Friday, October 3, 2008

Rosh Hashanah at Beth Elderly

Shiksa Girlfriend and I couldn't decide where to go, but we did know where we didn't want to go:

- Temple Burning Bush with their Used Car Salesman rabbi
- Temple GLBT which is full of people who are nice but more than a tad nuts
- Beth Halfpipe with its oh-so-confusing building

So we opted for Beth Elderly instead. They were very nice and gave us a trial membership for cheap, so I am now officially for the first time ever *technically* a synagogue member. (That goes double for SG.)

We shlepped out there for Erev Rosh Hashanah and stopped in for dinner at the greasy spoon nearby, a fun city institution pretending to be a 50s diner while staffed entirely by barely English-conversant Chinese people. While we were eating I happened to spy the VP of the shul sitting in a nearby booth with his wife. I was amused for a few reasons. First, the shul just got done writing up a new series of kosher bylaws for any food brought into the shul, and this place is totally not kosher. Second, the couple was berating the poor waitress (who, granted, looked like she could care less) for screwing up their hamburger order.

"I wanted it medium rare!"

"No, you said medium. This IS medium!"

"This is medium done. It's totally different!"

And on and on. SG was knitting a hat and reading a book about prostitute empowerment or something, so she missed the show. For my part, I kept ducking behind her head so Not Very ViP wouldn't see me. The waitress disappeared for a while, considerately giving the couple time to loudly bitch about her. "I keep telling you," VP said to his wife. "You have to spell everything out for them." (This seemed slightly unfair to me, given that it can't be that easy to take orders in a second language, or maybe that's just the classes I'm taking on ELL kicking in with sympathy.)

Then the waitress came back. But there was still a problem.

"This is just rare. I wanted MEDIUM rare, darn it!"

Sweet crap. Even I was getting ready to kill them. We paid and left just in time to see her bringing them their food for a third time and testily asking, "You just had water, right?"

Beth Elderly has a new rabbi, who seems nice, though hardly charismatic. He reminds me of the nebbishy Jewish friend from a crappy 90s sitcom like Caroline in the City. Very sweater-vest, if you know what I mean. Anyway he has a wife and a cute baby girl, though they've chosen to name her after a Middle Eastern body of water. Sitting in front of us was a couple in their early 30s with matching giant masses of dreadlocks, which they both stuck paper-thin yarmulkes on top of like little flags when they went up for their aliya.

The service was fine, though the rabbi's sermon weirded me out a little bit- he was trying to talk about the three "days" of RH tied-in with Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot as "the three jewels in the crown" of Rosh Hashanah. This forced imagery wouldn't have been quite so bad had I not seen the same terminology used in a very bad John Hagee sermon a few years ago. The gist of it involved Hagee telling his followers, "It's ok if you have crappy finances, because you'll get a nice crown for it in the afterlife. It's ok if you suffer or die for being a Christian, because you get a Martyr's Crown, and it's even fancier!" (It was at this point that I turned to Sam and asked, "His theology is essentially coming down to promising people invisible hats, yes?" Sam: "Sadly, yes.") So that was a tad weird.

Next morning we set out for Shacharis (morning prayers). I enjoyed sleeping in slightly early, though having to take multiple trains to get there was not terribly awesome. We also forgot to eat breakfast, which is never my preference (as I told SG, "There's no reason to turn Rosh Hashanah into Yom Kippur"). We got there about an hour into Shacharis, but they only seemed like they had been going on for about twenty minutes- I couldn't tell, but maybe they didn't get a minyan until late. I was super-excited to whip out my gigantic-yet-awesome copy of Mishkan T'Filah, which I had lugged all over town. It was very cool being able to follow most of the first service, and understanding the intricacies of the liturgy order, the transition, knowing what and when they were doing this thing or that thing, just really interesting. (SG alternated from looking over my shoulder and being our place-holder with the Sim Shalom Machzor.)

The Torah service was fine, though, to be honest, I couldn't really stay with it (I can only follow along in English for so long before I get bored- also I felt bad for SG who was just sitting there feeling faint. A few good exchanges:

Me: "Ah, Rosh Hashanah. Time to hear the same story about Abraham almost killing his kid. Hey, what do they say about the Isaac thing in Sunday school?"

SG: "It only comes up as it being a prefiguring of Jesus. You know, on account of him being his only begotten son and all."

Me: "But he had Ishmael too."

SG: "But he was illegitimate. Also, vaguely Muslim, so he doesn't come up."

Me: "But he also had six other sons by a concubine."

SG: "And guess how often that came up."


Me: (During the Torah service) "How are you holding up?"

SG: "Not too bad. It's almost over, right?"

Me: "Well, sort of. But then there's the haftarah reading, too."

SG: (Dirty look) "Are you serious?"

Me: "Afraid so."

SG: "That's it. I call snack break."

The reader was very good, though it was hilarious to watch the cantor stumbling over blessing every single member of various families coming up on the bimah for aliyot. Also, there was something very weird with some of those kids' Hebrew names- who names their kid Sinai?

Funny moments: the gabbai came up to us halfway through Shacharis and asked us to do an aliyah (sound familiar?). Then, before he could give us the signal, the rabbi accidentally (?) skipped several prayers in the service. Which led to a good two minutes of irritated muttering from the gabbai, sitting like, right next to us. That was a tad awkward. Finally they got their act together and we were up. Because the universe has an ongoing sense of humor as whacked-out as mine, guess which song the congregation was singing during our aliya. I swear, I couldn't look at SG the entire time.

Musaf was fine, though at that point we were definitely reaching the point of masochism/macho Jew-itude. (When I used to go to Temple Ol'Faithful in High School, we always left after the Torah service and first Shofar blowing.) But we stuck it out and were rewarded with some halfway decent choir work, the full prostration (still too slow this year, next year, more decisiveness. I'll be freaking kowtowing to that Ark first thing!), and part 2 of "Three Jewels in the Crown," a theme that does not necessarily improve with further installments. Incidentally, the cantor demonstrated she is totally capable of leading songs without near-constant warbling. Now if only someone would convince her that those songs sound MUCH, MUCH better.

Oh, and I saw four Middle-Schoolers whom I subbed for last year. They flipped their lid and came over to say hi. They asked me my first name and were shocked when I told them, even more so when I agreed that they could use it if they saw me outside of school (the joke's on them: I'm working somewhere else this year).

All in all, it was a good day. Got there around 9:20, finished around 2:00. Not too arduous, and it was super-cool to put Mishkan T'Filah to action.

Though SG says next year, she might skip Shacharis altogether.

Coming up: Sam is visiting for Yom Kippur. Fun times may ensue.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Confused at Beth Halfpipe

Shiksa Girlfiend and I were hard at work trying to decide where to head to for Friday night services and decided to finally grace the other (other) Conservative shul in town with our presence. We had never been to it because it has, until recently, been under protracted and extensive building renovation. Unlike some of the other games in town whose existence or reputation I had been vaguely aware of during my adolescence, this place was starting off with a completely blank slate. It could totally go either way. We left it up to the fates (angels? sefirot? fortune cookie?) and headed off.

I will be very honest. It was very hard to get past the place's architecture. The first thing you see when you walk up is a giant sandstone semi-circle sitting on top of the building. Supposedly this is a menorah but all I saw was one of these, hence our super-witty nickname. Underneath the pipe was a series of gray aluminum boxes. That plus some open-air courtyards made up the whole shul. More on architecture in a minute.

The rabbi was very nice- we had been expecting the older, Soloveitchik-like guy from a year ago, but it turns out he had gotten bored and fled the backwoods of San Francisco for someplace with some REAL Jewish opportunities-somewhere in Georgia. The new rabbi was in his late 30s. Services were in the small chapel, whose wood paneling, according to a brochure I snagged, was supposed to resemble or mimic Sequoias or something, but just reminded me of somebody's rumpus room from the 1960s.

I was wearing a cool new blue fedora (post-to-come on inane hat conversations with Mama Yid) and Shiksa Girlfriend was wearing a longish skirt on account of it being cold and dreary. Anyway, apparently we looked ridiculously Orthodox because the rabbi shook my hand, then offered it to SG, who was looking around at all the paneling (not a fan) and missed her cue. She gave him a befuddled "What's going on?" look, but he mistook it for a "OMG, you awful man! I'm shomer negiah and horribly offended that you would try to touch my milky-white maiden hand!" look and very embarrasedly yanked his hand away, which SG then insisted on grabbing just to show him that the issue was her being slightly spacey and not Ortho.

Services were very basic- a small group of people, mostly late-middle-aged. I checked out a Conservative version of the Mishkan Tefillah that I hadn't heard of- which was pretty user-friendly, if a little cluttered on the page (sorry, but four columns is a lot, especially when you throw in sidebars for poetry and other crap). The rabbi had a nice voice, though everyone else seemed somewhere between tone-deaf and voicebox-cancer-survivor.

Particularly cool (at first, anyway) was that after the service, the rabbi offered to show new people around the shul. It was a very nice gesture, but it also unfortunately gave us a first-hand look at just how wacky their building is.

He led us to the main sanctuary, which, according to SG, looked like "two movie theaters crammed together face-to-face." (I would have gone for, "not terribly functional lecture hall".) The walls were made of this weird slat-wall wood that looked like it was supposed to be in a hardware store holding up tools or something. The rabbi gave a whole spiel about "we were trying to pare it down and think about just the bare basics of what a synagogue, like, is. Some people are confused by it, but that's the whole point of minimalism, right?" We both gave polite but skeptical looks. The rabbi continued to dig himself deeper by pointing out that "this is totally like the synagogue at Masada. Nowadays all the focus is on the rabbi and the ark, but we want to take the focus back and direct it at EACH OTHER." I spent the next several minutes thinking about how much worse various services I had been to would have been if there had been a fellow congregant staring at me, face-to-face no less, the entire time. Also, how about using a reference that's less than two thousand years old? I will admit that their digital light-up yizkor wall was kind of cool, though it seems like a real waste of money.

All of their hallways were re-done to use pre-existing space from neighboring common walls, thereby saving them a lot of space. An unfortunate side effect of this was that it made us feel like we were walking through the steam tunnels in someone's basement (sparse florescent lighting did not help). We concluded by walking through a small courtyard that showed the rabbi's fishbowl-like-office (he pretended he liked it) and their Beit Midrash/library which had a 70s-style conversation pit (which I actually liked, but SG just had to be negative about).

I will admit that I feel slightly guilty about nit-picking a shul simply on the basis of weird architecture- especially after going to the new Jewish Museum (not a fan) and leafing through a whole coffee-table-book of crappy synagogue pictures. But the bottom line was that it contributed to the feeling of a place that was sterile and lifeless. (No one would argue that Beth Elderly's building is all that awesome, but it feels like they use what little space they have to their advantage.) That may change, and I hope it does. And to give it a fair shake, we should go back in a few months to check them out again. But for a first impression- not so great.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Passover a smashing success, guests say

Everything went (almost) perfectly. All eleven of us were fed (stuffed), everyone loved my Haggadah, and clean-up only took an hour and a half.

Some notes for next year:

- Supervise Mother Superior Yid when she makes chicken liver; there were a lot of tiny bits of egg shell in there.

- Corollary to this: buy an egg timer for hard-boiled eggs.

- Next time, try to come up with seating arrangement which doesn't have the youngest and most Jewishly-knowledgeable people clustered around the center of the table, leaving the middle-aged and clueless folks stuck out at the extremities.

- Stop political conversations before they piss away half-an-hour that you had reserved for Grace After Meals and Hallel.

- Stand up for yourself and tell people that you're sorry it's kind of late, but we are going to finish Chad Gadya whether they like it or not, it's only five more damn verses.

- Go slower with Hebrew prayers and songs, maybe lose the intonation (Mama Yid was very confused by this) or go over it with people ahead of time.

But all in all, very, very good. This was definitely the first seder my parents had that they enjoyed. Which is saying a lot. And now we have more food than God. And, sadly, apparently way more matzoh than most of our peers.

Now to hibernate for the rest of the week to avoid having to eat it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Countdown to Seder

P-Day is here, and in slightly more than six hours, Shiksa Girlfriend and I get to host our own seder. For eleven people. Because we're geniuses like that.

The breakdown is:

- Shiksa Girlfriend and Me
- My parents, who have been lovely enough to contribute food, wine, money and time (oh, and hosting space)
- My gay godparents
- My best friend from high school and his older brother
- SG's co-worker
- The mother and father of two different best friends from elementary school that my parents have stayed in touch with.

Another way of looking at this is:

- Four non-Jews;
- Six Jews;
- And whatever the hell Shiksa Girlfriend counts as.

The dietary restrictions:

- One "vegan plus meat"; Abbot Yid.
- One "no dairy"; me.
- And one vegetarian.

Our menu:

- Fruits and Vegetable appetizer plate, complete with variety of dips and humus (piss off, kitniyot).

- Chopped chicken liver with hard-boiled eggs and onions (thanks, Mom!)

- Haroset

- Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup

- A Gigantic Salad

- Aloo Palak (Indian spinach puree with potatoes)

- Red Lentils (also done Indian-style)

- A Mega-Brisket (thanks, Dad!)

- Roast Chicken

- Walnut-Pecan praline and fruit; along with soy ice-cream.

I predict we will be eating this meal through next month.

Oh, and I made my own Haggadah. We read it all the way through last night. It takes about 1 hour pre-meal and 30 minutes post. Found some errors last night; must fix those.

(Check out excerpts on Friar Yid.)

I'm being paged. Gotta go.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In which we move beyond the comfort zone

...and things get predictably awkward.

Shiska Girlfriend knew this was coming. I've been saying it for weeks. "We still have to visit the other Reform shul. I feel like you were short-changed by Temples Ol'Faithful and Touched by God. Besides, I need more blog fodder."

She isn't fooled, but she's a good sport.

So we headed off to Temple Raise the Roof.

Raise the Roof suffers from what can best be called, "macher envy." Whenever people start perusing the synagogue menu in town at the Reform end of the spectrum, the first place they look is invariably Temple Touched by God. It's bigger, more well-known, and this understandably pissed Raise the Roof off to no end. One way they cope is with a totally not-phallic mega-dome, a Wang upon a Hill, if you will. [SG- I disavow and take no responsibility for this remark.] Luckily, the sanctuary inside is actually very beautiful, more so, I would say, than Touched by God's.

I had actually been inside Raise the Roof a few times previously, for the sporadic Bat Mitzvah way back in Middle School. Raise the Roof was also the setting for my father's last showdown with organized religion, about more which another time (the long and short of it: things didn't go well, I never got Bar Mitzvahed, my father still occasionally fantasizes about running the now-retired rabbi down in his Toyota).

I'll say this for Raise the Roof- the people were pretty friendly. The first person to say hi, it turned out, was the rabbi, who introduced himself using only his first name (we didn't know who he was until the service started and he started telling everyone which page to turn to).

We settled into plush mahogany seats (no pews, thank you very much) and were met with a very pleasant surprise: Mishkan freaking Tefillah! More on this in a later post, but let me just say: very impressed, very jealous, and it made a very big difference in how the service went. With everything transliterated and translated, the entire congregation could actually follow along and participate like they knew what they were doing. On our way out, I spotted an old, forlorn copy of Gates of Prayer- as I suspected, every tran-s-litera-ation was sup-er hy-phen-a-ted, and large sections of the prayers, well, weren't. Miskhan Tefillah is a major improvement. Big plus.

Raise the Roof, like Touched by God, has a rotating Shabbos schedule. This week was "choir Shabbat." Just as another comparison between the two big-wig Reform shuls: when Touched by God had their musical Shabbat, they brought in a weird quartet with a violin, bongos, keyboard, and tambourine. At Raise the Roof, it was some guy on a borrowed giant piano, "the grade just below concert grand," he told us. So, still pretentious, but less out-and-out weird.

For the most part, the choir was fine. Some of the psalms and songs actually sounded quite beautiful when sung by a chorus (though it would be nicer if the cantor didn't feel required to let people sing just because they're the only ones that show up or volunteer for solos; willingness doesn't necessarily equal talent). Some things I could have done without, like the piano accompanist trilling up and down the scales like he was about to start scatting.

[Sidebar: this did, however, give me the seed for an entertaining daydream in which I whipped out a harmonica (that I suddenly learned how to play) and we jammed in a cool "Blues Shabbos":

Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh! Woke up this morning,
Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh! I went to shul.
Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh! No one was there,
Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh! I felt like a fool,
Yeah, I got those, "Jews don't go to shul on Sundays" blues!

...What can I say; I get bored.]

Also, once again I find myself disliking a cantor. SG says this is a widespread complaint of mine, which will be discussed at a later time. Long story short, I don't like bossy showoffs, which seems to be a lot of cantors' unofficial job descriptions these days (someone should check- did the cantor union sneak something into their new contracts?)

The rabbi was friendly and engaging, and we got another fun surprise- a drash! Yes, how I've missed the Friday night drashes since leaving college. The rabbi talked about the recent attack on Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. I was pleased that he wasn't afraid of talking about important (and relevant) current events, but also was able to keep the talk from devolving into a major political discussion. On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded some Torah/textual commentary relating to the incident instead of a long bit of background about Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and the yeshiva he founded.

Incidentally, the big thing that bothered me about the drash- and I wouldn't have noticed it if most of his focus hadn't been on Rav Kook- was that the Rabbi seemed to be sugarcoating/whitewashing the ideology of Merkaz HaRav and the Religious Zionist movement. A.I. Kook was indeed a wide consensus-builder, brilliant thinker, a political maverick, and, compared to a lot of his peers, fairly universalism-oriented. But his son, Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who really disseminated his teachings to the last several generations and was the primary ideologue of Religious Zionism and the settler movement as we know it today- wasn't.

T.Y. Kook was interested in Greater Israel and settling the land, and if his disciples are any indication, his approach towards non-Jews, especially Arabs, was probably mixed, at best. Religious Zionists know this. Everyone in Israel knows this. And the Palestinians know this, too. Merkaz HaRav is indeed a symbol, but that symbol and its reputation have a definite double-edge, and a lot of observers, especially in Israel have been theorizing that this may have been one reason the madman picked it as his target. So for the rabbi at Raise the Roof to portray M.H.R. and its founder as some Utopian universalist institution just seemed bizarre, somewhat along the lines of, "Al Qaeda attacked us because they hate our freedom." I'm sure most people didn't notice, but it made me feel like I was being talked-down to.

And now a lovely extended anecdote from Shiksa Girlfriend:

I agree with most of the above from the Friar (minus the unnecessary phallic comparison); the building is beautiful, the new book is sweet, the rabbi is nice, but kind of pushy.... bringing me to the part of the visit the Friar has yet to address.

As discussed by [every religious jew ever], there is an ongoing concern about the state of the youth in Jewish practice. You know, that whole rebellion/apathy thing that leads to the youth falling away into secular society. This is, as far as I can tell, sort of true. With the exception of the Evil Minion, the Friar and I are frequently the only members of our age bracket (20's) at services. I have detected before at Temple Beth Elderly a little bit of the "Ooo, a young couple! Maybe they'll come again! Maybe they'll stay!". Anyway, for a congregation that's top heavy on the 45 and over, and low on the youth, we look pretty desirable. Except. Except for that whole Shiksa Girlfriend thing. Now this has come up before in a number of situations like the Prof. of Jewish studies at Ye Old Private Collage who frequently mentioned that "intermarriage will destroy American Jewry *meaningful look at me*" or the Carlebachian Minyan where our friend counted the minyan of 10+me, or the time I "came out" to the gabbai at Temple Beth Elderly, or the time I scandalized the dinner guests at LOP's house. However, never before has anyone been so blunt as to actively offer to convert me.

After the kiddish, I notice that the 4ft challah still has a good 1.5 feet still to be eaten, so I go to grab some. The rabbi takes this opportunity to grab my elbow and extract some information.

Paraphrase from me: That's almost my name, thanks for trying. I've lived in the city for 8 months, since graduation. Yes, I'm from North Caro-Missi-bama by means of a large Northwest City. No, I don't have an accent. At this point, he counters with the Jewish-Geography tactic (which was a good attempt, considering his knowledge of the Jewish scene in the South can't be all that much). "Hey, that other woman over there is from Atlanta, and her family is from Mobile! Maybe you've got a connection though the hive-mind of various Southern synagogues!"

I've faced this before, like at LOP's house, and I usually put it off by demurring that "my family didn't really participate in the community (ie. because they were going to church!)". However, this isn't going to work with him, so I skip the side-step and admit my X-tian heritage. He wants to know if I had been "studying" in college.

I'm momentarily puzzled. Um, yes, I studied and wrote about some esoteric books by morbid, gay, 18th century Englishmen but I don't think he cares about that. Oh, he means studying for conversion. No. I haven't made it there yet. So, he issues an open invitation that I can come talk to him about this anytime. Thanks, Rabbi, now I do feel like I'm back home. In the South. Facing the friendly but determined followers of Christ. Thanks for that.

Well, that may be a little harsh. But really, did he have to offer me that within 15 minutes of meeting me? I just feel like he was basing this offer on the idea that a Young Couple=years of membership dues, kids for bar/bat mitzvahs, energy for projects, etc. The fact that I'm a SG is a easily-solved problem, from his perspective, but the reality is obviously more complicated.

I'm not put off forever, but I am a little cynical about any other interest he deigns to show in me. I guess I just don't like being pegged as either a liability or an asset to someone else's conception of Judaism in America.

Raise the Roof's custom for Mishiberach is to have congregants speak the name of people who need healing aloud while the rabbi walks among them, repeating the names through his Borg-style mic (a practice I'm not a huge fan, of, btw). While this was going on, I happened to hear a name I knew. I turned around. Ye Gods! Some familiar faces! Specifically, parents of an old classmate of mine, a couple I'll call the Noseybergs. After the Kiddush, I came up to them (I waited until I could remember their first names), staring at Mrs. Noseyberg until she recognized me. This wasn't very hard, considering I look like a shorter version of Abbot Yid.

The Noseybergs were very pleasant, and it was fun doing the whole catch-up thing. I did think it was strange that the first thing they did after hearing that we were shul-hopping was ask for my phone number so they could give it to the chair of the membership committee. (A, no matter how much it is, I can't afford it. B- isn't it customary to ask us if we want her number?)

Also, and this was hilarious, Mrs. Noseyberg proceeded to give us a whirl-wind 2 minute summary of their experiences 20 years ago back when they were looking for a temple. I have faithfully reproduced her comments below, arranged in limerick form for my own amusement:

Conservative would just make us nod,
And they're such snobs at Touched by God,
Temple GLBT
Was too gay, you see,
And B'Nei Hippy was simply too odd.

Another cool development- an old man complimented me on my super-awesome Bukharian kippa- the one my mother says makes me look like "a Muslim terrorist." When I told her about this, her response was, "You wore that there?"

"...Where else would I wear it?"

All in all, it was a little strange, certainly very different, but I'd go back again. If only to hear another few drashes and ogle Mishkan Tefillah.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just Saying

Dear Temple GLBT,

I like that you guys wrote your own prayerbook. I'm not crazy about the fact that it's about half the size of a phonebook, but that's ok. I think it's cool you have tons of songs in there I've never heard of (even if you never seem to sing most of them). And I like that you include alternate versions of some prayers (even though ten different forms of the Amidah seems a little much to me).

But there's one thing that you did last week that kind of bugged me. Well, aside from the rabbi's drash which seemed to go on forever- I don't know what they told you, but when you talk about something quasi-mystical or intangible you are not required offer four or five synonyms for your first word- you are a rabbi, not a thesaurus. Also, please stop cribbing from Heschel's Cathedral in Time shtick from The Sabbath. Just because you both want us to be mindful of "Holy Time" and of experiencing the "pure, perfect nowness of Shabbos" doesn't mean I want my Time Cathedral being bulldozed by drawn-out and painful abuses of the English language.

Anyway, I understand that being gender inclusive is your "shtick," and I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes...

But switching around the pronouns in Veshamru seems weird to me.

It's not just that "b'nei Yisrael" (V'nei in this link) means "children of Israel" and is classically understood as gender-neutral.

It's also because the rest of the prayer goes on to say, "keep the Sabbath as my covenant for all time."

Don't get me wrong. I like Reform. If I had to identify as something, it would probably be somewhere between Reconstructionist and Reform.

But God dammit, why the hell are you bothering to change the pronoun on a prayer that goes on to talk about freaking Sabbath observance? When it comes to Shabbat (which, I'm sorry, Reformies by and large do NOT observe in the same way as it has traditionally been understood), you seem to be just fine with keeping the traditional text in and letting people interpret/ignore/struggle with it however the heck they want. But at the sight of any gender stuff, it seems like the first instinct is to switch it out.

It just seems silly, that's all.

(Now for Hinei Ma Tov, you might actually have a point...)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Belated Updates Galore

Long time no see, blog. Sorry if you feel neglected.

Despite being busy and sick for the past several months, Shiska Girlfriend and I have managed to make it to a few more Friday night services. Below you will find my best attempts to synthesize them into something that halfway makes sense.

1- We've now been to Evil Minion about six or seven times (including the first two I mentioned before). Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's crowded. Sometimes we recognize people we like (shout-out to Oyster and Chutzpaleh), sometimes it's people we wish we didn't (SG has had more run-ins with Prof. Ihateyou, and every time it reminds her that yes, she really, really does). We went two weeks ago and everything clicked quite nicely- just enough people, we found seats, and actually we got there ON TIME for a change (who knew that people adjust their davening times accordingly for winter? Not me apparently). The singing was awesome, (I like the improvised drumming on any available wooden surface, it takes me back to my first-grader days back when I used to brag that I could "play the bookshelf") and I'm slowly gaining davening speed, something that will hopefully improve should that damn Mishkan T'fillah ever get here. We still don't like talking to people. I still feel guilty for it. We will work on this. Incidentally, there are several interesting articles in Zeek about the rise of the independent minyan (sorry, minion) phenomenon. Check it out!

2- We've also spent a few more evenings at Temple GLBT. I also like these guys, though I don't quite feel like it's as much my "niche" area as some of the other shuls we've been to. But GLBT has been very nice to bring out-of-town guests to if they want a Shabbos experience, since it's big enough and user-friendly enough that no one ever feels awkward (and we get to pretend like it's all old hat for us). I will admit that the Giganto-siddur remains a little strange (though, as at Evil Minion, I often entertain thoughts of snagging/bribing myself a copy for at-home use. Curse you, CCAR press!). One night we brought my old friend Sam, who seemed to enjoy it. Highlights included a very strange monologue by a community artist that had painted a mural or wall hanging for the shul (possibly involving angels, I can't remember anymore). The guy went on a long tangent talking about how one day he discovered that "angels really are real," because he met an angel once. At this point we all thought he was going to say, "And his name is Ted," but it turned out he was serious. Wow. Then things started delving into transcendental meditation-retreat land and we got bored.

* * *
Shiksa Girlfriend adds this interlude:

No, the deal with "Secret Angel Man" was that he was a congregant invited to give a... what's that word? Not sermon- no it does not rhyme with smash... drash! And he started with what we thought was a metaphor about how Jacob wrestles with angels and how God works in mysterious ways and how we deal with angels all the time and how one time he woke up to a beautiful morning and saw an angel sitting at the foot of his bed. At this point we all thought he would say something like, "And he's the love of my life, and he's sitting in the front row," but then he kept going and talked about how he had seen angels lots of times, and then things got weird.

Another evening saw us bringing a relative I haven't seen in forever to it. She got a big kick out of it because it was "way more California" than anything she's used to at her Reform shul in Texas (where'd I put that Shalom y'all t-shirt?). She even called a friend of hers afterwards to brag about how she thought that some transgender folks there might have been giving her weird looks because she was giving off straight-girl vibes (hint: no, they weren't).

3- I do feel bad that we haven't gotten a chance to spend more time with the ancients at Beth Elderly, because they really are awesome. The last time was for Sukkot where we all had such fun losing feeling in our extremities.

4- We've also had fun times wandering around in a neighborhood full of Orthodox shuls, though we've yet to go to any for Shabbos (SG says she feels uncomfortable sitting in a woman's section by herself, so this will have to wait until I can befriend either an open-minded Orthodox girl to go with us, or a Gentile girl whose interests/sense of humor are as odd as SG's).

5- Oh, and there are a few more non-O shuls in town we keep meaning to invade (including one presently under renovation to turn itself into a Jewish version of, well, this).

We'll try to be more punctual with the write-ups in future.

Sincerely yours,

The Management