Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

Kosher or not?

We spent the weekend in Vancouver, B.C. celebrating Chanukkah with the in-laws. My Mother-In-Law made the most delicious latkes I've had in years. She also served a wonderful brisket on the side, which sparked an interesting question for me. If she served tofu, dairy-free sour cream with it, would it be considered kosher? I struggle with the ruling against mixing chicken and dairy, because the explanations I've received seem solely based on perceptions of what you are eating.

This question brought some interesting, varying answers. They were:

1. A Chabad Rabbi told me that it would be kosher to serve dairy-free sour cream with the latkes and brisket, as long as *everyone* knows that there was no dairy.

2. My good friend Yonah (a Chassidic Rabbi) said that the meal itself is kosher, but that the mixture would be forbidden under the law of Maris Ayin, the law against misleading people. He seemed open to the idea that, if everyone was informed of the dairy-free content, then it would be permissable.

3. My husband said the prohibition comes more from how it affects the community. Most Americans would believe, "If I am eating something kosher, what does it matter what someone else thinks?" The laws were developed in a different society, however. It was (is) a Jew's responsibility to help keep his community members in touch with the mitzvot. So, if a community member sees you eating a cheeseburger (even if it is soy cheese), you are putting them in an uncomfortable position to feel like they have to correct you. If they did correct you, and they realize they were wrong, you just set them up for an embarrassing situation. Since it is forbidden to embarrass someone, you avoid even the perception of eating non-kosher food.

These varying answers are so interesting, and point to the diversity of opinions on this topic. What do you think?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shimon Peres and Madonna

Really? Does Shimon Peres have nothing better to do than meet Madonna?

Madonna toasted the Jewish new year with Israeli President Shimon Peres and declared herself an ‘ambassador for Judaism,’ local newspapers reported Sunday.
The singer, who is not Jewish, arrived in Israel Wednesday on the eve of Jewish new year to attend a conference on Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism.
Madonna met Peres at his official Jerusalem residence on Saturday evening and the two exchanged gifts, with Madonna receiving a lavishly bound copy of the Old Testament.
She gave Peres a volume of ‘The Book of Splendor,’ the guiding text of Kabbalah, inscribed ‘To Shimon Peres, the man I admire and love, Madonna,’ the Yediot Ahronot daily reported.
A Peres aide confirmed the meeting but had no details.
‘You don’t know how popular the Book of Splendor is among Hollywood actors,’ Yediot quoted Madonna as telling Peres. ‘Everyone I meet talks to me only about that. I am an ambassador for Judaism.’
Madonna, who was raised a Roman Catholic, has taken the Hebrew name Esther, and has been seen wearing a red thread on her wrist in a Jewish tradition to ward off the evil eye.
During her visit, Madonna plans to visit sites sacred to Kabbalists. It was not known how long she intends to stay.
Madonna paid her first visit to Israel three years ago on another Kabbalah-centered trip.
‘I can’t believe that I’m celebrating the new year with you in Israel,’ Maariv newspaper quoted her as telling Peres on Saturday. ‘It’s a dream come true.’

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rabbi Yonah in Seattle

From his blog

Israel: Truth vs. Propoganda

In the war of words for Israel, we must all learn how to combat anti-Israel propaganda.

I will be discussing the surge in serious anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents, most notably at University of California-Irvine; Jewish communal responses/mistakes, and empowering the Jewish community to effectively advocate for Israel. I am planning a dynamic evening - dealing a very serious and important issue. Please join us for this great program.

When: Monday, August 20, 2007; 7 – 9 pm
Where: Montlake Community Center
RSVP: RSVP Required by August 16 to
Rachel (206) 774-2216 or YLD@JewishInSeattle.org
A kosher dinner will be served.

Israel for a younger crowd

Article on Rabbi Yonah Bookstein in the JTNews

Brian J* had many reasons why he converted to Judaism, but one of them was Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

A year and a half ago, J* discovered Bookstein’s podcasts, which address Jewish perspectives on topics ranging from sex to plastic surgery, and began downloading them on iTunes. With a conversational teaching style, J* thought Bookstein wasn’t boring, like some of the other rabbis he’d heard.

J* so enjoyed Bookstein’s approach to Judaism that he sparked a friendship with the rabbi. When J* and his partner, Michael, traveled to southern California to visit family, he made a point of meeting Bookstein, who serves as rabbi at California State University–Long Beach Hillel and the Hillel Foundation of Orange County.

J* expected his sexual preference might be a problem for an observant rabbi, but received a different response.

“He wanted to know when I was going to have kids?” recalled J*. “I was like, ‘What?’ It was totally out of the ballpark for me.”

In more ways than one, Bookstein is not an ordinary rabbi. An alum of the labor Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, a largely secular organization, he was ordained by a traditional Orthodox seminary but refuses to identify with any particular movement of Judaism. He even lost some potential funding for rabbinical school after failing to express fidelity to any of the major branches.

In the age of the Internet, he has effectively used the Web to reach out to a large number of young Jews, not only with podcasts and MySpace pages, but as a writer on the blog Jewlicious, which attracts approximately 10,000 visitors a day. The popularity of the blog has grown so that Bookstein now organizes an annual Jewlicious Festival on Long Beach that attracts young Jews from

around the country with music, comedy, food and late-night Kabbalah discussions.

He has also earned a reputation as a forceful defender of Israel, not an easy job for a Hillel rabbi whose turf includes the University of California–Irvine, widely considered the most anti-Israel campus in the United States by advocates for the Jewish State. The bloggers on Jewlicious represent a range of religious and political perspectives, but share an unabashedly pro-Israel stance.

After their meeting, J* looked for funding to bring Bookstein to Seattle to speak. When the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s Young Leadership Division received a grant from the David Foundation to be used for Israel advocacy, he recommended they bring Bookstein. So YLD invited him.

He will be speaking on Aug. 20 on the topic “Israel: Truth vs. Propaganda.”

Bookstein’s Israel advocacy began as a teenager with Habonim Dror, but intensified after a stint living in Israel that coincided with the first intifada.

“When I returned to the United States I was out of my little shtetl and realized there were so many people with misinformation about Israel and about the various conflicts that Israel was in,” Bookstein told JTNews.

As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, Bookstein attempted to create a “pro-Israel, pro-peace movement,” and three years ago returned to working on campuses, “thrust into the epicenter of the most radicalized campus and, basically, region in the country,” he said.

Bookstein said that nothing could have prepared him for U.C. Irvine. He accuses administrators of doing nothing to address what he sees as widespread anti-Semitism. The Jewish community, which he said is “passionately pro-Israel,” has been divided over the best strategy to engage the university, many preferring to keep a low profile while working with the school behind the scenes.

“The only thing that all the Jewish organizations can agree on is that the university is doing a bad job,” he said. “The fact that the university still does not acknowledge publicly that they have a problem is a major source of consideration by parents, who are thinking twice about sending their kids to the school. It’s exactly the opposite of what I would love to see.”

But the experience has also taught him techniques “to win people to a pro-Israel perspective and to help Jews not feel powerless in the face of a growing anti-Israel sentiment,” he said.

He has had success building alliances with disparate groups. Many people do support Israel, he said, and he has organized venues where they can show off that support publicly.

“I’d like to very much take the dialogue out of the Jewish-Muslim conflict and put it into a much larger context,” said Bookstein. “Israel is the only country which has protections in the region for minorities. It has protections for gays and lesbians and other minorities. Those groups are natural allies in our efforts.”

At the helm of the one of the most popular Jewish blogs on the Web, he is also an advocate of using the technology for Israel advocacy.

“If you want to engage people, you have to be where they are,” he said. “I think the advocacy community has been better at using the Internet than other segments of the Jewish community.”

Though he has had success, Bookstein is still quite sober about the current state of Jewish life and the future of Israel. He observes a growing chasm between American Jews and Israel and is as nervous as many Israel supporters about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

“Israel faces a serious threat to its existence,” said Bookstein. “It’s a more hostile environment for Israel than I’ve ever seen. I think our work on Israel needs to be better than before. That the world community is openly discussing whether Israel was a good idea is an issue that should concern every single Jew.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rocketboom in Israel

The video blog called Rocketboom had a series of videos where they visited Israel. They were very interesting, and strangely unbiased. Who knew? I particularly enjoyed the last one.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Dude, where's my blog?

Yes, I've been a bit out of the loop with the blog. Summers keep us Community Center Directors busy. In spite of that, though, I am finding my connection with Judaism growing deeper and deeper each week.

I find that, by Friday, I can't wait to walk into the warm embrace of Shabbat. While I am not traditionally shomer Shabbos, I definitely mark the day different from the rest of the week, both in my choices and my mentality. The cell phone is put away, the "to-do" list is pushed out of my head, and I simply take in life.

I am trying to get more disciplined with studying Torah on Shabbat; I feel so fulfilled once I finish my lesson. M and I have also found another community to spend Shabbat with and making connections there.

Most exciting: we have booked a trip to Israel with the Federation and are going in February. I am also planning on taking a few classes with a local Orthodox Rabbi, possibly on Talmud or Modern Hebrew.

Most important than any of this: becoming Jewish has provided me with grounding I never knew before. No matter what the temporary annoyance, stress, or burden, I find myself focusing on the word Hashem, reminding myself that I am connected to something greater than me and that there is some reason why this temporary discomfort is present in my life. This has helped me become a better person in every aspect of my life, and I have a greater appreciation of every day I am alive.

Not to say it's all been a honeymoon, but I prefer to write about this for now. More later....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are you Polish?

Today was Seattle's Gay Pride Parade. I attended, complete with my wedding ring and kippah. I believe it's important to be present, as a married, religious member of the community.

That said, I struggle so much with many aspects of the gay community, including its ego-driven, body-image obsessed, over-sexualized, corporate-influenced set of values. Not really anything different from the general society, but I wish that the gay community could focus more on celebrating our diverse identities, and less on looking physically attractive, getting laid, and buying the latest in-fashions. The parts of the community I like are overshadowed by these more dominant, negative ones.

On a heart-warming level, I received a lot of curious glances and warm smiles beause of my kippah. Many people loved it, because it has characters from The Simpsons on it. Others were impressed that someone was visibly Jewish at the festival. One German woman asked me if I was Polish, and what Polish city I was from. I kindly laughed, saying I was not Polish, my mother is from Ireland, and I was raised in Seattle. She laughed, telling me I had a nice beard, and beautiful, smiling eyes - the kind she had only seen in Poland and Germany before.

How curious.

Apart from a lot of hatred that exists out there for Jews, there are also those folks that respond quite warmly to someone visibly Jewish. There is something that seems to pique people's interest. When I am wearing a kippah, more people approach me to ask for directions, comment on what I am wearing, or make any other approached toward me.

It makes me wonder what positive aspects and traits people project onto Jewish folks. If they do not have hateful assumptions, I wonder why they assume good. Is it guilt from history? Is it personal, positive experiences? Or is it just me?

Who knows. Every time I wear a yamulke in public, the reacton is generally positive and striking. Maybe the difference is with how I take the world in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Driver's 10 Commandments

This is the first release from the Vatican that I find meaningful...the Pope released the 10 Commandments for drivers. Would be nice to see some better behavior on the roads, these days...

The "Drivers' Ten Commandments," as listed by the document, are:

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What the f$&%?

A Friday funny of sorts, although one wonders if this bizarre story is truly funny or not. And, no, this is not a piece from The Onion.

Pentagon Confirms it sought to create a "gay bomb."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Music of the World

Another quote from Ask Moses

Two other spiritual capacities play the music of the body – Mind and Emotions. The instruments of Mind are the flow of thoughts, and the instruments of Emotion are the flow of words. The masterful individual orchestrates thoughts and words so that the music of the world is heard more serenely.

This one has particular significance for me, since (in the past) I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. Most of them spanned from poor mental habits, where I was not dealing with life in an effective manner. In short, I tried to control everything.

This quote points out that the "music" of the world happens, and it's up to each of us to hear it correctly. Perception is tricky, and can be marred by emotional baggage, bad emotional habits, or faulty assumptions. This is the core of a lot of our problems in America; since most of us our living comfortably, we have become less disciplined in our approach to life, preferring a more self-centered, "all about me" focus. This will invariably lead to moral relavatism, laziness, and breakdown of our communities. Perhaps it already has....

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ponder this

From askmoses.com

The Synergy of Harmony

A Hassidic adage teaches that two people speaking together elicit a synergy of their higher souls to overcome their individual temptations. Speaking to and with each other, as brothers and sisters, overcomes all adversities. But the operative term is ‘as brothers and sisters’.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Upcoming Bashert Event

You’re Invited: June 21, 7pm
Roundtable Discussion: Coming Out and Staying In: Your Jewish Family and Community

For lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) people, coming out in a Jewish family can mean risking separation from an important part of one’s identity. Even when family members are supportive, coming out can test the entire family’s relationship to the larger Jewish community.

Bashert, the LGBT initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, is sponsoring "Coming Out and Staying In," a roundtable discussion of the concerns families have when a child or other family member comes out, and how our Jewish community can become more welcoming and inclusive.

The program is open to everyone in the community who is interested, especially LGBT Jews; parents and other family members of LGBT people; and their friends and supporters.

This event is co-sponsored by Jewish Family Service.

Date: Thursday, June 21, 2007

Time: 7pm (8:15pm Kosher dessert reception)

Hillel at University of Washington
4745 17th Ave NE
Seattle , WA 98105

Rabbi Will Berkovitz, moderator (Yay! Rabbi Will!)
Robin and Sara Boehler
Dr. Ted and Andy Kohler
Don Armstrong, Jewish Family Service
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

You may RSVP to this invitation at Bashert@JewishInSeattle.org. Please provide your name and email address. You have the option of providing your home or business address and phone number. The JFGS does not share mailing list information.

For more information about Bashert or this event, please contact Cheryl at CherylS@JewishInSeattle.org or at the Federation on (206) 774-2231.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

All Apologies

I took my previous post down because, while filled with some real humor, I realized that it was Lashon Hora. I stand corrected and will certainly avoid such entries again.

Nevertheless, I do want to blog about my experience at Rabbi Lapin's house on Saturday night. I left the evening feeling both enlightened and uncomfortable. This discomfort remains with me.

There is a disturbing trend in America, where people allow the more selfish aspects of capitalism to intersect with strong religious belief. With this mix, you get a slate of baby boomers who led self-indulgent lives in their youth, now "saved" by whatever religion and claiming to be working on G-d's behalf when voting on any particular social cause.

I do not accuse Rabbi Lapin of this, particularly. However, I do take issue with how he takes his personal views on issues and uses Torah to justify them. For example, he equated recycling with idolatry, explaning that people leading non-religious lives offer the separation of their garbage as their "sacrifice" or "offering." He then went on to quote one article claiming that all garbage and recycling go to the same place. Recycling and environmentalism, to Rabbi Lapin, have become the new secular religion and it achieves nothing.

While there is plenty of legitemate criticisms of environmentalism and recycling, Rabbi Lapin went beyond that scope. He simply used Torah to justify choosing not reuse and recycle. Even if a quarter of what we recycle is reused, isn't that enough of a reason to do it? Does Torah not teach that we are the stewards of the Earth? Rabi Lapin would have us believe we need not recycle, because Hashem will provide everything we need.

I feel this same discomfort from any religious figure, whether you are justifying the war or celebrating the 2006 election as a gift from G-d. But, the conservative end of the spectrum has certainly allowed Capitalism to influence how and why it is religious.

Another bothersome point brought up was his interpretation of "my cup runneth over." He taught last night that our cup needs to be full first, so that whatever runs over we share with others. Well, what is the definition of "full" and what is the "run over?" I have read some of his teachings before, and he has said many times that G-d wants us all to be rich and this is something to strive for.

Good Grief. This is so antithetical to anything I've been taught or believe; I just don't know what to do with it. Most unfortunate was that I found a lot of his teaching uplifting and enlightening, but I could not completely buy into him because of these other aspects.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jews run the gay agenda, too!

A blogger in Canada lists the "Jews" who run the radical, gay agenda. Too bad a number of these folks aren't Jewish, most notably the very Catholic Dan Savage.

The Jews are so gay!

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Devil Came On Horseback

M and I saw The Devil Came on Horseback today at the Seattle International Film Festival.

The film showcases Brian Steidle, a U.S. Marine who was assigned to investigate the Darfur region of Sudan in 2003, to determine whether or not a genocide was occurring. What develops is not just the horrifying events in Darfur, but the story of Brian's eyes opening up to how corrupt political powers in the world allow atrocities like Darfur to happen and explores why it has yet to be stopped. The viewer is left with a set of tools to help increase the visibility of this crisis in America, because the people of Sudan are depending on us to help them.

The film was incredibly powerful and moving, for many apparent reasons. I could go on and on about the grace injustices of the film or how horrifying it is; instead, I am encouraging everyone out there to see this film when it comes to your area. You can also go to the web site (linked above) and request a screening in your area.

I know there are a number of activists who read my posts, and this film is the perfect tool to begin discussion and push people into action.

There is no word to describe how awful the effects of corrupt governments have on people in this world. The Arab and Muslim leaders in this world have a responsibility to help these citizens, fellow Muslims, and racism keeps them from doing anything. China is just now beginning to change its partnerships with Sudan, but not enough to get people to stop calling next year's Olympics the Genocide Olympics.

My hope is that enough awareness can be drummed up in the next year, so that the American athletes going to Beijing might very well be placed in a position to raise awareness about China's connection to the atrocities in Darfur. One can only hope people in the positions to create such visibility have the conscience to see that it is right. I plan to write the U.S. Olympic Committee, requesting that they have www.savedarfur.org sewn into every, official Olympic uniforms made for the athletes. This is a prime opportunity for the world's focus to shift to Darfur, and its high time as well...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sasquatch Music Festival

I had the pleasure of attending the Sasquatch Music Festival yesterday, a large, indie rock festival held at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA. The amphitheatre setting is absolutely amazing, as it overlooks a large gorge and the Columbia River.

Besides seeing Bjork (amazing!), Beastie Boys (fun!), Ghostland Observatory (hysterical!), and others...there was a Heeb Tent. The tent promised much Jew-centric entertainment, and my friend K and I looked at each other puzzled. We were convinced we were the only 2 Jews attending (exaggeration), but looked forward to viewing the tent. Unfortunately, the Beastie Boys (Jews...so I guess, five in attendance?) kept us sufficiently distracted that we missed the small window Heeb had their tent.

We were simply impressed by the presence of Jewish stuff in this festival....not many Jew-centric things occur in Washington.

Shavuous Recap

The service on Tuesday was the smallest I've attended, since M and I started going to Kol Haneshamah 4 years ago. I was a little disappointed by the low attendance, as I was excited to share my Dvar with our usually large group. But, those in attendance were those meant to hear my words, I guess.

The Dvar went off well, and seemed to resonate with a number of attendees. During the potluck following, many people asked me more questions about my journey, Rabbi Yonah, and how I came to really feel welcome in Judaism. It felt wonderful, both because I finally found the words the accurately describe my experience and that I was able to share it with my community.

And, Jews being Jews, I have now been approached to join two synagogue committees and asked to give another Dvar during high holidays. LOL - my Rabbi told me I had a honeymoom period with Judaism for 2 years, but this seems to have gone out the window with him being on paternity leave.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dvar for Shavuous

On Tuesday night, I will be giving a Dvar for Shavuous. I have been asked to speak about my “aha” moment in choosing to convert. While I had many such moments, I focused on one that I felt tied right into Shavuous and receiving the Torah. Enjoy!

On Shavuous, we celebrate receiving the Torah from G-d. At its core, the Torah can be seen as the most profound act of love from G-d to his children; much like the parent of an unruly child, G-d provides rules, boundaries, expectations, and encouragement, so the Jews may grow further as a people. The Torah is G-d’s form of tough love; love that inspires us to grow with every passing year.

Looking beyond the events at Mt. Sinai, I also like to approach Shavuous as a time to reflect on how we give each other the “Torah.” Not in the sense of literally handing each other stone tablets or rolls of parchment paper; instead, how are we giving a piece of Torah to one another, inspiring each other to grow?

My “aha” moment came from an act of love, of true acceptance and connection; a passing of the Torah, if you will.

I began my journey toward the mikveh three years ago, bowing out for a time as I struggled with my anger against organized religion. Throughout my life, I felt a strong connection to G-d; however, in religion I saw an archaic, meaningless institution that people used to either pacify their existential fears or wield power over others.

I wanted nothing to do with this, even though I felt very connected to the Jewish people and loved the traditions I had been sharing with my husband Michael.

So, I wandered for almost 2 years, making no personal commitment to Judaism, but living a Jewish life in my home and attending synagogue. Finally, after healing some of my wounds and wanting to make more definitive commitments in my life, I decided to resume my journey last year on Yom Kippur.

While this decision came from wanting a deeper relationship with G-d through Judaism, it was not my “aha” moment. I resumed my journey intent on firmly deciding whether or not to commit to the Jewish people. I no longer wanted to waffle, for I saw this indecision as disrespectful to the Jewish community.

Instead, my “aha” moment came from the most unlikely of sources: a Chassidic Rabbi. Anyone who knows me understands that I am both stubborn and skeptical, and also resistant of authority when it doesn’t make sense to me. I came to see the Orthodox movement as something to resist and criticize.

One day, I was searching online for lectures on Judaism and came across a Rabbi named Yonah Bookstein. I found his lectures energizing and inspiring; Yonah took seemingly mundane concepts and laws from Torah, placing them firmly in our modern world, demonstrating how they can be both practiced and meaningful. I was fascinated by this very halachicly traditional Rabbi, with a very non-traditional approach to teaching and existing.

I had the pleasure of meeting him last December, and we visited for about two hours. We had been conversing occasionally over e-mail for about a year prior, so he knew I was on the road to conversion; he was very pleased. Also knowing I was married, he asked how Michael and I met. He then asked me when we were going to have kids. I stuttered a bit, mentioning that we weren’t quite ready to have children. “Well, why not?” he said, “Having children is amongst the greatest mitvot men can fulfill.”

This seemingly small, typical moment of Jews pressuring others to have children was my “aha” moment. Here I sat across from a Chassidic Rabbi, swapping life experiences and having a great time, and he is pressuring me and my husband to have children. While many religious leaders would encourage Michael and I to never come into contact with a child, here I sat across from one concerned I had yet to parent one.

This was a profoundly healing moment for me. Even though I know most Orthodox people would not consider me a Jew, having a connection with one who has since welcomed me to the tribe is enough to confirm for me that Judaism has a place for me at the table. Rabbi Yonah prodding me about having children was a moment where I was regarded as a 1st class citizen; a stark contrast to my Catholic priest expecting me to live my life hidden in shame and wanting me to believe that G-d simply made a mistake when creating me.

I understand that Rabbi Yonah has particular halachic obligations, and might very well hold differing opinions from me on homosexuality. I have no qualms about disagreement and debate. However, I left our time together flying high, having exchanged the love of G-d’s Torah with this wonderful man, because we both looked beyond our labels and connected with one another as fellow human beings. Finding ways to truly connect with one another, I believe, is at the core of Torah’s numerous lessons.

True human connections in life are scarce, but Hashem has truly blessed me with many wonderful people, including my husband Michael, my parents Leo and Maggie Judd, my best friend Joe, and Rabbis Michael and Yonah, all of whom inspired me to grow during my journey toward the mikveh. Receiving the love and lessons of the Torah, both in study and through these relationships, has been one of the true gifts of my life. I look forward to the inspiration these gifts will provide me as I continue my life journey as a Jew.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Reflections for Shavuous

On Shavuous, I will be reading from the Book of Ruth. I will also be giving a D'Var Torah on what my "aha" experience that led me to my choice.

This task has sent me on a lenghty bout of reflection and questioning. What am I doing with my life? Where am I going? What could Hashem possibly have in store for me.

One of the most powerful realizations I had was, looking back at the first 30 years of my life, all the most memorable, powerful, and life-changing events/moments in my life have been unexpected and unplanned by me. That goes to show just how much control we have over our lives and their directions.

I was heard someone say that G-d gave us gifts and talents, and we are merely the managers of these gifts. Life is a gift; it is enjoyed on borrowed time, with a lot of guidance and influence from Hashem. Once we stop fighting that aspect of our lives, peace can return. For an anxious personality like me, this lesson truly resonates with me and has made me a much happier, productive person.

I'm not sure if that will be part of my Shavuous thought, but it is certainly what is resonating with me tonight.

Daily Thought

I have been struggling a bit this week with various aspects of my life. This daily thought from askmoses.com couldn't have come on a better day to remind me of a few things I already knew. You gotta hand it to those Chabad folks.....

True self discovery is a process of transformation, changing who you were until now to reveal your full potential.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Letter to Senator Murray

Dear Senator Murray

This correspondence concerns the recently passed House Bill #1591, setting a date to begin pulling American troops out of Iraq on October 1st, 2007.

In 2002, I felt a strong sense of pride and relief when you voted against the Senate Iraq resolution. It was wonderful to see one of my Senators stand up in the face of strong opposition, and make the ethical, right choice to not support this wholly unethical action.

Unfortunately, the majority of our elected officals and citizens did not side with you, and we invaded Iraq. While Saddam Hussein's removal was a good thing, we have not provided the Iraqi people with a foundation with which to build a solid, stable government.

I am writing you to ask, when this Bill reaches the Senate floor, that you vote in opposition of this time-line. I am not a supporter of our presence in Iraq, but I believe we now have both a political and moral responsibility to fix what we have broken. Leaving our military in place to keep Iraq from moving into full-scale civil war and genocide is a piece to this difficult puzzle.

I ask, instead, that you lead Congressional Democrats to remain involved in the strategic planning for Iraq, ensuring that we are making decisions that are in the best interest of the Iraqi citizens, and not in the interest of American imperialism or materialism.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

This is the view from my office window. I took a moment yesterday to take this, and to remember how blessed I am to live in a beautiful area, with a loving husband and family, wonderful job, and a great community.

Good Shabbos, indeed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I am a Jew

From right to left: Rabbi Michael Latz, myself, Rabbi Will Berkowitz, and Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg with her beautiful baby son.

Today was the big day. My husband, my best friend, and I arrived about 20 minutes early. We enjoyed the Spring sun. When the Rabbi’s arrived, we headed into the front room of the mikveh. The mikveh was much more modern than I expected it to be, very new, and very nice.

It was exciting to speak with the Bet Din before immersion. I also found is frustrating, as they all posed some significant, meaty questions. While they seemed to enjoy my answers, I never felt like I could quite express myself as well as I wanted. Being that these questions are often ones pondered through the ages, I guess I should lighten up on myself.

After about 30 minutes, our dialogue was finished and I was excused. Five minutes later, I was called to immerse in the mikveh. I showered and dried off. My husband served as my witness and the Rabbi’s stood outside the door, thank goodness. I am not shy, but my Rabbis do not need to see me naked. No reason, no way.

I immersed three times, saying the three separate prayers. Coming up the third time, I emerged as a Jew. I dried off (again), got dressed, and went out into the front room. There, I signed my conversion certificate, with both my given name and my Hebrew name, in Hebrew no less.

Then each person in the room left me with such kind words, I was overwhelmed and speechless. Most notably was Rabbi Rabbi Kinberg, who said that she was honored to be a member of my tribe. I am still astounded by those words.

I left feeling different, and not so different. While I am happy, fulfilled, and pleased, I am also feeling disoriented. My goal was the conversion; now what? Where am I headed? Where am I going? What am I striving for? Clearly, I am always seeking a closer relationship with Hashem, my Jewish community, and the global community. But, where in the world do I begin to do these things as a newly converted Jew?

I guess I just begin wherever I start. What a wonderful, alive day this has been

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dine for Darfur

I was at Top Pot Doughnuts, where one can find the best doughnuts EVER. As I was pouring cream in my coffee, I saw a Dine for Darfurevent advertisement. I was excited, as the situation in Darfur is horrific and in dire need of international intervention.

My excitement sank when I saw the date was April 3rd. Right in the middle of Passover.

Normally, I do not worry about such scheduling conflict. Seattle has a small Jewish community and we can only expect a certain level of consideration. Most the time the majority, rightfully, wins out.

But, the American Jewish community has been at the forefront of creating higher visibility of the problems in Darfur. We were the ones that have been making the noise about the genocide in America, perking up the ears of our elected officials and fellow citizens. I admit it felt like a slap in the face to not consider scheduling it around Passover. More likely, a calendar was not even consulted when scheduling the event.

Not only am I disappointed by the date, but also because a good number in the Jewish community will not be able to dine out and support this event. They will raise less money and offer less support.

I wrote a letter, expressing this disappointment and hope they will consider the Jewish calendar the next time an event like this is scheduled.

Mohel Visit

I just returned from visiting the Mohel. I decided to do the Hatafat Dam Brit separate from Thursday’s ceremony, to give me one less thing to think about. I was not very concerned about the ritual, even with the ridiculous amount of “sensitivity” we men feel about “the area.”

It only took a few minutes and was painless. Dr. Biback was very nice and friendly. While on the surface inconsequential, I found the ritual to be a nice event to mark this identity change in my life. On to the mikveh on Thursday.

On a side note, I think this will be the only time I will have trees planted in Israel in exchange for a man to touch my penis. I found this thought entirely too amusing on my ride hom

Friday, March 23, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

Enjoy Madonna turning her hit "Holiday" into a world peace anthem. Mixing Madonna and Shabbat; how blasphemous, but utterly fabulous.

Get over yourself and enjoy it. You know you want to.

I Heart Madonna


Okay, I admit it. I love Madonna. I love everything about her. I can't help it. I am gay. For gay men, one-half of the gay gene also includes codes for loving Madonna. We are enslaved by it; have pity on us.

10 years ago, her involvement with the LA-based Kabbalah Center garnered much press and attention. Nobody knew about this obscure offshoot of Judaism, and 10 years later people still know very little about it. The word Kabbalah being attached to Madonna's image has, unfortunately, cheapened the meaning of this incredibly powerful word. It denotes an esoteric, beautiful mystical tradition from the Middle Ages that seemed to tap into the very essence of G-d, separate from any institution human created. But, it it still distinctly Jewish and completely incomprehensible by yours truly.

As I have watched Madonna's career embrace more and more Kabbalistic imagery, from esoteric lyrics to displaying the various Hebrew names of G-d in her concerts, I wondered what affect her "spirituality" would have on the rest of us. Love her or hate her, she is an important figure in our culture. Would displaying the names of G-d have an impact on spectators? Would singing her hit "Holiday" in front of the Israeli and Palestinian flags inspire people to strive for peace in the Middle East? Will her work in Malawi, setting up a Kabbalah Center there, really do anything for humanity?

You have to admire Madonna's efforts. Once a completely narcissistic figure, she is truly trying to do some good things with her money, power, image, and attention. But, will it achieve anything at all? It might make some small, positive changes, but it is going to take more than Madonna dancing around in front of flags and building a few buildings in Malawi to create real change in the world.

And is the perverted version of mysticism that the Kabbalah Center passes off as valuable make any difference? Or is it simply creating yet another vessel of self-indulgence for the people who have too much and know too little? On the flip-side, are more religion traditions created for people who have little, so they can feel they know more than they do and find comfort?

These reflections I am typing may seem silly, but they contain an important question of our time. As people send all their criticism towards visible people like Madonna, how valuable are our own religious traditions? Are we really any more different than Madonna, in the sense that each of us wants to simply do something good and belong to something that enriches our lives. If we led the unusual life of a cultural icon, would we also belong to strange sects of mysticism, that make strange sense to us?

For me, Judaism clarified a strange existence. I did not feel any sense of belonging in my religious life, but always felt a spiritual connection to G-d. I finally found a system where I have a place at the table and feel closer to Hashem as a result. It is wonderful. Some might find my upcoming conversion as silly as donning a red string on my left wrist. Does this mean I am wrong or damaging the people around me? Who knows; I just want to try to lead the best life that I can.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quote from my Rabbi

A conversation I had with Rabbi Latz yesterday. I was a little nervous about my upcoming conversion.

Me: "Are you sure I'm ready? Are you sure I would burn down right in front of the Bet Din?"

Rabbi Latz: "Yes, of course you are ready. No, there will be no burning at the ceremony. It's the people you come from that do the burning, not us."


The convert's point of view

My husband and I got into a conversation on Tuesday. It upset me, not because he said anything hurtful, but because I realized there was an aspect to my Jewish identity I could never share with him.

The convert’s Jewish experience is radically different, in the sense that we will often have to justify our jewish-ness, or even prove to some that we are, in fact, Jewish.

Our conversation brought to mind scenarios I might face in the future (moving and changing synagogues, travelling to Israel etc.) where I might very well have to prove to people that I am Jewish. Especially if they choose to regard my conversion as not halachic.

It’s a difficult thing to put into words. When going through the learning, growing, and exploration of conversion, you are relegated to a school child again. One is constantly looking externally to learn, be inspired, and, yes, receive approval. But, at the same time, the process is a very internal, personal communion with G-d. I am perfectly comfortable with my journey in joining the Jewish people, but I might encounter important people in the future who will simply not acknowledge me as Jew. This is not something that people born to a Jewish Mother ever have to face, no matter how disconnected from their heritage they might be. All the more reason for the convert (me) to become more resolute in their identity and faith.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Stupid Pope

I did not grow up with the movie-of-the-week Catholicism. I do not feel guilty all the time, nuns never hit me with rulers, and my family doesn’t hate me because I am gay or becoming Jewish.

Regardless, the structure and expectations of the Church are both absolutely ridiculous. Unlike some folks, I am unable to authentically engage in an institution that I find hypocritical and full of nonsense.

A good example is this news release. With everything going on in the world, right at this moment, the grand ‘ol Pope decides that every Catholic politician needs to oppose gay marriage. Read: every AMERICAN politician needs to be against it, because the current Pope is only concerned with what America and Israel are doing.

This is not a personal reaction from gay man; rather, it is a reaction to the hypocrisy of the Church on several social issues that It refuses to have in any real way. The Church refuses to reconsider its view on contraception, despite the fact that reconsidering might save millions of lives in Africa. If it took an open-minded, reasonable approach to homosexuality (specifically gay men), more people would connect with the Church, have a fulfilled spiritual life with a community, and children of gay parents would not be ostracized from the Catholic community. And on euthanasia, there is a perfectly reasonable argument to be made that the merciful, G-dful act is to let someone’s suffering end, and to have that decision rest with the families - not religious or government entities faithful to ideology, not people.

News articles like make me sick to my stomach, because millions of lives are affected by the words of this deplorable man. The leadership in the Church is only concerned with wielding power and slowing down change, to assuage their own existential fears at the expense of others. Many local Catholic communities are healthy places for people, but they have no real mechanism to affect change because the hierarchy is so top heavy.

Hence, the decentralized nature of Judaism is quite appealing. Although far from perfect, I believe Judaism is a more humane religion, allowing imperfect people a chance to authentically strive for a close relationship with G-d, regardless of any aspect of their life. This is what Jesus taught people; he taught Jewish lessons.

Maybe the Pope should take some cues from the Jews he used to hate so much during his Hitler Youth days.

Conversion on my mind

I just made the appointment for my Hatafat Dam Brit. I have been thinking about my upcoming conversion ceremony a lot today; it’s only one week away.

I have been taking stock of my life up to this point and how I made it here. I feel truly blessed that I am joining the Jewish people; I truly feel like my soul is coming home.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Morning Minyan

I attended morning minyan at Congregation Beth Shalom this morning. I arrived 10 minutes early, with Father-In-Law’s tefillin in hand. I have no idea how to put it on, but was hoping someone at the service would help me out.

I was the first to arrive, even before the lay leaders. When they let me in, I put on a tallis and simply sat for services to begin. The couple leading the service were quite nice to me, asking where I was from, if I was here for a yarzeit, etc. I explained that I am converting at the end of the month and that this was my first morning minyan experience. They were pleased and welcomed me.

The men who arrived with me as the service began did not don tefillin, so I set it aside for the time being. A 1/2 hour later, I looked behind me and saw 8-10 men who had arrived late....and they all had tefillin on. So, I did not get a chance to ask anyone to help me, but maybe another time.

The service itself was more rushed and routine than the services at Kol HaNeshamah. I have a difficult time being in a service where I feel the prayers and rituals are being rushed, in order to get out on time. But, I also understand that for a daily routine, it is just that. Routine.

But, at what point does prayer become routine? To me prayer is akin to meditation, a method to take some time to connect with Hashem and let worldly distractions go to the wayside.

These feelings aside, this morning was the most welcomed I felt at Beth Shalom. In the past, I have felt like an outsider, especially because no one would ever speak to me or my husband much. At first I thought it might the gay thing, but they have a number of same-sex couples. I realized this was an old congregation and most folks had been there for a long time, some for generations. This probably contributes to habits of being an insular community.

I did enjoy the service, and will probably return sometime this week or early next week. I am also going to join an Orthodox minyan soon, to have that experience as well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hebrew Class

I am almost finished with my Hebrew class, and am glad it is coming to a close. I chose to recite the V'ahavta to the class last week; although I missed a few of the gutterals, I was quite pleased with how I was able to chug through it.

Hebrew is not a difficult language to learn in terms of the basics. But, the speed of my reading has improved very little. This will take much more time, especially when praying in services.

Hee hee

Friday, February 23, 2007

Another blog

I'll be doing some "official" blogging under another site, while keeping this one for more personal reflections.

The other blog is also called Almost Kosher, and can be found on www.jew-ish.com.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.

Friday, February 16, 2007

My Hebrew Name

I have chosen my Hebrew name. It is Yehuda (or Yehudah). It is the Hebrew root of my last name. I thought of it as a nice, symbolic bridge between my family name and Jewish identity. My parents have been so supportive of me throughout many decisions I've made, including converting, I thought I would honor them with this.

They Like Me!

I have been approached to do a professional blog with jew-ish.com. They are actually paying me to write from my viewpoint. How cool is that? I'll link up to it here as it gets going.

Nothing much new on the conversion journey front. I am keeping on with reading, learning, and growing. I am quite proficient with my Hebrew, which is pleasing after only 5 months or so. I am preparing to read the V'ahavta in front of the class. It's a challenging prayer to learn, but I am getting it.....

M and I might be going to Israel in October for 2 weeks, just in time for my 30th birthday. More on that later.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Conversion Date

March 29th is the day I'll be visiting the Mikveh. I am so excited. My symbolic rite of circumcision (I always forget the Hebrew name) is the day before.

This is truly remarkable for me.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Soulfully Satisfying

This is the term I have come up with to describe the feeling through my body after attending shul, Torah study, Hebrew class, reading more about Judaism, etc.

For the first time in my life, I feel nourished by a religious and spiritual tradition, beyond my own belief that G-d exists.

This is truly wonderful, and words cannot fully describe it.

Many have asked me why I am leaving Catholicism. Is it because I am gay, jaded, or just disenfranchised?

It's not quite that simple. As I have told people in the past, my experience of Catholicism would not make for an exciting Lifetime movie.

The best answer I can come up for people is that there is room for me in Judaism. There is a space in Judaism where I can authentically be me, as G-d created me.

That doesn't mean I don't need to grow and change; certainly Judaism teaches us we must constantly struggle to grow and reach new heights. But, Judaism is the only tradition I have found that truly honors struggling, doubting, and striving.

This weekend, in his sermon, my Rabbi said that doubting, challenging, fearing, and worrying were just as much a part of the Covenant as celebrating, honoring, and loving G-d.

It was this moment that it dawned on me - my experience of Christianity is that everyone's experience of the traditions needs to be the same. You have to believe certain things, you have to feel a certain way about those beliefs, and if you doubt certain core, beliefs, there is shock and horror amongst the "believers."

In Judaism, I am allowed to learn about, struggle with, doubt, fear, love, celebrate, and honor G-d....all at the same time.

I am not sure if anyone else can identify with this experience, but it has been truly profound for me. This weekend marks the point in my life where I realized I am truly ready to convert and life my life as a Jew.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Adult Torah Study

On Saturday morning, I attended my Shul's Adult Torah study class before services. I found it incredibly stimulating, as it reminded me of some of my great classes in college.

We sat in a circle, read through a Torah portion, and discussed its various aspects for over an hour. Included in this was not just dissecting the text, but people provided their unique perspective for what the portion said to them.

It reenergized me, as my interest in studying waned during the holidays. Part of that was due to my high energy around it before, and it was simply the cosmos balancing itself out. But, I have been plagued by certain doubts about what kind of religion was "right" and "wrong."

Being raised Christian, I am coming face to face with what I was taught my entire life. While I certainly do not believe that Judaism is a wrong path, the junk idea that Christianity is the only way to salvation remains with me in a childish way, much like bad habits that need to be shaken off.

The class reminded me of how G-d is present for all people, regardless of tradition. He is simply waiting for us to find him, for he already holds us in his hands.