Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Women of the Wall: A Jewish Feminist's Rant

I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman. ~Anaïs Nin

So, tonight at Hillel the lovely ladies of the Jewish Women's Collective put on an amazing program entitled "Women of the Wall". The wall in question is the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel.

What is the Western Wall? According to the Kotel's website: We all know that the Western Wall, the Kotel, is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. We know that it is the last remnant of our Temple. We also know that Jews from around the world gather here to pray. People write notes to G-d and place them between the ancient stones of the Wall.

So, to make a very long story super short, it's the holiest place in the Jewish religion. I had the incredible opportunity to visit it last month, and it's a life changing experience. To get to pray and experience what it is to visit the wall is incredible enough, but to think that every Jew in the entire world stands up on shabbat to face this wall in prayer, no matter where they are, is pretty mind-blowing.

Some of you may be familiar with some of the controversy that surrounds the Kotel, but if you don't, here's a little background. The wall is divided into two sections: a men's side and a women's side. On either side of the wall is room for people to pray, allowing them to actually touch the stone. That's all fine and good, but the real problem lies in the rules that govern the wall. On the men's side, any man who chooses may wrap himself in a talit, wear tzitzi, and put on teffilin. He may hold and carry the Torah, and may pray allowed. Women, however, must pray silently and are subject to verbal attacks if not physical blows if they wear something as harmless as a talit while they pray.

Why is this? For years, the ulta-Orthodox wing of Judaism has translated the Torah literally and come to the conclusion that women may not study Torah. This includes reading and handling the Torah, and definitely prohibits them from any of the "Jew wear" that many men [within and outside of the Orthodox sect] choose to put on at the wall.

What I love most about Judaism is it's ability to be interpreted so many ways. You can go to temple once a year or as often as you choose and still be a Jew. There are so many incredible and important ways to be Jewish, whether it means being a bar or bat mitzvah, becoming a rabbi, or just opening up the Torah and reading the week's the end of the day you're still a Jew just as same as any other person whom calls themselves a Jew.

What I don't like, on the other hand, is the backward ideas of some sects of Judaism. Women should have any and all of the rights that men do within Judaism. G-d willing, one day I will grow up and get married and be able to raise amazing Jewish children, boys and girls, who will all learn and study Torah the exact same way. I'll go to a shul that will allow my daughter to wear a talit during her bat mitzvah, and a shul that will encourage her to look thoroughly into Judaism.

A particular part of the Torah says [in summary] that women don't need to [ie: shouldn't] study Torah because they are holier than men. Why? Because women bear children. Because women keep home.

Really, ladies? Do we really think we're holier than men? Do we really want to just accept that and not learn Torah? I think it's ridiculous. I think that if a woman wants to wrap herself in teffilin or wear a talit or tzitzi or even a kippah, she should be allowed. If she wants to spend time studying Torah, she should be encouraged.

I want to be an active part of my religion; I don't want to take a backseat because a man says so or because an outdated portion of the Torah eludes to it. The Torah also says that the punishment for disobeying parents should be a child's death by stoning-are we still practicing that? I don't think so.

I'm all for honoring your husband, but this is about being equal in Judaism. This is about standing up to men, Parliment, and even other women whom think that just because this is how it's always been it's how it always has to be. Women are doctors, lawyers, rabbis...but we can't read Torah? We can't wear the religious garments we want?

The Women of the Wall have a good thing going on. They are pushing the limits and what, to some, is accepted practices in certain sects of Judaism. They should be praised not only for their forward thinking, but for their bravery to face not only men who defy their beliefs, but women as well.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute. ~Rebecca West, "Mr Chesterton in Hysterics: A Study in Prejudice," The Clarion, 14 Nov 1913, reprinted in The Young Rebecca, 1982

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Repost: Israel 2009

I sit here listening to Chazak Amenu, looking back on the last two weeks of my life and wondering if they really truly happened. Did I really ride in a jeep in the Golan, landmine fields only feet away? Did I climb Masada despite the tearing pain in my knees and hips? Was it my hand that touched the Western Wall, and my tears that fell there? Was it I who prayed silently at the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem? Could it really have been me who was Bat Mitzvah'd in Jerusalem?

I've always felt a particular pride when it comes to being a Jew. It's not anything that I've ever felt before, a feeling so strong and so intense it pulls me toward anything that can help me define myself as a "good" Jew-text study, community service, and occasionally giving a d'var Torah or a Rosh HaShanah service on short notice.

Israel was a point on my never-ending list of "Jewish experiences" that I had yet to have. From America's point of view, Israel is often viewed as a war-torn country, one that's mangled and bloodied by seemingly constant conflict and distress.

If you have that opinion, you're wrong. I was wrong too. Israel is a county that's beauty tears the seams of it's borders, a paradise in the deserted Middle East. A country with so much conviction and confidence in itself that sometimes it brings you to tears, a type of patriotism that is unspoken and solid, unyielding and undeniable.

Israel is the home my heart has always wished for, the one that is the perfect fit. How ridiculous does that sound? I lived there for two weeks! For any of you who romantics who believe in 'love at first sight', you know what I mean. There is a strange comfort ability to Israel that is different than any place I've ever traveled. While it's interesting, it's familiar. While it's bustling and busy, there is a certain amount of peace and restfulness to it.

In this post, I could write about how quickly Zichron Ya'akov and Tiberias became my favorite places on the face of this Earth, but it would be a mockery of their excellence if I tried to describe them. I could tell you about how the mysticism of Tzfat seeps into your bones and could make you believe anything, but you would never understand. How the emptiness and darkness of the desert at night is like stepping into a vortex. The feeling that washes over you when you see Jerusalem for the first time. The mumbled Hebrew conversation you're able to accomplish with the locals, and the way your heart swells. The pride you feel during your Bat Mitzvah. I could spend hours and pages and bandwidth telling you about the perfection that is Israel, but you would never understand...sometimes I doubt my own ability to comprehend the magnificence that is Israel.

Israel is a place that should never be read of our told about, but experienced. A land that is as diverse as it's people. The holiest land of Jews, Christians, and Muslims all across the planet. The epicenter of creation, if you believe it. The land the Moses searched for, and the land that G-d delivered.

Israel is whatever you want it to be, and always exactly what you need it to be. To me, Israel is home-a place where I can go when I'm alone, when I'm without family, and have an entire nation to call my brothers and sisters. Israel is what my heart yearns for when I feel lost in the world, because I know I'll always have a place there.

Maybe I'm a little Israel crazy. That's okay. Because whatever the case may be, I know I've gotten to go to a land that is home to the most beautiful things I've ever seen and the most amazing people I've ever met. I've made friends that will last a lifetime and had experiences that I'll probably never have again. I've met my people, the Israeli people, and have fell in love with their culture and way of life. I owe so much to the people who sent me on this trip, because it was life changing. Cliche, huh? I don't mind, because it's true.

Be brave be strong
Kulanu Kol echad
Be brave be strong
Tzarich lihyot chazak
Be brave be strong
Namshich l'ha'amin
One hwart, one soul
Chazak Chazak

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Actual Yom Kippur Sermon

A few people have asked my to post the sermon I gave on Monday during Yom Kippur morning services at Hillel. Here it is!

Making mistakes is a part of life. It happens almost every, if not every day. In Judaism, we have the beautiful concept of teshuvah, Hebrew for ‘return’ or ‘turn’. Teshuvah allows us to absolve our mistakes between each other and between G-d…to return us to the right state of being, to patch up mistakes and turn them into a better situation. Simply, teshuvah allows us to refresh and cleanse our not only our conscience’s, but our relationships.

When I was fourteen, I was pretty good at making mistakes. Whether it was a wrong answer on a test or forgetting what time a meeting was at school, I somehow managed to misunderstand or comprehend something incorrectly. These things weren’t the end of the world; they were forgotten almost as soon as they occurred, corrected with better study habits or more precise organization. But, in life, there are mistakes that aren’t that simple to fix, the solutions not as clear, and the dilemma more convoluted. When I was an eighth grade, an argument ensued with a friend. This was a girl I’d known since her first day at my school nearly five years earlier, someone I called my best friend and closest confidant. Her name was -----, and she was a pretty good friend-someone I could talk with, laugh with, and just be myself around. For whatever reason, the cause completely lost on me to this day, she and I got in a fight. I wish I could say it was over something important…maybe that would have justified all of the mean things said and sides taken…but I honestly can’t remember why we fought. With most arguments at that age, there was name-calling and other childish behavior, nothing too serious-but neither of us would back down. This continued for weeks, until I’d had enough of it. I missed my best friend, and I was sure that a simple ‘I’m sorry’ would tie up the loose ends and be a suture to the wound in our friendship. I can remember approaching her in the hallway and mumbling an embarrassed version of ‘Sorry’ to her, ready to forget what had happened and start over again. She had other plans. My apology was rejected, my proposal for starting over denied, and any chance of easy fix eliminated.

Do you remember when you were a kid and no matter what you did, ‘I’m sorry’ covered it? I can specifically remember my mother’s voice commanding ‘Say you’re sorry’ for every situation, and that being enough. My argument with ----- was the first time I can remember that saying “I’m sorry” wasn’t my instant ticket to redemption. Of course, I was angry. How could she not accept my apology? I meant it, I really did. Why wasn’t that enough? I made the decision at that point that I didn’t want to be her friend anyway, not if she couldn’t accept my words.

For about two years, we completely ignored each other. I heard about her through mutual friends and passed her in the halls in high school, but we never spoke. I felt bitter when I saw her with my friends, and I wondered if she even remembered why she denied my apology. In the end, I told myself that I didn’t need to worry about her, and that I had plenty of friends without her, especially if she couldn’t get over a petty argument.

On New Years Eve of that year, I got a phone call. It was -----. At first, I didn’t know how to react-I wasn’t sure how she’d gotten my phone number, or why she was calling. She explained that she wanted to be my friend, that she’d made a mistake, and that she hoped everything could be sorted out. My gut reaction was anger. Who was she to expect me to accept her apology if she couldn’t accept mine? As I listened to her talk, I thought about all of the things that we’d said to each other, all of the times we’d ignored each other.

Through a lot of talking and a little crying, we resolved our feud that had lasted two years. The absolution that I had tried to receive had finally come. Though it took everything I had, I forgave. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t fix everything, but I knew it was something I had to do. If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that there are no quick fixes in human relationships, but their also isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t take that first step.

If I knew back then what I know now, I would have known that there are some things that G-d cannot do. G-d cannot heal the qualms we have with each other. Hashem has left those to us, the human race, to sort out. We are in charge of our own dealings with one another. Every day, it is up to us to control, monitor, and resolve any potholes in our paths with one another. Just like with a pothole on the road, if a problem among people is ignored or goes left alone for long enough, it will only grow in size. By trying to fix things early, we are giving the problem an opportunity to be solved before it can get worse.

In Judaism, at this time every year, we are told to make amends among each other. It is customary, if your apology to someone isn’t accepted, to return to them. This isn’t an idea that we should just do during the High Holy Holidays…this is an idea that should be executed every day. Why absolve problems once a year? Why not fix them as soon as we can? Why not live every day as though we are being judged? Not only will we have better human relationships, but we will be just in the eyes of G-d. We will turn away from bitterness and conflict and toward peace and resolution.

The truth of the matter is this: mistakes are inevitable. No matter how hard we try, we will fail sometimes because we are not perfect. Not even close. Yet, it isn’t important. We don’t need to be mistake-free to be good people…we need to solve mistakes to be good people. We need to make an effort to not leap to judgment or anger when a problem arises among us; rather, we need to focus that energy on absolving.

Given the opportunity, accept all apologies made to you, big or small. Ask forgiveness for trespasses made against others, notable or minuscule. Live your life as if you were to be judged every day, so that every day you may be redeemed not only by others, but by G-d.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Writing for Yom Kippur

I've spent most of my life writing. To me, it's the easiest form of expression and relaxation, far easier than talking or trying to explain myself. For some reason, when my hands touch a keyboard for put a pencil to paper, part of me comes through that I'm only able to find through the written word. It's strange, inconvenient, and perhaps a little dysfunctional, but that's how I am and I suppose that's how I'll always be.

I was asked to speak at Yom Kippur services at my Hillel. First of all, let me say how excited I was when I was approached by my rabbi; she's someone I hold in very high regard and it really has meant a lot to me to have her ask me. At first, I thought that writing for a service would be a lot like any other writing assignment that I've gotten in school; pick a topic, make a web, then get cracking until the whole thing comes together. No, no, that's not right at all. Beyond prefering writing for communication, I prefer it for entertainment; I fancy myself somewhat of a fiction writer, though it hasn't taken me far. I've discovered that writing for Yom Kippur has turned into what it's like for me to write fiction; I have to feel inspired, driven, motivated.

So, here's a 'preview'; a bit of insight that maybe can help me piece together what I want to say more effectively than I have thus far, as well as get some imput through other people.

I want to talk about what word 'teshuvah' or 'return', technically the ten day period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. What does that time mean for us, as Jews, now that Yom Kippur has greeted us? Does it mean that the repentence is over, that we can now take off the shroud of guilt and feel completely guilt free? Has repenting for everything we've done than that year, every wrong we've committed against our fellow man and G-d completely absolved? Or is there another way to look at teshuvah-as a resource that we can have on our minds all year long.

When I was a kid, and even to this day, my parents instilled in me the importance of studying. When I was younger, it didn't matter so much-I figured that I could just do the bare minimum and scrape by with a 'B', and feel pretty good about it; I mean, what's so wrong with being average? I always knew at the end of the grading period there would be extra credit or a big test that I could cram for that might take that 'B' to an 'A'; something far better and that meant more to my parents. Instead of studying and having that 'A' all year, I chose the easy way.

That is how I view teshuvah, and what I think we need to remember today; just because we feel that we can repent during this time and be absolved doesn't mean we shouldn't go into everyday looking to be the best person we can be in every situation; it doesn't mean that we shouldn't apologize and forgive every chance we get; it doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to do everything we can to be in the good graces of G-d. We all want that 'A' at the end of the year, and though there are different ways to get it, there is the easy, less honorable way that you may feel comfortable with but not exactly proud of, and there is the harder way; the way that takes time and thought and is probably a little harder...but it's the way that you will feel proud of, that will bring you joy among you and those around you, and the way that G-d intended.


Okay, so that's kind of a rough idea of what I want to talk about. Thoughts, comments, ideas? Please fire them at me. Criticism? I'd love that as well. Please please please, let me know what you're thinking!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jew Camp in you didn't see this coming.

Last week, I had the luck...nay, the pleasure of spending a week at Camp Ramah Daron in Clayton, Georgia, located about 2.5 miles outside of Atlanta [more often known as "The A-T-L"]. I was there with Seth, Rabbi Ben, and the lovely Susannah along with 12 other Ohio State students whom will be working for Hillel's Campus Entrepreneur Initiative this year. What a mouthful. Basically, myself along with twelve other awesome kids will be promoting Jewish life at Ohio State come Autumn quarter.

I could sit here and go on and on about the boredum we sustained through countless meetings, conferences, and other gatherings with assorted names that all really meant the same thing-"listen to us repeat ourselves 100 times and don't make a sound". But, I won't do that. I won't put you through the same thing I had to go through from 9am until around 5pm everyday half the time we were there, because that part isn't nearly as awesome as the other half of the trip.

To me, the best part of my experience at the conference began on Friday, mid-afternoon. Errin and I had just finished dressing for shabbat and sat outside on a second-story porch, talking on rocking chairs, eating really good snacks [the food the whole week was excellent]. First of all, let me say how much I felt like I bonded with Errin; she really is a remarkable person with all kinds of insight far beyond that of someone our was awesome getting to know her better. We spent a good deal of our time at Ramah on those rocking chairs, and some of my favorite memories of the trip were with her. Anyway, that's were we were two hours prior to shabbat, both dressed in white. The view from the porch was incredible...all trees and moutains, bright sun, and an Israeli flag. Eventually, we ended up under a large shelter-type on the sides with a roof on top, known as the Beit Am. There was lots of singing and dancing, as well as the lighting of shabbos candles and a quick, very camp-style non-traditional service; the best part of that consisted of "Dodi Li".

After that, it was time for a very, very large shabbat dinner. Ohio State sat in the dining area closest to the Israeli fellows and wow, how awesome did that end up becoming! After a massive dinner and lots of conversation, the Israeli fellows started up a round of singing. First of all, let me admit to my illiteracy when it comes to Hebrew: I know none. Zero, zip, nada. The Hebrew that I do know is all memorized or very, very common [which explains why I'm taking Hebrew 101 this fall]. Yet, that night it really didn't matter. For once, I didn't feel entirely left out when I didn't know a song or what the squiggly words in the book meant...because sitting there, banging on a table in time with the song, watching the happiness on everyone's faces...that was more than enough for me. It was incredible.

And I guess that's what I took most away from my trip to Georgia: we are all at a different part of our Jewish journey [that was a big topic at camp]. We're all learning at different paces, but that doesn't make anyone else's learning more important or thorough or better than the next, because it's not about what we know, but how that impacts our lives and what we do with that knowledge and where we go from that point. At least, that's what I took away from it :]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


So, as I mentioned in my last post I've just started doing my own Torah explanation with the help of The Everyday Torah [Weekly References and Inspirations] by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. A few days ago, I was sprawled out at Ryan's house with my book in hand as he did some schoolwork, and I stumbled across something that caught my eye.

As someone who is relatively new to text study [as well as entirely new to Hebrew], I found the word B'raisheet particularly interesting. According to the book, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, a medieval Bible commentator known as Rashi, the first letter of B'raisheet, as he believes it, means "for the sake of" and that the rest of the Torah is resheet. This would mean that the B'raisheet can be described as two terms: the Torah itself and the people of Israel. Further and even more intersestingly, Rashi understands the verse to mean that the heaven and earth were created for the sake of the Torah and for Israel.


If you read Rashi's definition as correct, look what that is to mean. This world was created by G-d for us. Imagine that...the forrests, mountains, oceans, every peak and pit on the face of this Earth being sculpted by G-d for his people. What more of a gift could any human ask for? That G-d created this world to create the Torah so that he could advise his people on a planet that was made especially and specifically for them.

That is by far the coolest, most fantatsic thing I've ever read. More than that, it's comforting; it's easier for me to think that this world was created as a place for me as opposited to me being created to find a place in the world. I believe that G-d has created a world where there are slots for everyone...spaces where we belong. That we fill the gaps of the world with what we do, not that we fill gaps within ourselves with what we do. For example, I know that whatever I do for a career will not only satisfy me, but satisfy the empty place that has been left for me in life and on this planet.

...whoah. No need for science fiction or fantasy when you've got a reality this unbelievable.
[Unless, of course, you're talking about Harry Potter or Twilight. Just kidding :P]