Sunday, October 30, 2011

Coming soon: TCFS tours?

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with an old friend of mine who has been living in New York for the past several years and is now back in town for grad school. The guy's mother is Protestant, his father is Catholic, and he was confirmed in the Church, though AFAIK has not attended services or received sacraments in quite a few years.

Lapsed-Catholic Friend: Hey, we should check out some of the synagogues in town!
Me, a bit confused: Um, ok, but... why?
LCF (who has a substantial architecture background and is getting a degree in urban planning): I really want to see what some of those places look like on the inside!
Me: Hey, anytime you want to go, just let us know. We're happy to show you around.

Apparently the first place he wants to see is Beth Halfpipe.

This should be fun.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hey, we're trying

I doubt that Mrs. Yid or I will ever be nominated to be Chief Sephardic Rabbi of anything. Granted, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for that. But one definite strike against us is that while traditionally it's considered very important to engage in hiddur mitzvah, or "pretty up the mitzvah," around here we apply our shabby-cheap aesthetic to pretty much anything.

Case in point: our first sukkah, courtesy of Mrs. Yid, bless her heart, who, upon being kicked out of jury duty last week and having some time to kill (and knowing what day it was), decided to surprise yours truly with this in our backyard.
On Sukkot, we remember what it was like living in the desert as we sit on folding chairs of old.

It may not be much to look at, and if we're being sticklers about that whole s'chach thing then only that one teeny corner of it with the weeds on it was kosher, but darn it, it reminded me of why I love my wife. These aren't her traditions (heck, they're barely mine), but she's trying. It was also very sweet that she had used the chuppah poles from our wedding that her brother carved himself and lugged across several states. I look forward to getting many uses from those over the years.

After Mrs. Yid finished the sukkah, I went out for Thai food and we sat in the sukkah and ate a lovely, if slightly cramped, dinner. Then we cracked out some chumashim and studied the parsha for Sukkot (I found them incredibly dull; Mrs. Yid was entertained that they all seem to involve God demanding tons of food like a pregnant Queen Bee), and then we both giggled at the crazy prophecies of the Hatfarah portion in Zechariah (my favorite part is when he talks about the mountain splitting open; I couldn't help but think of this).

Anyway, yes, it's only the third Jewish holiday of 5772 and already the gravitas around here has dropped way down. But something's better than nothing. And besides, ours is a highly understanding God. We hope.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

High Holidays Debrief

Mrs. Yid and I went to Temple GLBT for High Holidays for the second time-- the only time since college where we've gone back somewhere. A few minor issues aside, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. These last few years I've been unable for fast for health reasons, so this was the first time in a while that I fasted, and I have to say, this may have been the easiest time I've ever had of it.

One issue I've had over and over again at High Holiday services has been liturgy and transliteration-- while I prefer Hebrew to English, most place's machzorim tend to lack adequate transliteration, which means that people like me get stuck out in the cold. This has probably been one of the biggest problems I've had in trying to have engaging High Holiday experiences.

So, in keeping with the spirit of diving into things a little more, I bought my own transliterated machzor, courtesy of Joe Rosenstein at It didn't come until after Rosh Hashanah, but I marked it up ahead of time with sticky flags so that by the time Yom Kippur rolled around, I was set and ready to go.

I started the day by putting on Zayde's tefillin. I've been feeling slightly guilty about having them and not using them, but frequently the only days I actually get around to davening are Saturdays, when you're not supposed to use the darn things. Oh, irony. And it turns out you're not supposed to wear them on major holidays, either. So, a double-no-no-whammy for me. Oh well.

Because I was in a spiritual mood I put on Zayde's tefillin anyway, but I didn't say the brachot-- A because I knew I wasn't supposed to be davening with them on Shabbat or Yom Tov, and also because I hadn't remembered to write them down and I was trying not to use the computer. So instead I used them as a sort of mental focus for a short prayer asking for the joy and faith of my grandfather to be in my heart and mind for the day and to help center me during the fast. Halachic, perhaps not, but it felt good to have a physical connection to Zayde.

Once we were at shul, I found that being able to follow the service made a huge difference in my experience, and it was nice to be able to proceed more at my own pace as opposed to taking all my cues from the service leaders. Temple GLBT's machzor was made before I was born, so its transliteration is quite minimal (and my impression is that some pieces of the amidah are significantly abridged), so I wasn't always able to get through everything, but it was nice to have the option to continue if I wanted to. It was also fascinating to observe that for the most part, Temple GLBT was following a pretty traditional prayer structure. Not everything was in there, but people who would expect crazy liberal gay-friendly Reformies to have replaced everything with one long drum circle would have been pretty surprised.

Ever the critic, I have a few gripes. But in keeping with my resolution to try to be less of a bastard, I'm keeping it brief:

- There was no mincha service. It was entirely replaced by break-out sessions. There was a little bit of text study offered but for the most part it was meditation, arts & crafts, or social activism discussion group (the day's topic was "Racism: Bad?") It wound up being ok because we took the opportunity to take a much needed break and dose of sunlight. On the one hand, I kind of like having a break, but it was also a bit of a bummer that with all the alternative options being offered, no one thought to just offer a traditional-ish prayer service for the afternoon. Given how most of the rest of the day more or less stuck to the usual script, it seemed odd to me.

- No Leviticus 18. I was particularly miffed about this because Mrs. Yid and I had studied the parsha the night before and found a lot to debate in it, and I had been particularly interested in how a GLBT-focused shul would tackle it. Apparently, they tackle it by avoiding it entirely and switching it with the Holiness Code in Leviticus 19. I suppose I get it but it felt a little disappointing. Also, the Holiness Code is, IMO, fairly uninteresting. At least Lev 18 has some meaty things people can dig into and discuss.

- Teeny, teeny yizkor service. Lots of niggunim and build-up about how this is "one of the most meaningful services of the year," juxtaposed with very little time letting us actually pray the darn thing. This was particularly irksome to me as I am unfamiliar with the structure of yizkor and was trying to modify the blessings for my three grandparents.

- On a related note, I really wanted to say Mishiberach for my increasingly-ill grandmother, and am rather perturbed that none of her kids have the slightest idea of what her Hebrew name is. (I asked my great-aunt but all she could give was a wild guess.) I guess we're the only ones spending anytime in shuls that call people up for aliyot using both their parents' names.

All in all, I had a very good time. I may still be working on this community thing, but at least I'm feeling comfortable and "competent" when it comes with the actual prayers for the holiday.


Me: I got a new siddur and a new machzor, which is great, because it made it a lot easier to follow along in shul.

Abbot Yid: Um... all I caught out of that was "shul."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Our clothes Out-Jew us again

Mrs. Yid and I have been trying to stick to some sort of shul schedule now that I'm back from Europe, so we went to Evil Minion on Friday. As usual, davening went fine-- I really look forward to the sensation of everything falling away for a little bit when we get into the Carlebachian niggun singing, and it's just a very lovely experience.

However, as usual, things take a turn for the awkward when it's time for kiddush. Nothing super terrible happened this time, but there was this amusing interchange:

New Guy: Hi there, I'm Ari.
Mrs. Yid (straining to hear over the loud room conversation): What? Ori?
Ari: Nice to meet you, Ori!
Me: (Shaking my head that my life has turned into a Best of Abbot and Costello special) Hi, Ari.

Two minutes later:

Nice lady: Hello, where are you guys from?
Mrs. Yid: Down the block, actually.
NL: Really? With that nice tichel on, I would have guessed Israel!

Whoops. Apparently between my snazzy fedoras and trimmed beards and Mrs. Yid's new-ish practice of wearing headscarves and skirts, we are sending some interesting signals.

We talked about this afterwards at the very traditional post-davening sushi fest:

Me: Do we give off frumy vibes?
Mrs. Yid: I mean, under a very technical definition, I guess so... but the details are all wrong! This dress is totally not tznius! If someone who knew what they were looking for saw me, they'd think I was totally whoring it up.
Me: And I don't know of any tish that accepts gray straw stetsons as part of the dress code. (Pause) Maybe Breslov, I suppose.

This is not the first time this has happened. To a degree I think it just reflects our aesthetics and the way they intersect with our values/personalities (somewhat old-fashioned and low-key as compared to say, the uber avant-gard hipsters we have to step over to get to shul). I think there's something about the traditional/religious aesthetic that we actually find rather charming, classic, if you will. I know I personally just think hats, beards, and tall yarmulkes look cool. Mrs. Yid, to a degree, seems to be leaning a similar way in favoring skirts and dresses and snazzy headscarves. (That appears to be where the line ends, though; she says she has no interest in wearing a wig or shaving her head. Darn, I thought that could be a bonding thing!)

Though these incidents are extremely minor, I also worry that the way we dress, may, in Jewish settings, create assumptions about our observance level that not only aren't accurate, but are waaaaay far from accurate. You probably don't expect the couple who look like they just graduated from "Hip Chabad House" bootcamp to like bacon and intermarriage. We just don't want people to feel like we're being dishonest.

The best part of all of this, of course, is that when I told my parents this story last night, they couldn't get past the word "tickle."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Cross-posted to the home blog.

It's been almost a whole year since my shul-angst post. In that time the job situation has mostly stayed the same, Shiksa Girlfriend has become Mrs. Yid, and we probably haven't been to shul more than a handful of times.

So what to make of this?

For starters, I think we've been very busy with the wedding and family stuff and so shul took a backseat. The other thing is that we spent a lot of time thinking about, and talking about, explicitly Jewish things we wanted to include in our marriage and present/future household and so I think neither of us were necessarily feeling particularly Jewishly deprived.

We also have been trying to be slightly more machmir about doing Shabbat regularly, which is nice.

Still, I think we are going to try to pick up the shul-reins some more and keep plugging away. This last Shabbat we went to Evil Minion again and it was perfectly nice. We haven't decided where to go for High Holidays this year, though we're leaning towards Temple GLBT (particularly since the rabbi that married us is a quasi-regular participant there). At some point we will finally bite the bullet and either try very hard to make some friends, or take a class or, heaven forbid, actually join a shul and see what it's like. Just because we feel like a super awkward special case doesn't mean we actually are.

And anyway, at least now that she has a ring on her finger, Mrs. Yid won't have to worry about people thinking she's only at shul for the (kosher) meat-market.

...Strangely enough, I never have this problem.