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Blogs about Hanukkah, conversion class and other musings of a New Jew


The Real Miracle of Hanukkah and other things I learned in Conversion Class

Sat, 04 Dec 2010 12:49:33, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: conversion-classes, category: gay-jews, category: hanukkah, post_tag: hanukkah-or-hannukah, category: jewish-holidays, post_tag: jewish-holidays, category: judaism, post_tag: miracles, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, category: the-torah]

Wednesday, the first night of Hanukkah, was my last conversion class until January 12 when we'll study the Jewish Holiday Cycle.  As it was the first night of Hanukkah we learned about the Holiday and its origins.  Of course, when one thinks of Hanukkah, both Jew and non-Jew, you think of the menorah and the miracle that was the oil that burned in the rededicated Temple for 8 days.  WRONG!

I know, I know I'm not a Jew yet but as Rabbi Leora always tells us, as adults learning about Judaism vs non-practicing, "lazy" Jews we may know things that our Jewish friends and partners do not.  Mirs is amazing about this fact and I'm often, as I was last night at our Hanukkah party, a source of Jewish information.  Rabbi L also reminds us that sometimes our Jewish friends will not want to learn the "truth" from us converts but you know what?  Sometimes we do know more things, if only for the fact that as an adult we retain it better.

Back to the Miracle of Hanukkah.  In the book of Maccabees (which is not in the Torah) the holiday that is decreed to be celebrated from then on was the rededication of the Temple after it was reclaimed by Judah Maccabee and his sons from the Syrian Greeks.  It says, and I'm paraphrasing, that in the month of Kislev from that moment forward all Jews should celebrate the feat.  Fast forward to the writing of the Talmud and the scholars add the story of the oil and thus we celebrate not only the rededication of the Temple but also the miracle oil that stayed lit for 8 days.

This is the part of the post where I will remind everyone that I am not a Torah scholar, I'm not a Talmudic scholar, I'm just a Jew-to-be with one of the best rabbis on the planet who thinks the way I think.  The oil story is just a story perhaps?  And why is it just a story, in my mind, rather than fact?  1.  It's not in the book of Maccabees.  God is not mentioned at all in the book of Maccabees and the book of Maccabees is not in the Bible.  2. Perhaps because there's no God in Maccabees and only the historical record of battles fought.  The thought we had in class was that because the Maccabees lacks God's involvement in the miracle of the Temple defeat, and it was in fact man who was able to make that miracle of defeating an army that outnumbered ours in both man power and skill that it would cause people to not rely on God for miracles.  3.Perhaps it was the fact, as Rabbi L pointed out, that the Maccabees only ruled over the kingdom of Israel for 200 years and the Talmud was written 200 years later.  4. Or Perhaps the story of the oil was added out of sheer creative insight from the writer.  As a writer I'm inclined to that theory.

Whatever the case, we all celebrate Hanukkah now by lighting the menorah for eight days.  The mitzvah in the lighting of the menorah is to bring light into the world, to proclaim the light of the menorah in a public way.  The menorah should be in a window so that everyone can see it.  Rabbi L. also challenged us, as she often does, to think of ways that we, as Jews, can continue to bring light into the world for these 8 days.  I'm not sure if drinking myself silly last night at our Hanukkah/Shabbat party was what she had in mind, but I'd like to think that celebrating Hanukkah in a big, public way and welcoming Shabbat into our home with friends fits the bill.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

New Jews; Blessing or Annoyance?

Tue, 07 Dec 2010 13:03:03, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: judaism, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you, category: who-is-a-jew]

I'm one of those people who believe that when you say something, "joking" it's your way of saying the thing that you truly wish to say but do not for fear of hurting someone, upsetting someone, or disagreeing with someone.  You don't feel comfortable, for whatever reason, saying what you mean to say outright so you say it and follow it up with, "I'm only joking" or "you know I'm kidding, right?"  I make this assertion because it's something I do.  I'm a normally out-spoken person but when I see that what I've said has come out wrong, I'll follow it up with "I'm joking!"  and laugh a little too hard and too long to be believable.

The other day I got a Facebook IM from a Jewish acquaintance who said, "You're making us born Jews look bad!"  I got the same face-to-face message from a self-described "bad" Jew at work yesterday evening.  He said, "I bet you go to shul every Friday and Saturday, don't you."  I told him I hadn't been in a few weeks but I was planning on attending this Friday.  His response was that he hasn't gone since Yom Kippur, in '99"  I shrugged my shoulders not quite sure how to respond.

My closest Jewish friends are wonderful, intrigued, and always asking questions that I'm proud to be able to answer.  It's not that I'm a "better" Jew, I'm a newer Jew.  The great and interesting thing about being a Christian is that it's not a part of your identity.  Sure, you could argue that the Christian community is tight-knit, and that there's unity, blah, blah blah.  But if you're a Jew you're a part of history; Biblical History, Religious History, Personal History, Political History.  You can decide at any time that being a Christian doesn't work for you any longer and chose to be a Muslim, an Atheist, a Jew.  You can never decide to not be a Jew.  When you're a born Jew it's all the more relevant.

Through this journey, Mirs has started doing decidedly Jewish things.  She's interested in meeting with Rabbi L and randomly last week told me between talking about Law and Order and our Hanukkah party that she wanted to get a mezuzah for her door.  I tried to hide my delight but I'm sure that a giant smile spread across my face.  I do not, however, expect her to go to shul with me just because I do.  I do not expect her to learn things with me because I am, I don't expect her to change or alter her Jewish identity because of my recently acquired one.  Because her mother is a convert and her father is a born Jew.  Because she attended Hebrew school as a child and studied Torah she's a Jew and will always be one, though she identifies as an atheist who's Jewish.  When I emerge from the mikvah I will forever be a Jew.  There's no way to undo the Jew.  Which is why it is arguably the most important decision that I will make in my entire life.

When I become a Jew I will be taking on a new religion that excites me.  I find Shabbat to be a beautiful and moving experience.  When I light candles sometimes we rush through and when they're lit I'll sometimes say them again silently to myself with meaning.  I'm immersed in books of knowledge about Jewish history and theology.  The religious aspect of it is incredibly inspiring.  The fact that this learning is happening at 31 and because of my choosing as opposed to age 11 and on a perfectly good Sunday probably has a lot to do with it.

I try, outside of this safe cyber space, not to talk about my journey to Judaism unless someone has questions about it.  Inevitably once a day some one asks at work because I wear hamsas around my neck.  They ask if I'm a Jew and I tell them that I will be one soon.  Yesterday I got 4 mazel tovs from 4 separate born Jews all excited and interested in why a black woman would choose to be a Jew.  When the older woman I'd never met hugged me tightly and whispered Mazel Tov! into my ear I shuddered with a feeling of awe.  Still, walking through Union Square last night past the giant menorah and the huge Mitzvah Tank I approached some Hasidic Jews and wished them a happy Hanukkah.  They looked perplexed when I wished them well in Hebrew, and I explained that I was converting.  Like the Hasids that showed up at Mirs' door on the first night, these two men were not impressed, not convinced, not quite sure how to respond.  It could be my insecurity or my need for them to accept me when I know that I will not be accepted as a Jew to so many Jews out there.

If I cared about acceptance I wouldn't have decided to make this life-changing step towards Judaism.  If I cared about what others thought, I wouldn't have ever came out as a lesbian and got married to the second schmuck that asked.  My lesbian identity and my Jewish identity have nothing to do with the outside world or the opinions of others and everything to do with me.  It's my discovery, my journey, my Judaism and it thrills me every day, every day I learn something new or remember something learned, or get frustrated when I forget something simple like a barachot.  I'm not a better Jew and I don't care how you Jew.  I'm a new Jew who's learning what it's like to have an appreciation, awe, and reverence for God and religion for the first since I was very young.

My mother likes to sometimes remind me of how much I loved Jesus as a child.  I wasn't one of those Jesus Camp children but apparently I really loved Jesus.  I don't remember it and often take her word but I would talk to Jesus like he was a friend I actively interact with.  I lost that as a teenager and it was gone as an adult.  The connection to the idea of Jesus was lost on me and I started to think of him not as the son of God, but as a man with a powerful message that many listened to and learned from and many disagreed with.  I read books not in the Christian Bible and found them to be interesting but not faith-altering.  Learning about Judaism makes me feel something I have no memory of feeling before.  I'm excited about it and approach it with enthusiasm.

Back soon with exciting news!

Thu, 09 Dec 2010 13:08:40, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jews-for-racial-and-economic-justice, category: the-jewish-forward]

Hanukkah is over and what a doozy it was!  I'll be back to updating later this weekend but so much fun to discuss.

1.  Our raging Hanukkah Party

2.  Sheer joy of lighting the menorah for 8 days

3.  Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Event

4.  My podcast for the Jewish Forward.

Exciting, right?  Told 'ya.

Whirl Wind of a Week; Podcast, Noah Aronson, JFREJ, and more...oy vey!

Sun, 12 Dec 2010 22:35:40, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: hanukkah, category: jewish-holidays, category: jews-for-racial-and-economic-justice, category: jews-of-color, category: the-jewish-forward]

This is going to be one long post, but I will try to be as concise as possible without sounding like I'm rattlling off fun-facts of my previous week.  It's probably best to start with the most recent and work my way back to last Friday, my Hanukkah party.

1.  Shabbat, this week.

I met a good friend of mine at CBE to hear my buddy Noah Aronson lead the Shabbat service.  As always, he was amazing.  We chatted before service and afterwards, I'm promised new recordings and iTunes soon.  I will keep you all posted.  If you haven't listened to his music yet, I encourage you to do so!  If you're in the NYC area get yourself added to the Brooklyn Jews list serve and you'll be in the know the next time Noah leads CBE's Shabbat. 

After what turned out to be a very interesting, inspiring, and thought-provoking D'var Torah my friend and her friend, a fellow convert-to-be went out for Chinese food.  Cliché?  Perhaps, we just really wanted fried greasy food.  I was excited to sit down next to a woman who's going through the exact process that I'm going through but on a totally different level.  This woman is doing an Orthodox conversion and the moment she told me I was instantly fascinated and intrigued.  I asked her many questions and she had many for me but the most comforting part was that I was sitting at a table of women; one born Jew and one Jew-to-be after Shabbat and we were talking about Judaism and it's many multi-faceted identities.  I'm excited to grow a friendship with this woman because she's going through the conversion process at the same time as I am.  Because she spent 5 years in private study before committing to a conversion (therefore she knows far more than I do).  Because of her convictions.  Because of her passion for Torah, and for all three of us, our passion for learning Hebrew.  I'm excited to have nailed down Shabbat buddies from three different perspectives that I know I'll learn so much from.

2. Podcast with the Jewish Forward.

On Thursday I found myself on the twisted, turning cobblestone streets of the Financial District of Manhattan.  I always forget how much I love the small winding streets, the narrow passage ways, and the very real old school New York that is the Financial District until I'm down there.  I found my way to the Forward's office on Maiden Lane and met with a queer Jewish woman, Nadja,  for an interview/chat for the Forward's new LGBT Podcast.  We talked for about 45 minutes about everything from my identity as a black woman, a gay woman, a Jew-to-be and everything in between.  The podcast is being edited and I hope to do more podcasts with the Forward in the future. 

I walked away feeling what only can be described as important.  Not because I thought that The Forward or Nadja for matter thought so but for the reason that I was putting a voice, name, face with what it's like to be a Black Gay Jew.  I don't begin to imagine that I'm the only queer Jew of Color on the planet but I am one voice.  I don't claim to speak for all Jews by Choice, all Black women, all Queer Women because I cannot.  I'm only one woman.  On the other hand, it is great to be able to give a voice to those other Queer Jews, Jews of Color, and Jews by Choice to the broad audience of American Jewry.  It was thrilling and frightening at the same time.  I walked away excited and thinking, "should I have said that?"  or "Did that come out the way I intended it?"  "Who's going to be pissed at me because of this?"  In the end I can only say c'est la vie.  It's done, I'm excited, and I never waste time on regret.  On a side, but related noted, I'll be hopefully writing for The Sisterhood.

3. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

My buddy from Dykes on Bike-Cycles and fellow tribe member, Nikki, invited me to volunteer at the JFREJ annual awards ceremony and fundraiser.  It spent the afternoon working with a diverse lot of Queer and non-Queer Jews and learned a bit about the organization.  I'm chatting with a member of JFREJ later this week and hope to become an active member and supporter of the amazing work they do.

4.  My raging Hanukkah Party

Last Friday we had a Hanukkah Party/Shabbat Dinner for 12 of our dearest and closest friends.  The group of people were diverse ethnically, religiously, and in terms of sexual orientation-although it was pretty gay.  We made a dizzying spread of food and friends stayed way passed the light of the menorah's blaze to dance and sing in our living room.  It was a great Shabbat dinner because we were opening our home to our friends and it was an amazing Shabbat dinner because we were celebrating Hanukkah.  Moreover, it was amazing to share the important part of our Jewish lives in an intimate way with some of the people we're closest to.  It was a truly exceptional evening.

In personal family news my only, younger, and beloved sister has relapsed again in her drug addiction.  I'll be taking some time away from blogging but promise to be back when I'm feeling up to it.  I will say that I'm feeling content in my Jewish spirituality in terms with coming to terms with the consequences of her actions both current and in the past.  I'd only ask that you add her to your prayers on Shabbat.

When will December 25th just be a Day

Thu, 16 Dec 2010 17:19:20, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-holidays, category: jews-of-color, category: things-to-think-on]

Even as a Christian I was very aware that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th.  December 25th, the date of Christmas is very close to the pagan Yule Holiday, which is on December 21st, if I'm not mistaken.  The date of Christmas was chosen, I gather, in this close proximity to help the new Christians be more inclined to celebrate this new holiday while forgetting their old one.  I made this assertion as a young adult in high school to the dismay of many of the sisters who ran the school.  Only the infamous Ms L amused my assertions by banishing me to a portion of the room she called the Pagan Babies Section.  We weren't pagans, necessarily, we were just questioning, intelligent shepherds, rather than sheep.

Still, part of the world actually believes with their whole heart that December 25th is Jesus' birthday.  I call it stupidity, some people call it faith.  I really don't care all that much because as a Jew I acknowledge that Jesus was born a Jew.  He died a Jew.  JESUS IS A JEW!  Now before you click away and think I'm one of those Jews that believe that Jesus was the messiah, let me just be clear.  I'm still waiting for the messiah, not idly, just waiting for the rebuilding of the Temple, for Elijah to let us know what's up-you know, the world to come.

All joking aside, the fact of the matter is that December 25th isn't yet just another day to me.  It's still Christmas and this December 25th will be the first time I'm un-celebrating it.  I just e-mailed off an article I wrote for The Sisterhood titled, "Making December 25th Just a Day" in it I talked about what it means for me as a Jew-to-be to be getting very close to a holiday that no longer "belongs" to me.  I read it to Mirs and she thought that I sounded sad, that the article was sad.  It could be that I am sad, that it's sad, or that I read it in a monotone voice that could be interpreted as sad.  Or, it could be all of the above.  Truth is, I'm sad but not about Christmas per se, just the stuff that goes along with it.  Family, Friends, Family. 

I'm missing my family right now and wishing that I could've gotten the time off work to be with them.  As much as I argued for my cause with Mirs that fateful afternoon in SoHo, and as much as I still defend my stance, I'm starting to understand what she meant.  Unfortunately, because only I am becoming a Jew, not my entire family, Christmas will always be a different thing for me versus what it is for them.  Last week when I had Shabbat dinner with my friends we were talking about what Christmas means.  The other Jew-to-be had a hard time last year, she's been studying privately for five years.  She told us how she broke down into tears on her mother's shoulder in her living room surrounded by all things Christmas.  It was the first time, she explained, that it didn't feel right.  I don't know what that feels like yet.

My apartment is decidedly un-Christmas.  There are no lights, no garland, no carols.  Just my mezuzah, my menorah, my hamsas and the many books on Judaism.  I've been reading Entering Jewish Prayer by Reuven Hammer on a daily basis and find the words, the reasoning behind the siddur, and the hows and whys of Jewish prayer very comforting-especially given the time of year.   I'm definitely sad that I will be alone on December 25th.  Most of the distractions I find when I find myself alone will be unavailable to me as not only the world but New York shuts down on December 25th.  It occurred to me that not only is it Christmas but it's also Shabbat so all of the Jewish-owned stores that could be open will not be.  I'm sad that I will be here in my apartment with a feline that's sort of an asshole rather than with my family.  I'm sad because I won't be able to see the delight in my nephews eyes as they open the presents I've bought for them.  I'm sad because I'll be alone.  I'm not sad or mourning Christmas, but what happens on Christmas-time with family and friends.

We've got 9 more days until this whole thing blows over.  How are you other converts and Jews-to-be doing?

Baby Steps-a Rambling Post

Fri, 17 Dec 2010 12:24:28, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: conversion-classes, category: gay-jews, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism, category: shul-shopping, category: things-to-think-on, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you]

One Day at a Time

Easy Does It

It's a Marathon Not a Sprint

This morning one of you readers, always inspiration, said that she was taking baby steps in divorcing herself from Christmas and it got me thinking, am I rushing into this?  The short answer would be yes the long answer is no.  Yes, in the fact that I'm hungry and literally devouring nearly everything that I can get my hands on.  Devouring may suggest that I'm gobbling it up without tasting it which is a strong visual so I'll edit a bit, I'm consuming it...  Granted consuming makes me think of a fire that takes over a forest in an alarming rate but that's the metaphor I'm going for.  Consume...Absorb?    I like absorb better, it's more peaceful, like a sponge.  Alright, absorb.  I'm absorbing my Judaism at what could be considered an alarming rate and there's no "date" in my future.  For many of the converts in my class the date they're working for is a wedding date.  They've got to get it, get it done, at get to being Jews before March 15th, June 9th, April 27th.  Those dates aren't real wedding dates as far as I know but they're definitely markers for them, the finish line if you will.

My new friend who's converting Orthodox has been in private study for 5 years before making the very recent decision to convert.  Her knowledge of Hebrew prayer and the order of service is astounding and inspirational.  Then there's me, I jumped right in feet first into the deep end and guess what-I can swim!  (These analogies bothering anyone else?)  It's not as though I didn't try out other things before hand, because I certainly did, but when I found what fit the best, what inspired me the most, what felt like the right place to find myself after years of searching I wanted it all and immediately.

As we all know as converts and Jews the Jewish learning never stops.  We read Torah every year over and over again trying to look for new meaning, learn new lessons, and revisit lessons learned.  As a Jew-to-be the learning seems endless but not overwhelming.  I feel like I just got a handle on what happened at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and another one of you readers helped me to remember the "big deal" that is Passover.  Still I wonder, should I be taking smaller steps rather than giant leaps.  Am I taking enough time to relish what it feels like to be a Jew in Training or has the want to be a Jew clouded the appreciation for the process I am in right now, what I'm going through at this moment.

I think back to the spring when I started shul shopping and rabbi chatting.  I sat down with 4 rabbis and visited 4 shuls before finding the rabbi that inspired me and challenged me most.  To be honest, I've never actually attended a Shabbat service there rather attend a shul closer to home with a rabbi that I've only met in passing.  The next step in my conversion process is meeting with a rabbi on a regular basis for one-on-one meetings.  I'll continue to attend the larger classes starting in January for the second trimester of Judaism classes but in order to secure the one-on-one meeting I needed to join the synagogue.  I struggled with this decision not only because of the financial burden but because besides Kol Nidre, I've never experienced the synagogue's worship style.  What I did know, as I signed a check and filled out the membership paperwork, was that Rabbi L always makes me think, she always makes me consider and reconsider, she always says something that is challenging to me and that is helping to form me into the Jew that I will become.  She's active in the synagogue as an educational rabbi, she doesn't do the sermon part-still she's so very much a part of why I chose this shul.  The way I explained it to Mirs is that the mikvah is my finish line, joining the synagogue is the race course.  Great thing is that it doesn't actually end at the mikvah, it actually begins at the mikvah.  The beauty of the mikvah is that afterwards, I can go to which every synagogue I chose and I will be a Jew.

Still I'm wondering if this step, the reform step, is the step in the right direction.  Is an Orthodox conversion a better option for the just in cases of the future.  You know, just in case my child as an adult moves to Israel for a trip and falls in love with another Jew whose parents want to verify that they're crazy lesbian mothers are both "real" Jews.  It's a silly what if but it could happen.  Could I be jeopardizing my potential future child's love life?  Will an Orthodox conversion better the troubled mind of the rabbi who makes sure that Mirs has her candles for Shabbos?  Do I even want an Orthodox conversion?  Why haven't I taken a longer look at Conservative conversion?  I considered it for a second before heading directly for the Reform.  The truth in the decision relied heavily on my gayness and need to be in a place that it would be accepted and acknowledged rather than ignored or swept under the rug.  The fact that I'm gay and will be a gay Jew is important to me.  In class and at last week's Shabbat service the rabbis talked about  LGBT issues as Jewish issues.  I like that and I wonder if I'd find that message of acceptance and love for all people in a Conservative shul or an Orthodox shul.  I don't know and can't know, but this is what happens when you slow down a bit and take a look at where you're going and where you've been.

As-Salam Alaykum/Shalom Aleichem

Wed, 22 Dec 2010 15:46:57, erika, [category: uncategorized]

The Wikipedia definition of As-Salam Alaykum and Shalom Aleichem are exactly the same; Peace be upon you in either Arabic or Hebrew.  There are many things right now going on in my life where I need Peace.  Things with my sister have hit a unbelieveable high, one of Mirs best friends suddenly passed away, and Christmas is a few days away and I'm far away from my family.

As we approach the new (secular) year I wish you all peace.  Shalom Aleichem/As-Salam Alaykum

I survived Christmas and ate Chinese food, too

Sun, 26 Dec 2010 18:43:28, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism, category: the-jewish-forward, category: what-im-reading]

First things first, did you read my post on the Sisterhood??  If not, go read it and come back.  I'll wait.

It's true.  I ordered Chinese food on Christmas afternoon.  The original plan was to make some eggs and enjoy a mimosa while watching endless episodes of The L Word on Netflix.  I opened Mirs' fridge to find that she was out of eggs and anything else with which to make brunch  and instead opted for the "traditional" Jewish Christmas meal-Chinese food.  The food came within 30 minutes of ordering and was pretty sub par but, it got the job done.  I spent the majority of the afternoon on Mirs' couch and the later part of the day on my friend's couch watching the NBA marathon on ABC.  I have to be honest, it was a pretty okay day.

I think  that if I were at my parents house with my mother's three Christmas trees and the presents and the big dinner that I would've felt more nostalgic.  Instead, it felt like any other Saturday.  I worked the night before and enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner with friends before going to bed.  I didn't get to light my Shabbat candles, by the time I made it home it was 11PM.  I'm not sure how comfortable it would've made me or how odd it might have felt to light them on Christmas Eve but I can honestly say that I felt OK.  I wasn't sad, I wasn't lonely, I wasn't depressed.  I was OK.

I've been reading a really remarkable and inspirational book by Rueven Hammer called Entering Jewish Prayer-A guide to Personal Devotion and the Worship Service.  I'm in Chapter 9, The Amida, and it sounds cliché but I'm surprised at the amount of strength the book lends.  I was reading another book on Jewish Prayer called To Pray as a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin and could barely get through the first few chapters.  Both men, to my knowledge, or Orthodox but Hammer's book reads in a more down-to-earth, easy to understand, and most important-interesting way.  I find myself quite engrossed in what I'm reading, even more inspired to learn Hebrew, but in awe of the English translations that I'm reading.  I mean, every Shabbat in shul I hear the words being read in Hebrew and I'll be honest that I'm mostly so enthralled with the sound of Hebrew being chanted, the cantor's voice, or trying to read the transliterations that I don't actually know what I'm saying or more accurately praying.  Having 30 minutes on the subway twice a day to read the prayers in their entirety as well as Hammer's and The Sages interpretations of the prayers, the reasons why we recite the prayers, and the importance of Jewish prayer is beyond description.

I'm fully aware that in Catholic Church or Episcopal Church the liturgy is the same each week with the same passages from the Bible that are read from here to England.  I just never knew why we did the things we did in church.  With Judaism I'm captivated by the Hebrew while I'm in shul, that's for sure, and honestly didn't care what I was saying because I was certain that I was praising God's name.  Now, I feel a better connection to the prayers that are recited each Shabbat because I understand them.  I mean, I don't understand them like I can talk about them comfortably here but I understand.  When I'm done with this book and take a breather from prayer to read another one of the dozen books I got from Amazon before taking another stab at Donin's book. 

I'm feeling good, though, on this December 26th with December 25th behind me and Purim ahead.  Thanks to all of you for your kind words you've posted as of late on my blog.  It's so comforting to know that there are Jews out there, born or by choice, who care enough to read and share.  Thank you.

When You're a Jew-You get Two New Years!

Tue, 28 Dec 2010 19:46:05, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: judaism, category: things-to-think-on]

I was always fascinated by the Chinese New Year, especially since moving to New York.  A few years ago Mirs and I went down to China town about an hour to late and missed the parade but the evidence of the festivities were in the streets.  The main drags were still closed off to cars and pedestrians took them over.  The people had smiles on their faces, there were people dressed festively and confetti in the streets.  So many ways of thinking about things became altered and enlightened when I moved to New York. 

As small and closed off as my city in Ohio is, in terms of diversity, I thought that the world ran pretty much as we did.  We were Christian, we celebrated Easter and Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween, and New Years in big ways.  I'd always seen Rosh Hashanah on the calendar but only knew that it always fell on a different day each year and sometimes it was close to my birthday.  It wasn't until this year, actually, that I realized that Rosh Hashanah was the start of the Jewish Year.  My naive self assumed that the streets of Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Ditmas Park would be filled with cheering happy Jews blowing horns, throwing confetti, and drinking champagne.  Instead, we spent a quiet night with our Israeli friends, read from a siddur, and ate apples and honey.

As much as I'd like to think that I'd live my life according to the days and times of the Jewish calendar I live in a secular world.  Rosh Hashanah was such an interesting time for me.  I spent the evening in Temple and listened to words being spoken in a language I still do not understand.  I listened to music that was different than the Shabbat music I was used to and read books on the importance of the day.  It was my first Rosh Hashanah and I look forward to many more-I'm just excited that I get to celebrate New Years with a bang in a few days, too.  I focused a lot of my thoughts for 5771 on what I wanted out of my spiritual life.  I wanted to dedicate time to Torah study.  I wanted to dedicate time to learning more.  I wanted to learn Hebrew.  I wanted to focus on observing kashrut, in my own way.

So here we are, a few days away from 2011 and I've been doing a decent in job 5771.  While my Torah study has faltered, I've been reading a lot of books on Judaism, Jewish Prayer, and God.  I received Basic Hebrew from Amazon and it's downloaded onto my iPod.  I listen to it when I go to bed and when I wake up in the morning.  In terms of kashrut, it's a work in progress.  I was reading a blog from a new reader and in their last post they talked about resetting.  That's what the New Year is to me.  I love the High Holy days for their significance as a Jew and I love them spiritually.  I still have a picture in my head of a book that is opened on Rosh Hashanah and closed on Yom Kippur and it can only be described as awesome.  The secular New Years is just that-secular.  It has no ties, as far as I know, to any religion or even the turning of the earth in relation to time of year.  We've already had our darkest day and the nights will get shorter and the days will get longer.  For whatever reason it was decided that January 1st, instead of the solstice, would mark the beginning of the year. 

I've stopped making resolutions that are empty because they lack merit or real meaning.  Instead, taking a cue from my new friend, I'm going to reset and refocus on important goals in my life that I made for myself at the beginning of 5771.  This journey towards Judaism and my life as a Jew, I'm sure, will be filled with overlaps of holidays both religious and secular.  There will be hurdles for me to try to get over or perhaps realize that I cannot get through.  And as much as I'm anxious and ready to hop into a mikvah feet first (which I'm sure is not kosher) I love this time of year because it gives cause for pause.  Time for me to pause and realize that after I'm a Jew-in-Training, I'll never be a Jew-in-Training again, I'll be a Jew.  Albeit a New Jew but I'll be a Jew and I'll never get to experience what this feels like again.  So thanks, Heath, for reminding me to pause.

My first Gregorian New Year, Holiday musings and other stuff.

In Which I celebrate Hanukkah, talk about Jewish traditions and conversion.