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Top ten posts of 2006

Once again, following in Hugo's footsteps, I've chosen my ten favorite posts of 2006. Unlike Hugo, I'm not ranking mine; these are in purely chronological order.


Being visible "Tractate Kiddushin 31a of the Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is "to remind us of God, who is the Higher Authority 'above us'." Wearing a kippah makes me mindful, helps me bring blessing to what I'm doing, and reminds me to sanctify the work of my hands. Of course, an argument could be made that I'm always in God's presence, that I ought to bring blessing even to secular activities like folding laundry and buying groceries, and that every moment is worthy of sanctification. So why don't I wear a kippah all the time?"

What makes a minyan? "Wherever ten Jews gather for prayer or for the reading of Torah, the tradition tells us, the Shekhinah dwells among them. (That comes from Psalms, 82:1.) Reading from the Torah scroll is one of the most beautiful and powerful liturgical acts in our repertoire, so it makes sense that we don't do it lightly. But surely the indwelling presence of God is among us even if fewer than ten are gathered; and surely one could argue that there is merit in a lenient policy which would allow small communities like ours to reaffirm our connections with (and derive blessing from) the presence of God manifest in the Torah service even on days when our numbers are few. So why be sticklers about needing ten?"

The longest night "Imagine that someone fell ill suddenly, and was unresponsive by the time the ambulance arrived. Imagine one family member after another hearing the news and descending into grief. Imagine a burly priest driving in at two in the morning to offer the Sacrament of the Sick. Imagine the difficult decisions of organ donation and life support. Imagine the long crescendo and decrescendo of goodbyes. Imagine that the night went straight through 'til morning."

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This week's portion: and God descended

In this week's portion, Vayigash, God promises Jacob that God will accompany him down into Egypt, and that God will bring him forth again.

In my brief d'var over at Radical Torah, I look at that verse through the lens of my recent hospitalization:

I find myself on Friday morning with a new interpretation of the verse. This week I had my own yeridah, my own descent, into an unexpected hospital stay. This isn’t the place to tell that story. What I want to say here is that the need to trust in God despite the many unknowns in my situation gives me, perhaps, a hint of how Jacob might have felt at this moment in our story.

Read the whole thing here: And God descended. (Thanks to Dar Williams for unknowingly lending me the title of the post...)

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There were blog posts I wanted to write during this interim week between Christmas and New Year's. Unfortunately, my plans were short-circuited by an unexpected hospital stay.

I had a stroke on Christmas night. Even writing the words feels strange; I hardly believe them. Even stranger is the discovery that this was my second stroke. (Suddenly the most surreal part of my visit to Montreal in June -- the hour immediately after arrival, when I couldn't form a cogent sentence in either English or French -- makes a new, and frightening, kind of sense.)

The early part of the week blurs in memory already. I noticed the compromised vision while watching Little Miss Sunshine on Monday night. Tuesday morning I called my opthamologist. There were waiting-room time and dilated eyes and boredom. Then the startling news that the problem was neurological; then the first MRI; then admission to the hospital. Bright lights and nurses and the inevitable search for veins on my small hands.

Hospitals don't unnerve me like they used to, thanks to my year of chaplaincy work. I'm grateful for that. Still, it's one thing to be in a hospital in a caregiving capacity, and another thing entirely to be there as a patient, navigating the exhausting waters of uncertainty.

In the last few days I've been injected with rare earth metals twice. I've listened to the thudding techno beat of a giant magnet and to the magnified sound of blood pumping in my arteries. I've swallowed a small camera and allowed doctors a clean view of the back of my heart. (No defects, only a mild murmur.)

Vials of dark red blood have been sent off to the appropriate labs, to test for clotting factors and genetic predispositions. We've changed my usual line-up of meds: a few subtractions (risk factors for stroke) and a few additions to balance them out. I have a team of doctors who I respect and trust, dedicated to helping me figure all of this out in the coming weeks.

I am profoundly grateful to the nurses, doctors, specialists, and orderlies at Berkshire Medical Center. Also to my friends, family, and especially my husband, for taking such good care of me. What a week it has been.

At some point I hope to write more about this: what it felt like, what fears it awoke in me, and what certainties. But everything's still a little jumbled, and I'm not sure I've really processed what went on and what it means. I hope you'll bear with me as I begin to make sense of all this craziness. Meanwhile, as my rabbi noted on Wednesday morning, it gives me an excellent new perspective on the work of pastoral care...

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Praying the psalms

I spent some time, while we were on vacation in August, perusing the shelves of used-books stores up and down the Maine coast. (One of our favorite vacation pastimes.) At one tiny store in Camden, I found some real gems, including a hardback first edition of Truck, the first book I ever read by John Jerome, may his memory be a blessing. (I miss him still.) I also picked up, for two dollars and fifty cents, a slim paperback edition of Thomas Merton's Praying the Psalms.

Merton was a Trappist monk with a deep interest in ecumenism. (His commitment to interfaith dialogue was tremendous, as this tribute to Thomas Merton at Monastic Interreligious Dialogue explains.) He was also an ardent Catholic, and his Catholicism thoroughly informs how he reads the psalms.

This little text was published in 1956, pre-Vatican II, and feels in places somewhat dated as a result. It was clearly written for a Catholic audience. But much of what he says rings bells for me despite our differences. Like this passage:

To praise God!

Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory?

Praise is cheap today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable -- everything is constantly being 'praised.' Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is 'praised' with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised. Praise has become empty. No one really wants to use it...

So we go to Him to ask help and to get out of being punished, and to mumble that we need a better job, more money, more of the things that are praised by the advertisements. And we wonder why our prayer is so often dead[.]

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The cold rain of the last few days finally let up, allowing me a glimpse of the not-quite-new moon of Tevet tonight.

Many of us may have stronger associations with the month which precedes this one (Kislev, which includes the festival of Chanukah) and the month which follows (Shvat, which includes the New Year of the Trees) than we do with the month now beginning. Certainly Kislev and Shvat have more celebration in them;  Tevet's primary significance is its minor fast day. As Rabbi Jill Hammer writes here at Tel Shemesh:

Like the shoot that must work its way upward out of the earth, the spiritual light of Chanukah must struggle forward through the winter season. Tevet (usually corresponding to December or January) is often regarded as a sad month in the Jewish calendar. During this month, we mark the tenth of Tevet, the date when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem. It is taught in rabbinic midrash that Tevet is one of the months of the year ruled by dark forces.

Yet the darkness is a fertile one.

We can find the resources we need in the darkness that surrounds us. As the Joseph story we've been rereading in the cycle of Torah readings reminds us, it's necessary to descend in order to be able to rise up. Brighter days are coming, but for now it's time to remember what it feels like to be right where we are, and to know that in every buried seed there is a tightly-coiled new beginning.

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Gems from my aggregator

I began today with morning prayer, sitting on the meditation cushion beside the big windows in our bedroom. (Today that included a fair bit of chastising the cat, who really thought my tefillin straps, and the tzitzit on my tallit, ought to be cat toys.) It's a beautiful bright day -- the winter solstice, shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. Tomorrow the days start lengthening again. Yay.

Then I came downstairs, made some tea, and settled in to read my aggregator. Here are a few of the posts I read which moved or intrigued me most today:

  • In celebration of the Winter Solstice, SB of Watermark has posted a beautiful small poem. Lovely and spare. While I'm at it, here's a link to Rachelle's Winter Solstice post at Monkfish Abbey, which tells the tale of Solstice preprations that didn't quite go the way they were meant to...and how light finds its way in anyway.

  • In Pinch of salt, Alto Artist of On Chanting takes the prayer-as-cooking metaphor I spun out recently, and muses about her own liturgical life, how her synagogue creates innovation within constraints, and the freedom of choosing to paint with a limited palette.

  • Meanwhile, Gordon of Real Live Preacher has posted How To Read the Bible, #1, the first video post in a series. (Video runs about 6 minutes.) He's talking about the Christian Scriptures, of course, but I think there's value here for folks of any tradition, or none. I especially like his points that "the Bible" isn't a single book, but is more like an anthology -- and that reading it cover-to-cover isn't necessarily the way to go.

  • And Daniel Septimus at Mixed Multitudes posts about Jews and Christmas in Herzl's Christmas Tree. (Be sure to read the Plaut article he links to, which is fascinating.) If only I could !@#$% log in, I'd be leaving comments on this blog left and right -- Mixed Multitudes is one of my favorite new additions to my blogroll.

Speaking of new additions to my blogroll, I recently discovered Milk and Honey, a blog by Rabbi Debora Gordon, who's in Troy, NY: a mere hour from here! I'm sorry she wasn't blogging during the year when I was going to Albany (next town over from Troy) every week for CPE; still, perhaps we'll cross paths in the new year. And until then, there's always the blogosphere...

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This week's portion: the treasure of teshuvah

In this week's portion, Mikets, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams and is promoted to vizier. When the famine that the dreams prophesied comes to pass, Joseph's brothers descend into Egypt in search of food, and they have a series of fascinating interactions with their brother. Joseph recognizes them immediately, but perhaps not surprisingly, they have no idea they're dealing with him.

The brothers are halfway home again, after their first trip to Egypt, when they discover that their moneybags have been replaced in their sacks, along with the grain they purchased. They respond with fear and anxiety. That struck me, and served as the jumping-off point for this week's d'var over at Radical Torah:

Many of us may recognize something of ourselves in Joseph's brothers. We have made mistakes -- perhaps none so weighty as selling a bratty sibling into slavery, but mistakes all the same -- and we are always in danger of forgetting the spiritual leap of teshuvah that leads to forgiveness. When we feel distant from forgiveness, every setback feels like a conspiracy against us, and the easiest response is fear and blame.

But we may also recognize something of ourselves in Joseph, too.

Read the whole thing here: The treasure of teshuvah.

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Another socially-conscious Zuckerman

Cool news about a member of my extended in-law clan: Adam Zuckerman, Ethan's cousin, was nominated as one of Beliefnet's most inspiring people of 2006 for his work on behalf of the people of Darfur. (Clearly a global consciousness and a passion for social justice run in this family.) As the Beliefnet story explains:

When Adam Zuckerman heard a firsthand account of the atrocities of the ongoing genocide in Darfur, he knew he had to do something to help stop it.

Never mind that he was only a high school student, and that Darfur was a world away from his home in Portland, Maine. Never mind that he is Jewish and Darfuris are Muslim--two groups with a long history of conflict. When he made contact with Darfuri refugees in Maine, they were so moved by his compassion and commitment to their cause that they made him an honorary member of their cultural group. Last spring Zuckerman hosted his Darfuri friends at his family’s Passover seder, which included a Haggadah with a supplement on Darfur.

The article goes on to explain that at eighteen, Adam is considered one of the most outspoken advocates for the Darfuris in the United States. (Wow.) Click on the audio/video link at the Beliefnet story, and you can hear Adam talking about how social justice work is central to his understanding of Judaism. The work he does on behalf of the Darfuri community is how he lives out the post-Shoah cry, "Never again." Of the three pillars on which Jewish tradition understands the world to stand (Torah, prayer/service to God, and acts of lovingkindness), he considers the third paramount, and says it's at the heart of his Jewishness.

(For more background, you might read Beliefnet's earlier story, Darfur, Sudan, genocide, Jews and Muslims working for peace, which tells the story of how Adam became aware of the genocide in Sudan and became determined to take whatever action he could to help stop it.)

I'm a little bit late in making this blog post. I meant to post during the several rounds of voting on Beliefnet, but I missed that window. In the end, the readers of that site declared the Amish of Nickel Mines, PA to be the most inspiring people of the year. I don't think this is the kind of contest one exactly "wins" or "loses," though. Simply being nominated is a tremenous honor, and I suspect all of the nominees would agree that everyone on that list is doing something powerful, spiritual, and worthwhile.

So kudos on being honored with the nomination, Adam. And more importantly, kudos to you for putting your time and your heart into this important work. I'm inspired by the way you've responded to this call, and I'm delighted that we are family.

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I read Textual Arachne's post about the approaching solstice last night before lighting Chanukah candles. Perhaps as a result, as the candles gleamed before me I found myself thinking about the fourth night of Chanukah as a hinge.

We're midway through the holiday. Hovering at the midpoint between least light and most. If the arc of the holiday takes us from a kind of dark midwinter to a kind of midsummer blaze, then the fourth night of Chanukah is like the equinox, the point in the middle where, for a moment, everything balances.

It's an illusion. We are always in motion. There's no such thing as stasis, not for living beings for whom life is always in flux.

But now, on this cusp -- in the middle of Chanukah, the scale about to tip toward abundance of light; at the turn of the solar year, that balance on the verge of shifting, like a dancer moving gracefully from one foot to the next -- it feels like we are really pausing. Like we could hover indefinitely before the wheel keeps turning, before the next instant comes.

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Poems from the E.D.

A friend pointed me to a blog post I'm profoundly glad to have read: The first four ED sonnets, a quartet of sonnets written by Susan Palwick about hospital chaplaincy work. If you enjoy formal poetry -- and especially if you have any connection with chaplaincy work, or its cousins social work, counseling, and medicine -- don't miss these.

The second sonnet in particular, "Emergency Trauma Family Consult Room," really moves me. The enjambment between the first two lines pulls me forward, right into the heart of the poem. As I read, I can feel everything in it unfolding around me.

The poems in chaplainbook, aside from one haiku series, are free verse. It's fascinating to me how Palwick's chaplaincy poems feel at once very unlike, and very like, my own. Anyway, I'm delighted to have found another blogging poet chaplain, and look forward to reading more of her work, in its various genres.

(I imagine most of you already know about chaplainbook, but just in case you don't: here's a link to the chaplainbook story, my post about how the collection came to be, and here's Tom Montag's tremendously generous review of the collection. You are, of course, welcome to purchase copies at any time -- I'm honored and delighted every time someone decides to pick the collection up.)

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Cooking and prayer

I posted a while back comparing Torah study to cooking. It's a decent metaphor...but a better one, I think, likens cooking to prayer. See, a set  liturgy is like a beloved old cookbook, handed down through the generations. In its best incarnations, the recipes are tried and true. Though some recipes are geared toward novice cooks, and others might be a real stretch unless you cook every day and are practiced in the kitchen, the basic techniques involved are familiar to anyone who's handled a bulb of garlic or a knife.

Many of us feel attachments to particular ways of praying -- particular recipes, if you will -- and those attachments often go beyond reason or explanation. Ask a group of Jews from different communities what the "right" melody is for "Adon Olam," or for "Lecha Dodi," and the debate will be as impassioned as any between afficionadoes of a given dish who each believe the way they learned to cook and enjoy it is the best way it can be made. (Should matzah balls be light and fluffy, or solid and substantial? What goes into a perfect pan of stuffing? Are latkes meant to be eaten with applesauce, or with sour cream?)

With prayer, as with food, I find that sometimes I am happy to experiment and be challenged, and at other times I want to relax into something familiar and comfortable. Sometimes it's a question of balance. I may be willing to try a strange prayer practice, say Abulafian-style meditation or sighing a deep krechtz to God together, but if my whole Shabbat morning goes in that direction I might find myself yearning for something simple that doesn't require me to branch out. Bread to balance the heavy spice, as 'twere. Then again, in prayer as in cooking, I tend to enjoy strong flavors; I have to remind myself that subtlety doesn't mean a dish is uninspired.

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The editors at Qarrtsiluni have just published a piece of my writing, as part of the current theme, First Time. The piece in question is a short essay (about 1000 words) about my first time in Prague, seen through the lens of my second visit there this fall. It's called Souvenir; I hope you'll go and read it.

The timing of the publication was entirely incidental, but has some unwitting resonance. Tomorrow will be the yarzheit of my beloved grandfather Eppie, who is very much a part of this short essay. This morning I led services at my shul, wearing his old silken tallit. I did so last year, too. I had a hard time staving off tears when I led us in the mourner's kaddish. I had just told the congregation a few words about him, and wearing his tallit made him seem at once nearer to me and impossibly further away.

Anyway, my grandparents are much on my mind today, so the publication of this little essay seems fitting.

Many thanks to Tom and Kasturi, the current guest editors at Qarrtsiluni, for accepting the piece and for working with me so gently and wisely to revise it. I'm really glad it's there.

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Light one candle

Tonight the winter holidays begin! This year the lunar and solar calendars overlap in such a way that the winter solstice will fall during Chanukah, which I think is pretty neat. I'm keenly aware of long night at this point in the year, and take great satisfaction in knowing that tonight, I'll get to light the first candle against the backdrop of all that darkness.

The physical increase of light over the next eight nights has an emotional impact on me. I love watching the chanukiyah cast its small light -- and then two small lights -- and then three...! I love how small the observance is, too. A small celebration for a small holiday in the time of year when maybe we're feeling most small. Chanukah doesn't ask us to do anything grand or overwhelming -- just to light a candle. And then another. One little step at a time.

Of course, there's an emotional increase of light that arises through this festival, too. As the little flames on our chanukiyot add up eventually to a blaze of brightness, so the little flames we kindle in our hearts these eight days can add up to a bonfire of holiness, and awareness of God, and joy. Just as our ancestors rekindled the ner tamid, the Eternal Light, in the Temple in days of old, so can we rekindle our own sense of connection with eternal light in our neshamot, our souls and hearts.

With every spin of the dreidel, we are reminded that nes gadol haya sham, "a great miracle happened there." In our celebrations, may we be mindful of the great miracles that happen right here, wherever we are, no matter what the outward circumstances of our lives may be.

I wish all who celebrate Chanukah a joyous personal rededication, a meaningful celebration of the festival of lights, and a renewed sense of the miraculous in our lives. Chag sameach!

[Yes, I know it's customary to light the first candle on the right, not on the left. I still like this picture, taken at the home of my two sisters-in-law last year.]

New on VR: a Chanukah category. All of my Chanukah posts from '03-'06 are now tagged as such, and can easily be found in a batch together. Enjoy!

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This week's portion: dreams and responsibilty

This week's Torah portion, Vayeshev, begins the "Joseph novella." This is one of the Torah's most fascinating stories, chock-full of symbolism, metaphor, repetition, and literary tropes.

This week, in my d'var for Radical Torah, I riffed a little bit on the trajectory of Joseph's story, and on what we might choose to take away from his experiences:

What can we learn from this piece of Joseph's story this year? First, that we need to take each others' feelings into account when we open our mouths. Young Joseph's dreams may have been dreams of benevolent dominance -- maybe they foretold how he would someday be the person capable of stewarding the land, and his family, through feast and famine -- but the way he expressed them made his brothers feel inadequate. We can relate both to Joseph's eagerness, and to his brothers' frustrations. This piece of the story is a cautionary   tale.

Second, we can learn that, like Joseph, we are capable of change. When his story begins he is brash and a little bit unthinking. After a few hard knocks, he grows more able to bend, capable of putting his talents to work in the service of others, and capable of remaining thankful to God. All of us descend, in one way or another, into difficult circumstances at some times in our lives. If those circumstances help us to grow and mature, then like Joseph we can help others out of their own binds -- which, in turn, means helping ourselves.

Read the whole thing here: In dreams begin responsibility. (With apologies to Delmore Schwartz, whose terrific story title I co-opted and modified slightly for the title of this RT post...)

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Latkes in the Globe!

Ethan's Asian latke recipe -- along with a lovely article by Clara Silverstein about yours truly, blogger/rabbinic student/chef -- is in the Boston Globe today, as promised! Here's how it starts:

As a rabbinic student, Rachel Barenblat frequently interprets sacred texts to see how they might apply to the contemporary world. When these spiritual explorations lead to the kitchen, it's all in keeping with tradition, says Barenblat, whose popular blog -- Velveteen Rabbi, which receives about 200 hits a day -- chronicles her musings.

"Recipes are like sacred texts passed down on yellowed index cards," says Barenblat, 31, who believes that the study of scripture has a lot in common with cooking. "I love the old classic recipes that I grew up with," she says, "but I like to see how they change if you add something new."

Read the whole thing here: A new take on latkes. (The recipe is here.) B'teavon -- bon appetit!

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Recipes from the Jewish Blogosphere

Hey, guess what -- I contributed to a tiny little cookbook of Jewish recipes from the blogosphere! Well...kind of. The folks at The New Pamphleteer have published a new pamphlet -- Best Recipes from the Jewish Blogosphere, edited by (fellow Texan Jew) Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk -- which includes a recipe one of my commentors posted here (in response to one of my early posts about what to do with etrogim after Sukkot.)

The pamphlet, which costs $4, collects 50 recipes, each of which came from a blog post; bits of the original posts are republished along with the recipes, and the URLs of those posts are right there in the cookbook in case you want to offer food feedback. (Or in case you want to broaden your J-blogosphere reading.) If you're still looking for just the right wee little Chanukah gift for someone in your life -- or, hey, a perfect stocking-stuffer -- this might be just the thing you need.

Speaking of recipes, the Boston Globe article featuring me, my kitchen, and Ethan's Asian Latke recipe is set to be published in this Wednesday's paper (that'll be December 13th.) I'm pretty sure it will also be published online; I'll link to it as soon as I can. Thanks for your interest, everyone!

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A Boston Shabbat

"Who wants to go for a walk to see the lights?"

My niece and nephew and I were all enthusiastic about the opportunity, despite the unseasonable cold. So after we pushed back from our Shabbat dinner table, we bundled up in coats and hats and scarves and went for a postprandial stroll.

The lights in question are on a large house on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain. As this Boston Globe story reports, it sports more than 250,000 bulbs. In San Antonio, where my sister and I grew up, it's not that uncommon to see houses bedecked with a mighty lot of Christmas lights. (And of course there are always the lights on the Riverwalk.) I'm not used to seeing these kinds of light displays here in New England, though...and apparently neither is anybody else; this past erev Shabbat, there were several cars pulled-over in front of the Luberto house, and a sidewalk full of onlookers snapping pictures!

And then we walked home and studied Torah by the fire. I had a good conversation with my niece -- who will become bat mitzvah in June -- about modern midrash, and about midrashic opportunities in the portion from which she'll be reading.

The next morning we went to Bnai Or, the Renewal congregation in Boston. I enjoyed introducing my sister and niece to a kind of davening that differs from what they're used to. (I think they especially enjoyed the enlivening effect of having a good hand-drummer present.) It was a kind of first for me, too -- my first Renewal service in a community where almost everyone present was part of that community. Renewal worship feels different when it's the minhag hamakom, the custom of the place in question, instead of just being something we dip into (as on retreat at Elat Chayyim) and then all scatter home from. Hopefully at some point soon I'll have the time and space to write more about that.

It was a sweet visit, if (as always) too short. I'm still entertained by having spent our Shabbat evening admiring the neighborhood's most remarkable Christmas lights. Diaspora, sweet diaspora...

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The very beginning

We face one another in Bob's small office. In my hands I hold a single sheet of paper on which are printed the first dozen or so trop markings: their written names (each featuring the diacritical melodic marker above or below the word), then a column of blank spaces with the markings filled in, and then the first handful of verses in the book of Bereshit.

Bob sings the first few symbols for me: merkha, tip'kha, et-nachta; merkha, tip'kha, sof-pasuk. Then we sing them together. Then I sing them for him. And again. And again. When we move on to the first lines of Genesis, he stops me from trying words and melody at the same time. Instead I read each word, identify its melodic marker by name, and then sing the notes that go with it. After a few times through, he finally lets me try chanting the first few words. The sung phrase flows off my tongue. I want to bounce up and down with glee.

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Ordination regardless of orientation!

Longtime readers of this blog know that I rarely post about anything "newsworthy." I tend to write about liturgy and the lifecycle, poetry and peoplehood, Torah and text -- subjects which are hopefully timeless, but rarely timely. I figure there are plenty of bloggers out there who specialize in current events; instead I usually do what I (think I) do best.

That said, when something genuinely significant happens in the Jewish world, I can't help wanting to mark it here. And today "[t]he Conservative movement's highest legal body moved to allow commitment ceremonies for gays and the ordination of gay rabbis," according to this JTA article. Today the movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards approved three conflicting teshuvot (halakhic responsa): two which uphold the movement's longstanding ban on homosexuality, and one which permits both ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, and gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies. (Here's the press release issued at the end of the meeting. While I'm at it, hat tip also to Keshet; I borrowed the subject line of this post from the buttons they've been handing out.)

That these two perspectives can coexist within a single denomination may be baffling to some of my readers from other religious traditions. But one need only look at a page of Talmud, which enshrines both the majority opinion and the voices of dissent, to realize how deeply Judaism values the dialectical process of dialogue and the coexistence of divergent opinions. For my part, I find real reasons for hope and rejoicing in the way this decision finally played out, and I admire the Conservative movement's commitment to living with this ambiguity. 

Both of the religious communities of which I am a part (Reform Judaism and Jewish Renewal) have long embraced both ordination of gays and lesbians, and gay/lesbian commitment ceremonies. I am deeply glad that my Conservative friends and colleagues can now proudly support their own movement in doing the same -- while still remaining in community with those Conservative Jews who choose to hew to the other responsa approved today.

This is a shehecheyanu moment if there ever was one. Blessed are You, Source of All being, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this holy, wonderful, too-long-delayed, tremendously exciting moment. Ameyn v'amen!

Edited to add: Rabbi Jill Jacobs explains it all with this post: What the law committee decision means. Smart, thoughtful, and clear; go and read.

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This week's portion: Jacob and Israel

In this week's portion, Vayishlach, we read about Jacob's famous all-night wrestle with a messenger of God, and the new name which Jacob is granted at the end of the night. Henceforth, the stranger tells him, he will be known as Israel -- he who wrestles with God.

That's the starting-point for my d'var at Radical Torah this week, which dips into the teachings of Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev in order to ask some questions about Jacob's injury, Jacob's wrestle, and what it means that Jacob comes away with a pair of names instead of just one:

Jacob's wound arises out of his engagement with the world, with this mysterious stranger, with the presence of God. Like Jacob, we too may find that the experiences where we find God, our engaged periods of wrestling with reality, leave us scarred and limping. The only way to avoid injury altogether is to avoid the world, and that kind of disengagement is not the path Judaism valorizes. Jacob received the blessing of the new name because he was willing to struggle; because he was present to the moment, even though that moment hurt.

Read the whole thing here: Beyond binaries: Jacob and Israel.

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