General Rabbinic

One of Those Weeks

Some weeks, it seems like it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Starting Sunday, this week has been going a bit sideways (it’s only Tuesday? Really?).

Sunday morning I got up, brushed my teeth, showered, put in my contacts, dressed, ate some matzah and cheese for breakfast, made tea, got in the car and started driving to Salem for the last day of Sunday school. Fifteen minutes into the drive, I realized I’d forgotten to shave. Which isn’t a huge deal, since I have most of a beard, but it does show when I forget to shave around the edges. Especially if I didn’t shave the previous day because I had the day off.

Driving down the highway to Salem, about two-thirds of the way to Salem, all of a sudden I realize that that the roadbed has gotten much worse than I recall it being. It’s really loud, and the car is shaking. In fact, now that I think about it, this is about as loud as I have ever heard the car be. . .and it gets this loud when. . .I have a flat tire. I pull off to the side of the road, and sure enough, my passenger side rear tire is flat. Completely flat. Gone through the sidewall flat. The spare tire in under the floor of the trunk. Which would be less of a big deal if the trunk weren’t filled with junk to go to SCRAP, a tarp, and miscellaneous other crap. So I throw some of that into the backseat, pull the box to go to scrap out and put it on the ground, pull up the trunk liner, and pull up the floor of the trunk. I unscrew the spare tire, and then spend 4 minutes trying to figure out how to release the jack from it’s niche (you have to screw the jack down to get it to release). Changing the tire goes fine, but is a little dirty. 20 minutes later, I’m back on the road to Salem, and pull into the Temple at 9:20, with 10 minutes to spare before Sunday school begins.

Of course, I arrive unshaven, with tire marks on my clothing.

The day goes okay, especially given that it’s the last class, which means the kids are a bit on the rambunctious side. But as everyone is leaving, following the end of year certificate ceremony, I am approached about the fact that it is traditional for the kids who are becoming bar or bat mitzvah over the summer to continue in Hebrew School through their bar or bat mitzvah. Which does make sense, and isn’t a big deal, but would have been nice to know about previously. So it turns out I’m not done with Sunday school quite yet. Which is sort of a shame, because I was looking forward to having my Sundays back. So it goes.

I come home, and having finished knitting the first of Eva’s two socks the previous day, I’m ready to start on the next one. But I can’t find the yarn. I look everywhere I can think of, but can’t turn up the cone of yarn. Which is really frustrating, because I’ve got some momentum going on these socks, and I’m ready to finish this project, once I can get to work on the second sock.

The rest of the day goes mainly okay, largely because I don’t leave the couch and spend the time watching Season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s a great show. I don’t care about the medical parts of the show, but I love the relationships. And I love that most of the relationship problems on the show are not caused by misunderstandings (as seems to be the case in most shows) but by people understanding each other exactly.

And we go to sleep around 10. And wake up around 1, when the alarm company calls to tell us there is an alarm at CubeSpace.

Eva open CubeSpace Monday at 6:45, I wander in around 9, and have a wedding meeting around 10. So far so good. Then I go to Les Schwab to fix replace the tire. I go to Les Schwab because the customer service is great, and they’ll repair tires for free. The customer service is great. I’m quickly informed that I need 4 new tires, not one. It appears that the edges of all the tires are bald. Which means that the cost just went up to $470, which wasn’t really what I was expecting.

But then I head home (because Monday is my day off), and get home about 2. I sit down on the couch, and start reading. This is nice. The cats come wandering by. Artemis cuddles a little. Diana comes by. She smells awful. . .like acrid feces. . . because she has feces goo stuck to her tail, and the feces doesn’t smell healthy. So I chase her around with a damp rag, clean her up a little, and confer with Eva about getting her to the vet (which is where she is right now).

But frankly, I really want a do-over on this week.

Jewish Spirituality shabbat

A Peaceful Shabbat

This Shabbat, I have very little planned. I’m looking forward to a lot of rest, maybe  a little knitting, maybe a little reading, maybe a little gardening. But mainly rest.

Eva and I will both be home this evening, which doesn’t happen all that often. So it will be a quiet evening together. Yay! We might light shabbat candles and say kiddush, or we might simply luxuriate in the fact that it is shabbat, recognizing it by doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is a spiritual practice.

Tomorrow morning I will get up at some point, and wake up slowly. Make some tea or coffee. Sit with a cat and read. Maybe knit. But there’s nothing that needs to get done tomorrow. That’s the beauty of Shabbat.

I’ve commented on this before, but I love the fact that there are multiple ways of spending shabbat: I can lead services, I can attend services or I can do nothing. And all are traditional observances of shabbat.

The text from the Torah which is used as the “proof text” of shabbat* concludes with the line, “and on the seventh day, God rested and was refreshed.” But the word we translate as “refreshed,” vayinafash, comes from the root nafash meaning “soul” or “spirit.” So vayinafash might be better understood as “was re-souled.” And part of what I love is that shabbat is when we are “re-souled”, our soul is returned to us, or restored. Whether the image is understood as being like the sole of our shoes which are worn away over the course of the week, or like a work of art which is covered by grime and the accumulated dust over the week and is then restored, Shabbat serves as the element which allows our soul to start the new week fresh.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.

*The VeShamru which is included in the Friday evening service, the Saturday morning service and is said as part of the kiddush before lunch on Saturday.

knitting Rabbinic WorkPlace Spirituality

Life's Full

Life feels busier than normal recently. A few of the measures:

  • I’m not posting here as much as I have been recently.
  • I realized yesterday that it had been weeks since I’d been over to Ravelry.
  • I feel like I’m constantly running behind.

So where is all of my time going?

A few items I have been doing a little more of recently:

  • Gardening. The seeds have sprouted, and many have been transplanted. Also, as I mentioned last week (I think), I got the front yard cleaned up.
  • Passover: Getting stuff ready for the congregational seder last Sunday took more time and energy than I expected, somehow.
  • Preparing for Weddings. The summer wedding season is coming up, and I’ve been meeting with 1 – 3 couples a week in preparation for upcoming weddings.
  • CubeSpace. We’re getting ready for a big open house on May 14, and trying to get the word out about that.

In between all of this, I’ve been doing a little knitting, trying to keep my sanity in place. I’ve concentrated my knitting on a single project for a while now, since I felt like I wasn’t seeing any progress on anything while splitting my time between my 4 projects. I’ve been working on Eva’s socks, and am finally up to the ribbing on the first sock (it’s a toe-up design). I switched to the magic loop method of knitting recently, and am finding it nice, especially in terms of not losing stitches off the needles when I shove them in my pockets.

In a nutshell, that’s life of the last week or so.

Jewish Spirituality

Thoughts on Passover

I’m trying to get into a Passover mindset, but I’m really having trouble with it this year. Eva and I have been so swamped we haven’t really done much about cleaning out the house. All of a sudden, we realized yesterday that seder was in 2 days (first seder is Saturday night). And we hadn’t begun to make plans yet. So, over IM, we planned a very simple seder menu in about 20 minutes. I’ll probably test drive the congregational seder service for Sunday night at our home on Saturday night. Somehow, it all feels a little ignored.

But. . .there is also something about it that feels distinctly right. The seder is suppose to recall the exodus from Egypt, which took place in a great rush, as the Israelites departed in a great hurry, hoping to get out while the getting was good. “They left with the clothes on their back. . .” Somehow, this last minute scurrying in some ways feels reminiscent of that original event.

Most years, preparation for a seder means days of cleaning, followed by days of cooking. It was surely the case that this is not what refugees fleeing in the night did. There were no elaborate plans, simply a need to move quickly and get out.

This year we will celebrate the Passover seder with a minimum of fuss and bother. We will have a few friends join us, and we will celebrate the freedom we have. We often think of that freedom in terms of freedom to practice religion, but in modern America, it is perhaps worth noting that it is also freedom not to practice religion, or to practice it in a way which feels appropriate at a given time.

For all you who are about to celebrate Passover: May it be a wonderful holiday, filled with exactly the significance you need it to have this year.


Cleaning Up the Yard

Yesterday was a day full of cleaning the yard. I worked on some massively overgrown bushes and I got some trellises that fell down over the winter put back up. It was about 3.5 hours.



The trellises before:

The trellises after:

It’s amazing how dramatic a difference a few hours of yard work make when they are the first hours of work that year.

In addition I put some seeds in some soil, and am awaiting the new sprouts. 72 little potlets. I planted peas in the pod, sow peas, purple pole beans, spinach, lettuce, basil and sunflowers. In 2 to 4 weeks I should be transplanting this stuff outside. Then comes the hard part: watering it all summer.

General humor Rabbinic

Auction Items

Shortly, I’ll be headed off for the Temple’s Annual Auction. Like many such events, our congregational auction consists of both a live and silent part. I have donated a knit kippah (crocheted by me) to the auction. But it led to me think about some of the things that I might, but won’t donate to a synagogue auction:

  • Get out of Yom Kippur free cards: didn’t work so well for the Catholic Church. They were called “indulgences” and were one of the major causes of the reformation if I recall my history correctly.
  • Choose the topic for the rabbi’s sermon: could be kind of fun, but seems like it might get me in trouble.
  • Choose the length for the rabbi’s sermon: too hard on the ego.
  • Dinner with the rabbi; second prize is TWO dinners with the rabbi.

Nonetheless, I have to wonder whether we’ve solicited donations from all the relevant individuals. This is Salem, after all, and in Salem we have a lot of government. Have we asked the state government for donations (after all, they sell a bunch of stuff on ebay). Not to impinge on the honesty of the anyone, but there must be a senator somewhere who is bribable. And if you sell favors, why not give away a few to a synagogue auction (I really am joking here; as far as I know everyone in the Salem legislature is completely honest).

Alternatively, the congregation is filled with academics: why has no one donated dedication rights to their next book? We just aren’t thinking creatively enough.

And I’m not thinking creatively enough if this is what is passing for humor this Sunday afternoon.

Jewish Spirituality knitting

Fighting the Urge to Cast On

I am a somewhat distractible person. Well not necessarily someone who feels the need to constantly run after new and shiny things, I can certainly be, ummm, how shall I say this. . .sidetracked from my main focus. It should, then, come as no surprise that I am something of a polyamorous knitter. Unfortunately, the more projects I have going at once, the more slowly they all progress (isn’t that just the oddest coincidence?).

Passover is coming up, and I find myself wanting to cast on a few new seasonal projects: a matzah cover (a ceremonial cloth envelope into which the matzah is placed during the Passover seder). It’s not that big. . .can’t be much more than 12 inches to a side. . .that’s barely bigger than a swatch. . .I’m sure I could whip out something in the next week or so. . .

But no. I have 4 active projects (well, 3 active projects and the second sock of a pair that hasn’t been cast on yet). That’s really enough for the moment.

Someone recently suggested I knit a cover for my rabbi’s manual, since the paper slip cover it came with is beginning to show “signs of wear” (read: it is becoming increasingly shredded). It’s  small book, how long could it take?

Again, restraint. If I keep adding projects, I’ll never finish the projects I’m working on. And so, I continue to work onward on a shawl, a bedspread, and two pairs of socks. To the exclusion of any other projects that might look interesting.

General Rabbinic

Driving Through Life

Recently, I passed a significant milestone:

This imaged then morphed into:

Yep, 100,000 miles on the car. When we got the car, in October 2001, there were roughly 20,000 miles on it. A lot has changed since then.

That was the car I used to drive to my student congregation, Beth Abraham, in Bridgeton, NJ. I served them for two years, but the congregation no longer exists. It closed up shop about a year ago due to declining membership (which was mainly the result of the changing demographics of the community).

This is the car we drove to Blacksburg, VA to meet my first niece, and in which we again traveled to Blacksburg with my grandparents so they could meet their great-granddaughter.

I drove this car for the last three years of rabbinical school, as I progressed from a frustrated and often angry student into a much calmer and more spiritually centered rabbi. This was the car I used to get to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for three years, and which my wife used to ferry my grandparents to my graduation (I think…I could be wrong about that). In this car I had many conversations with classmates as we drove to and from school, about hopes, about dreams and about disappointments.

When I graduated from rabbinical school, and we decided to move from Philadelphia to Portland, I drove the car cross-country. A 7 day reflective period of driving, watching the landscape (it may be the only cross-country drive I’ve done that didn’t include a stop at Wall Drug).

This is the car we used as we were setting up CubeSpace. Driving around town to look at potential locations, seeking out vendors for everything from phones to furniture to coffee.

Finally, this is the car I’ve used this year, going back and forth to Salem, where I’ve been serving a congregation.

Over the past 6.5 years, this car has driven me to more weddings than I can count, more funerals than I can clearly remember. I’ve sat in the car in the rain waiting for families to show up at the graveside. And I’ve hung out in car waiting for a couple to show up for a wedding rehearsal.

In the last few years, I’ve of course done some knitting in the car as well (not while driving). While Eva’s been driving, or while waiting in the car for something to happen; waiting to pick up someone.

As the car turned over to 100,000 miles, I was excited about the milestone. Now, thinking back two weeks to when it happened, I’m remembering all the miles it took to get there.

General knitting spirituality

Continuing The Yarn

I’ve been working on a fairly large project for a while…a cross between a throw and a bedspread. I’ve let it slumber for the last month or so,  but picked it up again this week, and did some quality knitting on it. It’s about 4 ft across at the moment, and I’m aiming for 6 feet. Unfortunately, it’s round, which means that instead of being 2/3 of the way done, I’m 4/9 of the way done.

On the one hand, this project feels somewhat endless…like I’m not getting anywhere with it…it just keeps eating balls of yarn, and doesn’t seem to grow much bigger. At the same time, I can get through a ball of yarn in not that long…maybe three or four hours of knitting. You would think I would learn to keep an extra ball of yarn with me for when I run out of the ball I’m working on, but I haven’t been. And at the moment being in Salem killing some time before an interfaith service this evening, I don’t have access to the yarn, so will switch projects again. Nonetheless, this time I will try to keep moving on this project once I get home.

I have 4 projects going at the moment, and they are all feeling a touch endless. I sort of want some quick projects that I can just whip out quickly, but feel like I need to finish some of the others before I move onto anything new.

All in all, it’s a quiet afternoon at the Temple, I’ve got a slight headache, and 45 more minutes to kill before heading over to an interfaith service. Then I get to go home and crash.

Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

An Odd Shabbat Service

Tomorrow morning, I will be leading an odd (one might even say queer) shabbat service. It is for the Transforming Faith: Divining Gender conference, which deals with transgender issues from a positive faith perspective. Now, what makes this an odd experience for me is not any of the gender/transgender issues, that’s pretty comfortable for me. What makes it odd is that I’ll be leading a shabbat service for a congregation of about 100, of whom I may be the only Jew.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying how to lead Jewish prayer, thinking about how to lead Jewish prayer and actually leading Jewish prayer in a variety circumstances. However, it is only very rarely that I’ve been dealing with a primarily non-Jewish congregation. Even rarer, this is a circumstance where they have chosen to do “multi-faith” prayer rather than “inter-faith” prayer.

“Inter-faith” prayer is when you get a bunch of religions together, and they construct a service they can all live with, which isn’t really representative of any one religious tradition, but isn’t objectionable to any religious tradition (ideally). They tend to be a bit on the bland side, and often a little uncomfortable as some member of the clergy goes on autopilot and and invokes the blessing of Jesus Christ our savior (“well of course you’re Jewish, that doesn’t mean you don’t believe in Christ, does it?”). I can and do participate in these gatherings because they are important, but tend not to find them particularly satisfying.

“Multi-faith”, on the other hand, is where each faith takes one service, and lead a service which is deliberately particularistic to that faith. So I am leading the Saturday morning service as a Shabbat service (more or less). A Muslim leader is leading the Friday morning service. There are some Christian services, etc. My goal here is to present an authentic Jewish prayer experience which is accessible and meaningful to a non-Jewish congregation.

Often, much of Jewish prayer takes place in Hebrew. It’s hard to create a participatory prayer experience when only the leader has any famiarity with the language being used (note: the Catholic Church, when seeking to make the mass more accessible started using the vernacular instead of Latin). So, I’m mainly doing things that can be done in English. I think the extent of the Hebrew in the service will be 9 words: the Shema (6 words) and a chant for Ahavah Rabbah (3 words), and I’ve transliterated those 9 words.

Otherwise, I think we’ll sing a psalm in English, and do a guided meditation. Oh yes, and do some blessing of God for creation in English. All in all, it should be a nice service, give some taste of Jewish prayer, and, at the same time, come in at under 30 minutes (thereby rendering a completely inauthentic experience of shabbat morning services).

I’m looking forward to this, and think it should be fun. After the service, I go home, and plan to sleep for much of the day, and finally be rid of this cold.