Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mikvah Ladies in a Post-Denominational World

Ima Shalom is a friend and former neighbor, self-described as a “work-at-home-stay-at-home mom living the post-denominational life with her son and Orthodox husband.” About 6 months ago, when her baby was 9 months old, she started a collaborative blog with several other Jewish mothers of young children. It’s a really lovely effort. The reason that I mention it today is that yesterday she wrote a post that I think several of my readers will find interesting. The post talks about her recent invitation to help coordinate the schedule at the local mikvah.

This is particularly interesting in light of the shul politics of the area where she lives... There is a substantial constituency of people there who are active in both the orthodox shul and in (a) the local post-denominational egalitarian minyan and/or (b) the local partnership minyan. The people in this situation have been explicitly excluded from serving as mikvah attendants lest their (varying levels of) egalitarian practice imply loose observance of niddah and thus taint the mikvah. (The ortho shul has also taken issue with men who participate in these minyanim, but that is not the subject of this post.) Anyhow, interestingly enough Ima Shalom attends the ortho shul (where her husband is very involved and respected) and both of the above-mentioned minyanim. As she notes, being a mikvah scheduler is an important way for her to participate, even if she cannot serve as a mikvah attendant. Anyhow, you should read her post. And, if you’re interested, check out her blog regularly.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some days I feel like a Conservative

In a post on the Conservative Movement, Elf wrote:
So it doesn't bother me that the movement doesn't always reflect my ideals, or even that it doesn't seem to have a clear-cut mission. From my perspective, the movement's function is to serve as an umbrella organization for similarly-minded Jewish leaders to build and sustain communities, grapple with contemporary issues, and educate the next generation. Granted, it doesn't always do these things very well, but it hobbles along. And since I don't generally expect much from religious institutions (or institutions in general), I'm not seriously disappointed.

Elf very much reflects my feelings on the matter despite the fact that I (a) grew up in the Conservative Movement, and (b) sometimes identify as Conservative. 

Actually growing up with it, I don't think I ever had the idea that it was supposed to be any different than what Elf describes. And it met my needs by providing us with the UJ, Hebrew High, and the United Synagogue Website (which was my way of figuring out where I might want to daven when entering a new city -- seriously, I must have been the only college student to actually use this tool!)

As for identity, well, when I identify as Conservative (which is not always) I do so first because it's convenient (other days I prefer to say observant, or observant and egalitarian, for example, but what does that mean?!), and secondly because I appreciate being able to label myself as somehow still under the same umbrella as my family despite being at a quite different place on the spectrum that is Conservative Judaism.

Of course, I’m a bit unsure of the utility of the Conservative label for someone who isn’t involved in the Movement. I tend to agree with those who say that the distinction between Conservative and anything else to the right is mixed seating. You may think I’m exaggerating or referring to an old-fashioned distinction. But truly – one of the 2 Conservative shuls where I grew up had mixed seating but did not count women for minyan nor allow women on the bima, while the last post-denominational minyan I was involved in has separate seating but allows women to do basically everything. Moreover, if this really is the distinction, and I if I have concluded that seating arrangement is not a deal breaker (which clearly I have, given my involvement in said minyan), then can I really claim to be Conservative? Perhaps not. But today it’s the best I’ve got. If you want tomorrow’s opinion, you’ll have to ask then!

Now, regarding Katrina's observation about disproportionate disillusionment among Conservative Jews... I have to admit that most of the conservative, formerly-conservative, and would-be-conservative-except people I spend time with fall somewhere close to the conservadox / observant-egalitarian / post-denominational / modern orthodox fault-line. Which is to say, I'm not convinced that I have a representative sample.

That said, is it a problem that the most educated and involved Conservative Jews seem disillusioned with the movement? Yes. That can't be good.

But then again, J is going to be a passionate Conservative rabbi someday – one who actually believes in the movement for its potential. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the happens.

And why don’t I personally feel angsty and disillusioned? I guess I think the Conservative movement did well by me, and made me who I am. And, despite all the musing in this blog post, I actually don’t feel required to stick myself in a label/box. I can therefore accept that legacy without worrying too much about whether it is for me today.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All Fired Up

I am, to borrow a phrase from Barak Obama, all fired up. Now, you might wonder, what is it that has Sunkist Miss fired up today? The election? No, I’m fascinated by but not worked up about the election. Kosovo? The arms trade? Minyan politics? No, no, no. What I’m talking about today is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the right for people with disabilities to obtain accommodations. In another life I think this would have been my calling. As is, it is what you might call a hobby. In any case, it is something that I am passionate about. And this week, I had the opportunity to help out a friend, in a small way. It reminded me about how frustrating it can be to deal with the system. And how important it is to be able to advocate for your needs.

The friend in question was asking for reconsideration of a request for accommodation on a standardized test that had been denied. I helped edit the letter. This required a certain touch that goes beyond knowing how to write. And as she noted, I am quite good at this. My response: I learned from the best. And it’s true. Along with how to write a cover letter, and what else happened in 1492, my mother taught me everything I know about advocating for accommodations. I know what to say and how to say it so that you hit the right buzz words. And much as I was frustrated by the fact that the letter was needed, I was excited to realize that this is something I now know how to do. I’ve come a long way. It’s really nice to be able to use that to help someone else. It makes me feel like there was some net gain from my own experiences with this.

Perhaps some other time I will write more about disabilities issues. But for now I’m just thinking about how much I care about this issue, how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned, and how much I would like to find a way to help other people beyond the friends/acquaintances who occasionally come my way. Maybe when I’m done with grad school I’ll make that a real hobby.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fighting the Cold

Winter is Cold. I know – you, East Coast native that you are, are not surprised. But hey, for some people this is a revelation. It was new to me when I moved east – and I’m still getting over the shock! Anyhow, this seems to come up, repeatedly, in my war class. Just ask my professor…
• Waxing nostalgic on the Peloponnesian War:
“Melos is a nice place – especially when you’re in the midst of the arctic night which is [Boston] in January or February.”

• Contemplating the Napoleonic Wars:
“Napoleon’s idea, when he invaded Russia, was to winter in Lithuania. Now, I don’t know… my idea of wintering doesn’t include either Russia or Lithuania!”

Imagine... if only Napoleon had decided to winter in Greece!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Only in California...

I miss voting on election day. I mean, I voted of course, but being a PAV (that's permanent absentee voter, for those of you not in the know) is much less exciting...especially if you vote for someone who subsequently drops out! Oops.

Anyhow, one of the joys of being a voter in the Great State of California is the dubious privilege of voting on numerous referenda/ballot propositions. I mean, some one has to legislate. If the legislators don't do so, you bring it to the people. Repeatedly. My favorite measure on the Super Tuesday ballot: Proposition 91 on Transportation Funds. Prior to each election, the Secretary of State sends out an official Voter Guide, where you can read the text of the measures, the official legislative analysis of what it will change, and pro and con arguments. Examine the arguments regarding Prop 91:
Pro: Prop. 91 is NO LONGER NEEDED. Please VOTE NO. [...]

Con: No argument against Proposition 91 was submitted.

Now, the official results, with 100% of precincts reporting. Proposition 91 failed. NO votes: 3,820,464 (58.1%). YES votes: 2,763,289 (41.9%). That's right folks, 2.7 Million voters in the state of California voted yes on a proposition that absolutely nobody supported.