Apr. 8th, 2015 11:39 am
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I'm having a really good Passover this year. I want to write it up so I can look back on this week, but it's mostly just boring to people who are not me diary stuff.

religion and social )

Happy purim

Mar. 5th, 2015 11:35 am
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So a couple of weeks ago I helped run a bar mitzvah in our synagogue. And we ended up getting a write-up in the Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper that exists primarily so that British Jews can call eachother to point out that someone they know is in the JC. Anyway I somehow get referred to as Professor, which is very embarrassing indeed. (In the UK Professor is a title of merit, not a job title, it's very bad to be called that when you haven't earned it.) But it's also the case that here a picture in a national newspaper, showing me, who most people will correctly presume to be female, [pretending to] read the Torah in an Orthodox synagogue. Where up to now we have been small enough and provincial enough to be pretty much under the radar with our shockingly egalitarian ways.

This has led to the Chabad rabbi from Manchester phoning everybody he has contact details for, railing about how terrible it is to let a woman read the Megillah, the ceremonial scroll of the book of Esther for Purim. I don't know where he's coming from halachically, considering that reading Megillah is the one thing that even most gender-essentialist sources say that women can do, but there you go. He's been threatening that the community will be cursed if they do this very important mitzvah wrong, and also trying to bribe people by offering to hold a break-away service in the pub and buy everybody drinks if they come and listen to his reading instead of my gender-inappropriate one.

My lovely community were unanimously loyal to me, partly because we don't like random Chabadniks showing up and trying to cozen the community away from our synagogue. And at least in part because everybody prefers my fun dramatic reading where I do all the dialogue in silly voices and give snarky summaries in English and make Haman talk like Nigel Farage, over the rabbi's very fast mumbly chant in a thick Yiddish accent. I am so tempted to dress up as the Chabad rabbi next year, with a false beard, and offer people cheap vodka and sawdusty excessively parve cakes, but maybe that wouldn't be in good taste. But this is another chapter in an ongoing saga.

In fact I dressed up as a backwards person, wearing a mask on the back of my head and a jacket and shirt buttoned at the back, plus my hair in a ponytail over my forehead, which caused much amusement. It was a smaller purim than we sometimes have, as several of our regulars are away and most parents didn't want to bring children to a weekday evening event. We did have an Elsa and a mummy, who both found presents they wanted in my bag of kids' presents, so that was something. Reverend Malcom Weisman turned up, not particularly in his capacity as minister for small communities but just because he was on the way home from Lancaster and wanted to drop by and hear Megillah, and he was very supportive.

And then I went out for meal at the local Italian that was offering a mid-week deal, and on to Hector Garcia's for a cocktail instead of dessert. Their special was a tiramisu drink, made of kahlua and vodka and cream and flavoured with vanilla and chocolate. I like cream-based cocktails, and I liked sitting in this somewhat chain-ish but pleasant tapas bar drinking my dessert and drunk-texting people to say I love them. Some of my friends were especially lovely and said they'd have a cocktail that evening, so I was sort of virtually drinking with friends instead of by myself. And I do love all the people I said it to, and I don't have to be drunk to say so, just I was in a particularly sentimental mood, having successfully run an event and settled down to relax with alcohol.

Also thanks to [personal profile] kass for pointing to Purimgifts and explaining how to navigate the AO3 page for it. I've been having a lot of fun browsing through stories that are either midrash, or are in fandoms I'm familiar with. I particularly enjoyed In the citadel of Susa, a Vashti POV take on Esther.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
I have to admit that some of what's behind my generally low / anxious mood lately is the news. I normally don't react very emotionally to hearing about things like terrorist attacks. It's a tragedy, I feel sad for the bereaved, but it doesn't feel personal, and it doesn't affect me much more than knowing that people are dying in wars and road accidents every day and not making news headlines. But the events in Paris this month have really got to me, not so much the attacks themselves as the reactions to it.

antisemitism, islamophobia, freeze peach )

This is the kind of thing it's probably more foolish to put on the internet than talking openly about my sexuality. But never mind, I generally trust my readership to respond sensitively when I'm talking about really hard stuff.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] randomling asked for some recs for books/movies/other media that might give me a bit of an idea of the insider's view of British Jewish culture!

This is a totally great question, thank you [personal profile] randomling! (As an aside, it is emphatically not good etiquette to pester people from minority cultures for introductory resources, but for me personally, I am very happy to answer those kinds of questions from friends, and I said this to [personal profile] randomling when they mentioned wanting to ask about media recs. And I'm usually happy to answer intro type questions from strangers too, as long as I judge they're asking in good faith.)

some recs )

There must be more I'm not thinking of, but let me post this just to squeak in before midnight and get back on schedule!

[December Days masterpost]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So I've just lit the first candle, and I have some bhajis cooking, and it's time to answer [personal profile] kass' prompt about chanukah:
Since Chanukah falls during December this year, how about a Chanukah post? Favorite thing about it, least favorite thing about it, favorite interpretation, a Chanukah memory -- whatever sounds like fun.

cute but theologically problematic )

Anyway, happy chanukah if you're celebrating! Does anyone know where I can source (in the UK) Fair Trade chanukah gelt / chocolate coins?

[December Days masterpost]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So most of two years ago [personal profile] kerrypolka asked me about the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and I accidentally wrote five thousand words about the history and politics of Anglo-Jewry instead. So in this regular posting meme round, [personal profile] jack asked me again what the deal is with the Board.

let's have a go )

Anyway both my parents are Deputies, my Dad representing their local community in Cambridge, and my Mum one of a small number of representatives of the Reform movement as a whole. So I am hoping to get them to write a guest post some time cos they can talk more knowledgeably about the Board than I can. But generally I think the Board, for all its flaws, is a pretty excellent thing for the community to be able to support, giving the Jewish community as a whole a voice in politics and the media which is secular and political rather than purely based on religion.

[December Days masterpost]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So [personal profile] jack asked for Moar awesome Talmud stories. And in January I started my daily posting by talking about midrash, so it seems nice to carry on from there. It does feel very strange to be posting anything from the Talmud without looking it up, let alone giving a proper daf reference, but anyway. It turns out that I haven't actually posted the story of the highwayman who fell in love with the rabbi here, but since this topic was [personal profile] jack's request and he's definitely heard that story, let me try something else.

The tale of Mr and Mrs Ookba )

[December Days masterpost. Still a couple of slots free!]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I've had a generally wonderful weekend, a chance to relax at home properly for the first time in too long, and time with friends and some new potentials opening up. And I was just catching up with some social media during a quieter moment Sunday afternoon and learned that my teacher R' Sheila Shulman had died at the weekend. She'd been seriously ill, and she wasn't far off 80, and after I'd seen several posts I realized that when people were talking about "saying goodbye" to her, they meant literally, not just being sad at the news of her death, but actually present, she was surrounded by her students and friends and colleagues, a substantial fraction of the people whose lives she changed. So I can say, blessed is Judge of truth, and it tastes less bitter than some of the times I have to say it. But I can't wholeheartedly believe in a good death, because the person is gone no matter at what age and in what circumstances.

as much about me as about Sheila )

Because of Sheila I didn't have to leave Judaism when I came out, or even really come into conflict with it. Because of her, and the people she encouraged to be rabbis when they weren't the obvious type, I didn't give up on Judaism as being simplistically comforting superstition or a club for "people like us". Because of her and her influence, I'm able to be open to joy from an unexpected place, and to come to those potentials from a place of spiritual integrity. It's traditional to wish when reporting a death, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life It seems to me that R' Shulman's soul, the things she dedicated herself to so wholeheartedly against all opposition, really is bound up in the life of the community. My community, for all its flaws.

Holy Days

Oct. 18th, 2014 08:49 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So yesterday was Simchat Torah, which is the last of the big season of festivals. And lo, I have survived and all the many many events I needed to run in the past three weeks have worked successfully. There's an Israeli LOLcat / reaction gif doing the rounds of my FB feeds, with the cat looking shocked and horrified and the text saying "when you realize that 'after the festivals' means now". And yeah, there are a lot of things I need to sort out that I've been putting off until 'after the festivals', but many of them are fun social things, and my life really does look a lot more manageable from here on.

festival and Sweden trip reports )

I couldn't be more glad I went, I had a wonderful time even if it was nerve-wracking. And I'm so nostalgic for Stockholm and my little community there, wow. I've started thinking again that I might investigate applying to rabbinical school, because doing all this has just been so satisfying. I mean, I realize that if I were an actual rabbi everybody would criticize me for not doing things the way they want, instead of being so grateful to me for filling in a gap by volunteering, but even so.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Oh. My. Life! It's the middle of the High Holy Days, right, I'm up to my eyes preparing half a dozen major events in 3 weeks. And term started yesterday and I have a new PhD student, so work is fairly overwhelming too. So the day before the New Year, I get an urgent message from an old friend in Sweden asking me to come and run the Progressive Jewish community's big annual showcase event, because the person who was supposed to be doing it has pulled out for overriding personal reasons. And obviously every Jewish professional is massively busy at this season, and apparently they remember me fondly from 5 years back...

I mean, I can do a full weekend of activities with a mix of social, liturgy and Jewish study. I can even do it at short notice, if I have to. I can liaise with a bunch of people in a different country who have strong views about how they want to run things and haven't necessarily come to a consensus before consulting me. But to do this when the two weeks between hearing about it and it actually happening contain Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur and the start of term, that's a big ask. To cap it off, I am walking into two politically fraught situations, both at the national politics level (Sweden has just had national elections with a massive swing to the far-right party), and at the community politics level (the broader community just sacked their rabbi because he was too successful at his brief of attracting young people to synagogue and making things more dynamic, and it turns out the old stalwarts don't like change.) And again, I can handle politically fraught, but only if I have really plenty of time to prepare, not just intellectually but talking to people and sounding out what the issues are and where I need to tread carefully.

Also, would you believe that the theme for the weekend is "how to deal with legitimate criticism of Israel in a climate of anti-semitism". Um. That is waaaaaay the hell outside my comfort zone, very hard to teach in a text-based way, and likely to provoke some really passionate and potentially conflicting responses.

anxieties )

Oh, and in other news the university has invited me as a special guest to attend a lecture by former Archbishop The Rt Rev & Rt Hon Lord Rowan Williams. I assume because they wanted to showcase interfaith diversity, but it's weird that I've ended up as someone the university trots out to meet VIPs. The lecture is public, but I get to attend a formal dinner as well. I'm kind of excited about this, but also I could do without it being 24 hours before the start of Yom Kippur.


Sep. 23rd, 2014 08:56 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Way back in January I promised [personal profile] lethargic_man that I'd talk about which bits of the High Holy Day liturgy make me cry, and I didn't get round to it at all. And now the festival season has come round again and my head is in the machzor, the special prayer book for this time of year. So I might as well finally answer that question from months back!

detailed liturgy discussion )

Also this year I'm going to preach on the Haftarah, the reading from the Prophets, Isaiah 57–58. Partly inspired by this really excellent sermon by a Christian friend of mine, in fact.

And now I should really go and finish learning the liturgy, instead of sitting here crying over the poetic bits.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I've promised my community I'll do a study session on minyan for Shavuot, particularly on why we need a minyan to say Kaddish. I know this stuff fairly well on a general level, and can probably put something together that will be informative and provoke discussion. But I don't have actual texts, and, well, I threw out all my Jewish learning notes when I downsized. Mainly because they were just in big disorganized piles taking up space and I wasn't that convinced I'd ever be able to find anything. When I say texts, I mean really basic stuff like the Mishnah.

Also, fellow Jewish educators, whether professional or informal, what's a sensible amount to charge for one-to-one BM tuition? The mother of the kid I'm working with is absolutely insisting on paying me in spite of my protests, and I want to give her a reasonable figure. Basically the lessons are half an hour to 45 minutes, with about the same amount of prep time. My best guess is somewhere around £20 per lesson, but I really don't know if that's way too low or way too high.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] mathcathy offered a very thought-provoking prompt: Reflections on the beginning of a new year, both calendar and Jewish - compare and contrast.

ring in the new )

[January Journal masterlist]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] angelofthenorth asked me about Jewish history that resonates the most. This is going to be a short post, partly because I'm away for [personal profile] nou's Croydon Fun Weekend and haven't got much time online. Also partly because I really don't know very much history; my history is anecdotes and stuff I happen to have read popular books or historical fiction about.

the golden age )

[January Journal masterlist]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
2014 seems to have showed up rather faster than I expected. So I'm going to start on my intended daily blogging, and set aside my planned posts about things like what I've been up to over Christmas and my review of 2013 and so on. Anyway, happy New Year to all.

[personal profile] angelofthenorth asked for my Favourite Midrash. I'm never good at picking favourites )

[January Journal masterlist; there's still quite a few spaces so do feel free to add some more prompts even if you didn't get to it in December! Or indeed to make a second request if you're already in the list.]
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Lots of my friends are taking against the wearing of poppies and the marking of Remembrance Day, on the grounds that the event is shifting from its original context to being an excuse for nationalism and unpleasant, pro-military politics. And horrible ostentatious displays of competitive patriotism. [ profile] AngrySamPoet calls the two-minute silence a two-minute hate. I know people who refuse to wear a poppy and people who wear white poppies as well as or instead of the British Legion red poppy, as a protest against the militaristic distortion of the event. And people who like to rate charities on grounds of either efficiency or approved politics aren't great fans of the British Legion.

I definitely respect this attitude; I'm not at all pro-war and don't approve of either fetishizing of soldiers and military stuff, or the kind of "patriotism" which shades into xenophobia or positioning white middle class English values from a couple of generations ago as some kind of ideal. At the same time a lot of people I interact with genuinely desire to commemorate those killed in or by wars, and I do think that's much more in the spirit of what Remembrance Day is about. That includes older people who were personally affected by WW2 and whose parents were affected by WW1, and it includes veterans who are mourning relatives and comrades. (Actually I went to a party last week that was full of my contemporaries and a mostly liberal sort of crowd, so I didn't transfer my poppy when I got dressed for the party, thinking there would be more people there who would be offended by a poppy badge than its absence. In fact I was about the only guest not wearing a poppy, which I think implies I've misjudged the mood of my social group based on a small number of people who are very ranty against Remembrance Day.) Mostly though, I have been wearing a poppy for the past week or so, because I don't feel passionately enough anti Remembrance Day that I want to give insult to this group of people.

For similar reasons I agreed to lead a memorial service in synagogue at the weekend, within our Saturday morning service. This weekend was also the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. I was a bit concerned that the two acts of remembrance don't combine very well, but there you go. I mentioned that Jews fought in both sides in the First War, which is much harder to cast as a clear-cut good versus evil sort of conflict. I connected the violence of Kristallnacht and everything else that followed from that with the dangers of excessive nationalism and xenophobia. I avoided painting a rosy picture of WW2 as unambiguously about rescuing people from Nazi genocide.

I was telling friends that I was quite pleased with the service I put together, and with my sermon which connected last week's Torah reading to the anniversaries, via a completely amazing midrash about Rachel and theodicy. And some people encouraged me to actually post the sermon. I should note that I always speak ad lib when I'm preaching (or lecturing, for that matter) so this isn't a verbatim transcript of what I said, but I think a fairly close reconstruction. For people not familiar with how Jewish liturgy is structured, what I did was that I read Genesis 28:10 – 30:13, not in the sonorous language of the King James Version, but with my own running translation into conversational English. Then I spoke a little bit about the two commemorations as I've described, and people recited the memorial prayer (God who bore us in your womb... grant perfect rest beneath the shelter of your wings to the departed souls...). Then we completed the ceremony of reading Torah, and after that came my sermon.

I still feel posting sermons is kind of bad form )
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Had the most brilliant weekend, after a bad start with travel woes Friday evening. Saturday I got to spend some time with [personal profile] jack and we made progress on our long-term anti-geography plan. And then we went to a really nice housewarming party at [ profile] sonicdrift and [ profile] mobbsy's absolutely gorgeous amazing new place. That was full of people I really like, and extremely excellent food, and everybody was gratifyingly enthusiastic about my plans to spend more time in Cambridge in the future.

And Sunday was the Cambridge Limmud, which was my main reason for being in town. Cambridge Limmud has a kind of ongoing dispute with the national organization because they tend to create a programme which is what the org considers "too intellectual". Not surprisingly I love having a very academic-y programme, and the huge advantage Cambridge has is that the committee, being mostly university people, are extremely well connected and in a position to pull strings and invite some really impressive speakers. [ profile] ewx asked me if [personal profile] lethargic_man was going to be there because LM's Limmud write-ups are always really interesting, which reminded me that I should probably put up some notes of the cool stuff I learned.

mostly ended up being about identity )

Apologies if that's either too technical or too simplified! I'm happy to explain anything that isn't clear in these rather sparse notes.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
Several months ago, [personal profile] pretty_panther asked me:
I was wondering how you feel the UK is as a nation when it comes to an attitude towards Jewish people? [...] I've heard some say anti-semitism is still a huge issue in the UK and others say it isn't. [...] How do you feel the UK is doing on that front? Do you feel you face discrimination as a result of your religion at all? If so, is there anything I can do about it as a member of the public?

I've been meaning to make a post addressing this for ages, and had too much on my plate over the summer. And now it's kind of topical again with the whole protracted and quite possibly artificially stoked row between the Daily Mail and Ed Milliband. So let's have a go.

mostly personal experience and opinions, limited analysis )

To answer [personal profile] pretty_panther's question about what members of the public can do: I think just generally promoting multiculturalism helps a lot. Make a bit of an effort to learn something about Judaism, question stereotyped portrayals or challenge them if you feel confident about it. Exercise some sensitivity in talking about the Holocaust and Nazism. Be a little bit skeptical of Facebook and Twitter forwards about how Israel is eeeeeeeeevil. (There's a picture of a bloodied child's body that keeps doing that rounds that wasn't even taken in Palestine, but keeps getting attached to all kinds of wild stories.) Absolutely do continue to criticize human rights abuses by Israel, and indeed plutocratic and inhumane political policies in this country, but keep an eye out that your criticism isn't falling into anti-semitic stereotypes even if the offending politician happens to have Jewish ancestry. If you want to boycott, look in to organizations like the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement (which has the further advantage that it was started by Palestinian campaigners, so it's not an externally imposed project). Don't extend the boycott to people or organizations that are tainted by association with anything Jewish, because that stops being action against Israel and shades into unwarranted discrimination against a religious and ethnic minority. Don't hold all Jews worldwide responsible for everything you disapprove of about Israel, or even assume that all Jews are Zionists at all or that we approve of the things you are revolted by.

Actually on the whole I think the UK is a good place to be Jewish. Not perfect, but generally good. My family have lived here in peace for four generations at least, which is historically fairly unusual. (I was really quite old before I realized that most kids probably don't play imaginative games based on, if you have to flee your home in the middle of the night, what would you pack in your suitcase?) What scares me is not so much anti-Israel feeling spilling over into resentment of British Jews, but Islamophobia and anti-immigrant prejudice. Right now, it seems that if things turn dark, Jews won't be the first victims. But it's impossible to imagine we'll continue to be left alone if that sort of dehumanizing starts to gather momentum. So in many ways what I would like my non-Jewish friends to do is to speak out against all forms of xenophobic and related prejudice. Don't treat racism as only bad if it targets Jews (because that's like what the Nazis did and all red-blooded British people hate Nazis).
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Last night I found a state of joyful connectedness or openness that I'm inclined to classify as religious feeling, though if it is I probably shouldn't annoy people by babbling about it in my journal. I think some of it is the religious season, and some is being connected to my community, and those are a lens which is influencing how I respond to some other things.

no obligation to read )

All that said, several people I care about are going through really hard things at the moment. I hope I can draw strength from moments like this to be able to be there for them as much as I can.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words) everyone who's celebrating. I love seeing these posts go up all over my reading lists as the New Year arrives in various time zones.

It's just under an hour til candles, and I am running around like a headless chicken as usual. I mean, I had this wonderful plan regarding going on holiday just before the festival season. I was totally going to the slack time to do both the spiritual and liturgical / practical preparation. Of course, in reality, holidays have far less slack time than I expect. So I now have only the barest outline of sermons for today and tomorrow and there are several sections where I'm going to have to rely on familiarity rather than detailed prep. I'm doing that thing that wise sages always advise their students not to do, of focusing on the liturgy planning to the complete exclusion of any sort of contemplation or self-reflection.

This time last year I moved my precious notes about the community's unchangeable customs which I absolutely have to work round to a safer place than the case for my festival tallit. So safe that I now can't find the notes anywhere; I knew I should have transcribed everything, or failing that left the papers in the spot where I know to look for them, even if that's not a very logical place for keeping documents.

It will actually be fine, because pretty much every year I get into a last minute panic for one reason or another, and pretty much every year it is in fact fine. And my community need me to be there but they don't need me to be perfect or live up to the standards of a professional. Anyway, love to all of you, I hope the coming year brings you joy whether or not you're turning over the calendar tonight.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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