The still small voice

View from my porch

Have had some time out from work and toddler this afternoon. Had the luxury of going to the local park and lying on the grass.

Everything that’s going on at the moment makes me appreciate how lucky I am. That I have these moments of contentment. For someone as naturally ambitious as me it takes a lot for me to be able to switch off the internal voice and listen to the external one.

The still small voice. That quiet voice that hums throughout the natural world that is usually drowned out by our busy lives. A falling leaf, drifting clouds, dappled leaf shadows on the grass.

This sense of peace is partly how I feel when reading about Judaism. It is not the same, but I have never really had anything resembling it up until now.

The anxiety of the present I think makes these moments of peace even more potent.

My first Pesach at home

Yes that’s a glass, not a vase..

Had second night Pesach with my synagogue via video link. It was lovely, although somewhat hard to sing along when the audio dropped out.

In a way it gave me a chance to try cooking for Pesach a bit earlier than I otherwise would have given I’m in the process of converting. Unfortunately my lovely Seder plate (and all my vases) were still in storage. Finding the afikomen (the bit of matzah you hide) was fun for my toddler though.

No I didn’t try making gefilte fish. That’s not something I’m intending to do anytime soon. The Italian charoset recipe was very nice though. Brisket worked too. Was lower pressure for me in a way because I only needed to cook for the immediate family.

I love Pesach. A true sense of connectedness and family comes out. It is at its heart a very conscious insertion of history and tradition into the here and now. The Seder is the thread of the past that is woven into the current. It is important that it reflects contemporary life, and to presume it has been immutable is a bit naive. It is the most widely celebrated holiday though, perhaps because it represents the best opportunity of all the festivals to truly feel connected to the flow of life throughout time.

Change in isolation

Feeling lucky today

We’re all well, and at no risk of being bored with a toddler in the house. I would like some more time and energy to read though. Shifting to working from home has been particularly stressful as it had meant many compromises, as I’m sure most have felt.

It is a shame to think that this Pesach will be one without the benefit of face to face community. The human capacity for adaptation though is admirable and my synagogue, like many others, will be having an online seder this year.

The reignition of community spirit has begun, and will hopefully endure when this is over. I feel a sense of renewed faith in family and community love at the moment.

Now just need to figure out the best way to source matzah for next week…

I Made Challah!

My photo. Tasted great too!

The only up side to this virus has so far been that it has motivated me to finally try making challah.

Let me be clear, I am not the world’s best baker. The recipe I used was from Rochie Pinson. Even using metric cups instead of imperial it worked out just great! So ridiculously excited about finally baking and eating my own challah.

I even said the blessing for the sacrifice of challah, (you burn a small portion of it to symbolise the bread given to the priests in the temple, I think), even though I technically didn’t have to because the size of the dough was small.

The only problem was, my toddler ate the raw sacrificial dough before it got in the oven…

My first bar mitzvah

At the service yesterday there was a bar mitzvah going on. Definitely the busiest I’ve seen it at synagogue, latecomers had trouble finding a seat.

Firstly, it was thoroughly cute that the family of the bar mitzvah were all wearing matching kippahs (yarmulkes). Apparently its a thing for custom kippahs to be made in honour of the bar mitzvah, like a wedding favour. My husband has a small stash from ones he has been to. A girl (bat) or boy (bar) becomes of the mitzvah when they reach the age of 13. However they don’t really get told that all they need to do is turn 13 to officially be one, because otherwise none of them would put as much effort in to studying Hebrew in order to read from the Torah.

The bar mitzvah was certainly the centre of everything, he and his family were honoured with reading several areas of the prayer service and also with performing most of the blessings over the Torah. The bar mitzvah also reads the haftarah, the part of the books of the prophets that is associated with the Torah reading of the week.

There is always a big feast after a bar mitzvah, apparently in the US it is common for it to be an extremely lavish affair. Obviously I didn’t go for the food as I wasn’t actually there for the bar mitzvah, just to go to the service.

When someone becomes a son or daughter of the mitzvah they are then counted as an adult for prayer services. Traditionally only males can make up a minyan (quorum of 10) required for a community service to go ahead. It marks a Jewish person’s entry into adulthood and is clearly an occasion marked with great celebration and joy.

My first Purim

Photo by Pixabay

My first choir performance was a very relaxed affair. For those who don’t know, a modern Purim is mostly a Jewish ‘halloween’, although probably with more alcohol. It is a mitzvah to drink until you cannot tell friend from foe, seriously.

Hence the whole night had a very laid back vibe, everyone seemed to be ready to poke fun at themselves in ways I had never previously seen. It is clearly a night when no one takes things particularly seriously and everyone thoroughly enjoys letting their multi-coloured hair down. I suspect that this is because there is actually little real ceremony about the holiday and then religious stuff is centred around a scroll that never mentions God, and that some think may actually be a satire anyway.

The megillah, or scroll of Esther is read aloud, and hearing it is the only real religious requirement of the evening, as far as I understand it. Keep in mind I am learning about this stuff as I go. The actual translation of the scroll, which we went through in our conversion class, is actually a story about how Jews were going to be wiped out but then instead turned the tables and killed over 75 000 of their foes. So, to me, Purim is a celebration of the fact that instead of being wiped out, the Jews destroyed their enemies. That rather than being persecuted for being who they are, for once they got their own back.

Singing in the choir was great fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Rabbi’s costume. Think animals that have the word ‘Rabbi’ in their name. There was a lot of alcohol, and the consumption of it certainly seemed as enthusiastic as I’d ever seen it. Nothing particularly excessive though, it was very much a family event. The vibe was very different though, very much a party, and not a religious occasion in any way. The shedding of all self-consciousness was really the highlight for me. That and singing prayers to pop music tunes.

Joined the choir!

So I’ve joined the choir at synagogue. Again, felt obviously an outsider at rehearsal, but hey, I am!

I have been thinking about joining a choir for years as I like singing. I have performed at several big name venues, such as ‘Car On The Way To Work’ and ‘The Shower’.

I will be singing in the choir for Purim, which is at least the most rowdy of the holidays. The pictures of Jews passed out in the street from drunkenness are a bit surreal. It looks more like something I’d see in the local news. Seriously, getting so drunk you can’t tell friend from foe is apparently a mitzvah.

The choir is for me the epitome of community involvement. Singing with strangers means losing a piece of that self-consciousness that we always carry around. Particularly when you they sing in Hebrew and none of the subject matter is more than passingly familiar to you.

Why do people hate Jews?

Most people I know would, I suspect, know very little about Jews. I know I did before I met one (well first knowingly met one anyway). They don’t eat pork and were an often hated minority was all I really knew.

It is always easy to transfer responsibility for your problems to someone else. It is a natural defence mechanism of humans, it helps us avoid guilt and save face socially, both very strong instincts. In top of that we instinctively fear that which is not like us.

Jews are easy to hate. There isn’t many of them (only 0.18% of the world is Jewish) and they will often dress, speak and eat differently. Well traditionally anyway. The religion is also very much against violence of any kind, and peace is a central theme (Shalom means peace).

Seems like a great recipe for a scapegoat. Couple that with a people with a communal identity but no nation willing to back them up and you’ve got a great target for your fear and anger.

When people are angry and scared, they will always direct that negativity somewhere. Unless they are given the tools to better their own lives and the understanding to alleviate their ignorance, people will always blame others for their problems.

Shabbat

I think that observing Shabbat is less about exactly what you do or don’t do, and more about that way you do it.

Following every rule for strict Shabbat observance was obviously never going to be for me. I don’t respond well to externally-imposed rules generally. Besides, outside of the military, strict regulation of your every move (particularly with kids) is pretty much impossible. That said, a regular rhythm is more instinctively easy to follow, like the beating of a heart.

It is lovely to have the routine of the blessings for the welcoming of Shabbat. I particularly am enamored of the blessing for children, something that my husband was not even aware existed but is one of the highlights for me of my Shabbat experience.

I am trying to cook something interesting or one of our particular favourite meals for Shabbat, and would like to make Friday the night we have dessert (we’re not really dessert every night kind of people). I am also trying to go to synagogue semi-regularly.

Aside from that I try to focus on Shabbat being a family day and doing that thing I love best, being outdoors. Being outdoors to be is the most un-work thing you can do. That which gives me the best sense of being free.

Keeping Kosher?

The dietary restrictions in Judaism seem to take up an enormous amount of mental energy. Often when I meet someone there is a conversation about food, specifically about the food laws, or kashrut.

There is biblical kashrut, what the Torah says about food restrictions. This includes not eating forbidden animals, removing the sciatic nerve (to do with Jacob), not eating certain fats or blood, not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk and not killing a mother animal and her young on the same day. Also, not eating torn flesh (treif means torn) or animals that died of natural causes. Adam and Eve were supposed to be vegetarian, eating meat was a concession on God’s behalf to human vice. (FWIW I’m not a vegetarian).

The Rabbis expanded these rules and defined what they meant for the everyday Jew in order to come up with the laws that now play a huge practical role in how Jews who keep kosher interact with the world.

Obviously dietary restrictions are a highly visible way to differentiate yourself and being different always comes with a host of social issues. Keeping kosher for those who do is an integral part of their identity however and is worth the trouble for the spiritual rewards.

There are other parts to keeping kosher that I think warrant just as much attention. These include not causing needless pain and suffering to animals and not causing wanton destruction or wastefulness.

Some would argue that traditional techniques for killing animals may not these days be inferior to modern techniques, but I’m not really knowledgeable enough on the subject to comment on that. It is worth thinking about though. Being vegetarian of course you avoid the need to consider how your meat lived and died, but I still believe that it is often far more difficult for humans to be at optimal health without meat. Many will disagree.

Avoiding wanton destruction and wastefulness, now this I think is the aspect of keeping kosher that needs more attention. The concept of eco-kashrut is something I’m starting to learn more about. More on that soon.

%d bloggers like this: