Weird Awkward Update – Boston Edition

So I’m sure that my remaining 1 1/2 readers know that I’ve been off the face of the earth for like 3 years and now I’m back 4 more aka I went to a shul last night and I remembered why I probably will never go again.

So when I moved to Boston like 6 months ago obviously it wasn’t on my mind or anything but enough nights getting drunk and listening to matisyahu really got to me and I finally decided to try out the Tremont St shul in Cambridge because they had a cool 20s/30s group and usually shuls are for olds so that drew me in and stuff.

SOO last night I took the goddamn hour long train ride over there with my siddur and whatnot and the guy on the steps was like “Shabbat Shalom” and I was like one minute early so of course the whole place was basically empty. So I just stood there awkwardly pretending to read the brochures and suddenly I was hit with vivid memories of all my times in nyc just standing around waiting for someone to talk to me. Of course usually no one ever does. But since then I’ve become way more assertive about being actually social, and surprisingly people are usually pretty open to talking to you. Not so in shul for whatever reason. So at this point I’m used to atheist 20-somethings who are bikers or musicians or whatever, and being able to talk to them like a normal person, but I was reminded how intimidated I am in the shul environment.

So anyway finally it was time to start and everything and…well, there was singing. It started out slow and I was like “ok well sometimes it’s slow” but then ten minutes later, even though my Hebrew is way rusty now, I realized they were still on page one of kab shab. They were singing like literally every word then “ay ay ay” at the end of every single verse. So like ten minutes later they got to page two. I was getting kind of uncomfortable because I’m used to the yeshivish get-in-get-out approach so I wasn’t ready for it. This was modern orthodox, by the way. So of course I started getting antsy after like 30 mins and not even getting to kaddish yet. So I was kind of looking around and stuff and I realized all the girls were wearing skirts. There were a ton of girls actually, I’m guessing since it’s Boston and it’s like 90% college students, and secondly it’s in the MIT area so I guess it’s all MIT people or something?

Here’s what I hate about orthodoxy. This kind of sums up everything I hate about it. A lot of the girls were either wearing short sleeves or sleeveless, and some were wearing really, really short skirts. But I was wearing pants and a button up shirt (honestly at this point I don’t have any ‘nice clothes’ anymore, let alone a skirt). And I was getting the total side eye from these fuckers. I was the only one wearing pants. And like, they weren’t exactly tznius but it wasn’t about that, it was about the fact that wearing a skirt means you’re in the in group, like under the guise of tznius. That just makes me really mad for some reason. Like I get that people need to look like they’re part of their group, but to be under the guise of tznius is really gross. And like, a couple of the girls, in usual orthodox fashion, were talking and walking around and not paying attention and stuff, which is like whatever, but I wasn’t singing the songs or doing the movements and stuff (because I’m a jerk), and I know people were like “who is that freak” But again, like all these other girls were like kind of singing and not paying attention and looking around and talking but since they were half assedly mouthing the words, they looked like they belonged so it was ok.

I was just hit with a wave of the same self-consciousness and sense of insecurity as I was in new york. Outsider again. But you know, there was an “open house” afterwards which basically just means free food so I wasn’t about to leave afterwards. I mean I’m never going to see these people again probably so I might as well take advantage of the challah and alcohol. So everyone went downstairs to the kiddush thing or whatever, and there were like six long tables (it was pretty well attended), and I just sat in a corner because at this point I was getting kind of disoriented by the fluorescent lights and coming down from mild adderalls so I didn’t really care if anyone talked to me. Well, no one did. They thought I was so weird. So a couple people ended up sitting at my table; two guys, two girls, and a married couple. So there was wine on the table and the guy and the married husband started talking about the wine and how it’s from australia and somehow they turned that into a whole convo for like ten mins about the australian aspect of the wine. So the two guys went to do something and the married couple was like “So are you new here” and I was like “yeah I just came for the challah” and they looked at me like “I can’t believe you said that” and I kind of laughed because it was so fuckin stupid…

So I went to do net yad and as I was walking back this guy with some kind of developmental disorder kept trying to get my attention, and like any man trying to get my attention I was just like “thanks” and avoided eye contact. I came back and we talked or whatever and the guy decided to come back, get my attention again, and said “Welcome!” and LIKE ANY MAN TALKING TO ME FOR THE SECOND TIME IN ONE NIGHT, I said “uh thanks” and avoided eye contact. But the stupid girl at my table looked at me like “You fucker” and that’s when I started to get really annoyed because I don’t want to talk to ANY fucking man who tries to talk to me twice in one night. Because when you DO that, they will FOLLOW YOU AROUND and try to talk to you all night. I HAVE EXPERIENCE IN THIS. But that stupid girl was like “You bitch, being mean to a guy with a developmental disorder.”

So we had some lame convo or whatever and the whole thing just kind of sucked and I ended up having two cups of the wine and leaving.

Ugh. Well that’s why I didn’t do THAT for three years…

Oh, and Boston does the seltzer water thing too.

ohel sarah: a break in our regular programming

The majority position is that women don’t say kaddish yatom. The minority position is that they may. ArtScroll ‘paskens’ that it’s ‘generally frowned upon’. They are adamant enough about this that it’s mentioned at every opportunity. The thing is, there’s this book that I have called the Torah. In it there’s this commandment (Shemot 22:21-23) that God seems pretty serious about. It’s called not tormenting widows and orphans. Isaiah (Chapter 1 – it’ll be the Haftarah in a few weeks, and it’s a pretty ugly one) had a lot to say about people who were concerned with their own personal worship (in those days, sacrifice; today, prayer) to pay too much attention to the widows and orphans. Isaiah compares their insensitivity and selfishness to that of the destroyed city of Sodom. I don’t know about you, Reb Art, but I try to make it my habit not to ‘frown upon’ orphans. You want to take a position that women shouldn’t say Kaddish? Fine. But to generate a sense that one who does is doing something wrong, and to insure that any woman who does will draw the glares and frowns of everyone in the women’s section who happens to be using this siddur, well, read your own commentary on Chumash. I know, the Stone Tanach isn’t up to Yeshayahu yet, so we can’t expect your readership to be familiar with it.

ADDeRabbi, 2005

don’t judge me i’m on rumspringa

I’ve been doing this since I was about 18 or 19. That’s really weird to think about! So far “all of my adult life,” as they say, has been Judaism-themed. Or, at the beginning, philosophy-themed and philosophy of religion-themed. It’s very strange! I wonder if other people’s lives have themes. Probably not. I mean, if you got really into your major your life could become themed. I was really into theater for a while and I guess that kinda became a theme. I just assume that people pick majors that they don’t care about that much (English is a popular default), and that’s it.

I’m just more into Judaism, academically speaking at least. That has been exponentially exploding into an all-consuming hobby. Jewish sociology. I asked for Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism for my birthday, and The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World and Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution for xmas. (Last xmas I asked for some halacha book I’d found on feldheim or something.) It feels quite strange to still be reading so much about it when I’m all otd now. The BORDERLANDS! It’s like cultural appropriation now.

It’s kind of stressful because I am still a Jewish Studies major. Well ok, it was still weird even then. Especially when jews would ask me: “So, what’s your major?” “I’M STUDYING YOU PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Just awk.

So I’m on rumspringa. I mean i know I haven’t made a completely clean break, as evidenced by the fact that I’m reading Orthodox by Design right now. But no one’s really mentioned it as much as I thought would happen. Of course, there was my friend’s “So you’re not Jewish anymore?” which couldn’t have been worded more terribly but whatever. I guess if people see you wearing pants they pretty much assume and don’t have to ask questions.

I’m feeling the pressure both to go back as it were (because of my jewish studies degree like what else am I gonna do), and to never do that again (which is both external and internal, mostly internal because I don’t know how I got to the way I was and I don’t know how I’d go back to the way I was…also, not being FFB is a huge strike against your future happiness and integration, at least in new york).

I always kept saying I “didn’t like institutions,” but I have to admit that without certain institutions (drisha, hadar, and i’m just assuming NHC and perhaps pardes among others) I wouldn’t really have much reason to try anymore. And maybe that would have been a good thing.

Might as well keep plowing on and stop over thinking it..

Kratsmach post: Three year anniversary!

This leads to the obvious question at this time of year as to whether there is a heter to pronounce the name of Xmas, as opposed to Kratzmach or some other such corruption. It is exceedingly difficult to function in the modern workplace without uttering this word.

Aishdas. I love it.

Anyways, I started blogging Dec. 25, 2009. It was a fateful day. It was a philosophy blog on posterous.com. I didn’t know what blogging platforms were then, apparently. Here’s my first post! Maybe it was my second. It’s from Dec. 27, and I could have sworn I started on Dec. 25. Oh, well.

And I wondered why no one read it.

I am such a shape-shifter I don’t know when it will end. My sister told me a couple of days ago: “You always change your interests!” The RCA rabbi told me: “People your age frequently change interests.” Well, he was right. I’ve changed my major like 6 times and I’m still in the middle of changing my minor. From Music to Women’s Studies to Computer Science. I didn’t even like Computer Science until a couple of weeks ago, and now apparently I like it enough to make it my minor.

 

time for a champion (unofficial review of ‘the evolution of god’ by robert wright)

I’m torn between having this blog either be completely objective, throwing myself out into the world and seeing what happens, and documenting everything, including things that people might not like; or censoring certain things because I’ve had some surprising readers so far and who knows who might read it next? I don’t need the wrong person taking something completely out of context and getting the wrong impression.

Well anyway, that’s one of those decisions that I’m probably going to ignore anyways. I guess I don’t have much of a filter.

I’m getting pretty excited about my autobiographical graphic novel, which is currently in its planning stages. It’s supposed to be about 200 pages when it’s done, but it’s also my first one so who knows how it’s going to come out, maybe like five pages for all I know. And unlike with novels, where it’s like “Oh, here’s my autobiography even though I’m not famous,” I feel like if you have a decent story, autobio graphic novels are pretty standard fare. Anyway, the whole motif will be middleness and “losing everything,” as it were. It’s going to be pretty dramatic as soon as I decide how to dramatically end it. I have super high hopes. The working title is Get Ready for Love, after the Nick Cave song with an eerily similar theme.

-=-+-=-+-=-

It’s weird, you know? A couple of weeks ago I got this book The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, because now that I’m “over it” I wanted to get the very kind of book I’d been avoiding for the past two years. It’s all about the sociology and development of religion, from  “hunter-gatherer societies” to Christianity and Islam (not much on Judaism past the point where Christianity starts, no big surprise there). Of course, he spells out ykvk approximately 30 times per page, which I hate, and he just got done talking about how Josiah invented monolatry or whatever, which I already heard about and still hate, and I started to wonder. Why do I hate it? Why am I even resisting? Why am I writing passive-aggressive comments in the margins?

So much for being a non-biased reader.

I originally got this book (And God: A Biography by Jack Miles) because I wanted to make a clean break and I was already feeling myself being all “Oh, it’s not so bad, I’ll just be religious again,” and getting pretty nervous about this, and I’m also reading Becoming Frum by Sarah Bunin Benor, which is reeeeally bringing me back. (“The ‘hesitation click’ is a linguistic feature of Orthodox Jews.” I laughed when I first read that.) And I wanted to be like, “I should know the truth anyways, why should I be scared of the truth?”

I did take History of Ancient Israel taught by the biggest heretic ever, but lately I’m kind of into the idea of God evolving. I’ve had this cycle of questions for a while now: How can we say that God is so nice and forgiving and actually cares about us, when that’s not exactly in the texts at all? Can whatever we invent to be true of God actually come to be true? Does he react to whatever our conception is of him? These questions, as far as I’m concerned, are pretty pressing, and I’ll gladly get my answer from secular sources if need be.

The Evolution of God seems more like the usual JEDP explanation of historical events though, rather than anything too original, but then again I’m only halfway through the book. Maybe I’m just bitter because I just read 200 pages of how the Torah was written by Josiah. I had to keep reminding myself to be objective. Realistically, of course, I shouldn’t be taking it so hard. I’ve heard it all before. And, after all, “progressive Jews” believe in the JEDP theory and know all about the “multiple authors” over “many generations” and they’re fine with it. And somehow, they think the Torah is still an “inspired document,” even, rather than the result of political factionism and rebellions and whatnot. (Interestingly, Wright says the oft-quoted “light unto the nations” phrase was referring to aggressive takeover, not “gently helping the other nations learn from the Israelites,” as some would have it.)

But I’m also not about to get down with Wellhausen just because he’s in vogue. I just don’t know who to believe these days.

I don’t know how they do it–if God was invented out of El and Baal and had tons of consorts until the upper echelons decided it was tearing the country apart, and meanwhile the Israelites were only rebelling against other gods because the other nations kept putting them into vassalage, how could take it out of its political context and say, “OK, THIS text is divinely inspired (by a god invented out of El and Baal), even though it was changed to fit the different ideologies of different kings, and just happened to evolve into monotheism, even though that wasn’t exactly the point of it at all and it’s all a mistake and a huge coincidence.”

I can get into the idea that the Israelites were polytheists. But I don’t love the idea that polytheism was the actual doctrine allllllll the way up to Josiah, nor do I love the idea that devarim was a political strategy. In theory, I’m following the idea that “God works through the political strategies,” as progressive Jews say, but I am just feeling really resistant to a lot of it. (The El and Baal thing is an example.)

Because, he works through political strategies to…what? The usual line is to be a “light unto the nations,” but…I’m with Wright on that one. I don’t really think the Jewish mission is martyrdom. The whole idea sounds kinda Christian, if you ask me. But what is the mission? What is anything?

I’m feeling so 22 right now. I can feel everything crashing down to be built up again. On what? Who knows?

i don’t get children

OK so, during my time here I’ve spent my fair share of time in different people’s houses for shabbos. The majority of these people have small children. Oddly, they’re rarely over, like, ten. Maybe they get self-conscious about making guests actually have to interact with teens. I know when people think of “family” they think of small children usually, not teens. Just like when ladies say “Oh I really want a baby!!!” I always thought it was weird that they never thought about the fact that after it’s a baby you’ll still have to deal with it and stuff.

Anyway, after all this interaction with small children, I am still highly awkward around them. The awkwardness increases when a family is audacious enough to think that their guests want to see their children sing or perform or whatever. That happened once, and it was as terrible as it sounds. I felt like I was intruding in on their family moment. I hear that when people first get into Judaism and go to some family for shabbos, they’re generally taken with how it’s so nice that they have the whole family atmosphere and stuff eating at one table and other things most families don’t do no’ mo’. But for me, that particular atmosphere kinda gets me down. Children whining, babies crying, you can’t understand what they’re saying, and OK I’m going to offend some moms here but they all seem similar to me. I can’t tell children apart, OK? Yeah, that’s what it’s like.

Also, being here and in other family-oriented places has made me even more confused about the benefits of having children. They’re just…I don’t know, boring, I guess. What do you do with them? You take care of them, like a cat, and then they grow up and maybe they get slightly interesting after, like, eight or something.

I know I’m not a woman. I’ve never fawned over a baby. Sorry.

Conversion Tips ‘n’ Tricks Aggregate

I just realized, re-reading some of my older posts, that I’ve come a lot farther than I thought. And it’s weird, because two years have gone by and I’m technically no closer to converting. It’s disheartening, but at the same time I know that I did learn some things that will hopefully make me look like not a beginner.

I did write a “You Know You’re Over Conversion When…” post in August, and I think it was pretty timely, and had such sage observations as “When you’re angry with God but it’s time to daven, you don’t get an existential crisis, you just angry daven” and “You’ve stopped wondering whether it would be ‘good for you’ to join Sisterhood.”

But we all know that could never be enough. So here’s some advice for anyone who might be reading this and is having their own conversion journey. It might be bad advice. It might even be good advice. YMMV.

1.) Anything I say about conversion might not even resonate with you. I don’t like all these “And at two months, you should feel this, and at one year you should feel this” lists, and even more so I don’t like this out-of-nowhere idea that “Once you feel like you’re not ready, only then will your rabbi know you’re ready!” People will try to get in your thoughts. Get them out.

2.) I was so serious in the beginning! Don’t be so serious! It’s like when you’re a kid and you take your mistakes so seriously, but then you look back and you’re like “Oh I was such a cute little cocoa puff! Why was I so hard on myself?”

3.) Your life might go through stages. Or themes, if you will. It may make you wonder what your core personality actually is anymore. For example, first I was like “Everyone must like me!” then I was like “F you people; I’ll do what I want!” and currently I feel like a yeshiva bochur on the inside; I have internalized Matisyahu. Also, at first I was pretty adamant about being Conservative, but then I decided I didn’t like Conservative, then I decided I wanted to be non-denominational, and currently I’m Against Injustice. A couple of things that changed my life recently are 1.) The Orthodox kiruv on our campus, 2.) The documentary Trembling Before G-d, which for some sick ironic reason made me want to be frum even more, probably because of how those people stayed even though they had adversities, but it also made me want to be against injustice even more, cause those people tried so hard. You also might make “My Life Changed” lists such as this.

4.) Your experience will be radically different depending on what denomination you’re trying to go through. If you’re looking for ease, go for whichever place offers a class. Those are so easy. The two I’ve been to were Reform and Recon, though, and Reform is explicitly into converting people, which is weird to me. Anyway, if you feel like Conservative and Orthodox people are wary of you, it’s probably true. They don’t really have classes. This is probably politically incorrect, but this documentary made me think of it. Those people gave me weird “They still seem Christian” vibes. I think there are two groups of converts; those who are really going to struggle and never quite fit in, and those who will eventually fit in. I’m sure you, my readers, are the latter group. But I’ve seen quite a few potential converts who couldn’t handle it. So, that’s probably what they’re expecting of you, too. I don’t really know if I have vibes or not yet. (If I have Christian vibes, I’ll just die.) Don’t let them tell you who you are. You know if you can make it.

5.) You should learn Hebrew. There’s no question. So many doors will open; everything will make so much more sense in life. I know you might not think you “need” it. It’s like when my sister was five she used to think she wouldn’t have to learn how to read. But you must! Last year, I was really into speed davening without pausing to think about what the words meant. But now that I know a bit more it makes it much more meaningful. You might not believe this, but if you learn Hebrew, the English translations will pale so much in comparison. How can I say this enough? LEARN HEBREW.

6.) There will be easter eggs! For me, this was realizing I could understand (a lot of) what I was saying in the siddur, which happened this morning, and it was amazing. Just like that, suddenly I was like “Wow I recognize that, it’s hifil.” Did I mention you should learn Hebrew?

7.) On a sad note, you might have to deal with people who seem to want nothing but your demise. This could be fellow congregants who want to suck you into their toxic gossip, it could be a rabbi who doesn’t like you, it could be a congregant who makes sure you never dare to think you’re “one of them” yet, it could be someone who laughs at your observance, or someone who has no reservations disparaging your preferred denomination right in front of you etc. Everyone will have an opinion. Don’t let them get you down.

8.) The second year of holidays are much easier. It was so disorienting the first year; it was very weird to think of the holiday year as an endless cycle, each holiday meant to represent something totally different, and it was just too bizarre. I was used to my mom going “I cannot bear to have Christmas without a tree!” and dragging the thing out of the basement, and that only lasts one day! It was just too weird to have all these crazy eight day long holidays, with things like “customs” involved. (My family’s holiday custom, by the way, is to drive past people’s houses at night and look in their windows. It’s a cherished tradition.) But now that I’ve been through Passover already, for example, it wasn’t as bad. And I didn’t feel like such a nerd learning as I go. But I wasn’t used to holidays being such a big part of life. There’s always a holiday. But anyway, the second time around was a lot less stressful for me because I knew what to expect, I guess.

9.) If you’re getting tired of certain platitudes (usually accompanying descriptions of the holidays), like “We’re standing again at Sinai” or “On Tisha B’Av, we should also think about our impact on the environment,” stuff anyone could think up, and you’re getting frustrated with its lack of originality, well, you’re not alone there. Don’t worry, there is a lot more to things than that.

10.) I know it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s opinions and the politics and appearances, but don’t forget why you’re doing this. Also, God is there for you even when no one else is. He is on your side. He wants you to succeed.