General Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic

Building a New Community

It’s time for me to make something happen. To move a dream onto the path of reality. Specifically: it’s time to begin building an inner-East Side Jewish community.

There’s a lot of details left to work out. Some of them I’m deliberately leaving up in the air until I have a group of collaborators to create the community with me. Other details I just haven’t worked out yet. But there are some things I do know:

  • It will be a community which, while Jewish, will be welcoming to non-Jews as well, whether in interfaith relationships or not.
  • It will be a community which is welcoming to people of all genders, sexual orientations and identities.
  • It will be a mult-generational community.
  • We will join together to find fulfillment in spiritual experience, whether through traditional Jewish modes or less traditional modes.
  • And there will be services, at least on occasion, because I like praying, damn it.
As for the rest, it’s waiting to be worked out. And I’d love for you to be a part of working it out. Because I don’t want this community to be a reflection of me: I want it to be a reflection of those of us who consider ourselves “inner-East-Siders” and “Jews.” So drop me a line, let me know that you’re interested. Because I have a good feeling about this.

Winter to Spring

About a week ago I returned to Portland after a couple of weeks on the East Coast–Boston and New York. The Day I left New York, the view out the window was this:

As you can tell, it looked like winter. My understanding is that things have not gotten significantly better since then.

So, around midnight, as I’m reaching my front door, I look down, and decide I must be hallucinating. Because I think I’m seeing narcissus blooming.

I get up the next day, trying to make sense out of what I saw, and truly, spring has somehow happened while I was away.

And as I look around at the flowers, I realize that these are not a freak early blooming. Other flowers are also in bloom:

And I wander a bit around the neighborhood, finding yet more flowers, including the cherries and the camellias.

All of this seems a bit early to me, but I’ve got to say, I love spring in Portland.


Walking New Paths

For my exercise, I’m once again walking. My goal is an hour of walking, three times a week. I started today.

I went walking in the neighborhood, never more than a mile from the house, but for over 90% of the walk, I was walking on streets I’d never before walked (or driven, for that matter). It’s not like I don’t walk a fair amount, but I tend to walk to get someplace, and tend to have somewhat set routes. Today I was walking for the sake of exercise, and wandering wherever my feet took me. After a time, I deliberately sought out streets I hadn’t walked before, looking to see some new things. Which I did (I wish I’d had my camera with me today, I saw some odd houses).

It all made me wonder, how many walks can I take while walking new streets? Today, there were many other choices I could have made in the same general direction which would also have been new. And that was in only one direction, and arguably, one I know most well. So I’m thinking, I am, that I will set out to explore this neighborhood more thoroughly, and see what I see. Ideally with a camera, but even if not, just to know the neighborhood better, to get to know the little eccentricities of the side streets is well worth the time exploring.

Portland is a great town for walking and looking. I’ve just got to remember to do it.

General spirituality

Spring is Showing Up Around the Edges

Here in Portland, we’re seeing the first signs of spring. On my walk to work earlier this week I brought along my camera, and took a few pictures as I went. First, right outside our home: narcisusNarcissus. I don’t think I’ve noticed this being the first flowers of the spring before, but this year, it beat out the forsythia.

As I was walking to work, I definitely saw crocuses. Many crocuses. Purple onescrocuses1, yellow ones. Purple and Yellow ones. I only got pictures of a few, but you’ll have to take my word for it, there are many crocuses all over. yellowcrocuses

I’ve also seen some camelias, which is interesting in that I think of them as a much earlier flower. Nonetheless, there they wwere in full bloom.

Then there were the flowers I didn’t recognize. The wild yellow flowers that seemed sort of muppety: crazyflowersKind of cool, aren’t they?

And some reddish buds that seem about to flower: aboutoflower2aboutoflower

This is the time of year when I love walking to work, because I get to see the flowers move along day by day. Each day there are new flowers getting ready to bloom, or trees getting ready to leaf out, or various other changes of state happening all around us. So I’ll keep walking with my camera, and hopefully continue to share photos with you.

General spirituality

Advice for Sam Adams

For those of you not in Portland, you may have missed the bit of controversy surrounding some actions of our mayor, Sam Adams. He had what is apparently a consensual relationship with an 18 year old young man, and then lied about it when asked whether he had. There are now people calling for him to step down. (Just to be clear, the fact that he slept with a man is not the issue at all, the issue is the fact that he was 18).

I want to start by suggesting that this is probably not a huge deal. While it shows truly horrendous judgement, it does not impact his ability to govern effectively. We have learned over the years to separate the private sexual lives of our leaders from their effectiveness in leading. We may not like it, but we have certainly seen enough of it.

Lying to the public about it, while perhaps a  bigger deal, is not particularly blameworthy, either. I do not condone lying to the public, but he was lying to the public about an issue which is not our business. I assume that there are appropriate times for public figures to mislead and dissemble. I don’t think it’s a good practice, but I do not believe that a lie is, in and of itself, reason to declare someone unfit to govern.

I want to suggest that what everyone needs to do right now is take a deep breath, relax, and wait a month or two to see how we feel. Sam should certainly not step down at this point. He must let tempers settle and carry on with his plans for Portland. If, in a month, it turns out that this scandal is interfering with his ability to govern effectively, let him resign at that point. Otherwise, I’m hopeful that a month from now this may seem a little silly.

Admittedly, part of my view on this subject is informed by the knowledge that Portland does not have anyone else who can be an effective mayor at this point. We have other competent administrators, but no one who will be a strong leader at this time of economic upheaval. And at this time, we need a strong leader.

Finally, I want to suggest that it may be appropriate for Sam to go beyond a simple apology in making it up to the people of Portland. He has acted inappropriately (if legally). If he is as truly sorry as he says he is, perhaps he should take on a voluntary penance of public service. Not necessarily cleaning up beside roads, but doing some service which he would not otherwise do, that comes out of time which would otherwise be his free time. Again, what he did was not illegal, but it was foolish, and I believe, morally wrong (because a relationship between a 42 year old and an 18 year old can never be a relationship of equals, and because he did lie to us about it). He has embarrased our city, and this scandal is distracting city governement at a time when we can ill afford it. Spending a few hundred hours of service to the community seems like it might be appropriate restitution.


Electronic Community and Face-to-Face Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual (or electronic) community recently. A few years back, there was a lot of talk about how internet communities weren’t “real” community. People of the older schools of thought were saying that they didn’t fulfill the same functions, and I’ve generally agreed with them. Until recently.

Increasingly, I’m changing my mind. While I still think an in-person component is useful, I do not see it as essential to true community. I’m seeing electronic means of communications forming a stronger and stronger basis of community.

The Portland Tech community is largely built around Twitter. Twitter allows people to communicate in short messsages of up to 140 characters. It is more like a bulletin board than an email. The Portland tech community tends to use it for everything from ongoing conversations about projects (“I need a Java programmer for a quick project” or “Anyone know how to make a Mac work in Swahili?”)  to quick statements that are more about connecting than conveying any information (“Can’t believe it’s still not Friday”; “Madness! Ahhhhhh!”). Our connections through Twitter mean that we know each other far better than we would if we just relied on meeting face to face. It means that by the time I meet someone face to face, I may well have had several “conversations” with them, and at the very least, I’ve heard what they have to say, and they’ve heard what I have to say.  We have an existing connection before we meet in person.

The traditionalists would say, “ah, but that’s not ‘real community.’ It doesn’t fulfill the social needs or create the tightness of bonds.” I now can disagree.

This week was my birthday. I think about three people wished me a happy birthday in person that day (it may have been slightly higher). What I remember about being wished a happy birthday are the 30 or so who wished me a happy birthday through Twitter and Facebook. Those greetings made me feel warm and fuzzy and loved. One of the true measures of community is its ability to create an emotional impact on you, and to celebrate life’s milestones in a meaningful way with you. This community did that.

I have moved off the fence. I am now firmly in the camp of those who feel like virtual communities can be as real as face-to-face communities. And I am reveling in how large and wonderful those communities can be.

General humor

Walking in the Rain

As many of you no doubt know, and more of you have no doubt forgotten, my theoretical form of exercise is walking to work. I say theoretical not because this doesn’t count as exercise when I walk to work, but rather because it doesn’t count as exercise when I “theoretically” walk to work. And for the past month or so, there has been rather a lot of the “theoretical” walking to work (unless walking the 4 blocks to the bus stop counts…and I really don’t think it does).

Yesterday and today, however, I walked to work. Braving gray skies, and even drizzle today, I walked. I am back in my exercising groove (or at least getting there).

For those of you who don’t know me in person, and may not be acutely aware that I live in Porland, Oregon, or what that entails, you may be asking, “it’s raining, why not just take the bus when it rains?” (The rest of you, stop giggling; Not nice to make fun of the uninformed).  The thing is, it is supposed to rain in Oregon from roughly mid-October to roughly mid-March. Not quite all the time…we get about a week off in February for good behavior. But other than that, it traditionally rains all winter. At least part of every day. Therefore, if I chose not to walk on the wet days, I wouldn’t walk at all during the winter. That’s just not a healthy way of life. So I walk in the rain.

The good news about walking in the rain is that most often the rain is not particularly hard. A good gortex raincoat and your pretty much ready to go (except for the spotty glasses). And it’s not too cold. Way better than walking in the snow.  And the big payoff, of course, is the spring flowers. Which should begin showing up about a month from now. Which is what makes the Oregon winter so worthwhile.

General spirituality

Flowers on the Way to Work

I’ve begun walking to work a lot the past few weeks, which is great. It’s about a half hour walk, which is about perfect. Sometimes, though, I take it a bit more slowly, bring out the camera, and stop and smell–or more often, photograph–the flowers. This morning wsa a morning full of flowers. 

One of the things I love about Portland is the profusion of flowers we have through the spring and summer. The variety, the brightness of colors.

Some of what I love about the flowers is the diversity of color and texture. It reminds of me of knitting, in that there are bright colors, though I find that there are colors I love in nature which I would never use in something I knit. The yellow of these sunflowers is one such example. I would never knit with a yellow such as this, but in this context, the flowers are amazing and beautiful. 

Other flowers are much more my normal color-style.

 The purples and pinks of the fuscia make me really happy. The profusion of flowers on the plants don’t hurt either. 

Roses have always been a favorite of mine, in large part for their scent. I also adore the way the flower changes over time from the tight rosebud to the open, ruffled flower. Very often the color of the flower will also change as it opens, which is a wonderful treat. 

Looking at gardens in Portland, there are some other treats: Someone came by to investigate as I was taking photos of some cornflowers and lantern flowers. There was a clear sense of ownership here, and a sense that I was photographing the wrong thing. Apparently, this feline believed that portraiture was a far more appropriate art form than landscape photography. Who was I to argue?

Nonetheless, I did take some closeups of the lantern flowers.These flowers are amazing because they just don’t seem like they should be real. 

And speaking of things which may or may not look real, I took some substantial liberties in adjusting this last photo. The colors may not be exactly what my eye saw, but I find it beautiful. There is a question among photographers and lovers of photography as to whether the goal is to produce a beauty or to accurately represent reality (at least when the two are in conflict). Most of the time I satisfy myself with beauty which is an accurate reflection of reality. This time, I wanted to play a little. 

Walking to work is for me a way to get in touch with the natural world. It’s fairly easy this time of year. Cool enough that I don’t arrive at work soaked in sweat, warm enough that I’m comfortable. Dry enough that I’m not soaked by rain. I hope I’ll be able to continue throughout the year, but we’ll see how persistent I am when the weather becomes less pleasant. Each day comes, one at a time, and I’ll see how it goes, and how the landscape changes.

General spirituality

A Bird's Eye View of My Life

Last night I performed a wedding at the Portland City Grill, which is on the 30th Floor of the US Bank Tower (aka, the Big Pink). The view from up there is astounding, and before the ceremony I had some time to look out over the city.

What’s the first thing everyone does when they are up really high looking down on their city? They look for the important places in their life. So I found myself first looking east, across the river, to find CubeSpace. I could sort of see it around a taller building, but not super clearly. Then I looked farther eastward, toward the 39th and Hawthorne area, trying to see if I could see my home. I couldn’t, but I could find the neighborhood.

I looked around downtown, and saw many of the buildings which we had looked at while searching for a home for CubeSpace. Some that didn’t meet our needs, some that didn’t meet our budget, some who decided we didn’t meet their budget. And 2 years after that search, I’m delighted that we wound up where we did.

I saw the building where I had my first real job, a research analyst for Griggs-Anderson Research, a market research company which has been sold 3 times since I left, and has a few of the same people, but basically no longer exists. I looked to the west, to try to find my apartment in Northwest Portland that I lived in during those early years after college. I reminisced about walking home from Griggs-Anderson to my apartment, sometimes stopping off at Powell’s on the way home (yes, there’s Powells, easily visible), or going straight home, and then coming back out to PGE park (which might have been called Civic Stadium at the time) for minor league baseball games (PGE park is all lit up, wonder if the Beavers are playing a home game tonight?).

I look far to the Southeast, and try to make out Reed College, my alma mater. A lovely place, a place that had a lot to do with who I am today.  It’s Renn Faire there this weekend, the celebration of senior’s turning in their theses, and the break between classes and reading week. And I realize it’s been 15 years since I graduate.

I’m looking down on this city, and realizing how much Portland has changed since I arrived: nearly a third of the tallest buildings have been built since I arrived 19 years ago. This city has grown, and I have grown with it.

Looking down on Portland is like seeing a history of my adult life. I see places where I had successes and failures, places where I became who I am, and places where I discovered who I am. I am overwhelmed by the fondness I feel for this city, and the sense of belonging I feel for it. It is my home, and I can imagine no other.


Walking Through Peace

I just spent about an hour and half wandering through the Japanese Garden in Portland. It’s a spectacular garden no matter what time of year you visit. In the summer it is verdant and green, with bright colors of flowers bursting out. In the fall the palette tends towards reds and oranges. The spring is a lighter green color, with the pastels of the spring flowers. The winter is when the garden is at its least colorful. Today there were a variety of greens, from the boughs of cedars and firs, the forest green of camellias, the sage green of most of the mosses. There were a few pale pink flowers bursting off what might have been dwarf cherry trees, and some camellia flowers.

What I love about the Japanese Gardens is the way in which they encourage you to stop and contemplate what you are seeing. The goal is not to walk through quickly, but to stop and see as much as you can in what is there. To look at the patterns in the rock gardens, to see how the moss curves around the rocks, and how the rocks are placed amid the grasses. To appreciate how sparsely the bamboo is growing, and admire the work which must be required to keep the bamboo from taking over the entire area. To appreciate the twisted branches of the trees, which have been carefully trimmed and trained into a specific form.

The Japanese Garden is designed to encourage a sort of observation and mindfulness which is too often absent from our lives. We do not take the time in everyday life to notice the feel of different surfaces under our shoes…the transition from a slab of stone to gravel to packed dirt. The garden encourages you to notice these transitions, to be aware of how each feels differently as you plant your feet upon it.

The Japanese Garden is a highly artificial natural environment. It is constructed oh so carefully by humans to create an experience, but is build entirely out of natural growing features, as well as stone and water. It is a place of contemplation and peace, and among my favorite places in Portland.