Monday, December 22, 2008

Enough for just one night...

Hi everyone; we need to talk. You haven't been doing your job. Look how long it's been since my last post? How am I supposed to be responsible if you keep letting me get away with stuff like this? In other news, I might be looking for a new blog title; "Open Source Judaism" isn't as original as I thought. There's not another blog by that name, that I've found, and I definately like the imagery but I don't want to step on any toes. So we'll see.


It's a new holiday! I learned a lot about Hannukah this year, but none of it inspired me to write. What I've been thinking about is oil. On Chanuka oil is a symbol of our freedom, of military triumph, and miraculous delivery from oppression. In our modern world, though, oil is become symbolic of the oppression itself. Currently the world faces a bad economy, an ugly war, and looming environmental crisis all of which trace back, at some point, to oil.

And this is our freedom?

We celebrate by burning oil lights, and eating food fried in oil. But the food we eat every day is grown in oil, covered in petrol-based pesticides and nurished by oil-derived fertilizer. How does cooking it in oil remain different or signifigant? And when the people gathered around brightly burning oil are not happy families but exhausted soldiers, what then?

The history of Judaism has been a gradual journey closer to HaShem; sometimes physically, sometimes intellectually, sometimes spiritually. When the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple they had only enough oil for one more night, but HaShem made it last for eight. Scientists tell us our oil supply is running out, possibly within our own lifetimes; we have only enough for one more generation, and it's our turn now.

Imagine if we were able to change our habits and make our oil last for eight more generations instead of just one. Or turn it around; what would it mean to the world if we each cut our oil consumtion to one-eighth its current level?

Of course, I did say our journey is towards HaShem, not that we're there already, so I'll cut us some slack. What if we could only reduce our oil use by one-quarter? Or half? Granted, if Chanukah was only two nights instead of eight, it would be less of a miracle. But it would be a great start!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Visiting friends for Thanksgiving; question came up yesterday, what should we do for bread? I suggested I could make a challah; after all, we did it at summer camp so how hard could it be? (Note: I have not actually tried to do this since summer camp.)

Well, anyway, we decided to give it a try; today a shopping list was assembled, and ingredients purchased. Then we started playing a game, ran very late, and went straight to bed. As I'm drifting off, I remembered the small line in the recipe that reads: "Allow to rise overnight". Well. This could be an issue.

Time check: 1:45 AM.
Mission Objective: Make bread dough.
Success Criteria: Don't wake friends.

Like a shadow, I slipped into the kitchen and located the necessary supplies; like a thunderstorm the cats decided to help me find a pot.



Ok; no one's waking up. We're safe. Continue.

Ingredients were mixed, tools were washed, trash was disposed. The dough is in the fridge, covered, happily rising. My friends are none the wiser, and will not be until they wake in the morning and find a doughy surprise on the shelf which last night held only berries, cheese, and mysterious leftovers.

Mission Outcome: I am Ninja Baker!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Judaism with one hand tied behind my back

Sore hand; typing difficult. Several thoughts got away from me 'cause I can't type well or fast now. Here's a thought for future pondering: powerful emotions and memories can only be hung from powerful songs; this is why people don't often tear up with nostalgia at the sound of "Mmm-bop". Traditional prayers have become powerful melodies, if they weren't to begin with, which is why I love them.

More on this later.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What A Dvandva-full World

dvandva: a compound word neither element of which is subordinate to the other,
as "bittersweet", Anglo-Saxon
Are you a Jewish-American, or an American Jew?

I met a woman this weekend who introduced herself as a Persian Jewish American; she didn't say if she knew any Jewish Persian-Americans, or Persian-American Jews.

Does changing the word order change your identity? A little bit, I suppose, as far as it's a statement of priorities and loyalty. Am I first and formost a Jew, bound to all other Jews across the world, and America is the place I'm from? Or am I an American, and differentiated from my fellow Americans only by the matter of my religion?

I'm proposing this as a new dvandva; whichever semantic arrangement you prefer, I am applying this concept to demonstrate that it is not a matter of one over the other. I am both at the same time, and all the time. The two interact well and make each other stronger. The American ideals of freedom, equality, and liberty fit well with the principals of Jewish law and ethics.

This has been a major theme in my life, so I plan to return to this topic in future posts. For now, though, this concept of dualism and linguistic equality is a good place to start.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dear Chery Fenley,

I'm writing to you here because I can't find any other way to contact you, so hopefully someday you'll google your own name (because we all do it) and it will bring you here.

I just bought one of your pictures tonight; I don't know if it has a name, but I'm calling it "And G-d spoke, and parted the sky from the waters." Eli, who sold it to me, took a picture for you so hopefully you'll see that soon.

I was walking through the Farmer's Market tonight, and when I walked past Eli's booth your painting literally made me do a double take; nearly gave myself whiplash. It's very beautiful, and blue happens to be my favorite color, but that's not why.

See, yesterday I decided I want to become a rabbi. The past few years have been very hard for me. Everything I had was lost or burned away; I'm at the bottom of the well, looking up, and there's literally nothing else I want to do. So the decision - the shocking realization - that I actually want to be something again has left me near to tears.

Or panic.

Or both.

My biggest fear is that I won't be able to follow through with it; that the darkness will reclaim me, and I will stay in my well alone and forgotten. I was looking for a symbol, a beacon, a light to guide my way and remind me of my goal.

And then I saw your painting.

It is now hanging in my room where I will see it every day, when I lie down and when I rise up it will be a symbol before my eyes. Reminding me. Inspiring me. And hopefully one day, soon, it will hang above my desk in my office at the temple, and the letters you blazed upon it will teach a generation of children the alef-bet.

Thank you.

With all my strength, and all my heart, and all my soul,


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Coveting My Neighbor's Prius

So here's a question:

As Jews we are responsible for tikkun olam, healing the world. Many commandments concern our obligation to the planet and the environment; even kashrut is in no small measure a discussion of how to live in harmony with the planet.

As Jews we are told to avoid envy; coveting others' property is one of the Top Ten commandments. Judaism doesn't go for "thought crimes" as much as some religions, but many sins do derive in one way or another from this basic point of "I want what you have": theft, adultry, kidnapping, rape, even idolatry.

So what's the proper response when I find myself coveting my neighbor's Prius?

I guess the first question is how pure my intentions are; is my desire in this case just for the newest, fanciest car, or does it stem from a genuine environmental concern? I don't know how much of a theological difference this makes, but practically it seems major. Wanting the car car is obviously greed for a material item, while wanting to live more fuel-efficiently is a legitimate expression of my desire for tikkun olam. In that case, it's not even the car I truly desire but what it represents.

The next question is do I want my neighbor's car specifically - with the souped-up stereo system and funky paint job - or would any car satisfy? Again, this may be more a practical difference than a theological one. In this age of mass-production, coveting your neighbor's goods is not the same issue it used to be. In terms of livestock, the differences between specimins can be great, and I cannot easily get the "state of the art" model just by visiting the local horse vendor. By contrast, one iPod is much like another. The computer my roommate gets may be better than my own, but I can easily get a similar model if I am willing to put the time and money into it. Admiring, or desiring, another's posessions becomes more a recognition of their taste and judgement in the matter, and specific goods are less important than the sensibilities that underlie the selections.

There is a word that applies in this situation: tingo, from the Pascuense language of Easter Island, meaning: "to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them." I haven't read the whole book on the subject, but as I understand the concept, tingo is a compliment; a statement of your friend's excellent taste rather than of greed. Asking tingo reflects well on you, first because it demonstrates your stylish nature, and secondly because the giving of the object shows your wealth and generosity.

So in this age of heightened eco-consciousness, coveting my neighbor's Prius may be a modern expression of tingo rather than the greed that proceeds theft and ill-will. I am admiring your personal committment to tikkun olam and the ways you incorporate it into your life. The world may be ready for the return of tingo, with the slight change that instead of actually taking my friend's posessions, they become guides in my own quest for sustainable living.

I don't recommend or endorse giving your car away to an interested friend, though; the concept of tingo originated in a pre-industrial culture where the most expensive posessions could be replaced by a few days of crafting, after all.

One Small Step For A Jew....

Lechi lach to a land that I will show you
Lech li-cha to a place you do not know
-Debbie Friedman

We read Lech Lecha this week, the Torah portion in which G-d tells Abraham, "You're a grown man already; it's time to move out and find your own place." In this spirit, I am starting a new journey today.

No, not this blog.

Well, also this blog, but not primarily.

I am going to rabbinic school.

There. I said it. And it only hurt a little bit. Technically, this is resuming a journey I once was on, but I stopped walking for long enough that it feels new. And this will be a journey; I have no illusions that I'll start attending school this year or next, or even the year after that most likely. There's a lot of work I need to do before I'm ready and no way to shortcut it, even if I didn't have a full-time career to deal with. I need to improve my Hebrew skills considerably, I need to figure out a large number of financial and logistical issues, I need to get involved with the Reformed Judaism movement on both the temple-level and beyond. Oh, that reminds me; I also need to start going to temple regularly and get re-engaged with the ongoing cycle of Jewish life.

Little things.

I'm excited about this - which is in and of itself exciting because it's been a while since I got truly excited about something. So I'm going to go for it, full-out crazed effort. This might be difficult for me, given my recent animosity towards organized Judaism as well issues. So I'm going to try to keep up this blog, in hopes that it will encourage me to keep up the momentum. If you notice that it's been too long since I posted, please feel free to bug me about it.

A pleasant order to all of you, and I'll see you along the road!