VOTERS AT NEW ADDRESSES AND FIRST TIME VOTERS . . .

From the North Carolina Board of Elections:

Any voter registration forms completed by new registrants at voter registration drives or sent by mail must contain the applicant’s North Carolina driver license number or DMV-issued identification card. If none of these are provided, the registrant shall provide the last four digits of his/her social security number. If the registrant cannot supply an identification number, he/she may still register, but must be prepared to show identification with proof of residency at the polling place the first time he/she presents to vote.

Accepted forms of identification include:

·         A copy of a current and valid photo identification such as DMV-issued ID or Driver’s License Number

·         A copy of a document that shows the name and address of the voter, such as:

·         Passport,

·         Current utility bill,

·         Bank statement,

·          Government check,

·         Paycheck,

·         Vehicle registration,

·         Fishing/hunting /concealed weapon’s license,

·         Other government document.

Learning, Shoulders-First

It’s easy to be smart in my own language, but not so easy to be even mildly clever in another. I don’t mind humbling lessons when they come with a wealth of learning, so last night, when I learned this lesson, it was worth the temporary embarrassment.

I arrived back at my hotel after 11 pm and the man at the door, let me in. I stood at the reception desk for several minutes, waiting for someone to return. Finally, I asked the man at the door to help me with my key.

He came over, slowly, asked me my room number, and stared at the key cubbies. He repeated my number to me. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed at the cubby where my key should be. It wasn’t. 

I began to worry about what I was doing wrong. Maybe I said the wrong room number, maybe I remembered the wrong room number, maybe I didn’t give my key to the desk person when I left. Suddenly, I thought . . . and in this case ‘suddenly’ is correct because it appeared like firefly amid all those dark weedy worries . . . maybe my roommate arrived, and she is in the room with our key. I am so clever.

I asked the man if my roommate had checked in. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed at the empty cubby, which seemed to mean one of two things: he didn’t understand me or he didn’t know if my roommate had checked in but, still, there was no key. He actually spoke at this point, first time: “Ani lo yodea.” A phrase I know well: I don’t know.

I asked him if he could check to see if my roommate had checked in. “Ani lo yodea.”

I simply didn’t know how to negotiate this puzzle with him.

I said I would go to my room and see if my roommate was there.

She wasn’t. Turns out, I learned this morning, I don’t have a roommate, which is a blessing for all of my sisters attending this conference because I snore like Godzilla with a sinus infection . . . but I digress.

But then another firefly of cleverness glowed in the dark: Maybe the clerk put the key in the wrong cubby.

I went back downstairs and shared my stroke of genius with the man at the door. 

He shrugged.

“Could you please look?”

He looked at all the cubbies, many of which had keys, put his hand in the cubby for my key, and he shrugged. I pointed at the others. He pointed at mine.

I shrugged. It seemed like the best response.

It worked. He engaged in a complicated dance of keys and signs at the door and checking charts, then walked me to my elevator, smiling kindly, finally.

At the elevator is where I noticed that he carried a pistol at his hip. On the one hand, this was a little scary. It didn’t occurred to me that he was a guard until later; I thought he was a concierge or a bell-hop. On the other hand, this was a little comforting because I had read, recently, that, in Israel, gun control is strict, and most people don’t qualify to carry a gun outside the military. So, I figured he must be sane, reliable, and wasn’t going to execute me for making him open my door.

At my room, he opened the door. I looked around. No key . . . and let me say here . . . of course, because I knew I had turned it in at the desk when I left. 

He said ‘no here?’ 

I shrugged, simple, like I felt.

This morning, the man at the door was still at the door, but the nice man at the reception desk speaks English very well. I explained what happened. He looked at the cubbies next to mine, and he found my key in the one above. I felt relieved and grateful, but I didn’t feel smart. It’s not enough to figure these things out if you can’t communicate them. I wish I could be smart in Hebrew.

I imagine I’ll be shrugging a lot on this trip — learning shoulders-first.

Thoughts on Well-Meaning, Narrow-Minded People

Standing in line at Passport Control in Ben Gurion Airport, you’ve got nothing better to do than listen. It’s almost not worth talking.

When two nice ladies from England asked me why I was coming to Israel, I explained that I was here to learn about teaching Israel in progressive Jewish communities. One of them said “Are you Reform?” And I said, “Yes.” And she winced and shook her head.

Now, I could have just turned my attention back to the kiosks where all our hope lay.Or, I could have said, what’s the matter with being part of the Reform movement.

But I smiled back and waited to see what would happen next. 

I didn’t get the names of my new friends, so let’s call one Pippa and the other Peppa — we’ll see if I can keep them straight.

It will be tough. They looked alike, same hair color, same oddly wide mouth that I think is an indicator of advanced medical science, though I’m not sure. They had the same accents, the same tans, and the same eye makeup.

Peppa turned to her friend Pippa and said “She’s Reform. You know they teach their children to hate Israel.”

“Oh,” said Pippa, “BDS and all that?”

“No,” I said, quickly.

“Yes,” said Peppa, shaking her head. “They are lying to their young people. They don’t know anything.”

Pippa said nothing much more, but an older woman from New York, an educator, she said, in a Conservative community, though she was Orthodox, we’ll call her Ruth . . . where was I . . . Ruth said “I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

And thus ensued a good deal of no one but me keeping anyone’s mouth shut for quite some time while the Passport Control clerks abandoned kiosks for shift change, returned minus a clerk each time, whittling down the staff to three clerks while the lines held steady at nine long and tangled queues. It wasn’t their words that bothered me so much, it was their ears. I’m happy to listen, even to dogma. However, I’d like to be heard, too.

They smiled and shook their heads and assured me that this was just their opinion but Reform Judaism isn’t real Judaism, is cheating our young people, doesn’t love Israel, and so on. “It’s disgusting,” said Peppa.

I wasn’t completely quiet. I probably said, a few times, that they should look at what the Reform movement says about BDS; that I was here, specifically, to learn how to teach young people to forge meaningful, productive connections to Israel; that we teach our children to engage with tradition and law in meaningful ways.
Peppa said to me, “Look. Look at how we’re dressed. We’re not religious, but the Law is from God and you can’t change that. The Law is the law.”

These two women who openly disobey ‘God’s Law’ criticized a whole movement of people who aimed to align the law with history and hope and optimism. They have given up on ‘God’s Law,’ and, by their account, were leaving it to more pious people to pray for them.

I wanted to say that the rabbis taught us that God taught us that the Law was not in Heaven; that the Torah teaches us that the Law is not far away, but in your hearts; that Isaiah teaches us that God wants more from us than blind adherence to the Law. But it seemed way too complicated for them. I also wanted to say that the Law was clearly redacted by men intent on firmly seating power in their own hands. But that seemed to be outside the realm of impolite conversation.

In the end, I digressed. I asked Ruth’s pious husband how he knew when to say morning prayers on the plane. Interesting answer. Something to do with breaking the day up into 12 parts that expand and contract with the seasons. It reminds me of a Chelm story . . . But, thankfully, I digress.

Hebrew for the Jewish Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about homework, lately. Specifically, Hebrew homework. Don’t start throwing things at me, you’ll only crack your computer screens.

But before I start assigning homework, amok, I wanted to think about why  students and their families cooperate with any homework assignments, in the first place. And why would anyone agree to add more homework to their family life?

  • For some students, it’s simply about completing what’s been assigned. They’ve learned the homework dance, and they just do it as part of the do-si-do with a teacher.
  • Some students see the progress they make when they do the homework. Math actually gets easier when you do the homework; so does Hebrew.
  • Some students earn prizes for the homework, and they find those prizes to be enticing enough to spend some time with the work. Goodness know, sometimes the homework itself is interesting enough to be enticing; but I’m not sure how often that happens.
  • For some students, it’s all about getting their parents to stop  nagging  – which I would argue is a disincentive for parents to support more homework added to their children’s plates. Most of us don’t really like to nag and don’t want another reason to do it.

I’d like to consider two incentives that I think would be of universal value to Jewish families

  • First, if students develop strong decoding skills and a good grounding in the prayer service, they don’t need as much one-on-one tutoring for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah service So, there’s a material, economic incentive here, not to mention a gain in real time for other activities that pick up during middle school.
  • Second, a constant commitment to Hebrew study transforms Hebrew into something more important, a skill that transcends the Bar or Bat Mitzvah event. Further, Jewish learning becomes a clearer value. This work we are doing in Religious School is not about the Bar or Bat Mitzvah event; it’s about the life-long cultivation of a Jewish identity.

Training in the care and feeding of a thriving Jewish soul should be our ultimate goal – certainly not the few hours it takes to lead a service and make a family kvell. That’s a lovely moment in a family’s life, but it hasn’t proven itself as a healthy indicator of a long life of engagement with Judaism.

We want our children to blossom with Jewish spirit, to spread roots in a Jewish community, and to bear Jewish fruit every season of their lives – meaning to participate in Tikkun Olam, to educate the younger generation, to express their Jewish vision through the arts, to develop healthy psyches with the support of ritual and faith, and, for some, to give us Jewish grandchildren.

Hebrew can be one of the tools for developing and sustaining a Jewish identity, and we need to help families see it that way, so that no matter what incentives we offer in the classroom – be it chocolate, stickers, a party, or a day off – the longer term incentive retains its value. Hebrew is the language of our ancestors, our history, our literature, and our modern sovereign state. It’s even better than chocolate!

Stay tuned for another post about how Hebrew helps develop and sustain my own Jewish identity. I was going to include that here, but I didn’t want to digress . . . and yet I did digress, just now . . . enough! מספיק זה מספיק

Found Another Way to Grieve

Today, I read a beautiful piece by Virginia Avniel Spatz on the ReformJudaism.Org site. She talked about adding the names of victims of gun violence to our Kaddish list, and you should visit her blog, Say this Name, to learn more.

A few months ago, I wrote an essay opposing this practice of stretching the Kaddish to include people who might not be our first degree, Jewish relatives. Reading Spatz’s piece has changed my mind.

It wasn’t the p’shat of her piece – the surface meaning of the language – rather it was the sodthe inspired understanding, otherwise hidden. The p’shat, while stated beautifully, was no different, at its heart, than anything I had heard or read before. We ache, we grieve, we want to show solidarity, and we want to shed light on these preventable losses. However, that is not convincing to me.

The sod of her piece is another story, though. That inspired understanding arose from her headline: “These are our Neighbors.”

There are two pieces to this inspiration. First, in Leviticus 19:18, we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Second, in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 34, we are commanded to love the stranger as ourselves.

On its face – by its p’shat — and in its sod, this text from Leviticus explains why I will stand as a mourner for victims of gun violence. Even if they are strangers, they are neighbors, and neighbors are to be mourned as though we had lost our deepest loves, our own hearts.

In fact, I will probably stand for every recitation of the Kaddish, remembering victims of all kinds of violence, remembering those who die of preventable diseases, those who die alone.

In short, I will stand for the stranger, whom I love like my neighbor, whom I love like myself.

NOTE: With regard to flying the flag at half-staff, I still think we should reserve that practice for the specific uses it was intended. See this text for more. On the other hand, how much better would this country be if we all lived by the equivalencies so beautifully implied in Leviticus 19:18 and 19:34. The tug-o-war between universalism and particularism is daunting and fascinating at the same time. But . . . it took me this long . . . I digress.

Chanukah, O Chanukah (A Parody)

(Sung to the tune of Chanukah, O Chanukah)

Chanukah, O Chanukah, come light the fedora!
Let’s have some lipids and then have some more-ah.
Gather ’round the fry pan, it smells really sweet.
Shiny bits of oil, leap out at your feet.
But why do
our dreidels
appear to be standing on point?
One then another,
like Zayde and her brother,
come whirling on their own across the joint.
One then another
like Zayde and her brother,
come whirling on their own across the joint.

Chanukah, O Chanukah, it’s not in the Torah.
We all get together with stuff from the store-ah.
Don’t forget the dreidels, they’re small and compact.
If you dis the dreidels, they’re bound to attack.
But if you
can live through
the melee they’ll wreak to and fro,
sweep them up like tsochkes
and grab a plate of latkes
and doze off in the dwindling candles’ glow.
Sweep them up like tsochkes
and grab a plate of latkes
and doze off in the dwindling candles’ glow.

Find Another Way to Grieve

The United States is flying flags at half staff right now, in compliance with a proclamation by President Obama, demonstrating that “the American people stand with the people of France.”halfstaff

I understand the motivation, but I disagree with the proclamation.

In our synagogue, during religious school, we recited Kaddish for those who died in the terror attacks in France and Lebanon. Kaddish is a Jewish prayer designed for Jews to say in memory of their first degree relatives – not cousins, not dear friends, not whole villages, not a classroom full of elementary school students – but parents, children, spouses, siblings.

I understand the motivation, but I disagree with the choice.

The motivation is some parts grief and some parts compassion mixed with many parts helplessness. We just don’t know how to respond to the loss of life in Paris, nor the loss of life in Jerusalem, nor Syria, nor Tennessee State University.

However, by that logic, how could we ever fly the flag at its finial?

How do we respond to the preventable deaths in Nigeria where, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (http://www.acleddata.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ACLED_Conflict-Trends-Report-No.40-August-2015_pdf.pdf

Political violence in Nigeria resulted in 980 reported fatali-

ties in July, the highest count since March 2015. This in-

crease in fatalities is largely due to the actions of Boko

Haram, which has increased its campaign of violence

against civilians.

And children who die of starvation and preventable illness? How do we respond to those losses? To the stabbing victims in Jerusalem and to the Palestinian shooting victims at checkpoints? How do we ever let a single flag rest at its finial?

How do we ever let a day go by without reciting Kaddish for all innocent victims if we ever say Kaddish for any innocent victims?

And, in the case of the Kaddish, aren’t we doing the same thing the Mormon’s do when they baptize our ancestors by proxy when we recite the Kaddish for people who may not want us to recite Kaddish for them? Can you imagine Bill Maher’s horror at the idea of me reciting Kaddish for him? Surely there are victims in Paris who would also be offended . . . but I digress.

And, it is very important to remember, we don’t all agree on who is a victim. We can be blind to the people who are too different from us or the people whose aims are not our own aims. No one’s blood is redder than anyone else’s, and most causes are righteous in someone’s eyes. But I digress . . . kind of.

I want to suggest that we find another act of reverence, another spiritual practice worthy of the tragedies in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, Newtown, and in our communities. If you want to pray, pray for peace and wholeness, relief and understanding, compassion for us and compassion for others. If you want to publicly display your reverence and solidarity, find a new symbol, flying our flag with the flags of other nations, lighting a special group of candles or a candle with the colors of all the flags of the world. Come up with something else; I’m listening.

And yet, these expressions of grief and unity still miss the point. The best way to honor the memories of people who lose their lives to the horrors of terrorism, war, poverty, disease, gun violence, and every other preventable cause is to lend our hands to the work to end these preventable causes. We should dedicate hours of volunteer time to social justice projects; do it in the name of the people you are aching for if that helps. Or simply reach out to someone who seems disaffected, listen to her story, hear his experience, ask for ideas.

Maybe it’s appropriate to use our national mourning practice to mourn international tragedy and maybe it’s appropriate to use our Jewish mourning practice to mourn the multitudes of victims of poverty, violence, and hatred. It is good to say that we care about all who dwell on Earth, kol yoshvei tevel. I just hope that we will be particularly mindful of what we might lose when we co-opt a sacred, reverent observance that can’t be replaced by some other practice.

Thinking About Being That Jew

A friend and colleague of mine sent me a link to this video — I’m That Jew, by Eitan Chitayat. I loved it, mostly, and I love what it is trying to do, mostly. But, like many other videos about being Jewish and being Am Yisrael (the people of Israel), it also feels like propaganda, and I can’t help feeling that I’m a sucker for this stuff, which is different from actually agreeing with it.

Mostly, it makes me proud and makes me feel known — which I think is a basic human desire; certainly it’s a core desire of mine. Mostly, it puts into words things I can’t seem to articulate when I face uncertainty or threat. Mostly, it reflects the things I love about Judaism: the wish to be a functional family that is open and tolerant internally and externally, the wish to honor tradition and stories in ways that honor humanity, the wish to be expressive and persuasive.

I’m That Jew also reminds me of the words of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to be afraid. The video captures the nature of the tiny bridge we stand on, crossing over hatred and hardship and violence that has been hurled at us and hurled by us. It is hard not to fear on that very narrow bridge, and sometimes, I fear, that I have fallen off and I just haven’t realized it yet.

However, I also feel a different kind of fear — like we shouldn’t be so cocky. Maybe that’s from growing up in the South where the Klan still had a billboard a few miles outside my Girl Scout camp, maybe that’s from growing up in the generation that followed the Shoah (the Holocaust), maybe that’s just because history is a much longer story than our experience in the past few decades might suggest, maybe – and this is when I start to wonder if I’ve fallen off that very narrow bridge – maybe that’s because other peoples are in the crosshairs right now and I feel guilty for feeling safer because of their danger.

I also feel like something’s missing from I’m That Jew. We are the Jews who bought the story we were told about how the Arabs abandoned their homes to us in 1948, for no reason but cowardice or some divine guidance that the land was ours or something. That, of course, is not true.

But, in the end, I think I am grateful for I’m That Jew. What this video awakens in me is the idea that we are Jews who are human and to be human is to struggle with impulse, hunger, fear, pain, and so on according to some rules that we believe will make the world a better place. We’re not the only people who play by sacred rules and we’re not the only people who break our sacred rules; but we don’t give up on those rules.

In the end, I think that we are the people who, when we say We’re only human, it’s not an excuse. It’s a declaration of hope and faith that what we were created to be is a blessing to ourselves and the world.

So, I guess, I’m that Jew.

Special thanks to Isabel Geffner who sent me the link to I’m That Jew.

Geulah — Redemption

With thanks to Rabbi Leah Berkowitz, Stacy Lubov, and Rabbi John Friedman for helping me create  a prayerbook for our Religious School. I’ve always wanted to see this prayer go farther, so I’m putting it here.

Through a sea, across a desert, over a river, and finally home:

God has been with us everywhere.

Guiding us, inspiring us, saving us, and encouraging us:

God has been with us all the time.

Out of slavery, over defeat, around obstacles, and with our million questions:

God has been here, for us, with us, and in us.

Everywhere.

All the time.

Listen for Long Term Learning

I teach Hebrew — I swear I do — but I’m not sure anyone’s learning Hebrew from me. It’s very frustrating, it’s a little embarrassing, and it’s Sisyphean — and yes, I had to look up how to spell that word. I  teach  80 minutes of my once-a-week Hebrew class, but if that’s all the Hebrew students get during the week, nothing’s going to stick.

If the only time a student sees and hears the word לילה is in the class when they study the prayer Ma’ariv Aravim, the learning will quickly dry up and shrivel.

I think I know what would make all that Hebrew stick, and it’s cheap, it’s pretty easy, and it might be fun. We should be listening to Hebrew with our kids from the time they are babies. Include Hebrew lullabies at night: Tanja Solnik’s version of Numi, Numi, Craig Taubman’s Lailah Tov, and David Paskin’s B’yado are beautiful ways to end a day. Two of those songs appear on the album Jewish Lullabies, Volume 1, which features several other wonderful performers. Learn these songs and do your own singing, and you will enrich your young child’s connection to Hebrew even more deeply. Plus, you’ll learn some pretty useful Hebrew, too. Back in my day . . . she said scratching her beard . . . we didn’t have all these options for music — at least, I didn’t know about them — so I just sang the few texts I knew at bedtime for my children: Oseh Shalom and Eitz Chaim Hi. At that time, I never thought about singing the Sh’ma and Hashkiveinu.

NOTE: I just returned from NewCAJE 6, a conference on Jewish education, you should send your teachers to NewCAJE 7 . . . but I digress . . . but you should really send your teachers there . . . and while these folks weren’t on my radar before, you should check out Ellen Allard, Abbie Strauss, Mama Doni and Eric Lindberg, and lots more, of course. (Oy Songs is a great place to find Jewish music and hear a clip before you buy.) AND . . . AND . . . AND . . . Elena Jagoda, whom I’ve been told is great and then discovered on my own by chance. I’m going to stop adding names now; there are many more.

As your children develop their English skills through exposure to language, so can they develop their Hebrew skills through exposure to language. Add Hebrew songs to their playlists before they start building their own playlists, play Hebrew music in the car, make Hebrew place mats, maybe with Hebrew food words and phrases. I’m still looking for Hebrew dubbed Harry Potter movies, but I know there are several Hebrew dubbed Disney songs on YouTube. For older kids, you can find some funny Israeli ads.

Play Hebrew games: With four sets of Hebrew flash cards, you can play Go Fish, I Doubt It (commonly known as B.S.), Crazy Eights, Rummy-style games (without the sequenced sets), and lots more.

Use Hebrew catch phrases: greetings, cues, jokes, and more.

And for goodness’ sake, text your kids in Hebrew. That’ll teach them to roll their eyes at you when you can’t figure out how to turn off your ringer. Switch your keyboard to Hebrew and type . . .

אני פה
when you’re waiting outside the mall to pick them up (or anywhere else) to say I’m here;

איפה את to a girl
or
איפה אתה to a boy
or
איפה אתם to a group

to say where are you?

or

מצחיק
instead of LOL (Laughing Out Loud — though לוֹל could work too and for something really funny לוֹלים or would that be לוֹלוֹת? But I digress . . . )

The idea is to take every opportunity to squeeze in a little Hebrew, as though it were nothing more than a snack or your daily walk to the park. The idea is to create a practice of owning Hebrew as you own your family stories. The idea is to seed children’s lives with the sound and symbols of Hebrew so that they have a lively, vital culture upon which to build their formal Hebrew studies.

When we study the prayer Ma’ariv Aravim and we hit that phrase בורא יום ולילה what I want to hear in my class is this: Hey! That’s the same word as my dad says when we go to bed. And what I want you to hear at bed time is this: Hey! We learned that word in a prayer today!

That would be some mighty sticky learning.