Finding my place

19 Apr 2007 In: Cantorial School, Gay and Lesbian, JTS, LGBTQ

This past December, when the Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) voted on the teshuvot about “the status of homosexuals” in the Conservative community, I had already completed my application to Hebrew Union College, thinking that it would be years before the Conservative movement made a step forward.

A few days later I sent a letter to the new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Arnold Eisen, who was instrumental in pushing for this change. I grew up Conservative, I said, but as much as I love my Conservative rabbis and congregation, I’m not so sure that I trust the movement to be as accepting and supportive as they are individually. And I applied to HUC as a second choice, since I was absolutely not willing to be in the closet for five years.

In February I auditioned for HUC, and in March I was rejected. And a week later, I was dizzy with relief to see that JTS had decided to admit students who were openly gay and lesbian (as I’ve said before, a separate post on their exclusion of bisexuals or the transgendered will follow…), and that they had extended their admissions deadline for anyone who still wanted to apply for 2007. More »

Here comes trouble.

17 Apr 2007 In: Gay and Lesbian, Halacha, LGBTQ, Parshat, Torah

I love a challenge, but sometimes I get in over my head as a result. Where did I leap this time without looking? Directly into next week’s joint torah portions, the infamous and dreaded Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. This is the source of the line that is most frequently used as ammunition against the queer community: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.” (Leviticus 18:22, JPS translation)

Since I’ve read endless commentaries and interpretations of this line, and the lines which surround it, my first impulse was to read as many other commentaries as I possibly could, partially to gain an understanding of what past criticism had tackled, and partially to ensure that I wouldn’t be inadvertently duplicating any of it. I began my search, expecting that I’d find a dozens of drashot about this line, and was surprised to find that I was mistaken. More »

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One of the things that I love about new media is that sometimes you still get to see at least part of events you weren’t able to make it to in person.

With that, I saw today that the Applied Research Center has posted some videos and summaries from their latest conference, “Facing Race”. The video I’m plugging below is the third of a series that they put up, in which panelists Rinku Sen, Angela Glover Blackwell, Juan Gonzales and Winona La Duke are charged by moderator, Dorian Warren, as either the president (Winona La Duke) or advisors to Democratic presidential candidates, to chart out solutions to advance racial justice in the United States. All of the videos are worth watching, but I especially am grateful when we don’t only discuss problems, but think about solutions. Important conversations, post-Passover, in our remembrance and discussion of past and current day Mitzrayim, our “narrow places” to think about, as Rabbi Kleinbaum discussed in her drash last Friday, how this country still has many “narrow places” to address.

crossposted to jspot

The movers have come—boxes are packed and on their way. I’m charting my cross-country drive, eager to take in parts of the country I have yet to see. Tonight I said another round of goodbyes, still unable to really utter the words. This time, to my brother and sister (in-law) and my nephew, whom I adore. It was lovely to see them, and watch my adorable nephew once again steal the show in Max Brenner’s fabulous chocolate restaurant.

So, I came up to my mostly empty apartment, and entered poetry tonight. This poem reminded me of one of the many reasons I love Stanley Kunitz’s work. He recently passed away, and I remember one thing students of Kunitz, old and young, always said about him. They said, “Stanley, even in his old age, believed he had things to learn and see, and that he was always changing.” So, in the midst of all of my change, I’m taking guidance from elders, and offer you all one of Kunitz’s poems, “The Layers.”

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray. More »

This is worth cross-posting from jspot: Rabbi Jill Jacobs gives us Letty’s List, written in response to Newsweek’s unfortunate Top 50 list:

From Letty Cottin Pogrebin:

(Jill’s note: granted–neither Devora Steinmetz nor Devorah Zlochower are rabbis, but given that both function as such in important ways & otherwise deserve to be on any list of Jewish spiritual leaders, I understand why Letty has them on this list)

————————————
April 6, 2007

Letter to the Editor of Newsweek

In your April 2nd issue, Michael Lynton and his friends rated “The Top Fifty Rabbis in America? according to fame, media savvy, influence, and size of constituency. Though many of the “chosen? are superb rabbis, your list – not surprisingly, given those hyper-muscular criteria – contains 45 men and five women.

I’ve spent the last week soliciting nominations from Jewish friends around the country in order to compile a list of rabbis who satisfy a different set of criteria: spirituality wedded to activism, deeds of lovingkindness, and ability to communicate the meaning and beauty in Jewish life. Since we’re talking about rabbis not bestsellers, their names are listed alphabetically not hierarchically. And since your list was in dire need of affirmative action, you’ll understand why my list contains 45 women and five men:

More »

What do you think of newswires?

13 Apr 2007 In: Media, Writing

Sometimes reading the breaking news on the JTA wire is a bit like watching Mo in Dykes to Watch Out For blow a gasket reading the newspaper. The mind starts to fizzle and pop with each new bit of news that by the end you don’t know which way is up or down. Don’t believe me…well, take a look at just a few of the news bits from today.

Like how Olmert and Abbas are saying Palestinian statehood is “back on the table” or the suspension of Israeli soldiers for using Palestinians as human shields, or how Israel is denying entry to the Muslim wife of an Iranian Jewish immigrant, who is said will face punishment if deported back. Here’s the thing about these wires–they’re like eruptions of information with no context whatsoever–so what to make of why Israel, with the way in which they are engaging with Iran right now, would be responding to this immigration case in this way, or the long-standing painful history of discussions of statehood within the “diplomatic realm”, or…

I think you get where I’m going. So the question, somewhat like the question of blog posts when we drop links to stories, is what are we failing to provide when we rely on wires, dropped links–how in this media age of 8 second sound bites (if you’re lucky) are we failing ourselves and our communities when we provide information in this context? And at the same time, what do we gain by this rapid response of information?

I don’t think it’s a simple answer–in fact it’s a question one hears constantly throughout the world of journalism right now–what integrity are we losing in information sharing–and what are we gaining–what happens when we aren’t thoughtful about the distinction between bloggers and journalists, the sometimes meeting of the two, the often mistaken hubris we all undertake in at times when we think our perspective is “the” perspective? What happens when what we’ve learned to do is just scan, scan, scan to keep abreast, but don’t take enough time to sit, learn and humbly offer stories within context? I’ve thought about this a lot since writing on blogs, both what I’ve enjoyed and what I’ve found missing since I used to write longer form feature stories. When I first starting writing on Jewschool, I was told it was good to drop links, get people responding, whether I agreed or not and I did. I take responsibility for following this, but it wasn’t a good practice, and I learned a lot from that experience about how, for the most part, I don’t want to do writing, or even blogging, and ways in which I do. I’ve also transferred that into hopefully how JVoices has been running. I imagine I’m not alone in thinking through these questions and concerns, so I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts if folks would like to share.

Before Shabbas, and before Yom Hashoah, I wanted to share with you an essay written by Adrienne Rich in the Winter 2007 Newsletter of Poets Against War. From their website:

Poets Against War began in late January 2003, when Sam Hamill, longtime pacifist, declined an invitation to a symposium by Laura Bush to celebrate “Poetry and the American Voice.” Hamill could not in good faith visit the White House following the recent news of George W. Bush’s plan for a unilateral “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq. Instead, he asked about 50 fellow poets to “reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam…to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend your names to our petition against this war? by submitting poems of protest that he would send to the White House. 1,500 poets responded within four days, and this grassroots movements has grown to include poets from around the world, and more than 20,000 poems were published in the largest poetry anthology ever published to date. Poems from Poets Against War have been presented in person, by invitation, to several representatives of the U.S. Congress; many of them have since been introduced into the Congressional Record.

Poetry & Commitment by Adrienne Rich

In “The Defence of Poetry” 1821, Shelley claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power – in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, “A Philosophic View of Reform,” Shelley had written that “Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged” etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft.

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the “struggle between Revolution and Oppression”. His “West Wind” was the “trumpet of a prophecy”, driving “dead thoughts … like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth”.

I’m both a poet and one of the “everybodies” of my country. I live with manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion and social antagonism huddling together on the faultline of an empire. I hope never to idealise poetry – it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed necessity, for both Neruda and César Valléjo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alfonsina Storni, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. And there are colonised poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not easily traced. More »

Parsha Shemini

12 Apr 2007 In: Jewish Life, JVoices, Race, Religion, Sexism, Torah, Yiddishkeit

I honestly can’t remember now what I was searching for online when I first stumbled on this website. I’d never heard of Green Burial before, but being an environmentalist as well as someone who believes in planning ahead, I was intrigued. By the time I’d finished reading through all of the very extensive information on the site, I was fascinated and more than a little excited.

When my grandmother died two years ago, she was buried at the New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island, next to my grandpa and his parents. The family plot is part of a larger community plot that my grandparents and their friends bought all at the same time. It’s a favorite story among the families involved that when they first bought the land, sometime in the early 1940’s, they all went and had a huge picnic at that spot, with music and food and softball, so that every funeral would feel a little bit like coming home.

But three generations have nearly filled up the space; there’s room for my parents, but not for me or my generation. So I’ve been thinking for the last two years about where I might want to be buried when the time comes, since the family picnic ran out of room. More »


Please note: since August 2010, JVoices has ceased publishing new work. We hope you enjoy the articles that remain live as an archive and trusted resource of bold Jewish writing of our time.

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