The Shul Rat

I am a regular reader of The Cricket Pages because I love Rachel’s writing as well as the photos of her two little dogs. I’m reposting this entry to Coffee Shop Rabbi because I think my readers would enjoy this particular post, “The Shul Rat.”

rachelmankowitz

 

I grew up going to synagogue (Shul is the Yiddish word for synagogue) every week, starting when I was four years old. Mom would drop me and my brother off at junior congregation on Saturday mornings, and then pick us up an hour later to take us to our afternoon activities (gymnastics for me and computers for him). I liked that the service for the kids was only an hour and in a small sanctuary, and that the leader of the services was kind of a kid himself, in his early twenties and doing bible trivia with us and giving out candy for correct answers. There was something special about being there with only my brother and no parents around. It gave us a chance to take ownership of our Judaism, and our synagogue, and not have it be filtered through anyone else, or through a sense of duty.

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Happy Earth Day: The Culture of Collards on Vimeo

It’s an honor to pass on this Earth Day post and video from Michael Twitty, food historian and peacemaker.

Afroculinaria

Enjoy this short film by my friend Aditi Desai featuring me, 3 Part Harmony Farm and City Blossoms DC in an exploration of the heritage of collards and culinary and food justice. I was privileged to see it screened at the DC Environmental Film Festival at American University, and in honor of Earth Day, you can see it tonight at my Alma mater Howard University!

Enjoy and happy Earth Day!

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Pack Your Bags, We’re Out of Here.

What does it really mean, to leave Egypt in our own time?

The name for Egypt in the Torah is Mitzrayim (meetz-RYE-yeem.) That means “a narrow place.” We can easily see how it got its name when we look at a map of Ancient Egypt:

Image: Map of Egypt by Jeff Dahl or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient_Egypt_map-en.svgThe green area in this map is the arable, liveable Egypt. The Nile is at its heart, source of food, source of water. Without the Nile, no one could live in Egypt. With it, it is the wealthiest, most stable empire of the ancient world. Just beyond the reach of the Nile, though, lies desert, one might even say deadly desert, on each side of it stretching for hundreds of miles.

We can learn a lot from this map, for instance: Egypt was the original “tight spot.” In a land so narrow, I imagine that there could be very few secrets, except the secrets everyone agreed to keep.

It took bravery to leave Egypt overland. Leaving meant not just leaving behind the bad stuff (like slavery) but things like food and water. The wilderness was scary, and for good reason.

So, now, thinking about our situation in the 21st century: where is Egypt, really? What are the tight spots in our own histories? Where have you felt stuck in a narrow place, with few choices and none of them easy? When and how (or were) you delivered?

At the seder, celebrate that deliverance. Or cry out for the deliverance that has not come.

Where are the tight spots in our hearts? Where are we narrow, confined in our thinking? What would it take to strike out into the unknown, to look for a more expansive way to think and feel? What would it take?

At the seder, start in Egypt. Own the narrow places in our hearts. Join hands and hearts for the courage to step into what is uncomfortable.

Where are the tight spots at our table? To whom do we say, “You are Other” and unwelcome? Who is too scary, too different, too disturbing to include at our table?

At the seder, notice who is not at the table. Who is too scary? Too different? Too disruptive? Ask, how could we make our table a little broader? How can this table leave Mitzrayim?

Passover is the time to leave Mitzrayim, not only in the past, but always, every year. Each year has a different story and different Egypts. Each year we strive to leave them, and sometimes we actually make it.

Our seders close with the famous words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Those words can be literal: next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem. Or they can be metaphorical: Next year, we will be in a different place. We will live in a city on a hill, a bright light to the lands beyond. We will be different people, because we have been through the wilderness.

So we have a choice: Change, or stay the same. Be free, or be slaves. It’s up to us.

I wish us all a Pesach of sweetness and challenge!

 

 

A Voice from North Carolina

Image: The Black Mountains of North Carolina. Public domain.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts is a colleague and dear friend who wrote a guest editorial for the Boone, NC newspaper, the Watauga Democrat. It appeared on the paper’s website today.  I share it because the situations of lesbians, gay men, transgender persons and bisexuals in North Carolina and Mississippi are much on my mind and in my prayers.

To my Christian readers: I ask that you read this thoughtfully, prayerfully, and consider sharing it.

To all my readers: I welcome discussion, but please as always keep it kind.

– Rabbi Ruth Adar

Jesus’ Teachings Conflict With State Law

As a rabbi, I have always viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a rabbinic colleague of mine from two millennium ago. While studying at seminary, I wrote my 125 pages rabbinic thesis on his words: “The Lord’s Prayer.” He is referred to as “rabbi” 16 different times in Scripture Christians call the “New Testament.”

In Mark 12:31, Jesus, the rabbi, taught: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” In Judaism, our similar teaching by the Rabbi Hillel, of the same period, is: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

What then would Jesus do in the following case: Jesus, I and your own pastor/priest/reverend are out to dinner. We have ordered and are about to be served. The owner of the restaurant comes over to our table, and in front of your clergy and Jesus, I am told I will not be served. Further, I am asked to leave and told not to return. The reason given is that the owner had found out I was gay and he did not serve “queers.” I ask you: “What would Jesus do?” Would he agree with this person? I think Mark 2:15 provides the answer. Jesus, the rabbi, would fight for the right of each person in North Carolina — no matter how they are viewed by those around them — to be able to eat a meal in a public facility without having to worry about the discriminatory refusal of service — as can legally take place today here in the state.

I ask you further — what would Jesus do if he and I came to your town to teach about the Lord’s Prayer. When we went to register at the hotel, I am told by the manager that they will not rent me a room because I was gay. Further, he was going to call every hotel in the region and alert them to my being gay so that I would not have a room anywhere in the area. Mark 12:31 makes it clear that Jesus would be horrified that this was both allowed and legal.

Time and time again, Rabbi Jesus went against society to protect those on the margins. He spent his life working to keep them safe, to make sure they were treated well — no matter if society saw them as “sinners.”

Today, here in North Carolina, the state I work in as a rabbi by serving a congregation, I can be refused service and also be removed from any restaurant in the state because I am gay. It is not against the law. Today, here in North Carolina, I can be refused service at any supermarket, pharmacy, gas station, just because I am gay. I can be fired from a job. I can be refused admittance to a college. I can even be denied health care services from hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and nurses.

To treat me this way, to discriminate against me, as someone Jewish is illegal. However, to treat me this way as someone who is gay — is completely legal in North Carolina. The state legislature just passed House Bill 2 and the governor signed the bill, keeping this discrimination the law of the state.
I am left to ask each of you: “What would Jesus do?”

Rabbi Stephen Roberts, MBA, BCC

Rabbi Roberts’ family have deep roots in the Appalachians. He and his family have summered here for more than five decades, he has immediate family that are year-rounders and he is in his third year serving a congregation in the region.

What Being Institutionalized As A Trans Person Made Me Realize

#LGBTQ issues and #MentalHealth issues are an ongoing concern for me. In Jewish tradition, all human beings are “B’tzelem Elohim” [in the image of God.] I’m reblogging this article by Sam Dylan Finch because he addresses a critical intersection of Trans and Mental Health issues.

Let's Queer Things Up!

Back in the days just before I started testosterone, I used to say, “If HRT were to start causing problems with my bipolar disorder, there’s no question – I’d stop the hormones.”

I swore, over and over again, that I would never sacrifice my sanity for my transition. But this is not what I said in the psych ward, when the psychiatrist asked me, “Would you be willing to stop testosterone?”

Repeatedly, day after day, doctors would ask me about stopping HRT and my answer was the same every time.

“That’s not an option.”

My self of six months ago would have been aghast if he knew I was refusing to stop HRT despite being institutionalized.

But it wasn’t six months before. It was present day.

Present day, under a 5150 – wishing I weren’t alive, hearing voices that told me I was better off dead, and drinking more than my fair share…

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Traditions of Judaism Starts Sunday!

Image: Israeli President Ezer Weizman greeting Ethiopian Jews celebrating the Sigd Festival at Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade. Photo: SAAR YAACOV, GPO. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

A new online Intro to the Jewish Experience class starts Sunday at 3:30pm Pacific Time. As always, I’m excited.

The Spring segment of the class is “Traditions of Judaism.” We look at all the different communities and traditions within Judaism today, and how we came to have those various communities. We’ll look at Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi traditions, the Movements (Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, etc), American Judaism and why it is unique, the Prayer Book [Siddur] and the service, and finish up with Jewish food customs. Given that this is an election year, we may talk a little about American Jews and politics, too.

The class is also available by via recordings if you have a schedule that makes that time impossible. To sign up for the online class, go to its page in the Lehrhaus Judaica catalog. If you are interested in the offline, Wednesday night class, it has a different page in the Lehrhaus catalog.

This class (either on- or off-line) is the Spring portion of a three part series that can be taken in any order. Every class also works as a stand-alone entity, for those who already have some knowledge of Judaism but want to enrich their learning on a particular area. (Fall: Lifecycle & Holidays, Winter: Israel & Texts, Spring: Traditions of Judaism.)

I love teaching “Intro” – it’s my passion. If the subject above interests you, I hope you’ll join us!

Six Lessons from My Grogger

Image: A hand holding a grogger. Photo by Yonina, public domain.

I don’t know about you, but the news of late had really wounded me. I felt sad and angry for the poor people in Istanbul and Brussels, blown up and terrified. I have felt angry and helpless, watching certain candidates in the 2016 American election compete to see who could say cruel things about immigrants, African Americans and other underdogs in our society. I was angry with the behavior of my fellow Jews at the AIPAC Policy Conference, applauding speech that simply should not have been welcome there. (It is supposed to be a nonpartisan organization for improving relations between Israel and the U.S. Trashing the sitting President of the U.S. should not ever, ever be OK there.)

And I’ve done the things I do: wrote letters to my elected officials, wrote letters to Jewish community leadership, sent money to organizations that fight hate speech and ignorance.

Still, my heart was hurting. I felt blue. I did not feel like going to Purimshpiel last night, but I had promised to be there. And after all, it’s a mitzvah to hear the megillah. So I went.

As soon as we were inside the synagogue we were greeted by excited kids and grown-up “kids” getting ready for the Purim show. We admired each other’s silly outfits. I wore a top hat with a big pink scarf knotted around it – not a great Purim costume, but something. I’m so glad I did, because dressing up connected me to the healing silliness of the night.

First we gathered in the chapel to hear the Megillah. Cantor Keys did it beautifully, and I got caught up in listening to the story (learning Hebrew really does enrich Jewish experience!) I anticipated the mention of “HAMAN” so that I could cue the roar of groggers.  Cantor Keys is a scholar and a cantor, and it was a treat to hear her do the Esther chant with all the little trills and ornaments. It was fun to try to catch the HAMAN’s.

There was something therapeutic about the sound of my grogger. It GROWLED. It growled out all my pent-up frustration, all my fury at world events and stupid politicians. It gave a sound to the feeling in my heart. It expressed my anger at all the Hamans in the world.

Then we ate pizza. (“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”)

Then we had a Purimshpiel, a crazy riff on Star Wars that made no sense at all, but which had all of us laughing at the ridiculous puns and inside jokes.

PurimSinai2016
Purim Wars: The Farce Awakens (at Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA) Photo by Susan Krauss.

I woke up this morning with my heart was in an entirely new place. I’m still not at all happy about those things I mentioned above, but I no longer feel defeated by all the evil in the world. I feel ready to fight for goodness and Torah. I will write more letters, I will write an op ed and send it to the paper, I will teach and I will get in faces and I will do what I can. In June, I’ll vote in the California primary.

I’m ready to be an agent for good in this world.

So, my lessons from the grogger?

  1. The obligation to hear the megillah is what got me to synagogue last night. Had I stayed at home, I’d still be feeling blue. Sometimes it is good to be commanded.
  2. Groggers are fun, but they are also expressive. My grogger said what words could not say about my feelings.
  3. Sometimes we need to get mad. Anger can be a motivator.
  4. Haman is all around us these days, but he will lose if we fight him. Evil will only prevail if we allow it.
  5. Silly is good. Silly heals.
  6. Purim works in mysterious ways!