When I’m asked to describe my ethnic make-up/background, I often answer that I’m half-white trash and half-Jewish. My Mom’s side is composed of working class southerners whose attempts at genealogy are stymied by orphan grandparents, sub-par record keeping and the erasure of the impoverished by history. That being said, strangers often think that I look Irish. I’ve even worked promoting Bushmills Irish whiskey since I looked the part.So I feel at least as Irish (entitled or not) as the grand majority of those out celebrating today, most of whom are hardly Irish themselves. Perhaps it is this dichotomy, between my lineages, that led me to question why St. Patrick’s day is celebrated publicly in a way that Purim is not.
This year Purim and St. Patrick’s day fell around the same weekend, prompting copious excuses for drinking and carousing about.Both holidays prominently feature imbibing as part of their protocol. With Purim, one is instructed to drink until you can’t discern between Haman and Mordechai, the villain and hero of the backstory to the holiday respectively. Both involve dressing up (in costumes for Purim, in green for St. Patty’s), both have religious origins, both are holidays based in cultures with long histories of persecution and diaspora. So why is it that one is so mainstream and commercialized while the other isn’t even well-known? If you are looking for answers, I’m not sure I have them. But I am open to suggestions….
I am not saying that I want Purim to get all blown up by the Goyim, either. I just took note today when I saw Asians in green and Black people dressed as leprochauns, and thought, wait if it’s all just an excuse to get drunk, why don’t they latch on to Purim too. ( I don’t disclaim the possibility that any of those POC have Irish descent, because they very well might). It seems however that St. Patrick’s day, like Cinco de Mayo or Mardi Gras, has overflowed from it’s cultural container and been assimilated into American culture generally, while Purim has not. Here in LA, they are probably far more Jews than Irishmen ( let me know if you have contradictory data) so that doesn’t entirely make sense to me. Maybe in New York ( although I’d love to know the comparative data on that town as well), very likely in Boston, the Irish outnumber the Yids but here you would think the sheer number of Jews would propel enhanced Purim awareness. Is it because we are too insular? Do we need to re-brand Purim for the masses? Is there anti-semitism at work? Because otherwise what is the explanation as to why folks are missing out on another excuse to get black-out wasted?
I’ve had Jews on the mind of late- read Shalom Auslander’s memoir, Foreskin’s Lament, as part of my literary all-memoir, all the time diet. He really put some holes in my fetishistic love for the Ultra-Orthodox, I got to say. He made being Mormon look like a walk in the park. My favorite reccurring line was his wife saying, “they really did a number on you, huh?”
Which is perhaps why my spirit was lifted in some weird way by the recent NY times article about eating disorders in the Orthodox community. While I am saddened that rates of eating disorders are spurred upwards by the highly controlled and virtually inescapable conditions young women exist under in those communities, I was impressed to hear that some Rabbis were paying attention and trying to address the issue. After reading Mr. Auslander’s book, any step in the right direction looks good.
In honor of my favorite of Jewish Holidays and the one time you’re sure to find me in Shul, I would like to introduce two amazing things: Religious Teenage Heartthrobs and Rabba Sara Hurwitz. For the best video ever consult the unbelieveable “One Mitzvah at a time” care of Youtube. Thanks Boys!
Now onto the “Rabba”
i’m late picking up on this (what’s new?) but in my journeys through the world wide waste of time, I found a list of America’s top 50 Rabbis and thought we’ll jeez, I better find out who these guys are, right? Well, I’d only made it to number 18 when something caught my eye- Rabbi Avi Weiss was famous for ordaining one Sara Hurwitz as a Rabba or as close as modern orthodoxy has come to letting a woman into the club. I had to find out more!
I started with an interview with her in Heeb Magazine and then went a little deeper…
There is something special about creating change from the inside out, a certain respect for establishment and tradition. I dig that. I also really dig her conferral speech and it’s mention of female Jewish scholars from back in the day. It reminded me of my mom reading out the women resistance fighters who died in the Shoah and to whom we dedicate a cup on Passover.
Here’s an excerpt from the text:
While women in positions of spiritual leadership are still somewhat uncommon in the Orthodox community, there is precedent for this phenomenon. The Pitchei Teshuva Choshen Mishpat quoting the Hida 7:5 records that “even though a woman is disqualified from being a judge, a woman who is wise and learned is fit to render a ruling.” If women are well-versed in law, they can become authorities on any subject matter. אשה חכמה יכולה להזרות הוראה
Furthermore, the Sefer Hachinuch, published anonymously in 13th Century Spain, in commenting about the ban of entering the Beit Hamikdash in a drunken state, extends the prohibition restricting a drunk man from giving rulings, to a woman from giving psak in this state. That is to say that in a sober state, a wise (learned) woman is fit to render a ruling. “ ”.וכן באשה חכמה הראויה להורות
Now, I am not going to focus on the (shakla v’tarya) halachik debate of whether a qualified woman can render halachik rulings or not (although it is clear that the halachik literature supports this). I want to know: who were all these “nashim chachmot? Clearly, the Sefer Hachinuch and the Hida, commenting in the Pitchei Teshuva (R Hayyim Yosef David Azulai) were dealing with a reality—with capable learned women, who were in a position of “rendering rulings.” And I believe that in every generation there have been “nashim chachamot” who have felt a spiritual calling and dedicated themselves to the service of their communities.
A few such wise learned women who come to mind:
Devorah Haniviah—Devorah the Prophetess who judged and served the Children of Israel in Sefer Shoftim.
Bruriah, the Tannait, about whom the gemara in Pesachim 62b says that she studied 300 laws in one day.
Yalta, wife of R. Nachman who through her expert knowledge in laws of niddah, managed to influence psak.
The wife of Jonah the prophet who it says in Talmud Eruvin 96a, attended the pilgrimage festival, and the Sages did not prevent her.
Or, Hannah Rochel Verbermacher, the maiden of Ludmir, living in the 19th (1815-1892) century, who built her own synagogue and preached led prayers and developed quite a broad following.
Or Osnat Barazani, daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Barazani, living in the 17th century who taught in her father’s yeshiva.
And these are just a few examples of nashim chachamot, of wise and learned women. I can only imagine that there were many others, who had a calling for spiritual leadership, and who despite the barriers blocking their way to achieve a public position of spiritual leadership, mastered halakha and quietly ministered to others.
It is far too rare that anyone in the media talks about Israel in a way that I can get behind but here on CNN.com of all places I find a perspective I totally jive with. It’s very satisfying! Check it out:
And now for the Gays:
below is an advice columnist from the washington post who brought tears to my eyes with this response to a mom who asks how she might go about shielding her six year old from a friend’s gay parents. The headline is “Carolyn Hax: Mom teaches wrong lesson by shielding son from gays”- oh yeah! I love you Ms. Hax- instant personal hero…
and not only because I know the writer but also because it’s all about me, here is an article called ” Hey Conservatives- Gays are better parents than you” At least that’s what the research is saying check it out. That Kellen Kaiser lady she quotes seems pretty smart ….
In light of Madonna’s recent comments in support of the Roma (Gypsies) and the consequent booing she received in Romania, I’d like to state my formal allegiance with her, in her stand for equality. I,for one, have not forgotten that the Gypsies suffered just like the Jews in the Holocaust and discrimination against them should be no more tolerated than Anti-Semitism. Although, since its Europe, both will remain prevalent. I’m glad that Madonna used her celeb power to call people out on their prejudice. Supposedly, people also booed when she said Homophobia needed to be challenged as well. Note to self: Eastern Europe is still pretty conservative. Post-pone vacation there. Also, what’s the point of being famous if you don’t do anything good with it? Glad to see Madonna is still making folks uncomfortable. That’s the artist’s work- to shake things up. Props to the Roma, who are keeping their heads up despite the Haters. Perhaps the cruelest irony lies in the ample appropriation of Roma culture that Europe delights in without treating the people themselves with any respect. It’s like us and Black people, huh?
To check out the Black/Jewish connection, peep the piece in Harper’s Bazaar titled Minority Death Match written by Naomi Klein. I found it interesting that Ms. Klein sets up the Jews as the derailers of the Durban conference on Racism, without the Arab States, or at least the Arab NGOs getting their fair share of the blame. While she shows that to the eye of reparation advocates, Israel lobbyists prevented them from getting their voices heard, I wish she had clarified for the general audience that in fact it was a set up with the Jews against the Blacks, by people who wish the Jewish people harm- the same folks waving Nazi style cartoons at Durban in the first place. And speaking of Nazis, I got to see the movie, “Inglorious Basterds” with my younger brother before he headed off to college. Him flying the nest is killing my mothers. One mom, after being awash in tears for weeks, consulted her healer who admonished her for not having called sooner, since it was “past life stuff ” that had to be cleared from her psyche. In the Roman Era, she had sent him off to war, in another lifetime in which he was her son, and he hadn’t returned. ” That’s why your grief is so intense.” Um, okay. The other Mama suddenly can’t sleep. It reminds me of when I returned from living in Israel and Nina tried to get me to adhere to a curfew because she said she couldn’t sleep with me out and running around. “But, I’ve been in the Middle East for a year. Don’t tell me you haven’t slept the whole time.” “No, not well” she said.
The movie interested me in that it had absolutely no loyalty to history. In America this is dangerous, most people don’t know the facts, they don’t know that it’s purposefully wrong. To the slightly educated eye, it makes its fantastical position plenty clear. In this version the Nazis suffer for their crimes. It’s fun to watch. Who doesn’t love seeing Nazis die? They are such a safe enemy- historical and eeeeevil. In one scene, a Nazi is beaten to death with a baseball bat and it’s set up to be funny. It works- partially because we, as an audience, are aware that it’s just a movie and because this movie reminds you more often than most of this fact. But still, who else could be killed in that way and not elicit sympathy? Ah, Nazis. Watch out all you Gypsy haters in Europe because you could be the next movie villains if you don’t act right….
On Yahoo news is an article about a South African runner who is undergoing gender testing after easily winning at the world championships. I thought it was interesting that it is considered possible for gender to be determined through testing and outside sources as my understanding is that gender, as opposed to sexuality is self-identified and largely socially constructed. It is another example of science claiming to be objective when in fact science is as culturally driven as any other discipline. I had the fortune recently to hear the wonderful song “You won’t succeed on Broadway,” from the musical Spamalot. It affirms the lynchpin status of Jews in the arts. I would like to share it with you, so hopefully my philistine level of tech understanding will allow you to hear it too.
The photo above is from my recent attempt at a “professional” headshot that would better represent me for shows like “CSI” or the more local “In Plain Sight”. This was one pose I had to try despite knowing that it wouldn’t fly.