Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'judaism'

Continuing the Tradition

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Apr 20, 2015 @ 6:56 am PDT

Songleaders Boot Campuserpic=folk-guitarAs I wrote yesterday, this has been a music weekend, not a theatre weekend. Last night was the concluding concert of the Songleader Bootcamp Regional Conference – Los Angeles (FB) (SLBC) at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), featuring Rick Recht (FB) and Sheldon Low (FB). It was a truly special night, highlighted by the unexpected — running into my cousin Robin who was part of the SLBC staff.

SLBC is an effort to educate future Jewish songleaders. As we were heading out of the concert, my wife was trying to explain the concept of the Jewish songleader. She thought it dated from Chuck Feldman of Wilshire Blvd Temple. I disagreed. To me, the Jewish songleader is a direct result of the folksinger movement of the late 1950s/early 1960s, which was also the time of the formation of the Jewish camping movement. The 1950s and 1960s was also a time you saw high school students picking up guitars and forming singing groups. This led to the Jewish camps adopting the singing of the emerging folksongs (if I recall the songbook of the Wilshire camps in the 1960s, there was a large number of songs from the folk movements). Other factors flavoring the mix were the emergence of modern Israeli music in the 1950s and 1960s, and the encouragement of folksongs that addressed social justice issues. Put all these factors into a blender, and what emerged was the songleader: a young adult with a guitar leading a Jewish camping community modern Jewish song (and possibly writing them along the way). This moved Jewish music from the traditional cantorial style to the “Rabbis with Guitars”. The seminal emergence here was from Minnesota, which gave us Debby Friedman in the early 1970s; this led to the modern Jewish artists that came out of NFTY, artists such as Rick Recht, Sheldon Low, Beth Schafer, Julie Silver, and many many more.

SLBC is an organized effort to keep this movement alive to the next generation. Musical leaders and Jewish educators spend an intense weekend with regional Jewish teens, focusing on the music and the message. What emerges are teens supercharged to take their guitars (or fiddles or trombones or ukuleles or … whatever) and lead and inspire. From what we saw last night, that’s just what happened.

Songleaders Boot Camp ConcertAs with any concert like this, writing a traditional review is pointless. This was a high-energy songfest, with a mixture of songs led by Rick and Sheldon, and featuring various subsets of SLBC participants and leaders, and encouraging audience participation. It was a camp song session in Northridge, not a sit-in-the-chair-and-listen concert. What songs were sung? Here’s an attempt at a song list, although you must note that many variations of songs have the same name being based on common texts:
(Note: The picture to the right was snarfed from Facebook)

  1. Salaam/ Ki Va Moed
  2. Am Yisraeil Chai
  3. Kobi’s Lullaby
  4. Shalom Aleichem
  5. Halleluyah
  6. One Day
  7. The Rainbow Song
  8. Shehecheyanu
  9. In This Home
  10. The Hope
  11. Hinei Ma Tov

So here are some general observations of the concert:

  • One of the things I did during this show was watch the faces of the participants — and they were just radiating “joy”. I saw this on the faces of Rabbi Lutz and Cantor Roher as they joined in the leadership; I saw it in the faces of the educators; I saw it in the faces of the kids. I wished I could just bottle this joy — this joy from the leadership is what draws people in. As those who have been to Jewish camp say: if every day at a synagogue had the spiritual joy of a day at a camp….
  • The event was remarkable for its inclusiveness. I’m not talking about the fact that there were more than just guitars present. Rather, I’m referring to the point where Rick called up his Chevra. This was clearly a group of special needs participants — and their participation just amplified the joy and energy just mentioned. No particular “look at us for doing this” was called out — it was just another group of normal participants. It was this non-emphasis that created the extra message of inclusiveness that was great to see. The unsaid says so much.
  • As President of MoTAS (the Mens Club at the Synagogue), I found it telling what members were at the concert and what members weren’t. I was heartened to see so many MoTAS folks there, and it demonstrated a divide that wasn’t strictly age — rather, it identified those that were young at heart. These are the leaders that MoTAS needs for the next generation, and I was pleased that so many of them have already been — or are — in leadership positions.
  • The fact that TAS (and Temple Ramat Zion) were the hosts and coordinators for this event says a lot about the congregations and their focus to the community — a message that is a good one and one that must be shared.

At this point, I’d link in a video of the show. Loads of folks were filming. But so far, nothing is up on YouTube. I’ll edit this post if I find something.

Different things draw people to synagogue. Some come to find the ritual they had in their youth. Others come for the spiritual community, the kehilla kedosha. What will make synagogues succeed in the 21st century will be the ability to create that community, and that means figuring out how to bring the camp energy, experience, and spirituality out of the woods (or the California hills) and into the edifices, transforming them. This bootcamp — and the concert we saw resulting from it — is a great way to do so.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Today we head out on vacation — Las Vegas, baby! Two shows are already booked: Menopause the Musical at Harrahs, and Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood, and Crazy Girls at the Riviera (before the Riveria goes away on May 4th) — the particular show depends on what shows up at Tix4Tonight.  Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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Saturday News Chum Stew: Graffiti, Diets, Food, Deaths, and 99 Seat Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 28, 2015 @ 10:03 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the accumulated saved URL links (with a bit of commentary) from the week. Get your fill now — next week’s stew will be chametz-free!

  • Graffiti Busting. Two articles related to graffiti-busting caught my eye. The first looks at the battle that LA’s army of graffiti cleaners face. Many years ago, my mother-in-law was one of those busters. How bad is the problem? Here’s the second article, which notes that LA cleaned up over one square mile of graffiti last year. It is a problem, and I’ve never understood the reason why people enjoy trashing something that belongs to someone else. Hmmm. I wonder if taggers and graffiti artists are the trolls of the real world?
  • Going on a Diet. Were you annoyed when they put Wilbur St. on a road diet? Get ready to be annoyed again. This time, it’s not Wilbur that is changing but Reseda Blvd, between Parthenia and Plummer. They aren’t getting rid of driving lanes (although it looks like the center dual-left is going away); they are converting the conventional bike lanes to protected bike lanes. Be forewarned if you are driving or parking in the area — it will take time for people to get used to them.
  • Food News. A few food-related news items. Fresh and Easy is closing 50 stores — and the one near us in Northridge is one of them. That’s too bad — I like the selection at that store and it was very convenient. Graeters Ice Cream, which we enjoyed when we visited Louisville KY, is opening shop in Caesars in Las Vegas. I think I know where we’re stopping in Vegas, and perhaps it might entice our friend Linda to come west for a visit. Lastly, ever wonder what happens to ugly fruit and vegetables? In a society that demands perfection, do we mock the misformed carrot or potato? The answer is that they are actually becoming more popular.
  • Deaths of Note. Two deaths of note this week. The first, Dr. George Fischbeck, was a long-time weathercaster here in Los Angeles. He had a delivery style and presentation (and longevity) that made him memorable, and was one of those genuinely good people. The second was musician John Renbourne.  I learned of Renbourne through my uncle, Tom Faigin, when I recorded his collection of folk albums for him. Renbourne made a number of classic folk albums: solo, with Bert Jansch, and with his group Pentangle.
  • Revitalizing Congregational Life. Here’s something to chew on: What is the business of a synagogue? Rabbi Larry Hoffman explores the question. He starts by noting the business is not religion. In the past, it was continuity: providing activities that ensured Judaism would continue to the next generation. Today, he argues, it is providing an authentic identity. Do you agree? If so, how do congregations achieve it through the services provided. Great question.
  • The 100 ¥ Store. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve never been in Daiso. Here’s the history of the store, and why it became what it is. The short answer is that it is Japan’s dollar store, but unlike the 99c store, they don’t remainder items — they make their own unique items.
  • Not So Hidden Anymore. Here are two articles on “secret” hiding places: 15 from DIY crafts, and 20 from Family Handyman.  My big concern with all of these is that I’d forget about them. Hiding something does no good if you can’t remember where you hid it, and you leave the valuables in the house when you sell it.
  • Pro99 - Vote No NowTheatre Items of Interest. Thought I wouldn’t have anything on the battle to save 99 seat theatre in LA? Wrong. Here is a collection of editorial cartoons on the subject.  They truly prove that a picture is worth 1000 words. But if you want words, here’s an interesting article on the lies we tell about audience engagement. The article makes the great point about the important of indie (read small and intimate) theatre — and how it often provides the only engagement for young people and for artists and audiences of color. Here’s the great paragraph about that: “In most American urban centers, there’s a vibrant, thriving indie scene—small theatres operating on a shoestring budget, paying people a stipend and operating out of 99-and-under rentals or non-traditional spaces. Think of it as DIY theatre. Indie theatres are now connected via the internet in ways they’ve never been before. The people working within them now have a picture, at least anecdotally, of the national scene, and can see that indie work all over the country is filled with young people, women, and people of color, both as creators and consumers.” It goes on to note: “We don’t, however, care to look at the indie scene.Because we ignore and undervalue indie theatre, we imagine we’re discussing issues in “theatre” when what we’re actually discussing is a particular segment of theatre—one from which women, young people, and people of color are largely shut out.”. What AEA wants to do is destroy indie theatre — and in the process, they are reducing the opportunities for women, young people, and people of color to grow in theatre (and this from a union that protested photoshopping a civil rights protest photo (inadvertently) because they are pro-civil rights. Are you a Los Angeles AEA member? You know what you need to do. Vote “no”, so we can work together to create the change the LA theatre community needs.

 

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No Pork In This Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 21, 2015 @ 4:17 pm PDT

userpic=schmuckThis has been a busy busy week, and I haven’t collected much chum. However, I do have two articles of interest, both related to Judaism:

  • Where Are The Non-Orthodox Rabbis? This is an interesting article from the Forward looking at the shrinking class size of non-Orthodox denominational rabbinic schools. It also discusses the growth of the non-denominated rabbinic schools. Note that I’m not saying Orthodox rabbinic schools — rather, these are schools that accept a wide variety of practice from the rabbinic students, and teach Judaism — not a particular movement. This reflects a change that is happening in non-Orthodox Judaism as a whole — the movements and traditional synagogues are having trouble attracting members, whereas institutions that are just Jewish and just accepting are growing as they are seen as a form of “authentic” Judaism. Orthodoxy is growing, but as usual it is set apart a bit. Chabad is that odd beast, straddling the middle — accepted by those looking for “authentic” Judaism, but not quite seen as the unaccepting traditional Orthodoxy. This actually reflects Chabad’s approach of being accepting first and foremost.
  • Are Jews Responsible for Antisemitism? Note that I’m not asking the question myself — rather, it was asked this week in response to the attacks in Copenhagen. The question itself is insulting — it is the equivalent of asking a rape victim if they were responsible for their rape because of how they dressed or behaved. People need to learn that hatred towards any class is unacceptable, and violence towards any class is unacceptable. No one “asks for it”. This is true whether that class is based on sex (mysogyny and violence against women), sexual preference (violence towards gays), gender identification, race, or religion (and that includes that other form of Anti-semitism (this time with the hyphen) — violence against Muslims just because they are Muslim). This is a fight and a concern about which we all must be aware.

 

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Saturday News Chum Stew: It’s On The Radio

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 06, 2014 @ 2:58 pm PDT

userpic=masters-voiceToday’s weekly news chum stew leads off with a few items related to radio and items on the radio…. and goes rapidly downhill from there:

  • Living By The Clock. This is an article from a few weeks ago, but it’s still interesting: On November 18th, NPR changed their news magazine clocks. Now you probably have no idea what this means. The clocks are the second-by-second scheduling of what happens when during the newsmagazines, including newscasts, music beds and funding credits. They also affect when stations can insert their own local content. In announcing the date for implementing the clocks, NPR also said that it will not impose limits on stations’ ability to replace newsmagazine segments with programming from other producers. That proposal had prompted criticism from station programmers, who argued for control over programming choices, and producers, whose programs would be excluded under the rule. This directly relates to the next article: some of those producers are podcast producers, whose segments are often included in NPR news magazines (and thus, it brings them in money).
  • The Podcast Is The In-Thing. If you listen to podcasts (as I do), you know we’re in a new era of podcasts. The “This American Life” podcast has spun off a new #1 podcast, “Serial“. Roman Mars, of 99% Invisible (who was very concerned about the above clock change) used his Kickstarter success to create Radiotopia, and expanded it with this year’s Kickstarter to add new shows. Producer Alex Bloomberg left Planet Money to found a new podcast company, Gimlet Media, and is documenting the process in a new podcast. The Verge has an interesting article on this phenomena: “The New Radio Star: Welcome to the Podcast Age“. Never mind the fact that the “pod” has been discontinued, and no one really “casts” anymore. That’s like saying television is confined to networks over the air.
  • You Can Get Anything You Want. Traditions are funny thing. Who would think a TV show would span a tradition that revolves around a pole? Here’s another one for you: A tradition of listening to a particular song on Thanksgiving, simply because the event described in the song happened on Thanksgiving. This latter one, of course, is referring to Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant”. Here’s an interesting article about Arlo looking back on the song, which turned 50 this year.
  • Shaming and Discrimination is Never Acceptable. The events in Ferguson and in New York have finally started to make people aware about White Privilege, and being aware is the first step to doing something about the problem. But there’s another type of privilege people aren’t talking about: Thin Privilege. Our society is biased towards the thin — all it takes is one airplane ride or sitting at a booth in a restaurant to realize that. Thin Privilege can also be life threatening. Here’s an interesting article that explores that aspect of fat hatred: the particular fact that the auto industry refuses to make large-sized crash dummies, and so crashes are more likely to be fatal to the obese than the thin.
  • Fighting Antisemitism. Here’s an interesting Indiegogo project: Yaakov Kirschen of Dry Bones is fundraising to turn Dry Bones into an antisemitism fighting engine. If you’re not familiar with Dry Bones, look here. I haven’t yet decided if this is an effect tool in the fight, or an attempt by Yaakov to obtain steady funding (after the success of his Dry Bones Haggadah). Still, anything that fights is a good thing.
  • Your Username is Invalid. We’ve all been taught in security that you shouldn’t give away information in the login error message, and so you don’t indicate whether it was the user name or the password is bad. But here’s an article that points out that such care doesn’t buy you anything. It’s an interesting point of view.
  • Should I Upgrade? For years, I’ve been using Paint Shop Pro. I’m currently on the last JASC version, Paint Shop Pro 9. PCWorld has a very interesting review of the current Corel Paint Shop Pro X7,  and I’m debating upgrading. Thoughts?

 

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Go Clean Your Room!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 04, 2014 @ 8:45 am PDT

userpic=tallitLast week I wrote about the Rosh Hashanah sermons at our synagogue. Last night was Kol Nidre (Erev Yom Kippur), and guess what… another sermon. Nu? You expected I wouldn’t write about it?

Last night’s sermon was given by Rabbi Shawna (I”ll link it here once she posts it) and dealt with death. She was basically building on the notion that Yom Kippur is preparing one for one’s death. Setting the accounts straight, so to speak. Her theme was the things that you need to do now to prepare for your death.

Much of what she discussed was practical device designed to make life easier for those you care about when you get older and cannot make decisions, or when you are no longer there to make decisions. This included the following items, which I presume that everyone is doing (if not, do it):

  • Make an Advance Directive . Figure out what life-saving measures you do and do not want when you are in the final stages of life. Respirators. Pain killers. Intubation. Life support. Investigate all of these things and decide what you want. Write those instructions down, and make sure you children and trusted confidants know where to find the information.
  • Make Sure Your Children Are Addressed. Have children or others you support or take care of? Make sure you leave guardianship and care instructions.
  • Boxing It Up. How do you want to be buried: fancy box or plain pine? What type of service? What cemetary? If you can, pre-pay and make pre-need arrangements, and make sure your loved ones/confidants know where your instructions are.
  • Heirlooms. Do you have family heirlooms your kids will be fighting over. Make sure you leave clear instructions on who gets what.

Shawna also discussed the importance of leaving an Ethicial Will: Ethical instructions you want to pass on for future generations on how to live, and the values to have. More importantly, she stressed that even more important than writing your values down is living your values and teaching your children through your actions. She put it this way:

The way you live your life is how you will be remembered.

This is a very important thing to keep in mind.

However, Shawna forgot two important things:

Clean Your Room. Yom Kippur helps you deal with the spiritual junk you accumulate. You should also work to clean up the mental junk: all those grudges you hold, all the bad attitudes. Get rid of those now, before your children have to deal with the impacts of them on your friends.

More importantly, when you die, someone will have to dispose of all that physical stuff and junk you’ve accumulated. All those papers you’ve kept. All those photos. All those files and collections. All your furniture. All your tchotchkes. We’re still disposing of stuff from my dad 10 years ago! Make your children’s life easy and declutter now! This will also make it much easier for them when you have to move into assisted living or senior living (and more and more are doing).

Here’s an important postscript to this: Remember to clean your porn stash. Yes, most people have one and never admit it. Your children discover it while cleaning your house when you die, and no amount of brain bleach can get rid of those images.

The Electronic World. If you’re like me, you have a large electronic life. Accounts at banks and other financial institutions. Passwords to your email and social accounts. Obtaining access to these things is difficult when you die or become incapacitated, and increasingly they are required to keep paying your bills. Here’s my advice: (1) Get a password manager, such as Lastpass. (2) Make sure your children/trusted confidant has the key passwords they will need — the password to your account on your computer, the master password to your password manager, and anything else they might need to get to the password manager (such as your phone unlock code). (3) Make sure they know how to answer those pesky security questions, or keep a list of them and their answers as a secure note in your password manager.

Additionally, clean your room. Have instructions to your loved ones on how to disburse your electronic files as appropriate. Clean out all those electronic files that go back to the days of MS-DOS that you will never use again. And for heaven sakes, get rid of that digital porn stash as well — or at least encrypt it so they just delete it. A digital stash is better than those disgusting magazines you have under the bed or in the file in the garage, but still … oh, I need that brain bleach!

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Shawna said, “The way you live your life is how you will be remembered.” I’ll add to that: The last impression you leave for your children is the junk you leave behind that they have to clean up. Make sure they don’t need the brain bleach and the mental floss.

 

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Two Sides to a Story

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Sep 25, 2014 @ 4:45 pm PDT

userpic=tallitAs I wrote earlier, I typically blog about our rabbi’s sermon on the High Holydays. This morning was Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Lutz was up at bat, so… I’m not going to talk in depth about Rabbi Lutz’s sermon, but use it as a jumping off point for something else.

Rabbi Lutz’s sermon (which I’ll link in once it is posted) was, alas, both predictable and necessary. He spoke about Israel and his love for her; in particular, he talked about his reaction about the fighting this summer. He emphasized the importance of learning the truth about the situation: that Hamas, as an organization, states in its charter that “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors. ” and that, according to Hamas, ” the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement”.  He related facts which many of us that support Israel know: that Hamas provoked this summer, that they were launching attacks from civilian areas, and they were using civilians as ammunition in the propaganda war. But I think the most important line the Rabbi said was this: “Remember, all Hamas are Palestinians, but not all Palestinians are Hamas”. He emphasized the importance of seeing Palestinians as people, and working with the moderate Palestinians to bring peace over the fundamentalist side.

Moderates and fundamentalists. Keep that in mind, folks.

When I got home, I was reading my daughter’s tumblr. She posted an interesting link to Jewish Women Watching, a group aimed at “rous[ing] the public to challenge and change sexist and oppressive practices in the Jewish community.” It included the following:

In these days of repentance, ask yourself:

Is the leader of my organization a man?
Is the board of my organization more than 50% men?
Is my rabbi a man?
Why?

This bothered me quite a bit. As President of the Men of TAS, I’ve been reading a lot of literature from the Men of Reform Judaism. A key question on the lips of MRJ leaders is: Where have all the men gone? If you go out to progressive congregations these days, increasingly, the Rabbis are female, the congregation Presidents are female, and much of the board is female. At our congregation, we have a woman rabbi (one of two), a woman cantor, our current and past presidents are women, and much of the board are women. The problem is encouraging men to be leaders. The issue is not that men are better leaders — they aren’t necessarily. However, both viewpoints are important in congregational life.

So I went out to Jewish Women Watching site, and read through their material. Their focus is not the progressive congregation. Their focus is Orthodoxy, and pushing to get women to a more prominent role. This is difficult to do in Orthodoxy with their different view of distinct woman’s roles, but some Orthodox groups (such as Aish and other modern Orthodox organizations) strive to come as close as they can within their constraints. Others are still very sexist; witness the problem of the agunah if you want an easy example.

As I ate my lunch, I was thinking about this and about Rabbi Lutz’s sermon. Both were connected because of the importance of seeing both sides of the story, and realizing that the fundamentalist view does not represent the complete view. The ultra-Orthodox and similar fundamentalist movements within Orthodoxy are all Orthodoxy, but not all Orthodoxy has fundamentalist views. Just as we need to see moderate Palestinians as people, we need to see moderate Orthodoxy as people, and work to encourage the moderate point of view.

In both cases — Israel and Women in Orthodoxy — the problem is unchecked fundamentalism. This is the same problem we have with Islam in general — the actions of groups such as ISIL/ISIS are not representative of all Islam.

Let us strive to learn — and stay informed — on the differences between moderates and fundamentalists, and work to encourage the moderates (both in the Middle East and at home).

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What Are You Comfortable With?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Sep 25, 2014 @ 8:19 am PDT

userpic=tallitEvery year (unless I fall asleep*), I try to write up my thoughts on the Rabbi’s sermons. Sometimes it is something that resonated with me; other times, it is things I thought the Rabbi missed. Whichever is the case, this helps cement what I remember about the sermon in my head. Last night was Erev Rosh Hashanah (if, indeed, that term is correct), and Rabbi Shawna gave the sermon, so guess who is the lucky winner?

There were two main themes that I could discern in Rabbi Shawna’s sermon which, at least to me, weren’t connected as well as they could have been. Both were good points to be making; they just came across a little disjointed. Let’s explore each of them.

The first dealt with getting outside of your comfort zone, and the importance of doing that if you are going to achieve any form of personal growth and improvement. This is something I understood well–it is the main reason I accepted the mantle of leadership in $mens_club. Handling the logistics and running organizations isn’t a problem, and is well within my comfort zone from my work on ACSAC. However, going out there and interacting with strangers to sell an organization: that’s extremely uncomfortable. Being in a position where I have to occasionally say “no” to people. Outside my comfort zone. Making blind telephone calls to congregants to welcome them. Very outside my comfort zone. Yet these are skills that will serve me well in the future.

So I strongly agreed with Shawna’s call for people to get outside their comfort zone. I wish it had gone a little further — in particular, calling people to get more involved with organizations at the synagogue. It is far too comfortable to go to synagogue twice a year or for the occasional service, never get to know anyone, and be hidden in the corner. It takes effort — especially for introverts — to go out and get involved with groups like $mens_club or $sisterhood or $committee. Yet these are just the small groups where you can meet people easier and try on leadership capabilities.

Shawna, instead, used the notion of going outside your comfort zone to connect to the recent NFL scandals, and to the importance of speaking out against domestic violence. She connected this to Jewish notions about defending the downtrodden, and how we have imperatives to prevent this. Again, I didn’t think she went far enough. We need to realize how our actions reflect to others statements not only about us as individuals, but us as groups.

Last week, I listened to a wonderful “This American Life” titled “A Not So Simple Majority”. The prologue described the show thusly:

Before the war in the East Ramapo, New York school district, there was a truce. Local school officials made a deal with their Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors: we’ll leave you alone to teach your children in private yeshivas as you see fit as long as you allow our public school budget to pass. But the budget is funded by local property taxes, which everyone, including the local Hasidim, have to pay — even though their kids don’t attend the schools that their money is paying for. What followed was one of the most volatile local political battles we’ve ever encountered.

What followed was a story about how the Orthodox community took over the school board, refused to listen to community input, decimated the public schools seemingly to move forward in the Yeshivot’s best interest, and thoroughly divided the community. Listening to the piece (which everyone should do) raised numerous discussion issues about who was right, who was wrong, and so forth. Related to the sermon, however, is one more issue: appearance.

Irrespective (and that’s the prefix “in-” as an intensive) of the “rightness” of the O side, what did their appearance and how they behave say about them and about the Jewish community. Did it project a bad image that opened the door to antisemitism? On the other hand, would such an argument be analogous to the claims that women need to restrain how they dress and act because men can’t control themselves. Where is the balance between how our behavior says something about us, and how latent attitudes come out with respective of behavior?

The answer, of course, it that we should not restrain our behavior because of how it might impact others, but more so, because our behavior is a reflection of our values. The Orthodox behavior was wrong because it showed that their value was their own self-interest over the interest of the down-trodden in the community (which may have been a behavior outside their comfort zone — caring about someone not in your own community). Similarly, tolerating domestic or physical abuse and not speaking out or doing something is wrong, because it reflects an acceptance of those values. Being ethical comes from within, and must be reflected in everything we do. (Or, as I say in MoTAS (Men of Temple Ahavat Shalom, otherwise known as $mens_club), because we’re the role models).

Let’s connect this back to the first idea of comfort zones and getting involved in synagogue life. Often, we don’t get involved because we had a bad experience, or we feel the synagogue is a “Marble House full of Plastic People”. That’s comfortable, but that also sends the message that such behavior is acceptable in a congregation. Act up. Fight AIDS (oops, wrong musical). Act Up. Get on those committees and boards and force change from within (a palace revolt) so that our Jewish institutions can reflect Jewish values of today.

People ask me why I got involved with MoTAS. It certainly wasn’t for power or glory, or even (completely) to learn skills. It wasn’t for “male bonding”, as I still have no idea what that it. Rather, it was to help make MoTAS, and hopefully the congregation, the place I believe it can be. A place where the esteem in which you are held is based on what you do and how you live, vs. how many zeros you can write on a check. A place where fundraisers can involve everyone — from those for whom $10,000 is noise, to those for whom $18 is a significant outlay. When your organization only asks for the large contributions, what does it say about your attitude towards those who can’t make large contributions? People often don’t realize those subtleties (just, as I’m sure some friends of mine will point out, those benefitting from “white privlege” often don’t even realize it).

Get out of your comfort zone and your complacency at your congregations. Get involved, and make those organizations reflect the values and attitudes that care about the poor members as well as the rich members, the moved as well as the movers, the shaken as well as the shakers. Be the example this coming year about how to do things right.

[so folks know, I often never know where these posts will end up until I write them — the message just seems to want to get out on its own.]

* P.S.: As I’m now on the Board at temple, I was honored by sitting on the bimah last night. Little known fact: The people on the bimah can see you when you are sleeping during the sermon. Yes, you. Fourth row, end of the aisle. And you, in the back.

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L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5775

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Sep 23, 2014 @ 7:19 pm PDT

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts tomorrow night. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog, LiveJournal, Google+, Tumblr, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5775. May you be written and enscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Round challahs. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. As for the round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the King of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
[Thanks to Aish Ha’Torah for these insights]

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting this evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of October 3rd), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

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