Tag Archives: Jew

An egalitarian, Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Ugandan service? Sign. Me. Up.

I just posted this on the New Voices Magazine blog and I thought y’all might be interested too:

Today, in New Voices Magazine, Carly Silver writes about Sephardic student life, or lack thereof, at Columbia University.

Though the picture is mostly bleak, one group mentioned in the article stands out, New Yachad City. Part of Columbia University Hillel, New Yachad City tries to create services that are more reflective of the diversity of world Jewry.

They lead student excursions to different synagogues around New York City, typically off the beaten path. They also host their own monthly service. This month’s New Yachad City Friday night service is this week and I think I’m gonna go.

Details:

Alternative, egalitarian, multi-traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service in Earl Hall on Friday, October 28th at 6 PM. Welcome in the Sabbath with Shabbat tunes from Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Bnai Jeshurun Synagogue, Abudaya Jewish community and much more. Experience Shabbat services in a different way and learn about world Jewry while praying! Everyone is welcome!

If you’re planning on coming, let me know in the comments.

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Jewish Outlook makes an ‘appointment’ with me

I do love that my job is newsworthy in The Jewish Outlook, my hometown Jewish paper.

However, just so we’re clear, JSPS was founded in 1971, not 1970. And it used provide “content for campus Jewish publications around the U.S.” but there are very few of those left and they do not get their content from JSPS. Nowadays, JSPS is really just the organization that publishes New Voices Magazine.

Speaking of New Voices, it’s not “a monthly online student publication.” It’s just an online student publication–nothing monthly about it.

Also, if they’d consulted their AP Stylebook, they would’ve found that publications are italicized, rather than set in quotation marks.

Not that I’m complaining. All publicity is good publicity.

The Koren Rosh Hashanah Heb/Eng Machzor: You’ll see it here first!

I’m working on a thing for JTA about this year’s new machzors. It’s due at the end of the end of July, but the Koren people told me their new Hebrew/English RH Machzor wouldn’t be ready until August 1, so I couldn’t get a review copy in time. But then I got this email from them:

Just found out the final version of the Mahzor will be ready at the printers tomorrow. So we’ll send you one literally hot off the presses (you’ll be the first person in the US to have a copy!) Look forward to your review…

That’s right, folks–you’ll see it here first.

Shabbat notes, 7/23/11: My Foot in Mouth is cured; More on last week’s Kaddish situation; Daf Yomi on the 7:51 to Penn Station

First, the good news: It seems I have rid myself of my Beth El-induced flareup of Foot in Mouth Disease. I haven’t done it in like two weeks.

More on last week’s Kaddish Yatom quandry: Pesukei and Shacharit were led this morning by a fellow who uses Koren Sacks when he isn’t leading. We had a great chat after services about our mutual love of Koren.

Anyway, I was surprised that he did Ps. 92 during Pesukei. Of course, as we discussed last week, we did it again after the Amidah when we did that whole Kaddish Yatom thing.

I was also amused this morning when I noticed that in the Koren Talpiot siddur, Ps. 92 actually follows the Kaddish Yatom at the end of the service. Which isn’t confusing–it’s just funny.

More from “Orthodox By Design”: I’m still reading “Orthodox By Design: Judaism, Print Politics and The ArtScroll Revolution.” Today, I was reading a bit in which it explains the popularity of Daf Yomi, the practice of studying on page of Talmud every day to complete the entire thing in seven years. And this passage struck me as a description of a wonderful textural element of reality:

One rather famous study circle, led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, consists of a group of lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who have been meeting daily since the early 1990s on the 7:51 a.m. commuter train from Far Rockaway [outer Queens] to Penn Station in New York City.

That’s all for now. Shabbat Shalom

Kippot and my commute, part II; New Jersey Jewish News, part II

Kippot and my commute, part I

New Jersey Jewish News, part I

This morning, as I emerged in Penn Station from my New Jersey Transit train from South Orange, a woman and her grown son stopped me and said, “Excuse me, are you the guy from the New Jersey Jewish News?”

“That’s me,” I said.

We had a rambling conversation while I was on my way into the bowels of Penn Station to hop on the subway. At one point, the woman told me that she’s a scout leader and that she was recently leading an all-Jewish troop on a trip at some camp. At the same time they were at she was there with her all-Jewish troop, there was also a group of Messianic Jews Jews for Jesus Christians at the camp. Some of them wore tzitzit, but no kippah. As I do. And as the article in the New Jersey Jewish News described. She had to explain who these weirdos were to her scouts.

Yesterday, she told me, they saw me on the train and wondered if I was another such person. Later that day, however, they saw the NJJN and figured it out.

I don’t just write the news–I am the news!

The New Jersey Jewish News has honored me with a profile and a really great mugshot.

Johanna Ginsberg, one of their staff writers (and a member of Beth El–these people are over the place!) stopped by one morning last week to interview and photograph me for it. It was lovely and it’s a nice piece.

Things relevant to themes on this blog (the parenthetical bold bit is mine):

At 22, David A.M. Wilensky appears full of contradictions: He wears tzitzit but not a kipa. He embraces Reform Judaism but attends a Conservative synagogue.

[…]

Perhaps it’s all in the eye of the beholder. “I go to a Conservative synagogue because I like the services better, but I live a personal life that’s informed by what I learned growing up in the Reform world,” he told NJJN in an interview on the patio of his South Orange apartment. “Is that any more of a contradiction than people who belong to a Conservative synagogue and don’t keep kosher and never come to services?”

[…]

…addressing his religious garb, he said, “Wearing a tallit katan and wearing a kipa are separate practices, with separate origins and rationales, so I don’t see that as contradictory either. Unusual? Yes. But not contradictory.

“Maybe that says something about my generation, but to me it all just makes sense,” he concluded.

[…]

A patio table is scattered with the accessories of his single Jewish post-collegiate life: a hookah, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts (the cigarette butts are not mine, by the way, just for the record), a Kiddush cup, half-melted Shabbat candles, and a bottle of Febreeze. Behind him, several freshly laundered tzitzit hang on a rack to dry.

Wilensky is confident about the future of journalism, but remains uncertain about his own future.

“I’m obsessed with liturgy right now. Maybe I’ll get a PhD in liturgy and that will be my thing,” he said.

But he’s certainly got a journalist’s instincts. “Why don’t Jewish papers ever put federations under the microscope?” he asked. Maybe he’ll blog about it.

Maybe I will!

You can read the whole article, which really is terrific, over here.

 

Shabbat notes, 7/16/11: Saying Kaddish in a weird place; A correction; A joke at ArtScroll’s expense

In this post: an piece of liturgical minutiae, a correction and ArtScroll’s instructions for chickens who are crossing the road.

A piece of liturgical minutiae:

Every week at Beth El, we finish the Amidah, say Kaddish Shalem and then something weird happens–we flip back to the psalm for Shabbat and say the Mourner’s Kaddish. I finally asked Rabbi Roston about it this morning.

Here’s what I learned: Kaddish Yatom’s standard location is at the end of the service, after Aleinu. Nothing special needs to happen to make it appear there–it’s just there. This I already knew. But, I learned, you can also say Kaddish Yatom at any time in the service, but only if you say a psalm immediately before.

As I already knew, each day has its own psalm. Shabbat’s psalm is Ps. 92: “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat. Tov lehodot la’Adonai etc….” This psalm usually makes its appearance early in the service, somewhere in Birchot Hashachar or Pesukei Dezimrah. For example, in Siddur Sim Shalom, which is the siddur in regular use on Shabbat mornings at Beth El, it appears at the end of Birchot Hashachar, where it follows Kaddish Derabbanan (the one for the thing in SSS that replaces Korbanot) and precedes the first Kaddish Yatom in the service.

What I did not know is that the psalm of the day can appear anywhere in the service. What is important is that it is said, not when in the service it is said. So in SSS–and others–it is placed at the end of Birchot Hashachar to facilitate the first of the two Mourners’ Kaddishes.

At Beth El, despite Ps. 92 and Kaddish Yatom appearing where they do in SSS, we don’t get around to doing them until the end of the Amidah, when we are all invited to turn back to page 72 of SSS for Ps. 92. Then we flip past the rest of the psalms of the day for Kaddish Yatom. The reason is that there is frequently not a minyan yet at the end of Birchot Hashachar at Beth El. To enable people to say Kaddish, we simply relocate the whole shebang to a place later in the service when there is sure to be a minyan.

Which, if the location of the first Kaddish Yatom in the service and the psalm of the day that enables us to say it–though it seems that any old psalm would technically do–is irrelevant, makes fine sense. To a point.

It stops making sense when you realize that there’s no need for two iterations of Kaddish Yatom in the service. So I asked why it’s important to, as Rabbi Roston put it, have a Mourner’s Kaddish “before the Torah service.” She did not know why it’s important to have to version of Mourner’s Kaddish. Though she did state as precedent that this is a standard thing that they teach at JTS and that people frequently tack a second Kaddish Yatom onto the service at the end of a shiva minyan in a similar fashion.

If anyone knows anything about this, I’m eager to hear about it.

A correction:

The interest of Beth El’s congregants in the blog continues to astound me. One pointed out something in need of correction this morning. Well, kind of.

In this post, I quoted a JTA article that said that Beth El had 575 families in 2005 when Rabbi Roston was hired. The point of the article was that this was a glass ceiling-breaking event for female rabbis in the Conservative movement.

The correction (kind of) is that the glass ceiling in this case was the 500 member families mark and that Beth El did not have 575 families in 2005. This guy, a member of the membership committee in those days, said that they never had more than 510 families.

So it’s really more of a correction to JTA.

ArtScroll’s instructions for chickens who are crossing the road:

This joke appears in a book that I’m reading right now called “Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution” by Jeremy Stolow.

Stolow begins:

For some, ArtScroll’s voice is anodyne, a helpful and unwavering guide to the perplexed. For others, it is the shrill voice of demagoguery and intolerance to difference. And for others still, Art Scroll’s characteristic tone is an object of humor.

Indeed. He further prefaces the joke by describing it as “a rich parody of the punctilious style of religious instruction associated with ArtScroll books.” Here’s the joke:

Bend once when the chicken goes into the road (bending first at the knees, bending fully as it takes its second step); bend again as it reached the middle of the road (only a half bow0; bend a third time as it nears the other side. If it gets across without being run over, say also a shehecheyanu [a blessing for new and unusual experiences] (p. 358); unless the congregation is also saying brochos [blessings] before and after the shema [the basic prayer in affirmation of the one God], in which case no interruption, even for a brocha, is permitted. No brocha is said in yontef [holy day], rosh chodesh [first day of the month] or during the entire month of nissan [March-April].

Shabbat Shalom.

A Week of Things I Like, Day 3: Old Wilensky Family Siddurim

I was at home in Austin for a week and a half and I came back with an extra suitcase–full of siddurim! What could be better? My mother is clearing some stuff out of her place so she asked me to take some things off her hands.

These books were all–with one exception–deposited with her over the course of several visits to my paternal grandparents’ house after she had announced she was going to convert. My grandpa, Sol Wilensky, was so excited about it that he would give her a book or two every time my parents visited.

These pictures were all taken with my new Canon Rebel T2i, a delightful graduation gift from my dad. I like it–and him–also.

Let’s go exploring….

This first one is the only one that’s not from my grandpa. According to a stamp on the inside cover, this one was once a part of the library of the religious school of the synagogue I grew up at, Congregation Beth Israel. It’s a 1976 publication of the Union of the American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism). It came out a year after Gates of Prayer, so my guess is that it was intended to help familiarize Reform Jews with Big Blue’s view of the liturgy. On the other hand, it’s not actually by GOP‘s editor, Chaim Stern, who wrote his own commentary to GOP (called Gates of Understanding), so who knows. Unlike, Understanding, this one is clearly aimed at kids.

The page on wearing talit is telling glimpse of the Reform movement in that moment in history:

WHAT ABOUT WOMEN?

In the past it was only the men who wore the talit. The reason for this may have been that only the men were obligated to pray three times a day…. This may explain why it became  custom for only men to wear the talit. There is, however, nothing in Jewish law which prohibits a woman from wearing the talit.

What do you think? Should both men and women “dress up” for worship by wearing a talit? Do you find it meaningful to wear best clothes to synagogue? Is there a benefit to “dressing up” for special occasions? …. Discuss some of these questions with friends, the rabbi and cantor, and with adults in your congregation. The differences is opinion might make an interesting debate.

In that period, your average Reform rabbi was just as likely to tell you that no one should wear a talit as he was to tell you women should wear them.

When I got these books over to my dad’s place from my mom’s, he immediately identified this Siddur Meforash: A Prayer Book With Explanatory Notes as the siddur he was required to get for religious school at Shearith Israel, the Conservative congregation his family belonged to. It’s a combination siddur and textbook, a precursor to Shema is for Real, if you will. He can remember being miffed at the time that he had to lug it with him to religious school each week, but they rarely actually used it.

I included this image, from Siddur Meforash, because it mentioned Rabbi Chaim Brecher, though this volume was compiled by Rabbi Ralph De Koven, listed below Brecher. More on Brecher later.

Here’s the illustration on the cover:

This yellow ribbon is taped to the inside front cover of the siddur, to be used as a bookmark. I’m amused because it’s affixed to the book in the exact same way that I put book marks on some of my most often used siddurim. I’m also amused by the title of this section, “Prayers Before Retiring.” I’m also amused that this is the page that’s bookmarked–the notion that my dad was ever in the habit of saying his prayers before bed seems entirely unbelievable to me.

My dad also identified this little white book as having been his. It’s a bencher.

You may notice that Rabbi Chaim Brecher appears here as well, this time as Rabbi Ch. M. Brecher. He had his hand in the editing of many of Ktav products in those days, it seems.

Now that I have this bencher, along with the next book in the post, I finally have some that are examples of prefixing Birkat Hamazon with Al Naharot Bavel, as we discussed in the comments on this post.

Another bencher

My dad didn’t have any recollections about this on, but at least we know where it came from.

I’ve always found it kind of funny to translate Birkat Hamazon as Grace After Meals, but this is just hysterical.

And here’s Al Naharot Bavel again, prefixed on to Birkat Hamazon for weekdays. I wonder if it was more common in the earlier half of the 20th Century?

This is from the back of a very decrepit bencher-sized booklet of prayers for mourners. The back has this appendix of pages where different deceased family members could be filled in, according to your relations to them. I imagine these were probably given out by funeral homes in those days. This one is from the death of my great grandfather, Sam Wilensky. It says “Who departed this Life at the age of 42 On May 22, 1933.” And check out this transliteration: “Jahrzeit!”

Though I couldn’t capture this aspect very well in the photo, this Bride’s Prayer Book has a cover made of a pearlescent opaque plastic. It also has a rather ecclesiatically purple bookmark ribbon built in. I suppose it was a gift to my grandmother, Ann Wilensky.

And guess who edited it?

Rabbi Chaim M. Brecher strikes again!

Then there’s this delightfully tacky little gem:

It’s a siddur in a plastic box!

Turn it over and…

The bottom of the plastic box is clear, so you can see the polished metal back cover of the siddur.

But nothing compares to the grandeur of the front cover once you open the box:

It seems this one was a souvenir from Israel, given to my grandparents by an aunt and uncle who had just traveled to Israel.

Presented to Ann & Sol as a memento of our trip to Israel.

Nov 1969

Aunt Cele & Uncle Sam

According to my dad, Cele’s most (in)famous quality was how little use she had for clergy. Rabbis and cantors, according to her: “They’re all ganefs!” (From the Yiddish for thief, rascal, scoundrel, etc.)

And that brings us to my favorite from this collection:

This siddur, according to both of my parents, was the one that my grandpa used around the house for kiddush and that sort of thing.

You can tell what it was used for:

My grandpa had marked the page for Friday night Kiddush with a paperclip because that’s what he most often used it for.

One particularly odd feature of this siddur is this transliteration of Mourner’s Kaddish. It was typical already in this period for siddurim to be printed with a transliteration of large portions of Aramaic like Kaddish Yatom in the back, but this transliteration “To be read from right to left.” If you look carefully, you’ll see that the English letters arranged left to right within each word, but the each word is printed directly under the Hebrew word it corresponds to!

It’s remarkable that it was in regular use well into my life, given its age. It’s unclear how long he had it, but it was published in 1924, when he was 8:

It’s possible that it belonged to my great grandmother:

The cursive here says “Mrs. S. Wilensky,” which could refer to my grandmother or to my great grandmother, both of whom were married S. Wilenskys, but my dad thinks the handwriting resembles my grandmother, Ann.

At first, the significance of the date December 17, 1892, written on the inside front cover as shown above, was unclear. But then I found this:

This is a list of birth dates of a bunch of Stillmans, my paternal grandfather’s mother’s side. (Dad, correct me if I’m wrong on that one.) So here we can see that December 17, 1892, our mystery date from above, is the birth date of Sarah Stillman, who I believe is my paternal grandfather’s mother. (Again, Dad, correct me if I’m wrong.)

Why there’s a list of birth dates written well after all these people were dead, I don’t know.

The inside back cover of the book, with the list of Stillman birth dates clipped on the right:

On the right, he clipped a little supplement of Chanukah material:

Notice how he has put a big H next to the Hebrew and a big G next to the English. This must be from a Chanukah spent with them before my mother converted. The G indicated that she, Glenda, was to read the English and the H indicated that he, Harold, was to read the Hebrew.

I leave you with a final image of it:

Help the Open Siddur Project attribute this kavanah

OSPOne of the organizers of the wonderful open-source Open Siddur Project and a regular reader of this blog Aharon Varady, sent out an inquiry to the OSP email list today that caught my eye:

I’m looking to the list for more information on the source for saying a Kavanah (self-focused intentional meditation), to take upon oneself the obligatory mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself. …I only began to hear this in Renewal circles. There, I was told that the origin of the kavvanah was the Ari z”l. It also appears just before Psukei D’zimra in Reb Zalman’s Siddur Tehillat Hashem Yedaber Pi:

I accept upon myself
the command
to love my neighbor as myself.

In Hebrew sources, it appears as such:

הריני מקבל עלי מצוות עשה של ואהבת לרעך כמוך

Aharon goes on to explain that he has heard a variant of it that goes like this:

הריני מקבל עלי את מצוות הבורא ואהבת לרעך כמוך | Hareini mekabel alai et mitzvat haborei, veahavta lereiacha kamocha

After a few emails back and forth, Aharon said:

Does anyone know the source for calling this mitzvah the “mitzvah haboreh.” (Aren’t all the mitzvot, “mitzvot haboreh”?)

If we could find the original source, we could attribute this custom and determine which was the original and which the variation.

I’m familiar with the “haborei” version of the kavanah from Kirtan Rabbi’s “Love Thy Neighbor ואהבת לרעך כמוך” track on his “Kirtan Rabbi Live!” CD.

Another person (attribution on request) on the list said:

This kavanah is also in sim shalom prior to early morning torah study.

(P. 63 of the Shabbat slim shalom.)

In Kol Haneshamah, (p. 151) we use alternative language: leshem yichud kudshabrich hu…)

However, I’m doubting that this “kudshabrich hu” phrasing is Reconstructionist in origin because it appears in the “L’shem Yichud” track on the album “Shuva” by Raz Hartman, who I believe is Orthodox.

Efraim Feinstein, another OSP leader, added:

 It appears (with the variant מצות עשה) in a Chabad siddur (as something that is “proper to say” before מה טובו) as early as 1896. Probably earlier, I just haven’t searched through all of them. :-)

If you do want to find the history of the phrase, tracing back Chassidic siddurim is probably the way to go.

So. Anyone know anything about the origins of any of these?

A guide to posts about LimmudPhilly

I’ve been busy. Last weekend, I was in Philadelphia for LimmudPhilly. The weekend before that, I was in Washington for the J Street Conference. While in DC, I made two visits to services that will soon be reviewed here. For now, you’ll have to content yourselves with the LimmudPhilly posts:

Liturgical oops, part IIn which the Reconstructionists screw everything up

Liturgical oops, part II: “Birkat ha-moo-zon”In which we discover a very funny typo

In which a Sephardic Rabbi answers a bunch of questions

Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass singing kids Musaf thingIn which I get away with leaving my head uncovered in a Conservative shul and then a bunch of kids sing Avot and we’re all like, “Wait, is this Musaf?”

“Hey, Nakedhead!” guy strikes again