Vestiges of a past cast off

ULOB was not a religious man.  During his adult life, he went into synagogues only for family rites of passage.  And only if my mother told him he had to be there.

When he was a boy, his mother wanted him to have a Bar Mitzvah.  His father — my grandfather — renounced religion and didn’t care.  But it was so important to Grandma.  She wanted ULOB to be a man — a Jewish man –before G-d.  Even though she was persecuted for being a Jew.

ULOB often talked of sitting with the foul-smelling rabbi learning to read Hebrew and practicing his Torah portion while the rebbetzin (the rabbi’s wife) washed the floor and did any number of back-breaking jobs.

I think his Bar Mitzvah was on a Thursday.  I got the sense that it was mid-morning.  My grandmother was possibly upstairs but definitely behind a curtain (michitza) and at least 10 old men were in the main room of the shtebl.

Grandma brought whiskey and some cake for the celebration afterward.  She had to save to put out that meager spread. ULOB said the rabbi and the other men scarfed down the food and drink so fast that there were barely crumbs left.  No one said a word to Grandma.  She was invisible.  But Grandma was proud.

ULOB never wanted to go back after that.  Even more, almost every touch of Yiddishkeit and every tradition that a Jew learns by osmosis in a Jewish home seemed to drain out of his body over the years.  The transition was so complete that he worked on Yom Kippur, ate ham and cheese on rye during Passover, and AROB and he celebrated Christmas.

Imagine my surprise when, as SOB and I were cleaning out ULOB’s apartment after his death, I found his tallis (prayer shawl) in a bag.  He had kept that tallis for 73 years.

The one vestige.  I bet he couldn’t let go of it because of what that day meant to his mother.

Seder Part 2

Seder, Part 2:  Subtitled “Kol B’Seder?” (all ok?  literally in good order?)

Meanwhile, Uncle L looked slovenly despite his well-heeled paramour and family.  Just take a look at his coat:  No wonder his paramour thought we were wolves.  A generation from the ghettos of Europe, born in the country, and still.  But he is a Yankees fan, so some things are forgiven.

photo(12)

Ok, so we started the Seder.  As commanded, we go through our “emblems of festive rejoicing” which are the symbols of Passover:  rebirth, renewal, bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, and the remembrance of the night of death in Egypt that led to the Exodus.  But wait, there’s more.

In our family, we have our own symbols of festive rejoicing, requiring a second Seder plate.  First, G-d didn’t deliver us from Egypt, then the pogroms of Europe, then the Holocaust, then to two generations of prosperity in the United States for us to drink that gross Manischevitz wine.  So, we have a “Manischevitz Free Zone” in our house, where there is (reasonably) good Kosher wine and some good other wine.  Second, courtesy of HOSOB (we love him so), we have a Moses action figure (which was a bonus with any Nintendo purchase) that has detachable staff and Ten Commandments for the requisite slamming at the sight of the Golden Calf.  Third, have a watch to symbolize the ONE hour that SOB allows for the ceremony before she takes away the Haggadot and announces the first course will be served. In a nod to the modern age, SOB flashes her iPhone timer, so I know exactly, to the nanosecond, how much time I have left.

passover(1)

Finally (not pictured here), we have a brisket and not a turkey, because G-d didn’t work miracles and deliver us from five millennia of trials and tribulations so that we would have to eat dry turkey.  No, G-d delivered us so that we could enjoy a nice, juicy, marbled brisket with just the right amount of fat to make it tasty and moist.  (Unless you are vegan or vegetarian, in which case we had a delicious Mediterranean bean dish.)  That is my interpretation of the wisdom of the ages.  You can have yours, just not in my house.

We tried a different approach to Seder this year — we would go quickly through the retelling of the story (see the cheat sheet on the chalk board)

photo(12) And then we proceeded to discuss who was the most righteous in the story.  I emailed everyone with the assignment to determine the most righteous person, and people really read up on it.

Sidebar:  GDJOB, who had never cracked the spine of the Bible, was at a loss until her spouse GDKOB showed up.  GDKOB was in charge of preparing for Seder.  Unfortunately, she was a little late for the debate but her righteous person was discussed.  They brought dessert, so all was forgiven.

There was a catch:  what is the definition of righteous?  Depending on our definitions, we had different answers.  There was a second catch:  there is no right answer, except that we can agree that among the wrong answers are: (i) Pharaoh and (ii) the Edward G. Robinson’s character in Cecil B. DeMille’s, “The Ten Commandments” (did he chew on a cigar or is that just my imagination?).

We came up with four righteous people (with our varying definitions of righteousness):

  • Moses (trite);
  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law who advises Moses;
  • Tzipporah, Moses’ wife who saves him when G-d tried to kill him; and
  • Pharaoh’s daughter, who, knowing Moses was an Israelite, nevertheless saves the baby from the Nile.

My choice? Pharaoh’s daughter.  Who has no name, except in Chronicles, the Koran and the writings of Josephus.  In the Hebrew Bible, she is known only by her relationship to a man, Seti I, who decreed that male babies of the Israelites must die.  She defied her father’s decree and saved a life and raised Moses as her son.  She stepped outside her rarefied, privileged world and extended her hand to a slave child.  Because a child is a child.  Because a life is a life.  And she risked everything, maybe for the knowledge that she was doing the right thing and her heart and soul would not be sullied by the death of a child.

And she was exiled when later it was found out that Moses, her son, was an Israelite.

Her name was Bithia.

Bithia.  A person to be remembered as a human who saved a life of a baby who would grow up to liberate a people.

Bithia was her name.  And at Passover, I remember Bithia.  Because she is the person I most admire in this story.

Chag sameach.  (Happy holidays.)

My morning with Bessie and other things in a random day

I am sick (with the flu) and have been home almost all week.  The problem with being home (besides cabin fever) is that you notice every imperfection in your house, every age spot on your legs and those barely perceptible (to the naked eye) and asymmetrical droops in your breasts.

I was feeling pretty ok this morning.  And I needed to get out of the house.  And I was despondent over missing a Soeur reunion in Cancun.  And my bras didn’t provide the necessary level of support.  So, off I schlepped to the local mecca for women’s undergarments.  This is the place where, for decades (until her death), the Dowager Countess of Ladies’ Undergarments would cup your breasts in her hands and yell out a size and style and point you to one of the dressing rooms.  And if she determined that your current bra was ill-fitting, she would pitch a loud fit.  You had to have self-esteem or you needed to be high to deal with her.  I never went while the Dowager was alive.

POB and I went to here to get our undergarments of steel for our wedding dresses.  Bessie, an older Southern woman, helped us.  She noted that day that I was wearing “some kinda ratty bra.”  http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4354

Today, I walked in and saw Bessie and strode straight for her and said, “you helped me with my wedding undergarments and I promised I would be back and here I am.”

“I remember you.  You was with a friend and you was both gettin’ married.”

“To each other,” I  responded, gently.

“You had a ratty bra that day, I’ll tell yoooooo.”

Sidebar:  OKOKOKOKOKOKOKOKOK, really?  She remembered?  And I was here to rectify that.  I was thinking that I wasn’t feeling better; I was just delirious.  And why do you think I don’t go bra (other than sports bra) shopping often, huh?  A little humiliation every other decade or so lasts a looooooong time.

I spent 90 minutes topless in a dressing room that others had no problem entering at will.  I must have tried on 30 bras.

Bessie commented on each:  “Now that one make you almost look perky!” “You don’t fill that up anymaw.  Betcha you did once!”  “Now, that is a beautiful cup on you!!

“But, Bessie, it is electric blue!!!”

“It don’t matter what color it is.  A good fittin’ bra is a good fittin’ bra.  You don’t turn your nose at a good fittin’ bra.  Not when we’s our age!!”

Pause.  We are NOT the same age.  I may be going on 50 but she is 70.  Wow, I really was delirious.

“I’ll jest put this in the buy pile.”  She walked away.  Ten bras (of varying colors; some electrically so, some not) later, she went to find matching bottoms.  I prevailed on nixing the dull blue and brown striped one that was almost like a bikini top.

“You a full-cut or a thong type?” She yelled for everyone to hear.  Of course, the entire conversation was for everyone to hear.

“How about we look at the matching bottoms and then I will decide.”

Bessie packed up all the things she decided I needed, less the bra that I would not, could not, buy.  “Now, send your friend on in here, hear?”

Wow, I needed a long snooze.

POB and SOS were doing G-d’s work, by having lunch with my Dad, so I could rest.  Or be delirious, whatever.

We arrived home at the same time and had a little rest hour.  And then POB and SOS set about making a cheesecake for SOS’s friend who is recovering from serious back surgery.  Our hearts were on standby to be broken if anything went wrong.  An 11 year-old’s undergoing serious back surgery is a parent’s every nightmare.  He came through like the champion he is.   And he wanted cheesecake.  “Then, give the boy a cheesecake,” said (and did) POB and SOS.

So we all hovered in the kitchen while POB did most of the heavy-lifting, SOS helped a little and I helped not at all.

SIDERBAR:  Hey, there needs to be a slacker in every family.  I proudly claim that mantel.  In fact, I “gold-medal” in it, without the need for performance enhancement drugs.  (It is a non-performing sport.)

Then SOS remembered that Cousin Gentle and he are going to visit a Sikh enclave in Queens tomorrow and he needed to learn, “hello”, “good bye” and “thank you” in Punjabi by tomorrow.  Cousin Gentle sent a link to a primer on Punjabi.

So, now, I sit in a warm kitchen with wonderful smells wafting through the air, blogging about my day and over-hearing my son practice words in Punjabi.

Yes, yes, I must be delirious.

 

Christmas in Bloggerville

Today is Christmas for many around the world.  Today is day of relaxation for me, a Jew, enforced and reinforced by the closed stores, closed offices, abbreviated gym hours and limited non-Christmas TV and movie fare.

It is not a normal day, because it has all the good stuff — sleeping late, hanging with SOS and watching cartoons, going to a movie (thank G-d for movies and Chinese food) — but without a normal day’s stresses, deadlines and demands.

I could get used to Christmas.  Although I must admit that the calm was, in fact, making me a little anxious.  When is life so calm?  Ah, eureka!! On Christmas, as long as you don’t celebrate the holiday.

Because, from the outside, it doesn’t look so calm for those who celebrate.  Driving, flying, or riding in open sleigh, to get somewhere with presents that will delight the recipients, sing carols in the cold with matching sweaters, eat more even than on Thanskgiving and all, in time to sit down in front of the TV right before “It’s a Wonderful Life” starts. Whoa.  Exhausting.

Sidebar:  Just last year, I learned that in the song, “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh.  Having grown up in New York City and imagining a sleigh full of presents, I assumed that Santa wanted Rudolph to guard his sleigh.  Oooooops.  SOS was horrified that I lacked this basic social knowledge.  (Now, let’s ponder that, but off-blog.)

There is something transcendant about this holiday that even a non-Christian can see.  Throughout the twentieth century, this day carried the power to cause warring nations to call a day-long truce in the midst of battle.  Christmas stopped the carnage of war for twenty-four hours.  (Makes one think, if we can stop war for one day, then why not two days, and, then, why not forever?)

So, it is more than a quasi-relaxing day for Jewish neurotics.  Because I don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate the message of this day:

Peace on Earth.

I just wish we all would remember that message every day.

a new Midrash

So, a person explains this situation to the rabbis:  a father, who is recovering from a brain injury, and his daughter are holding hands listening to live streaming of Kol Nidrei services from the computer in the father’s home office, drinking scotch (a make-believe drink for the recovering father) and having hors d’oeuvres.  The father and daughter especially say the Sheheḥeyanu together as well as chant Kol Nidrei.  The father eats as the daughter watches.  The father’s other children call to make sure all is ok.

So the daughter asks the rabbis, what is the Jewish justification for breaking seemingly ALL the laws of Yom Kippur?  The rabbis are puzzled.

The daughter wonders how they are rabbis.  “Honor thy father and thy mother” is a commandment and code of conduct that pre-dated the fasting and the entire concept of Kol Nidrei.

Honor thy father and thy mother.

Because sometimes the rules have to be broken to observe the highest commandments.

G-d bless Dad and lay the blasphemy on me.

That Little Red Light House under the Great Gray Bridge

Before there was the George Washington Bridge, there was a small red light house at Jeffrey Point near 177th Street along the Hudson River.  In fact, the Great Gray Bridge and the Little Red Light House are the subject of a classic children’s book you may have read to your kids.

I bet you thought that light house was long gone.  I was sure it was.  But, today, we went with a synagogue group (more on that later) in search of that little red light house that has survived even though it was long ago decommissioned.

On this cold and foggy day, just underneath the Great Gray Bridge,

there is this little light house

tucked away and almost invisible from afar.

But as you get closer to the base of the bridge,

there it is, resplendent in a new coat of paint against the gray sky.

And, although it is small, very small,

it would not be an easy landing.  You must hold tight on the rails against the whipping winds, when you stand outside, on the top near the beacon.

Ranger Jerry, a man who said repeatedly how he hated paperwork so we all must be careful,

told us the history of the light house which was more important for its fog horn than its beacon in the late 1800s and early 1900s when these waters were heavily navigated.

Still, I wondered what did this light house have to do with Jews?  After all we were there with a synagogue group.  Maybe it was a place of hiding for refugees smuggled into this country after Roosevelt closed the borders to fleeing European Jews.  Wow, an Anne Frank-like story right here in New York!!  That must be it!!!

Rabbi Rachel gathered us around to talk about this monument’s relevance to us, as Jews.  Something about Esther and Moses, each of whom was one against the powerful and many, and each of whom at some point felt too weak to lead.  Like the light house when the Great Gray Bridge was built.  Still each carried on and saved the Jewish people.  And still, the light house stands.

A big rousing Kumbaya to Rabbi Rachel for trying to connect all of this, and make it relevant to the kids and allegorical and all that.  What made it relevant to Jews was that a group of Jews schlepped to the light house on a cold, rainy, foggy day because we love our kids and they would have been disappointed if we didn’t go and we would have felt guilty.  So THAT is what is Jewish about the light house.

The Checklist

In my professional life, I always having a closing checklist for each transaction.  Every piece of paper, every action, every issue goes on a centralized list, with responsible parties, deadlines and status.  Good practice (or malpractice) starts with organization.

As for my personal life, well, not always.  I try to maintain some type of order amid chaos, but let’s face it:  without POB, my life would be a compost.  Even POB was surprised, initially, at what lurked under the veneer of successful urban professional: my bespoke blazers and trousers held together with staples and scotch-tape (but never spit).  Indeed a metaphor for my life then.  The saving grace:  I did have someone come in to clean, do laundry and re-stock toilet paper and other essentials.

So, I wasn’t joking 10.5 years ago when, during a discussion about whether to have a child, I asked POB, “am I not baby enough for you?”  And now we have SOS and I have matured beyond my post-adolescent years.  I am now a somewhat disciplined person in my personal life.

Still, a wedding.  That is a huge undertaking and our mothers are not alive (and even if alive would not be young enough) to take over the process, make it their own, and forget about the two main characters.  How I long for that.  Yes, I said it.  If I could outsource this to our mothers, I would in a heartbeat.   I would get endless blog material.  So, clearly, outsourcing to a professional wedding planner is, well, no fun.

So, here is where we stand (using lavender, as the official color of gay weddings):

  • Dresses:  
  • Undergarments: next weekend (stay tuned)
  • Shoes: next weekend (stay tuned)
  • Flat tummy and chiseled arms:  works in progress
  • SOS’s suit, shirt and tie: next weekend
  • Rabbi: 
  • Venue: 
  • Caterer:  tasting ; final menu:  open
  • Photographer:
  • Band:
  • Centerpieces:  in process
  • Wedding cake:  
  • Invitations: in process (proofed; waiting for printer to send)
  • Ketubah: in process (actually waiting for feedback from rabbi)
  • Chupah: in process (poles reserved; cloth to be determined)
  • Ceremony:  needs work
  • Vows:  oy, don’t ask
  • Our song: still need to tell the band
  • Get:  get what? 

A get.  Let’s just say that one of us needed a religious separation from a long-ago prior commitment.  Traditionally, a get is something that a man gives a woman.  But a man can say no and still, he can remarry (I think).  If a woman doesn’t get a get, she is in limbo; she cannot remarry and her community will shun her.  Forever.  And there are horror stories even today about women in this very circumstance.  It is a terrible rule that confirms a woman’s second class status in traditional Judaism.

In our case, the prior commitment was with a woman, so no need to get a get, right??  Pretty good argument, eh?

Well, since marrying two women under religious law isn’t exactly, let’s say, kosher, our rabbi considers that the getting of a get should also be gender neutral.  Especially since, according to our rabbi, in its best sense, a get is a mutual release from the past.   Really, rabbi?  Sometimes, the past should just hang out there in the ether.  No one ever got bit from a sleeping dog.

Ok, ok, ok, ok, ok.  Service of papers at last known addresses, summons to appear before a Beth Din, a religious court of three rabbis.  Pretty serious business.  The religious court convened on Friday, in the West Village.  The three rabbis, two lesbians and one transgendering person, conducted the proceedings and finalized the releases.  (To show our diversity, the rabbi officiating our wedding is straight.)

The ancients and the current, living orthodox would have keeled over.  But they would have keeled over at the thought of the wedding.  So, I say, let ’em roll, let ’em roll, let ’em roll.

So, to update our checklist:

  • Get:  GOT

A Merry Little Jewish Christmas

Even though I believe that one respects other’s traditions by not co-opting them, I do live in the real world.

In the real world, my partner and I are lesbians moms to a boy, my sister is married to a Catholic, my Jewish cousin has secretly (all his 67 years) wanted to decorate a Christmas tree and my son thinks that Hannukah wouldn’t be Hannukah without presents.  There, you have it.  A typical American family trying to navigate the traditions without losing our minds in the process.

Friday night, we started the festive weekend at the children’s Hannukah service and potluck at our synagogue.  Our synagogue meets at the Church of the Holy Apostles (Chasidim Kadoshim, to the Jews).  As if to show me that I am not the clueless among Jews, someone said, “It smells so wonderful in here, like pine trees!”  Really?  Really?  Ever hear of “deck the halls with bows of holly .  .  . ” and the recipe, “kill a tree,  attach chachkas to them, and one week later reduce to mulch.  Repeat each year.” ??????

We also stayed for the adult service.  It is difficult to take seriously a rabbi who has a Santa’s elves’ styled hat with a menorah on it but she did take it off when she spoke some words of Torah.  It was an important drash to hear.  There were three main themes:  our viewpoint is imbued with our baggage, for every light there is a shadow and vice-versa and, finally, don’t accept the heroes of a story at face value.

First, the baggage.  The story of Hannukah is simply the miracle that oil enough for one day lasted eight days so that the Jews who recaptured the Temple could perform the necessary re-sanctification rituals.  But if it is 1948 Palestine, the story is about a military victory by a small group against mighty armies.  If it is 1498, during the Inquisition, it is about the subjugation of a people.  If you gather rabbis, it is about a miracle.  If it is 2011, you might wonder if the Maccabees were zealots somewhat akin to today’s radical fundamentalists.  (In fact, history bears that out.)  So, who you are, where you’ve come from, and who you want to be, can shade the way you tell the story, and emphasize the elements.

Light of the Hannukah candles casts a shadow.   For advance, there are detractors, some of whom are merely engaging in a power struggle.  The shadow can be dangerous and it can be restful.  The light can be the path but it can also burn.  Light and shadow need each other.  Success lies in the right balance.  And that is the greatest challenge.  The rabbi told us of settlers in the Israeli occupied territories who, whenever there is a threat to their settlement or way of life, burn down a mosque inside Israel.   (Israel immediately rebuilds the mosques and other Jewish organizations provide Qurans and prayer rugs.)  In the light of peace there is darkness.  Darkness of zealots who use the cover of Judaism to perpetrate atrocities.  Have they forgotten their parents’ and grandparents’ ordeals in Europe?  How could this be?  The light needs to shine a light on this darkness.  These “Jews” do not deserve a place in Israel or anywhere in the quasi-civilized world.

For the first time in a long time, I was glad to to synagogue and learn about things that the mainstream media doesn’t cover.  It made me think, rather than go to synagogue again, I should visit a mosque, Sikh temple or a church and listen.

After leaving synagogue, we looked up at the Empire State Building.  Blue and white adorned two sides, and red and green, the other.  I love New York.

Saturday, the Blogger family gathered with assorted cousins and in-laws to celebrate both traditions.  In my sister’s house was a small Christmas tree decorated in blue and white with a rabbi as an ornament.  Cousin Gentle was so excited because he thinks ornaments are sooooooo adorable that he wants to decorate the tree next year.  I told Cousin Gentle that it had to have an irreverent theme, like that the Hasidic rabbi and the dreidel that was at the foot of the tree.  He had a look of total inspiration that I believe he may have been visiting after-Christmas sales these last two days.

I LOVE how politically and religiously incorrect it was.  And, of course, there was a Yahrzeit candle burning for my Catholic brother-in-law’s father who recently died. And my brother-in-law made the latkes.

Saturday night, everyone was Jewish and Christian and all was good with the world.

The Albino Peacock

On Yom Kippur day, POB (partner of blogger) took sick and I was recovering from my contagion and we were clearly not going back to synagogue. I rallied SOS (our son, source of sanity) to take a walk with me, but first he had to have a meltdown about not be able to take his scooter with us.  I had to draw a line, such as it was, since it WAS the holiest of holy days after all.

We ambled up Broadway.  In fact I dragged SOS up Broadway.  “Penance,” I whispered quietly, “for the sin that I have sinned against G-d by . . . .”

No, dear SOS, we weren’t going to browse in Bank Street Bookstore. Nope, no ice cream either. We are just walking.  Now imagine the response:  silent treatment from hell interspersed by whiny demands for better parents.  Obviously, I didn’t self-flagellate enough during these Holy Days.  I obviously needed this for true atonement.  I had thought to look around for broken glass and hot coals so I could walk on them.  But, no need, I had my child to torture me.

SOS’s mood did brighten considerably when I said that we would cut through the Columbia campus to Amsterdam and then walk home.  You could see in his eyes that he knew liberation from the cruel bondage (of walking ten blocks) was within reach.  “E-mom, is the DVR recording on Yom Kippur?”  I looked at him.  “I withdraw the question.”  Wow, that gene replacement therapy is working.

As we walked through the Columbia quad, I felt like we stepped outside Manhattan and onto any non-urban campus. I don’t think I have been around that many 17-22 year-olds since I left college.  My initial thought was that I could just naturally blend into the scene.

Then reality hit:  I see me when I look at them and they see a middle age women when they look at me.

[For those of you who know Fiddler on the Roof, join me:   When did I stop looking so youthful? When did I start to act so old?  Wasn’t it yesterday when we were at the mall? Sunrise, sunset.]

Back to reality (after a fashion).

As we were walking down Amsterdam, SOS interrupted my self-pity about wasted youth and asked if we were permitted to go to St John the Divine on Yom Tov.

Really? I panicked because I was so sure that, on this clear day, lightning was about to strike.

SOS interpreted my panic as disapproval. “It’s ok, E-Mom, we don’t have to go into a church. I just wanted to see the albino peacock.”

“The whaaaat?”

“Eeeeeee-Mom,” SOS said in that way that was accompanied by a you’re-so-stupid-how-do-you-manage-to-breathe eye roll, “albino means all white and the albino peacock lives in the garden. It’s sort of like a refuge for it.”

No joke:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/porto/128123180/

“Oh, ok, buddy, then it is ok if we go to church,” I said as I readied to throw my son out of the way of the thunderbolt or flood that will whisk me away to hell.

My grandmother used to kiss the mezzuzah and put money in the pushke (the charity box) to get around minor infractions of Jewish kosher laws so her children could drink milk before bed if bedtime was less than six hours after a meat dinner.  Would this work on the holiest of holy days?  My mind was going through all of the usual arguments for the KM/MP (kiss mezzuzah/money in pushke) panacea as we were getting closer to St. John the Divine.  Would we have to go in the church to get to the garden where the peacock lives?  Churches are beautiful but still . . . .

Luckily we didn’t have to go into the church to reach the garden.  Phew.

The garden where the peacock lives is set very far back from Amsterdam and so quiet and lovely.  SOS and I held hands and watched the peacock in the hushed quiet of this little garden that seemed miles away from the pulse of the City.  It is an extraordinary bird. http://www.flickr.com/photos/porto/128122920/in/set-72057594105452625/ I bet that there are swirls and patterns on the feathers but we can’t see them on the white-on-white feathers.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/porto/310756506/in/set-72057594105452625/

And those moments were exhilarating and transcendent.

Yes, Yom Kippur 5772, the day that two wandering Jews found beauty in a rare creature on the grounds of a church.  And it felt like a blessing.

Al Chet

The “Al Chet” is a commual confessional said ten times during Yom Kippur.  (There is also the silent, personal confessional said ad nauseum, so it isn’t as easy as it sounds.)

For the Al Chet (guttural “ch”), each line starts with:  “For the sin we have committed before [G-d]” and then gets pretty detailed:

under duress or willingly; by hard-heartedness; inadvertently; with immorality; openly or secretly; with knowledge and with deceit; through speech: by deceiving a fellowman; by improper thoughts; by verbal [insincere] confession; by disrespect for parents and teachers; by using coercion; desecrating the Divine Name; with evil inclination; by false denial and lying; by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand; in business  dealings; by eating and drinking; with proud looks; with impudence; and on and on.

After every few, we Jews ask: V’al kulam Eloha s’lichot, s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu (For all of these things, G-d of forgiveness, pardon us, forgive us, let us atone.)

Generally, I really dig in deep when it comes to the sins of pride, speaking ill of someone, improper thoughts and eating and drinking.  Ok, impudence, too.  And, ok ok ok ok, taking G-d’s name in vain.  But as a general matter, I am comfortable that the other sins are not mine in particular although on Yom Kippur we stand as a community and “own” these sins as a group.

Still, while the confessional is detailed but it is easy not to connect with the words on the page.  So, at our synagogue, during Selichot (the prep holiday for the Ten Days of Sorry), our synagogue congregants write down sins for which they seek atonement.  [a side note:  just the “Ten Days of Sorry” comment is going to be a BIG issue for 5773 if I last so long.]

Some of the “al chets” were: littering, not recycling, abusing substances, infidelity and unprotected sex.  While this may be ground-breaking in an Orthodox shul or a church, in our synagogue serving the gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, queer-identified community, their families and their friends (the printing is getting soooo expensive) with a social justice mandate (as if being home to everyone and literally his or her Jewish mama isn’t social justice enough), these “al chets”, too, have become rather mundane over 20 years.

But there was one “al chet” that stuck with me:  for the sin that I have sinned against G-d by maligning Orthodox Jews.

Whoa!!!!  That stopped me in my tracks.  I used to greet Jews with a kippah (skull cap) or a sheidl (wig) as fellow travelers seeking a good, meaningful life.  I learned over the years that one doesn’t inherit religious or ethical principles.  So, a child with a yarmulke can be as good or as evil or as somewhere-in-between as the rest of us.  Yet, they wear a costume of piety.  I have learned first hand about how some kosher, Sabbath observing, “pious” Jews are not ethical, moral or righteous. 

I have been crushed, disillusioned and personally harmed by the nefarious, immoral and dishonest deeds of those parading as pious, even those who are called “rabbi”.  And not because they object to my sexual orientation (there is no prohibition against lesbians in Torah).

As a result, I do deal with Orthodox Jews with greater suspicion than I do others.  And that is wrong.  The good and right thing is to assess each person according to that person’s merits.

It all comes down to a derivative of the golden rule: Don’t judge a book by its cover. 

For the sin that I have sinned by maligning all orthodox Jews on account of a few pretenders AND wanting to rip off their Yamulkes or sheidls, Eloha s’lichot (G-d of forgiveness), pardon me, forgive me, let me atone.  But if the person deserves it, I want the Heavens to clap with thunder and the angels to blow those crazy little bugels, ok?
Wow, Yom Kippur is over by less than two hours and I am soooo cooked for next year. .  . . . . .