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."


Nice.

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

Me

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.