Sunday, December 28, 2014

Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 2a

Yom rishon, 6 Tevet 5775.

These lovely gloves borrowed from the blog Wonderland Soup.
Okay. Rivkah Lambert Adler and I have expressed, with varying degrees of angst, our shul and siddur experience as women. Some women have shared their positive experiences, either in reframing the davening to suit them, or in minyanim tailored to the needs of women.

Others have expressed the experience of being marginalized, or even mistreated. Still others expressed an empathy with Rivkah's and my feelings of being outside of the shul experience, except as receivers or mirrors of the male experience -- which works as long as you have male family members.

If you as a woman are fully satisfied with your part in the shul ritual and with your portions davening in the prayerbook (and I know at least one very spiritual woman who not only davens nearly everything the men daven, but is constantly looking for more prayers to add to her daily davening ritual!) -- this series of posts may not interest you. But if you have questions or answers about how you express yourself Jewishly, this conversation may be for you. Please feel free to participate!

In Part 2 of our exploration, Rivkah has thrown down her lovely kid gloves to challenge us to think outside the shul. (I could say "think outside the Box," but only Neve Daniel residents will get it.)

How do we Jewish women define ourselves spiritually, apart from the shul experience? How do we speak with God when we're not using a siddur (which even if you are not upset by it, a woman must to a certain degree cherry-pick for prayers that resonate)?

I'll start. I am so overjoyed to be a Jewish woman! There is no moment in the life of a Jew that doesn't count. No such thing as "dead time." Every moment is fraught with meaning, and with opportunity.

I have a running conversation with God, that starts with thanking Him, when I arise in the morning, for giving me life yet again, for being there for me, for listening to my monologue. I try my best to really think about the morning brachot, and what they mean for me each day. I am grateful for the way Michael Haruni has expressed them in his Nehalel Shabbat siddur, and cannot wait until he adds a weekday version, as he has planned. Unlike most other siddurim, Haruni has added specifically female translations to the morning blessings: "You are blessed... Sovereign of the Universe, Who did not make me a goya (a female non-Jew)... Who did not make me a shifcha (a female slave)..."

Haruni's photographic montages are delightful and prayer-inspiring!
The conversation with God is a day-long process. I think this is one of the advantages of being "made in accordance with His will (the blessing said by women in contrast to the male version)." Rather than wasting time being upset that men say a prayer thanking God for not having made them women, I feel a bit sorry for them for their burden, and do not wish it. (My husband has offered several plausible explanations about why men might be very happy not to be women, and my friend Sarah Lipman has offered a few others.) I like that my God-created nature inspires me to a free-association conversation with my Creator, all day long.

More important than this conversation, in my opinion, is that Judaism is an action-based religion. Study is part of this -- and I schedule time during my week and on Shabbat to study Jewish texts that are of interest to me and my friends. (Thank God we aren't expected to go daf by daf through the Gemara, as many men try to do!) I am an aural learner, so the increasing number of teachers who record shiurim is a wonderful blessing. Rabbis and rebbetzins and other learned people come into my kitchen (so to speak) to lecture me on a variety of topics that I find fascinating.

But beyond study is the need to do. What does it look like to strive to be a light unto the nations? How do you attempt to live the action of your Judaism?  And what if you, like me, are not a terribly spiritual person? I know that many women find spiritual joy in visiting with and praying with other women at Kever Rachel, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, or at the Kotel. Many participate in the davening for women each Rosh Chodesh at Shilo. I have participated in many of these opportunities, and have found them to be lovely experiences. But these visits are not a required part of my connection with God and His people.

I try to focus on the aspects of the Jewish experience that I think are the most relevant to me. One aspect: it is important to me to try to bring peace between my fellow Jews.

I live in a wonderful Jewish community which -- like any wonderful Jewish community in the world -- believes that individuals have a responsibility to feed and care for other Jews who are going through life cycle events. Without stressing out my own family, I try to participate in these opportunities to take care of my larger Jewish family.

We are enjoined to help the widow and the orphan. It breaks my heart that Israel still has such a high rate of poor, hungry, disenfranchised, broken Jews. One can donate not just money but time.

Speaking well of Israel and her Jewish citizens may help in bringing Jews to populate Eretz Yisrael, which may help to bring the Final Redemption. So I write about my experience here, and speak about it to friends. Not with rose-colored glasses, but with honest love. Having put in more than a half-century on the planet, I have a few learning experiences under my belt, and I try to share these in writing, when I think that my Father in Heaven would expect me to share.

Now -- one thing you may notice about the above list. There is nothing I am doing that is not part of the average Jewish woman's day to day experience, with a few variations. The point is that our lives are devoted to this fulfillment of our responsibilities to other Jews (and ultimately to God's entire world). I argue that this IS spiritual fulfillment. Remember the story of the fellow who dreamed of a great treasure buried in another man's yard halfway across the world? He travels to the location, at great expense and difficulty, to unearth it... only to find that this other fellow dreamed that the treasure was in our hero's home, under his floorboards. The first dreamer goes home... and digs up the treasure in his own home.

Our lives are so spiritually rich -- as long as we don't think the treasure is actually buried in some other guy's yard.

This is my experience of being a Jewish woman, and truly feeling actualized in the process. It will not work for everyone. But if we share enough of our positive Jewess experiences, perhaps we can create a tapestry that may benefit others. Your thoughts, please!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mama's Gingersnaps

Yom chamishi, 3 Tevet 5775, Mamas' Eve.

As I have said before, December is my Mama's month. Or, more fairly, December is the month of both my mother and my mother-in-law. They were both born in December, my mother on the 19th, and the Dearly Beloved's on the 28th. They both loved Christmas.

I enjoy baking gingersnaps during December, using my mother's recipe. It is such a pleasure to fill my Israeli apartment with the smell of her baking. In December, I like to listen to Silent Night, and Dougie MacLean and even Andrea Boccelli, because this was the music she loved. (I'm not much of an opera aficionada. But for Mama, I'll go the extra kilometer.) My mother-in-law, whom I was never privileged to meet, also loved Silent Night; but she added Hawaiian music to my repertoire, and her mother added cinnamon rolls to my recipes.

We are not a family that holds by secret recipes. Mama always liked to share the wealth, and the smiles. So in her honor, here is the recipe for the gingersnaps that my Judean Rebels football players will get to eat this Thursday night -- if they play like menschen. (I don't mind winning. But the most important thing to me is that I am proud of how they play. So far, they have really made me proud.)

Mama's Gingersnaps

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 and 1/4 cups sifted unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
granulated sugar

Cream together first four ingredients until fluffy. Sift together dry ingredients; stir into molasses mixture. Form into small balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Place two inches apart on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. Bake at 375 Fahrenheit (190 Celsius) for 12 minutes. Makes 5 dozen cookies.

It's true that "unbleached white flour" is not something I have found easily in Israel... and this does not qualify as a healthy recipe. I may experiment at some point with whole grain flour and coconut oil to replace the shortening and...

Nope, probably not. Tradition is a pretty big deal with my people.

"The secret to preparing unhealthy food and living to tell about it is to make it only once in a while. Eat it. Enjoy it. Then go back to your carrots and tofu and bean sprouts with a clear conscience -- and a happy, happy smile on your face." You can quote me.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 1a

Yom sheni, 30 Kislev 5775, Rosh Chodesh, Sixth Day of Chanukah.

My good friend Rivkah and I have had a running discussion over several years regarding a woman's sense of belonging to and being accommodated fairly by the synagogue and by the Jewish prayer book.

Yesterday, Rivkah wrote a passionate and beautiful post about her feelings on the subject, and about her exploration of how she might relate in a positive and healthy way to the situation because, let's face it, this subject can eat out the kishkes of an intelligent, deeply thoughtful woman if it is not resolved. I hope that you will take a moment before going further to read what Rivkah had to say (Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 1). Don't worry: I'll wait for you. See you in a few moments.

In her post, Rivkah quoted me as saying that I see the shul as sort of a "Moose Lodge" for men, and the siddur as the Moose Lodge manual. I got ready to defend myself against attack -- after all, I have been attacked for saying that men should let their brides run the wedding planning, and for suggesting that men and women with issues in their marriages might want to communicate before baling out -- so I was a bit surprised when no one took me to task. Not unhappy, mind you. Just surprised. It could be that the venue of Rivkah's blog seems to draw only very polite women. But still -- I'm looking forward to a polite group discussion on the subject. Instead of defending myself, I'll offer an elaboration on my point.

Of course, I don't really see the synagogue as a Moose Lodge. I've never been inside a Moose Lodge, and have never actually observed a meeting. But my sense from stories and movies (and from men with whom I spoke, back in my rural America days) is that there are costumes and rituals that are taken very seriously, and these add to the camaraderie and sense of an organized unity among the members. My (hopefully) humorous reference was intended to explain how I see my place (or lack thereof) in synagogue ritual -- in what I hope is a healthy way.

I suspect (without doing the required study) that a hundred or two hundred years ago, women did not necessarily expect to attend synagogue services, except on those occasions when the entire congregation really is expected to participate, as on Yom Kippur. In the olden days, it was considered normal for men to go to pray in a quorum, and for women to run the critical spiritual world of the home. I believe that it is all part of the modern need to be counted as part of the homogeneous community of Jews, equal in all ways to their male counterparts, that has driven women to want an equal place in synagogue life.

Since this is supposition, it's better if I stick with what I know. Like Rivkah, I see that the service and the prayer book are built around men and men's issues. Men are expected to join in communal prayer. In fact, many prayers cannot be said if there is not the minimum of ten men joining together for the service. (Many have been the times I have felt sad that my presence could not help some poor fellow to say Kaddish for a deceased loved one.) Many of the references in the service and in the prayer book are exclusively male. Any reference to females seems like an afterthought.

The difference between my view and Rivkah's is that I am not troubled by this, because I see the synagogue as a men's club. And even if women are successful in making an equal place for themselves in that club, I would be very unhappy if I were suddenly required to take on all of the mitzvot of men related to prayer and communal worship. It's hard enough to persuade my guys to participate! And I have found that my relationship with God is very private, and is easier for me to facilitate outside of the distracting milieu of the clubhouse.

A rabbi friend pointed out to me the importance of Jewish socialization offered by the synagogue. I would agree -- if what he is speaking about is the kiddush afterwards, or the classes during the week. After all, how much socializing are we supposed to be doing in the sanctuary? While the communal davening experience may enhance socialization among men, women's sense of community comes not from shared ritual, but from doing what is forbidden inside the sanctuary: talking with each other, sharing joy and pain and solutions, processing together.

When my sons were growing up, my shul experience consisted of taking them to the shul playground, communing with other mothers, and taking them inside for a few minutes so that they could get a feeling of the sanctuary -- and then spiriting them outside again before they could disrupt the prayer of others. As they developed, the time they spent inside the sanctuary with their father increased. At times, they were even mature enough to entertain themselves -- outside, of course -- so that their hungry-for-Torah-wisdom mother could listen to the rabbi's speech (my favorite part of the Shabbat shul experience). When they were teenangels, my main shul experience was sitting by one of the corner windows (my husband had another) to keep an eye on whether our boys could be seen leaving the shul grounds, and then going after them, if necessary.

Of course, there were moments when I connected in communal prayer. This usually had to do with being enveloped in the harmonic song of my kehilla. For me, there will never be another shul experience like Rabbi Menachem Goldberger's Simchat Torah. Listening to the Rav sing... listening to the kehilla join together in beautiful "on the same sheet of music" communal harmony... watching my boys dancing (in part for my benefit), nothing -- until the Simchat Beit Hashoeva at the Holy Temple (bimhera v'yameinu!) -- will equal that experience. But even then, I heard that women who did not have sons to watch felt disconnected from the experience, and I sympathized with them. Had I been single, had I only or any daughters, my shul needs and experiences might have been different.

Now I send my young men and husband out the door, as I have done daily for many years, with the words, "Daven well. Bring Mashiach." I mean these words. I truly believe that their participation in the communal process keeps them directed and centered. I am slightly sad on those occasions when they opt out. And if I were required to be there, if my presence counted in the quorum, I would force myself to go, because I think it's that important. (Lest you think that I only say this because I don't have the burden, for a lengthy period of time in Baltimore, I got up to attend the 6:30 AM minyan in order to show my sons that it could be done -- and yes, a little mother-guilt can be an effective teaching tool. But because I was usually the only woman in the little ezrat nashim in the upstairs sanctuary -- we didn't use the main sanctuary for the weekday morning prayers -- I was never distracted by chatter during the service. So it was a pleasure to be there.)

Now I send them out the door, as I said, and I have wonderful testosterone-free time to focus on my ongoing conversation with God. I use the prayer book for a certain amount of structure -- how brilliant were our rabbis for lighting on relevant topics! -- and otherwise simply talk with God, as I have done since I rediscovered Him. He is my therapist when I am sad or angry (except when I am angry at Him, and then of course I need to speak with someone else); He is the One to Whom I can pour out not only my troubles, but my immense gratitude; He is the One Whom I expect to eventually repair all of the terrible ills of the world. I cannot imagine managing this conversation in the sanctuary, wherein there is the distracting hubbub of speed Hebrew, children demanding their mothers' attention, chatter among women who appear not to have opportunities to get together at other times.

The rabbis have said that I am naturally connected to God, without the need for all of the rituals men require. Rather than seeing this as patronizing, I choose to believe them.

I truly look forward -- with my dear friend Rivkah -- to that polite discussion on the subject.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jewish Boy Meets and Falls in Love with Christian Girl. What Next?

Yom rishon, 22 Kislev 5775.

I was intrigued when I first saw the reviews of Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope. Minister of Music in a Texas mega-church meets and falls in love with nice secular Jewish boy from New York. And somehow they are supposed to work all of this out.

But I had about five books going already -- so I put the thought of reading Doublelife on a way, way back burner.

Then a good friend introduced Gayle to me. After one short phone conversation, I had a strong need to read the book right now.

My first impression is that I like these two people very much. Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman each write well. The device of love letters between them, used consistently throughout the book, is a delightful dance (even though I had to rely on my by now entrenched affection for them both to suspend my disbelief when the letters continued even after they were married and living in one house).

Our two characters are warm, intelligent, frighteningly talented. (An aside: my friend introduced Gayle and me in part because we are both musicians. I chuckled as I read about the classical and operatic music in which these two fascinating individuals immersed themselves... and wondered what they will think of Avi and me with our blues-country-old-time-rock-n-roll level of musicality.)

Gayle and Harold decide to marry, but without rose-colored glasses. They speak openly about the differences in their religious upbringings, their concern about child-rearing across the faith divide, their well-reasoned but still naive belief that love can conquer all.

And then the story gets really interesting, as they continue to write openly and lovingly of the difficult realities life throws into their plans. The largest and most threatening of these is Harold's increasing need to come to terms with what being a Jew means, and their mutual discovery that this is no small matter in the context of their happy marriage. The crises come -- as they often do in marriage -- when the couple is faced with a whiplash series of changes in direction neither of them could have anticipated when they carefully crafted their interfaith wedding ceremony and their subsequent life plans.

I won't spoil the story for you by giving you any more information. Suffice it to say that here are two people we should all aspire to emulate, if we want marriage to work. And if you need to feel the roller-coaster of joy and laughter and tears, Doublelife will give you plenty of opportunities for each.

However the story ends, the friendship and respect between these two fine people causes the reader to cheer them on to a happy ending.

In Israel, you can purchase the books at my personal favorite bookstore, M. Pomeranz Bookseller on Be'eri Street in Jerusalem. Drop my name, please. It won't necessarily get you a discount, but it will make Michael and Shira smile.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chanukah... Hanukkah... Oh, heck. חנוכה TUNES!

Yom chamishi, 19 Kislev 5775.

Well, it's that time of year again. Time to pull out the dreidels and the latke and sufganiot recipes, light up the menorot, and dust off the old favorite tunes.

Here is a new version I like very much, because it's performed so interestingly and so expertly by an a cappella group called Shir Soul.
(h/t Batya Spiegelman Medad)

From the traditional-with-a-twist to the very modern reggae beat of the ever-changing Matisyahu:

And here's an old favorite that I love only partly because Avi and I have had the pleasure of performing with the very talented husband and wife duo, Yoseph and Leah Urso.

Have a wonderful, joyful Chanukah/Hanukkah/Festival of Lights with family and friends. If you have family or friends with whom you've not connected recently, give 'em a call. If you don't have either, go out and make some. This is definitely a time to be with other Jews.

Feel free to add links in the Comments section to your favorite חנוכה tunes!