Thursday, April 28, 2016

Adding to the Seder Table Redux.

This is an edited version of a piece I wrote a few years ago, I come to it at the end of Pesach not the beginning because I think we should take time to reflect on what we learned and felt during the last week and on how you made the Seder your own.  I hope you will think about the importance of the ritual and time spent with family, friends and often a few strangers as we celebrate the Exodus story.  

Recently I have noticed a real uptick in the number of items finding their way into the Passover Seder for contemporary Jews.  Last year I wrote about the orange, a symbol originally meant to remind us of the LGBT community's rightful place in Klal Yisrael, which quickly morphed into being about women, with its own apocryphal story.  We had already seen the Kos Miriam, Miriam's cup come to the table to remind us of her role in the redemption of the people. But lately we see more and more produce finding its way to the table.  Olives, a symbol not only of peace but a staple in the Middle East is said to be a symbol of hope for the end of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Locks to reflect on modern slavery, bananas, tomatoes the list goes on.  

One could ask what it happening to us as a people.  We can think of the song Tradition, from Fiddler which pleads we do things because that is the way they have always been done.  That would be a wrong read of both the Seder and the development of what it means to be Jewish.  Tradition, which is not only something we receive from our parents but the gift we give our children, is and should be influenced by every generation.  In the Seder that has clearly been the case.  Look at any 3 Haggadot (Prayer book for the Seder) in any Jewish bookstore and you will see the influence of various times on the service. Things entered and exited over the history and of course important events in the lives of the Jewish people found a reminder and a home in meal.  Right before Pesach my Rabbi, Cantor and I remarked on the changing dynamic of the Matzah of Hope that used to include a picture symbolic of the USSR and called for solidarity with Soviet Jewry.  Others bring in the Shoah (Holocaust) with sections on remember the 6 million.  There are Humanist haggadot that never reference God and some that still leave Moses relegated to a fairly minor character.  Each served a purpose and spoke or continue to speak to a people who see the narrative of the Exodus as meaningful and connect it to the way they see the world.      

Even I have rewritten the section of the service as we begin to close the evening and invite Elijah the Prophet into the home.  First, borrowing from someone else, our Elijah's cup is empty for most of the Seder and we each add a little or our wine to the cup for we all must participate in our own redemption, not wait for a miracle. We also have cleaned up this section.  When we open the door, the lines of Bible we read include "Pour out your wrath on those who do not believe". When Passover was a time when Jews were most vulnerable to being attacked in Christian communities of the Middle Ages this act of defiance was a powerful statement for faith in God and the coming redemption.   However, those words having little meaning to me in my current context, have rewritten it as a call for a true multi-faith expression asking God to pour out God's love to all who seek truth, community and cooperation.  Many haggadot do not translate these words into English others simply eliminate them.  I think it important to at least acknowledge this powerful moment of our past. 

Every year there seems to be a new and trendy expression of something for the Seder table.  But I wonder about all these new things becoming so quickly institutionalized and will they in fact lose their meaning and/or take away from the meaning of the Seder historically.  The orange is a perfect example of how a meaningful act can be so easily be changed to do exactly what it was placed on the Seder plate to avoid.  The orange evolved from an attempt for a group of lesbian students to create their own Seder.  They put a crust of bread on the Seder plate as a powerful message that they were seen as having no place in Jewish life.  Susannah Heschel suggested that gays and lesbians to not violate the community of Judaism as the bread would a Seder but add something different and suggested the orange, including creating a ritual of spitting out the orange's bitter seeds as a way of symbolically spitting out the bigotry and hate.  In less than 10 years the story was changed that a male rabbi was talking about women in the Rabbinate being like bread on the Seder plate and the orange became a symbol of women's roles in Judaism, completely disappearing the importance of the symbol to gays and lesbians.  

Some say the more we generalize the story of the Exodus the more we water down Jewish peoplehood.  The Seder is about us.  It is our narrative, there is enough time in the year to think about the plight of others.  In fact we need be careful as many are trying to decouple Judaism for the land of Israel, the ultimate end of the Passover celebration, NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM means that we long to find the land of our people as a place we too can take ownership of for ourselves.  I am not sure I agree but I do think that as we think about what the Passover Seder means to us we should certainly consider thinking about some questions we sometimes ask at our Seder.

What part of the story is most important?
What part of the story do you like best?
What part of the story is about you?
What part of the story can we leave out and still have the whole story?  

I don't want to argue that the Seder can't be changed, modified, and added to, in fact it always has been and always will be.  I encourage it because it has to be meaning for you.  Being trendy about adding something because a famous Rabbi or your local cool Education Director did it doesn't make the ritual meaningful.  There is a reason we do the Seder in the home, the Seder is yours.  There are rituals far and wide that fit neatly into family Seders.  But in the end the ritual is empty without a clear meaning.  Add more fruits to your seder if you will, ask the questions that prompt us to think beyond ourselves, but do it with great concern and kavannah (intention).  Don't do it to be cool or because that is how it has to be done.  It doesn't.  Remember, we are all supposed to see ourselves as having personally come out of Mitzraim, What is your Mitzraim?

So Trying to Be Funny

 So last time I was a little angry so this post I hope to be a little more lighthearted.  I do hope that you will enjoy my observations.

You know those GE commercials where the engineer who got hired there has all these people who want to work with him?  Would you ever hire someone who sends troll and a elf o-gram.  But I would love if these exist, I would send them for all kinds of things.

I'm a wise elf, from the ogres I hide, this is to tell you your uncle has died.  He liked you a lot, thought you sweet as honey, so in his will he left you some money.  

Call Shark Tank

So pure comedy is the comment section of news stories.  One person wrote:

There was very little or no cyberbullying until there were computers.  Coincidence?

Okay.....think about it.

So I have to weigh into politics a little, Ted Cruz is the comedy gift that keeps on giving.  First last week a story about him as attorney general of Texas argued the you don't have a right to masturbate when defending a Texas law outlawing sex shops.  I imagine that it is consistent because he doesn't think that women have the right to their own bodies anyway, but a former college roommate suggested that this was a new position, so that gives you a mental image no one wants.

Oh and another not a woman appeared on Maury that looked a lot like old Ted

I am expecting this will become a meme for the new Fiorina/Cruz alliance.  Internet you know what to do.

So many Republicans have been losing their minds and passing laws trying to stop transgender individuals from using the bathrooms they feel most comfortable with.  One state even passed a law that contains a bounty to find transsexuals in the bathrooms.  How will that work?  Will  you have to spy on them while they are using the bathroom? Isn't that what they are worried about?  
Oh and some of the same loud voices who would attempt to stop the non-existent attacks of trans people in bathrooms are writing letters of support for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who did molest children.  So apparently it is okay for these guys to be a predator but not someone who is trying to be truthful to yourself. 

So we can look at a world where a racist, misogynistic, bigot will be the GOP nominee, where American politicians are making the diversity we built this country on illegal in public and we continue to seek scaptgoats for everything and scream, or try to laugh.  So find something funny to enjoy at least once a week.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Purge

So I know this isn't my best self but I feel like I need to get some of this out of my system.  There is a lot of things that have been getting to me so if I write them out then I might be able to let them go.  So here is a list of things that have annoyed me this spring.

1. Trump supporters.  I am not sure where to begin.  There are Trump supporters who are simply happy to support someone who shares their worst views of the world, one focus group all agreed that Trump's main policies are unworkable and some unconstitutional but they are still going to vote for him.  There is one guy that argues that you are sexist if you call Trump sexist because you think women shouldn't be coddled, ignoring what he actual says and his history.  Then there are a special kind supporter who recently has watched the failure of their candidate to understand the delegate system crying about their rights.  Primaries are private organization's way of finding their candidate.  The party decides and has a system.  Here is the deal, you have no legal right to have a voice.  Especially like many Trump supporters (and Trump himself) who haven't been part of the party very long.  It wasn't that long ago that we didn't even use primaries so the whining is silly.  All in all these people who are acting like they are cheering on at a WWE event and not choosing the leader of the Western World are just dangerous to the values we all stand for and that is scary and annoying.

2. The Media.  I am stunned and shocked at just how much the role of the media has been in the rise of Trump.  In part because he is good television.  Morning shows have always been vacuous and thus play the game but some, like Morning Joe, have cultivated a sense of seriousness in the past.  Now they are worse than a FM morning radio show in a random midwest town who wish they had the intellectual discourse of Bob and Tom.  In fact, I have turned at times to right wing radio to get real discussion, and Bill Kristol is a voice reason.  I keep asking myself if I had followed a rabbit recently.

3.  Anti-LGBT laws and the supporters.  Let me start out by saying that gender is a social construct.  It is, we aren't born with gender we are born with sex,  Throughout history cultures have had more than the two genders that we associate with biological sex in our current western culture.  In fact people who didn't conform to the gender of their biological sex were consider extra spiritual and holy in many of those cultures.  But today if you are male you should present a gender identity in a fairly narrow focus.  Ambiguity is seen as disquieting.  So much more so by those who chose to transition so that their biology matches their gender identity.  Over the course of the last few decades the LGBT community has made great strides to claim their civil rights and their place in the tapestry of our culture. They have always been here, just too often hidden.  So it is not unusual today to encounter a transsexual person in everyday life.  And guess what they too have to use the bathroom. Some on the right have decided that to make laws forcing those people who have made the decision to go through with transitioning to use the bathroom of the sex on their birth certificate.  This in not only insane it is hateful discrimination. Yes hateful.  I could go into details about this but I can just ask, what is the state's interest in banning transgender people from using public restrooms that match their current gender and in many cases morphology?  Seriously.  The argument made by morons like Louie Gohmert who said that he would dress as a woman to get into a woman's bathroom shows the perverse nature of the right wing lunatics, a sentiment I have heard too often from preachers up to an including a guy who ran from  President.  What the hell is in these people's heads.
The bottom line is that we live with people who present their gender differently from us, they should not be made into pariahs because some on the right feel icky about it.  BTW chances are pretty good that you have used a restroom with someone who is transgender at some point in time and you certainly have been in the same bathroom and perhaps shower with someone who is gay if you ever went to school gym class.  Get over it and mind your own business.

4.  Men's Rights Activists  I have fought for men's rights most of my adult life.  I believe that gender equity is something that liberates us all.  Many times with Noah people would say "I see you are babysitting".  No you can't babysit your own kids it is called parenting.  I work most of my career in a female dominated arena and I have spent countless hours fighting for men in caring professions to not be seen as predators.  I have changed the way men are treated in early childhood settings and I have been vocal about men getting custody rights.  So I am pained when the first club out of a Men's rights advocate's bag is misogyny.  I see it all the time.  It is disgusting.  Equity means equity and while I have encountered a few women who spend most of their energy putting down straight men, they are not nearly the norm. Clearly there are women who have come to an anti-man stance.  There is also an anti-competency voice in mass media, particularly advertising, when it comes to men.  (How do I clean the dishes?  better get a woman).  Those are issues men's rights group can get behind.  But trying to make date rape legal?  Call women who want to control their own sexuality whores?  That is simply hate.

5.  The Role of Fathers in Advertising  As a follow up to what is above, there is a growing trend of commercials where men either attempt to or actually spy on their daughters on dates.  One Kevin Hart commercial comes to mind where he follows his daughter with her boyfriend to the point he frightens him.  This is an old tome but one that says a lot about our culture.  We don't want to discuss sexuality with our teens so use scare tactics to avoid the issue.  What if we taught boys and girls at an early age how to act appropriately with each other and how to express desire without having to make that desire so negative.  This could be a whole post in and of itself but it reduces the girls in these ads to simple weak minded victims and boys into sex-crazed predators.  Neither is healthy for our culture.

Okay enough negativity.  Maybe I will write something funny next.  I don't know but it is good to purge every now and then.

Friday, April 8, 2016

So It Sneaked Up on Me

I was talking to someone yesterday and I said that I will take care of that by mid-April.  He looked at me and said that a week of April had already gone by so I should hurry.  A week of April has passed and that means the anniversary of my mother's passing is here.  Tonight will mark 3 years since she went to bed and didn't wake up.  Funny, it wasn't on my mind, I guess I have become used to the idea that she is no longer around.  I am not happy nor proud of that.  I see the influence of my mother in many things that I do.  

I am at an age where it seems every few weeks another person I know loses a parent.  Each time I want to reach out and bring comfort to the bereaved, and each time I remind them that one way that our loved ones have eternal life is through us and our living out the values and traditions that they gave us.  But another way is to tell their stories.  There are many stories I could tell about my mom.  

My mom taught me to cook.  Well not directly, she didn't sit me down and instruct me, but cooking real food was something my mom did almost every day when we were growing up.  She would rip open a bag of potatoes and peel them while she asked about our day.  I remember watching her chop red cabbage for a dish I didn't appreciate until I was much older and one of my favorite memories is that of her making her creamed spinach, grinding it through a hand cranked grinder.  Her kitchen was a place of learning.  In my mind she talked through what she was doing.  She also instilled in me the importance of food and family, but also modeled for me a way to make the mundane action of cooking dinner a special moment, a holy time.  I loved the kitchen and at times the dining room when her meal prep out grew the space in there.  She is with when I make mashed potatoes and put a chicken in the oven.  She is there when I ponder what will make the soup pop and she is there when I enjoy the food that made me move my dinner around my plate hoping she wouldn't make me eat the cabbage or brussel sprouts.  

Mom I miss you.  May I never forget all you gave me and may that live on forever. 

God filled with mercy,

dwelling in the heavens' heights,
bring proper rest
beneath the wings of your Shehinah,
amid the ranks of the holy and the pure,
illuminating like the brilliance of the skies
the souls of our beloved and our blameless
who went to their eternal place of rest.
May you who are the source of mercy
shelter them beneath your wings eternally,
and bind their souls among the living,
that they may rest in peace.
And let us say: Amen.

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...