Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Smoking is "officially" Kosher for Passover

A couple of weeks ago I asked why cigarettes don't have a hechsher . . and now they do. Will try not to give people any more ideas :p.

Here's the article that elaborates.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Happy Passover!!!

Happy Pesach!!!

Last year I made a passport to keep the kids engaged at the seder. This year, we're doing SEDER BINGO instead.We'll be at my sister-in-law's. My brother-in-law's family  is Moroccan, so some of the items on the bingo reflect his traditions (mixing water with wine, dipping veggies in lemon water). There are lots of BINGOs on the market, but if you want a free one, click the  link above for the one I made. If you e-mail me: coinlaundryblog@gmail.com, I'm happy to send you the Word version so that you can adapt the BINGO for your family.

For the adults looking for some diversion during the seder, consider printing Shalom Auslander's story: Plagued  and sneaking it into your Haggaddah. It's a short story from the modernized perspective of a Jewish man in love with an Egyptian woman set during the plagues of Egypt. A great read. If you prefer history over fiction, Curious New York, had a fabulous post a couple of years ago detailing the overlapping elements of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, Passover (also one of the Jewish New Years), and Easter.


Friday, 22 March 2013

Last Year's Seders Behind the Scenes

Though I didn't blog about this part, last year's seders were pretty contentious at our house. It was just the four of us both nights. Mr. CL lead the first seder, and I did the second one. Mr. CL wanted absolutely nothing to do with a Humanistic seder in the house. He felt the Humanistic seder  is a mockery of a tradition he holds very dear. The hostility got to such a degree, that I couldn't get through my Haggadah's Maggid, and left the table in tears/abandoned the entire effort.

Rationally, I know that this is such stupidity to argue over, but I was very hurt. I have and do participate in A LOT of religious observance from his side of the family in the years we've been together. I felt that it shouldn't be too much to ask for him to humor me this one time that I requested a form of observance that reflected my views.  His response made me feel like my Judaism - and by extension I - don't count.

In any case, when I blogged about my seder, one of the commentors,  Atheodox Jew,  read between the lines. His comments really struck a chord:

"[At] the end of the day, what children will take away from the Seder, probably more than anything else, is the memory of the family dynamics. Did they feel left out or included? Is the family culture one of putting others down, or interacting kindly, respectfully? Are the parents stressed out and bickering, or harmonious and enjoying themselves? 

So in addition to all the focus on the content of the Seder, what teachings and rituals we like and which one's we don't, of equal (if not greater) importance is the interpersonal component. That imprint runs very, very deep!"

We very much failed on all the counts listed above. We tried to include the kids (we started the seders early,  lead significantly abridged versions, he taught them the songs beforehand, I included interactive activities). Nevertheless, the politics between us undeniably overshadowed that. The family culture - both of us to blame - has unfortunately disintegrated. Among other things, I resent religion being imposed on me - particularly on Passover when that religion seeps into our home. He resents my resentment. Not sure how to fix this. I'll start by trying to stop resenting.

I don't want to revisit last year's seder experience, so I'm not going to push the Humanism this year.  I'm making a concerted effort to prioritize harmony over ceremony. Mr. CL will lead the seder as he did the first night. The second night we'll go to his sister's. She's awesome, her food is always great, our kids play well together, and we'll have a good time. I will be supportive - or at least non-complaining - of his koshering our kitchen for the week. It's just a week!!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

What's the Best way to deal with religion peddlers?

When I was in France, the family I stayed with would tell missionaries that they were practicing satanists. Though I'm not a big fan of missionaries, we usually  just nicely say, "Sorry not interested". Here is another take . . . more of a missionaries meets kiruv version . . . Not   sure if the conversation would qualify as Chillul Hashem or  Kiddush Hashem  . .


  P.S. I got the same flyer from the "JWs" last Monday.  And yes, this is what  Toronto looks like this spring. 

Hat tip: Heshy Fried

Monday, 18 March 2013

Lena Boroditsky's Thoughts on Language and Thought

For anyone interested in how language affects thought, Lena Boroditsky's lecture  is really fascinating. She demonstrates how the specific grammatical structures in a language influences its speakers perceptions of   time, space, impressions of culpability etc. I've long felt that I am a different person in Russian than I am in English. And Boroditsky's lecture explains why that is, and why that sentiment reflects reality to a certain extent.  I highly highly recommend watching the vid!

There are some implications re: religion in this. I'd be curious about how much one's native language's constructs influence textual interpretation.  The research implies that native English speakers would inherently interpret the same Bible story/characters differently than lets say a native Yiddish speaker, or than a Hebrew speaker would, even if all three are reading the text in the original. i.e. The characters God, Moses, Pharoah, may be more/less sympathetic in English vs. Hebrew or Russian due to arbitrary linguistic constructs.  By extension, I wonder whether speakers of different languages perceive God in general differently by virtue of the means with which they can represent God that are available to them in their language. All this very much reminds me of Sherwin Wine's comment: "The mistake of the Reform Movement was translate the prayerbook into English. Mistake! Mistake! Mistake!" (Although he meant it in a different context). In any case, just my 2c for today.

 Thanks to Elyaqim for the link!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Question! About Boredom . . .

We've been on the sick-again-well again Merry-go-Round a lot since January. It's part of the business with young kids. In any case, what it translates to is a lot of missed work days for me, and though I love love LOVE the extra cuddling, by this point, especially since it's winter, the cabin fever is also hitting. When I'm home with the kids for days, and we can't go out many places since they are sick, I do end up relying quite heavily on electronic media to keep them entertained. (Guilty mom disclaimer: not all of it is un-educational: my son loves "reading" Encyclopedia Brittanica, that comes with an electronic pen that can read the entries to him, as well as following along story books with CDs). In any case, I was just wondering how people cope with entertaining their kids on Shabbat/similar holidays, when much of this stuff would be off limits. In general, is Shabbat something that you can't wait for because it's a break, or does shabbos "get old" for adults too?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Atheist Shul Hopping

I have a very vague memory of my first childhood visit to shul. It was a high holiday, and we went to what I remember as a big Johannesburg shul. My parents decided to take us in response to my near early conversion to Christianity. They had made a kind of a short lived attempt to observe Jewish holidays. This entailed lighting the candles a few Friday nights in the dining room of our old Portuguese house. My mother reading the bracha off the side of the periwinkle candle box, and one or two trips to shul for high holidays. They took us to a big Johannesburg shul. I accompanied my mom upstairs to the women's section, while my brother went to the main floor level with my dad. My mother - also having rarely, if ever, stepped into a shul, must have felt very out of place, particularly as an immigrant in a community we never felt much a part of. Anyway, as the room hushed for the services to begin, the rabbi, donned in white - entered. The sanctuary fell silent, and my high-pitched seven year old voice echoed through it the question:  "Mommy, what is the chef doing there?" My mother was mortified, and that ended our family visits to shul in South Africa. Fast forward a few decades, and a few shuls later, I've found a place that works for me (albeit just for Yom Kippur) - in the local Secular Humanistic Jewish congregation.

Jonathan Zimmerman recently wrote an article:  An Atheist’s Synagogue Search in which he describes the introspective path that lead him to find (and ultimately reject) SHJ. He, like me, identifies as a Jewish Atheist, and seems to have settled into a comfortable acceptance of both. Though my upbringing was very different than Zimmerman's - my involvement in the Jewish community was more disjointed - I was able to appreciate many of the sentiments he describes. He writes about struggling to find a congregation that fulfills both aspects of that identity (the Jewish and the Atheist), flirts for a while with a Secular Humanistic Congregation, and then ultimately gravitates back to a more traditional service, because, he concludes:

"There is inherent value in saying words I do not mean, praying to a God I do not believe in, and kissing a Torah I do not believe was written by him. There is a poetic richness as a non-believer participating in this tradition, in being an “Israelite” named for a mythological story about wrestling with a fictional deity that birthed a very real people."

For me, traditional services don't hold much (read: any) appeal. Possibly in part because I didn't grow up with them, possibly because of some of the major disagreements I have with the theology. Definitely because I see life as too short and precious to waste doing avoidable stuff that I find painfully, and mind-numbingly boring. But, to each his own. I'm glad that Zimmerman has found a happy place. It's a good feeling.

I can see why SHJ is not for everyone. I'm not sure if SHJ services would have appealed to me at any other time in my life, either. I actually envisioned a more religion-free life. Then, at 19,  I fell in love with my husband, and that plan was derailed . . .along with the plan to escape winter - sigh. In any case, I don't think it is an accident that I became drawn to SHJ around the time that my son was born . . . knowing that otherwise he would be exposed to Jewish identity essentially only through Orthodoxy (via my in-laws), while my lack of observance would be blamed on my Russian roots, and characterized as not-very-Jewish. It was not uncommon for me to hear from my husband that I'm an atheist because I wasn't educated enough in/was deprived of  exposure to a proper Jewish education. I did genuinely want to become frum in my early teens- there was something about the lifestyle that seemed so romantic, but  the numerous discussions with kiruv rabbis didn't render any compelling reasons to believe. Then Hitchens, then Harris, then Dawkins and the internet nailed the empty God coffin shut, and dispelled much of the romance I'd attached to a frum life.  Somewhere along the way an effort to believe in Judaism was replaced with an actual belief in humanism, and so the timing was just right for SHJ to resonate with me.

I was not looking for a replacement of  the the South African shul of my childhood. Rituals and  reciting things in unison are not my thing. I can also see why Zimmerman was put off by the revision of key traditional blessings. Those old texts are an integral part of our literary history/heritage, and I also don't necessarily want them completely edited out of Jewish memory. (Though I'm happy to file most in the library instead of the sanctuary).  My personal preference would be for services to contextualize the originals. (i.e. " Our ancestors recited [insert traditional Shema here], and today we say [insert SHJ adaptation here].") For me this would be more meaningful, because it would tie the new to the old, without lying, and also help fit SHJ among the other denominations. In any case, since the original text is not particularly personally meaningful to begin with, this is not a dealbreaker for me, as it was for Zimmerman. My aims are more cultural/social.  I enjoy that when the Jewish community gets together, I also have a place to go. I love that there are familiar tunes and landmarks - kippot, tallisis, people with names like Zimmerman and Hersh, and that those landmarks are not incongruent with our daily life. I don't have to pretend God is great, or even there. I don't have to park down the street so it looks like we didn't drive. I can buy the tickets at the door. I can wear what I normally would to a formal event without worrying that people will consider my neckline untznious.  I can look the intermarried  and gay couples  in the eye knowing that here they are wholly and genuinely accepted as equals in our community, just as they are in my everyday places in my everyday life. In other words, it's the right place for me, and it's a good feeling.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Question! Is Smoking "Kosher"?

And by kosher, I mean not forbidden by Jewish law/assur (i.e. colloquially kosher). By extension, if smoking is halachically permitted, do cigarettes - like some other non- food items  - get hechshers?

Friday, 1 March 2013

Weighing the Value of Jewish Day School

This year will be Mr. CL' s and my 14th year together. We met in high school, and started dating in university. Before we were together, Mr. CL invited me to go camping with his buddies.  I was "strategically" (I later learned) seated beside Mr. CL, and we had a long conversation on the ride up. The conversation comprised mostly of swapping stories about our horrible experiences at our respective Toronto Jewish Day Schools. I distinctly remember thinking to myself "Wow! A Jewish guy who won't insist that I send my kids to Jewish Day School - perfect!" I was wrong.

Once we got serious, Mr. CL made it clear that he had no intention of "depriving" his kids of the Day School experience. And I made it clear that I don't love camping. So, I guess we're even. In any case, for Mr. CL, a strong Jewish identity is something he intently wants to impart on our children, and, he feels that Jewish Day School is one of the best vehicles with which to do this. (That I left Jewish Day School practically antisemitic for a couple of years, and refusing to acknowledge that I was Jewish lest I be associated with the kids I went to school with there, doesn't sway him.) He argues that just because we had bad experiences, doesn't mean  that our kids will, and he's probably right.

In any case, I'm not entirely against the idea of Jewish Day School for two main reasons:

#1. I think the academic standards are generally higher in private schools. I'm very skeptical about the quality of public education in Toronto. I'll admit that the skepticism is largely based on personal experience rather than research. As an elementary student I found that the public school system here had far lower expectations of students than the public schools in South Africa, and the local private schools. As a professional in the public system, I'm constantly watching educational services get cut. The recent teacher's strikes also have not done very much to inspire my confidence. And, though I'm sure I'll offend numerous in saying this, to be honest, I think the standards for becoming a teacher are far too low in the Toronto universities. (Having said that, the quality of the training of the teachers in the private system is by no means guaranteed to be inherently better.)

#2. I'm willing to pay for my children to be fluent in a second language.  Now, I'm not entirely sure that Hebrew is necessarily the language I would want to invest in. I think the kids will get more bang for our buck if they learn French, Spanish or Mandarin. However, Hebrew does have personal significance for our family . . and man do I wish I could speak it!  So, I'd be happy if they came out with a good Hebrew foundation, and hopefully they can pick up another language later on.

The Jewish Day School that looks good on paper for our family is Bialik. Mr. CL likes the level of religious education - i.e. children who graduate from this school will not be lost at a seder table, or a shabbat service. For me, I like that the school has more of a cultural/Israeli bent than a religious one. Children are not required to be halachically Jewish (an automatic deal-breaker for me about Associated Hebrew Day Schools). Though they learn about Judaism, religious practice isn't forced on the kids - they aren't made to wear kippas, they don't have to bring kosher lunches unless there is a class-wide event, and they aren't asked to daven.

Nevertheless, I do have some reservations.

#1. The expense. It's not just the tuition. Bialik is nowhere near us.(Let's leave the discussion of moving out of Toronto in the burbs for the North campus for another post. Right now moving North of the city is not something we want to consider). The South campus is in a very expensive area. Our options: a) stay where we are and be able to afford the school, but have major problems getting there - and back to work - especially in the winter, or b) move a reasonable distance from the school, but then not be able to afford the tuition.

#2. If we're paying that much $$, is it worth limiting ourselves to Jewish school? For Mr. CL - it's a resounding yes. He doesn't have the issues with academic levels, or the strong desire for second language acquisition that I do. The Jewish part is the part he wants to pay for. While for Mr. CL, the motivation for sending our kids to a Jewish school comes in part (IMO) for our lack of religious observance at home (i.e. to make up for what we're not modeling),  for me, it is precisely our secularness* that makes me question whether a Jewish education is worth paying for. I get if you're frum, why you would want to pay for a Jewish education . . . there are so many details involved in maintaining an Orthodox lifestyle etc. etc,. . but for us . . . why?? Is it worth forking over basically my entire pay cheque so that Mini CL can be Abba Shabbat? In other words, while I think we shouldn't pay for a Jewish school because we don't live in a Jewish world, my husband thinks we should pay for a Jewish school precisely because we don't live in a Jewish world.  Your thoughts???

*Although, I should point out that Mr. CL does not consider himself secular as he observes Rosh Hashana, Pesach, and Yom Kippur. We also put up a Sukkah, and our kids dress up for Purim.
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