Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
What does one say about these sorts of things? I've never been particularly articulate at moments like these. Before Shabbos, most Jews around the world were praying for the rabbi and his wife in Mumbai. And then, we were stunned by news that this very young couple had been killed in the tragedy.
My sister recently noted that I make it a habit of pointing out when there are Jewish actors in a film. I told her I do the same when I notice Latino actors. But it struck her as a little bit racist. I think that I do this because I identify with these people even more when I am connected them by race, ethnicity or faith.
I think that's what made it particularly difficult to hear the updates from Mumbai. All of us in the Jewish community identified with the Holtzbergs and when we heard that they had been killed, it was like someone in our family had died. It could have been any of us. A tall price to pay for being Jewish.
"Rabbi and wife served Jewish community"
Thursday, November 27, 2008
UPDATE: Jewish Child Safe in Hostage Crisis at Mumbai Chabad House (Chabad.org)
"Jewish Centre Seized in Mumbai" (BBC News)
"Indian Police Surround Jewish Centre Hit by Gunmen" (Associated Press)
"Israelis and Jews, wherever they are, are under threat," said Ehud Raz, chief security officer at the Israeli consulate in Mumbai. "They are a target."
"Series of Attacks in Mumbai Leave at Least 101 People Dead" (Washington Post)
"Some Hostages Freed but Militants Still in Hotel" (NY Times)
Hopefully, today we can all take time out to pray for the victims of this attack. The Jewish names of the rabbi and family involved are below:
Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma
Rivkah bas Yehudis
Moshe Tzvi Ben Rivkah.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Rumors abound in "Lindsay Lohan Converting to Judaism for Sam Ronson". Don't worry if you have no idea who either of these people are!
Michelle Obama's cousin, Rabbi Capers Funnye was profiled by the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles in a piece called "Obama's cousin-in-law Rabbi Capers Funnye battles to open the gates of Judaism". Funnye himself has had several conversions to Judaism and he speaks of schooling prospective converts to Judaism on the faith.
"I often like to tell new people that when you start studying Judaism, every time you get a new book, every time you learn something new, it should feel like dipping a spoon into a bucket of fresh well water. If you ever had well water, it stimulates the whole being -- this is what Judaism does when we learn. It stimulates the being," Funnye said. "It's never stopped doing that for me. The more I learn, the richer it tastes; the better it tastes."
At the heart of the decision is a Los Angeles Jewish convert, Lorin Fife, who hopes to bring "the conversion process back to one that is as accepting and moderate as his own."
Fife has said "My hope is that by continuing to pursue this issue with sensitivity and dignity and thoughtfulness, we can transform this from something ugly into something beautiful and a good thing for the Jewish people."
Watch the trailer here.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Q: I recently converted in the United States via a modern orthodox rabbi. Although both my husband (who is Jewish) and I would love to live in Israel, I am extremely worried that I would not be considered Jewish (given everything I have read in Jpost concerning how Israeli Rabbis are not recognizing Orthodox conversions outside of Israel). If I have children, I want them to be considered Jewish, etc. I have heard horror stories from some of my friends in the State who have converted via Orthodoxy - having to undergo another conversion in Israel and how extremely difficult it is. Please tell me if my fears are real.
A: I don't know what you mean by "a modern Orthodox Rabbi". You must ask him whether the Council of Rabbis that he belongs to performs conversions that are recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate. If you are not sure then you might want to send me the details of your conversion. I assume that you also had your children converted when you converted."
Dear Aliyah Expert,
What she is in fact asking is: will my Modern Orthodox conversion be good enough for the haredi rabbinate?
My sister and I dragged my husband to see "Twilight" on Saturday night. He survived. I didn’t see him check his phone messages once. In fact, I caught him in bed reading a pilfered (hey, I was reading that!) copy of "Twilight." I think he's been bitten.
1. I love Hanukkah because every year I get a new, beautiful menorah. This happens to me because I keep breaking one every year and this year, my sister has plans to steal the sole survivor from last year.
2. I love Hanukkah because I got married on Hanukkah and because of that my husband and I didn't need to fast before the ceremony. Holidays where you don't have to fast rock!
3. I love Hanukkah because I love defrosting potato latkes. Last year, they were sold out and we had to make do with hashbrowns. Yes, it was really sad.
4. I love Hanukkah because I don't have to cook a million and one meals. It's my microwave holiday. See #3. Low-key holidays where you don't have to make meals for people also rock.
5. I love Hanukkah because it's ironic. It's celebrated by plenty of Jews the world over, even the secular ones, despite that it's a holiday that is about fighting against assimilation.
No, my reasons are not deep but that's what you get from me in the morning and I didn't want to steal any juicy reaons from you! Now read over the contest rules carefully and post your FIVE reasons you LOVE Hanukkah!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Tonight, I'll be at the same place every other teenage girl will be. So much for acting my age!
If you're curious, check out the NY Times review: "The Love That Dare Not Bare Its Fangs"
Friday, November 21, 2008
The Riverdale Press featured an interesting spin on Muslim-Jewish relations right here in Riverdale. In the story, "At Riverdale Jewish Center, Muslim student finds a haven for prayer", a Muslim foreign exchange student finds herself praying the required 5 times a day at the local synagogue, the Riverdale Jewish Center, right by her school. The piece goes on to explore the lives of Muslim exchange students living with Jewish families and chronicles their positive experiences. One unobservant Jewish family decides to forgo vegeterian because of Muslim dietary laws.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
My mission this week is to come up with a schedule for myself or at least some sort of routine that will be bedeviled by my fibromyalgia.
I woke up so early this morning, I didn't know what to do with myself. So, of course, I ended up watching Iron Man while I thought about it. Then I tried to sneak in a nap.
When that didn't work, I walked over to my laptop, which I am all too obsessed with, and pounded out two big scenes for my book. Thank G-d!
Then it was off to the allergist to get the weekly shot that keeps me breathing. Fresh air and fresh pets, after all, aren't good for these old lungs.
I had an interview scheduled in the late afternoon with Sadia Shepard. Her book, The Girl from Foreign, was published recently. Sadia was 13 when she discovered her grandmother was Jewish, raised in Bene Israel community in India. With a white Christian dad and a Pakistani Muslim mom that led to some interesting developments. Sadia's book details relevant parts of her interfaith, intercultural childhood while chronicling her journey to India to make a documentary about the Bene Israel.
I gave Sadia my highest compliment which is that I took the book out of the library, read it mostly straight through one Shabbat day and now, I'm going to put out cash so I can own a copy of my very own to reread. I'm hoping to encapsulate my love for the book in a profile/review I'm writing for Interfaithfamily.com.
A pit stop at Barnes & Nobles heralded four more books to add to my writing instruction collection. Because when one has no idea what one is doing, one should seek elsewhere for direction.
And I even made (finally) to the Hebrew class held at the Atria, a home for older folks. I've been meaning to work on my Hebrew for, oh, the last three years. I dabbled in Israel and early on in my conversion but otherwise, my Hebrew skills have been on an extended hiatus.
So, did I mention THANK G-D for a day where my aches and pain allowed me to get so much done in one long day.
And with that, I better make sure I'm not burning the pasta.
And what if someone doesn’t find a home in the Orthodox Jewish community, should they leave? So much of Judaism is about the community. How could someone stand not fitting in? How do I stand it?
On any given day, I don't feel particularly accepted in the Jewish community. It’s a struggle. I have had a very different life from most of the Orthodox Jews I meet. I come to Judaism with a different perspective. Often, I feel that I'm "not appropriate for the Shabbos table" because I'm different and I don't want to be like everyone else. I've tried that, it went horribly, and I think G-d's been trying to tell me that I should just be me.
I realized the other day that though I have made some friends, many of them are not people I would be friends if we were not living in the same community or practicing Orthodox Judaism. To compensate, I have created my own microcosmic communities within the community. I moderate an online support group for converts. I write a blog that I know people are reading and responding to on a daily basis. I go to a writing workshop with other Orthodox Jewish women. I attend workshops with other wives of rabbinical students. I signed up to present at Limmud NY and spoke at Limmud LA last year.
I didn’t become Jewish for the community. I remember early on thinking that it was just a plus. It was something unexpected and at times, quite lovely. But I didn't do this so I could get Shabbos meals every week, which is good because I don't. My condition, fibromyalgia, prevents me from having Shabbos guests often so I get very few invitations myself. I spend most Shabbos meals reading and chatting peacefully with my husband over relatively plain meals. I can't complain but sometimes, of course, I do.
I did convert because I wanted to have this special thing going with G-d. We already were on good terms but I had an idea that if I did things the Jewish way, my relationship with G-d would get even better. Certain obstacles intervened and things with G-d are not going as smoothly as I had hoped. But yes, I still believe this is the best way to live my life. That doesn't mean I have any idea about how other people should live theirs.
If it really was about being accepted, I don't think I'd survive all the racist jokes and all the lack of Shabbos invitations. I don't think I'd survive living in a neighborhood that is clearly not for me. I don't think that I'd survive everyone assuming that I chose Judaism because I wanted to erase my past and where I come from because I thought it was "lesser than." I don’t think I’d survive all the nightmares I have about all the different ways the community will judge me and take me apart when I’m a rabbi’s wife.
So in the end, I hold onto to the hope that my troubles with the community will never drive me away from Judaism or come between my personal relationship with G-d. I didn't come for the community. But I know that on the good days, they're part of the reason that I stay.
Snippet from the piece:
"Oh, guess what? 'Kate' is converting," I said.
"Really? And then she'll be a Jew? Just like that?" he snapped his fingers.
I thought about it - is there a moment that one suddenly becomes a Jew... a second that one is infused with some essential Jewishness?
I started to tell Boaz, "I guess so. I mean, according to rabbinic law... "
He shook his head. "I don't know. It seems weird to me. You can't just become Jewish."
"Well, technically, you can. We do accept converts, you know."
"Yeah, but what? Poof, just like that, and she's Jewish?"
As the writer goes on to note, no, it's not "poof, just like that."
Converts, like born Jews, struggle with their Jewishness always working to build a solid (sometimes quaky) Jewish identity. Most of us are not "bagel and lox" Jews. We buy into the notion of Jewish peoplehood, Jewish values, Jewish traditions, the Jewish religion but the gefilte fish is totally optional.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
"Frum from Rebirth" is a new blog that hopes to chronicle the diverse spectrum of stories of those who have come to Orthodoxy. Along with the latest post which features my "Funny, You Don't Look Jewish" story, there is an interesting post about a woman who began her religious journey at the Kabbalah Centre (of which Demi Moore and Madonna are fans).
I spotted Rabbinical Student on her way to make history on someone else's blog. It profiles convert Alysa Stanton who had an Orthodox conversion but found herself more at home in Reform Judaism. "[A Reform congregation] tends to be more welcoming to those who are not born Jewish," the blogpost quotes. Stanton is on her way to becoming the first female African-American rabbi in the United States.
And then every once in a while, there's a happy conversion story, no?
Check out the latest Jerusalem Post article, Now I feel 100% Jewish, which explores the lives and conversions of IDF soldiers who are not halakhically Jewish. Most of the soldiers are originally from the former Soviet Union. And their conversions are part of a "Orthodox-recognized process" through the IDF's Native program. The title of the article is a quote from one of the soldiers interviewed, Igor (now Yigal) Lermont, who will be going under the knife on his way to the mikvah.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Conservative convert was really sweet. We chatted it up and somehow ended up discussing feminism and Judaism. Ah, right, she was explaining why she couldn’t convert Orthodox. I nodded along but the whole time I was trying to figure out whether or not she was trying to convince me, reform me or just explaining her way of life. I piped in and said, “Well, I think it’s important that people have a conversion that they can stand by” or something to that effect.
Because I really do. I don’t think we should be converting people to movements that they don’t believe in. The feminist stuff that bugs that Conservative convert doesn’t really bug me so much. I do think that innovations like having a female Madrichat Ruchanit (spiritual leader) at our synagogue are great and women’s prayer groups are also cool. But I don’t lose any sleep over it. Along my way, I found Conservative and Reform Judaism lacking in coherent vision and in the end, their visions didn’t apply to me. Orthodox Judaism drew me in and so I converted Orthodox.
I think people should convert to something that they believe in and to something they can commit to for the rest of their lives. If only things were so simple. I know that when that same Conservative convert decides to have children, they won’t be able to marry mine. Not without a halakhic Orthodox conversion. And I guess if her children swing to the right, they will go in for those conversions. And they’ll question and come to terms with their Jewish identities. I've met many that have.
But I wish that things were simpler. It would seem that in the end that it’s like we’re all different religions, like the Protestant Christian that must convert to Catholicism to marry a Catholic or something like that. I guess as long as things are not simpler, I’m grateful for the conversation. I’m grateful that the Conservative convert and I have things to talk about and things to share despite the choices that divide us.
Monday, November 17, 2008
So, I decided to take a break from writing today. My sister confirms that I said this aloud. I am actually supposed to be taking a nap thanks to fibromyalgia exhaustion. But here I am, typing away, injuring my little wrists, my little elbows and that area right between the shoulder blades that likes to act up.
My friend came over and we were discussing my "baby allergy." Do you remember that line from the movie, Clueless about "Monets"? Guys who only look hot from far away. Babies, I feel, look really cute from...far away.
My friend insists that I am being crushed by the weight of "baby" pressure. Even now, when no one's asking me if I'm pregnant or getting pregnant or trying to get pregnant, there's pressure. All of my married Orthodox Jewish friends (except for one couple) have decided to multiply. And the (young, why can't I make friends over 30!) mommies want to discuss nursing and onesies and all these bizarre topics I'm not really interested in discussing.
And this is how I found myself sobbing, totally heartwrenchingly whimpering, after my former best friend (marriage and distance got in the way of our friendship) told me that his wife gave birth to a baby girl. This was my best friend, the baal teshuva who had played a key role in me crossing over to the frum side of life. And we're the same age. And he has a baby. And I don't.
My lovely friend decided to put in her two cents via email. She asked me if I was married and not frum, would I be having these thoughts at 28? I wrote back that most of my non-Jewish friends aren't even married yet, much less thinking of having kids. Aha, perspective. Maybe, I should start hanging out with my non-Jewish friends some more?
Oh, right, and there is that little thing about religious marriage in Israel. What do we do with all those non-Jews who aren't converting? Is there such a thing as civil marriage in Israel? Should there be? Doesn't anyone else have a headache? I just gave myself one!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
"Former French chief rabbi Joseph Sitruk agreed. "To convert someone who will be the lone Jew in his area is to put a stumbling block before the blind. How can you keep Torah and mitzvot (commandments) alone?" he asked."
It sounds like there are some really tough conversion issues in Europe. And from what I learned from word of mouth in Israel from European prospective converts there, it is almost impossible to convert in Europe. Many of the converts find themselves moving to Israel and America where they expect their conversions to run more smoothly.
So, of course, after a late dinner, I still dragged myself out to see Quantum of Solace, a mouthful of a name, in a local Yonkers theater with my husband and my little sister. My husband doesn't think Quantum was as good as Casino Royale with its witty repartee but all in all, we enjoyed ourselves. As promised by reviews I'd read, the director's quick cuts and jarring camera angles gave us a bit of motion sickness.
A day later, I find myself wishing I had unlimited funds lying around so I could see the topsyturvy film again and again. If I was willing to give up my expensive Lactaid milk, maybe I could afford to strap myself into a theater seat with some popcorn. My sister's last observation as we walked out of the theater she was utterly upset by the lack of nudity in the film as Daniel Craig may not be the prettiest Bond, she finds that he is certainly the most fit and rugged. I guess it's hard to please everyone.
P.S. Expect the worst Bond song ever.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I went to a Taste of Limmud NY session on Thursday where racism was discussed. I was the only non-white person in a group session that discussed "racism" between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. My first point was that using the term racism for these type of hate crimes was a misappropriation of the word. Most Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are NOT from a different race. The moderator quickly deflected my comments by turning to older folks in the group who had lived through the Civil Rights movement when "things were much worst in America." One person was shocked to see racism occuring in Israel because that "sort of thing doesn't happen in America."
I was shocked, but only somewhat, to be surrounded by people so sheltered by today's brand of racism. In my experience, it's easy to be sheltered from racism when you're white. When you wear your race on your sleeve, when you're not white but "other," race and racism are a constant concern. My husband's eyes were opened when he and his parents were looking at properties in Riverdale and the white Jewish real estate agent asked where he was living now. "Washington Heights," my husband said. "Oh, don't worry, there aren't too many Hispanics here in Riverdale," the real estate agent assured him with no prompting from my husband.
The worst was dealing with white guilt after the session when a number of white Jews came up to me to explain that they all had African-American friends. So what? Their confessions had absolutely nothing to add to our conversations. But they were scared that I thought they were racist and they wanted to assure me otherwise by touting token black friends.
Alas, racism is not dead in America. No, in America our racism is just less public. We like to keep our racism behind closed doors for the most part. We like to pretend that race itself doesn't exist. But pretending that we are not different will never help end racism.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
There have been arguments that we are in a new era: a new POST-RACIAL America.
Race doesn't matter anymore.
And then there are seven teens accused of stabbing a Hispanic man to death in Patchogue, NY.
And they stabbed him because he was Hispanic.
"People are grieving. There was a death. Their money died."Barbara Goldsmith, a semiretired psychotherapist in Delray Beach, Fla.
No kidding! When my friend called up her credit card company to say she wouldn't be able to make the next payment because of losing her job, she said that the representative told her that most of the calls she had received in the past week were related to job loss. I heard fellow gym rats commenting that their yearly vacation plans were cancelled. Luckily, there have been some bright spots as friends find jobs despite the economic downturn.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
IsraeliNationalNews.com featured an article about the 150 Bnei Menashe to Immigrate from India. The group, which the Chief Rabbinate has described as "descendants from Israel," will be undergoing conversion when they reach Israel. All we can do is welcome these new Jews of color and hope that their conversions will be a smooth, spiritual and inspiring process. The story was also covered by the Jerusalem Post.
The author, Benyamin Cohen, is an Orthodox rabbi’s son. Cohen (who is not a Kohen) is married to a wife who converted to Judaism and happens to be the daughter of a Christian minister. When Cohen's relationship to his faith hits an all-time low, Cohen decides to spend a year visiting churches. He’s not interested in converting, but he is interested in reviving the passion he once had for Judaism through close contact with Christians who are passionate about their own faith.
I haven’t read the book yet. It’s stacked on top of two books by converts, Girl Meets G-d and Coming Home and a litany of other books on writing. The reading never ends!
Here's a new piece I'm working on. I hope I'll find a place to publish it. I think it definitely has an audience in fellow converts, baalei teshuva, and basically those of us who have had more experience in the non-Orthodox, not Jewish world.
I had tea with Jason yesterday. And it was fun. He had extended the invite to the whole class but only I took him up on it. But there were aftershocks. My husband’s face when I told him that I went to tea with a classmate—a male classmate—was less than sunshiny. It contorted with jealousy as he explained to me that it wasn’t appropriate for me to be having tea with another man. When I argued my case (“We were in Starbucks, for G-d’s sake!”), my husband eventually relented. But, oh boy, the whole experience left me thinking about the state of male-female friendships in the Orthodox world.
I remember a time when most of my friends were boys. Before I converted, boys made up more than 50% of my crew of friends. I favored friendships with boys that had never been sullied by messy boy-girl game playing. When my friend, AC put in my air conditioner, sure, the neighbors wondered if he was my boyfriend. But I assured them there was nothing there. AC was just handy with tools and even handier as a broad shoulder to cry on. Then there was Stathis, who treated me like a kid sister, making me tuna fish sandwiches when I visited his dorm. And my friend, metrosexual Mark was, well, largely immune to my tomboy charm. AC, Stathis and Mark could have been my best girl friends were it not for certain body parts that proved otherwise.
During my conversion to Judaism, I had a set of Jewish girlfriends who congregated together for Shabbos sleepovers. But I also had a matching set of close guy friends who were mostly Modern Orthodox yeshiva students. No one clued me into the fact that these relationships might be anything other than normal. I knew they couldn’t be alone with me in a room but that just meant that I hung out with them in groups of, well, mostly guys. I knew I wasn’t one of the guys but they seemed to accept me despite my skirt.
Then I summered at a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conversion school in Israel. When a fellow female classmate asked if she should move if a man sat next to her on the bus, I almost laughed out loud. My giggles stopped cold when I realized she was serious and no one else in the room was laughing. My eyebrows furrowed in confusion as I announced that my best friend back home was M-A-L-E. All eyes shifted to me, totally awkward. When I glanced at the headmistress, I could swear her eyes were daggers and puffs of smoke flamed from her nostrils. The shock was too much to stomach for a recovering tomboy. Surely, these rules didn’t apply to the Modern Orthodox crowd where I had developed such close friendships with men, usually Kohens, who were, again, like the best girlfriends I’d never had.
But I found out soon enough that the same rules did apply. As soon as I got married or my guy friends got married, our friendships tanked. They didn’t just become filmy substitutes for the close bonds we had had before, our friendships were non-existent. I found myself wishing that all my male friends were women but acknowledging that would be hard on their wives. So, instead, I stopped wishing and started sulking.
I suffered silently from the lack of companionship of my pseudo big brothers, guys who I know would have defended my honor like real brothers. But I just sat with the girls in one corner. I rolled my eyes through conversations about shoes, clothes, cooking and (oh no!) sheitel upkeep. I looked longingly at the other end of the table where my husband and the other men seemed to be enjoying more scintillating conversation. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from my loss. Maybe that’s why I had tea with Jason. And I enjoyed it. It took me back to a time before restrictive gender roles erected an invisible mechitzah between me and my guy friends.
Though my experience of Israel derives solely from having summered there at an ultra-Orthodox school for converts, I found that the battles between secular and Orthodox were a little unsettling to someone not at all well-versed in the mores of that familiar Israeli civil war. When my rabbi asked me what I was learning in Israel, I remember telling him, "Jews really hate each other."
Daddy's Little Girl is a "short story," really a short memoir, I wrote about visiting my father in the Dominican Republic after nearly ten years of being estranged. It has been published by the literary magazine, Verdad Magazine. Verdad, by the way, means "truth" in Spanish. It's interesting to have my little story about the truth of my relationshp with my dad published there. The story begins with my husband's favorite line, "I used to think my father lived in a drawer." The story chronicles my trip and my attempts to come to terms with a father which other family members referred to as my "deadbeat dad."
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
This story really hit home for me. I am one of those young sick people who is unable to take care of themselves. As a neurotically independent person, it's been really hard for me to cope with the reality that I need help from other people to take care of myself. There are many simple everyday tasks that impossible for me with my disability.
When my fibromyalgia was at its worst, I needed help getting out of my clothes. Now, I would call it more manageable but the reality is that it's only more manageable because I'm not working full-time or even part-time. That means I'm financially dependent on healthy people like my husband. And I'm physically dependent on people like my cute little sister who does all the cleaning around the house that would aggravate or exacerbate my chronic pain. People don't really focus on the role these kinds of caregivers play in the lives of chronically ill people like myself.
I have spoken to other people with chronic illnesses and have been horrified by their battles to get financial support from the government (usually in the form of Social Security disability). The burden of paperwork hell is totally on the chronically ill person who is already incapable of taking care of his/herself. By and large, it seems largely that those of us who are chronically ill survive and more than that, even flourish despite our disabilities largely because of the support of health caregivers. G-d bless them!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Poetry reading, good. Ugga ugga.
But in Riverdale, after a couple of months of living here, my husband had an interesting encounter on the other side of the mechitzah.
“Hey, have you met the other guy whose wife is Dominican?” one male congregant asked him.
“There’s ANOTHER guy with a Dominican wife?” he asked with shock.
And of course, there was. In fact, there were TWO other guys with Dominican wives in the congregation. And one Dominican guy in the process of converting who has a Brazilian wife. Que?
So, I’m not even the youngest Jewminicana. That right goes to the children of these mixed multitudes. There are almost two handfuls of little Jewminicanos running around.
We’re starting a club. We played around with a couple of names but settled on “Dominyan,” even though there aren’t enough of us (yet) to make up a Dominican minyan. I stress, yet, because you know how Dominicans like their mass production.
So before I settle into my husband’s first poetry reading tonight at the Y, I’ll be interviewing one of the families that make up “Dominyan” to see what, if anything, the Jewminicanos have in common. Other than a penchant for rice, beans and plantains with a side of gefilte fish, that is. It's part of a series of interviews I have scheduled to track the thoughts and movements of this interesting cast of characters.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I grew up in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, Washington Heights, where being smart and doing well on homework and tests was looked down upon as "acting white."
Given my experience with that culture, it doesn't surprise me that to see the latest New York Times article that says that a Racial Imbalance Persists at Elite Public Schools. Are the tests themselves causing the imbalance? I did some reading in graduate school on whether or not tests can actually be racist. But according to the article, it sounds more like African-American and Hispanic students aren't sitting for the tests and the ones that are may not be prepared for it when they do.
Not to tout my own horn, but I took the specialized high school test and turned down admission to Bronx Science High School and Brooklyn Technical High School to attend the High School of Art & Design. Math and science just weren't my thing. In retrospect, I wish I had made different choices, though I did love my high school, I think the specialized high schools provide more opportunities.
"Ashley Wright, a black 13-year-old who has her eyes on Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant, said many of her black and Hispanic friends were simply not motivated to do well on the test. “I see a lot of people who have an opportunity at a good life, but they mess it up,” she said, her legs shaking in anticipation of the exam."
Excuse me, why are we still hearing about Sarah Palin now that the election's over? That's because, of course, the election is not over. I fear it will never be over. Obama is everywhere now, just as he was weeks up to the election. Given that there's not much more to say, even stuff like Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's latest gaffe calling Barack Obama “young, handsome and suntanned" has made it into your New York Times. I laughed at the comment (does that make me racist?), cried at it being covered as news.
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, a novel by Obama supporter and Jewish author Ayelet Waldman, wife of Pulitzer-winning author, Michael Chabon, is being made into a movie. Originally, Jennifer Lopez was set to star but since she bowed out, Natalie Portman has come to the rescue. Of course, the Jewish side of me is happy, the Hispanic side is sad.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Oy, I am so tired to this campaign and this election. I feel like the only one. All the news is covering it and people everywhere are crying about it (with joy or angst). Look, even now I'm writing about it and crying about it (with joy and angst).
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I just finished Stranger in the Midst: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery by Nan Fink. Fink helped found Tikkun magazine. In that way, I find that she is one of the stereotypical super converts, the kind that end up becoming president of their shul or running the Sisterhood. I guess, the kind I’d like to be.
The memoir feels like it is torn in a couple of directions. Fink wants to give us her voice as a convert but also lets us see the voice of other converts. She also tries to analyze how different parts of her life color how she sees Judaism and spirituality. She accomplishes tying together all these different strands of ideas in her book.
One strand that I found particularly dissatisfying was Fink’s focus on feminism. She’s got a strong feminism bent that I couldn’t connect with and so it might have come off a little heavy-handed with me. Again, as I’ve blogged before, though, I’m not much of a Jewish feminist, though I suppose I would be considered a feminist in other realms.
I think the book’s greatest accomplishment is that Fink takes us from the beginning of her conversion process to several years, nearly a decade, later. As she notes, most accounts of spiritual journeys talk about the road getting there and end with the convert dipping into the mikvah. Fink, however, focuses on that precipitous fall that can happen AFTER the dip when the shiny glow of everything finally starts to wear off. She was really honest and “real” about her experiences and there were times in the book where I truly ached for her.
Would I recommend it? Though I didn’t love it as much as Julius Lester’s Lovesong, I think that Fink highlights a lot of points that converts and prospective converts would identify with and think about.
For a meatier review of the book, check out "A Jewish Odyssey."
I won't say who I voted for, lest I alienate some of my readership, but I will say that this election has been exhausting for me. As an avid reader, I subscribe to many magazines: everything from Time, Newsweek and the Economist to Latina, Self and Oprah. I feel like the only thing I don't know about the candidates are their shoe sizes. And I suspect I could open up my Marie Claire and possibly sleuth out that last tidbit.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worst, I heard that there were dolls. Yes, little Sarah Palin and Barack Obama dolls are out there ready for dollars if not your votes. Can I just say that I look forward to tomorrow morning with total gratitude? Finally, we'll know who finally won the longest election I've ever suffered.
Monday, November 3, 2008
A Common-sense proposal on conversion finds The Jewish Chronicle's Simon Rocker pondering the lack of "common sense" in the current conversion climate.
A quick quote:
"And what is significant is this. In his experience, 90 per cent of those who completed the conversion process, Rabbi Lau said, were not “shomer mitzvot”, that is strictly religiously observant. “But 100 per cent felt when they finished the whole process that they linked deeply to Am Yisrael, Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people], not just to Jewish history but to the Jewish tradition and Jewish roots.” In other words, the conversion process helped integrate people of Jewish descent (for example, whose father, but not whose mother, was Jewish) into the Jewish people – but did not insist that they become fully observant before being accepted as Jewish. "
My latest piece, My Big Fat Jewish Dominican Jewish Wedding, just hit Interfaithfamily.com.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
This sad economy did get me laid off before the rumble on Wall Street even hit the media. But honestly, I don't have much to say about the whole debacle. Jewish actresses Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones do have words of wisdom to share over the current economic crisis.
I finally figured out how to use Google Alerts and now I have it ferreting out any news on Jewish conversion. Meanwhile, here are two articles I meant to post sooner from the Jerusalem Post:
Orthodox convert fights for recognition
Jose Portuondo-Wilson wants to make aliyah but the Israeli rabbinate won't let him. Perhaps, his conversion isn't Orthodox enough.
Orthodox, but not Jewish enough for aliyah
When Orthodox conversion isn't good enough for Israel, what's a convert to do?
My rough draft of an Op-Ed piece I'm still working on:
100% Accepted Everywhere
When prospective converts I know heard that Jose Portuondo-Wilson was denied his right as an Orthodox convert to make aliya to Israel, they started rethinking their conversions. These converts scrambled yet again to find organizations to vet their baatei din. Is their baatei din and the rabbis on board Orthodox and Jewish enough for Israel, they wanted to know.
Converts, prospective and past, are struggling with the question of whether they will be "kosher" enough after conversion. And if they troll online late at night to find lists of recognized rabbis, recognized baatei din, they’ll find that all signs seem to point to one thing. Convert haredi and your conversion will almost be assured to be “kosher” enough for the Israeli rabbinate.
So what does that mean for Modern Orthodox conversion? Will converts turn away because they believe that conversions done by Modern Orthodox rabbis might not hold up here in America or in Israel? Will they decide that Modern Orthodoxy, as it seems the Israeli Rabbinate has, isn’t Orthodox enough for Israel?
One convert from my online support group for converts repeatedly told other frantic converts that no conversion is 100% accepted everywhere. But when these converts decided to convert Orthodox, didn’t they in fact choose that route because they thought they were assured automatic acceptance everywhere in the Jewish world? And yet, now, even Orthodox conversion isn’t sacrosanct.
But what of the new RCA standards, you wonder, the ones that should streamline the ease with which new converts are accepted by the Israeli Rabbinate. The new RCA standards affect future conversions. No one is talking about (until the Jerusalem Post article) all the conversions performed BEFORE these new guidelines. No one is talking about the red tape my grandchildren will confront when they try to make aliya or marry in Israel because my conversion was performed before the new RCA standards by Modern Orthodox rabbis.
For the past two years, my mother-in-law and her brother haven’t spoken because her brother, living in Israel, doesn’t think my Orthodox conversion was performed by the right rabbi. My conversion rabbi, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, isn’t on the approved lists he’s looking at in Israel. When this soundbite came up at a Sukkot meal, an appalled friend asked, “There are people who doubt your ORTHODOX conversion?” As I nodded, I thought of all the prospective converts who have been scared away by the latest news in Orthodox conversion and I understood them. Isn’t all this news just a slap in the face to all converts? A sign that they’ll never be truly accepted among the chosen people?
And then there are the converts who are meeting with rabbis right now. They’re telling themselves that they might not be ready for haredi standards. That they can fake their commitment to haredi values. That they’ll do and say anything as long as they can get that conversion that’s almost 100% approved everywhere.
I know, you’ve already heard about it but I can’t help but post about it. Ivanka Trump is converting to Judaism. She’s gone and gotten herself engaged to Jewish head of the NY Observer, Jared Kushner. They plan to get married next year. In the meantime, she’s taking classes at my alma mater, Upper East Side Modern Orthodox synagogue, Kehilath Jeshurun. Does that mean Ivanka’s considering an Orthodox conversion? I wonder if she’d be interested in joining my online support group.