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.

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

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.

Moral Mondays in North Carolina

If you squint your eyes really tightly and hold your head just so, you can almost see the white hoods and brown shirts on the hangers in the coatroom at the North Carolina State Legislature. Oh, yes, I know that’s harsh and hyperbolic, but to paraphrase Meredith Wilson’s Christmas song, it’s beginning to look a lot like the turn of the 19th Century . . . everywhere we go.

On June 3, 2013, I participated in a demonstration, organized by the NC NAACP, and an act of Civil Disobedience regarding the legislation passed and heading for passage in our Legislature. For example, one example among many, the plans to cut taxes on the rich and the corporations and make up for those cuts with an increase in sales tax – which means that the poorer you are, the heavier your tax burden.

I was arrested for my participation in the demonstration, and, while it was a difficult experience, my fear and pain and hunger was eased by two things. First, there were a lot of people with me, working with me to keep our spirits up, to remember our cause, and to cheer each other on as we progressed through the Wake County Detention Center. I am very grateful to the people who were arrested with me and to the people who greeted us with cheers as we boarded the bus to the detention center, several hours after the arrest, and greeted us with hugs and food when we were finally released pending our court date, several more hours later.

Second, my experience was nowhere near as difficult as the experiences of the people who came before me, the people who sat at lunch counters and sat at the front of the bus and marched across bridges into hostile towns and registered voters in the shadow of murderers. I cannot watch our Legislators erode the progress that was made at a much higher cost than I paid Monday night. I cannot ask people less privileged than I am to sacrifice what little they have to stand up for rights that should never have been challenged in the first place. I cannot gripe in the background and wonder why no one listens. I have to speak up in the light, stand with the people, and take the risks for myself.

As I said in the Legislature building on Monday: When I study the Torah, study the Bible, which I do a fair bit, and when I pray, which I do a little less, I always learn the same thing. Love your neighbor, be kind to the stranger, and pursue justice. So I have to act when I see that we are not caring for our neighbors when they need help, we are isolating the stranger, and we are stifling the voices of people who have every right to be heard.

 

A Tale of Two Moocs: Serendipity, Synchronicity, and Simple Survival

When I started participating in my first MOOC experience, through Coursera, there were around 60,000 people in the class with me. Now there are around 4000. This is my Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course, in which Professor Keith Devlin tries to help us transition from High School Math (yes, that was back in the days before you could fit a computer on a desk, in my case) to University Math (yes, that was before Fermat’s Last Theorem was a twinkle in Andrew Wiles’ clever eye).

A few weeks after starting Professor Devlin’s course, I started Dan Ariely’s course, A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Thinking. Not sure how many people were in that class when it started, nor how many are still there; all I know is that I’m still there and I don’t have any time to do anything but the required work, so I’ve missed all the discussion forums. It’s still been a terrific experience, though.

Taken on their own, each class has been a joy — even though the math class has me howling at the imperfectly round moon. Taken together, the two classes are so beautifully entwined that I can’t imagine these two professors don’t require students to take them simultaneously. Of course the MOOC paradigm doesn’t really provide a way to require anything, but students who take only one of these two classes are missing something amazing.

The math class is about precise expression and clear processing of abstractions. The behavioral economics class is all about how we humans misunderstand, resist, ignore, defy, and strive to obscure precise expression and clear processing of real world data. One class helps me understand what ‘belongs’ in a set and what doesn’t; the other class helps me understand what happens when we fray the edges of these sets. One class helps me understand how to prove something abstract; the other class helps me understand how to obfuscate what can be clearly proved. One class helps me understand identity; the other helps me understand how confused we can be about identity.

These days, I can hardly choose between an apple and a cupcake at a meal, let alone between a policy and its negation at a board meeting, without thinking about what I know and what I don’t want to know. And that’s an extremely satisfying state to be in, from my point of view.

30-Day Tzitzit Challenge: Frayed

I am not wearing my tzitzit today. My previous blog, also posted today, will explain, in detail, why I am not wearing my tzitzit today.

But in case you want to skip the rant, I thought I’d post this shortened version.

I cannot pretend that these fringes are sacred when they represent so much that I think is corrupt and contemptible. Like the divided Kotel in Jerusalem, and the Chabad rabbis who won’t shake a woman’s hand, for me, the tzitzit represent blind adherence to halakhah. I can’t say what tzitzit represent for anyone else, on a personal level, but, for me, that’s what they represent.

And I reject blind adherence even when it is harmless. When it is harmful, degrading, or plain stupid, I condemn it. So, just like I refrained from approaching the Kotel, I think I’ll have to refrain from affixing the tzitzit to my clothes.

30-Day Tzitzit Challenge: The Bright Side

Halfway through the 30-Day Tzitzit Challenge, the moon is full and white and crisp as tracing paper, and I have developed a practice I hope I will continue to cultivate after the challenge is over. Every morning when I affix my tzitzit to my make-shift tallit katan, I meditate on four ideals: Peace, Patience, Compassion, and Clarity.

Growing up, these where values that pervaded my Jewish education, formal and informal. As an adult, too, I find these values upheld in many of our sacred texts. Isaiah admonishes us not to fast if it’s only going to give us an excuse to abuse the people around us, Micah instructs us on what is good and what the Lord doth require: Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. The book of Leviticus — that compendium of arguablly finicky  rules and regulations — obliges us not to speak insults to a deaf person. Hillel tells us that we must strive to be nothing more and nothing less than human. Into modernity, much of our theology and spiritual approach is related to repairing the world, remembering the stranger, and being kind to each other. And you can’t get very far in Jewish prayer without some heartfelt plea for peace.

As I gripe and moan about how the Ultra-Orthadox have hijacked Judaism in Israel, about how Chasidism and/or fundamentalism has hurled offenses at women, about how my tzitzit seem to bring the worst of Judaism into stark relief, I betray the gift of this practice.

I have started each day — for the last week or so — remembering these ideals that feel so keenly Jewish, so compelling, and so important. I have thought of them all day long. And I have fallen asleep with them on my bedside table, waiting for me to renew my commitment to them each morning.

Peace. Patience. Clarity. Compassion.

30-Day Tzitzit Challenge: Tzitzit and the Joys of Family Life

During the 30-Day Tzitzit Challenge, I’m finding myself fretting over whether to wear the fringes or not when I’m working around the house. Starting the day before Thanksgiving, my tzitzit began to take on a whole new significance: Tzitzit are a real obstacle to many of the daily chores of running a family. That’s why women are exempt from the obligation. We have too much messy work to do at too many odd times.

However, this exemption seems unfair from at least two angles. First, the cynic in me objects to the idea that men are exempt from the messy work of parenting and housekeeping by virtue of those tzitzit and everything they stand for. Second, the simple optimist in me objects to the idea that men are excluded from the messy work of parenting and housekeeping on account of those tzitzit and everything they stand for.

I confess: given a choice between plucking my eyebrows or cleaning the bathroom, I’d probably burst into tears because I hate both. I’d gladly affix those tzitzit to every article of clothing I own if it meant I never had to clean the bathroom again. However, I also know that my husband delighted in caring for our children, especially the messy stuff. And my sons begged to mix casseroles, bake bread, and shape matzah balls. I can’t imagine limiting my sons’ nor my husband’s experience of family life to those things that wouldn’t sully the tzitzit dangling about their hips.

Surely, Chasidic Jewish fathers find ways to wrestle with their kids and still wear tzitzit; how could they be happy if they didn’t? Do they ever get a chance to turn a lumpy, sticky mass of flour, yeast, and water into a smooth, fragrant, spongy ball of dough, awaiting the oven? Do they ever splash through a creek, kneel in the mud, or roll in a pile of leaves? Do they explore thick jungles or climb into the canopies of rain forests? And – okay, I’m going there – do they ever get to survey the bathroom they just cleaned and sigh with relief and pride?

I’m just wondering.