Sunday, February 14, 2010

Theodicy and the Wrath of G-d.

Theodicy, simplified, is the age old question of why bad things happen to good people.  I have always asked myself this question.
It started at an early age, I had a younger sister that died at around age two.  It devastated my mother and she has never been the same.  Later on in life, I questioned how G-d could let the Holocaust happen.  More recently we had the Tsunami and the earthquake in Haiti.
In fact, the earthquake and Pat Roberston, the Evangelical Christian host of the 700 Club are part of the reason that finally drove me to write this. I find the guy hideous to accuse people who are victims of an earthquake of making a pact with the devil.  Whatever happened was not the wrath of G-d, it was a horrific geological event of nature.
If one thinks that every bad thing that happens is G-d punishing someone, well then what did the the victims of the Holocaust do?  Wait a minute...let me guess, Pat, they weren't Christian?  Would we say the same thing for people who get cancer, even young children?  Where does it end?  Working in health care, I see inexplicable tragedies as a part of life almost everyday.
This view of G-d punishing people is comparable to belief in Santa Claus.  Those kids that are nice will get the best presents and those that are naughty will get nothing or something bad.  What about those kids that are poor, were they not nice?
If you just read the Bible and take every word literally without Midrash, without analysis, and without discussion you could draw simple conclusions like this.  Life is just not that simple.  This is why we need to continue to explore the Torah and it's meaning forever.  It is not document to be read in black and white as a fairytale would be to a 7 year old.  It is not for us to take the story of Sodom and Gemorrah and apply it to every disaster on earth.  We cannot make life into a Star Wars story of sheer good verses evil...with G-d playing Luke Skywalker and the devil playing Darth Vader.
Rabbi Mark S. Golub, in response to this Haiti disaster, brought up the passage from Deuteronomy 30:19 during his Shalom TV presentation of Jewish 101.
The Jewish Study Bible Translation:
"I put before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life-if you and your offspring would live."  So what's the message there in all this?  For me it says, here it is the world in all its good and bad, but no matter what happens don't abandon G-d.  Instead do what you can to promote good in the world and loving kindness.  As with any portion of the Torah, I will leave it to all of us to interpret.
And what about the Shoah, the Holocaust?
In the book Essential Judaism by George Robertson, he brings up some of the responses drawn using the work of Stephen Katz, director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University.  There are 9 of them, but only some of them speak to me.  I have placed them loosely in order of their importance to me, not in the order in which they were written in the book.
1.  "G-d does not act in human history: God gave humanity free will.  Radical evil of the sort manifested by the Nazis is the price we pay for freedom.  The Shoah is the work of men, evil men, not G-d."
2. "The Holocaust is like all other tragedies.  While it raises once again the question of theodicy, it does not significantly alter the problem"
3.  "The Shoa is an inscrutable mystery, transcending human understanding.  Like all G-d's mysteries it demends of us faith and silence."  (I would not subscribe to silence as I think we must remember this tragedy to prevent it happening again.)
4.  "Like the binding of Isaac, the Shoah is a test of our faith in G-d."
5.  "The Shoah is an act of revelation in which a new, 614th Commandment was voiced:  You shall not grant Hitler a posthumous victory, you must survive."
The ones I don't necessary feel speak to me are the following:
6.  "As stated in Isaish 53, the Jewish people are the "suffering servant" of all mankind, suffering in atonement for the sins of others."  (This one sounds a little too much like Christianity to me, just replace "the Jewish people" with the name Jesus).
7.  "The Shoah is an example of hester panim/the hiding of the face of G-d, an occasion in which G-d is absent from human history."  (While I just don't believe G-d takes a leave of absence, however, from the point of view a victim, I could see why this conclusion would be drawn.  I would not begin to understand their experience.)
8.  "G-d is dead.  If there really was a just and powerful G-d, the Shoah could not have taken place.  Therefore, G-d is either dead or never existed."  (While this approaches blasphemy to me, I don't believe G-d is a mortal being who can die.)
Finally, the one I totally disagree with:
9.  "The Shoah, like the destruction of the Temple and other national catastrophes, was punishment for the sins of the Jewish people, who had forgotten the mitzvot."  (I think people like Pat Robertson came up with this one.)
So I would say to anyone reading this...sure, it would be nice to arrange life into neat little cubbyholes and explain everything.  Fortunately, we are given the brains to explore the deeper meaning of life.  Don't take the easy way out, instead look for explanations with substance.
30th of Sh'vat, 5770 / ל׳ בשבט תש״ע

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why ask why? Building My Jewish Identity

Alright, I have realized I am tired of explaining my Jewishness to people.  So outside of my sponsoring Rabbi and the Beit Din, I am done.
I find myself constantly doing this with anyone who knows that I am converting.  I need to stop.  Once I convert, I am Jewish and it should not matter I was not born and raised that way.  Yes, I have a lot to learn, but on the other hand who doesn't?  I have a lifetime of study ahead of me as does any other observant Jew.
I find myself explaining these personal things yet again in my Torah class or to a new person I meet who happens to be Jewish.  Not everyone needs to know my business.  I realize there will be occasions that I may need to share this with others, but not ALL the time.  I found myself thinking I have verbal diarrhea when it comes to this subject.
My rabbi gave me an article called "Ethnicity is Not Judaism" by David Essex...
It talks about Judaism being based on Torah, Israel and the Sages, not being traced to the shtetls of Eastern Europe.  While 1/2 of me can be traced to Italy and 1/4 of me to the Civil War, that last 1/4 can indeed be traced to Eastern Europe.  Grandma did wear a babushka (you know one of those gorgeous scarves women wore from that area, whenever it was slightly windy). 
So what is my problem here?  I would say I am ashamed of my family's own identity crisis.  I am ashamed that my family felt it was so bad to be Jewish that they blew it off and converted.  What the heck were they thinking?  Where were their values?  What brought this on?  I wish that for one day I could go back to my great-grandfather's life and be that "fly on the wall".  Realistically, I will never know the answers to these questions.  I will never know what was so terrible in their life that they decided to abandon Judaism or did they have some sort of crazed Christian evangelical light bulb go on in their heads?  Honestly, I think it boils down to one simple thing, it made life easier.  I did not live in their time, nor did I walk in their shoes, but my gut feeling is simply someone followed the path of least resistance.
The problem with my gut feeling is that in any event, I feel guilty for what they did.  Which logically is totally not my fault.  Albeit, I live in 2010, on the East Coast, where it is comfortable for me to find a Jewish life.  They didn't. 
For some reason, they chose to settle in Western Pa.  Originally, they were in Cleveland and Sharon, Pa where there were some Jews.  Then they went to New Castle, PA.  Good luck being Jewish there.  I can only assume it was the work and the possibility of having a little money for a change that attracted them to New Castle.  But here I am making excuses for them again. 
Bottom line, it is unfortunate my great-grandparents did what they did.  On the other hand if they hadn't I would not be here, a child of intermarriage both ethnically and religiously.  While I am convinced G-d does not chisel our destiny out for us and free will is an option..I am here because he put me here and I certainly have a right to exist.  I also have a right to be Jewish.  This goes regardless of what my grandparents decided.  I have to live my own life.  Judaism has given me the structure to live it in a more productive way.  It is the right solution for me and the right religion for me.  I need to become more comfortable with the fact this was an individual decision and not just some sort of magical genetic trait.  I need to continue to work on building a Jewish way of life and accepting my new identity because it is what I want.
Building Identity Piece by Piece
19th of Sh'vat, 5770 / י״ט בשבט תש״ע

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

I had a meeting with the Rabbi this evening and he said that after I finish my classes on April 15th, that we could talk about dates for the Beit Din and then the Mikvah.

Right here I think I need to break out in that song from Fiddler on the Roof, "Wonder of wonders, Miracle of Miracles."..remember the tailor when he received permission from Tevye to marry his eldest daughter.
Instead of G-d giving me a wife though, I should say G-d has given me a new life.  It isn' t a perfect life (whose is?), but it is definitely a life that makes more sense to me.

I am so excited about this there are no words.  I talked to him about adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes and he gave me the lady's email address to contact.  Jewish study never ends by the way, if I am doing right by my religion, I will be spending the rest of my life studying, but that is okay as that is part of what I like about Judaism.  You grow in this religion.
He asked If I am ready and my answer was "Well, I am definitely am not going back to Christianity".  No offense to anyone who feels that is for them, but for me I just have learned too much history and basic Judaism to ever go back into a church again and feel Jesus is G-d.  He just isn't to me.  It is like I have been given too much information now and I would feel like I was totally faking it.  It wouldn't even be the same as the first time I went to my synagogue and felt intimidated by Hebrew and unsure what was going on.   (At times in Hebrew I am still unsure what is going on:). )  However, to go back to church would feel as if I was doing something wrong.  It is in my heart now.
I also went onto say that Judaism has made me feel better about myself.  I see myself as more valuable now.  I see what I do in the world as more valuable.  
So while it is fresh in my mind...he said I need to go back and review my journey to Judaism.  This exact thing will be hard to put into words, I know the story in my heart, though.  The difficult part will be getting it on paper.
Also, he asked me what I really like about Judaism and what I don't like.  The "don't like part" I have put out there already as this blog has been at times a bit of a place to vent, particularly about things I have found frustrating as a potential convert.
For now I will sign off a very happy woman who will study hard and start working on putting this all into words.
22nd of Sh'vat, 5770 / כ״ב בשבט תש״ע

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Women of the Wall

As we approach Martin Luther King day, I was absolutely appalled to see what is going on in Israel.  They have virtually created a Rosa Park's situation.  Instead of putting people of color at the back of the bus though, they shove Jewish women to a small section of the wall and interrogate them and finger print them if they wear tallit.
For a nation that grew out of the oppressed, that seems awfully oppressive to me.

As a new convert, who is pre-mikvah, I am not turning away from Judaism, but I think the Israeli government could get a clue.  Yes, just what I need to do... piss off the Israeli government, but it just seems they went a little too far in my book with the interrogation and finger printing of Anat Hoffman.

I encourage anyone who reads this blog to investigate further this situation and sign the petition for these women or help support them in some way.  Women have in my opinion long been the stronghold of a Jewish family, why are they not allowed to pray the same as men in the year 2010?
FYI-I am not a drastic feminist and I am not one who wants to rewrite the entire Torah so it is gender neutral-another huge topic, but not today.  However, I do not think Jewish women should be shoved aside to an out of the way place as that to me is saying their prayers aren't equivalent to those of men.  I also don't think wearing a prayer cloth should be so offensive to anyone.  If these ultra-orthodox men feel so inadequate they are threatened by a prayer cloth then what does that say about them?  It's all about control.  What's next, do women have to dress up like Yentl to use a prayer cloth?
1st of Sh'vat, 5770 / א׳ בשבט תש״ע

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No my name isn't Maimonides

This week's assignment by our Reconstructionist Rabbi..was a little overwhelming.  For me the word Midrash brings up pictures of men like Maimonides who could do everything from Midrash to medicine.   Somehow, I just don't picture Kathy the convert as being in the same category.  However, since I sweated bullets over this I thought it is worth publishing.
Midrash of Exodus 23:9 by Kathy with editing by her friend Jillian

“You shall not oppress a stranger for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

This can be interpreted simply as "we must not reproach another with our own faults.”

While there are some who accept a simpler interpretation of this passage, others place greater importance in this dictate of G-d. In her book, “The Committed Life”, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Hineni Organization, states the following:
“We were abused and brutalized in Egypt, and we could have taken that experience as license to brutalize others. However; G-d demanded that we take such pain, turn it around and use it to reach out to others with compassion."

This passage speaks as a piece of strength from the Torah. It teaches us that
we must take the bad encounters in our lives and turn away from their negativity.
Few of us can say that we have not been tarred with the brush of negative forces in our lives. The loss of a precious loved one, the devastation of an unexpected divorce, or finding ourselves a victim of some kind of abuse. All of the aforementioned, in addition to the trials encountered in our everyday lives count as negative forces. It is incumbent upon all of us to muster our conviction and internal strength in order to overcome such challenges.

A rudimentary study of Jewish history offers an example of a people who have survived generations of torture, slavery and in-human persecution. Yet the survivors of such horrors since the beginning of Judaism, have always found a way up and out of the morass. We can, as scholars, use the shining example of such lives as our strongest role models. By their actions, our forefathers educated the next generation, driving them to pursue an unwavering love of their faith, and by their successes in a world, where less than 1% of the population is Jewish, have directed us onto a path to follow: one that equates with the dictates and teachings of a righteous life.

When we allow ourselves to turn our lives around, we will begin to treat others with the loving kindness that all of us desire and deserve. Without this determination, we are left with a negative focus on the past rather than a positive focus on the future. We must take this lesson and internalize it.

When we embrace the light of goodness, we will be drawn into the shelter and the blessings of the covenant.

Midrash is meant to be challenged or challenging....
Good Night for now,
24th of Tevet, 5770 / כ״ד בטבת תש״ע

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Jewish Olympics

In my warped way of thinking sometimes I believe we are having one....
Who is really Jewish, are you Jewish enough?  yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.
This is a part of Judaism that I just don't get yet.  There seems to be a competition of some sort going on between Reform vs Orthodox, between who was born of a Jewish mother or a father, there are even nasty Yiddish words for it.  Just read Chaim Potok's "The Chosen" where they refer to Apikorsim.   Apikorsim are what Hasidim refer to as Jewish goyim, or secular Jews.
I just got done reading my Rabbi's blog on who is an authentic Jew?
Well, first of all I think this question is up for debate, but then why are we really tearing ourselves down as a people anyway trying to answer it?  In Reform Judaism, everything is up for debate and that is part of why it works for intelligent people.  It really isn't the opiate of the masses, because there is too much turmoil for it to work as an opiate.
So we are trying not to assimilate and lose ourselves as a people, but I see us tearing ourselves up as a people.  I liberally include myself in this as I really don't see me reversing my conversion process.   I also truly believe that Jewish people need to look out for each other.

Here's my laundry list/whining list:
a. Thank you, Chabad    If you can read this article and not be discouraged then you are a better person than me.  In fact it is quite frankly a little confusing and since I respect Hispanic people, I thought it was a little tacky using a guy named Juan as an example.
b.  The kosher competition...
I keep as kosher as I can.  I no longer eat pork or shell fish, I occasionally do mix milk and meat together, but I try to limit it as much as I can.  There are no Kosher restaurants in my town.  I do the best I can out of respect for my faith and G-d, not because I think someone maybe watching or that I will be punished by G-d for some sort of food faux pas.
However, I know someone that has 2 dishwasher baskets so that he can change them for his 4 sets of dishes.  He exceeds the required 2, I believe the third is for his son who doesn't keep kosher, I guess the fourth is for Shabbat or Passover.
Also, I forgot to mention this guy is a flash you are using the same even if the dishes aren't touching the sides of the dishwasher, the water from the meat and the milk is still all over the dish washer.  If you can keep a sterile field during surgery, um, I don't think you have to be Einstein to figure this out.
c.  Snide comments,  Rabbi So and So doesn't like converts.  Well then, thank G-d, he isn't my Rabbi.  This is something I heard in one of my Intro to Judaism classes.  Oh, this Rabbi is also the only Rabbi in town not participating in Intro to Judaism classes.
d.  Reform people who slam the Orthodox....some of them are my best friends, too.  I hate to tell you this there are informative things I have found and used for study on Orthodox websites.
e.  Orthodox who slam Reform, "Your synagogue doesn't have services in Hebrew do they?"
In sum, we have plenty of enemies, which is why my grandmother kept my heritage locked in a draw somewhere for so long, so why are we doing this to each other?

My plan, say the Sh'ma, go to bed and be the best I personally can.  I am not in a competition this way.
17th of Tevet, 5770 / י״ז בטבת תש״ע
P.S.  Alysa Stanton, I have great respect for you, I doubt you had an easy time getting to be the first female black rabbi in this sea of controversy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On a lighter note...

Anyone who is still feeling like they had a little too much Christmas....I think the Neil Diamond Christmas album was a little too much for me.  Here is a nice anedote to that.
Shalom TV is presenting a hilarious film called the Hebrew Hammer this week.  My best friend and I were on the floor.  Not recommended for anyone under the age of 15, in my opinion.
It is a film about a New York guy, played by Adam Goldberg, who has to battle to save Chanukah.  If you have a sense of humor watch it, I wouldn't recommend it to the extremely sensitive.  However, if you can do well with Seinfeld you will be just fine.
On the conversion front:  Our Rabbi is on vacation. The retired Rabbi lead our early service this Saturday.  He is more "traditional" for a Reform Rabbi and he pulled out the old siddur (prayer book) on us.  It was a bit of a slap in the face for me.  I thought I was doing so good at services, that was with the transliteration.
So other than watching my favorite football team not make the play-offs, I am studying my Hebrew as I refuse to let this language prevent me from making it to the mikvah...this is not an impossible obstacle, but a learning experience.  The say Jews are the most optimistic people of the world, right?
17th of Tevet, 5770 / י״ז בטבת תש״ע