August 01, 2013

18 Things You Didn't Know Caused Problems for Religious Jews

1.  Bar soap
2.  Marshmallows
3.  Card keys
4.  High school football games
5.  Calvin Klein ads
6.  Streets that you have to push a button to cross
7.  Tall apartment buildings
8.  Dining halls
9.  Hand-me-down plates
10.  Fall semester
11.  Those crumbs that fall between the couch cushions
12.  The refrigerator light
13.  Places with neither Jewish communities nor lakes
14.  Ballroom dancing
15.  Motion-sensor things
16.  Dormitory fire codes
17.  Roads that go through an entire town
18.  Candy that is red

May 06, 2013

It's all about your perspective.

A restaurant in Williamsburg, a Chassidish area in Brooklyn, New York.  Most of this restaurant's seating is like that of any other, but they also have this small area near the wall, set aside.

"It's terrible that this restaurant encourages this warped view of Judaism.  It's good to have rules about modesty, but this is way too much." 

"It's great that this restaurant recognizes these men's desire to uphold a higher level of tznius, and gives them a separate place to sit."

"It's terrible that this restaurant makes these men sit in a corner, facing the wall.  Rather, they should be rewarded for their piety and commitment to tznius, and the main section should be for them."

"It's great that this restaurant allows everyone to sit somewhere where they feel comfortable, whether that's in this section or in the main one."

"It's terrible that this restaurant is so sexist that it actually forbids women from sitting in that area."

"It's great that this restaurant recognizes that if someone wants to take on himself a very strict level of tznius, it's on him to separate himself from the rest of the diners, not on the diners to accommodate him.  It's good that they created a separate section, and left the regular seating alone."

"It's terrible that this restaurant even has a mixed section." 

May 03, 2013

Eizehu chacham?

A few weeks ago, my ceramics professor was telling us about different ways to wedge (remove bubbles from) our clay.  She wedges using a roll-and-push motion, but she told us that when she'd been in England (I believe as a graduate student and TA), her students had wedged by slicing the clay on a wire attached to a table and a pillar, and slamming the slices down upon one another.  She'd never seen this before, but was happy to learn something new.

"They were my students -- I thought I would be teaching them," she said.  "But there they were, teaching me something!"

In this way, without knowing it, she taught us a line from Pirkei Avot:  Eizehu chacham? Halomed mikol adam.  Who is wise? One who learns from all people.  (Avot 4:1)

But I had not expected to learn Torah from my ceramics professor (who isn't Jewish).  And thus, I, too, was able to be chachama, and learn something from someone I hadn't expected to learn it from.

Later that day, I was walking down the hall, I passed a group of people talking about religion.  How could I resist?  I joined in.  They turned out to be three Christians who seemed to be Evangelical, and one skeptic.  One of them tried to convince me that Jesus was my lord and savior.  Needless to say, it didn't work.  But then our conversation led to us a discussion of Joseph, from the Torah.  We talked about how Joseph was in prison for many years, and how he probably thought, eventually, that God had forsaken him and wasn't going to help him.  Or at least, he would have wondered why God had waited so long, rather than redeeming him right away.

"God saved him in His own time, not in Joseph's," said my new friend.
"But, really, it was in Joseph's time, even though he didn't know it," I responded.  "If God had freed him right away, he wouldn't have been able to interpret the cup-bearer's dream, be referred to Pharoah, and save the lives of an entire kingdom."

It got me thinking.  Maybe, when it seems that God has forsaken someone, or waits what seems an unreasonably long time before helping them, it's really that God's saving them "in God's time," and that it really is for the best.

And so, for the second time that day, I got to be chachama, and learn from someone unexpected.

May 02, 2013

Challah Sweater

Seen at Macy's, if I recall correctly.  Don't you wish you had a challah sweater?

April 26, 2013

The Sabbath Queen and I

The Sabbath Queen and I
Move in different directions.
She from the East, I from the West.

Soon, we will meet.
I dread the meeting.
How will I explain?

I'll say maybe it could be okay because some
say electricity is fine so maybe the train is
okay too since it's electric even though I know it's
not preferred I'll say it's not carrying because
the bag is by my side but I know she'll
ask me what about after what
about when you get there how will you get
to where you're going I'll say I know it's bad
but maybe it could be okay because the
shuttle stops there anyway but I know it will
use more fuel and how will I explain to her how
I have to go anyway no really just I want to go and

But then
as she approaches
through the mist
I feel
a sense of calm.

As she comes close I see
that on her lips
she wears
a smile
of understanding.

Finally, near
East Norwalk
we meet
and she
puts her hand upon my head
and says
"God bless you, little one."

And we continue on our ways.
I to the East, she to the West.

April 25, 2013

Void Sefirah()

for (int omer=1; omer<50; omer++)
int weeks = omer/7;
int days = omer%7;
cout<<"Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us              with His commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.  Today is                  day "<<omer<<", which makes "<<weeks<<" weeks and "<<days<<" days of               the Omer.<<endl;

Im Amarti

would it
offend you
if I said

that even though
you don't

your prayers
go straight
up to Heaven

April 23, 2013

Kiln Gods

My ceramics teacher told us about kiln gods.  They are little figures made from clay that people place atop the kiln, to watch over firings and bless them with their luck.  They often are shaped like idols to pagan gods, but they do not need to be.  Usually, they are little animals or people.  No one, nowadays, actually believes that they protect the kiln.  They're seen merely as a way to bring life to a space, a nice touch.  But our kiln had none.  So, my teacher asked us each to make one.

But, I did not want to craft an idol.  I knew that that is not really what they are; no one, here at least, believes they hold the spirits of gods.  But they are the echoes of idols made for that purpose.  Whether we will it or not, every action is a connection to something, and what we are connecting to matters.  And I knew I did not want to connect to the worship of idols, since I am Jewish, and my religion's founding purpose was to disconnect from idols and connect instead to our One God.  So, what would I do?  I could simply not make one; move on to a different project.  But we are taught: Al tifrosh min hatzibur.  Do not separate yourself from the community.  I did not want to separate, but I did not want to partake.  So I thought.  What could I make?  I remembered, then, that my teacher had said that a kiln god did not need to be a creature; she had seen one once that was a tablet, with writing. Could I not then, create something like this?  With a prayer to the real, One, true God on it?  So, that is what I did.  I rolled out the clay, inscribed it, and bent it so it flowed.

This is the prayer that I wrote:

'ברוך אתה ה
אלקנו מלך העולם
הוא יצרנו ככילים מן
החומר, נא לשמור לנו על
,משעושים פה מן החומר
ונא לברך את היצירותנו
,פה ובכל חיינו, וגם אותנו
.היצירותנו שלך. אמן

Blessed are You, God
 our God who is the ruler of the Universe
The one who created us, like vessels, from
clay, please guard for us
what we are making here from the clay,
and please bless our creations
here and in all our lives, and us as well,
who are Your creations.  Amen.

 It sits among the kiln gods, but it is not of them.

April 18, 2013

Hello World

Welcome to my blog. :)  On this blog, I'll mostly be posting Jewish stuff -- insights, connections I've made in daily life, and some poems.  I'll sometimes post other things, too -- most likely related to urban planning, transit, sustainability, local food, hippie stuff, design, sociology, and social justice issues.  This post is sort of a placeholder (so Google doesn't think I'm a robot again!) but I'll soon have a more substantive post.  It'll probably be about how I define myself Jewishly.  For now, though, I can give you this:  I believe in critical thought, learning, tradition, and pluralism.  I am compelled by halacha (Jewish law) but do not always follow the letter of the law.  I love to daven in the woods.  I eat quinoa on Pesach.

Laila tov!

P.S.  If someone wants to administer the Turing Test, I can prove I'm not a robot.