Happy Winter!

11 Dec 2006 In: Holidays, Jewish Identity, JVoices

It’s that time of year again, when I spend too much time waiting in line to buy things, wondering why so many Jewish musicians wrote Christmas music, and trying to explain to people who don’t believe me that Hanukkah is a minor holiday.

It’s not that I don’t like the whole “Holiday Season” idea. It’s just one more way that people try to convince themselves that Look! We’re all the same, celebrating our different holidays at the same time, all of us exactly like each other! But, of course, we’re not all the same, and even though it’s a lovely idea that everyone should be celebrating at the same time, it strips the individual holidays of their meaning.

Sure, it’s fun to decorate things, but I did that during Sukkos! Yes, I love staying up all night, but that’s why we have Shavuos! Celebrating a chain of events by reenacting them? Dressing up like our favorite characters? Pesach! Purim! No wonder Christmas is so stressful – they’re trying to have too much fun at once and not saving any for the rest of the year.

So given that Jews are lucky enough to have so many delicious holidays throughout the year, why the fuss about menorahs in public places? More »

…are two fascinating new books on politics and culture published this year.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of Tikkun Magazine; he holds Ph.Ds in philosophy and psychology. The Left Hand of God and the Right Hand of God, as Lerner defines them, do not describe theistic beliefs so much as they describe worldviews based on generosity and compassion (on the Left) and on competition and vengeance (on the Right). These two worldviews elucidated in The Left Hand of God can be used to explain the differences in politics and in religion associated with the Left and Right.

Lerner writes: “…although the right may talk about love or invoke God, what they have in mind is the Right Hand of God. The Right Hand of God is the hand of power and domination, the vision of God in which love is presented as consistent with celebrating the pain inflicted on those who are perceived as evil. … It’s this vision of a muscular religion, backed by a God of power, that ensures that no one will ever call them naïve, because in their actual politics they are not siding with the powerless but cheerleading for the powerful.? (pp. 20-21) More »

Favorite Clips of the Week

8 Dec 2006 In: JVoices

I’ve been devouring some great reads this week, so here’s a quick round up:

And this just in, McKinney introduces a bill to impeach Bush–Read my commentary on Jspot.org

In light of the articles I’m linking to about the discrimination Muslims experience in the United States, I’m excited to see what will come of this new project, New Ground, in LA. “NewGround is a joint PJA and MPAC program that engages diverse groups of Muslims and Jews in an innovative community-building process of intra- and inter- faith education and reflection, leadership training, and civic engagement.” Read more

CBST Rabbis’ Sharon Kleinbaum and Ayelet Cohen, leaders of the largest LGBT synagogue in the world, have offered one of the best concise responses I’ve seen thus far in noting the outcomes of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards decision this week. I say concise because while I agree with a lot of it, I still, however, wish that there was more contesting, rather than reaffirming, of the “Levitical prohibition” since the text itself is more complicated than that–particularly as I mentioned on jspot when you look at the root verbs and because the gender is more than male and female (because yes the Torah has more than two genders in its narrative). We aren’t gaining anything by reaffirming their narrative and not publicly challenging this interpretation.

With that, I want to share their letter.

Dear Congregation Beth Simchat Torah members,

More »

Parsha Vayishlach – Gangstas of the Torah

7 Dec 2006 In: JVoices

Where is Your Golem?

7 Dec 2006 In: JVoices

The golem as a figure in Jewish folklore was discussed tonight by Prof. Raphael Shargel at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, Rhode Island. The golem is a clay effigy of a man that can be magically animated and sent on brief missions. Often, particularly if the mission is not of a sacred nature, the plan goes awry, and this soulless robot is always put down for the good of humankind. Erasing the “aleph” from its place next to the “mem tav,” and thereby changing the meaning of the word from “truth” to “death,” is one magical formula to stop the golem in his tracks and return him to a piece of clay.

How many kinds of golems are there, I wonder?
An elected politician who wages war and cannot easily be recalled.
A fetishized magazine model who we fail to see is drawn from cold and anger.
A life without spirit, like a worker who has no weekend, like a creature that does not even know its own bliss.
A wave of fanaticism instigated by a truth carved in stone, a truth that was never born, doesn’t grow, and is the death of the pursuit of wisdom.

How long has it been since I touched my soul? I reach out, trembling. It smiles and waves back.

I received this alert today from JVP and and thought it was important to post:

Earlier this year, HR 4681, the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006” passed the House overwhelmingly. A milder version, S. 2370 passed the Senate as well. Because the two bills were different, they did not become law. Today, however, the House passed the Senate version of the bill by voice vote.

S 2370 would severely restrict all funds to the Palestinian people, making humanitarian aid more difficult and would also severely limit diplomatic contacts with the duly elected Palestinian government. Since the US has not given direct aid to the Palestinian Authority in years, this bill will only stop funds that would not get into the hands of a Hamas-led PA anyway. It would also severely impact funding for UN programs designed to help the Palestinian people. Only the President’s signature remains.

The Palestinian people have faced enormous hardships, even by their standards, in 2006. This bill will only make it worse.

Click here to take action or call the White House or faxing directly at the following numbers:

Phone 202-456-1111
Fax 202-456-2461

Gavriel Ansara is a polycultural polyglot from an observant Jewish background with ties to several continents. He is a board member of Keshet, Boston’s Jewish GLBTQI advocacy and education organization, and founder/coordinator of Tiferet, a Keshet project designed to meet the needs of Orthodox and traditionally observant Jews who self-identify as gender and/or sexual minorities. An educator, healer, and literary alchemist, his current research involves pioneering holistic psychological models for positive trans youth development and needs assessments for diverse trans youth populations to make successful transitions to adulthood. He has given numerous guest lectures and invited presentations.

IB of JVoices: What does it mean to you to be Jewish?

Gavriel: It means that I have an ineradicable obligation to strive toward making each moment of my life a seamless prayer that pays homage to Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, the
Divine Beloved. Being Jewish compels me to give voice to those whose voices are without validation, to use my malchut (sphere of influence) to promote the sanctity and dignity of existence, to devote myself utterly to Tikkun Olam, to fulfill my mission as a potential light of justice and Torah in the world.

For me, being Jewish is about knowing G-d intimately rather than restricting myself to the intellectual sphere of mere belief. Being Jewish is less about a fixed destination than about constantly drawing closer to G-d, opening myself more deeply to sacredness, to discovering myself as thoroughly as possible so that I can give more of myself to Hashem.

My Jewish heritage leads me to pursue social justice and to challenge myself and others to examine biases, limitations, and barriers to our individual and collective growth. As a Jew, I am forced to grapple with tradition and halacha with intellectual integrity, accepting Torah as a living organism that neither ignores the personal and contemporary circumstances of my experience nor wavers based on mere convenience.

Being Jewish is complex, mystical, soulful, passionate, ecstatic, painful, and profound.
More »

This past Saturday, December 2, was the 17th anniversary of my Bas Mitzvah. A few months ago I called the rabbi at the Conservative shul in Connecticut where I grew up and asked if I could come back and sing my torah portion again. He was excited to hear that I wanted to come back, but there was another Bas Mitzvah that morning – since I was applying to cantorial school, he asked, would I like to come and be chazzan(it) that morning? My first cantorial gig outside of New York? Of course I said yes.

Over the next months my rabbi and I played phone tag as the plans shifted and changed, and he finally sent me a tape of the morning service so I’d be singing familiar nusach (music) for as much of the service as possible. Yes, a tape. There was a rumor that he might send me MP3s, but in the end it was an audio tape, sent with no case through regular mail in a plain envelope. After a long and embarrassing search, I bought a walkman and started preparing.

My boyfriend and I arrived at the shul early, and I quickly met the Bas Mitzvah girl and her family before the service started. I was even wearing one of the kippot from my Bas Mitzvah; is was regrettably pink, but authentically 1989. The service went well, the three of us taking turns leading different prayers, the rabbi commenting and translating for the guests who weren’t familiar with the service, the Bas Mitzvah girl leading like she’d been doing it her whole life. More »

Carter Loud and Clear

5 Dec 2006 In: Occupation, Palestine

Tip of the hat to The Forward for posting this–I flipped through Carter’s book while visiting A Capella Books in Atlanta. Just a flip though. Haven’t yet read the entirety.

Watching the video, on the one hand, I’m not excited about his enthusiastic placement of the US in this, almost as a “savior.” On the other, I’m grateful that a leading political figure is taking a strong stand for Palestine, and working to break down the binary that to be for Palestine and peace for Palestinians means you must be against Israel. Quite the contrary, as Carter attests in response to a caller.

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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