Monthly Archives: June 2016

Sivan- After Shavuot

Mostly, I don’t think of myself as queer. Don’t get me wrong – I am definitely, beyond the shadow of a doubt, in lots of different ways queer. However, mostly, I think of myself as someone who has dishes to do, and marking, and laundry, and exam preparations, and kitty-litter, and review notes. I think of myself as a teacher and a mom, as a housemate and a spouse. I worry about late busses, and important misunderstood text messages. I get reminded sometimes that I’m queer by lovely events like Pride and by notes from queer friends, and that’s nice – but rare.

This week, however, I’ve been almost unable to function. Despite the looming presence of exams and the fact that the marking is now untenably huge.I find myself stopping, frozen, and remembering that I’m queer. I don’t have time for this – really I don’t. Nevertheless, it’s here and so I have to write.

It’s exactly a week since the Orlando massacre popped up in my social media news feed and reminded me once again, and not in a positive way – I’m queer. That means that people want to kill me. It’s hard for me to understand. There are many people who really annoy me and yet – I never want any of them to actually be dead. Still, out there – there are people who want to kill me because I’m queer.

There are also people who want to kill me because I’m Jewish, and while I do think of being Jewish no and then (I mean, I’d just finished blogging through counting the Omer this time last week), I still don’t usually think of Jewish as equalling death threats. I was lucky to have been born when I was, and so I was spared having to live through times when I would assume that I would be killed for being Jewish. I got Jewish education enough to know that being Jewish was a reason for people to hate you and want to kill you but I don’t think of it all that much.

Events like this tell me that I’m not safe. That it’s not OK. That things haven’t changed. That the world is a dangerous, deadly place where people want to kill me for being queer and Jewish, and probably for lots of other things about me.

So, I’ve been functioning less well. I freeze in sadness, thinking of people who died for the silly reason that someone else was crazy and couldn’t tolerate who they were. I freeze in fear. I freeze in irritation – I suppose I could have chosen to pass for straight and converted to Christianity, and then I’d be safe or something – but I shouldn’t have to! I spend far too much time reading the social medias, and looking up articles to try and make sense of the senseless (it has no sense.) I sleep poorly, with my head full of images of what it must be like. I don’t have time for this! It’s June and I’m a school teacher!

And yet…emotions aren’t reasonable or patient, and sometimes out-thinking them doesn’t entirely work. So, today I decided to take more time I don’t have and write a blog. I don’t have anything useful to say really. Just want to say out loud the litany that has been going through my head. I’m Jewish. I’m queer. This means that there are people who want to kill me. There is no safe place. It’s scary.

Hopefully, by writing it, I’ll be able to put that thought away for a while, to acknowledge it, to accept it, and to move on from it. Maybe I’ll be able to think “I’m queer and I’m Jewish – I’m strange and I’m different. I refuse to be scared. I throw my continued existence, my loving, my laughter, and my joy against the world in which people want to kill me.” Maybe I can throw my regular life – my dishes and my marking – against this tragedy and say, “I live. You didn’t kill me. I live and I love and that’s that.” Maybe I can remember I’m queer long enough to make my life as a Jewish queer woman an act of courage and defiance.

I write poetry as part of Shavuot study. This is my Shavuot poem, written partly on Shavuot night, and partly – after. (I’ve included some Torah, translated by me, to put it in context.)

  1. For this commandment which I command you this day – it’s not magic, or tricky, or far away
  2. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it and explain it so we can do it?”
  3. 1 Nor is it over the ocean, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the ocean and fetch it and explain it to us, so that we can do it?”
  4. 14. Nope. Actually, this stuff is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. You can do it!.
  5. 15. Look, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,

  1. 19. This day, I call upon heaven and earth as witnesses that I told you so: I have set before you life and death, blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your children will live;

 

Don’t search across oceans, salt water filled, lonely
Like an ancient mariner floating; water that parches, makes crazy

Don’t search for bitter water, drawn from rock in anger,
Breaking relationship; ending; puckering faces and feelings

Search for sweet water drawn from wells of healing.
Taste on your lips drinking water from a friend
Choose water. Choose Torah. Choose life.

Don’t search in the sky, eyes distant and straining
Distraction, diversion, anything so as not to be here

Don’t search for storms of overwhelming emotion
Wild winds of despair and sadness; battering structure, destroying

Search for breezes that take away the stench and the heat
Breath, soul, God, joy filling up emptiness
Choose breath. Choose Torah. Choose life.

Don’t search in caves; dark, dank and winding
Labyrinths of confusion where people get lost forever

Don’t search high hills needing weapons to conquer
For mountains of things to climb; possessions that hide real glory

Search for forests and orchards filled with fruit and flowers;
Trees planted for fruit for grandchildren’s children
Choose earth; choose Torah. Choose life.

Don’t search flames that devour all before them
Hatred and war and the ‘pure’ nothing of death

Don’t search coals of resentment, glowing dark
Waiting for a spark to wreak utter destruction and desolation

Search for sunlight stronger than wind in promoting acceptance
Lightning inspiration and the spark of love in the eyes of another
Choose love; choose Torah. Choose life.

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Omer – Day 49

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve tesha laOmer, shehem shiva shavuot laOmer.

Today is day forty nine of the Omer, which is seven weeks of the Omer.

malkhut be malkhut: majesty within majesty; rule within rule; glory within glory

Oh goodness, we made it! I wrote a post for forty nine days – not always on the day, but I did! And if you’ve read them all, on the day or days later or even after Shavuot, you did it! Congratulate yourself. Also, say “I did it!” in the comments so I can celebrate with you.

Today, I am happy to be me. There are many things I don’t have that I want and there are many ways in which I was more like other people, but these are things that I can let go of today. The commandment not to envy is put last, where people put important stuff. It seems like such a small commandment compared to not hurting or telling the truth. So, today, I realise that being comfortable in myself lets me keep all the other commandments. I can focus on God without worrying about other people and worship God rather than things or people. I can appreciate what God gives me, which makes me way less likely to take God’s name in vain, or to resent my folks for what they gave me by way of things or abilities. If I’m cool with who I am and what I’ve got, I have no need to steal from other or hurt them, to lie to them or about them, to cheat them or cheat on them. If I’m not envying stuff then I’m more likely to feel good about resting on Shabbat. See – it’s all connected.

So, today, I can feel the majesty within majesty of being OK with me. Because it’s pretty majestic! I’m made in God’s image and I can do a ton of stuff and there are moments – however brief – when I do the right thing. For instance, I just – for one more year – counted the Omer with you. That’s glory in glory enough for anyone.

 

 

 

Omer – Day 48

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve shmone laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty eight of the Omer, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer.

yesod be malkhut: intimacy within majesty; relationship within dominion

More importantly, it’s Friday! Thank God it’s Friday! I am so tired today, that I legitimately put my lunch on the photo copier and stared at it waiting for it to heat up. It didn’t but the other teachers gave me some weird looks. There’s a day of rest coming up. Now, mind, I don’t take the day of rest to the extent some people do – occasionally I have to work on Saturdays. But still – Friday night is special and I tread it as such – no work, ever, and family time and singing and love and quiet and all the things that recharge and re-energise and set one up to do it all again.

God gave the Jewish people such a gift when we got the Sabbath. It’s like a wedding gift – many places in the bible there is talk about an intimate relationship between people and God. On Shabbat, that intimate relationship is felt and celebrated. When we talk about the Sabbath queen, we acknowledge the glory and majesty of Shabbat. When we pray “satisfy us with your goodness and bring us joy in your redemption and purify our hearts to serve you…”, we acknowledge the relationship. Shabbat is good.

Today, I sing in the joy that is Shabbat!

Omer – Day 47

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve sheva laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve hamisha yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty seven of the Omer, which is six weeks and five days of the Omer.

hod be malkhut – gratitude within majesty; praise within glory

At each new moon, there is the chance to sing the Hallel, psalms of praise to God, with lovely melodies and translations. Recently, a new month started, and it was once again an opportunity to use God’s name properly, in praise.  Since today is gratitude in majesty, it’s a good day to talk about thanking God.

I complain a lot. Personally, I think it’s one of my rights as a Jewish woman to occasionally be able to whine about how hard things are, especially to and about God. I see nothing wrong with that – I have a crazy life, I’m way too busy, I struggle with money, and Canada’s weather and road conditions…. Except that sometimes I forget. I forget how lucky I am, how much fun my job and my family are, how plentiful and tasty my meals are, how beautiful spring is (I haven’t travelled that much, but I’ve gone to a few other places and Canada remains tops for sheer gorgeous sights.), how good each day is.

So, I say “Darn it all, God…” and I forget that I’m supposed to say God’s name with respect and love. Then Hallel comes along and reminds me. When I praise God I remember – things are pretty wonderful and I am really lucky. Hallel grounds me in God, and acts as a connection between me and God.

When I name something, I make it more real. God created the whole world through naming – it’s powerful. When I say God’s name in praise, I make the good, beautiful, happy, loving world I want to live in more real. Today, I praise God’s majesty and manifest it through praise.

Omer – Day 46

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve shesh laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve arba’a yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty six of the Omer, which is six weeks and four days of the Omer.

netzakh be malkhut – victory within nobility; conquest within rule

It always comes back to the only victory being one over oneself and the only person I can rule being me. Sometimes the bad habits I have seem like they’re stronger than I am. For me, whether or not it’s noble, sometimes my victories are tiny. I didn’t waste time on that facebook article and answered an e-mail from a friend instead. I read the good book I was recommended instead of the cookie. I got off my chair to get a glass of water, and stayed away from the free doughnuts. These are my victories.

What happens when I don’t succeed? I have less time, less energy, less ability – less that I can give to the family and friends that I am responsible for. Really, when I indulge in wasteful behaviours, I’m stealing. I’m taking time and money, energy and resources away from what I should be doing, both for others and for myself. The ten commandments say not to steal. Today, I rededicate myself to being the best Anna I can be. When I succeed, that’s a noble victory.

Omer – Day 45

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve hamesh laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve shlosha yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty five of the Omer, which is six weeks and three days of the Omer.

tiferet be malkhut – beauty within majesty; attractiveness within nobility

They look lovely. All those people who have their lives together and who can do all those magical things they talk about in social media are lovely. Not just the ‘nobility’ of the modern day – the celebrities, the politicians, top athletes and movie stars – but the everyday winners. My friends, the musician who’s publishing a book, the parent whose kid gets straight A’s in high-school, even the one whose fitbit steps triple mine on a daily basis. They’re lovely, you know? It all looks so good!

This is when the commandment of ‘worship only God’ comes to mind. I don’t need to focus on any of them. I worship God, and try to be like God only today. That’s real beauty. in majesty.

Omer – Day 44

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve arba laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve shtey yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty four of the Omer, which is six weeks and two days of the Omer.

gevura be malkhut – strength within dominion; might within majesty

We won. I’m sitting here and I know that in this country, fundamentally, I’ve won all the ‘life is a game’ roulette spins. We are not at war. I can get enough to eat. I can get a good job. There are many luxuries that the world over envies. I win.

In many ways, a large number of first world residents live richer than kings used to. We have a lot of clout economically and strategically, and we use it as kings and queens always have, to satisfy our own needs and wants. Even when we want to help, often it’s the “alms to the masses, save the heathen children and bring them to our ways” kind of help. We blunder through the world like a big cheerful badly trained dog, crashing things to the floor and leaving disaster in our wake without even noticing.

We kings and queens – we destroy people’s lives. None of us wants to see ourselves as someone who kills – but just like the tired and hungry French people at the time of the revolution blamed every noble for their poverty, so there are groups today who would blame us. Our assumption that our strength automatically brings wisdom leads us time and again to try to make everyone think the way we do. We have noblesse oblige and big hearts after all! So, we end up with the messes that result when we try to turn everyone into a pale version of us.

For example, we end up with the legacy of residential schools. (And if you think that residential schools are not a Jewish issue, read some Holocaust literature, read some TRC literature, notice the matching language (like “Final solution to the Indian problem,”) think about it, and ask yourself what the words “Never again” really mean. Every Jew should be doing something to improve relations with the Native people. If anyone is to understand the issues on reserves, it should be former residents of ghettos and their descendants.)

You say this isn’t about you? This is Canada’s shady past?  I would like to point out that while the last residential school did close in the 1990’s, the number of Native children in various forms of custody could easily be looked at as a sad extension. All of us who without thinking enjoy our everyday luxuries – we are parties to some very nasty crimes.

For presenting the commandment of “do not kill” to younger children, we chose “do not hurt others”. It is a natural and clear extension. We need to be aware of how our environmental impact and our social impact hurts others. Does that mean we should all give up all worldly possessions and go live in a third world country, or at least a reserve? I don’t think it’s likely – or necessarily helpful. We’d probably just end up creating more problems for our hosts. I think the key is “without thinking”. We need to think – we need to remember that we are very strong and we do have an effect and it is our job to be aware and be careful about what we do with that strength.

The more we stop and think and try above all to strive to limit the harm we do with our power – the more we truly exemplify the strength in nobility that this day is about.

 

Omer – Day 43

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve shalosh laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve yom ehad laOmer.

Today is day forty three of the Omer, which is six weeks and one day of the Omer.

khesed be malkhut – kindness within majesty; care within rule

So, we don’t really have much hierarchy within Judaism. Our rabbi is a teacher we respect, but no ruler, and basically, we stand before God in a one-to-one sort of relationship where God is our king or queen. There is however one type of hierarchy preserved and enshrined in Jewish law, and that is that of parent to child. The fifth commandment tells us to listen to parents and respect them. There’s a lot about what parents are supposed to do too.

Fundamentally, being a parent is impossible. There is no time to do everything one is supposed to do, never mind do it correctly. One finds oneself doing a few of the things, and not always all that well. Furthermore, the balance between too strict and too permissive, too attentive and overbearing, providing for needs and encouraging independence, open but not burdening child inappropriately – it is simply impossible, is all. It really does put us in a position where we try to be as much like God as possible. Since we aren’t God, there is no way to do it perfectly.

Today, we are reminded to keep trying – to keep balancing kindness with orders, care with protection, independence with direction – to be kindly kings and queens of our households. Today, we are reminded that since it can’t be done perfectly, we can at least try to listen to and respect those that made the attempt for us.

Omer – Day 42

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve shtayim laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot laOmer.

Today is day forty two of the Omer, which is six weeks of the Omer.

malkhut be yesod – majesty within intimacy; rule within relationship

What makes a relationship noble? What lifts it above the everyday, the ordinary? What makes it majestic? We talk about love, an emotion, a state – something truly confusing. Maybe the desire for another person’s happiness, maybe wishing to be with the other person. Love makes no sense. Yes, it is possible to reduce it to lust, to need for security and commitment in family – to what our brain does with these basic animalistic drives – but that’s not what love feels like. It feels like magic, miracles – a step out of the ordinary.

It is also one of my favourite definitions of God – the personification of the love flowing through the universe. Thus, it is the love we can give and receive that makes us in the image of God; not the same, as the reflection in the mirror is not the same as me, but startlingly similar. The love we share is what makes Yesod – intimacy, privacy – majestic. It looks at our relationships with each other and with God and makes them more holy.

That’s why the first commandment is “I am God.” It’s a simple expression that “love is” it’s exists and it’s enough in and of itself. And it’s a reasonable principle by which to rule oneself and others. If God is love, then I can look at decisions I need to make and ask myself if they increase and facilitate and show love to God, to myself, to other people. It’s what our prayers say – we need to love with all our minds and hearts and souls and strength.

Today, I try to make decisions that ensure my relationships are in the image of God – strong and loving.

Omer – Day 41

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve ehad laOmer, shehem hamisha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty one of the Omer, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer.

yesod be yesod – intimacy within intimacy; love within love; relationship within relationship

You just can’t write “do not commit adultery” in a set of commandments meant to be understood for kids. And it’s a fun commandment to explore in a time when some marriages are more open than others, and where some people have definitions of adultery that may not match those in the dictionary. However, it’s easy to understand “keeping promises”. Kids know what that’s about – but sometimes, as adults, we forget.

We don’t always even realize we’ve made promises – and in a casual relationship, maybe we haven’t. In intimate relationships, though, casual words have an effect. “I find you attractive” is far from a promise. When said to a cute acquaintance,  it can be easily forgotten later. When said to a friend, in a relationship, however – it changes things. Expectations arise, for better or for worse, and the relationship is never the same. A promise has been effectively made. Of course, the attraction may not work out. It will feel like a commitment is broken, however. It will cause a rift in intimacy that will take time to heal.

“Maybe later,” we say to a child, casually, thinking nothing of it but wanting to avoid the screaming fit that a no might lead to.  For the child who loves her parent very very much that casual remark was a promise and when it doesn’t happen, a promise that leads to heartbreak.

When we recognise that in intimate relationships, the words we say are promises of action, when we keep our promises, even though we didn’t entirely mean them when we said them, when we let people know that we are safe to trust and depend upon, then we build intimacy within intimacy and make our relationships stronger – and more holy.