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The Christmas Day service at First UU ("It's the Most Jewiful Time of the Year") included a dramatic reading of Lemony Snicket's The Latke that Couldn't Stop Screaming, led by the sabbatical minister with audience participation (congregants waving their arms and going "aaaaah!" on cue); a Dr Who reference (Rabbi Rami: I was hoping to watch the special tonight but my wife is insisting that we go out for Chinese); an extended Star Trek benediction in both Hebrew and English; and substantive theological points to consider, with the rabbi comparing closed systems (salvation-based) and open ones (hope-based). The quote I repeated to several other people later in the day : Johanan ben Zakkai's "If you are planting a tree and you hear that Messiah has come, first finish planting the tree."

Also: The thrill of hearing a professional soprano several pews behind me warbling through "Silver Bells" and other standards. The pleasure of petting my friend Victoria's therapy dog through the first half of the service. The hugging of friends and acquaintances and the talking about plans for dancing, performing, volunteering...

For champagne tea with my honorary mama, I baked potato wafers. The BYM and I heard someone very, very good playing the piano in the assisted living lobby when we arrived, and it was indeed her son, who'd brought along sheet music for several super-silly, wildly virtuosic seasonal pieces.

I was not feeling well enough to join the late-night crowd at Lipstick Lounge, but I did stay up to sort out a few things and to say a few more blessings...

second night

And, speaking of blessings, my thanks to all who responded to my Feast of Stephen appeal. I am full of gratitude. See you in 2017.
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The subject line is from a Yiddish poem by Bella Schaechter-Gottesman titled "Harbstelied" (Autumn Song): "When autumn offers baskets full of gold."

Extraordinary selichot service at Congregation Micah earlier tonight. Before the service, I talked briefly with one man who said repeatedly that his partner had "dragged" him there, and a woman who had been a member for 14 years. The rows became full and more chairs were added. Some of the elements:

Havdalah, with the spice jar passed around.

Rabbi Laurie speaking about mature faith, the ability to endure uncertainty, traveling from fear to faith, the bar mitzvah earlier Saturday morning of a young man who had gone through two stretches of leukemia treatment.

The musical "dream team" of Lisa Silver (guitar), Michael Ochs (guitar and accordion), and Batsheva (guitar).

Andrew, a member, speaking about his parents dying within weeks of each other earlier this year -- one from a terminal illness, one suddenly -- and of his midnight-snack rituals with his daughter, who has left for college, as well as the networks developed and cherished by all three generations through their commitment to Judaism. He choked up within a few sentences into his remarks and gestured to his wife, who joined him at the bimah and held him throughout the rest of narrative.

Rabbi Laurie telling part 1 of a tale about a king distraught over a crack appearing in a previously perfect diamond. A craftsman takes it away for a week, promising to make it perfect again...

Batsheva animatedly speaking and then singing "Harbstlied," and later her setting of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" (apparently composed during a stay in Israel where a collection of Frost's poems was the only book in the house).

Angie, another member, speaking about her work at Alive Hospice, about beloved people taken away by cancer (including the wife of the founding rabbi, whose earrings she wears and whose seat she often sits in at the synagogue), about surviving other transitions (including menopause), and about five things one should be able to say not only at the end of life but every day: Forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Good-bye. (I may be misremembering "thank you.")

Rabbi Laurie: what happened to the diamond.

The service ended with what is apparently a Micah tradition -- the congregation holding hands and singing "Hallelujah" in Hebrew:

Cohen's Hallelujah in Hebrew

Cohen's Hallelujah in Hebrew
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Between work and nerves, I considered heading home instead of going to synagogue tonight, but I'm glad I made the effort. The gathering was not large -- maybe three dozen people? -- but it was more diverse than the last time I was there (back around 2007), including some South Asians and an African American, and at least two languages in play besides English and Hebrew, and an elegant older woman who reminded me of my honorary mama cheerfully and graciously pointed out to me the woman who is this year's president, the new junior rabbi, a future Hadassah board member, and other notables.

I danced with the Torah as well as around it, sometimes hand in hand with others and sometimes hands-on-shoulders, and yes, I thought about the message I'd received from Women of the Wall last week as a prayer shawl was draped over my shoulders. The senior rabbi whirled around with a little girl in his arms during some verses, and playfully bopped some heads with a stuffed Torah at another point. Someone brought Glenlivet to share; there was conversation about bourbon casks during the walk from the sanctuary to the social hall. A Torah was unrolled in its entirety, the rabbis gesturing to the grown-ups to make the circle larger and larger so that all of the text could be seen. A father handed his own shiny teal-emerald kippah to his son, who'd lost his somewhere in the hall during all the running around. A mother collected her girl from a minor scrum; other little girls hopped and shrieked and shushed and eventually gathered under a canopy-shawl, giggling when the rabbi later dramatically swooped the shawl over his head. The man to my left was holding up the section containing the Ten Commandments. More than one person caught themselves drooping to the point of almost dropping their part of the scroll -- I'd forgotten how services can seem so rushed and at the same time so long within the same evening. And yet I got home early enough to call a friend on the East Coast, to reconnect briefly with another part of my life that is likewise no longer central but still beloved.

And it is good to wind down the evening thinking about the silent prayer that spoke loudest to me tonight, Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully ... As for all who plan evil against me, swiftly thwart their counsel and frustrate their plans. Thousands-year-old rebuke and comfort, ever ancient, ever new...
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From the July (I think) issue of Elle:



Sarah: We had no religion at all, but we were Jews in New Hampshire, and my sister--who is now a rabbi--said it best: We were, like, the only Jews in Bedford, New Hampshire, as well as the only Democrats, so we just kind of associated those two things together. My dad raised us to believe that paying taxes is an honor.

Judd [Apatow]: How does your sister talk about Judaism?

Sarah: It's funny because sometimes I'll get cunty with her, and I'll be like, "Oh, so you believe there's a man in the sky?" And she'll go, "Well, I like to live my life as though there is one." And I'm just like, "Oh, you're beautiful."


Judd: I wish I could convince myself to believe the way your sister believes because I'm so exhausted from not believing.

Sarah: I actually don't think that she believes in God, necessarily. I think she just loves the ritual of religion and finding meaning in every little thing. She loves living her life that way.

Judd: She doesn't believe in a God that is actively involved in people's lives, making choices?

Sarah: She doesn't believe that God is rooting for the Giants and not the Patriots. She's not fucking ridiculous.

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Sukkot was my father's favorite holiday. He was not Jewish, and even after marrying my mother, who has always been very involved in the Jewish community, never embraced religion. He did, however, love Sukkot. He put up our sukkah every year, and for my father, nothing was more fun than hanging out at Home Depot, offering advice on how to build a sukkah frame or secure the schach. My husband put up our first sukkah just a few months before my father died. Though he was too sick, at that point, to help us build, he did travel thousands of miles to take my husband to Home Depot and advise him on how to put it all together.


http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/lives-they-loved/?story=57
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When I arrived in Paris about two years ago, the day coincided with Kehilat Gesher's celebration of Simchat Torah, which is pretty much my favorite religious holiday since it is about beautiful words and lively dancing. Getting to celebrate it in Paris was a highlight -- and I had meant to post about it before now, but I was exhausted when I got back to the flat (as I wrote to my husband before turning in -- around 10 p.m. Paris time -- "I'm so tired I can't even bring myself to open one of the beers my hostess left in the fridge"). On the upside, it has been nice to make a point of gathering back together the various notes I jotted down (as well as sifting through other souvenirs) in between Elul readings and everyday errands.

In my handwritten journal that morning, I recorded that 7:30 a.m. is a beautiful hour to fly into Paris -- the sky different shades of navy blue, the lights of the broad city below. Ninety minutes later, I was still waiting for my luggage, but not as anxiously as the French musicians who'd had to check their guitars. A woman across from me was reading Twilight, and I'd managed to converse in French with a luggage handler and a ticket agent.

The tiny flat I rented for the night was in the Latin Quarter, in the southern half of Paris. The view from the window:
From paris day 1


The synagogue alternates between two locations, one in a suburb and one in the 17th arrondissement. 17e is a ways across town from the Latin Quarter, but still a much easier shlep than getting to/from St.-Germain-en-Laye would have been. I allowed myself enough time to walk to the Métro stop at Place Monge (pink line) and take it to Chatelet, switch to the magenta line to get to Réamur Sebastopol, and change one more time to the green olive line, diréction Pont de Levallois Bécon. The stop for Kehilat Gesher is at Wagram.

From paris day 1


Kehilat Gesher is a French-English congregation. The handouts for the service were in Hebrew (with transliteration provided for some parts), French, and English:

Simchat Torah at Kehilat Gesher

The rabbi wore sneakers and jeans, as did a number of other people there, as well as folks in dressier garb. The other songleader was a young woman who reminded me of my mentor from Borders, looks-wise; she worked around Europe as an opera singer, but hadn't lost the ability to sing sans vibrato. There were frizzy-haired older ladies, and families with young children (including one from Britain), and younger women who danced unselfconsciously and later formed a conga line. A grizzled older man reminded me of the president of a Nashville running club; I noticed someone androgynous in a blazer, and someone else in crocheted gloves.

Some people carried the scrolls readily, and others visibly balked when asked to take a turn. They were handed to me a half-dozen times and the singing (all a cappella) was lively enough that I could truly kick up my heels without feeling out of line. During the faster (and at times near-frenetic) numbers, the rabbi danced arm-in-arm with the congregants -- which reminded me of contradancing, except that it didn't matter where one ended up.

Simchat Torah songsheet

It was the smallest space I'd ever celebrated Simchat Torah in, and at the same time, the most festive in feel once it got going (even compared to the one in Nashville where a man near me was sharing swigs from a flask). The Torahs in circulation included one that was 30 years old and one that was 70 years old, and at one point an arch was formed for the children to wriggle through. Since nothing had been rehearsed, the energy level in the room surged and dipped depending on how familiar the group was with any given song ("Frère Jacques" in Hebrew was a new one for me; classics such as "Hava nagila," "Hineh ma tov," and "Siman tov ou mazal tov" brought out the liveliest, lustiest renditions; there were melodies familiar to me from services elsewhere -- and then there was the Shema, where the notes went in an unfamiliar-to-me direction).

closeup of the siddur

As it turned out, though, the most magical stretch of the evening to me didn't involve voice or feet at all: there was a point where instead of singing -- in large part, I think, because many of us were out of breath by then -- the songleader and some other congregants started clapping in complementary patterns. That is, she started varying her rhythms and others did likewise, but without stopping, so you had maybe twenty people (including me) all clapping rapidly and confidently in a spontaneous, wordless, percussive chorus of hands that became its own song.
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Next Tuesday in Nashville:


The Jewish community of Nashville, female and male, will join with the leaders of our Jewish congregations and organizations to pray in solidarity with Women of the Wall on Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 8:30 am at The Temple, 5015 Harding Road, Nashville, located next door to the Belle Meade Mansion.

Since 1988, Women of the Wall (Nashot Hakotel) has sought for the social and legal rights for women to wear prayer shawls, pray and read Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This group, comprised of female and male supporters, is being subject to protest and widespread clashes with police and members of the ultra-Orthodox community, most recently at last month's Rosh Chodesh (New Month) prayer service. ...


More at http://templenashville.org/index.php?qid=21#49
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I spent part of my Friday evening with two books by Laurel Snyder, Good night, laila tov and Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.

"Laila tov" ("good night" in Hebrew) is a phrase that instantly takes me back to Tel Aviv. There are also a pet cat and a pet dog, which those of you who have read my other reports may remember tends to mean automatic points with me. [/unapologetic sap] In Baxter, a woman rabbi saves the day. (I am also inordinately amused that the book carries a blurb by Lemony Snicket.)

Also, at Snyder's blog: her unpublishable tribute to Maurice Sendak
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I borrowed Dave Horowitz's Five Little Gefiltes from the library yesterday. It is totally, utterly silly.

And then I went to the store today and picked up a jar of horseradish and a jar of gefilte fish. :-)
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I was reading the latest T Magazine during my soak last night, and sat up straight when I got to this passage in this account of Orthodox Jewish men boarding a plane to Russia (emphasis mine):


Moscow is not technically en route to Kiev from pretty much anywhere but the North Pole, but my dad was a Russian major in college and said he'd always wanted to fly Aeroflot, so here we were.

On the plane, neither of us had ever witnessed so much seat conflict. The Hasids were sitting wherever they liked, refusing to be seated next to a woman, or near a woman, or in a row where anybody might occasionally think about women. They clogged the aisles and took up all the space in the overhead compartments with their hatboxes and tefillin boxes. The Aeroflot crew hadn't even tried to board the plane by rows, knowing full well the Hasids wouldn't have given a damn for their secular logic. They never stopped futzing for the whole flight, standing to daven, taking their hats off, smoothing them with lint removers, placing them back in their boxes, taking their coats on and off, arguing, studying Talmud from great codices and pocket paperbacks, a nodding derangement of velvet black discs pitching and yawing and then popping up and down like Whac-a-Mole antagonists.


I can so totally see this; it vividly reminds me of some of my less happy observations in Jerusalem.

The book sounds fascinating on multiple levels -- it includes two adult men trying to come to terms with the coming out of their father (a Reform rabbi), sifting through different stories of self-knowledge and self-deception -- and also a questioning of the reasons and justifications for travel. (I sit here at my kitchen counter, watching flurries of petals from the flowering trees drift past my window and workmen in the distance smoothing out fresh cement on the track they're building for the elementary school -- I love it here, but part of me also wants to be in Paris or Marseilles or Haifa right this minute. But the cooking and the coding and the copyediting all call...)
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O song, what will become of me when spring
brings its sweet renewals, every part
of heaven down-raining love on all the earth,
if, in this frozen dearth,
love, that spares all the rest, still wrings my heart?


    - Dante, Canzone XI, translated by Dorothy L. Sayers


Hullo, all. I'm not exactly out of my cave, but poking my head through the entrance now and then.

My winter? A glimpse of it over at chrysanthemum.

One of my favorite revelations from Nat Hentoff's At the Jazz Band Ball is chapter 34, which is devoted to "The Jewish Soul of Willie 'The Lion' Smith." I haven't listened to the show yet, but this NPR writeup covers the basics of Smith's music career. Hentoff zooms in on a memory of seeing Willie's business card, which was printed in English and Hebrew -- which Hentoff later discovers is not "Willie's antic wit at play" but a manifestation of the pianist's Judaism, which included a bar mitzvah in Newark, a stint as a cantor in Harlem, and being fluent enough in Hebrew to become irate at a guest singer. From page 173:


Once Duke [Ellington] said to me: "You ever heard an Irish woman sing 'Eli, Eli'?"

"No."

"You're going to hear it."

I've forgotten her name, but she was Irish and I could never figure the tongue she was singing the number in, because it sure wasn't Hebrew. She would sing "Eli, Eli" (O Lord, why has thou forsaken me?), but I got in a fight with her because I told her she shouldn't be singing the song if she didn't know what the words meant. I talked Jewish to her but she didn't understand a thing.


An unexpected benefit of becoming interested in The Lion's story was finding his biography in Harlem Renaissance Lives via GoogleBooks, which led me to the realization that the book also contained my essay on Frederick Ashbury Cullen. A new item for the brag shelf and resume! (The piece was written for hire for a larger project, which is still soliciting writers for the online edition...)
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Miles to go before I can leave the office (to work still more at home), and I just said "no" to something in August... but seriously, the caffeine's starting to kick in (and it's only my first cup of coffee of the day), the work is interesting, and cool stuff aboundeth:

  • It's sunny and 68 F right now, and I got to scoot outside and enjoy some of it (ran errands when someone else needed my desk for an hour, and not even getting stuck in post office traffic could harsh that glow).

    Plus, "Hurts So Good" on the car stereo and catnaps in the parking lot...


  • Errands done! We are no longer low on detergent, beer, or pears.


  • Microwave-in-the-package vegetables. Eating healthy-like away from home has never been so easy.


  • Came across a picture book called On Sukkot and Simchat Torah at the library. Text by Cathy Goldberg Fishman, illustrations by Melanie Hall (Kar-Ben 2006). It's pretty! (Too many series books aren't.)


    My grandmother says that, if you put together the very last letter and the very first letter of the Torah, it makes the Hebrew word "lev" meaning, "heart".

    [Punctuation = what's in the text.]

    I can't quite get over the fact there's a picture book on Simchat Torah, and that my public library has it! *am inordinately thrilled about this*


  • Also at the library: Falling for Rapunzel. Text by Leah Wilcox, illustrations by Lydia Monks (Putnam 2003). This is a hoot: "Once upon a bad hair day / a prince rode up Rapunzel's way..." She keeps mishearing his request for her to let him in, and the twists leading up to the happy ending are delightful.


  • One more from the library: A Green Horn Blowing. Text by David F. Birchman, illustrations by Thomas B. Allen (Lothrop, Lee and Shepard 1997). Gorgeous illustrations. A boy who wants to learn how to play trumpet learns the basics from a migrant worker, using a "trombolia" squash:


    It took me almost a week to coax my first sound out of that trombolia. Fortunately, John Potts was a patient man. "All it takes to play a horn," he said again and again, "is a whole lifetime."
  • bronze_ribbons: snapshot of me in standing bow (chrysanthemum curve)
    Just announced, by the Jewish Theological Seminary:


    Following the completion of a thorough and deliberate review process, The Jewish Theological Seminary has decided, effective immediately, to accept qualified gay and lesbian students into its rabbinical and cantorial schools...


    From Chancellor-elect Eisen's e-mail to the community:


    I take heart from the fact that, despite continuing disagreement over other contentious issues in some quarters, JTS and the Conservative Movement are much stronger because of changes that have occurred over the years. Neither the institution nor the movement has splintered, despite predictions to the contrary. I do not believe that we will splinter now, particularly if we take the proactive steps that I will outline below. Nor do I fear the “slippery slope,” used by some as an argument against the change we are adopting. Every choice brings unintended consequences in its wake. We never have control over what those who come after us will do with the legacy we have left them. We do all we can to set course in the proper direction. I trust my successors to act responsibly with the legacy I pass on to them, just as we have carefully weighed the relevant precedents, reasons, and implications before taking the step we are announcing here. We owe this precedent to our successors, this bridge to the reality in which they will be called upon, as we are, to build and strengthen communities of Torah. I am confident that, if they are educated in the principles that have long guided this movement and if they experience the special pleasures and obligations that come with membership in it, they too will make decisions in a manner that takes Conservative Judaism forward and helps its communities, and the Jewish people as a whole, to grow.

    In sum: The CJLS has authorized the ordination of gay and lesbian Jews as rabbis and cantors. A solid majority of Conservative clergy and lay leaders supports it. The JTS faculty likewise strongly favors it. I am convinced this decision to ordain is right — right not just on the basis of my experience as a North American who came of age in the latter part of the twentieth century, or as a Jew who seeks above all to remain true to the tradition we call Torah, but as an American Jew seeking wholeness and integrity in the combination of these to the fullest possible extent. That, I believe, is what Conservative Judaism is all about.
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    [livejournal.com profile] orbitalmechanic sent me earrings. I promised her a poem. Her prompt was "family."

    This is the first draft (albeit with a few tweaks since I hit "post"). I haven't decided if I'm going to revise/circulate it further or not, or whether I should write a second poem that's less about me and more to do with the prompt. Regardless, this one's still for Jessie. ;-)

    An Agnostic Jewish Advent Poem )
    bronze_ribbons: snapshot of me in standing bow (Default)
    Picture book rec #1: Maria's Comet - text by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrations by Deborah Lanino. About astronomer Maria Mitchell. Lyrical and nuanced story; richly colored acrylic paintings. The subject line of this post is from this book.

    Picture book rec #2: Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, adapted from a Jewish folktale. Recommended by Chinaberry, bless 'em - it shows the transformation of a boy's beloved star-and-moon-decorated blanket into a jacket, and then a vest, and then a tie, and then... and there are side-stories going on with the cobbler on the top floor of the tenement and a mouse family under the floorboards (the classroom of little school-mice learning Hebrew in the corner of page 10...!)...

    Also of glee: during dinner with some friends (all over 30), I mentioned the Sayers-Rowling poster I'd presented earlier this summer. One of them instantly demanded, "Do you think Snape is good?" He was bursting to discuss the matter -- but three of our fellow guests hadn't read book 6 yet and didn't want to be spoiled, so they held their hands over their ears and la-la-la'd as best they could through the treacherous parts of the conversation. Later, once the topic shifted to "Peter Pan," the woman next to me said, "I always used to wonder what grown-ups talked about at their parties..."
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