Submission from Nick Heap

I am struggling right now with a question of membership – specifically with whether or not to pursue becoming a member of the new Christian church that I have been attending, or trying to actually sit down with the Rabbi/Cantor at the Temple I have also been attending and work on completing my conversion to Judaism.

And maybe it’s not an “or” question, maybe it’s an “and” answer.

Is it hypocritical to want to be in both places? To consider myself a Jew that willingly attends services at a Christian church? It’s not a conflict of time – services are on a totally different schedule. {laughing} And there is no compulsion or mandate from anyone which says that I must participate in any part of the Christian service (specifically communion) that I do not choose to take part in there.

I actually sat down to to discuss this question with the Pastor on Sunday – specially about the issue of money. I know that there’s a pretty steep cost to becoming a member of my Temple – and that if I want to become a member of the Church, I would also be expected to contribute *some* amount of money to them as well (and I WANT to do so, contribute what I can financially – that’s not the issue, really).

My hesitation come in because I am really concerned that they (the Temple) will charge me if I go to them and ask them to help me in completing the process of conversion – up to and including the ceremony. There is a huge part part of me that rebels against the idea that there is price tag associated with anything that deeply and truly spiritual. Especially because I know that if I were to go to the Pastor of the Christian Church that there would be NO charge or even mention of money for being Baptized and converting to Christianity.

Also, I can attend – and have been attending – Bible study classes now for about a month – and there’s no charge for that at the Church. And yet, everywhere I look at the Temple there is some cost associated with Torah study – especially for learning Hebrew. Wouldn’t one think that as a follower of Judaism, that teaching the language of the Torah should be free – so that anyone can know the word of G-d?

It used to be that I was worried that I’d have problems with converting because of my gender issue – will I be considered a man and able to become a male member of the Jewish faith, even though I was born female? Today – that’s almost a non-issue. But this money thing – that really is an issue. And I really don’t have an answer and am hoping that someone out that can help me, because I don’t like feeling this way about a faith that I love and that I deeply care about and that enriches my life in so many ways.

Off With Your Neurasthenic Haze!

10 Nov 2006 In: JVoices

Saddam Hussein’s death sentence was arranged to be pronounced by an Iraqi court two days before the U.S. midterm elections. This did not fool Americans into thinking the nearly four-year-old war is an archetype of success.

We voted. Well, 40 percent of eligible voters showed up, anyway. Not bad for a midterm. Does that count for half credit?

Those who showed up made waves. The Democrats control the House and the Senate for the first time in 12 years. The new Speaker of the House will be, for the first time, a woman and an Italian-American.

AP writer David Crary trumpeted a “triple setback for conservatives”: More »

Parsha Vayera

10 Nov 2006 In: Arts and Culture, JVoices, Opinion, Religion, Torah

This week Torah portion is an action-packed affair. G#d appears to Abraham in the form of three men. Abraham seems to serve them one of the most traif meals imaginable and we get history’s earliest recorded punch line. The ugly side of gay love rears… its head… in Sodom. Lot’s daughters make sure the family comes first. A part of the parsha we didn’t take on is another episode in Abraham’s successful career as a pimp. Some years later he prepares to sacrifice Isaac whence many believe Christianity got the idea of sacrificing one’s beloved son. Of course if old JC were here today, observant Jew that he was, he would join us in wishing you – SHABBAT SHALOM! – a & s

Dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors.
-Lewis H. Lapham (1935- )

Abraham and Sarah are the first Jews, the ones we’re meant to look to for guidance, our ancestors. They presented us with the first example of how we can interact with a higher power we never see and how we are expected to interact with the rest of the world.

But don’t think that they blindly accept whatever god tells them – they don’t. They question, they challenge, and Sarah, famously, even laughs at god. And yet many of their descendents claim that the way to be a “good Jew” is to follow all of the ancient laws without questioning why.

This week we turned some more red states blue, despite the efforts of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Fewer people are blindly following Bush, and more are finally questioning his actions and his scare tactics. More people are rejecting the idea that marriage needs to be “defended.� More people are accepting that Roe v. Wade got it right.

On Tuesday, we questioned and challenged authority, and god saw that it was good. More »

This afternoon, thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews will be gathering at the Israeli Consulate in protest of tomorrow’s Jerusalem Pride March. Please join our community at 3:00pm at the consulate for a peaceful demonstration of tolerance in support of the LGBT community of Jerusalem in the midst of this violence and hate. We are not gathering to provoke the Chassidim but rather to provide an alternative voice of peace and tolerance. This will be a dignified, quiet, and prayerful gathering. We plan to meet on the west side of 2nd Ave between 42nd and 43rd Streets, but if we are forced to move, look for the CBST banner and the rainbow flags.

Contributions are still being accepted to the Jerusalem Open House Emergency Fund at

Together we will model peace and show the world the presence of GLBT Jews in support of equal rights in Jerusalem.

so, summary: the haredi jews have declared a holy war on the jerusalem pride march. pretty much any horrific thing you can imagine has been used as a threat against the pride march — apples armed with razor blades, bombs, stabbings, murders, whatever it takes, right down to a kabbalistic curse. i am most terrrified by the promised violence, already taking shape in riots all throughout the haredi neighborhoods. this is a war against the gays.

tomorrow, evidently, 10,000 satmar jews are going to lobby the israeli consulate here in new york against the pride march. ten thousand. my coworker and dear friend rachel has been organizing left and right to get press to cover what is going on, to get clergy to denounce this religious bigotry, and when she told me about it i was horrified. the satmars don’t even like israel! don’t even acknowledge it! and yet here they come!

i find myself in the uncomfortable position of considering being at an israel-related rally for the first time in my life saying something other than “free palestine” or “end the occupation.” while all this is happening, israeli forces are killing civilians, again. in fact, as you can see in the above article, the incursions into palestine are being held up as a reason why the march might not happen. i find it fucking ridiculous that the riots in haredi jerusalem are being allowed to continue, given that we have all seen how israel deals with other kinds of civilian violence. were these threats — threats of death! — coming from the mouths of palestinians, they’d be dead or in custody.

i put this out here because i feel like people need to have the choice of whether or not they will attend the counter protest (3pm at the embassy as of the last i’ve heard), even as it makes me uncomfortable. i’m uncomfortable because there’s an assumption that, as a jew, i will have an opinion on this. i’m uncomfortable because i have a right to an opinion on this just for being jewish and in fact my commentary as a left wing jew is vital in countering this ridiculous hijacking of a religion i am a part of. i am uncomfortable with the assumption that i should care about this more than i might care about something similar because it is happening in israel. this holy war, this particular one, is about more than israel and palestine for me, but i know that comes from my own privilege.

so there you have it. how do you square these things away? i assume, erroneously i’m sure, that this blog has an anti-occupation bent. how do you deal with israel knowing that it is committing these atrocities and that it is an apartheid state? i am curious about this.

(again, disclaimer: i work for CBST; the parts not expressly from them should be assumed to be from me):

To quote from the press release:

To protest this year’s planned march, several hundred Ultra-Orthodox Jews rioted in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, lighting fires, overturning trash bins, and pelting police and motorists with stones, over the past week. Religious bigots from other faith traditions have expressed support for these protesters and voiced similar sentiments denouncing the JOH march. Over the weekend, the Israeli attorney general announced that the march will go one, regardless of threats of violence and death threats against parade organizers.

According to CBST’s Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who was the North American Co-Chair of WorldPride, “Once again, hatred of gays and lesbians is uniting a group of people who usually have nothing good to say about each other. Religious leaders from fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism, Islam and Christianity are finding common ground in homophobia. They have turned a gay pride march into a war against gay people.�?

There is a Bet Din mulling a pulsa danura (a Kabbalistic curse that is evidently something of a rite of passage for Israeli politicos, essentially calling for the death of the person against whom it is chanted, although per Wikipedia it is of course controversial as to what it really is), there are riots, there are death threats on the head of the JOH staff. It is, in short, a mess of homophobia. So far, Israeli courts have continued to defend the march’s right to exist, but obviously, that will only do so much. 12,000 members of the police and the army are being called up to protect this; it is expected to be all out war.

CBST is spearheading a nationwide fund drive to help JOH defray costs — costs that include funding some percent of those 12,000 security workers, food and water in case the rally is surrounded, and field hospital arrangements. If you are interested in more information, or giving, go to their website:; it’s right there on the front page.

Relevant articles:,7340,L-4424,00.html

(I am constantly forced to wonder what would happen if it was any other group making this kind of threat, but that’s another post in the making.)

I’ve just seen Borat, the movie featuring the apochryphal Kazhak, having been dragged to it by my 15 year old. I was stunned by it, and sat squirming uncomfortably one moment after laughing uproariously. I was surprised, also, because the movie is completely different from what I expected.

From the media coverage, I expected something along the lines of Steve Martin’s wild and crazy Czech brothers. I expected political incorrectness about backward central Asian countries. Surprise Surprise! It’s a satire of US mores.

No one seems to be discussing that, however. More »

We are not doing enough in our own communities to counter xenophobia and anti-Muslim hatred that is perpetuated, particularly through our media, when I see reports like this, and I hope more Jewish groups join in denouncing these acts of violence:

Five Jewish teenagers, Yitzi Horowitz, 15, David Brach, 15, Yossi Friedman, 17, Shulomi Bitton, 16, and Benjamin Wasserman, 16, all from Brooklyn, are expected to appear in court Friday in connection with the beating of a Muslim man in Brooklyn.

The suspects were arrested Sunday after police say they shouted racial slurs before punching Shahid Amber, a man of Pakistani-descent, with brass knuckles and breaking his nose outside an area Dunkin’ Donuts.

According to a court document obtained by NY1, the teens also shouted “…terrorist mother-[expletive,] you [expletive] our country. Why are you here? Go back to your country and never [expletive] with the Jews.”

The District Attorney classified the assault as a hate crime, and three of the five suspects are being tried as adults.

“The man was attacked by these people who identified him as a Muslim and claimed that was the reason they attacked him and that’s of tremendous concern to us because he wasn’t attacked just as an individual, but as a member of the Muslim community,” said Joel Levy of the Anti-Defamation League.

In reading the ADL’s, release on their condemnation of the attacks, I was particularly struck by this part: “Hate crime statutes have been adopted by 45 states, including New York State. Many of those laws are based on a model statute crafted by ADL, which has long been in the forefront of national and state efforts to deter and counteract hate-motivated criminal activity.”

What struck me in particular about ADL’s statement, and what adds another level of sadness, questioning, probing and wanting more from our communities, was this last paragraph about hate-crime legislation being modeled from the ADL.

Hate-crime legislation has raised red flags for many of us within the advocacy world, (and I’ve had this conversation a fair amount in LGBT advocacy groups)—that hate-crime legislation relies upon a criminal justice system that is far from just, in which people of color and low-income people are profiled, arrested and convicted at massively higher rates–and no, it is not because they commit more crimes, (which has been documented particularly in drug law policy).

Many of us want to demonstrate or find means to highlight when an act of violence is predicated upon hate that is reflective of deeper oppression and hatred of entire communities, but don’t want this by feeding into the idea that longer prison sentences or increase in rates of incarceration will lead to a more just or humane world.

There is little that is restorative or redemptive about our prison system. These are questions that are still being weighted through, and questions some advocacy groups are still wrestling with in figuring out how to address crimes and the severity and seriousness of acts of hate, and at the same time, attempting to offer a different model of addressing this hate so as to not have it continue to cycle and build and replicate. This does not mean ignoring or excusing or saying that this violence is OK, but it is saying and acknowledging that to begin to address systemic violence it means acknowledging that there are generations and histories of pain and violence involved, and how do we begin to heal that, rather than thinking that if we add more years onto a prison sentence that this will “prove the point” and lead to a more just world.

So, I would love to hear if others have had conversations about different models of addressing hate-crimes in the work that they do, or any resources that people might find useful to share.

crossposted from jewschool

Lech Lecha

3 Nov 2006 In: JVoices

In his book “Gifts of the Jews” Thomas Cahill writes that Judaism is ‘the only original idea in all of human history.’ Outside Judaism history is viewed as a circle with peoples ascending to nobility, falling into depravity then repeating the cycle. But, writes Cahill, when Abraham (in this week’s parsha) crosses into the promised land, Judaism invents the unknown further and all innovation, change, improvement even the ideas of progress flow from that. As Jews we can only say, “Works for us!” – SHABBAT SHALOM!

a & s

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