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

More musings about Pesach, talking about Purim, and conversion class posts

Jewish Stuff

Tue, 15 Mar 2011 21:29:08, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: jewish-holidays, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism]

There are a lot of ritual objects in Judaism.  One of the things that I was drawn to was the focus on the home, spirituality of the home, and making the home a sacred place.  When you're pagan there are a lot of ritual objects and rituals that happen in the home as well.  I never moved into a new place without doing a sage burning to "cleanse" the space.  I still do that now but when I move to my new apartment I will be putting a mezuzah on the door as well.  Not to "protect" my home, but to fulfil the commandment to do so.

Inside a Jewish home you may see artwork, Hamsas, mezuzah, a kiddish cup, a menorah, a shofar, a seder plate.  It's not the "stuff" that makes the home Jewish, but the meaning behind the "stuff".  You don't need a hamsa but it's beautiful, it has spiritual meaning, and strong identity in Jewish and middle eastern homes.  You don't need a kiddish cup, any old cup of wine will do but, having a beautiful cup to pour wine into as you say kiddish on Shabbat can make the blessing more meaningful.  There is a fine line between using objects to help carve out meaning in spiritual life and worshipping objects. 

I love visiting cathedrals, the more gothic the better.  NYC is home of some of the east coast's most beautiful cathedrals, including the oldest gothic Episcipol cathedral, St. John the Divine.  Inside cathedrals, especially Catholic ones there are beautiful statues of saints, the Virgin Mother, and usually stations of the cross.  You will find blessings to different saints along with candles to light and donation boxes to fill.  Usually in front of these icons you will find prayer benches for kneeling and praying.  That part, the kneeling and praying part, was always troublesome for me growing up.  We are taught that you should love only God and have no other Gods than him.  We are taught to not worship false gods or idols.  The idea is that the statue, icon, etc. should be an object that reminds you of...that saint or of God?

While there are important aspects of Jewish culture that are focused in a shul, a lot of Jewish culture and tradition is focused on the home.  Many of the Jewish holidays, Hanukkah, Sukkkot and Pesach (33 days and counting) are largely focused on home ritual, home spirituality, home prayer.  Which is why, I suppose, there is so much ritual "stuff" in a Jewish home.  And so much stuff that I want.

On my list

A tallit





A Kiddish Cup

And a Seder Plate

The list, of course, goes on and on.  I still am trying to figure out my feelings about head coverings.  With my upcoming move and many doors and rooms, I'll have to get more mezuzah, I only have one hamsa hanging on my wall and I think they're beautiful so I anticipate getting more.  I love my menorah but there are always more to get, etc., etc., etc.

Even making this list I'm a little disturbed that I want a list of' Jewish stuff.  You'll have the people that will say, "It isn't Shabbat without a challah cover!"  or "You can't say kiddish without a proper kiddish cup!"  or "There's no Miriam's cup on the Seder table!"  just for the sake of saying it or because it's "supposed" to be.  If you buy the stuff because you're supposed to and it has no meaning then it is just stuff.  But if you have the stuff because it helps bring meaning to the spiritual is it more than stuff?



Purim Time!

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 11:29:58, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: jewish-holidays, category: jews-for-racial-and-economic-justice, category: judaism]

 


We're back into Jewish Holiday Season!  The month of Adar (and Adar II) are filled with fun and exciting holidays one being PURIM!  Which starts tomorrow tonight at sundown.

Just in case you don't know what Purim is, I'll give you a very brief rundown of the holiday.

There's this kinda silly king and his asshole of an advisor.

The silly king asks his wife to "perform" before the court and she refuses and gets banished.  (bad ass woman #1)

The silly king holds a beauty contest to find a new wife.

Mordechi (a Jew) suggests to his smokin' hot cousin Esther that she should try

Esther wins.

Asshole advisor feels that the Jews are getting too powerful and wants to get rid of them, starting with Mordechi.

Mordechi tells Esther of the plan and tells her to go before the king to ask for pardon, she's a Jew afterall.

Esther fasts for 3 days (Fast of Esther was yesterday) and makes two great feasts for the king and his asshat of an advisor

She tells him on the second night that there's an evil plot to rid her people of the land, she's a Jew afterall (and badass woman #2)

Silly king doesn't care (he's drunk and fat) that his wife's a Jew and wants to know who'd plan such a horrid thing.

Esther says, your fucker of an advisor would!

And since the decree was already made that someone would hang, the asshat did instead.

The END!

So, in 5771 we celebrate Purim by reading the book of Esther, giving gifts to friends and to the poor, dressing up, stamping out the name of the asshat, Haman, with noise makers, etc.  Eating yummy foods and getting REALLY, REALLY drunk.

If you're in NYC and need a party to go to, check out the JFREJparty being held in Williamsburg, BK.  ohh, and hamantashen.





Shehecheyanu

Mon, 21 Mar 2011 11:26:49, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-prayer]

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ

אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם

שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ

וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

This Blessing starts off like all Jewish blessings, Blessed are you...The last verse, though, speaks specifically to where I am right now.  "...who has enabled us to reach this occasion".  The Shehecheyanu is said on happy occasions, on Holidays and when generally good things happen in a person's life.  Last night I couldn't remember the entire blessing so silently, in my bed in my new, safe apartment, I thanked God for allowing me to reach this occasion.

I moved this weekend.  I have a new website, and I had a huge boost in my writing career by working the Red Carpet at the NYC GLAAD Media awards for a publication I write for, Velvet Park.  In addition to that, I feel genuinely happy and safe. 

For the past several months my living situation has been what can only be described as sheer hell.  I won't get into specifics but being afraid to enter my home past dark, fearing my neighbors, and the inability to sleep has put stress on my life; personally and professionally.  My work environment suffered, my health suffered (I've been sick for 3 months), and my writing outside of this blog has been at a standstill.  Last night, for the first time I went to sleep and I felt light.  I laid in my bed and felt what can only be described as peaceful. 

In my opinion, your home is your safe space.  In a city as stressful and as ugly as NYC can be (there's a story there) you need a place you walk into and feel the worries of the city melt away.  For the first time in over 6 months I felt that.  As I bid the movers adieu and was left in my new space empty except for the mountains of boxes I felt an incredible peace come over my being.  I woke up this morning to the sound of rain instead of shouts.  I left my building for coffee and someone wished me a good morning and I felt they were being sincere and not ogling my body.

So last night, when I laid in my new place and I thought of the people who helped me get here; my parents, my friends, my partner I thanked God for bringing me to this joyous occasion and blessed his name for allowing me to be here. 

I hope you all have a fantastic week!

28 Days until Pesach.



Pesach, what else?

Wed, 23 Mar 2011 12:14:22, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-food, category: jewish-holidays, category: pesach]



[caption id="attachment_489" align="alignright" width="275" caption="M-M-M-Matzoh!"][/caption]

At Whole Foods yesterday I saw my first box of Matzoh that was labeled, "Kosher for Passover" and had this wicked idea to make my own matzoh.  I mean, I have this new large kitchen with ample counter top space.  Why not?  It can't be that hard, just meticulous.  For example, when mixing the flour with the water (or milk) it has to be put into the oven in under 18 minutes to prevent leavening.  I'm sure there are other specifics I'm forgetting but the idea of making my matzoh from scratch, the possibility of it being warm from the oven, or having a wee bit more taste (even though I know it's not supposed to taste good) is appealing.

The Matzoh, unfortunately, is the only thing I've nailed down for my Pesach Seder.  I don't even have an accurate guest list because Passover, like Yom Kippur, is one of those holidays that nearly every Jew celebrates.  Unlike Yom Kippur, though, Passover takes place in the home and not the synagogue.  Because of that fact, most of my Jewish friends are going to be with their family at Passover.  Mirs and I are still planning on having a Seder at one of our homes but the question of where to sit everyone on this holiday where sitting, relaxing, and lounging is encouraged is still very much up in the air and we have 27 days until the big day.

The issue of furniture is weighing heavy on my mind.  I have this beautiful space that would be perfect for a Seder but it lacks, well, places to sit.  So last night I had the idea that it would be fun (maybe) to find a large piece of plywood paired with milk crates and a table cloth and lush pillows to play up the Exodus in a more traditional, pseudo Middle Eastern way by putting folks on the floor.  I worry that it won't be comfortable, though, after a while.  Then again, Mirs and I got to an Afghan restaurant we love and purposefully eat on the floor.  It could be a super Sephardic way of going about it, especially because the menu I'm planning is very Israeli.

Another "thought" was to have a Diane Lange Under the Tuscan Sun dinner table.  You know the part where she starts cooking and her Polish laborers throw together (beautifully aged) planks of wood over two wooden horses for a make shift table.  I could do that, except of course my planks of wood would be plywood from Home Depot.  I'd have to ask the guests to BYOC (Chairs) for this idea to work.  And find wood horses.

I could do a buy and return (which I hate doing) and get one of those folding tables at BBB or Home Depot and then return it the following week.  That idea requires a lot of lugging furniture back and forth through boroughs and still would require a BYOC.

I'm leaning strongly for option 1-Middle  Eastern Style low table with ample cushions and leg room for stretching...Is anyone else in a Pesach panic?





So Excited for Shabbat!

Thu, 24 Mar 2011 22:05:15, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: judaism, category: shul-shopping]

I'm always excited for Shabbat.  Even if I don't go to shul, I like knowing that I'm celebrating something that's been celebrated by Jews for centuries.  Something about even taking the time to pause and reflect on the fact that the sun has gone down and that I'm entering a sacred space and time brings the most wonderful sense of calm-if only for a moment.

This Shabbat, will be extra special because I'm finally, after many months, cashing in my "going to an Orthodox shul card" with my friend.



Just Jew it, Ya'll!

Mon, 28 Mar 2011 11:24:41, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: conversion-preparations, category: jewish-prayer, category: judaism, category: noah-aronson, post_tag: orthodox-shul, category: shabbat, post_tag: shabbat-2, post_tag: shabbat-dinner, category: shul-shopping, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you]

Yes, that's me wearing a shirt with a Hasid playing basketball a la Michael Jordan.  I figured what was more black than basketball and what's more Jewish than a Hasid?  That's why I bought the shirt and wore it, as a black Jew.

I lied.

I stole the shirt from Mirs and well, I'm just a black Jew (who's gay).

Happy Monday, friends!  I had the most amazing Shabbat and weekend and couldn't wait to share it with you.  I had to wait until today, though, because I've been a working machine.  I think it best to start with Shabbat because, it's the best part of the week.  Is it not?

Early last week my Modern Orthodox friend, A, sent me a facebook asking what I had planned for Friday and invited Mirs and I to her shul for service and to Shabbat dinner with friends.  I accepted gladly, of course, and sent her numerous e-mails and texts about what to wear.

On Friday evening Mirs and I joined A and her husband and friend for service at Congregation B'nai Avrahamin Brooklyn Heights.  I was assured by A that her shul was amazing and that no one would judge what we wore or who we were.  Still, I fussed over what to wear, especially because wearing skirts isn't Mirs thing.  I fussed over whether I'd be outed as a non-Jew.  I fussed over if I'd understand what was going on or if people would stare at my giant hair.  I even debated wrapping it just to avoid looks.  I ended up wearing a skirt that was long, but exposed my knees when I sat down, my hair was full and out in all it's glory, and had an amazing spiritual experience, even though I had no idea what was going on half the time.  Lucky for me, the service was short and A made a great guide.

Even without her assistance, it would have been an awesome experience.  Let me break away from Judaism to talk Baptist Church with you.  Black Baptist Churches are an experience that everyone should have at least once in their life.  There is nothing like a Baptist Church experience and it makes up so much of my religious past, even though I didn't feel connected to it.  I loved going for the music but the message was where I was sometimes lost and angered.  I loved watching the love of God overcome people in a fit of the holy ghost but at the same time was frightened and convinced it was a hoax.  I loved watching people pray to God with their hands stretched towards the heavens, their eyes closed, and their lips moving in praise.  Movement in prayer, is what I love to see, even if it doesn't come naturally to me.

One of the reasons my man crush on Noah Aronson is so strong is because of the way that he loves God through music.  His love of God is infectious and he can make a "buttoned up" Reform service into one that almost looks like a Baptist service.  Granted their aren't shouts of praise to God's name or dances of joy to God but there is movement and singing and praise of God.  I remember one service, in particular, where Noah told the congregation in an almost scolding way during Shalom Aleichem that they needed to sing with joy, it was Shabbat Kabbalat service, which is the joyful Shabbat.  He urged them to sing along, sing louder and welcome in the Sabbath Bride with happiness and joy.  They listened and sang with open hearts and joy and it was a moving spiritual experience.

Friday was like listening to a Noah service because the men (yes their was a partition) sang the prayers and psalms with joy and loud voices.  There wasn't a cantor or an organ or piano or drum kit.  Just the voices of men and women singing and the beat kept by the pounding of fists on wooden tables.  I watched as the men davened with vigor and movement swaying and rocking side by side.  Mirs asked how Pathy, my mother, would like this experience vs. the Shabbat service she had when she visited me.  I thought for a moment and looked at the singing, the moving, the pounding of fists and thought she might not dislike it.

The service was comparatively shorter than Reform services I'm used to and was completely void of English except for when a person would shout out page numbers in the siddur.  My lack of Hebrew knowledge wasn't a distraction, though, because the melodies of some of the prayers I recognized.  L'cha Dodi, one of my favorite songs to sing, was in a tune I'd never heard but LOVED.  It also helped that I sometimes listen to Siddur Radio which is either Hasidic or Orthodox.  I wouldn't have needed any of it because the spiritual aspect was very comforting to me.

After service we walked to a friend's home for Shabbat dinner.  These friends, the producer and artist featured in the documentary Punk Jews, were very gracious and I got to experience a Shabbat dinner filled with prayer, tradition, singing, and more l'chaims than I've ever experienced in my life.  I met a lot of new Jewish friends and when I glanced at my watch was shocked that it was almost midnight.

Monday and I am still buzzing from the experience.  It was nice to be in a room with young Jews who openly and passionately talk about Torah, prayer, and God.  It was amazing to experience prayer in a way that was engaging physically and spiritually.  It was awesome to experience an Orthodox shul that surpassed my expectations in a positive way, although I was told by all of the people present at Shabbat dinner that not all Orthodox shuls are like theirs.

I don't know what it means that I felt at home and at peace in a space that I really had no clue what was going on.  I do know that having that experience is one that I won't soon forget.  I know that when I feel spiritually void that I can go there.  I know while it was my first time in that shul, it won't be my last.  On Friday night my love for Judaism was once again confirmed.  I am glad and proud to be a part of the Jewish people.

 

 

©Erika K. Davis



The Mezuzah Question

Mon, 28 Mar 2011 22:14:44, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: judaism, post_tag: mezuzzah, category: mitzvot, post_tag: mitzvot-2]

Tradition says that within 20 days of moving into a new home a Mezuzah must be put up.  The mitzvah is found in Deuteronomy and has something to do with the same prayer as wrapping Tefillin and putting on a Tallit.  Oh yes, that famous prayer, the Shema.

[caption id="attachment_498" align="alignright" width="195"] i realize it's what is inside that counts[/caption]

Mezuzah are to be placed not only at the doorposts of our homes but at the entrance of any room with the exception of bathrooms and rooms not fitting the specific guidelines for what qualifies as a room.  Specifically, a space that must be at least two yards and have a ceiling.  So here's the deal, and I hate complaining about a mitzvah.  I have 4 entrances to my apartment and I have 2 rooms still lacking a mezuzah.  I did put one in my bedroom, as it is the only room that I inhabit all of the time.

My first question is this.  I only use one of the four doors as my entrance.  Do I still need to put a mezuzah on the other three doors?  Second, which side of the doorpost should I place my mezuzah in rooms that have more than one way of entering?  They're supposed to go on the right side but my kitchen goes into my livingroom which goes into my office.  Alternatively, if I start in my bedroom which goes into my kitchen into my living room into my office I have a "different" right side.  So...which right side?

Any rabbis out there reading?  HELP!

Lastly, and again I hate griping about mitzvot.  Mezuzah are so expensive!  It's not the case but the scroll inside that counts and that's the part that costs the money.  I understand why, a scribe took the time to write the words of the Sh'ma on a piece of kosher parchment.  It has Torah written on it, thus the words of God.  I also am a fan of good aesthetic and general style and flow so while the scroll costs a lot, the cases tend to cost just as much because I like them to look good.



Well, that's not Jewish.

Wed, 30 Mar 2011 13:35:23, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: jewish-food, category: jewish-holidays, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: pesach, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you]

I love when Jews say that to me.  To be fair, the life as a Jew of Color has been pretty amazing lately.  Random people have noticed my necklace and wished me Good Shabbos on Shabbat.  I talked to a woman the other day at work about how she was using a dish intended for escargot or scampi as a Seder Plate because it had the perfect amount of spaces, and I have a non-Jew interested in coming to my Pesach dinner, as well as many Jewish friends.

There's always one, though.  Why is it always that one that sticks?

There are 19 days until Pesach and I'm in deep Pesach mode.  We've finalized when we're holding our Seder, night two. I'm working on the menu and I've just about finished the guest list.  This person, who is a Jew with pretty lazy observance, asked what I'd be serving at my Seder.  I told him I wasn't quite sure yet but I knew that there would be lamb.  He then turns his nose up and shakes his head saying, "you can't serve lamb at Passover"  Funny, there's a lamb bone on the plate and in temple times there was a paschal lamb.  Not to mention that the Angel of Death passed over the homes of Jews during the last plague because of the lamb's blood.  I amused him, though, and asked why he felt lamb couldn't be served for Pesach.  He didn't have a definitive answer except to say that it's not what you eat on Passover.  Then sealed the deal (and an invite to my passover table) by saying no one in his family would eat lamb.



Wow.  Huge statement, right?  Not everyone likes lamb.  I realize this and it's why I'll have a fish option and another meat option.  But to say that no Jew eats lamb on Pesach is absurd.  Surely the Jews of ancient Israel were eating lamb and Jews in the Middle East today eat lamb.  According to the Pesach menus suggested in my 3 Sephardic/Israeli cookbooks there are Jews today that eat lamb for Pesach.  I will be one of them. 

This girl.  Erika.  This black Jew loves Middle Eastern food.  I love Sephardic food.  It makes me happy, it tastes good, it's full of flavor and spice and saucy goodness.  I don't prefer Ashkenazi food.  And this is where I always get a little annoyed by some Ashkenazi Jews and their rigid views of what is and is not Jewish.

Just for claification.  Here are a list of things that are definitely not Jewish-

Jesus (as God's son)



Bacon (even though it tastes good)



The New Testament



Easter



Christmas

The Pope



On the contrary, things that are Jewish are vast and varied based on location, culture, and tradition.  One of  the reasons that my connection to Judaism is heavily leaned towards the spiritual and religious aspect as opposed the culture of Judaism is because some people cannot get past the fact that their Jewish culture is not the Jewish culture. 

Any high school student and probably most grammar school students can give you the definition of culture.  From the Merriman-Webster Free Dictionary online:  5b the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time.

My culture is black while my religion is Jewish.  This is not to say that the two cannot coexist but to some Jews that I meet whose culture differs from my own, it becomes an issue of I'm wrong and they are right.  It has become so frequent that I've gotten used to it, which is bullshit.  As a rule, I don't put up with bullshit so instead of keeping closed mouthed I told this person that while their Jewish culture differed quite drastically from mine, I would be serving lamb at my Seder table and that my Seder would be Jewish.  Middle-Eastern and Sephardic with hints of Ashkenazi and African American stables but most definitely Jewish.

The beauty of Judaism is that while there is Jewish Tradition in the Holidays, in Mitzvot, in Torah the culture of Judaism is what you make it.  My culture as a new Jew will be fused with my partner's Ashkenazi and Southern culture.  Moreover, I LIKE MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD!  It's my house.  It's my seder and I'll serve what I want!



One Post a Day in April

Fri, 01 Apr 2011 17:15:52, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish]

That's right, folks.  I'm going to commit to writing one post each day for the entire month of April.  And no, this is not an April Fool's joke.  This is, however, and it's brilliant!

[caption id="attachment_511" align="alignleft" width="279" caption="pork tenderloin"][/caption]

Thank you Tablet magazine!  Call me, I want to write for you.



It's the Final Count Down

Sun, 03 Apr 2011 12:50:05, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-food, category: jewish-holidays, category: judaism, category: pesach]

Already slackin' on the one post a day in April promise.  Not to worry, today will be a two post day!

So we're only 15 days away from Pesach!  2 weeks!  If I wasn't in a real panic before, I am now.  I've checked quite a few things off my list though.

Menu for Seder is as follows

Roasted Lamb

Roasted Other Meat or Fish

Cucumber Salad

Beet Salad

Bean Salad

Cumin Scented Rice

Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup

Hummus

Tabbouleh

I'm going to send out my invitations later this evening but have a pretty good idea or who is coming. 

This week I'm starting to clean and clear out (aka eat) all of the wheat products in my home.  I've decided to seal off one of my pantries for the rest of it.

And I talked to a farmer at the market yesterday so my lamb is secured.  It's not kosher but it's local and sustainable, and that's how I roll.

The only glitch in the menu planning is dessert.  Finding recipes that are non-dairy and free of chomez is difficult, to say the least.  Lucky for me, I have a lot of vegan friends so hopefully something will work out.


Musings from April 2011; Passover, What is and isn't Kosher and a Mezuzah question

In which I talk about my first Pesach, discoveries about how American Judaism is super "white" and more

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