Tag Archives: Jew

LimmudPhilly, anyone?

If you A#1) went Limmud NY and had a good time or B#2) have read all of my gazillions of posts about Limmud NY and wish you’d gone, you should join me at LimmudPhilly, March 4-6.

I went to the first LimmudPhilly in 2009, when it was one-day thing beginning with Havdalah and ending the next evening. This year, they’ve added a Shabbat option as well. So I’m gonna make a whole weekend of it and then fly home spring break.

Also, it’s super-cheap. Register here.


Limmud NY Notes: Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it.

I'm gonna go here on Shabbat. Who's with me?

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

The word Renewal arouses suspicion in me. At Limmud NY on Friday, there was a Renewal service being offered. It was led by David Ingber, the endlessly fascinating spiritual journeyman who founded the flagship Renewal outfit in New York, Romemu. The music was by Romemu Musical Director Shir Yaakov as well as Shoshana Jedwab on the drums.

I took a lot of notes. By way of a review, here they are, polished a bit:

  • Kirtan Rabbi: We began with Hareini Mekabel Alai by Kirtan Rabbi, which I love. I hadn’t expected tunes from KR to show up here, perhaps because I’ve never heard them anywhere except on his albums. I suppose it shouldn’t have been too surprising, given that I’m on KR’s e-mail list and I know that he plays at Romemu pretty regularly. It was a very nice beginning to the service.
  • Things that make me suspicious: Shir says things like, “Breathe in the first breath of Shabbat. Breathe out the previous week.” OK. What is this Kol Haneshama?
  • Things that make me downright uncomfortable: Shir says, “Don’t worry about the recipe book. Enjoy the meal we’re making together.” Don’t worry about the siddur? Fat chance. Also, a curious thing for him to say, as we’ll see later. This is the attitude that makes me suspicious of Renewal.
  • Liturgical health check: Most present are using the copies of Sim Shalom provided by Limmud NY. Joe Rosenstein is in the front row and looks like he’s loving it. Not surprisingly, he’s using Siddur Eit Ratzon, which he edited. Also, Shir Yaakov created Joe’s website, newsiddur.org. I’m using Koren Talpiot. There’s one Koren Sacks in the crowd. And my friend’s girlfriend, rather curiously, has brought Gates of the House with her.
  • Seriously, though. Buy this CD.

    But the music is good: Shir then leads Higale Na, a tune from his album, “Zeh.” I can’t dislike it.

  • And then the dancing starts: We move into the Carlebach Psalm 96 (Shiru lAdonai, shir chadash etc.), skipping 95. When the Psalm ends and the nigun begins, people are out of their seats dancing. We’ve gone from zero to ecstatic dancing in less than half the time and liturgical space it takes Kol Zimrah or B’nai Jeshurun. In a conversation with Ingber later, he’s pretty proud of this. Between the clapping, the stomping and drumming, the floor is shaking.
  • I’m into it: We go into Psalm 29 (Mizmor leDavid etc.) with more Carlebach. Somewhere around this point, I decide to visit Romemu in person.
  • Kid Friendly: This is not a kid’s service. But it is a forceful refutation of the idea that such things necessary. Right before the service, I heard to kids bargaining with their mom about how much time they’d be in the service. They Jewed her down to 20 minutes without much trouble. And then they stayed for the entire service.
  • Ana Bechoach? I don’t know from Ana Bechoach. I rarely see it done at the places I go, but we did a tune that I’ll assume was a Shir Yaakov tune for the line from Ana Bechoach “Yachid ge’eh le’amecha feneh zochrei kedushatecha.” Again, it was nice. I like his music in a liturgical setting. There’s thinking to be done this week about guitar liturgy, given Debbie Friedman’s recent death.
  • Kab Shab: Generally, I prefer that we do all of Kabbalat Shabbat, but I don’t feel as strongly about that as I do about some things. In a conversation later with Ingber I tell him I find Kabbalah and mysticism suspicious. Then I tell him I prefer a full Kab Shab. He rightly calls me on this and I have no answer.
  • About that cookbook: The injunction to ignore the siddur is a curious thing from a guy like Shir Yaakov, who is reaching into relatively obscure pieces like Ana Bechoach, which is otherwise untouched by contemporary guitarish Jewish songwriters. The service is interestingly inaccessible to some. Given that we have no transliterations and there isn’t a lot of page number announcing going on, one friend–far less liturgically literate than I–is having a lot trouble keeping up. She doesn’t sing at all until we hit Lecha Dodi–is that another Shir Yaakov original we’re doing?–because it’s common enough in liberal Jewish liturgy that she knows a lot of the words. Musically, the service is accessible, textually it isn’t. One with out the other is not enough. The problem of access to text is too important to push aside with a quip about cookbooks.
  • Krakow! I was beginning to wonder when we’d get to the Krakow nigun. At the sixth paragraph of Lecha Dodi, we begin to use the Krakow nigun melody, which is novel to me. It works. One woman in the front row is dancing again. Later, a lot of people join her. Can you spot Romemu regulars by how quick they are to start dancing during services?
  • Shmooze fest: Between Kab Shab and Maariv, Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat to people around him that we don’t know. “Careful though,” he says. “I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.” Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.
  • Call and response: Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.
  • Shma: One, two, skip a few… aaaaaand Shma. We do the long, breathing, slow, ponderous version of the first line of the Shma. I’m impatient. We chant the second paragraph and the rest is silent.
  • Rain Stick? During Mi Chamocha, Jedwab starts in with a rain stick. After two goes with the stick, I’m done with it and–thank God–she cuts it out.
  • Chanting and whatever: “Ufros aleinu sukat shelomecha” in Hashkiveinu to that tune I like. I don’t know whose it is, but you know what I mean. Then we chant Shalom a bunch. Then we chant Salaam a bunch. Ingber occasionally interrupts with things like, “Peace in every heart… peace in every mind… peace throughout the world… peace out the wazoo… etc.” Then we chant, “Let there be peace” for a while. And then there’s the chatimah.
  • And then the Christians show up: Oddly, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary” cropped up. In this instance, we did Yihyu in English to the tune, then we sang the chorus of “Lord prepare me etc,” then we niguned it for a while, then we did “Ve’asu li mikdash etc.

Then I had to run out to do announcements somewhere else, but ended up coming back and doing them at the Renewal service anyway when I got back. I missed the rest of the service though.

I’m curious to see more. I’m strongly considering attending Romemu on Shabbat morning this week.

And I’m gonna go with 3 1/2 Ballpoint Pens for this service: |||-

But I wanna be very careful in pointing out that this isn’t a rating of Romemu. It’s a rating of a thing that a group of people from Romemu did somewhere else without their core group.

Limmud NY Notes: More on communal ritual issues–electronics on Shabbat etc.

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

Last year, I was much more aware of this issue than I was this year. At last year’s Limmud NY, I was still working for Limmud NY, so I had my laptop out a lot because I was running @LimmudNY on Twitter. Shabbat felt very obviously different from the rest of the conference because I wasn’t rushing to tweet from every once in a while.

This year, I hardly used my laptop at all during the entire conference. Since last year, I also got a Droid, which I turned off on Friday night and left off for the rest of the conference.

In the car on the way up to the hotel on Tuesday–I rolled in with the early shift of volunteers and office staff–someone mentioned that there had been a proposal for a public space where people could use phones and computers on Shabbat. The Hudson Valley Resort, where the conference takes place, has wifi in the lobby and all of the conference areas, but not in the hotel rooms, so it may be an issue for some people who want or need to be connected to the outside world on Shabbat.

I thought this was a great idea, but apparently it either never made it out of the planning stages, it got shot down in a Steering Committee meeting or it just failed to materialize. Whatever the reason, I think it would be a good thing to have.

By the way, the language used in the program book that every community member receives at the conference to describe Shabbat at Limmud NY is delightfully nuanced. Kol Hakavod to whoever wrote the current version. Here are some highlights from A Guide to Shabbat at Limmud NY on page 28 of this year’s program book:

What is our kavanah (intention) for Shabbat at Limmud NY?…

We have worked hard to create a warm and spirited Shabbat, with diverse options for prayer services and other Shabbat programs….

We encourage you to take the opportunity to examine the ways you observe or do not observe Shabbat and explore new meaning in your practices. We invite you to help create a cooperative and pluralistic community that will be stimulating and inclusive….

Whether for halacha (Jewish law) or for personal aesthetic, the intentionality of the Shabbat experience at Limmud NY is comparable to a meditation retreat: we ask you that you turn off  outside distractions and tune in to everything we have in this one shared space….

This next bit is of particular interest to me, as a compulsive note-taker:

In public spaces which cater to the entire group, Limmud NY will adhere to traditional Shabbat observance (for instance, microphones, musical instruments, cell phones, cameras and computers will not be used).

In individual sessions (opposed to public spaces) we’ll offer a wide range of options reflecting the interests and practices of our participants. These will be clearly identified in the Program Book (for example: “Please note that musical instruments will be used in this session”).

Leaving aside issues with the word traditional in this context, this section includes an interesting list of actions that are potentially problematic on Shabbat. Note-taking, Baruch Hashem, is not one of them. Though I’ve been asked in Shabbat contexts aside from Limmud NY to stop taking notes before, in my four years at Limmud NY (not to mention a Shabbat spent at Limmud Colorado), I’ve never been asked not to take notes at Limmud.

Which is not to say that nothing interesting happened at Limmud NY this year involving that pen behind my ear….

Limmud NY Notes: An excuse to get four smart Jews to talk to each other

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

Every year at Limmud NY, there is a panel discussion or two with an irrelevant topic. The panel is just an excuse to get a group of interesting Jews who wouldn’t otherwise talk to each other to talk to each other.

This year’s was ostensibly about Shabbat. Moderated by writer and JLife Consulting founder Dasee Berkowitz, it included:

The content of the panel was great. Better than that were the reactions. Pinson spent a lot of time making great faces at what everyone else was saying–one of his best reactions was the bizarre facial contortion was provoked by Marc’s assertion that he has stopped checking email on Shabbat.

There was a pretty big crowd for the panel. It included:

In the case of the various family members I could spot, watching for their reactions and the occasional eye contact with the panelist they were related to as they were inevitably mentioned in the course of the discussion of their Shabbat observances was endlessly entertaining.

Yoni’s presence was somewhat surprising. Over the last four Limmud NYs, he’s become one of the unique friends that I wouldn’t otherwise know and that I look forward to seeing every year. When I first met him in 2008, he seemed rather suspicious of the entire Limmud enterprise. This year, he proudly told me he was going to try to go to at least one session every day, once his duties in the kitchen end after dinner each day. He asked what I thought he should go to on Friday night and I told him I was going to this panel. Yoni said he’d come because he wanted the full Limmud experience and that this panel, with its diverse voices, would help facilitate that.

He later told me he was glad the he went to the panel, but that he liked Pinson and Ingber the best.

I found all of them very interesting, but I actually found Malya and Marc the more interesting voices on the panel because they were both talking from the point of view of having recently gotten married. Both talked about how their experience of Shabbat has been altered by having to completely share it with another person.

Malya said that she and William have both noticed a bizarre trend in themselves–they’ve been “making fun of Shabbat” since they got married. For instance, one of them will say something like, “Oh, I’m gonna go turn on the oven and cook something. Oh wait… NOT! Because it’s Shabbat!”

Marc noted that it’s been very difficult for he and Julia to have a shared Shabbat experience because both of them work on Shabbat, Marc at a shul in Brooklyn and Julia at a shul out in Sag Harbor.

Good job, team. Good panel.

By the way, two years ago, it was a panel on differing denominational views of Halachah, moderated by Leon, including:

  • David Ellenson (the head of the Reform seminary)
  • David Hoffman (a member of the Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards)
  • J.J. Schacter (Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University)
  • Dan Ehrenkrantz (the head of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Last year’s, which included Morris, Ingber and Rabba Sara Hurwitz, was about something else. Again, the topic ended up being irrelevant to the fact that these people are having a conversation in front of an audience. I wrote more about that panel here.

“Browsing for free” on JDate.com, with commentary

Crossposted to New Voices

I’ve been bemoaning my singleness to my friends a lot lately. Being a college senior who knows he’s gonna move–but not very far–in May is a weird position to be in. People keep telling me to try online stuff, which I don’t have any problem with, philosophically. It does, however, seem odd to me to do online dating while I’m in college. But last night I was slightly convinced by a friend.

So I went on JDate a few minutes ago to see what’s what. I clicked on “BROWSE FOR FREE” and quickly realized that there was commentary to be made. So I started over, typing up my comments as I went.

jdate-1-you-are-a-looking-for-a2I suppose it’s quite convenient that JDate predicted that I’m a straight male. Is it magical or does it assume everyone’s a straight male?  What happens to people who want to identify themselves as something other than a [Man/Woman] seeking a [Man/Woman]?

jdate-2-type-of-relationship-and-current-status1I have questions. Not snarky questions, as regular readers will no doubt assume, but real questions from a place of curiosity. Are there actually people who look for a “Friend” on dating sites? Or is “Friend” a codeword for something? And what activities might one engage in with an “Activity Partner?”

jdate-3-habits-and-kashrutI’m sure I’m more concerned with the finer points of Jewish ritual/denominational/philosophical/ideological/etc identity than most, but I these kashrut options seem limited. Where’s eco-kashrut? And why do we insist that kashrut is a matter of degrees? It’s not as though there’s a definitive list of things that one does to keep kosher, and some people do all of them and some people do none of them and some people are on a spectrum in between.

And how do I indicate which of these things I care about? I drink regularly with friends, but I don’t care how often she (whoever she is) drinks. I don’t smoke, and I care a lot about whether she does. And I care some, but not a whole lot about whether she keeps kosher. I wish there was one of those “Indicate how strongly you feel about X, by choosing a number 1-5, where 5 is ‘I care a lot’ and 1 is ‘I don’t care at all'” things.

jdate-4-education-work-and-ethnicityIf I’m graduating in May, how misleading is it to claim that I have a BA?

Without wading into the issue of what constitutes an ethnicity, this list of possibilities is beyond outrageously limiting. It assumes that all Jews are either Ashkenazi or Sephardic or don’t care enough to list an ethnicity. Obviously, most Jews in America are Ashkenazi-descended, and if you add Sephardic, that takes care of almost everyone. But it doesn’t account for all Jews by birth.

And what about converts? Am I “Mixed Ethnic” because one of my parents converted and the other is Ashkenazi? Or did she become Ashkenazi when she converted (whatever that would even mean!)?

Is the implication of this that Jews only wanna date Jews from a similar background? I again find myself wanting some way to indicate how much each of these factors matter to me.

I have settled on “Will tell you later” as a way of protesting this question, which feels pretty silly.

jdate-50-backgroundAt this point, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing this in the spirit any of it was intended, but this stuff is important enough to me that I’d like be able to indicate it with more accuracy than the available choices allow me to.

Literally, my “religious background” is Reform, but the wording of some of the options here seem to indicate that this question is not actually about background, but about current practice. Many of these could be backgrounds, but “Baal Teshuva” isn’t a background as at all, but a conscious choice that one might make after childhood–childhood being what the word “background” suggests to me.

Again, as with the ethnicity question, anyone outside of the other options offered up here is forced to pick “Another Stream of Judaism.” That would include anyone that is observant (broadly defined), but prefers “Just Jewish” and anyone that goes with something like Pluralist or Post-Denominational. It also strikes me that this is probably the more appropriate place for Sephardic to be an option, given that all of these denominations are outgrowths of the Ashkenazi sphere.

This is a seriously troubling question to me. As I’m writing this, I’m waffling back and forth in my mind about selecting Reform or “Another Stream.” I call myself Reform, but most wouldn’t look at my observance and call it Reform, so that’s potentially misleading. “Another Stream” is probably closer to what I outwardly appear to be.

I want to be able to check off boxes and I want one of them to read “Other” and give me space to type a couple extra words. Why doesn’t this question give the option of “Will tell you later?”

I think I’ll take the question literally and pick Reform.

jdate-55-how-often-to-shulWhat about people who go more frequently than “Every Shabbat?”

Then it asks me for my country and zip code. Whatever.


OK. I haven’t had a username for something other than my real name since the last time I used AIM, which was probably in eighth or ninth grade. I’m a total loss. I also don’t know how to “pop” in such a way that it will help elucidate “what makes me ME” (to use their abuse of capitals).

After ten minutes have passed and I’ve consulted with a few housemates, I’ve made a decision. But I’m not going to tell any of you want it is.

Also, it would be pretty awesome if you could list your Hebrew birthday on JDate.

Then there’s e-mail and password. Whatever.

jdate-7-describe-myselfYeah, this part is completely nerve-wracking. There are two kinds of people in the potential audience for this:

1). There are people who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and think, “This guy sounds like an asshole” or “This dude just sounds boring,” but would actually like me if they met me. I know this because I know real people who fall into this category.

2). There are people–fewer than there are in group 1, but they exist nonetheless–who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and actually be interested.

The question is how to craft a description that plays to both of these groups of people, both of which I’m interested in. This has stopped being a slightly humorous exercise and become significantly intense.

OK, an hour and help from three housemates later, I’ve written something that isn’t completely objectionable about myself.

Now I’m gonna think about whether this is worth spending any real money on.

Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur: a review

I’m about to be not very complimentary toward this siddur. You can read a defense of it by one of its creators here.

Crossposted to Jewschool.

Before I get to the actual review of the Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur, it bears outlining some basic of my basic beliefs about Jewish prayer and how to make Jewish prayer accessible.

What is beautiful about Jewish prayer is the structure-poetry. There is the micro-poetry of the words, which is all well and good, but what’s so amazing, is the coherent structure of Jewish prayer, the macro-poetry. If you teach a Jew the structure, you can hang whatever you want on it and they will see the beauty in any service in any synagogue in the world.

PunkTorah, the organization responsible for this new entry into the siddur market, the Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur, begins from a different premise. Apparently, they believe that what is needed to make the siddur comprehensible to Jews in the pews is a punkification. They have punkified the siddur in two detectable ways. First, they have put a silly punk-looking cover on it. Second, they have stated in the introduction that they are punkifying it:

Who Are We?

Indie Yeshiva is a project of PunkTorah, a force for change by creating open source Jewish education…

Let’s dispense with the notion that this siddur is truly “punk”  right from the start. If it were punk, it would be open source. Despite the above quote, the previous page says, “ALL TEXT © PunkTorah, Inc. 2010.” Continue reading