Welcome to the blog of Rachel Barenblat, known to friends as the Velveteen Rabbi. The title comes from a postcard by Jennifer Berman which hangs over my desk. It depicts a bearded guy clad in robes and kippah and tallit, standing beside a big wooden block with a letter "R" on it (such as one might find in a child's playroom), and his word-bubble says, "When can I run and play with the real rabbis?"
As many of you probably realize, that's a reference to the classic Margery Williams book The Velveteen Rabbit, in which a toy rabbit yearns to be "real." Over the years since I first found it, the postcard has become shorthand for how I see myself, at least as far as Judaism is concerned.
Let's get one thing straight from the get-go: I'm not a rabbi. I'm just an ordinary Jew, where by "ordinary" I mean "passionate, idiosyncratic, and more than a little unOrthodox." I might throw "involved, excited, sometimes frustrated, always committed, and by turns deeply reverent and completely irreverent" into the mix, too.
My roots show a variety of denominational stripes. I became Bat Mitzvah in a Conservative shul, was Confirmed in a Reform temple, and lately find spiritual sustenance at Elat Chayyim, a retreat center affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement. (Rabbi Arthur Waskow once described the Renewal movement as "feminist Hasidism," which is an interesting encapsulation, though probably one that deserves its own blog post...)
In college I majored in religion, and veered close to pursuing graduate work in the field (either a PhD in Judaic Studies, or the rabbinate), but I chose door number three instead. Today I'm a writer (primarily of poetry; also of essays, assorted book projects, and my own homegrown Jewish rituals and liturgies). Definitely not a rabbi, although I often feel like a Velveteen one: hovering at the periphery, forging my own weird path, yearning for authentic involvement, and constantly learning things about myself through my wrestle with the tradition and with God.
I like thinking about Judaism. I believe that it is incumbent on every Jew to engage with Judaism for her/himself: it's both an obligation and an opportunity. I think there's a lot more to Judaism than meets the eye, especially the eye of someone who's unaffiliated or disaffected or frustrated with mainstream congregational Judaism as s/he's known it thus far.
I like writing about Judaism. Hence, this blog. I welcome dialogue, assuming it's well-mannered and respectful. (Disagree all you want; we'll make more. Just disagree politely, in what Martin Buber would call an I-Thou spirit, please.)
I'm not sure yet precisely how frequently I'll post here (my guess is more often than monthly, less often than daily) or precisely what arc these posts will follow. The blog will probably take a while to grow into its eventual form. If you're interested in free-flowing, far-ranging, sometimes geeky conversations about Judaism, you've found a good place for them.
Thanks for stopping by. May you be inscribed for a good and sweet year.