erika davis is a washington state-based writer, blogger and jewish diversity advocate. For almost 8 years she recorded her journey to judaism in her popular blog, Black Gay and Jewish. Today she blogs about her life in the PNW and occasionally writes in third person

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

New Years Shabbat

Thu, 30 Dec 2010 19:38:58, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-holidays, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism, category: shabbat, category: what-im-reading]

Funny thing happened in 2010.  Christmas Eve and now New Years Eve both fall on Shabbat.  For Christmas I was at work (Christmas Eve) and didn't get home in time to light my Shabbat candles.  Tomorrow, though, I get off work early and plan on coming home to have Shabbat dinner with Mirs before heading to our friend's house to ring in the new year.

I'm finishing up Reuven Hammer's amazing book, Entering Jewish Prayer.  The chapter I'm in currently is about Shabbat.  It's always exciting for me to read more in depth information about Shabbat.  When I was taking the other conversion class I was given a book on Shabbat.  The title I cannot remember but it wasn't very inspiring and didn't go deep into Shabbat practices and traditions.  Rather, it gave a sort of brief outline and description of Shabbat.  Nearly every book that I've read has a chapter devoted to Shabbat and in it usually you will find traditions, history, and perhaps a bit of information on prayer.  The great thing about Hammer's book is that it give the tradition and history, but in-depth information about the prayers, their history, and their place in Jewish history.  The meaning of why I do things is more important that just doing them.  As I continue to read, it makes me want to have a complete traditional Shabbat meal. 

Nearly every Friday night I will try to make it to shul.  When I get back I light Shabbat candles (late) with Mirs and we eat challah and drink wine.  She may have cooked dinner or I will have cooked.  We catch up with one another and enjoy each other.  We say the blessings over the candles and the challah, but never the wine, and apparently never properly. 

I'm always conscious to tread lightly when it comes to my desires of Jewish practice and Mirs Jewish tradition and up-bringing.  I try not to tsk or get exasperated when she rushes through the blessings but after reading Hammer's thorough description of a Shabbat meal, I want to do it "right."  Traditionally, you aren't supposed to kindle a flame after Shabbat begins.  

 "Originally, lamps were kindled before the Sabbath began, in order to make certain that the house would be illuminated on the Sabbath.  Once Sabbath begins, it is forbidden to kindle flame...Whenever a blessing is recited, it is immediately followed by the action that is the subject of the blessing.  On Hanukkah, for example, we recite the blessings and then we kindle the flames...On Sabbath one is forbidden to light a flame, yet how can a blessing for Sabbath candles be recited when it is not yet the Sabbath?  The Solution was to light them, cover the eyes, recite the blessing, and then uncover the eyes and look at the flame.  Looking at the candles became the action performed after saying the blessings."

 

Hammer then continues by quoting information from the midrash.  Now, I'm not saying he's an expert and I'm sure that many other people have their ideas, which is the beauty of Judaism, but this idea makes sense to me.  I've always read that a woman covers her eyes for concentration, for quiet prayer, because it is at that moment that she is one with God.  All of those reasons make sense to me as well but logistically, Hammer's explanation helps quiet my questioning mind.  I'd always wondered how I was supposed to light the candles after Shabbat started and didn't have an answer until this afternoon on the B Train home.  Let me take this time to point out that I don't and sometimes cannot have a "traditional" Shabbat meal.  I rarely get home before dark, I always miss candle lighting times, and we watch television, I blog, and we use electricity.  When I talk about my desire to have a traditional Shabbat meal I'm referring to the desire to have a meaningful, prayerful Shabbat meal.

 

The chapter on Shabbat and Holidays has inspired me to host a traditionally Shabbat meal with 2 loaves of challah, kiddish, song, and prayer.  I'm not sure when this Shabbat meal will occur or who I'll invite but it's on my list.  Currently we do a little bit of this a little bit of that.  It's hard to not push too much with Mirs when she's making giant leaps and bounds in terms of what she wants out of her Jewish life.  Coupled by the fact that what I want out of my Jewish life isn't the same as hers I'm happy.  She always makes a point to go out and purchase wine and challah every Friday night.  She makes sure we have candles and matches, she wishes me a good Shabbos.  What else can I ask for?

 

After our Hanukkah party we talked about hosting a Seder for Pesach but looking at the calendar, I realized we passed right over Purim, my favorite Jewish Holiday.  There's a joke that I keep hearing about Jewish Holidays that's along the lines of, they tried to beat us, we fought, we won, let's eat.  I love it and it always makes me chuckle but there's so much more meaning to all of the Holidays beyond those basic ideas of war and feast.  I'm excited about learning what those meanings are and including them into our Holiday and Shabbat traditions.  I regret not telling the story of the Maccabees on Hanukkah.  Rest assured, if we have a Purim party that story will be told to our guests...until we cannot remember it.

 

If you're looking for a tasty Shabbat dinner, check out my buddy Liz's post on The Jew and the Carrot.





Conversion Classes are Starting Again

Sat, 08 Jan 2011 22:02:19, erika, [category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: jewish-prayer, category: things-to-think-on]

Next Wednesday the 12th will start the second trimester of conversion classes.  Saying that I'm excited isn't sufficient verbage for how I'm feeling about it.  I've been feeling a little down lately, a little lost-truthfully, and definitely a lot depressed.  One of the great things about working in retail is that from October-December you're sort of in go-mode.  You really don't have much to do except for work and there's barely enough time to eat or sleep let alone think about the problems that may or may not be happening in your life.

Because things in my life, outside of NYC, are nothing short of hectic I've been able to put them at the back of my mind.  After December 25, and possibly because of December 25th things have been sort of thrown right back into the frontal lobes of my mind and therefore, almost impossible to let go.  It goes without saying that this day would come.  When I would turn to my psychologist-in-training partner and ask her to give me suggestions for therapist to help me deal with all of the stuff that's been happening over the past few months.

The process is taking a while so I haven't started sitting in a big leather chair spilling my guts and conflicted feelings of anger, hatred, tortured love and Jewish thinking that is any thoughts of my sister and the complicated situation she's inflicted on my family.  Until most recently I felt that what she'd done and the effect of what she'd done didn't or wouldn't affect me or how I lived my life.  This has, unfortunately, proven untrue.  It's hard to balance my disappointment with my hatred.  It's hard to balance what it means to say that I hate my sister.  It sounds terrible, I know, but I've come to learn that hatred, true hatred, only comes from disappointed or unfulfilled love.  I don't say that I hate her flippantly, I hate her because loving her has become too difficult.  Then how do you balance those feelings with thinking like a Jew.

I don't expect for my rabbi to help me figure this out, that's what the therapist is for after all.  I do wonder how my rabbi would help me to reconcile this anger with my Judaism and how to look at these feelings Jewishly.  I've read books on Jewish prayer.  I feel like I'm comfortable with the basic outline of most Jewish life cycle events.  I feel like I've got a decent handle on Jewish holidays but Jewish hate?  I don't have a handle on that.  Hatred isn't a very Jewish thing, after all.  I remember actually reading something in Hammer's book, some Torah passage about not turning your back on your kin.  That, I struggle with.  I truly struggle with and there are many things in the Torah that I struggle with.  The role of women, the rights of women, women's roles in synagogue and prayer-most of Leviticus makes me cringe but reading this passage in passing tugged at my very being.  Torah says not to turn your back on your kin and it's the only thing I can do.



Ohio Love in the Big Apple

Sun, 09 Jan 2011 23:49:30, erika, [category: uncategorized]

It goes without saying that Erika Davis needs a vacation.  I decided that I would need one way before this current bought of depression set in.  There's always, whether there is family drama or not, a lull at the end of the Holiday season.  Whether you're a Jew or a Christian the time between November-January can be draining, physically and emotionally.  There's so much family time, money spent, hectic running around, planning etc. between the holidays and New Years that by the time the dust settles you feel spent.

I started browsing cabins in the woods towards the end of December when I spent my first Christmas as a Jew-in-Training in New York City all by my lonesome.  I found a really cute place and e-mailed a reservation.  I dreamt of spending four blissful days with my lady love in a cabin far removed from schedules, planning, or even access to the phone or internet.  I wanted us to reconnect with one another as well as with ourselves.  When Mirs got home I told her of the weekend I had planned and watched the excited expression drain from her face as she delivered the news.  Her applications for internships were due that Saturday.  Must be postmarked that Saturday from NYC no sooner or later than the day we'd be in the woods.

I went back to the drawing board and became content with the idea of escaping by myself to an island.  I thought I would find a cheap flight and cheaper hotel deals to Puerto Rico, maybe even get a chance to go back to Costa Rica for four nights.  Worse case scenario I could bunker down in some crummy hotel in the Keys.  Do you know that a flight from JFK to Key West is at least a grand right now?  I had a mini panic attack followed by temper tantrums, followed by sporadic bursting into tears, followed by picked fights, frantic text messages to friends, teary apologies on voice mails until I heard the magical words, "I booked a flight" come out of my mother's mouth this afternoon while we chatted on the phone on my lunch break.  My mom's coming to town.  My best friend who I've not got to spend 100% alone time with in four years.  In case you forgot, she's the saint who's raising my sister's children.  She needs a break and I need my mom.  I hope she realizes she's traded two babies aged 18 mos and 4 for a 31-year-old baby.  There's something, though, about the relationship of a mother and her first born-me!



What has the world come to?

Mon, 10 Jan 2011 11:08:37, erika, [category: forgiveness]

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq38Nnf4pOw]

 

Like many Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, I'm still reeling from last week's Tuscon gunfire, murder, and attempted murder on Congresswoman Gifford.  I try to think back to election night when I sat in a bar with hundreds of strangers who actually took the time to look one another in the eyes.  Strangers hugged one another, slapped each other on the backs, high fived, and tears of relief, joy, and probably surprise ran down the faces of so many of us as we watched the first black man win the Presidential election.  I imagine if it had been Mrs. Clinton who won the democratic seat rather than Mr. President that the reactions would be the same.  We were happy, engaging, and even a little surprised because something that should have come so natural, should have been just what happens, should have been the norm wasn't. 


I remember sitting there feeling excited, pressure for being a black person, and nervousness.  Was the world, more accurately, was America ready for a black man to be president?  Would they have taken more readily or easily to a woman?  I don't follow politics because for the most part, I feel removed from them.  When there are issues that have to do with my person; race, gender politics, religious rights I'm all ears but things like unions, taxes, etc. I'm honestly not aware of.  When I heard that Congresswoman Gifford, Arizona's first Jewish woman to hold that office, was shot and seriously injured I was shocked and horrified.

After 9/11 it goes without saying that our country has become hostile.  There was a terrible joke after September 11th that now other people (Arabs) would feel like we (blacks) have felt for years.  Now I don't know what to think.  In a society where people, myself included, get most of their information from their televisions or internet websites whose content, based on political ties, skews information what are we to think?  Information flies from one coast to another, from one side of the planet to the other in the click of a button.  Warfare is carried out by a phone call as well as man-to-man.  A politician from Alaska can post images on her website one day and the next innocent people are killed and more are wounded.

When did free speech become so deadly, or more accurately, when did we assume that free speech came without consequences?  Where are our flower children?  We're lazy.  In the 60's people my age and younger left their homes to march on Washington without a thought.  People in the south refused to give up their places at lunch counters without thinking of what might happen-even though they knew.  What do I do?  How am I making change?  Why am I so scared?

I don't have answers to my questions and I don't know why I feel my feet cemented to the place I stand rather than take a stand.  My prayers go out to the congresswoman and her family.  My prayers go out to the people who lost their lives and their families.  My prayers go out the those injured, those who witnessed this event, and the world.  As Jews, we know that the messiah will come when there is peace in the world, when the Temple is rebuilt, and when the tribes return to Israel.  How or why would the messiah come when we can't get the first piece of the puzzle in place.  Within our own Jewish community there is war waging; who is a real Jew, who is not, who decides, why do they get to decide.  We make war with our neighbors, in Israel especially but in our own communities here in the US, in Jewish neighborhoods.  We are human and not divine so there are challenges but Torah teaches us that we shouldn't do what is hateful to others-but we do.

Today, right now President Obama has declared a national moment of silence.  Pray with the nation that we find peace.



Noah Aronson performing at CBE this Friday

Thu, 13 Jan 2011 00:48:08, erika, [category: uncategorized]

You all know how much I love Noah Aronson and his band, right?  This Friday CBE is holding a special Human Rights Shabbat in honor of Martin Luther King day and Noah and his band will be leading the service.  I'm not very tech-savy but the link to the PDF is below.  I'm trying to get my mother to come with me but she's putting up the good fight.  I'm wondering if I should remind her of all those time she dragged me to church kicking and screaming...

CBE-HumanRightsShabbat-screenoutput-2[1]



"Jews are a lot like Black Folks"

Sat, 15 Jan 2011 12:03:54, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism, category: noah-aronson, category: shabbat, category: the-jewish-forward]

That's what my mom said after we got back from shul last night.  I took her to CBE, not my shul but the shul I go to hear Noah sing every month.  Like always, the singing was amazing and because of CBE's Human Rights Shabbat the chapel spilled out into the lobby of the synagogue.  We arrived a little late and squeezed into a pew.  The normally warm chapel was sweltering and I looked at my mom's face that had already started to perspire.  We've been battling the famous NYC what to wear in the winter syndrome.  You bundle up because it's cold outside, then get into the store or restaurant and start to sweat then you bundle up again to leave and then get into the subway and start to sweat.  It's even worse when you're in your mid-fifties, I'm told.I couldn't have brought her to a better service.  Not only did Noah sing but the congregation was sponsoring a talk given by Daisy Khan from the American Society for Muslim Advancement, Iain Levine from Human Rights Watch, and Rabbi Bachman, CBE's rabbi for their "Human Rights Shabbat".  The discussion was to be moderated by Lisa Miller from Newsweek.  Unfortunately, we were not able to attend the talk but the discussion on human rights brought many people to CBE that were Jewish, Christian, Muslim, as well as those who do not identify with any religious organization.  It was great to see the chapel filled with the familiar faces of friends as well as identifiably Muslim men and woman all sitting in a service, praying to the same God.  Because of the discussion that followed service, Rabbi Bachman did not give a sermon but noted that we were running late, he said something to the effect of, "we are Jews afterall." 

It was great to see the music move my mother.  After getting used to the way that the siddur is used, and showing her the English as well as the transliterated Hebrew she really got into it.  She was singing or humming, clapping her hands and bopping her head to the music.  When we got home she talked about Noah's singing and commented that a lot of the congregants were  really getting down.  She liked how the music had soul and noticed that many of them had rhythm.  She especially loved that Rabbi Bachman talked about "Jewish Time" since blacks commonly run on "Black Folks Time"-nitouriously late. 

 

The best, though, was that she read my article on the Jewish Forward's Sisterhood, she read my blog, and she's excited that I'm becoming a Jew.  Reading the English in the siddur helped, I'm sure, she just kept saying, "It's just the Bible!"  and it is, minus that whole "New Testament" part.  Bottom line, she's into it and she's already said that she's coming to the mikvah with me and be a part of my conversion service.  I couldn't have asked for a better Shabbat.



 











MLK Day

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 13:20:02, erika, [category: uncategorized]



Below is the entire "I Have a Dream Speech" by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. copied from MLK.net.  I'm not sure how it happened but it occurred to me today, while listening to it with Mirs, that I'd never heard the speech in its entirety.  Listening to it today the words of this great leader of the Civil Rights movement ring as clear as a bell today as they did when he uttered them decades before.  I'd like for us to remember as Jews and non-Jews that the reason that his words are still poignant today is that there are still issues today.  I commented that you could remove Negro and add Mexican, Islamic, Jewish, Gay, Women, Immigrant, and any "other" in place of Negro and the message would still be true.   Sadly, it is still true in its actual context. 

Some would argue that we're a lot better off now then we were then but I ask for you to take a deeper look.  Are blacks given the same civil liberties as whites?  As a gay woman do I have the same civil liberties as my straight counterparts.  As a Jew are we given the same civil liberties as non-Jews.  Are Muslims given the same liberties, are Immigrants, are Latinos...are you?

When I listen to this speech I hear a lot of President Obama's inspiration.  Last week when President Obama talked to the nation at the University of Arizona I could hear Dr. King's voice and inspiration.  When I think to his campaign speeches I heard Dr. King.  While the injustices in the world are still great for blacks and all people who are non-white, and for those who are white-the strides we've overcome are great.  Dr. King famously said that he dreamt that little white boys and little white girls would hold hands with little black girls and little black boys, could he have dreamt that a black man would run our country?  Was this a part of his dream or too far-fetched, too out of reach. 



Take the time today, and every day to see the others around you.  It's easy, especially easy in New York, to put on blinders and ignore those who are other, those who are different, those who are unfortunate.  But when we ignore their poverty, their race, their otherness what are we chosing not to see the people they are.  You have to see it to understand it and to work for a better life where all people are equal.  Not to sound cheesy or clich√©, but it's important that we remember the dream and we work toward keeping Dr. Martin Luther King's dream alive.  Happy MLK Day!

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [Applause]

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."



Honoring Dr. King with Y-Love

Tue, 18 Jan 2011 11:32:05, erika, [category: black-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: y-love]

Y-Love is one of my favorite Jewish performers.  Here he is reciting Dr. Martin Luther King's sermon opposing the Vietmam War in 1967.  Like many of Dr. King's Speeches, the words still ring true today just as they did then.

Happy Tuesday.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlDFPoMk4_s&feature=player_embedded#!]



Shabbat Challenge

Sun, 23 Jan 2011 23:21:43, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: conversion-classes, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism, category: shabbat, category: the-torah, category: things-to-think-on]

I'm two classes into my second trimester of my conversion classes.  We're spending this term going through the Jewish Holiday cycle, starting with Shabbat.  I've read so many books on Shabbat and just finished up Entering Jewish Prayer by Hammer and still feel a little lost, but inspired by Shabbat. 

One of you lovely readers mentioned trying to have a real, traditional, halachic Shabbat and I wondered this weekend if I could take on that challenge as well.  We learned in class that the Talmud, not the Torah outlines the 39 types of work that are forbidden on Shabbos: Carrying, Burning, Extinguishing, Finishing, Writing (hard one), Erasing, Cooking (harder), Washing, Sewing, Tearing, Knotting (I can't even knit!), Untying, Shaping, Plowing, Planting, Reaping, Harvesting, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting (no selection of movies to watch), Sifting, Grinding (there goes baking) Kneading, Combing, Spinning, Dyeing, Chain-stitching, Warping, Weaving, Unraveling, Building, Demolishing, Trapping, Shearing, Slaughtering, Skinning, Tanning, Smoothing, and Marking.

There's a really amazing loop-hole when it comes to the electricity part.  Apparently, there are conservative rabbis who argue the whole "electicity=burning" thing because the scientific lingo involved with electricity actually doesn't have anything to do with a flame being kindled.  I failed Chemistry 3 times in college and never took Physics so I don't know exactly what the rabbi was talking about.  But those of you who know the science behind electricity know what they're talking about.  In any case, because electricity isn't actually burning I can have lights and my computer.  Therefore, if I wanted I could watch a movie that was picked out before Shabbos and put in my computer before Shabbos I could.  I won't (I don't think) but the option is there.  Honestly, most of those 39 don't apply to my every-day life but there are others that seem problematic no writing, no cooking, no washing, no selecting, no combing. 

One of my favorite themes in Heschel's book on Shabbat is the distinction of time on Shabbos.  He talks about Shabbat being one of the only times that we can control time when time is usually the thing we can never control.  On Shabbat we can "control" time because we take time to notice it, to stop, to pause, to exist in a holy space in holy time.  Usually when I take time for myself I spend it writing but it would be nice to take that time to read.  It would be nice to take that time to reconnect with friends, with my partner, with my family, maybe with God on a deeper level.  Even though it was written decades ago so much of Heschel's book makes sense in 2011.  In thinking of when I could take this Shabbat Challenge- I'm planning it, trying to figure out which weekend I have off from work and what other things could conflict with scheduling Shabbat, scheduling time with God I'm astounded and reminded that time is something we cannot control.  What does it mean that I have to schedule a truly meaningful Shabbat?  I immediately have a mystical thought and try to remember to see God in everything, in every moment, at every time but the red marks already on my February Calendar remind me that I often don't make time for God, to truly appreciate Shabbat and perhaps the only time to truly appreciate the essence that should be Shabbat needs to be scheduled in like a bill payment or doctor's appointment.  Is that sad or is it reality?  How do the Orthodox do it or do they have the same problems and issues around observing Shabbat in a traditional way.

It looks like in two weekends, February 4-6th, I have time off of work so that will be my Shabbat Challenge.  I'm excited but mostly anxious...can I really observe Shabbat wholly and traditionally?  Am I ready?  This semester the rabbis leading the class vary weekly.  The rabbi who lead on Wednesday said something that really struck a chord with me.  He said that being a Reform Jew doesn't mean that you're a less-traditional or less-observant Jew but that you're a Jew who is informed and makes the decision to do or not do something.  I'm paraphrasing but it made sense to me.  I've been struggling the last few weeks with the choice to convert Reform for that very reason.  I didn't want to be a fair weather Jew, or less-than a Jew but I struggled with the prospect of taking on an Orthodox conversion because I don't believe that the Torah can be taken for its word.   I don't want to take this "Shabbat Challenge" just for the hell of it, and just because I'm "supposed" to but rather to experience it.  I spend most Shabbats at shul for an hour and a half and maybe we'll light candles and maybe we'll have challah but I've never gone to Saturday morning service.  I've never spent the day without the distractions of life to actually enjoy the one time in the week I have to reflect.  That, I'm looking forward to.



"I'm Not a Fair-Weather Jew"

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 09:26:29, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: conversion-classes, category: shabbat, category: uncategorized]

[caption id="attachment_337" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ditmas Ave in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn"][/caption]

That line was uttered by fictional Jewish convert Charlotte York-Goldenblat on the HBO series Sex and the City. When Charlotte lost her lid and blew up at her lovable, bald Jewish boyfriend, Harry she put their relationship on a brief hiatus.  She was lamenting her lost love to her girlfriends at the coffee shop (naturally) and they assumed that because Charlotte's relationship with Harry was over that she'd renounce her new-found faith and go back to being a Christian.  It's a valid thought for a friend to have, whether that friend be fictional, well-scripted, and well-dressed or your friend is sitting across from you with no makeup and wearing clothes she's picked out herself. 


It's been a while since anyone has asked me that question and I'm not sure how I would react if anyone did.  It is an added bonus to my conversion that Mirs is a born Jew but she's not the reason that I chose Judaism over any other faith.  That choice happened after a long time of searching and honest theological research.  Still, as much as we plan our lives they can sometimes throw us unforeseen curve balls that send you spinning.  I, of course, truly believe that my relationship with Mirs will end in lesbian Happily Ever After.  We talk often of our future, our kids, where we want to raise a family.  And if, God forbid, it were to all fall apart I would walk away broken hearted but a broken hearted Jew.

Last trimester in class there was a brief discussion about the difference between conversion for someone and because of someone, the latter being the most ideal situation.  I found a Jewish partner and a few years later found a Jewish life but the two happened independent of the other.  Or did they?  It's hard to say now because I identify as a Jew.  I know that while I was attending church in the first year of our relationship I didn't identify as a Christian.  She didn't bring me to Judaism or encourage me to convert or even talk about Judaism.  Still, the "what if" is a thought in the back of my mind and probably in the minds of others.

It's been all over the news, both local and national that the eastern coast of the United States is getting dumped with snow.  As a native Ohioan I'm not sure why this news of snow in January is so shocking but it's been a big to do here in NYC.  Yesterday we were dumped on by the heavens with another foot of snow and the city all but shut down during clean up.  Schools were canceled, the roads were slick, and many transit lines were delayed or suspended for periods of time.  As a result I didn't make the long trek from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side on Wednesday for my third conversion class.  Instead I snuggled up with my sweet Jewish girl over bowls of homemade tomato soup and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and enjoyed each other's company.

Tonight is Shabbat, I will be running uptown after work to experience a Shabbat at the shul I joined.  I hope you all have a restful, peaceful, wonderful, and meaningful Shabbat; whatever that means for you.



I have the Best Job-Ever.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 11:11:03, erika, [category: uncategorized]

The title may not suggest that this post is very Black, Gay, or Jewish-but it is, wait for it.

[caption id="attachment_343" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Kitchen Tools-my favorite"][/caption]

I'm a writer and ideally I'll make my living doing that.  The thought of waking up, making coffee, and sitting in front of my computer for pay sounds like heaven to me.  I dream of "Black, Gay, and Jewish-a Memoir" being a best seller. As a follow up I would publish the collection of short stories I've inked before releasing the piece of fiction I'm currently working on which is so very gay. (Gay) 

Unfortunately, writing is not paying the bills just yet.  I've been a retail manager for 10 years and really love it.  For the past 9 years I've worked exclusively in clothing.  The last three months have been spent at the most amazing place in NYC, and perhaps the entire east coast-Fishs Eddy



If you are a New Yorker you know what Fishs Eddy is, if you are not-the website, as amazing as it is, cannot begin to show what a unique, quaint, quirky store it is.  The owners, Julie and Dave (who are Jewish) created a business that has been operating, dancing, singing, and selling dishes at 889 Broadway for the past 20 years, though they've been in business for 25 years.  In that time they've gone from a small store in the Village to a multi-store company in the 2000's to what we are now; One location growing by leaps in bounds in our small space on the corner of Broadway and 19th.  True, we sell Dishes but it's more than that-they really love the people who work for them.



For instance, when I told my boss at that other store I worked at that starts with Anthro and ends with Pologie that I would possibly need a few days off to observe Shabbat and take conversion classes I was told that it wasn't an option.  I was told that needed Friday evenings off in addition to another evening off wouldn't work for the "business."  Mind you, I just mentioned the possibility of such an arrangement and was completely shut down.  At Fishs Eddy I told my store manager that I needed that arrangement and it was perfectly acceptable, without question or hesitation.   I can go on and on about the product, the people who I work with who are amazing, talented, and inspirational.  I meet the most wonderful people who shop day-in and day-out.  I Even scored some amazing tickets to the Broadway show "Lombardi"  after chatting with the amazing Judith Light while helping her pick out a turkey platter in November.  I've had conversations with artists, actresses, writers, and retired psychologists but the thing I enjoy most is working in a place that allows me to be myself.  And allows everyone else to be who they are-even a black, gay, Jew.



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