Thursday evening I’ll teach Beyond the Basics, a new class for those who wish to learn more about the Jewish Year, text study, and some concepts that hold Jews worldwide together. Time and location still pending.
And of course, I’ll still be meeting in coffee shops and other places with anyone who wants to learn!
Questions for my readers in the East Bay area of California:
When are the best times for you to attend a class?
For the past six months, I’ve been helping out at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA while Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin has been on sabbatical. She and her family have been living in Israel. I filled in on a part-time basis, assisting Rabbi Andrew Straus.
I grew up as a Jew at Temple Sinai. I began the process of formal conversion to Judaism when I knocked on Rabbi Steve Chester’s door in the early 90’s, and all my first lessons in what it meant to be Jewish happened in and around that big old wedding cake of a building. Later on, they sent me out into the big Jewish world, first doing committee work for the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay, and then as a regional board member for what was then called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the URJ. I went on to work at URJ, and eventually decided that I would be happiest as a rabbi. I applied to Hebrew Union College, and was ordained in 2008. All the way through, I could feel the folks back at Sinai encouraging me.
I never thought I’d be back in Oakland, much less on staff at Sinai. The hardest part of the decision to become a rabbi was the fact that it was unlikely I’d ever live here, or be a regular at Sinai again. Then in the middle of my student years, one of my sons was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and it was clear to me that with or without employment, my family needed me in Oakland. I bounced back and forth between Oakland and L.A. until ordination, and then I headed home for good after ordination.
Since then I’ve worked at a variety of positions and served a lot of people in California and over in Henderson, NV. Coffee Shop Rabbi came into being in 2010 when I decided to quit “looking for a job” and do the work I saw before me, reaching out to unaffiliated Jews and meeting them in convenient places near their work or home. I did that, and taught classes, and provided funerals and grief support for the unaffiliated. I found the rabbinate for which I was born, best described by Hillel in Avot 1.12: Be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace. [Be] one who loves one’s fellow creatures and brings them close to the Torah.
And then last fall I got the call from Rabbi MM, and had the chance to serve for a while at the congregation I have loved for all my Jewish life. It was a joy to give back, to serve the people who had been so good to me. It has been a pleasure to work with both Rabbi Straus and Cantor Ilene Keys, and to learn with them as I did so. I have enjoyed the day-to-day company of the office staff, something that the “Coffee Shop Rabbi” doesn’t have. I got to know people at Sinai that had been there all along, but we hadn’t met; old friends trusted me with new sides of them.
But this week Rabbi MM is returning, and while I’ll miss some things, I’m glad she’s back. I kept my teaching schedule during the past six months, but the work with unaffiliated Jews had to go on hold; there just wasn’t time for it. Now I’m chomping at the bit to go back. I’ll go back to advertising my services, and Lehrhaus Judaica has expanded my teaching schedule for the fall.
Will I miss Temple Sinai? Nope – I’ll still be there as a Jew in the pew! And I’ll still be doing work that I love, teaching Torah and hanging out with the Jews.
l’shalom [towards peace],
Rabbi Adar, the Coffee Shop Rabbi
P.S. My son is doing very well, by the way – he’s stable now, and is an artist-fabricator running the shop at an outfit called the Department of Spontaneous Combustion. (If you are curious, follow this link and watch the video. He’s the guy in the white tee shirt.)
IMAGINE what you think Shabbat should be. Traditional observance for 25 hours? Or a more liberal approach? Let your imagining be very specific. Then, even if this is not something you could do every week, make that imagined Shabbat happen, just once. See how it feels, tastes, smells.
STUDY Shabbat. The observance of Shabbat is really an art that merits a bit of study. If you haven’t read Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Shabbat, you’re in for a treat. If some other book appeals to you, give it a go! Survey other Jews you trust: how do they observe Shabbat?
SHARE your desire for a more meaningful Shabbat with your partner or spouse. Maybe they are wishing for more, too!
DECIDE ahead of time what you are going to do or not do on Shabbat. Make a plan and commit to it for one week. Shabbat will take place whether you “show up” for it or not. Torah tells us to “keep Shabbat” and “remember Shabbat” – both verbs suggest that we take action towards Shabbat, not simply let it roll over us.
EXPERIMENT if you are not satisfied with the way you currently experience Shabbat. If you don’t usually attend synagogue, give it a try. If you never turn off your smartphone, turn it off! If you find that traditional observance leaves you grumpy, take a good hard look at what you are doing and why. Maybe it’s time for a change.
Keeping a Jewish home is an important part of Jewish life. Here are some reasons:
HOME RITUALS Many of Judaism’s key rituals take place in the home: Shabbat candle-lighting, Shabbat dinner, Passover seder, Chanukah candles. Even one lifecycle event, the bris[ritual circumcision] is most often performed at home.
JEWISH IDENTITY Everywhere except in Israel, Judaism is a minority religion. Even in the United States, which has a number of large Jewish communities, we are only 2% of the population. For Jews, home is the key place where Jewish identity is formed and nurtured, not only in children but in adults.
HOME MITZVOT – There are Jewish commandments that pertain specifically to the home. We hang a mezuzahin the doorways of the home. Cooking and meals have many different mitzvot [commandments] associated with them: blessings, dietary laws, even some rules for cooking. Those may occasionally be performed in a synagogue, but they most often are observed in the home. Even certain safety rules for the home are actually commandments from Torah.
MIKDASH ME’AT means “little sanctuary.” Ever since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 A.D., our sages have regarded the home as a primary worship environment for Jews. Torah is a set of instructions for living our daily lives, and those lives take place at home, not at synagogue.
If a visitor came to your home, would he or she recognize that it is a Jewish home? What would be the tipoff?
How many different ways is your home identifiable as a Jewish home?
“I am not going to eat that doughnut; I’m going to be good.”
If you are an American, you’ve heard it. If you are an American woman, you’ve heard it a lot. But when was the last time you heard yourself or someone else say it about something that actually had moral value?
“I’m to obey every traffic law today. I’m going to be good.”
“I’m going to lobby against my own financial interests in favor of the interests of the poor. I’m going to be good.”
“I’m going to speak kindly to every person I meet for the next hour. I’m going to be good.”
… or even in reference to food:
“I’m not going to buy or eat chocolate that might have been produced by enslaved children. I’m going to be good.”
“I’m not going to buy or eat food that causes human or animal suffering. I’m going to be good.”
In Isaiah 58, God says to Israel:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
What kind of a world could we build if we put the energy into actual good deeds that we put into dieting and diet talk?
Today the US Supreme Court declared parts of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, and allowed a lower court ruling to stand striking down California’s Proposition 8, which had attempted to redefine marriage in such a way that same-gender couples were excluded. There are still legal and practical matters to be worked out about both, but two great obstacles to human rights have been much reduced.
I am not objective about these matters. I am a citizen of the State of California, and the combination of Prop 8 and DOMA affected my family in tangible ways. Discrimination has shaped our choices over and over again: choices about matters as trivial as vacation and as serious as end-of-life. I still don’t know exactly how today’s legal decisions will play out in my life, but I know that their effect will be far-ranging and profound.
Our children are, if anything, more excited than Linda and myself. The official illegitimacy of our relationship disturbed them deeply.
All that said and done, there is so much left to do! Getting married will help a lot of LGBT folks with nice things like estate planning and dignity, but it will mostly make a difference for those who are middle-class or wealthy. We still face workplace discrimination and immigration discrimination, and for transgender Americans, the battles are still over rights as basic as the right to use an appropriate public restroom. Some of us still face the threat of violence when we drive through the “wrong” county, or walk on the “wrong” street.
Today’s progress, wonderful as it is, is not enough. We can’t declare the work done yet.
We can’t declare the work done until every U.S. citizen’s vote is counted, and every U.S. citizen can get to the polls.
We can’t declare the work done until no one, anywhere, is deported to a strange country where they don’t know the language because of cruel immigration law and decisions made by others before they were born.
We can’t declare the work done until rape culture is only an historical footnote.
We can’t declare the work done until everyone, everywhere, has the chance to make of themselves what they can: until everyone has a fair shot at education and a job.
We can’t declare the work done until the very young and the very old can feel safe and secure, without fear for shelter or their next meal.
I am sure that you can think of something that needs to be done before we declare the work done, and I tell you, go work for that change!
There are those who look to a mythical past for the “good old days.” I am here to tell you, those good old days never existed. Those good old days are ahead. May they come speedily and in our lives!