...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

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hello, blog

It's so hard to start posting again after a month of not posting. I'm not sure whether to jump in with something substantive, or to recount all the minutiae that I enjoy chronicling on my blog: that Daniel and I are on this healthy-eating kick and I've been trying lots of new recipes; that we've also been watching The Ben Stiller Show on DVD and it's really funny, but the guest segments are kind of lame; that we've also been watching Project Runway online and I feel a compulsion to root for Leanne since she's from Portland; that we finally cleaned out the bedroom after saying "We've got to do something about this bedroom" for over a six weeks and it's so nice to be able to see the floor and make a straight path to the door without having to step over stuff; that I decided to stop shaving my legs because it's an artifice and who really cares; that last week at work was really frustrating on Monday but got progressively better until on Friday it was surreally good; that I've read The New York Times Sunday magazine a couple times when I've found it in the magazine rack at the gym and I enjoy it, so maybe I should start subscribing; that I am discovering that I really like cooking; that I put up mezuzot on the doorposts of most of the doors of the apartment and I'd say I remember to kiss them 90% of the time. Stuff like that.

This is not minutiae, but something I left hanging with my last post: the rest of Ruach ha'Aretz was wonderful, with so many precious moments of community and devotion that I hope never to forget. Rabbi Hannah Tiferet Siegel lying on her back in the grass with a group of children, chanting the Sh'ma; an entirely danced Kabbalat Shabbat service led by Rabbi Shefa Gold; my friend Izzy coming into the room during Kabbalat Shabbat immediately after doing the mikvah for conversion and just glowing; learning the blessing for ritual hand-washing ("Netilat Yadaim") from a loving and kind older woman; rising early for morning davennen; learning about nusach (traditional prayer melody) from a cantorial student during lunch. Reb Aryeh, my rabbi from P'nai Or, came for the last few days and Shabbat, and we chatted briefly; he commented that I was probably learning in one week as much as I would learn in a year through attending P'nai Or and independent study. It was true. I appreciated how the retreat showed me not just pretty much the full spectrum of Jewish Renewal (from more traditional nusach to a shacharit service led almost entirely in silent meditation, and everything in between) but a wide spectrum of Judaism. I generally consider myself pretty Jewishly informed and knowledgeable, and it was nice to be knocked down a little bit, to realize what a novice I am and how much more I have to learn.

What a convenient transition to talk about what I was planning on writing about: visiting different synagogues in the Portland area. When I first met with Reb Aryeh in April to announce my intention to convert, he suggested that even though I've officially joined P'nai Or I should visit different synagogues, to see a fuller spectrum of Judaism and to get an idea what it's like out there. Daniel's dad has been totally supportive and has taken me around for Friday night services at a few different places: Neveh Shalom (Conservative), Shir Tikvah (unaffiliated, but pretty Reform), and Beit Haverim (Reform). I've also gone to Havurah Shalom (Reconstructionist) several times on my own. Of the ones I've visited, I feel most comfortable at Havurah Shalom, since I really like the philosophy behind Reconstructionism.

Yesterday I went out of my comfort zone a little and visited Shaarie Torah, a Traditional synagogue in Northwest Portland. That's "Traditional," not Orthodox, because although they have sections designated for single-sex seating, there is also the option of mixed-sex seating, and because they use a microphone at the bima (pulpit). (In an Orthodox syangogue, men and women sit in different sections, separated by a barrier called a mechitza.) Although Shaarie Torah allowed mixed seating, it was not an egalitarian shul: not a single woman was called for an aliyah to the Torah, no woman present wore a prayer shawl, and the liturgy did not mention the names of the matriarchs. There's a part in the Amidah (central standing prayer) where it goes Baruch ata Adonai, magayn Avraham v'ezrat Sarah (Blessed are you God, the shield of Abraham and the helper of Sarah); it was jarring to me for the cantor to end the sentence at "magayn Avraham" and go right to the next paragraph. There were several moments like that during the service.

It was more difficult to follow along with the service because the prayer book did not include transliterations of the Hebrew. I can't read Hebrew, but I can usually follow along pretty well if the prayers are transliterated. There are some parts of the service that I have memorized, like the first few paragraphs of the Amidah, and some parts that I sing along with if someone else is leading, like the V'ahavta, but without the transliterations I miss a lot. I really have to learn to read Hebrew.

I was glad that I was dressed pretty modestly (calf-length fully skirt, elbow-length, high-necked shirt) because all of the women I saw except for one were wearing long skirts, and some wore hats to cover their hair. I felt slightly self-conscious carrying my messenger bag, since I didn't see a lot of other women carrying things (one is not supposed to carry things outside on Shabbat unless you're within an eruv, which is a whole other post), but oh well. I found it somewhat jarring and odd that they said three separate prayers during the service for the United States, for the state of Israel, and for the Israeli Defense Force (for the latter, that their enemies would be "speedily and totally destroyed"). It made me wonder what the political leanings of the congregation were.

I arrived about an hour late to the service, but there were still a full two hours after I arrived. Since yesterday was Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, it was kind of like half a holiday and they added the special holiday prayer service called Musaf, which added a good forty minutes to the service. It was definitely the most liturgically traditional service I've been to.

After the service there was a full Kiddush lunch. The education director introduced herself and some other young people to me; we all sat together and talked. Everyone was super friendly, but I didn't tell a single person that I was not born Jewish. I'm finding that in some communities, like in Jewish Renewal, there's an arms-flung-wide-open acceptance of converts; in others, there's an acceptance but an assumption that I'm converting just to get married (at Neveh Shalom one of Daniel's dad's friends, on hearing that I was converting, responded "Mazel tov! When's the wedding?"); in others, there's more of a distancing. At Ruach ha'Aretz I did not hesitate to tell people about my spiritual journey because I knew I would be understood and the journey would be celebrated, but as I explore other Jewish communities, I'm realizing that I don't have to tell everyone I meet that I was raised Christian and have not officially converted yet. It's my business, and sometimes it's nice to just be assumed Jewish.