...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, May 22, 2008


On Tuesday the divorced father of one of my preschool students asked me out on a date, and the whole experience surely has to be among the five or so most awkward moments of my life. (I talked with one of the directors of the school about it because I was totally weirded out, and she said that it's pretty common for single dads to ask out their children's teachers. Still, though, how could you possibly think that it would be appropriate?)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Overheard on my way back to my classroom as a teacher tried to shepherd five two-year-olds outside

Teacher: "X, please put on your coat. It's raining outside."
Child: "Why?"
Teacher: "Because it's raining outside. In Oregon, it rains year round, because we live in a temperate climate."
Child: "Why?"
Teacher: "Why do we live in a temperate climate?...Just put on your coat."

Saturday, May 10, 2008


On Monday I met with my rabbi to discuss my desire to formally convert to Judaism. I don't know if that will surprise anyone who reads this blog. It's something that's been percolating for over a year, and I've been certain about it for the past couple months--certainly, by Purim, I knew. The rabbi called it a choiceless choice and I think that is an apt description.

Reb Aryeh was very encouraging and said that he was not surprised, but advised that I continue my studies for the next several months, learning more about kashrut, increasing my Shabbat observance, practicing making brachot, and visiting different shuls (since most of the praxis I know now is Renewal and Reconstructionist), and meeting with him periodically to discuss my progress. He suggested that the formal conversion itself--appearance before a beit din and immersion in the mikveh--might take place sometime a little after Rosh Hashanah, which is to say, in the fall. I would love it to fall around Simchat Torah, as it would mark the two year anniversery of my involvement with P'nai Or and my introduction to Jewish life.

More later. Shabbat shalom!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Be Holy, as I your God am Holy

Yesterday I went to the Shabbos service at P'nai Or, as usual. This time, I decided to stay for the Torah study afterwards, which I've never done before. Just a small group of us, maybe ten or twelve people, stayed; the rabbi passed around the Chumashim (texts) and studied the weekly portion in more detail. The portion for the past week was "Kedoshim," the so-called Holiness Code from Leviticus ("kedosh" means "holy" in Hebrew). This portion, as well as Acharei Mot, which we read a couple weeks ago, contains the infamous "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" verses; P'nai Or's Torah study mostly consisted of unpacking these verses from a progressive Jewish perspective and locating them within their Sitz im Leben, while still working within a respectful-of-Halachka framework.

For me, this was a timely discussion, since the night before, Eric and Amy and I had talked about those verses as they relate to homophobia within religious discourse and tradition. As I said on Friday, I often find the way that liberal Christians (not Eric and Amy, but speaking generally of theologically liberal traditions, like the UCC) dismiss those verses to be problematic, supercessionist (although I didn't use that word on Friday) and vaguely anti-Semitic. Often I find liberal Christians, in rejecting Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, tend to say, "You can't take the anti-homosexuality verses any more seriously than you take the verses against not mixing different kinds of fabric or touching pig skins." I think there are two distinct positions operating within that sentiment. First, making that point underscores the hypocricy of contemporary fundamentalists/conservative Christians who cherrypick verses from Leviticus to support their homophobia, while ignoring other parts of the Holiness Code. I think this is an absolutely valid and necessary criticism of such Christians.

However, I think there's another tendency among liberal Christians who point out the lesser-known verses of the Holiness Code, and that's to make a mockery of the religious practice of the early Jews and dismiss nearly all of Leviticus out of hand, as though the New Testament renders it unnecessary and unimportant. This position says, albeit in a more subtle way, "Those Jews believed all sorts of crazy legalistic crap about not mixing fabrics and not touching the dead; we Christians are under the New Covenant and don't need those old codes of conduct." It's this attitude--and I think it's widespread, although not well-interrogated or acknowledged, among liberal Christians when they discuss uncomfortable texts like Acharei Mot and Kedoshim--to which I object, and which I find to be rooted in all sorts of anti-Semitic language about legalism and Pharasaical religion. (Let me be clear that I'm not grouping Eric and Amy with those Christians.)

One of the things I've most appreciated about where my spiritual journey has taken me is that, as a Christian, I always had a tendency to dismiss the "Old" Testament, or understand it solely as a historical document; it was interesting from an academic perspective but I didn't find much religious inspiration in it. Living Jewishly has encouraged and required me to take the Torah more seriously, without falling back on the typical Christian impulse to supercessionism. It's been a good change.

Side note: Kedoshim also includes the prohibition against garments made with both wool and linen; this prohibition is known as Shatnez. It's a pretty big deal and is taken seriously within frum (observant) communities. But Reb Aryeh noted that in the days of the Temple, the High Priest wore garments of mixed fabrics. I was shocked to learn that, and in fact there was an audible gasp throughout the congregation. The High Priest also kindled fire within the Temple on the Sabbath, which outside of the Temple was forbidden. Very, very interesting.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

As long as you're you, I will love you

My co-teacher Cara brought in a tape of criminally catchy children's songs a few days ago. The first song begins,

If I were gorilla, ya ya ya ya ya
I'd eat me a banana, na na na na na
And build me a tree house
And swing from the vines
But I'll always come home, 'cause I love you.
Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya.

Other verses begin "If you were a daisy, zee zee zee zee zee" and "If you were a spaceship, tree tree tree tree tree." The chorus goes, "It doesn't matter to me / Whatever you happen to be / As long as you're you, I will love you."

We've been singing these songs every day at Cara's morning circle, as well as throughout the day (I sing a lot throughout the day to calm kids down, to occupy some of them while we're waiting for others to get ready, to get kids over to circle, etc). And this gorilla song has been in my head for DAYS. I was singing it to Daniel the other night: "If I were a gorilla, ya ya ya ya ya...as long as you're you, I will love you." He paused for a minute and then said, "But if you were a gorilla it would change the very nature of your consciousness." It's true--I guess being a gorilla would be a deal-breaker. But I can't amend our preschool lyrics to, "As long as your personhood and consciousness remain fundamentally the same, I will love you." Somehow I don't think the preschoolers would get it.