Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In the US for a while now!

Now that I'm stateside for a while, I won't be gallivanting in the Holyland (obviously). You can read about Emet and me over at Two Frum Queers! Hope to see you there!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Side trip to Greece

 Near the beginning of my journey in Israel, I spent some time in Greece. Things are coming full circle because Emet and I just got back to Israel after a short vacation in Greece last week. 
It was nothing like the last time I was there...in September 2012, it was sunny and gorgeous and exciting. This time, it was rainy, cold, miserable, and not really a vacation. Emet and I made the best of it, though we wished we had gone to Eilat instead for the week, where it would have been sunny and warm. 

We started in Thessaloniki, where we had hoped to find the Jewish community. It seemed by reviews online that there was a lot to do and see there, but we actually did it all in one day. On Shabbat, we tried to find services, but failed to do so. We found the synagogue but it was locked.

There was another synagogue and we walked up and down the street trying to find it, but also failed at that. So we went to the museums because it was raining. On Sunday, we found the Jewish museum, which was just depressing. Essentially, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki used to be quite large, but the Nazis shipped a majority of them out to camps and they never returned. The community now is difficult to find, if there really is one. We weren't sure if they even had a minyan for services on Shabbat. 

On Sunday afternoon, we traveled to Athens, where it was clear skies for the night and then pouring rain for the next two days. We stayed in the hostel or went to a coffee shop to ride out the rain.

On our last two days, it was finally sunny, and we saw all the ruins you can see on the ticket for the Acroplis. 

We walked a lot that day, and saw a lot, even though it wasn't very interesting. All the ruins started to look the same after a while.
On our last day, we walked up Mount Lycabettus, which showed a nice view of the city. We were ready to come home, though, and made our way to the airport.

We learned that we travel well together and tend to balance each other out. When I was upset by the disappointment of the trip, Emet supported me, and when she was reaching her point of disappointment, I supported her. Overall, it was not really a vacation, but it was great for us to connect in a new place and spend some time together. Our last week at school had really been too busy for us to spend qualitative ime together.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pekudei and Time to Go Forward

By Emet

In this week's parsha, Pekudei, Moshe and the Israelites are continuing to work hard to complete the Mishkan according to Gd's specifications. At the end of the parsha, the very last chapter of the book of Shemot, the excitement of the completion is palpable:

34And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. לד. וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן:
35Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. לה. וְלֹא יָכֹל משֶׁה לָבוֹא אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד כִּי שָׁכַן עָלָיו הֶעָנָן וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן:
36When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys. לו. וּבְהֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן מֵעַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכֹל מַסְעֵיהֶם:

You can only imagine this moment of awe, wonder, and joy after the people's coming together as one to build a dwelling for Gd. They are leaving the place they had settled and become accustomed to. They are finally ready to continue forth into the desert, with their trust in Gd and Moshe. They know that whatever they happen upon, they are prepared for it.

Right now, the cloud in our life is rising, letting us know that it's time for us to travel on our way, to continue on our journey. It's been an honor and a privilege to be a part of building a space with everyone at Pardes, where we are all striving to know Gd, each in our way.

Just as Moshe blessed the people after the completion of the work in the parsha, may we bless everyone that when you recognize that the cloud in your life is rising, may you be just as full of excitement, joy, wonder, and gratitude as we are right now.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Putting on Tefillin for the First Time

There has been a lot of hype around women wearing tefillin lately (see here, here, here, and here). Since I just started taking the "Women and Mitzvot" class, this is a topic that I have followed. I've also been intrigued by the whole idea of tefillin for a while now.

For most of my life, I saw tefillin as something that Orthodox men do. It was never part of my life, nor did I ever see anyone wearing it. I just knew that they were boxes that Orthodox men wore when they prayed. This year, I saw other women wearing tefillin, both at Women of the Wall and in the Pardes minyanim. My curiosity peaked. What was special about tefillin? Did it really change the way one prayed? Does it make the person feel more focused during prayer?

When I was 13 and becoming a bat mitzvah, I received my first (and only) tallit, but I haven't worn it since. Whenever I have prayed, it is just me, nothing else. But I started thinking about how wearing tallit or tefillin could make that prayer space special and separate it out from the rest of the day.

I decided early in the year that I wanted to try tefillin. To see what it felt like and how it might affect the way I relate to prayer. This week, I got that chance. My friend Sam who blogs here graciously showed me how to put on tefillin.

I felt like I was doing something that had been forbidden - like getting a cookie out of the cookie jar in the middle of the night. I can't tell you all my feelings about putting on the tefillin, only that it was really cool. I felt like I was connecting with the past and the future. I felt like part of the Jews. Not that I don't feel that on any other day - I do, but this was different.

Because I didn't actually pray with them on, I don't think I got the real feeling of wearing tefillin.  I'm looking forward to the next time I could try praying with tefillin. I wonder if that will affect the way I pray or how I feel connected to prayer. When I get my tallit from my parents' house, I want to start praying with that, too, so that I will especially mark out the time in prayer as different. I think creating a special prayer space will enhance my prayer so much more. Shabbat shalom!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Shabbat: New Experiences and Emotions

Since I've been keeping Shabbat, I have had some that are absolutely fabulous and some that aren't as much. It depends on whom I'm with, mainly. This past Shabbat was so amazing; I can only attempt to explain it.

On Friday night, Emet and I went to a Reform shul. I haven't gone to a reform service since 2012, and so it noticeably is different from what I've been used to. There was just the right amount of silent meditation, and even though we didn't sing all the songs in Kabbalat Shabbat, there was a great deal of beautiful songs. As we got to the evening Amidah, I at first started reciting what I usually know, but when my words didn't go along with what was on the page of the book, I stopped and restarted with what was on the page. I was pleasantly surprised that the text had inserted references to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, in addition to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I recognize the lack of our mothers in the usual Amidah that I recite, and whenever possible, I include them in the blessing after meals. Even so, I was overjoyed by their inclusion that it instantly affected the way I related to the Amidah that night. We continued praying and there was a lot of lovely singing. The shul we typically go to on Friday nights has been inadequate lately with the singing, and so it made me feel good when the singing was both beautiful and generally On (key, tempo, and together).

After shul, we walked to dinner, where we had been invited last minute. At the table, the queers outweighed the straights, and we had engaging conversations talking about all sorts of things. There were a few new people at the table, and it was interesting to listen to new stories.

In the morning, we went to Shira Chadasha, where Emet received her first aliyah to the Torah. I had forgotten that it was Rosh Chodesh and there was an inserted section called Hallel. This section is added into the morning service on certain holidays and festivals, including Rosh Chodesh. It consists of a number of psalms that have specific tunes, and not only are the tunes lovely, but the meaning of the psalms are very touching. I saw this line: "How can I repay unto Gd all Gd's bountiful dealings toward me?" - and I meditated on all the good fortune I have right now. I'm in a beautiful place, learning, and engaged to be married to my bashert. My family and friends are all in good health, and I'm so lucky to be here at this very moment. The singing and the meditating on the goodness in my life made me very teary. I was in this space of happiness, and it was so great.

After Hallel, Emet was called to the Torah for her first aliyah. She had practiced a lot with me the week before, and I know she was nervous. A few of our friends came to shul to support her. She did so wonderfully! I was and still am so proud. She sang the blessings perfectly! I know she was very touched by going up to the Torah and was emotional afterward.

This Shabbat seemed to be a culmination of everything lately - learning, love, friendship, and community. I know both Emet and I felt how special it was to have Shabbat here in Jerusalem with the Pardes community, and overall, I just feel that this past Shabbat could not have been better.

Crossposted at Two Frum Queers

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What I've Learned About Myself Thanks to the Israeli Health System

As a resident of a country whose primary language isn't my own and where the health system is very different, I often have challenges when needing to get things done.

Seeing a doctor that speaks English is so amazing, you have no idea. We completely take it for granted in the US when our doctor speaks the same language as us. Not only that, but having to listen to phone systems in a different language and understanding what number to press can be very difficult. I love that I don't have to pay for things (taxes do) but it is so frustrating having to take one paper from the doctor to the central health insurance office and then getting another paper to bring to a lab to get a test. At all of these offices, you take a number and sit and wait for a while. Keep your patience but be assertive. It's ok to be pushy but not enough to frustrate the person who will serve you. Also, you have to be patient while the clerk chats with a coworker, looks at someone else's chart, makes a phone call, ANSWERS THEIR OWN PERSONAL CELL PHONE, or just is going pretty slowly. You, as a customer, are obviously second to their own priorities. Offices aren't open every day, all day, and it's your own fault if you don't know which days they are open. It's not the problem of the clerk if you can't come on the day that they are open.

It is nothing like that in the US. I will gladly wait a little longer or pay a little more to have GOOD customer service, to have to go to only ONE office to get something done, where things actually arrive in the post when they are supposed to, and you don't have to worry about figuring out which office you have to go to next, what words you need to know in order to get your point across, and if you will be helped.

Even so, I have learned to pay attention here. If you for just one minute walk away or get on the cell phone, you will lose your turn (or anger everyone else while you "cut" in line since you missed when your number was called). I have learned to be aggressive when I need to, even if I can't speak the language. I have learned to ask questions and explain things that you would be asked in the US, though it isn't always part of the standard things to discuss here - allergies for example when you are prescribed medication. I have also learned that doctors here openly acknowledge that they don't know everything and THAT'S A GOOD THING.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kiddushin and the Queers

This week, a classmate of mine at Pardes wrote a blog post about Kiddushin, being a gay man, and how he might see this tradition actualized in his own future relationship.

I am a queer observant woman who is getting married to another queer observant woman, and my partner and I have discussed how to balance our queerness and halacha to some extent (there is a lot more to discuss) and in particular how we plan to bring Jewish tradition and halacha into our wedding.

Our beliefs and practices are informed by Orthodox Judaism, and it is important for Emet and I to have a traditional Jewish wedding as much as possible because we recognize the importance of tradition. That being said, we know that under Jewish law, our marriage will not be valid. So, we are having many discussions about which Jewish traditions we find appropriate and relevant to us and which ones we need to alter or eliminate all together.

Copyright White Rose Kallah
Traditions of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony:
  • The couple does not see each other for a week prior to the wedding.
  • The bride and groom go to the mikveh in order to enter into their marriage spiritually clean.
  • Both the bride and the groom have separate rooms for guests to greet them prior to the wedding (kabbalat panim).
  • The ketubah is signed by two Shabbat-observant men.
  • After the kabbalat panim, the groom goes to the bride's room and places a veil on her, called the badeken, to symbolize that he is not solely interested in her physical beauty.
  • Under the chuppah (the marriage canopy), there is the betrothal blessing (kiddushin) over wine, when the groom gives the bride a ring, and the nisu'in, when the husband unites with the wife under the chippah through the Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings.
  • Following the ceremony, the couple goes to the yichud room, where they spend a few minutes together for the first time alone after the ceremony.
How we as a queer couple want to maintain tradition:
  • We will not see each other for the week leading up to the wedding.
  • We will go to a mikveh.
  • While we plan to see each other prior to the Kabbalat Panim, in order to take pictures and to reduce the emotional impact of seeing each other for the first time after a week, we likely will have two separate rooms for the kabbalat panim.
  • We are altering the kiddushin and the Sheva Brachot slightly to be more relevant and meaningful to us, though we are maintaining much of the wording.
  • We will have the yichud, as well.
  • We also have written our own ketubah text based upon traditional and modern texts to reflect our relationship.
What I've learned about Jewish tradition is that while we have customs that are passed down through history, each generation has changed them to be more relevant to their lives. You may not hear this from observant Jews, but even their practices have been informed by the commentators of a generation ago, and it is important for Emet and I, as a queer couple who wants to maintain tradition, to figure out a way to keep important aspects of it present in our wedding ceremony and our life.

There has been much discussion lately about religious GLBT people. Who we are, how we balance religious practice and being queer, and how we relate to each group (religious and GLBT people), as though they are separate identities. I'm very lucky that I can be an active member of both communities and that there are many, many queer Jews out there doing the exact same thing.

Cross-posted at Two Frum Queers, where we are writing about our experiences being Jewish, queer, and getting married.