Sunday, September 27, 2009

A poem for my father on Yom Kippur

A Poem by Edgar A. Guest

The Irish didn’t like it when they heard of Greenberg’s fame
For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;
And the Murphys and Mulrooneys said they never dreamed they’d see
A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.

In the early days of April not a Dugan tipped his hat
Or prayed to see a “double” when Hank Greenberg came to bat.
In July the Irish wondered where he’d ever learned to play.
“He makes me think of Casey!” Old Man Murphy dared to say;

And with fifty-seven doubles and a score of homers made
The respect they had for Greenberg was being openly displayed.
But upon the Jewish New Year when Hank Greenberg came to bat
And made two home runs off Pitcher Rhodes—
They cheered like mad for that.

Came Yom Kippur—holy feast day world wide over to the Jew—
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true
Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.
Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose the game today!
We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat,
But he’s true to his religion—and I honor him for that!”

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Pacific Northwest Adventure (Or Not)

So, when you come home from Portland, Oregon, you have a lot if nickels in your pockets. Since there is no sales tax, lots of things are $_.95 rather than $_.99, I suppose this is since the actual amount is going to be predictable, rather than the result of a fractions math problem.

That's right. Jacob and I took our honeymoon in beautiful Portland, Oregon. Apparently, this is not a typical destination based on the looks that people acquired upon hearing the news and their cheerful, affirming, surprised and bewildered tones of voice.

We chose Portland while walking along the beach of Lake Michigan one day this spring. Going on the walk had been a way to enjoy the spring weather and to carve a bit of space to just enjoy each other in the midst of wedding planning and my efforts to graduate. About halfway through, the concept of an entire honeymoon suddenly occurred to one of us, like finding a $20 bill on the street. It was not one linear conversation but rather a series of short exchanges. One of us would suggest a city and the other would consider and respond.

We realized rather quickly that we were not beach people. I have to wear a lot of sunblock all of the time and I hate the resultant sticky feeling. (Actually, that used to be the way I told this story until Jacob finally admitted that he is a beach person but he wanted me to be happy.) We talked about the ability to sit and watch interesting people. We both like museums. Some minor hiking is tolerable to me. I especially enjoy being in communities that are full of creative and artsy people.

With these criteria in mind, we finally came around to talking about the Pacific Northwest. I used to live there and would live there still if my entire family wasn’t located in Chicago. But we wanted to go to a city that neither of us knew, so Seattle was out. Portland was an easy second choice. I spend some time engaging in an online craft community and many of the bloggers that I read are located in Portland. They talk about shops that they get their supplies at and galleries they show their work in. They do things that can only be done in communities full of supportive, crunchy people. I wanted to actually experience it for myself.

Unfortunately, we both got so caught up in planning the wedding itself that we didn't do a lot of research on exactly where those people were to be found or on the addresses of those cool shops and communities. Both of us had tucked away a file of articles on Portland to be read later but since neither of us brought a computer, those files were pretty useless once we got there.

This wouldn't normally have been a problem because we'd just ask around but we had really underestimated how tired I would be. Although Jacob was tired, too, apparently he retains his adventurous spirit in that state. Before we realized what was going on, we had some tenuous moments while my feelings of not having any fun and feeling bad about wasting the opportunities took turns boxing my emotional ears. For the first 4 or 5 days, I really thought that maybe we should have taken a beach vacation or rented a cottage on a lake in Michigan but who takes their honeymoon in Michigan? I ask that last question to be honest about the fact that what people think of me is sometimes important, even when I posture otherwise. Jacob was super-supportive while I got comfortable with the idea that the trip couldn't be a waste (since we were together, not working and married) even if we stayed in the room the whole time.

Isn't it a cutie-patootie room? We stayed at the Inn at Northrup Station, which is in the "trendy" Nob Hill neighborhood. I loved the fact that we could walk almost everywhere in the city. It was good for my soul for my body to stay busy while my brain went dead. However, I was under-whelmed by the neighborhoods that were touted as hip and bohemian. I felt like they were Chicago Lite and not all that unique.

Our first full day we walked down to Powell’s since everyone says “You’ve got to go to Powell’s.” Again, worrying about what other people think. I just couldn’t face the lack of understanding in people’s faces when they asked the follow-up.

Kowtowing to public opinion one one’s honeymoon so soon after a wedding which is at least a little about controlling people’s reactions (you want your guests to feel welcome, included and festive, at the very least) is a terrible idea. It was even more of a mistake because I don’t really like bookstores. But, since I’m so bookish, that kind of declaration elicits cries of disapproval and misunderstanding in the form of, “Really? But you read so much?” Since I was still in a sensitive place immediately after the wedding that I had not yet napped out of, even that much push back felt unbearable. But I just don’t like browsing. I have such a queue of books that I want to read that browsing for new material is just an exercise in futility. Also, I have a platonic ideal of used bookstores that involve very intense memories of plopping down on a musty-smelling floor of the science-fiction section in 12-year-old innocence of book queues and being able to waltz home with 13 books for $8 because every book was priced at half of its cover price. That type of bookstore is rare to find anymore. So, the sourrness caused by my early-morning Powell’s experience caused me to write things like this in my journal:
I suppose my fancy University of Chicago education in economics should cause me to admire them for their use of internet technology to determine the market value of each individual used book. However, seeing a mass-market paperback from 1988 priced at $15 flipped a switch in me somewhere.
The sarcasm that I recorded in my personal journal communicates “blissful honeymoon” well, don’t you think? We wlaked around downtown for awhile and I totally missed the charm of the parking lot full of food carts. Finally, we found a cup of tea that did not cost $4 after a search and Jacob let me just vomit up the poison and asked good questions to help it along. Here he is when I felt better enough (literally feeling like a weight was lifted from my heart) to want to take his picture eating a Voodoo doughnut. Note his expression that clearly says, “Is it safe to go back in the water?”

After that, we lowered our expectations, focused on eating well, getting massages, resting and playing games. We had particularly good meals at Carlyle, Laughing Planet and BeWon Korean. Restaurants are actually pretty tough for Jacob since his kosher restrictions limit him to vegetarian and fish dishes and most of the fancy American Cuisine places that feel so celebratory and indulgent to me don't carry much more than a salmon dish or a token pasta and cheese dish. As my nutritionist said, "Cheese doesn't count as a protein; it's a fat." What? A little tofu is so wrong for these places? So, a couple of nights we got kosher beef from the local Trader Joe's or at leftover and stayed in playing more games. Here's a shot of the beginning of one of our Carcassone games.
Throughout all of the emotional tides, I loved being with Jacob, holding his hand, feeling his ring between my fingers and making him smile when I could. As the week went on, the events we created were more fun. We went to the Muddy Boot Festival, which was exactly the kind of creative, crunchy, community gathering that I came to Portland for. Jacob rode a bike made out of bamboo while I talked with the company's owner about our much love of liberal politics. Here he is with Jacob after Jacob finished his ride.The famed Saturday and Sunday market was fairly disappointing with lots of mundane stuff. None of the great crafts that I read about on the blogs. My guess is that the fee to be part of the fair isn't possible for folks with an internet business model. This kind of thing is the reason I say that Portland needs a little adventuring. The Portland I have heard about is communicated through blogs but people tend to blog from home, not from the streets with strips of cutesy stores.

We did go back to Powell's to enjoy a talk from A.J. Jacobs and we also went to see the movie Big Fan and to listen to its star, Patton Oswalt, talk afterwards. Great movie and I'll talk about it more in another post. We also enjoy the Museum of Science and Industry but were glad we got in for free with our reciprocal Field Museum membership. (Jacob gets points for doing this without the card.) It was neat but not worth 2 $11 tickets. Still, I got this picture that describes our past week fairly well.We enjoyed the Kidd Toy Museum and the zoo and I feel like by the end of the week I had shed most of the wedding stress and exhaustion to reach a new equilibrium, which is a major purpose of a honeymoon. I loved that we could walk everywhere or take easy public transportation. That really helped me feel at home and really grounded in this place that was other in a way that driving around in a car would not. The eco-tours folks were kind of flaky and we were relying on that to get out into the country, so we still need to do that. The Beverly Cleary park was not near anything we were visiting so we still need to get my picture with the Ramona statue since she is me. Since coming home, we hear there is a craft thrift store that we missed so there are definitely reasons to go back if we can someday.

It was a good honeymoon even if it wasn't what I expected (isn't that kind of life?) and I snuggled Jacob all the way home while we read our books on the bus, on the MAX, on the plane and on the El, rubbing my face inot his shoulder to get his attention and smiling up into his returning smile.

It's good to be married.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

IKEA madness!

So, I'm supposed to be looking for a job (and I am) but I'm also nesting something fierce. Now that I don't need to be planning a wedding, I can start thinking about this space that Jacob and I inhabit. I can start eliminating the stress that is created by having to step over things and having to shove them together in a jumble.

Also, we got a lot of presents and I need a place to put them.

So, this is what the corner of the kitchen looked like this morning.

Then, I spent seriously 3 hours in IKEA today, basking in the capitalist, materialistic, whimsical wonder of it all. I promise you that I said no to just as many things that I knew that I "needed" than I said yes to. I feel OK about that. So, here is that corner of the kitchen now.

I never take for granted the ability to simply solve a problem by throwing money at it. It is a blessing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


So, I have to admit that Jacob and I seem to have just survived our first necessary newlywed disaster. You know the old cliche about the new bride not knowing how to boil water or scraping the burned toast into the garbage?

I gave my husband salmonella.

I didn't mean to; I swear. It's just that I baked a chicken and I put the dark side down and I guess it didn't cook all the way through and even though I ate the leftovers with no repercussion on Friday, Jacob didn't microwave his on Sunday and then, well, you know.

So, we spent a full 60 hours in a sleepless hell of fevers and other more gross stuff. What I like best about the experience was that I did not feel at all resentful of the tasks necessary to take care of him. It was easy to do. That makes me feel really good about myself.

I like it when I cannot deny that I love this man.

Log Cabin Quilt Block Tutorial

So, I'm really impressed by the contributions that Jacob and I got for our wedding quilt. I've heard that a few more are making their way toward us, as well. I'm pretty sure that I didn't post this tutorial on this blog and I want to, just in case any of you are interested. Like I said before, I couldn’t find one online that actually made sense to beginners, so I made one myself. Because it was there!

1. Start with a square of fabric. This one is about an inch and some change per side.
2. Cut a strip of fabric that has a height equal to the square and a width anywhere from 0.5 inches to 2 inches. Approximate. This is not a science.
3. Sew the strip to the east side of the square. (If there is no image on the square, put a pin in the top so that you’ll always know where north is.)
4. If the strip is actually a little bit longer than the square, that’s fine. (Better than too short.) Just trim off the edges once you’ve sewn the pieces together.
5. Press the seam away from the center. This will always be the rule. Press the seam away from the center.
6. Cut a strip that runs the length of the north side. (Remember, a little long is better than too short.) Again, it can be anywhere from 0.5 inches to 2 inches along the other dimension.CIMG1124
7. Sew it to the north side of your patch. Trim the excess once you’ve tied your knots.
8.Press the seam away from the center.CIMG1125
9. Cut a strip that is at least as long as the west side. (I keep using vague measurements since often these are made out of scraps.) CIMG1126
10. Sew the pieces together, trim the excess and press the seam away from the center. CIMG1127
11. Cut a strip that’s the length of the south side of your patch. (Are you sensing a pattern yet?) CIMG1128
12. At this point, you might want to use pins to hold the fabric together while you stitch if you are hand stitching. (Actually, you could do this at any point.) CIMG1129
13. Sew the pieces together, trim the excess and press the seams away from the center.CIMG1130
14. Repeat the process in a counter-clockwise (otherwise known as widdershins) manner.CIMG1131
15. When all sides measures at least your designated dimension, you are finished.
16. The back (with all the seams pressed away from the center) should look like this. CIMG1134
17. Trim the finished piece so that it is a perfect square of the appropriate dimension.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A wedding to love

Meg has a wedding summary posted on her site today that is worth checking out since I feel like this bride really is offbeat. She admits that she and her husband have different ideas about marriage and weddings and that she compromised a lot of what she wanted in order to make him comfortable, which includes not working her ass off to have a "budget" wedding. I also like that she writes lines like, "I've always valued the the commitment inherent in a wedding and wedding vows but Omid's attitude and my tendency towards cynicism made me wonder, at times, why we were doing it."

Got to love straight-forward women. Check it out here.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Yesterday, Jacob and I celebrated Tashlich by going out to Montrose Beach and throwing the leftover challah into Lake Michigan to symbolize casting our sins away as we turn back towards God and community in the New Year of Rosh Hashanah. It was glorious. The sky was overcast and the waves somewhat threatening. Jacob and I scrambled over the big limestone blocks that line the shore until we were a little bit north of the dog beach. We began hurling big chunks of challah into the waves. The wind would catch it and it would hang in the air, which made me think that maybe I could hit one of the seagulls that was starting to converge on our coordinates. Jacob said that maybe that would be a bad omen for the new year. He began to read the traditional scripture off his phone but I barely paid attention in the baby maelstrom.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.

19 You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

20 You will be true to Jacob,
and show mercy to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath to our fathers
in days long ago.
I am often guided by some words spoken by one of the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock that was spoken on one of their live albums: "If you want change in your life and there is a storm, walk in to it. When you get to the other side, you will be changed." I am always emboldened by the assumption that you will get to the other side and that change is choice that one makes, not something that simple happens to us.

Yesterday, thought, as I was hurling the last of my iniquities into the depths of a seagull's gullet via the lake, I did not think too deeply on what was happening or remember Sweet Honey in the Rock because I was, quite simply, caught up in the joy of furious weather. I looked up above me and found that the few seagulls I used as targets had multiplied until they were legion and they were thick not just in our area but all up and down the beach. It was glorious! We watched them hover in the wind and they didn't fight at all or make any noise. We grinned at each other and gushed about how cool it was.

Then, one particular bird whose plumage we were admired took a big shit where our sins used to be and we decided it would probably be a good moment to head back to the car.

To be honest, the other reason that I didn't really engage in the meaning of the tashlich ceremony was that I'm feeling a little steamrolled by Judaism lately, especially in the last few days. The wedding was almost entirely Jewish in form, even if it was interfaith in interpretation. Jacob and I have spent a year researching and reading and talking to dig out a place for ourselves inside his community and inside his own theology. My emotional responses to the behavior of my in-laws, who are unavoidably associated with Judiasm, have been exhausting. In the last few weeks before the wedding, I was taking the advice of so many of my closest advisers: just get through the wedding; then, you'll have time to breathe.

But just as I surface again after the honeymoon, it's Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and Jacob thinks it would be cool to build a sukkah in our parking space and then Simhat Torah and we need to plan for a trip to New York for Thanksgiving and maybe a trip to Ohio before that for a charity event for the hospital that is so good to Jacob's niece and Channukah is early this year.

Where is that breathing? Where is that space a new couple needs to simply be without having to be . . . something? Of course, it could be that this is not something we're entitled to at all. I recently read a fantasy book called Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce in which white imperialists are referred to as "luarin." A line of dialogue spoken by one of the "raka" or native people struck me.
"That's the problem with luarin," Boulaj observed softly. "They think gods have rules and follow them. They should dedicate their lives to the Trickster, as we do. They would not be comfortable, but they would not have illusion that life is supposed to make sense, either."
This has made me start thinking that I easily think of Jesus as subversive and this could easily be communicated using a Trickster framework, like stories of Brer Rabbit, Coyote, Raven, Reynard the Fox, Enki, Loki, Hermes and Bugs Bunny. This shift in perspective to Jesus as Trickster might help with my overall sense of entitlement and give me the strength to be a good daughter-in-law and wife rather than letting myself be less than God calls me to be because I didn't expect the situation that I find myself in.

Last year, I read a book called The Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared and the spiritual journey that a deliberate celebrating of the High Holidays can lead one through is really beautiful. And there were moments in the 3.5 hour service on Saturday morning that were really beautiful, especially because they value storytelling and gave two members of the congregation amply time to reflect on the theme of the New Year in addition to the rabbi's homily.

But on Friday, I had a tough day because I missed the spiritual journey that I used to be on: the one of finding God's love for me as shown by the gift of Jesus in previously unlooked-for places so that I would feel it more deeply and hopefully be encouraged to reflect that love to others as my main action in life, seeking social justice and extricating myself from systems that oppress other people that God loves just as much as she loves me.

There hasn't been as much Jesus in my life lately, what with all the Judaism needing so much attention.

About two weeks before the wedding, Jacob and I decided that we wanted to do big group family pictures before the wedding so that we wouldn't waste any of the time we had scheduled for the band to be there. However, to make this work logistically, we had to do these two hours before the ceremony, because we had already paid money for the rooms for our kabbalat panim during the hour before the ceremony and we didn't want to waste it. So, we changed everything around and decided to have separate pre-chuppah receptions that were divided by family rather than gender.

This is maybe the best decision that we could have made for my peace of mind. When my extended family gets together, we often have family Bible studies where we briefly examine a piece of scripture, pray together and sing out of tattered Murphy hymnals that are about 20 years old with construction paper covers decorated with glitter glue and filled with our favorite xeroxed hymns. I decided that I wanted to do this before the wedding. My dad led a brief reflection on the scripture for the ceremony, we sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Wonderful Grace of Jesus and Come Though Fount of Every Blessing and then we prayed: once when they laid hands on me and once in a big circle that concluded in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer and followed by singing the traditional Johnny Appleseed which is always sung holding hands and swinging our arms back and forth. I think I cried the entire time.

Although I did not realize why I needed this time, I look back and can see that it allowed me to reside in the center of where I come from. I gave a lot of lipservice to the faith traditions that we come from in The World's Longest Wedding Program but had become distanced from what those traditions really were. By spending the hour before the wedding doing one of the rituals that has made me who I am, I could bring my whole self to the wedding ceremony. Without it, I would have only brought the harried, joyful, event planning self that I had been for the last 6 months to the chuppah. Instead, like Esperanza on her birthday from House on Mango Street, I could be all the Rebeccas I had been up to that point. I could bring the Jesus that lives in my heart with me down the aisle instead of having to just meet him there because my pastor brought him along.

But Friday, I felt like I had lost him again with all this Judaism swirling around my head like seagulls vying for stale bread. Maybe writing this post has helped me catch sight of him again so that I know which direction to walk in this new year. We'll see.

Shanah Tovah.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We get married in circles

So, let's talk about the hora, shall we? Like A., I don't really want to report the wedding to you in a blow by blow, chronological fashion. Instead, let's use the topics that occur to me (or to you, just ask in a comment) and see where that takes us. Chances are, I'll get distracted and not tell the whole story, but then I get to relate it little by little as I tell other stories.

Fun, right?

So, the hora. What a great way to re-enter a celebration after taking my man by the hand and leading him off into yichud. I remember realizing that it was time after everyone shouted "Mazel Tov!" and realizing that no one else would tell us what to do next. I think I said something like, "OK, let's go!"As an aside, yichud is a time for the bride and groom to be together alone immediately following the ceremony. After hearing a horrow story about a woman whose mother-in-law followed them into yichud because "her feet were tired," I made sure to get good yichud guards and their 2-year-old son. Because who doesn't want to talk to a 2-year-old as the first public thing they do as a married couple? Our friends told us they thought they would be ceremonial but had to turn a surprising number of people away.

But after talking to young Sam about shoes and fruit for a little bit, we got down to the business of celebrating. Although we spoke to a few people who were still in the foyer near the food and wine, we quickly entered the hall and threaded our way to the dance floor and started spinning. At least that what it felt like.

I don't know if Jacob and I danced alone at first and people joined us or if people jumped right in. I know that early on, I really liked dancing the actual grapevine steps because it made the ruffles of my skirt flare. Soon, Jacob and I were grinning intensely into each other's faces as we spun and then his parents and then my parents joined us in a big circle. I think that as I looked beyond Jacob, I saw probably 60 people in two circles around us. It's all kind of a jumble, actually. I know that at one point, the girlfriend of one of Jacob's closest friends, danced a different step with me and I was so grateful to her for welcoming me into her Jewishness. I then went and found my friend Tabitha (who introduced Jacob and I) and danced with her.

In yichud, Jacob told me that he really came into appreciating the work I did to prepare for the wedding because he panicked right before the ceremony about being put into the air on folding chairs. He found the site coordinator and asked for solid ones and was shown that they were already in place in the front. I melted a little bit when he told me that because there was always a little bit of niggling struggle in the back of my head that we were falling into stereotypical gender roles. He plays the sugar daddy who can't figure out why I'm so exhausted at the end of each day planning the wedding and I play the whiny woman who holds all the cards tightly in order to validate her existence. I swear, when he said on the day before the wedding that we should remember to take the marriage license that I already had packed in a box to take to the venue, I could see our special guest appearance on Everybody Loves Raymond clearly in my mind. In economic terms, for the last 3 months, we have had a differentiated household. Jacob takes care of the living expenses; I take care of wedding logistics and process the concommitant family drama. However, it wasn't until Jacob noticed the fruits of my labors that I really felt that we were equal partners in our differentiation.

So, with the solid chairs that were stationed at the front, Jacob's mother took charge of the chair lifting during the hora. She told me how to sit on the chair and where to hold on. The part of me that longs for a good relationship with her was glad to see that she felt like she was welcome and an integral part of the action. Later, she pulled the chairs together in the middle of the dance floor and said, "Sit. Now we have to entertain you." I had not prepped anyone for this Jewish tradition because I decided to use my persuasive skills on other things, like getting people to actually feel comfortable dancing and getting people to move outside their comfort zone to make us quilt squares. But Jacob's mom led the way, dancing across the space in front of us holding an imaginary baby in her arms and getting a friend to dance back with her.

And people really caught on. I was amazed to see my friends and Jacob's family huddle their heads together to figure out some goofy dance that they could do. Every time I thought the pause between acts felt uncomfortably too long and was about get up and go back to dancing, someone else stepped in. My mom traipsed across the space looking ridiculous and completely lovable in her vulnerability. I clapped my hands above my head each time someone finished. It was an extra special gift when my cousin's brother-in-law danced for us since he is a principal dancer for the Hubbard Street Dance Company.

Then, it was back to the circle dancing. I could have done this all night. On the wedding blog I wrote:

Love sometimes feels overwhelming and too fast but also just plain fun. It is exhilarating and makes you feel like you might fall down. When you feel love, you want to make all of the right steps but sometimes you’re just so busy moving forward (or moving in an oblong orbit) that you can’t really get your feet under you enough to dance the pattern.

This is an argument for dancing the hora. It recreates and affirms our own experiences with love and communicates our hopes for more love to find us in the future.

I didn't realize until just now that the explanation I published in our program for the circling at the beginning of the ceremony is also reflected in the hora:
Bride and bridegroom performed the Dance of Isaiah. Hip to hip, arms interwoven to hold hands, [They] circumnabulate once, twice and then again, spinning the cocoon of their life together. No patriarchal linearity here. We . . . get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy, you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back to where you began.
Meg of A Practical Wedding told me that it "slayed" her that I was using footnotes in my program. In the footnotes, I credited Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex for that quote.

We actually forgot to circle each other at the beginning of our ceremony, even though we had practiced a couple of hours earlier. When I remembered, I stopped the rabbi and we did it right before the first kiddush. It was a good thing, too, since my pastor based her whole sermon on the idea that we get married in circles. We dance the hora in circles.

And it's stinkin' fun, too.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Home from the honeymoon!

The first photo to come back from our great photographer.

More words later.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


When I was in junior high, I met with a group of girls and my youth director on Wednesday nights for Bible study and some other weekday morning to go out to breakfast before school. When I needed to, my youth director helped me tell them that my dad was going to prison. She then asked if they wanted to pray for me. I have such a vivid memory of being tucked up on this old wooden chair with arms that had been repainted yellow in the basement of the chapel, feeling so vulnerable and angry and worn out from weeping. They all put a hand on me somewhere and I can still recreate the view in my mind as I looked up through all of their arms and bodies while each prayed for me.

In high school, our confirmation ceremony involved a laying-on of hands and I remember that PC, who had worked with our youth group so much but who was dying of cancer stood behind me and put her hand on my shoulder that was bared by the new sundress my mom had bought for the occasion.

Last Sunday, I had an aufruf at church and Jacob and I sponsored the regular potluck afterwards by bringing kosher meat for the grill and pareve side dishes. At the end of the ceremony, Nanette encouraged the community to surround Jacob and I and to lay their hands on us and to pray for us. I tried to focus on being in the now, but the memories of the two other important intercessory prayers kept creeping in. Despite that, I was deeply moved, maybe because I felt just as worn out and exhausted as I did that Wednesday night in the youth lounge.

I wrote out the text of my reflection and read from it, apologizing that I had not had time to familiarize myself with it in order to deliver it in a conversational way while making eye contact for emphasis. Everyone seemed cool with it. :-) This is the text I delivered with a few things changed since I've had time to think about it.

Most of you know that I am marrying a Jewish man while I am a practicing Chrisitian. Jewish tradition holds that a member of the community who is getting married during the week following a particular Sabbath is honored by being allowed to read the scriptures and to give a brief reflection. This is called an aufruf. Most Jewish faith communities have a proscribed schedule for which scripture gets read on a given week, so a person’s “Torah portion” is kind of a crap-shoot.

Because my faith community is so important, I asked my pastor, Nanette, and the worship committee if I could have my own aufruf at Wicker Park Grace. To reflect the tradition of the Torah portion, I’ve used the Revised Common Lectionary, which fulfills a similar purpose for Protestant Christian faith communities.

As luck would have it, the assigned Old Testament scripture for August 30 is an underhand pitch of a piece of scripture:

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (The Message)

The Woman

8-10 Look! Listen! There's my lover!
Do you see him coming?
Vaulting the mountains,
leaping the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle, graceful;
like a young stag, virile.
Look at him there, on tiptoe at the gate,
all ears, all eyes—ready!
My lover has arrived
and he's speaking to me!

The Man

10-14 Get up, my dear friend,
fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
Look around you: Winter is over;
the winter rains are over, gone!
Spring flowers are in blossom all over.
The whole world's a choir—and singing!
Spring warblers are filling the forest
with sweet arpeggios.
Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,
and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms.
Oh, get up, dear friend,
my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
Come, my shy and modest dove—
leave your seclusion, come out in the open.
Let me see your face,
let me hear your voice.
For your voice is soothing
and your face is ravishing.

Perfect for a wedding, right? Listen to the barely contained excitement of the woman awaiting her man: “My lover has arrived and is speaking to me!” Who doesn’t like to be reminded of times when we’ve felt like nothing else mattered but the attention of the person we are infatuated with? Then, the passage goes on to describe the man’s attempt to persuade the woman that she should do the scary thing and leave the safety of the life she’s always known and join him “out in the open.” I have never denied that getting married again scares the hell out of me. I mean, I know more than most that there is no guarantee. You can never know someone well enough to know for certain that he will want to do the hard work of staying compatible ‘til death do you part. I have needed a little persuading, needing to be told that my voice is soothing and my face is ravishing.

So, a perfect verse for a wedding aufruf, right? I mean there’s that gag-me-flowers-puppies-and-sunshine stuff in the middle but we can all publicly laugh at that with ironic cynicism and know that it’s OK that we secretly nurse a hope that someone will think we are the Spring that banishes their Winter.

It’s a perfect verse but as I read it and re-read it, I was not quite content. It was too easy. Building community requires being open to each other and this easy verse wouldn’t allow me to do that fully. So, I read some of the other options in the Lectionary, which also provides a designated psalm, New Testament epistle and Gospel reading. As I continued reading, the Gospel lesson tugged as my heart. It is such a difficult passage for Jacob and me in our endeavor to create a life where our two different faith traditions are compatible. Because Wicker Park Grace is a place where to which people feel safe enough to bring their whole selves, I chose to speak on this passage to talk a little bit about how I resolve some of the apparent conflicts to our interfaith life.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (NIV)

Clean and Unclean
1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"
6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.

14Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'”
17After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "


When I read this passage, it seems to me like Jesus is saying, “You know those things that Jews do that help them identify as a distinct community of people? You don’t really have to do them. In fact, they get in the way of doing what God wants you to do.”

Harsh. Especially for an interfaith couple that keeps kosher, the practice of eating only “clean” foods, as directed in the Torah.

Last week we studied a passage similar to this and, in fact, for the past several months we have been studying Acts, the book in the Bible that describes in painstaking detail how people who followed God by following the teachings of Jesus separated themselves from the people who followed God through Jewish practices by changing their habits, loosening lifestyle restrictions and including the Gentiles as part of the club.

Separation is hard. Remember adolescence? So many of us needed to declare that our parents’ beliefs –about our hair, about our friends, about God – were wrong in order to clear out the space that surrounded us. Once we had that space, we were free to determine for ourselves what we believed and wanted from life. Often, the process wasn’t black and white and our parents (sometimes rightly) insisted on maintaining closeness. Sometimes shouting ensued.

Jacob and I stopped coming to services at WPG recently because Acts is full of this kind of separation pain and reading about and discussing that pain makes us fight. For instance, Stephen is a real jerk about it, comparing the Jewish people who he had been trying to convert to the Jews in history who had turned away from God, like with the golden calf. Is Jesus being a similar jerk? Is he saying that if I want to follow him, I can’t keep kosher?

These kinds of passages make Jacob and I fight because they seem to be saying that we have to choose one side or another. Either you keep kosher dietary restrictions or you don’t. Either you follow Jesus or you don’t. And if you are going to be a couple traveling the same path, you both must choose the same things. But conversion for either of us means living a life trying to talk to God in a language that is not the one we were born into and neither of us could do that. And yet, we love each other. More than that, we have the ability to make each other’s lives better. It is like “The whole world's a choir—and singing!” when we live our lives together.

We have spent the last year hashing out whether or not there was a third option. Could we both continue to claim our separate faith identity while still being full partners in life, including raising children? We have decided that we can. However, this truth is still tender and vulnerable. We are still liable to lash out, or crawl inside of ourselves or get stuck in a bout of melancholy when someone challenges our resolve.

But when I look a little deeper, I don’t believe that Jesus is testing our resolve. I think that Jesus is manifesting one of the most Jewish characteristics: iconoclasm. The midrash - which is a collection of stories told by rabbis to help explain the scriptures – describes Abraham, who was considered the first Jew, smashing the stone and clay idols in his father’s shop with a hammer. This is iconoclasm: destroying idols. Worshipping god and nothing else is the first commandment handed down to the Jews by Moses at Mt. Sinai. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; Do not have any other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

And what do we like to worship most? Personally, the idol I worship most often is my own life. I love looking at my own Facebook profile and reading my own blog posts after I have posted them. When I got my yearbooks in high school, I looked up my picture first. When people intrude upon my plans and interrupt my routines, I get upset and whine: “Is she going to be there?” “Do we have to leave so early?” I gather possessions around me and tell myself I’m special because I’ve made just the right choice, finding the perfect item for $1.50 at the thrift store or priding myself on going without things that others believe are necessary.

These habits and choices are no different than the hand-washing rituals that Jesus condemns. Again and again, the scriptures tell us that the way to worship God is to serve others: to welcome the stranger and to care for the weak. The people Jesus was speaking to in this passage loved their carefully-chosen practices more than they loved making people feel affirmed and welcome. Instead of saying, “Hey, we’re glad you’re eating,” they said, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”

Many spiritual practices and regular everyday practices serve to bring us closer to God and to create a more strongly-knit community. For instance, prayer brings us closer to God and tooth-brushing allows us to draw close to each other. But Jesus says that we must never fall so far in love with these practices that we forget about the feelings of others. For “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” are, at their core, things that hurt the feelings of others. Literally, they make other people feel bad. It is the opposite of caring for others. If the necessity to pray in a certain way or time spent on Facebook cause us to neglect our duty to serve God through serving others, than it is itself an idol or “unclean” and must be smashed.

Jacob and I believe in this kind of iconoclasm. We believe that together, we can mend the world a little bit. By destroying the “traditions of men” that state that two people must stay within the well-defined boundaries of different religions, we think we are following God more closely than we would if we quietly, safely, peacefully accepted their restrictions. Those traditions have become idols that get in the way of serving God. And so, when Jacob says with his life, “Oh, get up, dear friend, my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!” I do.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


It's been a roller coaster day. I had a little show-down with the ED, which sucked. Then, I tried on my dress to get it fitted one last time and we took another inch and a half off the hips, which was cool on two levels. Then, I got a free gyro to celebrate Free Gyros Day, which was awesome. I sat in a park on a mid-seventies day with my back to the traffic and my face in the sun and just read for an hour, which was soothing. I racked my brain for a chuppah solution and finally decided to spend the money on buying one, which took a load off. I've need a nap for the last two hours, but every time I try to close my eyes, my brain won't stop problem-solving, which sucks.

But this made me laugh for the juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity.

Call me immature if you must, but I laughed. Today. I laughed. There's blessing there.


I made a resolution at the beginning of the week to get to bed by 10:00 so that I would not look haggard for my wedding this weekend. Also, when I don't get enough sleep I'm super-cranky. It is 12:17 as I write this because I am ANGRY.

We searched up and down for chuppah poles to borrow since renting them was $200 and making them was a pain in the ass. Most people we asked told us to just get them from a florist, not realizing that they would cost $200 and not being able to see our vision of using Jacob's grandpa's quilt. Finally, someone told us to ask a synagogue and since we had just started attending one that we liked, we asked them. They said yes, of course. I went in to look at them. We scheduled a day when I would pick them up: September 1st. For September 6 wedding.

We love this new spiritual community. While I was in solidifying the chuppah deal, I wrote them a big check to purchase our tickets for the high holidays and Jacob and I were planning to purchase our membership shortly thereafter. We felt so comfortable there that Jacob gave a D'var a couple of weeks ago (the equivalent of a short sermon). There's lots of things to like about them. They accept our interfaith relationship. They are intelligent and interesting. They have infrastructure. They work actively for social justice. Moreover, they are just plain nice.

But today, August 31, the Executive Director called to say that they had given the chuppah poles away to someone else. She mentioned that it was to paid members and that they were paying to rent them.

No one asked me to pay for them! If I had known, I would have gladly done so. I had my checkbook out to pay for the tickets and she made a joke about giving them a picture of the chuppah "as my donation" so that other couples could see it. Was that passive aggression? Should I have offered?

I'm six days away from my wedding and they tell me that I need to just run out and find something else.

I am pissed. Not so much at the running around I'm going to have to do or the money I'm going to have to spend but at the way we were treated. We made a deal with these folks and they betrayed our trust.

A spiritual community that values social justice treats actual people poorly.

The fucking hypocrisy is keeping me from falling asleep because I'm so angry.

And now we have to reconsider whether or not this will be our spiritual home. I think that's what makes me angriest. How could we ever invest in this place if this is how the institution treats people? And we were so happy with it. How can I ever forgive them?

I have to get to sleep. I keep weeping and I don't want to wake Jacob up since he has to work. There is more loss here than a crucial wedding prop. I feel like we've lost the one Jewish community we have found that fit us well, or at all.


I don't know if I'm feeling any better or not for having gotten that out. It's 1:27 now and I've explored a couple of options. One friend told me earlier that he would help me a chuppah stand. If the rental place still has one, we're willing to spend the money. Since the ceremony takes place on an actual stage with an actual fly space, we might be able to hang the chuppah from the battens.

Also, I know that this might seem like a bigger deal to me than it is because the wedding is so close and I have so many pressures on me right now. I know that Jacob and I will make decisions about the community when our heads are cooler. However, I am not very good at ignoring powerful emotions simple because I know that they are irrational.

Tomorrow, I will go out to the synagogue as scheduled and try to get the full story. Or maybe not. Maybe that will be too stressful and not actually solve anything. Maybe I should just give up and resign myself to finding another option.