Monday, July 30, 2012

New experiences, some conversations, and choices

Since Mrs. Yid and I have joined Beth Elderly there have been a bunch of developments:

  • I successfully attended morning minyan (next one will be this week) and davened with Zayde's tefillin. Between the tefillin and my Moses-eqsue beard (hooray for summers off!) I am definitely rocking some impressive Ortho-vibes. 

  • For our one-year-anniversary, I got Mrs. Yid a new siddur and she got me my own tallis. In related news, we are huge Jew-nerds. 

  • I have slowly gotten more comfortable attending Young Guard Havdalah stag. The most recent one was held on top of a fountain and included the rabbi's candle burning through his kiddush cup. I think this will be the last time we use a beer pong cup for this purpose. 

  • I have started using Ayn Keloheynu as a basic Hebrew primer. It's slow going, but has been very satisfying to finally see some progress with my reading ability. I'm actually able to sound some words out-- and was sort-of able to follow along with the chanting of Lamentations at Tisha B'Av in the Hebrew.

  • I ordered some knit kippot and have started wearing them more. This one is my favorite. I told Abbot Yid I was contemplating wearing one when I start my new job-- if Mrs. Yid can cover her hair it seems only fair I do something, too-- and not surprisingly, he's really, really not a fan. I also got a tallis katan but have concluded that even in San Francisco, that stuff is too darn hot for the summers. Maybe I'll try again come winter.

Also in the mix have been several "community events" bringing together multiple liberal congregations in the city. The first one was Shavuot, which included Temple Burning Bush, Beth Elderly, Temple Old Faithful, and B'nai Hippy. Rabbis from each community led study sessions on different topics and people chose from a programming "menu" to decide where they wanted to go. Mrs. Yid and I attended a session on Hasidic storytelling and a discussion of whether the Torah can be considered true by rational Jews. The second session, led by the rabbi from Burning Bush, was quite fascinating. The rabbi is from an Orthodox background and has a major axe to grind with literalist interpretations of Torah. Funnily enough, much of the talk involved more liberal congregants arguing with him that he was treating the text super-literally in order to set up a straw man. The Reform and Renewal people were actually arguing for the integrity of the Torah against a Conservative rabbi! Very fun. (It made me think a little of the Oven of Akhnai, actually.)

The second community event was Tisha B'Av, which, like Shavuot, neither Mrs. Yid nor I had ever celebrated. Apparently the liberal community in the city had been abuzz by how many people came to Shavuot, because this time in addition to the four original congregations, there was Beth Halfpipe as well as three or four indie minyanim and kehillot. This time the rabbis opted for a whole-group approach. After dinner we had short drashot alternating with some singing. When we were moving into the sanctuary to read Lamentations, one of the singers came up to me.

"I liked your singing."

"Yes, I could see that it moved you."

"So, are you, like, an Orthodox guy?"


"Ah, I thought that you might be Orthodox because of your beard."

"No, but my grandfather was Hasidic."

"Ah, so you have some Hasidic DNA in you."

"A pintele!" (This got a chuckle.)

Then Mrs. Yid came up and said hi. Looking at both of us, the guy remarked, "You both look very Hasidish." We shrugged.

Turning to Mrs. Yid, he asked, "Do you also have Hasidic ancestors?"

She replied, "No, but I have very venerable Protestant ones!"

"Ah," he said. "So you're a Jew-by-choice?"

I looked at her for a minute.

"Yes," she said, taking my hand. "And honestly, so is he."

Later I went home and Googled the guy. Turns out he's an old friend of Shlomo Carlebach. Zayde would be so proud. (Abbot Yid, not surprisingly, had never heard of Shlomo.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Traditional but Alternative

Mrs. Yid and I have enjoyed our time shul-hopping but are happy to have found a congregational home. What we hadn't expected was that the shul-hopping would continue after we joined the shul. Case in point: last week's Kabbalat Shabbat with a new Reform minyan start-up (they call themselves a kehillah, which I guess sounds more friendly to Reform ears than a minyan- maybe it's generational; my parents still have visceral reactions to that term). There were guitars (fine), a harmonica (not bad, actually), and a mercifully brief use of bongos (cue irritated glowering from Mrs. Yid). The drash was pretty rambling (please don't end each point by saying, "I just thought that was interesting,") but at least people were engaged. Ultimately the visitors were nice and friendly, but the services encapsulated all the ways in which, as Mrs. Yid put it, "We've been ruined on Reform."

This isn't exactly new-- loyal readers will recall our first minyan at college was Carlebach-inspired at a Conservative shul, and we spent many enjoyable services at Evil Minion which is a Conservadox partnership minyan par excellence. Still, what with us slowly starting to take more mitzvot (or pseudo-mitzvot) on, the idea of belonging to a community that actually purports to follow some version of halacha-- in both positive and, perhaps, "restrictive" ways, no longer feels quite so at odds with our own philosophies. Mrs. Yid told me shortly before we got married that for her to feel connected, she needed to feel like she was actually doing Jewish things, and I think there's something to that.

There was another interesting moment the other week: towards the end of the service we started talking with an older gay man I'll call Irv who hops between Beth Elderly and Temple GLBT. We mentioned that a lot of the visitors seemed to come from the Reform tradition (some of them mentioned being current or former members of Temple Touched by God, and I recognized their photocopied siddur from Mishkan T'filah). Irv commented that he had noticed that, but added that given that background, he was surprised at how non-inclusive the service was. He said it was one thing for a place that does traditional liturgy to stick with that, but that he didn't understand why you would leave people out if you specifically do liberal liturgy. We knew what he meant; Temple GLBT alternates pronouns during Hinei Ma Tov, and also adds a section about different orientations during some choral prayers. It doesn't always resonate with me personally, but it's nice that it's there.

Afterwards, Mrs. Yid commented that Irv seemed to have been testing the waters with us; our clothes were probably reading as uber-frum (which has happened before), but he saw Mrs. Yid using Mishkan T'filah, and when he mentioned Temple GLBT we responded positively and even mentioned that we had gone to services there several times. From there he felt comfortable enough to come out with mild criticism. But that what it really came down to, in her eyes, was that both we and Irv are outliers, "alternative," and that she saw the Kehillah folks, and their home community of Touched by God, as "mainstream" par excellence.

It's a little counter-intuitive to think of the poster-child for liberal Judaism in the city leaving people out, but Mrs. Yid was basically saying that because they're so big, and so establishment (and have been since their founding), some people fall through their cracks. A mega-shul can do some things really well and cater to lots of niche groups, but since they've never needed to struggle for members they've never needed to think about "misfits" like us or Irv-- whereas Beth Elderly and lots of the small shuls are basically almost all misfits at this point. That's not to say we wouldn't be welcome, but it's not the same as a small place as Beth Elderly, which is really motivated to get to know its members and make sure it speaks to them (and where there seems to be more awareness about how diverse and wide-ranging the congregation is).

Though I'm still not exactly sure how much halacha I'm prepared to personally accept, I think I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea of being part of a community that at least seriously considers what halacha has to say, and I think worship style is part of this evolving sensibility as well. However, some of our foundational core values are also inclusiveness and diversity, so I think balancing those two elements is going to be an ongoing process as we try to take our Judaism and our community-building more seriously.