I love tzitzis and glitter and skateboard helmets, I love them especially all at once

“Where are my presents?”
“You got your present.”
“What present?”
“That the Hanukkah Man gave you.”
“That thing from last year?”
“Yeah.”
“I’ve been gypped by the Hanukkah Man!”

So, I came across this picture:

poo

Those were good times, yet terrible times. They were the best of times and the worst of times.

I look at myself and think: “Why didn’t they ship me to hadar immediately?” Then I think: “How did I get to a place like w&m?” Then I think: “How did w&m get someone like me?”

Want to know what those pins say? They say: “Moshiach, we want moshiach now” and “Tzitzis, we want moshiach now.” They were a gift, OK? (Once, a guy in Prospect Heights saw one of my pins and said, “So, you want moshiach, huh?”)

I don’t try to be eccentric, you know? I am a walking collection. For instance, my mom got me a skateboard helmet for my birthday and so I was sitting there like derp listening to Matisyahu wearing my skateboard helmet. And now I have glitter because the “hanukkah man” aka my mom gave it to me aka she re-gifted it from when I didn’t want it last hanukkah. Also, I collect stickers on the back of my computer. Look closely and you can see a real live leopard.

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I don’t want tzitzis to be a fashion accessory. I don’t want it to just be a part of my collection of things I seem to acquire. But I know from experience that–unless you’re a halachically jewish orthodox man–there’s absolutely no threshold you can cross where you won’t still be questioning your motives. (I say orthodox cause it’s not really expected so much outside of orthodoxy.)

Honestly, I have no way of knowing whether I’m just trying to have a fashion accessory, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. When I look at a woman with tzitzis I don’t think: “She just wants a fashion accessory.” I think she must be really dedicated to put herself out there like that. I look at that picture of me and I think “Why was I so hard on myself?!” If it were someone else in my situation, I would have judged them favorably. If they showed that kind of dedication, I wouldn’t have done all that, like, pilpul. I wouldn’t care what their lineage was, either.

I’ve had friends who consider themselves gentiles converting to judaism, and I’ve had friends who consider themselves jews converting to judaism. I think the way you see yourself makes you see your conversion quite differently. Maybe it was being in new york, but I don’t think you can dismiss subjective experience so easily anymore. There’s no “official answer,” which I was in denial about for a long time. Of course, though, not having a right answer doesn’t mean there are no wrong answers. I’ve known people who wanted to convert–who believed they had jewish lineage, even–but whose resolve and tenacity I doubted. Oh, don’t think I don’t still judge people! If someone told me they wanted to wear tzitzis and then in the next breath told me they’ve decided to follow Jesus/the Buddha/whoever, I will probably doubt their dedication.

But I also have friends who are converting, whom I wouldn’t doubt for one second, and whom I treat as jewish.

This, so far, is working better for me in everyday life than my outdated system of judging people solely by halachic standards as if I were their conversion rabbi. A conversion rabbi, of course, is concerned with the integrity of the system, but this is sometimes to the detriment of a person’s psychological well-being. I know this well. I can’t know which way of looking at people is the right one. Maybe I really am compromising the integrity of the system. But if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, all we can do is guess. And if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, we can’t exactly feel bad about making a best guess. That goes for anything, really.

And that’s all well and good.

I don’t know what all this means for me, though. I don’t know my own motivations most of the time, but I tend to believe that I should (like most of us, I presume?) And so I analyze it to death, a sound and fury signifying nothing. If I wanted to wear my tzitzis again, it’d have to go beyond “which mitzvos a non-jew can do” and “what does patrilineal mean philosophically.” It would have to go deeper. I’d have to enter a whole new system. I know I can’t be orthodox, and I know I can’t be conservative, reform, or recon either. It’s kind of an open field right now. Everything is free for the taking. I could be anything. I could be renewal (I’m not). I wish I didn’t have to convert (and therefore pick one…currently it’s RCA and currently I don’t want to change that). I wish I could just be. You know, in the margins. Like I do. I don’t feel like a convert. I don’t want to continue acting like I’m converting. I don’t want to be a gentile. I don’t want to be a righteous gentile. I davened like a jew. I learned gemara like a jew. I went off the derech like a jew. I came back like a jew.

Something has to change here.

Learning to be Jewish, or: All the Connotations of “Baruch Hashem”

Let me tell you about the time I first went in to meet the RCA conversion rabbi.

It was the middle of July, and I went straight from gemara class at Drisha to my appointment. I took the train to canal st. and transferred to the J or Z or some weird train nobody ever takes, and met the rabbi inside his shul. He was very friendly, which I’d expected coming in since I had already talked to him via email and he was a speedy emailer (a rare breed indeed). I’d also heard good things through the grapevine about the manhattan beit din.

Anyway, the first thing he asked was the Dreaded Question, “So, why do you want to be Jewish?” (Or as R’ Freundel says, “So, why do you want to do this crazy thing?”) I’d written this whole long application essay on the topic, using words like “true” and “knowledge.” I’m not really one to write a wimpy emotional essay.

“Besides what you wrote in your essay,” he added. “That’s a fine reason, but it can’t be your only reason.”

I stared off into space, trying to look contemplative instead of mad that I had to come up with some crap emotional reason. “I just feel connected to it, I guess,” I said. I wanted to add, “Like a limb,” but alas I didn’t. That seemed to be enough, though, and we quickly moved on to practice.

“Do you keep kosher?” he asked.

“Well…I’ve been trying to more now that I live in New York, and I can now, and…”

“So you keep fully kosher.”

“Yes.”

“And you keep shabbos, and all that?”

“Yes.” Pretty simple so far.

“Except for doing one violation, you know…”

“Right.”

He tried to throw me a curveball. He asked me about the types of reshuts and how to carry in them on shabbos, and of course now I don’t remember them at all but luckily I had just learned them in halacha class at Drisha! I named them off and I think he was impressed. Those reshuts seem pretty esoteric, in that I hadn’t heard about the types of reshuts in any conversion books. Curveball avoided. Then he asked me about what you could and couldn’t heat on shabbos, including soups.

“Is that a trick question?” I asked.

“Just answer what you would do personally,” he said jovially.

I said I wouldn’t do it. But he saw through it. He said I had lots of knowledge but I needed more aid in cooking on shabbos. “Kashrut is easy once you know the basics,” he told me. “But cooking on shabbos is a lot more complicated.

“And your views on the Torah…” Oh, there it was! The question I’d been warned about by all my apikoros friends!

I acted confused. “In what way?”

“You know, Sinai, and all that.”

“Yeah, I believe in it. Torah…miSinai…and everything…” He nodded. Just to make it clear, I quickly stammered, “It’s weird that like, liberal jews and stuff, how can you not believe in it and still be practicing? I mean, like in Conservative Judaism…” (I was still on my Conservative Judaism kick at the time) “…basically they say that the community determines observance, and I just think you have to have a baseline cause without Torah what do you have etc.” He gave me a knowing glance and asked me if I could read Hebrew yet.

A quaint question when you just left untranslated gemara class to come to this appointment.

“I can read it.” He pulled out a tanach and said he’d find a nice easy sentence for me to read. I read it and translated it, and for some reason this was when the switch turned on I think because he was highly impressed. He said my hebrew was great, even though I just read about how yaakov went down to the land of canaan or whatever and a year of biblical hebrew at w&m told me that this was pretty standard fare. Nonetheless, apparently it’s impressive judging by the amount of time people have said to me, “Oh, you’re converting? Do you know any hebrew yet? Oh, did you need an english bentcher?” No, I do not need an english bentcher.

He told me I did great on all the questions and said all I really had to do now was learn the “jargon.” It was strange because, out of all the “tests” he gave me, he didn’t test me on my “jargon.”

“You know, like ‘baruch hashem’,” he said. I laughed on the inside. He thought I’d have to learn ‘baruch hashem.’ Little did he know I have a blog with a glossary of terms including, but not limited to, ‘baruch hashem.’

I wonder why he just assumed I wouldn’t know the culture at all. I started learning to be jewish long before I moved to brooklyn. I know that you get something living in an orthodox neighborhood that you wouldn’t get living in rural virginia, but I’m really rather shocked that he assumed I would be coming in with nothing. I’d spent the last year making fun of the ‘goyish’ aspects of w&m with my friend, and reading frum satire, and reading orthodox blogs, and listening to shemspeed.

I did learn, however, what it means to be jewish in a jewish community. Externally. And although being in new york has ironically made me less religious, I’m more connected to it culturally than ever before (for better or worse). This has nothing to do with learning the jargon so much as internalizing it in a way that can only be done when you see that everyone else is doing it, if you know what I mean. I could say ‘baruch hashem’ all day long when I’m alone in my room in rural virginia, but it doesn’t really have much meaning until you live in a place where other people are saying it, because then you can see when and in what context. More importantly, you can see how you yourself relate to these other people saying ‘baruch hashem’ in such contexts.

For example, when your friend says ‘baruch hashem’ almost every five minutes, you can start to think to yourself, ‘wow, that’s annoying.’ Guess what conversion books don’t teach you? That’s it’s OK to be annoyed by that ‘baruch hashem’ person you know.

You can see what makes you different.  (The following paragraph is highly ny-centric.) You can learn that everyone went to day school, everyone went to summer camp, everyone has been to israel, everyone lives with their parents well into their 20’s, all the girls get jobs as either babysitters or teachers, everyone goes to the catskills for the summer, everyone goes to such-and-such place for motzei shabbos, you learn that one neighborhood is like this, and the other neighborhood is like that.

You learn how to answer “Oh, do you know so-and-so? Which high school did you go to?” You learn how to shut those questions down. You learn how to talk like you’re constantly giving a shiur (you know what I mean). You learn what different lengths of skirt mean. You learn what makes someone MO meikil or MO machmir (and you’re not really sure if you enjoy the fact that you know this). You learn that there will be tons of people asking for money on the street friday afternoon. You learn more cholent recipes than you wished to hear.

Guess what? It doesn’t have much to do with religion, but that’s how you learn to be jewish.

How much does it cost to be Jewish?

I grew up thinking Jews should work in social change,
but only investment bankers can afford a Jewish life
.”
-Jewish Women Watching

It’s almost sukkos. You can buy lots of things during this time of year. Where I live, the sidewalks are lined with tables of esrogim, lulavim, not to mention decorations. Tinsel! Bird cages! Paintings! And that’s if you didn’t already spend enough money pledging to the shul during yom kippur.

Of course, it’s not exactly mandatory to line your sukkah with bird cages. Still, it is mandatory to take off four days of work or school for sukkos, to buy what you need in order to get by without cooking or using electricity for two days at a time (hot plates, timers, crockpots, kosher lamps, kosher table crumb sweepers, the list goes on as long as you want it to), and to buy the materials to build your own sukkah if you don’t live in an Orthodox area or near a shul with one. I was just thinking of how one would deal with living somewhere without a place to build a sukkah, or a place where it was impossible to buy a lulav or esrog. You’d have to go away for sukkos. You’d have to buy lulav online (imagine the shipping cost!) Easily, a chag that is supposed to be joyful becomes prohibitive. This year, there are only two weekdays between yom kippur and the long (one might say four-day) chag. (The long chag haul, as they say. Or as they ought to start saying.) If you don’t schedule these days well, you’ll probably end up like me and spending a lot more on food than you expected at the last minute.

I think there is a sense both that no one can’t afford all this and that someone in your network will be there to provide it for you. Indeed, someone’s family is probably there to provide mezuzas and havdala sets and basics like that, but still there is upkeep. And still, someone whose family can’t afford it doesn’t get such a safety net.

It’s not really the “sets” and the basic Judaica that concerns me. It’s the other things. For instance, although a college student might be able to get away with going out for every meal or throwing a sandwich on the hot plate, eventually there will be the assumption that you’ll be available to host as well. And there will be the assumption that you will cook. And there will be the assumption that you can afford the ingredients to cook relatively nice meals (with fish or meat) for guests fairly often.

There will be the assumption that you’ll have children. You will put them in Orthodox day school, and you will both pay a base of tuition and ideally donate time and money as well. You will send your children to summer camp and pay for their bar and bat mitzvah shenanigans.

You’ll buy high holiday tickets because you don’t want to feel like a freeloader. You’ll pledge money to the shul from the very seat you just “bought.” You’ll sponsor kiddush sometimes.

I’m still somewhat in awe over how a college student or otherwise single 20-something is supposed to afford a Jewish lifestyle without a family to support them. This would explain my observation of so many Jewish kids my age still living at home. In fact, when I tell them where I live and that I moved here, their first question is “So you’re here with your family?” I’m struck both with how widespread the assumption is that your family will “just take care of” the costs of things, and that cost is no object. A surprising amount of stores in the Jewish neighborhood where I live don’t put prices on their items, for instance. And when I first moved into my apartment, my roommate just assumed that if I couldn’t find a job, my mom would be able to cover my rent for me.

For me, obviously, it’s not about having to buy meat every week, but it is starting to add up in other ways. For example, with Orthodox roommates, I’m not going to be cooking on yom tov, and I’m not used to the old erev yom tov rush to buy challah rolls and other things that I don’t have to cook, and this is an extra package of challah rolls I wouldn’t have bought otherwise. And a $4 package of challah rolls that only lasts two days really adds up.

I know I’m listing two different categories, the social stuff like day school costs and the religious stuff like extra challah rolls. But I think they’re related. If I had children, I’d have to send them to private school. And I would be expected to host sometimes, probably. And everyone goes to summer camp. There are so many auxiliary items and events that are required in Judaism, and they all cost money.

It’s hard to be poor and Jewish. It’s hard to be working class and Jewish. In fact, I once read in a sociology book that “the Jewish working class hardly exists anymore.” It’s not really about the $4 challah rolls so much as it’s the assumption that everyone is able to afford it all; that somehow the Jewish working class doesn’t exist.

Couldn’t get ahead / I just couldn’t get ahead

So, I’ve lived in Flatbush for about 24 hours so far, and I have to admit that I definitely feel like everyone who looks at me knows that I am from out of town. It’s kind of funny though, since I’ve been trekking from here to the Upper West Side, and when I’m here I feel so modern, but when I’m in Manhattan I feel way too frum (but it’s cool cause I and hopefully everyone else knows I just came from Flatbush and that’s my excuse). I don’t really know what people are thinking about me in Manhattan, particularly the guys with black hats on the train going back to Brooklyn. They also probably can tell I am from out of town. I really do wonder what image I’m projecting; I feel like they’re like, “Why u even tryin’?” Also, there’s a giant seminary here so all the kids know way more than me even though they’re 12, and it’s stupid because now the tables are turned and I am that fool who doesn’t know the basics. Touché.

So, you ask, what do I see here? I see lots of guys with long coats but I also saw a guy with techelet. I saw a great beard on the train today, and I see lots of black kipas, which you can get at Eichler’s, and they come in like 40 different sizes, but only one color. As for the ladies, I see lots of baby carriages, lots of sheitels, lots of long black skirts, and lots of frum woman “shell plus plain shirt” fashions. There are also some MO people here, which I can tell when the men wear cargo shorts and the girls wear hoodies and band tees, which I also saw today.

However, I’m worried. It’s not that I want to be an Upper West Side person, it’s just that I keep messing with my own plan. It’s not even that I want to be egalitarian. (Whatever that even means anymore.) I moved here of my own free will specifically to get away from the old go-to, the “Do Judaism Laura’s way” free-for-all which I’ve been doing for the past two years. It’s not working. It would be easier to just be UWSMO (I made that up; it’s beautiful)…but that would be more of the same; more of what’s not working. I don’t want to do the old “pick whichever halachos make you happy;” I want a system. I’m already taking it for granted that I’m not going to fit into that system very well…partially because I’m me and partially because I’m coming from the outside…but what would I be doing if I just went straight to the trad egal/YCT world? But what would I be doing if I went to the “frum but only cause we were raised that way” world? I’m coming here to change inherently, although I wouldn’t have said that before obviously. I know it would be really simple to just stay the same and then put chavura Judaism on top of it or whatever, like nothing ever happened. I could wear my tzitzis again. But what would it do if they just let me do whatever I wanted all over again?

However, even if I try to stay and make it work in Flatbush, I’ll probably be found out pretty soon that I’m too modern. I thought I was just pulling off the “Oh, I’m just 21 and with it” look, but I just don’t know. The problem is that these other girls buy their clothes special apparently, from special tznius stores or something, and all my clothes are from Goodwill and it’s weird–you wouldn’t think this initially but even my denim skirt isn’t, like, standard. And that costs money, mate. I feel like being poor is going to play a pretty big part in my being modern, cause I can’t afford these specialty store clothes. Like, I’m looking at websites right now and they’re charging $44 for a regular black skirt. Non, non et non.

I don’t want to be modern or egal or yeshivish or frum but with it (whatever that means). I just want to be me, as far as clothes are concerned anyway. But I feel like what you wear kind of determines who will accept you in life. And I might be too eccentric for the normal yeshivish ladies here. But I’m not rejecting the yeshivish ladies. It’s not that I want to do “whatever I want” so much as if I tried to be a normal yeshivish lady it might be laughable. And you might think this is crazy, but I’d rather live in a really frum community and be the liberal one than live in a really liberal community and be the only frum one. I’ve done that already, and it wasn’t cool. (Also, to be clear, I don’t mean liberal like “I secretly believe the Exodus was a feminist myth” so much as “I’m going to Drisha” liberal.)

I was talking so much about pluralism in my last post, and I’m still into that, and this again is why it’s stupid that I have to convert. I have to STAY IN ONE PLACE for a long time. That’s stupid. But I know I need a home base otherwise I’ll just float around and never get anywhere. Converting or not, I still think I need a community, even just in order to branch off from it, you know? It would be cool if I could find an actual frum halachic community which wouldn’t be like “Why don’t you wear pants lol” and would actually have rules and not just let people run amok with their “pluralism” and “subjectivity” but can also appreciate my band pins and possibly taking computer music composition classes.

Is it giving up to want to keep my band pins and computer music composition? I feel like there’s a fine line between giving up your core personality in order to be more frum, and giving up the extraneous stuff that you might be attached to but isn’t helping your soul. However, I would be pretty sad if Matisyahu, for example, my posek, had decided that being a singer wasn’t tznius and decided to be a regular guy instead, I would be pretty depressed. But then again, he has his Chabad and stuff, and he didn’t just decide to be MO just cause they would accept his rappin’ or whatever. Also, Y-Love. Like I don’t know what goes into their decisions but they have their beliefs and THEN they have their rappin’ after that. I feel like if I just went the easy route and went trad egal** or “practice how you want” or whatever, I would give up my beliefs FOR the rappin’.

And that’s wack!

** You: “You don’t believe in egalitarianism?”
Me: “They really have to explain their halacha to me before I get into it. There’s a way egal can work, but too easily can it devolve into ‘we don’t like this halacha so let’s just change it for the sake of equality.’ Like, for me, maybe I’d want to learn gemara, but I feel like if I’m only doing it cause I think it would be cool, it won’t help me very much. Also, I can’t respect an egal community unless women’s ritual responsibilities come with ritual rights, which is where Conservatism went wrong.”

Pluralism and New York and stuff

I’m currently in a hostel which all I can say is it is definitely building my character. It’s not that bad, but 1.) I’m the only American 2.) Somebody took my shampoo.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that after my last encounter with that Conservative minyan (see last post), I’ve had many opportunities to go to other places. I went to an egal minyan at Shaare Zedek on Friday morning, and to the Prospect Heights Shul Friday night and Saturday morning. By the way, last Friday was the ~first Orthodox shul I’ve ever been to~ what a milestone.

I have some things to say about it. First of all, it was inside of a thrift store. That was cute. The mechitza was on some kind of clothesline. You guys, the mechitza is not that bad. I sort of liked it. I liked not having weird old men sit behind me. However, obviously, being me, I did happen to notice that 1.) The singing was a little more boisterous on the men’s side. I heard clapping, although I did look over and I’m pretty sure it was just the rabbi. 2.) On Saturday morning, most of the women showed up during musaf, wtf? Cause that’s definitely the most important time to show up? I didn’t get it, because if you’re going to miss any davening you’d think it would be ma’ariv. But anyway, there were like ten to fifteen men and I was the only woman for like fifteen minutes. Whatever. The whole time, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be on the men’s side. I ended up deciding that it probably wasn’t so hot over there, because some of those guys were weird. Like, one was way too excited to point out errors in another guy’s Torah reading skills. And anyway, near the end I was starting to feel the burn, it was going on three hours after all, and I just feel like if I was on the men’s side I would start to feel like they were caving in on me. Of course, some of the ladies were weird but it was funny because one lady was singing loudly and she was a bad singer but in an endearing way. So basically, the women did sing but they weren’t clapping and junk. Maybe cause there were less women, oh well.

And also I’ve been slowly but surely deciding that those apologists who say “women don’t need to be in the synagogue cause Judaism isn’t actually based in the synagogue, it’s just become that way” is kind of true. I mean, the last part anyhow (don’t sleep through shaarit, guys). I don’t like the whole synagogue scene that much. I don’t know, it’s like get me out of there. I would probably hate it if I HAD TO hang out with those guys three times a day and three hours on shabbos when I daven better alone anyway. This idea that Judaism /= the synagogue was reinforced by the fact that a lot of my hanging out with my new Orthodox acquaintances last shabbos was done outside of shul. And we actually did Jewish stuff. It was different. I helped someone make dinner for eight people, we actually washed and bentched OUTSIDE of the synagogue and IN SOMEONE’S HOUSE (SCANDALOUS). And I heard a guy walking down the street in Flatbush saying “Like the gemara says…” and the next day I met a lady who said she was part of Storahtelling.

Now, here’s the reason why I’m not so worried right now about any of these shul men/women problems that have been dominating this blog for a long time. I just went to a trad egal minyan (I don’t want to say Conservative, but I think some of them go to JTS) where one girl led the davening and I spotted another girl wearing tzitzis (!).  And anything I didn’t get out of that, I filled in the gaps Friday night at the MO place. And similarly, it’s gradually occurring to me that I’m currently in New York, and I think I underestimated the amount of options that were here. You CAN be that guy who talks about the gemara while walking down the street, and you can be that lady who’s in Storahtelling. I feel like I’m a special snowflake who needs certain things–women friends who wear tzitzis, Jewish theater and Jewish rap, but also women’s yeshiva and Orthodox mechitza davening–and if I’m going to get that anywhere it’s going to be New York.

I know that when you convert you basically have to stay in one place for the duration of it and then for a year of probation, but I feel like New York’s middle name should be pluralism. And not stupid pluralism, which is where I’m  the only diversity where everyone else is Reform and I have to accept them but they’re allowed to think I’m a freak. I think it’d be pretty normal to go to one shul for certain things and another for other things. Unlike what it really, really seemed like in my little Southern town, pluralism (good pluralism, not stupid pluralism) is in.

For example, the day after I got to New York I went to the New Voices journalism conference and I personally thought it was pretty cool cause it was the first time I saw Reform and MO people getting along and actually being friends and stuff (there was one Chabad guy but he came and left). And then I went to shabbos dinner at someone’s house and there was a guy who said “I don’t ride my bike on shabbos” but there were also girls texting, but the real point is when that guy said “I don’t ride my bike on shabbos” there wasn’t a giant onslaught of why that’s so stupid.

Can you tell I’ve been traumatized?

One thing I liked about my time hanging out with them: they talked about halacha occasionally! They talked about who gets the year long kaddish and other various trivia.

Mitzvah as protest

So, some people say that women shouldn’t wear a tallit because it’s a “sign of haughtiness.” In modern times, I think this translates to “they’re doing it for feminism!!!” This need to be doing it for the “right reasons” stems of course from women’s exemption, because no one asks men what their reasons are, so long as they do it.

I don’t know enough to know whether exemption always requires a “good reason” in order to start taking it up voluntarily; I don’t know why it suddenly applies to tzitzit only. But a certain rabbi I know said that tzitzit is a mitzvah “incumbent on the person” that is “activated when wearing the garment.” So that rules out my idea that the mitzvah is in the garment, which would make it not time-based and thus not-exempt. Too easy.

I wonder how it is that “not doing it for the right reasons” make a woman-exempted mitzvah like tzitzit null and void. What are the right reasons? Why does there have to be a “right reason” to do a mitzvah? (And can you do one accidentally?) And, is “feminism” the only “wrong reason”? What if, say, you were protesting Israel Apartheid Week? That seems pretty righteous.

I’m protesting, by the way. I’m protesting that, but I’m also protesting something my rabbi said. We were walking down the street a couple of days ago (we’re cool like dat), and he was like “people keep looking at my kippah!!” (so cute. love the rabbi) and I was like “wow, that’s weird, no one looked at my tzitzit when I used to wear them!” And he said “why’d you stop wearing them?” and I said “it felt like I was appropriating.” And he said “you know, sometimes things like that are better in theory than in practice.” Then he talked about how he only wears his kippah “on the job” because the idea of wearing it everyday “doesn’t always work in reality” and he may or may not have said “you’ll learn as you get older…” He said he doesn’t always want to be the token Jewish guy when he’s just chilling in public. Then I said “isn’t that when it’s most important to be Jewish?” or something to that extent. Then I forgot the rest because we crossed a street.

It made me wonder though: Is this really one of those things? Like, it was getting pretty inconvenient I’m not going to lie. Is the world even ready for such a thing? But I don’t want to think of mitzvot that way: “better in theory than in practice.” So I brought back the tzitzit in protest of this idea. It’s like saying to myself “this simply can’t be true and I will prove it false.” I think it’s quite righteous. It’s like when your mom is all “I bet you can’t eat that broccoli” and you’re all “oh no you don’t, I will eat that broccoli like you don’t even know.”

I’ve always had a problem conflating “what people think” with “what is right.” I really don’t know if what I’m doing is “right” or really just “appropriating” something that doesn’t belong to me, but really the fact is that no one–no one–around me is worried about my patrilinealness. Like, even the Orthodox rabbi here probably wouldn’t say anything about it, even though I’ve told him. Aish even accepted me into their Jerusalem Online University program (yes, W&M has Aish reps on campus?!?!) I’m looking for conflicts that seriously aren’t there right now. So I’m not appropriating. And I’m protesting that too.

I’ve started getting back on the derech, but I’m trying to do it right this time. It was getting really muddled last semester with “what people thought” and “omg what’s more important, community or halacha” and “omg am I doing this for the right reasons” and “omg am I appropriating” and “omg denominations” and “omg conversion” but all that is not even important and I just have to realize. I feel like plain old reading the תרי”ג מצות and going to Torah study helps me and everyone around me more than my navel-gazing does. As Matisyahu says, “Fear nobody but His Majesty. My spirit, you retrieved. For you I wait silently, it seems that you believe in me.”

If I Were a Rabbi~

My very ancient argument with the crazy old man at my old Conservative synagogue runs deep, you know. I often think about how to balance inclusiveness with not perpetuating a “beginner’s Judaism.”  I know this is the ultimate problem as far as Conservatism is concerned, but it ought to be everyone’ problem. I briefly considered going to Conservative rabbinical school (actually, lol @ that; by “briefly” I mean “constantly since summer 2010 and still occasionally entertain thoughts of it”)…but it’s weird to me to think about the ideological inculculation that would inevitably happen at any rabbinical school. I mean, I know about quality control, but I also know now that Conservatism only became an actual “movement” with “fans” in the 1940’s. And really, get yo’ factions out of my religion. There is pettiness when factions happen.

But I digress. Let’s say I became a rabbi. Let’s say I made it through. And then, let’s say that I could do whatever I wanted. I know what my movement would tell me, but let’s say I was rebellious, which obviously would never happen because I am obviously a Tov Soul (I hate that I know about this). Anyway, assuming I wasn’t kicked out after a day, I would first make some aesthetic changes. I would give newcomers a piece of paper saying page numbers and such instead of halting everything to say page numbers. I’d want the newcomers to know that even though we care about their comprehension, we are not an education program. Ideally, I’d direct them to a beginner’s minyan which if it were my shul we’d have one of those if I had to do it myself. Ideally, before the main service so they could utilize their knowledge.

Next, I’d move the bimah or whatever to the mid-front of the room and face the front. I know that no one would actually want to sit in front of said structure, but I would try to make it not a big deal that no one was in front of them. Or, even, better, I would do what my rabbi did once when it was just me and this other guy one morning, he just hung out in a regular seat for twenty minutes and took it from there. It was really great cause it eliminated the “spectatorship” aspect. I would try to minimize the idea that the congregation absolutely must be in the same place at all times. That is one thing I would really try to get rid of, which the page numbers thing would help with too.

Speaking of adjustments, I would probably separate men and women, but really only for practical purposes. I don’t want lovers making out in the audience (which I’ve sat next to). I don’t want back-rubbing (which I’ve sat behind). I don’t want couples talking about their bills and kids and junk. And honestly, I’m never going to get over all the times some old man came and sat directly behind me when there were a million other empty seats. I just don’t want to deal. And I don’t fundamentally think that mixed seating is the only way to give women rights, I feel like some people think this. But regarding that, there would still be the problem of having separate seating in a shul which I would explicitly make sure was variant-friendly. And naturally I know that the ~male gaze~ problem in such a shul isn’t exactly going to be eliminated with separate seating, if you know what I mean. Personally, I would be distracted in an all-women’s section. I like the trichitza idea. Allegedly, this was used in ancient times (I should really cite my source on that one). I suspect that it would be less weird without an actual structure, but who knows. I’ve never actually experienced mechitzas, so I don’t really know their deal that well. I’m not sure if having a mechitza is really halacha or just blown out of proportion. I mean, I’m a rabbi, I should know this.

My basic thing would be trying to make people feel like they can belong in a traditional setting without having to have the politics. What I mean is, I would want people to know that separate seating doesn’t “mean” women don’t have “rights.” Furthermore, I would make sure people know the processes that went into making certain ritual decisions. For example, I don’t have an ideological problem with women leading services, and I would also encourage lay-leadership. So when people sign up to do a certain thing, we would go through their ideas and everything before they actually led services. So with that in mind, I would make it clear that while anyone is welcome to lead lesser parts of the service, I would ask that those who wanted to lead straight-up Shaharit be upstanding and be qualified to lead devarim shebikdusha, which for women would mean that they’ve committed themselves to minyan. Ideally, that would encourage people to come more often, cause if it were me I would consider Shaharit a more fun thing to lead than, like, kiddush or something. Which anyone could do, by the way. I would also make sure this hypothetical beginner’s minyan emphasized the difference between the important and less important parts of Shaharit, and make it sound like it would really be like an honor to lead Shaharit, so therefore they better learn some stuff so they can lead it.

Hebrew. I would not have transliteration. I would probably use the Koren siddur. No, actually, I would tell people to bring their own if there is an eruv, and if there’s not, perhaps I would have a nice mélange so people can have their crap Sim Shalom or whatever. The service would be entirely in Hebrew and wouldn’t include Readings For American Soldiers or responsive readings or anything, well I know that Readings For American Soldiers has become popular lately but I’m just not into it. I would hope that no one noticed. It’s important not to disrupt an accumulated atmosphere by suddenly being all “God sits in judgment over the world. ALL RESPOND: HE SITS IN JUDGMENT.” And it just so happens that I just start getting into it when something like that happens. It’s just another way to keep the congregation focused on the leader and on keeping up rather than their own experience.

So yeah, I’ve been writing this for a day now and I can’t think of anything else. Anything else?