Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Can she?

Jennifer thinks she can. She thinks she can. She will.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Situation Shabbat

Tithing; the practice of giving one tenth of one’s yearly earnings to one’s religious ‘home’ was a Kryptonite-like-principle fastened to my parents’ religious conscience.

To tithe, of course, requires one to cut a check; arrange for payment; head to the ATM or remove the typically black, rubber stop-gap of one’s piggy bank, releasing one’s pent-up currency, coins — baubles of one’s personal banking system.

Within the topographical and strictly [Orthodox] Catholic framework of 1970[s] Woodside, Queens; Saint Mary’s was my family’s spiritual conclave; where Catechism, Confession and choir practice were the real-time measures of devotion and practice. Back then, Saint Mary’s ethnic mosaic amounted to a tetrahedral of believers: German, Irish, Polish, Italian.

My father’s mid-Western morphology; his sensible sense of right and wrong; his insistence on fair follow-through was aided and abetted by his once Protestant-turned-Catholic tautology and was further layered by my mother’s Pennsylvania-plain-spoken-spin on Jesus [and most any other topic falling under the governance of God’s sky].

Never ‘pressured’ to become a Catholic; my father looked to Rome not for relief [from some other ill-fitting faith] but from a sense of what he believed a family should be — a cohesive unit operating from the same play-book.

My father’s November surrender from this life to the next; framed my third year of college — Saint Mary’s was, of course, where his funeral Mass took place. Congregation Beth Elohim [CBE] in Park Slope, Brooklyn [my first ‘affiliated’ synagogue since emerging as a Reform Jew] is the place I have gone since to observe the anniversary of his passing; where I say Kaddish [the mourner’s prayer] while standing in prayerful remembrance.

The Shabbat which underscored my father’s Yahrzeit [http://judaism.about.com/cs/deathandmourning/f/yahrzeit.htm]this past November [2009] showcased another ‘competing’ element of CBE’s communal prayer experience. A woman [not personally known to me] was called before the congregation by Rabbi Andy Bachman together with an unidentified man [also unknown to me]. Rabbi Bachman revealed that the woman had been to the mikvah several days prior; to claim her place; her chosen identity as a Jew. He went further, elaborating at length, in his standard stream-of-consciousness style about her ‘conversion.’

A ‘strict’ understanding of conversion dictates that full immersion in the mikvah under the supervision and authorization of one’s Beit Din [http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Conversion/Conversion_Process/Beit_Din.shtml] combined with the requisite Hebrew-laced; affirmatively-Jewish prayers is the kosher [correct] ‘rite-of-passage’ for an individual seeking to ‘become’ a Jew.

In Othodox circles [communities] once a visit to the mikvah is made [and its associated usage levy is paid] that woman; that man is undeniably, Jewish. So Jewish, in fact, that making public reference to the convert; the conversion, is viewed not only as impolitic but improper.

But CBE is a Reform congregation, where many things [especially as compared to an Orthodox synagogue] are much more relaxed; or, as my father would say — much more “loosey-goosey.”

Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Senator Charles Schumer in the August 2, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, quotes Rabbi Bachman as bequeathing “spontaneous blessings to the Schumers” during last year’s CBE Yom Kippur services where Senator Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall have been long-time members.

After thanking Senator Schumer’s wife for her lengthy service to local government, Toobin quotes Rabbi Bachman’s ‘spontaneous’ blessing as follows: “and then what popped out of my mouth when I started talking about Chuck was that I wished him greater strength as he was working on health-care legislation. Suddenly, when I said that, fourteen hundred people got up and started cheering. It was hilarious, a classic Park Slope liberal moment.”

Reflecting on Toobin’s piece begs the following question: Was it also a “classic Park Slope liberal moment” when I began receiving emails [beginning in August 2009] from then Democratic City Council candidate [now Councilman] Brad Lander?

The emails are, unequivocally, electronic evidence illustrative of a violation of the ‘separation of church [synagogue] and state’ [http://www.au.org/about/history.html]. Further, they represent an outright disregard of my privacy rights. I fail to recognize the “hilarity” here; even [especially] as I am neither a resident of Mr. Lander’s Council district or a registered Democrat. Neither, for the record, do I identify as a “Liberal.”

I know that hyperbolic assertions [as can be found in Toobin’s piece] regarding last year’s Yom Kippur experience can [and no doubt will] be perceived as a ‘no-biggie’ type occurrence; especially originating from such a widely respected, influential, personable and popular [1,967 Facebook friends and counting] person such as Rabbi Bachman. But what is quite un-hyperbolic is this: Councilman Lander’s Park Slope campaign headquarters confirmed my suspicions — CBE gave Councilman Lander my email address.

I am, with great regret, at a breaking point. CBE has transformed itself before my very eyes. It has become less like a community of faith and more like a business; a social scene with inter-locking ripples of success, achievement, ambition, ego, patronage, money and privilege; while simultaneously — soulfully anemic.

There are those who will say Kaddish this November at CBE and those who like me are no longer capable of doing so [as was the case last November when the full-frontal attention toward a “convert” amounted to my unanticipated, unexpected and complete religious discomfort].

May the mourners of Zion [and Park Slope] be comforted; for truly, to have lost what was once such a profound zone of holiness and peace has pained me — as if a spear has wedged itself between my rib cage and the many treasured friends I have been blessed to know and retain at CBE.

I am grateful to Jeffrey Toobin for snapping into place that missing Park Slope puzzle piece. It is if as I have been to a chiropractor; brought about by a simple turn of a magazine page. Print is not dead after all.