Sunday, October 28, 2007


These two books are under our bed. Sometimes we read them lying next to each other before we go to sleep.

When I came home from the Israel-Palestine religious dialogue, we cooked dinner in our kosher kitchen, blessed the food in Hebrew, and shared a meal on kosher plates. From where we sat I could see my collection of Shalom Aleichem short stories, and another anti-religion book in his Christopher Hitchens collection.

So, does this make us an "interfaith" couple? I have something like faith, and he's anti-faith. Rabbi S. says that he knows many devout atheist Jews, but I'm not sure Cai falls into that category. When I asked him how he would define himself if someone outside Hillel asked him his religious beliefs. He'd say "I'm an atheist, and the son of an ex-Catholic and an ex-Jew. I relate more to Judaism culturally." To me, he says "The food is the best part."

I find all of this humorous instead of upsetting. Somehow, it works. We don't step on each other's toes, we have great conversations over our kosher meals, and most of all, he knows that Jewish practice makes me happy and relaxed. He also appreciates the historical value of the traditions, and he swears he will help me raise a Jewish family in a Jewish home, because it's important to me. Cai likes coming to Shabbat services, he knows what I used to teach in Reform Jewish temple school, and as far as I know, he feels good about it.

Sometimes I wonder if all of that will change when we actually are raising a family.

But we'll cross that (very narrow) bridge when we come to it, and for now, I think it's hilarious that those two books are snuggling under our bed, one on top of the other (for the record, Hitchens is currently on top).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Diaspora, Exile, etc

Attended a lecture by Gershom Gorenberg on Messianism on the 23rd, and attended an Israel-Palestine religious dialogue last night. Learned a lot about the Temple Mount, have a lot to say, but not much time to say it.

So I'll just throw a question out to blog-land, regarding discussions of "home" and "homeland." Several speakers have referred to the Jews as a misplaced and scattered nation of refugees hoping Israel will be their place to come home to.

The question is this:

What's the difference between diaspora and exile? Is there a difference? How are they related? Does exile become diaspora?

We've been painted as "wanderers," but doesn't that contrast the notion that "home," "family," and "community" are also central to Jewish identity?

Can it be both?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thanks to the hard work of my rabbi and our Israel intern, Cai gets to go on Birthright!

What a relief!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Birthright -- it's really happening

I just got a call from Hillel. I'm going to Israel. It's Dec. 27-Jan. 7. Instruction for next quarter starts Jan. 8, so it'll be an abrupt beginning for winter quarter, but wow. Israel.

I'm excited, but I almost can't get too excited because we still don't know the status of Mordecai's application. Or, rather, I still don't know. Cai won't be home for another two hours, and they were supposed to contact him and fix this problem TODAY.

Our Israel intern at Hillel still hasn't heard from them, and is guessing that they are putting him on the same trip through a different institution. I don't care as long as he's on the trip with me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Is the war over?"

In Everything is Illuminated, an old woman, isolated in a field of sunflowers and a house full of memories, asks her first visitors since the end of the Holocaust if the war is over. The old man reassures her that it is, before he leaves the past behind, and drives his grandson and Jonathan back to the present day.

For me, this is one of the most powerful lines in the story, and one of the most powerful statements about Jewish memory. I've said before that the way I remember is more Jewish than the way I keep Friday Shabbat. But what brings this to mind right now is the way my mother and grandmother reacted after I had my passport photo taken for my trip to Israel.

We were discussing my upcoming journey over Sunday brunch (also a Jewish American tradition) when my mother said "Did you hide your Star of David necklace under your shirt for the passport photo?" "No," I said, suddenly defensive. "Why?" My grandmother shook her head. "You should have. If they round up all the Jews..." "They'll figure out you're Jewish by looking at your passport," my mother finished.

This is also why we didn't have a mezuzah on our door when I was growing up.

For them, the war is not over. To our knowledge, no one on my mother's side of the family was in Europe during the Holocaust. They came to America from Russia and Ukraine in the early 20th century. It was on my father's side that branches of the family tree that withered and burned in concentration camps.

Why the fear? It's interesting in the context of the article K sent me, in which a scholar argued that if there is another Holocaust, there will be no systematic rounding-up of Jews. It will be a nuclear weapon, and it will be Israel.

Ominous thinking, a few months before I leave, and a few minutes before I head to an Israel-Palestine discussion on campus. I haven't attended one since my freshman year, when it was so emotionally draining, that I decided not to revisit this topic in public again. I'm feeling brave. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Simchat Torah

Tomorrow we start over with Genesis, so I offer the following interpretation, even though I didn't really get to celebrate Simchat Torah tonight:

History of Loneliness

In a beginning, there was nothing. Then, God said.

There were light and trees and oceans and horizons,
and there was Adam.

God said everything into existence,
Those that missed something nonexistent no longer suffered.
Darkness was lonely, and there was fire.
The trees were despondent, there was shade.
Adam was aching. God said. And there was Eve.

God said “This is very good.” And it was.

But soon, Adam and Eve realized they missed the longing they’d felt without each other.
They built a fire, darkness disappeared,
and when the fire sputtered out, darkness became even louder,
thicker than before the first flame.

When Eve ate the apple, and offered it to Adam,
they were sent out of Eden.
And the first people on the planet felt another kind of longing,
called homesickness.

Ever since then, people have been obsessed with the notion of home,
and the notion of emptiness,
not to mention God.

You see, in a beginning,
God didn’t know that people could long for nothing,
could court nothing, could fall in love with absence.
So God filled God’s world with endless somethings
that begat more somethings,
and each something found a longing inside
that no other something could fill.

They say God’s light was a vessel that splintered
into millions of pieces.
We are glittering fragments, trying to heal the world
by finding light in each other.
We are drawn to glowing, because we are drawn to God.
They also say that God didn’t create the world,
but is creating the world,
so we are constantly repairing and shattering,
and repairing again.

It wasn’t the beginning, it was a beginning,
and it was an ending.
It was the end of nothing.

(copyright 2007)


Hillel offered an 80's dance party for Simchat Torah, and they couldn't get enough people for a minyan, so dancing with the Torah was out of the question...

and Chabad offered a full traditional service but required that men and women dance on separate sides of the room...

So, there was nowhere to go. Maybe we shouldn't have tried to go at all, but usually Simchat Torah gets a big turn-out at Hillel. Things are different now. The Sukkah was overflowing on Sukkot, but only nine people - most of them Hillel interns - were there for Simchat Torah tonight.

Oh well...It was still nice to schmooze with the few people who were there. They hadn't had a chance to meet the boy yet, so it was good to chat, even if it didn't feel like Simchat Torah as I remember it. That's how it goes sometimes.

Chag Sameach!