The Corporation of Judaism and Sons of Israel

 

star of david money clip 3It’s been a while since I’ve been down this long road of my disdain with the reformist Jews, and unfortunately a lot of the Jewish organizations as a whole, but it’s not because of contentment with the entire issue. It’s not just about me, the Jew among Gentiles and the Gentile among Jews looking for a place to be, it’s about the Jewish population as a whole.

 

Looking at the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008, our estimated number declined from 2,837,000 to 2,680,000, people identifying as religiously Jewish are amongst the few groups that dropped. The others are Hindu, some obscure branches of Christianity like Holiness/Holy, and Quakers. Now Christians will typically gravitate towards another branch of Christianity, Church of the Brethren will become baptists, and baptists will become Evangelical/Born Again. So where are the Jews going? Pagan or Wiccan? Those two more than doubled between 2001-2008 (crazy right?)

 

According to the Brandeis University Study, there are actually more Jews in America than they originally estimated, 20% in fact, but there’s a catch; “the number of people who are affiliated with Jewish organizations is unchanged. Therefore, the percentage of Jews who are being served by the Jewish community is actually less than previously thought. This leads us to an  important question, has the present institutional structure in the Jewish world been responsible for the severe decline in affiliation?”

 

So putting that together, it means that we are still reproducing at a regular rate, but our numbers are getting smaller a far as those who will identify with being Jewish. According to the Harris Poll #59, only 16% of Jews go to synagogues once a month or more often, and only 48% of Jews believe there is even a G-d.

 

So where is everyone going? Nowhere, precisely. Walking into any synagogue or temple, there is always a stress on unity. It is so important to everyone to band together, to unite as a people, to harken back to the days when our children ran together in villages (okay I have a tendency to romanticize but you catch my drift). The urge of unity is there, but far to often, this comes at a price.

 

I’m going to look at some places around me, okay we’ll start with Sons of Israel, Allentown PA.

 

Their Membership Application reads:

 

“Jews have united for communal prayer, education and social gatherings for over three thousand years, dating back to the formation of our nation. When G-d took us out of Egypt, He instructed us to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle, which was the focal point of our offerings and prayers. We studied the Torah in groups in the tent of Moses. We blew the Shofar and gathered together for social celebrations. This tradition continues in our times. The synagogue is called a “Beit haKnesset,” “house of gathering,” and we gather to pray, to learn, and just to be with each other. Just like the original Tabernacle, the synagogue depends on us for its upkeep, and so we take membership and support our community institution.”

 

Wow seems like they romanticize even more than me! Where do I sign up???

 

Minimum dues per family – $1,450.00

 

Uh oh.

 

Each member of the congregation is also required to assist in our continuous capital expenditures by contributing $500.00 to our Capital Fund. This contribution shall be paid at the rate of one fourth (1/4) each year of membership for the first four years of membership.

 

Okay, so that must include like everything right? Nope. You still have to buy holiday tickets, and if you have the time you can even fundraise! No not for yourself, for Sons of Israel.

 

So how much does it cost to be a Baptist? Nothing. Agnostic? Nothing. If I want to go pray with someone, oh my goodness I can do it for free. So let’s say I am I 23 year old new mother, I want a place to raise my child on the limited budget of my new family. Do you think I would go to Sons of Israel?

 

No wonder so many of us don’t want to bother. Yes of course, I understand the Rabbi needs to make a living, I understand that the building isn’t free, that despite fundraising, donations, and campaigning, there are still obvious needs for revenue, but to have a set price is daunting. Noted later in the application is “Please contact the Finance Committee chairman if this would cause a hardship.” Because nothing is more fun than telling someone you are too broke to worship, discover your heritage, and educate your child.

 

A friend of mine moved here from New York last year, there is only one day a year she wants to be Jewish, one connection a year with her heritage, it’s yizkor for her mother. She went to this exact temple, being new and from out of town, and they wouldn’t even open the doors for her. She didn’t have any tickets. And what could be worse than too many people praying together? Not making enough money from it.

 

This is the corporation of religion. This is a factor that keeps people away and to be blunt, makes us look like greedy people to every non Jew who hears about this. Had it not been for a place like Chabad (more like a franchise), for as little as I bother now, I never would have bothered at all, and my daughter wouldn’t have even known she was Jewish. Had I been called for the survey I would have been a number against our population, and why? Because I don’t have parents to help me? Because I couldn’t afford college? Because I had a child young? And that to me is morally wrong. Perhaps not to the extent of Keneseth Israel’s application that actually asks you if you owe another temple any dues.

 

According to the American Jewish Identity Survey of 2001 the Jews of No Religion population has grown from 1,120,000 in 1990 to 1,710,000 in 2001, an increase of nearly 53 percent. Maybe a lot of them lost their jobs.

 

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Expel the Silliness Part 1

So I have been chatting with my friend on “Expel the Parasite” a lovely little Neo Nazi blog, and have decided to make my own series in conjunction. Here is Part 1,

The Seed Of Satan In “Human” Form…...

Okay, I’ll give you, that is one ugly kid, and a photo was snapped at such a inopportune pose. But I present you with these photos of non Jews (please forgive me Clint Howard, I really do think you are awesome).

What’s my point? All races make people that are not so pleasing to the eye, Jews, Germans, Irish, Welsh, whatever. What matters is what’s on the inside, whether it be crabby hateful sludge, or cheery gushy goodness (don’t worry my “expel the parasite” friend, I wasn’t referring to you, I was referring to Carrot top with the crabby hateful sludge) the cheery gushy goodness goes to you Clint. So relax, and go read a science book.

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After life afterlife, contagious smiles and instincts

polaroidgiveawayLast week I took my daughter for a play date. The mother of the other little girl has a crooked smile that’s contagious, it’s always the side smiles that are, when you see the pictures of perfection smiling in magazines, do you smile back? The other mother is the polar opposite of me, chatty and open, which is great for us introverted folk, because we can piggyback on their enthusiasm. The other mother takes her children to Chabad, but the twist to this is that the woman is with another woman. She grew up in an orthodox household, where clearly that isn’t allowed, and I find it intriguing as to how she has gotten from one point to another. I’m digressing, the point is that she in some ways is wondering like myself. A few interesting things came up in conversation, one was why every Jew clings to that Jewish identity (an interesting point I must get to at another time), and one was the topic of G-d, and the question of his existence. I watched her cut into cantaloupe with expertise as she said “I just don’t like to think that there’s nothing, it’s depressing, I don’t know, maybe there is nothing, but I don’t like to think it.” It’s the loop I find myself in, voiced by a pretty lady with a crooked smile.

I dwelt on this for a bit, and then I received an email from a fellow blogger, the freethinkingjew, asking me what I thought about his latest post. It’s very well written, and I believe tackles some of the stereotypes placed on atheists. It says:

3)      Purpose.  That is, when people say, “If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife, life has no meaning,” they often really mean, “If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife, life has no “purpose.”  The assumption here is: In order to have a purpose, some being had to have created you with a purpose.  An air conditioner has a purpose – to blow cold air, because someone made the air conditioner with that purpose.  But if no one made you, and you just evolved over billions of years from stardust, then you have no purpose!  Right?

My instinct to repeatedly convince myself that there is a G-d, or there is something after all of this doesn’t really stem from the fear of lacking a purpose. I never really cared about my purpose, I was too reckless as an adolescent to care, and then when my daughter came exactly when my adolescence ended, I found my purpose, and it’s her. My fear of there being nothing is also not about it making my current existence meaningless, it’s about making it brief. I don’t feel like the human lifespan is nearly long enough to be human. I need it to be longer.

When my daughter hugs me, when I feel the warmth of her on me, I can’t stand the thought of thinking that this will be it, I can never feel this again after the fragility of my current existence is broken. To be fully convinced that there is nothing is horrendous because it would mean that one day I will hug her, feel the skin of her cheek on mine, and it will be the last time that will happen for all of eternity. If there is nothing it makes you want to die tomorrow because all you are doing is getting attached to something so temporary, at the same time it makes you want to live forever because you need to feel everything, get in every possible moment breathing because it won’t last forever. It’s terrifying.

So I will fully admit that I can’t say for sure there is anything beyond this, and I don’t know if my belief that there is stems from my instinct to cling, but whether or not there is something, I would rather go through my life believing that this isn’t all there is. If there ever comes a point in time that I am fully convinced that there is nothing, I will be one unhappy individual. There are people who are okay with the nothing, “you wouldn’t even know” they say, and I envy their ability to accept something so bleak. Then there are that haven’t the slightest bit of doubt in the existence of G-d and an afterlife, death is just a transition. I envy them too. I will stay muted on the matter, because I have nothing to offer anyone other than “I hope so.”

So freethinkingjew, that would be my thought on the matter, and my issue with life ending at death. It’s not about finding meaning or purpose, I don’t care about those things as much as maybe I should. It’s about distilling fears of fear, breathing, and feeling the arms of my daughter. It’s about what a tiny fraction of time we are allowed, whether I die at 30 or 90, it won’t be long enough.

I think the confident atheists are taking the wrong approach, and understandable one, but a wrong one at the same time. I’ll discuss the existence of g-d, I’ll talk about the complete impossibility of Adam and Eve, and the ark all day long, but not everyone will, and not everyone should. It’s funny to me to see the two sides both viciously trying to convince each other, there are Christians condemning people to hell, Jews blowing shofars at women for heavenly justice at a pro-choice rallies, Atheists trying to make every Joe Shmoe religious guy look like a fool, and so in that way, every group is just as bad as the other. Anyone who has ever taken ten minutes to browse through a history book should know how dangerous religion can be. Rather than focusing the out the debate of the actual existence of g-d, and focusing more on how misinterpreted so many things are, taking the hate out of religion, convincing every Joe Shmoe religious guy that the homosexuals next-door are not going to bring about the apocalypse, would be a better use of the Atheist’s times and efforts. Yes you can’t turn on the television without seeing someone doing something awful because of what they think G-d wants them to do, but you also can’t walk through a hospice unit without seeing people taking comfort in the thought that this isn’t it. They’ll see their husbands again, and one day their kids will come along soon, so even the people they are leaving behind, things will work out for them in the end no matter what you can’t protect them from.  A basic belief in G-d can do good things too, even if it’s just random comforts.

I should go back to making cartoons. Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld.

Are You Practicing? Stuck in the middle Part 1

Throughout my life I have been primarily surrounded by people who are not Jewish. This means that every time there is a Jew in the news, everyone has to run and tell me immediately. This occurs for one of three reasons, reason one is to hear my honest opinion (you can imagine how often this happens… not,) reason two is to say “see I told you about them Jews,” (because apparently unless you are wearing a beard or carrying a menorah you’re just not ethnic enough for them to classify you as a Jew) or reason three is to tease me for fifteen minutes. Either way it’s annoying. I often wonder what it would be like if every time I saw a non-Jewish white person on the news if I ran around alerting everyone that I know that is non-Jewish and white. Of course being that the news is primarily about non-Jewish white folk, I have concluded that this would really eat up a lot of time. Ah Well.

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Close Encounters of the Jew Kind

jewelry-star-of-david-silver-pendants-star-of-david-necklace-ndn0557-300-ndn0557-300-9724bigI bought a Magen David necklace some months ago, simply because I wanted one, years ago this would have been out of the question for me. I didn’t have enough to buy one of the pretty ones with the multi-colored triangular jewels, but I found one that suited me fine on EBay for around $4.00, courtesy of good old China. When I see it dangling from it’s chain, or when I feel it on my skin, it reminds me of certain things, kind of like seeing a mezuzah when you walk into a room. In addition to this, my little necklace has also brought with it a realization of representation. By that I mean that inadvertently, during various encounters, sometimes someone’s thoughts or opinions on an entire group of people can rest directly on one ill fitted persons shoulders.

Next-door to me lives a sweet old man named Larry who my husband and I have grown close to over the past couple years. Larry lived in New York for quite some time years ago, and upon learning about my being Jewish he was absolutely fascinated by this, but first he felt the need to tell me about a Chasidic Jewish roommate he had in New York. “He never bathed,” he told me as we sat on his couch watching the news. “He slept all the time and never bathed, he had a smell to him, and we just put up with it.” Now my first thought was feeling sorry for this Chasid he spoke of, was he struggling with depression? Poor hygiene and excessive sleeping aren’t indicators of being Jewish, they are telltale signs of depression. My second thought was is that what he thinks of Jews? The weight of his views were put on the shoulders of this one mystery Chasid who was not up to the task. Larry is not a racist person, he’s as harmless as a mouse and has never been anything less than kind to me. So I had three choices of reaction as I felt my necklace, I could take offense and call this old man who showed me how to plant tomatoes ignorant, I could go in a lengthy explanation of Jewish laws on hand washing and mikvahs that he will probably take with a grain of salt, or I could try and take some of the weight off of the mystery Chasid’s shoulders. Whenever I make Challah bread, I make sure I put aside a loaf for Larry, the only problem with this arrangement is that twice his sons ate it before he got to have any. Larry is a heck of a card player, and much like myself he absolutely loves playing cards, I had him show me how to play his favorite card game, which is a lot like rummy, but with two decks and about a thousand more rules, so it’s fantastic. Sometimes after my daughter goes to sleep, I go next-door and play cards for hours, I put up with his belly laughs at my poor scores, and he puts up with my squeals of delight when I infrequently win a hand. Okay so we’re both sore winners, but we have a great time. There is something great about this, and that is the fact that I know he is fond of me and my family, I know he enjoys when I take time out to spend playing his favorite card game, I at least hope he likes my challah, and I know now that when he thinks of Jews, he doesn’t just think of his former roommate anymore, he thinks of his little friend next-door, who he greets by saying “how is my girl today?” Now I know this isn’t changing the world, this isn’t going to end a weed that grew from a seed of hatred planted thousands of years ago, but to me it feels right.

In line at the store buying fall clothes for my daughter, who has=d merrily skipped off with my mother-in-law to avoid the grueling standing still wait, three older women in front of me were using a store credit card that was inactive, and the cashier had to begin the rather lengthy procedure of re-activating it. They spoke to him and then chatted away with each other in another language. Let me tell you one thing about my language development, it stopped completely after I learned English. I took four years of Spanish, and still I can’t speak a complete sentence in it. I think the few words I know are from my daughter forcing me to watch repeats of Dora, I thought the language the women were speaking was Russian. They kept smiling at me and urging me to go ahead of them, I kept awkwardly smiling and telling them not to worry about it. Seeing all of the children’s clothes on the counter, the woman started asking me how old my daughter is and making various small talk. Then I asked her what language she was speaking. It was at that second I saw her gaze zero in on my necklace, and her entire temperament changed from overtly friendly to defensive. She stuck her chin up and declared “Arabic.” How I could confuse Arabic and Russian I don’t know, keep in mind what I said about Dora. “Oh,” I replied, “it’s very pretty.” This seemed to have caught her off guard, I’m not quite sure what she was expecting me to say. She relaxed then and smiled, she put her hand on my shoulder and said “well thank you.”  In the end I wound up helping the cashier input the card activation, and after another thank you the women were on their way chattering in what I knew then to be Arabic. I hoped that the warmth she emanated when she put her hand on my shoulder, was something I was able to mirror in my own awkward way.

Again, not changing the world or anything,  and while I don’t think it’s a just or accurate thing to do to judge millions of people on one individuals actions, but I think part of accepting one’s heritage, along with it comes certain responsibilities I was had not taken into consideration until recently. The responsibilities, and whether or not I can live up to various aspirations, for some reason I don’t feel their weight, because in my newly accepted Jewish self, I find a solace that I hadn’t found before.

The Bad Philosopher Needs Hebrew School!

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As I parent my 5 year old, it often comes to my attention how terrible I am at both explaining things, and philosophy. I am awful at explaining the meanings of the simplest words, such as simple, apply, respect, etc. In addition to this, my five year old often approaches me with these absurdly complex questions.

I am typically one who skirts the issue, hoping that what I offer will be enough to hold her over till she is about ten to twenty years older. It has been especially bad recently..

For example: The other day as I was innocently making waffles and contemplating something irrelevant and most likely pointless:

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So when does Hebrew school go back in session!!??

Moroseness, and Ties, in a Small Hopeful Bit

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Today when discussing getting my daughter her Hebrew name, I was asked “are you sure you’re Jewish?” “How do you know?” I rattled off some surnames on my family tree, Robinowitz, Bressler, Kantor, etc. (I felt a quick pang of guilt for the fake family trees I did in school after the first one ruined my social status, saying everyone on my family tree was from Canada, and had surnames like Thompson or Miller was just way easier). Later on I was stuck with the thoughts of my genealogy, and the list of known ancestors that are little more than names, and records from ancestry.com proving that they existed at one point.

Sam RobinowitzWhen my grandmother visited me last, it had been two years since she had made it to my home, and she asked me questions about my recent coming into Judaism. As far as she knows, I am the only descendant of her family that is observant, unexpectedly she seemed happy about it, telling me that it gave her some of her best childhood memories, searching for the matzo on Passover, lighting candles with her mother, which I found surprising for my very agnostic grandmother. “Well what happened?” I asked. My great grandmother Rose and her sisters were the glue that held the family together, both in their closeness and in their religion. All of them met untimely ends, and when they left, so did the family ties and traditions. It’s a sad thing really all that ensued after these women died. The relatively close knit family disintegrated into the small and distant group they are today.

I find it interesting that for my relatives you see here in the photos, their religion was a glue that held them together, and bonded them for years and for generations. Yet in my immediate family, when my parents one day decided to pick up Fundamentalist Baptism, it was a fire that burned us and tore what little was left to pieces, leaving me little to pass to my descendants, without climbing through rubble to find what was lost.

Out of the moroseness of death and dying, relations and recovery, comes both concern and hope. Concern that everything I have done will be lost to the ages, and will be entirely in vain. What I build will be deconstructed inside and out, and that in the grand scheme of our humanity, and our quests to find meaning, it will mean nothing. Then there is hope, hope that what I do today will hold the family I build together, to me and to each other, for generations, because of the strong foundation it can give my children. And the little things that we do, hanging mezuzahs in the doorways, lighting candles on Friday nights, breathes some form of life to the memories of those who came before us.

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