who follow the blog have followed our adventures over the years. I joked about the “rabbinic assistant” who would sit by my side as I wrote and taught but the truth is that there was something to it: I’ve been a mess ever since she died. I cannot seem to write original material, and my sleep is badly disrupted.

Gabi picked me out one Friday afternoon right before Passover in 2009. I stopped by the home of a congregant who fostered adoptable poodles. Gabi climbed into my arms, and howled when I left. That night, at services, Julie informed me that the dog was still howling, hours later: “I think she might be your dog.” I took her home with me a week later.

We didn’t know much about her history: she’d been found barely surviving on the Las Vegas Strip, a tiny toy poodle with a huge tumor under one leg. Our vet speculated her age at 13, and said that the type of tumor was typical of dogs who had had too many litters of puppies. We speculated that maybe she had been fired from a puppy mill, but we never really knew. The estimate about her age was a bit high: she lived another 13 years, and it defies belief that a toy poodle survived to 26. Mostly, she was a mystery.

She loved me and I loved her.

The pandemic came, and she was pleased: finally, she had trained me not to leave the house! It suited her for me to tap away at the computer or knit, with her nearby. Then she developed another tumor, this one cancerous, and they told me she had six months, tops. She had surgery to remove the tumor and lived for another two years.

About a year after the cancer scare, old age finally began to slow her down. By the time I called the hospice vet, she’d been blind for a couple of years, and deaf, and her sense of smell seemed to be going, too. She was still the house Alpha, bossing any dogs who visited no matter their size, but then she’d collapse and sleep for hours.

The last couple of days and nights were bad. I had made an appointment for the hospice vet to come euthanize her on Dec 30, but I had to move it up, because she went suddenly from decline to misery. On Dec 29 Dr. Taddy Fick from BluePearl Pet Hospice came to the house and administered the two injections while I held Gabi in my arms. In a few minutes, she was gone.

What have I learned? I have learned that losing a pet can be profoundly disruptive. It hurts. Jewish mourning rituals don’t apply to animals, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that is appropriate. Pets are not people. Loss of a beloved person includes a lot of ambiguity: words not said, issues unresolved, unfinished business. Gabi and I had none of that: it was all affection, all the time, for thirteen and a half years. The grief for her is uncomplicated; I just miss my dog.

I did my own rituals: mostly, I assembled a keepsake box with her collar, a pawprint, and a lock of her hair. I put it on the shelf and it will gather dust. We got a new dog and he is completely different from her: a senior male, a Maltese, with no teeth at all. Ginsberg is noisy and sometimes a pain in the neck, but I can feel myself growing fond of him.

That’s where I’ve been. In the past, writing about the source of my writer’s block has proven to be the cure for it. Here’s hoping for a good result.

Registration for “Intro” is Open!

Image: Two hands fit two puzzle pieces together, with the words “Introduction” above and “To the Jewish Experience” written below. Artwork from pixabay, modified by R. Adar.

THE NEXT CLASS BEGINS ON JANUARY 8.

Register via Eventbrite BEFORE CLASS BEGINS January 8. No late registrations!

Introduction to the Jewish Experience, or “Intro,” is a 24-week online class in Basic Judaism. The series is for anyone who hasn’t had a basic Jewish education, or who wishes to learn as an adult.

We study in three terms of 8 weeks, which students may take in any order:

In the Fall Term, Jewish Holidays & Lifecycle, we learn about the Jewish year and Jewish time as we explore the important days in the Jewish year, as well as the life ceremonies of Judaism.  Normally offered in the term following the High Holy Days, in the Autumn.

In the Winter Term, Jewish History Through Texts, we learn the history of the Jewish people through approximately 1000 CE, along with the literature of Rabbinic Judaism (Torah, Hebrew Bible, Midrash, Talmud) and we explore the concept of “Jewish Law.” We also explore the origins and history of antisemitism and Jew-hatred. (Offered Sunday afternoons, 1:30-3pm Pacific Time via Zoom, beginning 9/26/21). Will be offered starting January 8, 2023.

YOU MUST REGISTER BY THE DAY OF THE FIRST CLASS, in this case, January 8.

In in the Spring Term, Traditions of Judaism, we explore those things that the Jewish People worldwide share (Shabbat, the prayer book, the worship service) and we learn about Jewish history through the lens of the varieties of Jewish communities: Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and others. We learn about modern-day streams of Judaism (Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist) and the history of North American Judaism. We finish with an exploration of Jewish food customs. Will be offered starting March 12, 2023.

TO GET ON THE MAILING LIST: Send an email to CoffeeShopRabbi@gmail.com, with:

  • Your name
  • The class you want to attend
  • A phone number
  • The name of your rabbi, if you have one.
  • I will notify you by email as soon as Registration opens.

TUITION: The cost of classes is $200 for each 8-session term. We also have a Pay What You Can option, with no questions asked.

I have had students from the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist traditions. I welcome students from many places: curious about Judaism, converting to Judaism, just want to understand Jewish relatives better, and some who just began working for a Jewish nonprofit. I welcome students from marginalized Jewish backgrounds: persons of color, LGBTQI persons, and students with disabilities. I am myself a fat woman, a lesbian with disabilities, and I became a Jew as an adult. I am a member in good standing of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and the Northern California Board of Rabbis.

Adventures on the Internet

Image: A compass stands upright on a map of the world. There are pins in the map, as if someone is marking a journey. (Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

I haven’t had this kind of fun in a long time, since the early crazy days of the Internet. Twitter went over to the sitra achra, aka the Dark Side, and I skedaddled (see Bye, Bye, Birdie if you want details.) Found my way to Mastodon, a decentralized, all volunteer, nobody’s-making-a-buck-on-me sort of affair, where you can find me at adar -at- babka -dot- social. Moderation is done by volunteers who wrangle the servers, and each server/instance has its own rules and standards.

If none of that makes any sense, don’t worry about it. The “fun” I mentioned is that I’m learning a new system, and this one is less polished but so far quite a bit nicer than Twitter. Learning unfamiliar things and mapping new territory makes my brain happy. I’ve located some old friends and made some new ones.

In other news:

Today I stumbled upon a real treasure, Stories from Jewish History, a substack written by Dr. Tamar Ron Marvin. She describes herself thusly:

I’m an intellectual historian with a PhD in Medieval & Early Modern Jewish Studies and currently a student at Yeshivat Maharat. Some of my best friends are medieval rabbis. Want me to introduce you?

https://trmarvin.substack.com/about

She posts articles about the rabbis, the Rishonim and early Achronim, the rabbis from about the 11th century to the early modern period. I can recommend a nice video by Henry Abramson at the Jewish History Lab to explain the concept of the Rishonim, and the “generations” of rabbis, generally.

Dr. Marvin is a real-deal scholar, but also funny, and her love for the rabbis shines through every article. I hope you’ll take a look. Enjoy!

Vayera: Dysfunction in the Family?

Image: It is said that the tent of Abraham was open on all four sides. This is the tent of a modern bedouin household, also open on four sides to the desert around. (Pixabay)

A candidate for conversion once said to me, “I am glad that my name will be ‘bat Avraham v’Sarah,’ because my family of origin was so dysfunctional. It’s like I get a new family.” We had an interesting discussion.

That comment comes to mind every time I read Parashat Vayera, because it is difficult to imagine a family story more troubling than that of the extended family of Abraham.  In this parashah alone, Lot offers his young daughters for rape, Abraham offers Sarah to Abimelech as a concubine, Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael be tossed out to die, and Abraham acquiesces to her demand. For a finale, Abraham meekly accepts the command to take a knife to his son Isaac. Next to this stuff, the soaps are tame.

As Judith Plaskow points out in The Torah, a Women’s Commentary, God is implicated in the violence in the text, commanding it, supporting it, or failing to comment. She asks, can we read these stories to strengthen our resolve to hold both ourselves and God accountable?

The lone voice against violence in this portion is that of Abraham, who advocates for hypothetical good people in Sodom. Abraham is abundantly imperfect – he did not choose to advocate for Sarah, or Hagar, or Ishmael, or even Isaac. Abraham could and did speak up for strangers, even though his track record at home wasn’t very good.

Abraham was imperfect. We’re all imperfect. Some of us come from wonderful families, and some of us don’t. However, we don’t have to come from perfectly happy backgrounds to speak up for those who are suffering or under attack.

Each of us faces choices about what we will allow to go unchallenged, and when we will speak up. May we be inspired by our imperfect ancestor to stand up for what is right and good when our time of testing comes.

This d’var Torah appeared in the CCAR Newsletter in a slightly different form.

Bye, Bye, Birdie!

Image: A pretty blue bird. (Pixabay)

I just deactivated @CoffeeShopRabbi on Twitter. I’ve been an enthusiastic Twitter user since 2006, when I got an account on my son’s recommendation. I networked with rabbis there, and followed news sources I trusted there, and got the all-important California fire and earthquake info there. I advertised my classes and blog posts. People would say, “It’s a cesspool” and I would say, “Yeah, but it works for me.”

I was nervous when Elon Musk bought it, but the last straw came in a one-two punch. First, I had a conversation with my son in which he argued that there is a moral problem with giving income to billionaire bad boys, especially when they use their power and influence to spread lies. Then I heard about Musk’s tweet in which he helped to spread a vicious lie about the attack on Paul Pelosi.

I have been a great believer in social media. The thing I loved most about Twitter was that I could find someone whose point of view was different from mine, and follow them, and learn more about their lives. It was particularly helpful in expanding my understanding of people who are different from me. I found others who were doing the same thing: Christian clergy who were following me in order to learn about Judaism. We had conversations, but mostly we just quietly watched and learned.

I met some cherished students via Twitter, and I most miss the opportunity to stay in touch with them. I hope they’ll follow me here, and leave comments when the spirit moves them. Some old friends too — Cheryl in Birmingham, I’m looking at you. You’ve kept my economics education going for 34 years after I last set foot in an econ classroom, and you’ve changed my mind more than once. I will miss chatting with beloved colleagues from other movements — it’s easy to stay in touch with my Reform colleagues, but there are Conservative and Orthodox rabbis I knew only through Twitter.

I hope that Mr. Musk will grow up, but I’m not holding my breath.

Watch this space.

Intro Class Registration is Open!

Image: Hands putting puzzle pieces together, with the heading “Introduction to the Jewish Experience.”

Are you seeking an online class about the basics of Jewish life? Introduction to the Jewish Experience will be starting a new cycle of classes beginning on October 23, 2022 under the sponsorship of Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

Register for Intro to the Jewish Experience: Jewish Time and Life

The class meets in three terms of eight weeks each:

  • Jewish Time and Life – The Jewish Calendar, Holidays, and Life Cycle events. (Fall)
  • Jewish History Through Texts – Bible Times through Modern Texts (Winter)
  • Jewish Unity and Diversity – Jewish Prayer, Jewish Institutions, Jewish Food, plus the many varieties of Jews: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and secular. (Spring)

How much does it cost? – Tuition is set at $200 per term. If that doesn’t fit your budget, we offer the option to “Pay What You Can.” I will not know who pays how much.

Do I need to read Hebrew? – I assume that no one taking the class has any Hebrew background. Over the year, you will learn some phrases that you are likely to hear in Jewish environments, some of them Hebrew, Yiddish, or Ladino.

How much homework is there? – The syllabus lists readings for each week and you will receive a book list if you’d like to learn more. You decide how much homework you want to do, but remember that you get out of the class what you are willing to put into it.

What if I have to miss a class? – I supply short recordings of the lecture content for anyone who needs to make up a class. However I discourage people from taking the class from recordings only.

Can I take this class for conversion to Judaism? – For conversion, you need to work with a sponsoring rabbi. Many Reform, Conservative, and other rabbis send students to me for “Intro” classes, but the classes are only a part of the conversion process. I can help you find a rabbi, if you need one. This class is not a “conversion class” but it can be part of your process.

Can I take this class if I’m not Jewish? – Certainly! People have taken the class for many reasons: they are curious about Judaism, they love someone Jewish, or they have gotten a job at a Jewish institution and need to learn the lingo.

Do you take late registrations? – Sorry, no. It is better for the class if we all begin together at the same time. Registration for this class closes the same day the class begins, Oct 23, 2022. If you register on time but have to miss the first class, let me know and we can work that out.

Register for Intro to the Jewish Experience: Jewish Time and Life

Got more questions? Contact me at coffeeshoprabbi -at- gmail -dot- com and I will be glad to address your questions about the class.

Prayers for June 24, 2022

Image: A table ready for Shabbat blessings, with candlestick, challah wine and salt. (Shutterstock)

I facilitate a Kabbalat Shabbat minyan (welcoming Shabbat prayer group) on Friday evenings for Jewish Gateways. This week there were special challenges since we had prepared for a LGBTQ Pride Shabbat, and this morning the news of the Supreme Court decision came down. Folks in the minyan asked me to share the texts of the prayers I brought them this evening.

A Prayer for Pride Month

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Creator of Time and Space, Ruler of all that is,

Who created this world and all the wonders within it,

You created the first person, Adam, in Your Image. Our Torah says:

“So God created humankind in the Divine Image,

Creating it in the Image of God.” (Genesis 1:27)

You taught us to look for your Image in every face,

to seek out the spark of divinity in every soul, to trust

That differences are both holy, and part of a greater Unity,

The Unity of You.

Binary and non-binary, male and female, gay and lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer,

We each reflect an essential aspect of the Divine.

What links us all is love, the Love at the heart of the world,

You, O Holy One,

Wonder of wonders, Who made a world full of wonders.

Amen.

written by Rabbi Ruth Adar, 25 Sivan, 5782

———————————————

Also, I adapted a prayer from the collection at ritualwell.org. This is the adaptation as I read it, and here is a link to the original. My sincere thanks to Kohenet Ahavah Lilith evershYne for the original prayer!

Mi Shebeirach for the USA

May the Holy One who blessed our ancestors 

bless us at this moment in the “Land of the Free” 

with all of the blessings that we need to heal 

all of the injustices in this nation that are real;

May God awaken and kindle deep inside 

any latent powers we have to heal these divides;

May the Holy One help us to become all we can be –

a nation of true peace, social justice and equality,

where everyone who dwells here receives all that they need

to Live and Love, to grow and thrive, to achieve all their dreams,

where children are safe, nourished, cherished, can grow and learn in peace,

where immigrants are welcomed from places they need to flee,

where people of all colors, statuses, beliefs and identities

are treated equally with great respect and dignity,

where science is listened to,

where treaties are honored and reparations are made immediately,

where we honestly confront our past and teach all who need to see

that our differences are what can make us such a great democracy.

May we put people before profits, and listen only to truth,

May we revere our elders and indigenous ones and listen to our youths,

May we take stands for social justice here and everywhere,

May we lead by example to be compassionate, just and fair,

May we take all the necessary steps to heal our Mother Earth, 

May we midwife our country’s rebirth,

where the Holy One reminds us that labor can also have great pains

Zhe tells us that we have the power to ensure that Love reigns;

May this nation and the world heal its bodies, hearts, minds and souls;

May we all know a complete healing to be truly free and whole.

Now, as we take all our intentions

For those who are sick or suffering

For the healing of our nation,

For the healing of the world

adapted from the work of Kohenet Ahava Lilith evershYne

Chametz Abatement Time!

Image: Person in Hazmat gear by MetsikGarden from Pixabay.com.

Passover is SOON, coming at sundown on April 15, 2022. If you haven’t started preparations, it’s time. If you are not sure what that means, or if it makes your hair stand on end, read this: We Begin in Egypt.

It’s a little different at Beit Adar/Burnett this year: we are preparing for Passover by getting rid of a different kind of chametz. Where usually the definition of chametz is “grain + water = chametz,” one can also look at anything in life that really, really needs to go as a kind of chametz.

This year we tried to replace the kitchen floor by laying a new floor on top of the old. It failed, partly because I use a chair in the kitchen and the wheels on the chair tore up the new nylon tile. The only fix was to remove all the old flooring, then install a sheet vinyl. But: this house was built in 1961. It was highly likely there was asbestos in at least one layer of old flooring. When we got it tested, the verdict was clear: we needed to have asbestos abatement, meaning a three-day sealing of the kitchen and people with hazmat suits cleaning out all the old flooring, plus cleaning the air. Otherwise, somebody might get cancer.

Going deeper: asbestos is like slavery in that it may seem to make life safe and predictable (“fire safety!”) but in fact it does the exact opposite. It’s a horrible poison that takes life in horrible ways. It is hidden in my kitchen floor, and if we want to do something about it, we’re going to have to make a mess.

So we are going to drag all the appliances out, eat, toss, or give away the food, empty the kitchen of dishes and pans, and seal it in plastic for the people to work. We won’t be moving back into the kitchen until the floor can be installed. Let’s hope that doesn’t actually take 40 years, but it still sounds like wilderness (and camping!) to me.

In some ways, this simplifies Passover prep — the actual grain chametz will certainly go — so it’s a good time to do this. At the same time, it’s a nuisance.

Passover is a nuisance. People won’t usually say that so plainly, but the nuisancy part of it is key to the Passover experience. The goal of Passover is for each of us to feel like we’ve personally experienced the Exodus. Leaving Egypt was a lot of trouble, and some of the people who left never stopped complaining that they hated the freedom of the wilderness.

The lesson of Passover is that freedom is hard work, and boring, and icky, and dangerous. Like asbestos abatement, acquiring freedom is a major mess, a major inconvenience, and it is expensive, too.

I wish you a good preparation for Passover, whatever that will mean in your heart and your house.

Holy moly! It’s Adar Bet.

Image: A woman lifts her hands and grimaces in surprise. By Engin Akyurt / Pixabay

It’s March 1, and Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet. If the latter term is unfamiliar, read Why Two Months of Adar?

In leap years, when we have an Adar Aleph, I tend to zone out for that month. There are no holidays, and not much happening. I reassure myself that it is a l-o-n-g way to Passover. Then come, Rosh Chodesh, I panic: what have I done about Purim preparations? Do I know where my grogger is? Have I decided to whom to send mishloach manot? When will I start the dreaded Passover preparation?

March is my birthday month, as is Adar. Now it is also the anniversary of the original Covid lockdown here in California. That means that those feelings get mixed in with everything else on Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet.

מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה

“When Adar enters, joy increases” – BT Ta’anit 29a

It seems cruel to dangle that tradition before our eyes, when Adar contains anniversaries of death and destruction. However, as with many things in the Talmud, context helps:

מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה וְכוּ׳. אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר שִׁילַת מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַב: כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמִּשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה — כָּךְ מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה.

§ The mishnah teaches that from when the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing. Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.

First, Adar’s rejoicing comes up as a contrast in a much longer discussion of the month of Av, the traditional month for sadness and sad anniversaries. When Av begins, we curtail our acts of rejoicing because we are preparing ourselves to remember the destruction of the Temple and other disasters. In contrast, when Adar begins, we prepare ourselves to celebrate Purim.

In both cases, we are the actors. It is not, as some translations suggest, that joy gets sucked out of the world in Av, or that joy is pumped into the world in Adar. We have the power to choose how we will react to events.

Mitzvot — commandments — are given to sanctify us, to make us holy. We fulfill mitzvot in order to transform ourselves slowly over time. I cannot choose events, but I can choose how I respond to events. I cannot choose emotions, but I can choose how I will express those emotions.

This Adar Aleph, Russia invaded Ukraine. In Adar 5780, coronavirus shut down the world, and it has been sickening and killing people ever since. In other Adars, other terrible things happened. Still the Jewish People chose to do acts of rejoicing: we’ve had Purim over Zoom twice. This year I will send some of my mishloach manot budget to HIAS and the WUPJ, to feed and comfort those in the war zone.

I do not kid myself that my little donations will make for a happy Purim in Kyiv. I am not so grandiose as to think that it will make a big difference. The little difference I make in the situation will be multiplied by all the other people sending money to help. The big difference will be in me: I will not succumb to despair. I will teach myself, again, that what matters is how I react. What matters is that I will bring a tiny bit of joy into this world by an act of will.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who blesses us with mitzvot, to transform our hearts.

Registration is open for Intro to the Jewish Experience: Traditions of Judaism

Image: Two hands fit puzzle pieces together, with the heading “Introduction to the Jewish Experience”

Registration is open for the Spring Term of Introduction to the Jewish Experience. The spring topic is “Traditions of Judaism.” We will look at the things that unite Jews worldwide, and at the vast diversity of Jewish practice and experience.

This is an eight week course, beginning March 6 and concluding on May 1, meeting on Sunday afternoons from 3:30 until 5 Pacific Time. (The Eventbrite page has an incorrect date for the last week.) We meet via Zoom, and welcome students from all over North America and (occasionally) the world.

Students may take this class as a stand-alone experience, or may take it as one part of the three-part Introduction to the Jewish Experience, a course in the basics of Judaism. Tuition is $200 per term, but we have a “pay what you can” option — no one is ever turned away for lack of funds, nor do we question need.

The last day for sign-up is March 6, the first day of class.


Topics, week by week:

3/6 Welcome & Shabbat – Shabbat is the great unifier of Jews worldwide, whether individual Jews observe it or not.

3/13 Jewish Community & Institutions – The synagogue and other Jewish institutions have evolved over time, but they are the primary ways Jews organize ourselves.

3/20 Jewish Public Prayer – Jewish prayer services follow the same basic outline all over the world, whether they are orthodox or liberal. The goal this week is to help students get a feel for the outline and purpose of the service, so that wherever you go, you won’t feel lost, even if you speak no Hebrew.

3/27 Sephardic Judaism: History & Culture – What is Sephardic Judaism? We will explore this rich and beautiful Jewish tradition both in the past and today.

4/3 Ashkenazi Judaism: History & Culture – Ashkenazi Judaism is the Jewish culture most familiar to Americans — we will look at its origin and history and current expressions.

4/10 Mizrahi & Other Jewish Communities – We will learn about the historic Jewish communities of the Middle East, of Africa, of India, of China, and of Central Asia. Some of them still flourish in those places, and some have worked to maintain their distinctive cultures in new places. Some have nearly disappeared.

4/17 – No class, since this is both the second day of Passover and Easter Sunday.

4/24 North American Judaism & the Movements – North America has become home to all of the communities above, and in the process acquired its own history and culture, too. We will look at the intersection of Jews and politics, the history of Jews in North America, and at the movements of Judaism.

5/1 Jews & Food – Food practices are one way we Jews express both unity and diversity. We will talk about kashrut (keeping kosher) and other Jewish food traditions.


After this class, I am going to break for summer. We’ll resume in the fall with the rest of the series:

Introduction to the Jewish Experience

  • Fall: Jewish Holidays & Life Cycle
    • Begins after High Holy Days
  • Winter: Jewish History through Texts
    • Begins after January 1
  • Spring: Traditions of Judaism
    • Begins in March

If you would like to be notified of the upcoming class, email CoffeeShopRabbi (at) gmail.com with your name, email, city, and the name of your rabbi, if you have one.

I look forward to learning with you!