Monday, August 16, 2010

Stereyotypes Wear Different Jewish Faces

We as the new revolution of Jews ask ourselves about how we feel in social situations in regards to our religion. Is it okay to marry a gentile? Do I have to go to Passover at my cousin’s house when I might be able to visit with friends instead? There’s a holiday party with beer involved; am I going to be able to make it to work or school the next day if need be? This is how we stereotypically live our Jewish lives in the 21st century. When someone says “I am religious” or uses the term “frum”, we immediately shy away as a subculture and almost separate “us” from “them”. Why aren’t we asking more important questions, like who are they? And why did I go to Jewish day school, but never have Jewish celebrations at my house or go to synagogue? Why is it that in movies like Garden State, we giggle when they explain synagogues have to move into other buildings on Yom Kippur because during the rest of the year no one cares? It is almost as though the term religious Jew means a “black hat” or a man with peyos and a large beard, strolling along side a woman in a long skirt, a poorly woven wig, and their 36 children lined up on the way to Shabbat services. These MUST be the “practicing” ones.

I am well aware that we as a society are terribly wrong about our vision of what it means to be religious. About five years ago, in a grassroots shul, a beautiful woman in her twenties quietly sneaks into the service, grabbing a siddur and is sitting alone. She is quiet and confident, closely following along and even in some portions, adding supplemental reading others around her have not learned or attempted. Her hair is covered and she is wearing a long sleeve shirt and a skirt that kisses the floor as she walks. It isn’t until she turns that I realize the sleeves are sheer and her Greenpeace tattoo is blaring me in the face! I was destined to meet this woman! Amongst many more tattoos I learn this woman builds bicycles, is deeply into film, has a college degree, is vegan and would later have an orthodox conversion and was not married (despite her wrapped hair). She was everything her appearance did not suggest. However, she is still so connected to Hash-m, that she is the essence of the word “frum”.

Another face that did not meet the guidelines of the stereotypical box is one of my favorite bloggers. Sure he studied at a Yeshiva and davvens every morning! He is a real FFB (Frum From Birth), but he also questions the Frum community and does not believe in the social hypocrisy of it all. After a night of discussing inappropriate behaviors, mainly ones you’d do in a fraternity house, and discussing if these were acts against torah, I woke to see him checking his email, wrapped in teffilin and mouthing the prayer by heart!

My favorite vision of a religious Jew is the one of my grandmother (in her blessed memory). I had never seen her walk into a synagogue or a religious service outside of a funeral and my baby naming. She had never kept a kosher kitchen in her life and did not step foot in the state of Israel. She did not understand Hebrew, she did not have a religious education, she wore slacks and tiny little slippers around town. My grandmother spoke with the cutest Brooklyn accent and raised two daughters while working for an aerospace company in the 1950s. She always smelt of gardenias and watched Murder She Wrote and Matlock. I was a little kid, no more than 9 years old, snuggled in my grandma’s room. She’d tuck me in, kiss me and then rolled over. I could hear her whisper something over and over again, but I could not make out the words. What was she saying? What couldn’t she tell me? Ahhh! I have ADHD grandma, I need to know what you’re saying! I interrupt her softly spoken words and ask, “Grandma, what are you whispering?” The most profound and utterly religious moment I have ever had was right then and there, “I am asking G-d to protect you Rachel. I pray every night in hopes that He will watch over you as he has done for me and your mommy.” At the time, I only knew this was my role model for prayer. What I didn’t realize is that my sociologically, stereotypical, culturally Jewish woman, of a grandma was in fact going against a social norm. She used prayer daily to connect with Hash-m.

These three people have nothing in common outside of their religious background. Their appearance is not similar to one another and they have no reason to exchange glances or connect with one another. They have found their own roots in the heart of their religious foundation.

The new and “modern” Jew seems to be fearful to embrace old tradition. It’s almost like the word prayer has escaped the “new Jewish” lexicon. Like Judaism does not have enough to offer spiritually, so we must entice our youngsters with Buddhist enlightenment, making new trends like “Bu-Jew” and sporting their stereotypical “Moses is my homeboy “shirts. When looking at flyers on college campuses today, we see organizations that feed off of the new sub cultural Jews; they are caught avoiding their Jewish mothers and looking for a free and warm meal. The vision of the stereotypical Jew should no longer be the “black hatter” of our parent’s times. The new stereotype is the religiously ambivalent and the mal educated wrapped in a (Name Your Jewish Organization Here) t-shirt that they got for free. The face of Judaism has changed. The new face of religion is far removed from prayer and smothered in the contextual pop culture society we see today.

Be true to the streets,

Yentapunker, writer for

Thursday, August 05, 2010

PunkTorah: Jewniks of the 21st Century

PunkTorah: Jewniks of the 21st Century

This publication was inspired by one of my professors, Dr. Ball, and written in honor of Patrick Aleph.

In the 1950s Jack Kerouac, alongside many of his dubbed “Beatnik” friends, wrote a novel in three weeks called “On The Road”. It took Mr. Kerouac 7 years to travel the county and continually do some soul searching. A man growing up with the social repercussions in America of The Great Depression, World War II, and The Cold War, needed a place to avoid conformity.

It is within his subculture, the Beats, that he found refuge. The Beats avoided the “Corporation Man” and refused to end up like their fathers. They looked for deeper, transcendent meaning in their quest for a new tomorrow. They gave new definitions and context to words used within the culture, providing meaning that redefined their acceptable behaviors. These Beats valued poetry, books, Bebop, and were compelled to find the authentic in their everyday lives.

With all youth subcultures comes backlash by those who fear change or have different values systems. The Beats were called “Beatniks” in a satirical reference to Sputnik, the satellite. Their dark clothing and hair styles were criticized, as though their parents had not been an active participant in the Flapper era. If their parents were more accustomed to the Victorian way of life, it was even more horrendous on the family.

So why would PunkTorah even come close to this movement we see as a joke within movies like “So I Married an Axe Murderer”? It’s an easy grab. PunkTorah was created for those of us who are looking to redefine Judaism. It does not mean we want to start a new sect, but merely to identify that we as Jews are on the preverbal search that Kerouac so graciously and vigorously wrote about.

PunkTorah’s overall goal is to transcend from classification and create the authentic embodiment of Judaism at its core. These Jews too value books and poetry. Some of these books are valued cross sects of the religion, but others may be less accepted in other communities. We cannot be defined by labels! Clearly the genre of Punk is rebellious in nature. It redefines how Punk may use the connotation of rules and order, but defies what our larger community expects from us; we desire individuality. This is not our parent’s Judaism. This sense of the nishama seeps from the very embodiment of the way we davven, dress, speak, and carry about in our temporal lives.

Kerouac had no intention of being connected to Judaism, but he captures what Jews in their teens, 20’s, 30’s (and even those above) are reaching for. He writes of the holy when things cannot get any worse. He sets his characters up for failure, but they do not lose hope or insight to themselves. They separate themselves from the collective whole in hopes that they too will understand themselves in the context of the temporal world. Their rebellion is not one in hopes of destruction, but that based on progressive change. This is PunkTorah’s take on Judaism. We are the change that’s in the world. Our hearts pray they way they know how and our actions follow. We have redefined words, but not taken meaning from them. Continually on the road, we struggle with our journey of life. We are the Jewniks your Jewish mothers warned you about. Are we perfect? No, we simply are the authentic form of G-d’s creation, human.

Be True to the Streets

Monday, July 05, 2010

You're not Jewing it Right!

I had a friendly debate with a gentlemen I was meeting about what it means to be Jewish. He challenged my opinions, but I did not feel like he was being rude or even trying to convince me another way. This friendly exchange is rare, so I took to him pretty quickly.

As it turns out he asked me questions about my faith that I did not have concrete answers for. I mean, what seems like truth to me, does not always seem that way for someone else. I always feel Hashem, but I do not always have “proof” of Him. It makes it complicated when discussing with someone who has a different perspective, but again… I did like this conversation so I continued to entertain different thoughts.

Finally, it came down to this one conclusion I had. If someone does not like our faith they’re not “Jewing it right”. He was a bit perplexed when I said it so I explained:

To “Jew it right” you must do something that seems fulfilling to you in the realm of religion. Try and learn something for a Rabbi or a friend; join an organization or a temple or an organization within a temple! You must take that energy that comes from within and apply it spiritually and culturally. Once you are firm in your beliefs and practices (whatever they might be and from whatever sect you belong to *or don’t belong to*) then you will find inner peace and happiness with your relationship to Hashem. This concept is “Jewing it right”. The affirmation that there is 1 soul creator that wants praise and acknowledgment that steams from joy and fulfillment from His creations.

Overall the conversation went well, but I was also excited to see that within the dialogue I had really verbalized how being Jewish is not only something I am committed to, but something that really speaks to my nishama.

Be true to the streets-


Saturday, July 03, 2010

I Named My Avayrot (sins) "Willow" and "Phoebe"

There is a very large debate in some sects of the Jewish world about pets and how to deal with their "circumstances". Some people believe you cannot spay or neuter a pet because it is against Torah. This leaves a huge problem in our animal world. A rescue kitty or pup is only allowed to be saved from a kennel or from being put down after they have been sterilized. This sterilization is to avoid other animals from being on the streets. Animal population control is an important way to provide security for those who already need love.

Now the big question: Why is it not okay to commit an avayrah in order to do a mitzva? Is it not a mitzva to save an animal from abuse or untimely death? Adoption of an animal is one of the highest forms of respect for G-ds little creatures, no? The idea of opening your home from 1-20 years for another creature and providing it love and attention seems to be something the Torah would support. How is this act of kindness not over-riding the government mandated rule about adoption animals?

On the human front, we also have operations that deal with human sterilization. We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Sefer Hahinuch 291). A woman having her tubes tied is not reversible, nor is having a hysterectomy. My wonderful Jewish mother had her tubes tied the day after I was born. "Crap, look what I made! No more!!!!" Ha! A man who has surgery in health related cases can also be left sterile. The prohibitions of sterilization and marriage, however, remain independent, and therefore indispensable medical treatment that causes infertility (as with some prostate surgeries) does not impact their personal status (Tzitz Eliezer 10:25:24). However, a man can get a vasectomy and have it reversed. Think of it as the same concept of the modern tattoo. Now a man is blocking his seed from fertilization, but it does not have to be a permanent situation. It is said all males must have their sexual organs (Leviticus 22:24).

Shlomo Brody wrote a great article about dealing with animals and fertility for the Jerusalem Post. I recommend people read his article. However, we must learn that our faith has evolved with the social needs of others. Jews are now donors because we are able to save a life once we have perished. We are able to also save lives of animals. These animals deserve to be loved. My rescue cat, Phoebe, and my rescue pup, Willow, have greatly improved my quality of life and I know I have done a mitzva by providing them with a loving home. I will continue to get animals from rescues. I feel the puppy mills and pet shops are the biggest sinners. Selling animals that will eventually end up in a pound and be seen in a commercial with "Arms of an Angel" being played in the background.

Pets are a huge responsibility, but they can also be a blessing. I hope if you're thinking of buying or adopting a pet, you take into consideration all the issues revolving around the animal. It is a huge sociological benefit to spay and neuter your pets, despite all religious debates.

Be true to the streets-


7 Jewish kids go to church weekly

I ran into one of my elementary school teachers just the other day. I used to love seeing her at school because she was the only Jewish teacher and I also could see her at temple with her twin girls. Beautiful young women they were. I used to watch what they wore, how they did their hair, what they said and the terms they used. Girls a few years older always made an impression on me. I think it was because I am an only child, so I had to learn from somewhere. I used to envy these young ladies.

As I exchanged hellos and quickly caught her up with my life, she shared that her daughters were married and she was the grandmother of 7 children. I became excited until she went further into the fact that her daughters had converted and she was not able to see there weddings. My heart dropped.

1st, you must honor thy mother and father. Not allowing your mom into your wedding because she is Jewish and you have left the faith made me not only want to vomit, but reek havoc! I mean what a nightmare for a woman who raised you in a warm and loving home. I cannot think of anything worse than ignoring your mother’s feelings and not allowing her to partake in such a serious event. I know that this family was close and that the woman who stood before me was a very active and loving mother; she’s nothing to avoid! Secondly, by Halacha her grandchildren were still Jewish, but they will NEVER know! These 7 children will not be taught their culture and heritage that is rich with beauty and worth.

I get angered. With the Jewish population dwindling and assimilation being such a serious subject. I stood there trying to be happy for this woman who clearly was also uncomfortable with the situation. Two days later I ran into a woman from the salon that I had previously run into my beloved teacher. She said she held my teacher as she cried on the day of her daughters wedding and how sad the whole situation is. I suddenly realized that simcha is really a view point. For her daughters, raising these kids in a loving home is a simcha. Although I am not saying these two women should be burned at the stakes for leaving their faith and mother behind, I am saying their simcha brings tears to many people’s eye. Unfortunately, these are not tears of joy, but tears of grief and anger.

I try and find a place to blame. Was it our synagogue? Maybe they did not do enough outreach. I certainly know I did not find a love for my faith through it. Was it my teacher’s lack of cultural enrichment? Maybe she herself was not taught the deep values of a Jewish home or how much prayer and culture can enrich your being. Should these young women have gone on birthright as soon as they hit college or not been allowed to date outside their faith as teenagers? It really boggles my mind. In Judiasm there is something for everyone! You just have to be proactive like anything else! You did not learn how to tie your shoe without being taught and you will not find a way to be spiritual without being taught in a myriad of ways!

Faith is a prescription and it’s dosage is whatever you make of it. Some of us like the culture. Some find it through social events or religious holidays. Some people are at the 3X daily. This very situation makes me concerned for my own children (G-d willing I ever find Mr. Right). Will I get the dose right or will I too be excluded from a wedding or have grandchildren that will never know what a joy being Jewish is?

Simcha (happiness) is all in perspective.

Be true to the streets!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jewish Mixers and a lesson on why mixing isn’t always what it is cracked up to be: A lesson on Leshon Horrah….

So it is clear that Jewish mixers are an invention from the Jewish grandmother. They’re sly and cunning and deceptively alluring with food and other freebees. As the summer time warms our beaches and many of us have our outdoor activities, we crave company of friends and significant others. At one particular mixer, I was thrilled to have the pressure off. I was dating someone and was there purely for the social aspect. A-ha! A window of opportunity to not feel pressure within the Jewish community.

I had previously asked a friend if his group would like to join mine for coffee. As I was taking off to go to Aeroma (the wonderful Israeli filled coffee house on the west side of town), I stopped my friend mid-conversation to discuss if they would join us. As I overheard his friend speaking to him she stated, “That girl has no chance with him (speaking about her male friend and a woman off in the distance). She has a huge nose and she’s ugly!” My heart stopped. The first thing I thought was holy crap. What if I was the girl she was talking about? Secondly, I looked at the girl exchanging a pleasant conversation with handsome male company and this girl making the comment. I figured her Jewish mother had told her she was absolutely beautiful her whole life. Such a warped sense of self. This girl looked like she did not know what a vegetable was. I was shocked such mean things came into my mind and gained my friends attention. The girl who had just said such harsh things waits for me to get in a word to my friend.

I had a very quick inner monologue that went like this:

Holy crap she just bashed another Jew.

Does she know she’s not a 10, not even a 5?

Why am I thinking such horrible things?

I think I am angry that she spoke horribly about this defenseless woman.

What to say? What to say?

Be smart about this, but do not allow her to act like that.

After the monologue, this came out, “ Hey ___________, I was going to ask you if you and your friends were coming, however, as much as I deeply wish you could come, I do not want to expose my wonderful group of loved ones to someone who not only publically demeans people they don’t know, but seems to take joy from it to make her own esteem flourish.” Her mouth dropped and I suppose she decided to take her anger out on me after I up and left.

The moral: When we open our mouths publically, we earn judgment from others. It is not always right to judge, but it is ALWAYS right to realize when something should not be socially accepted. Leshon horah, the restriction of speaking with an evil tongue. There is always a reason for G-ds rules and guidance. A mixer only works when mixing is allowed.

Be true to the streets!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Thunder from Down Under: YentaPunker tested, Rabbi Unapproved!

There are plenty of rabbis and Jewish mothers that would cringe and make “Oy vey” commentary, but how could one resist to blog about the truth? The truth of the matter is that I was schlept to Thunder from Down Under in Vegas last week for a bachelorette party. Now, lets paint the full picture for you:

In line were women of every size imaginable, Hashem created or store bought. My favorite had to be the grandma with the walker and the oxygen tank. I knew there was something terribly lucid about this woman when she was trying to move faster as she realized the better seats were taken. The only thing I could think of was how unsanitary the thoughts and words of these women were. A newly 18 year old girl with piercings and a Rastafarian hat stood behind me with her mother. He mother expressed joy and stated this was not her first show. Of course when I asked where they were from they responded with Reno. Of COURSE you are! How silly am I? I couldn’t believe a girl would want to see something so sexual with her mother. I realized my mom would have been okay to come with me, but I would have been adamantly against such things.

I was amazed… See we learn a few things when being in multiple Jewish communities. In the more observant sects of Judaism, we understand that men’s thoughts and motives can be changed by sights and introductions to avayrot (sins for a lack of better translation). Men are visual creatures that do not operate solely on visions, but do get caught up in them. Women are not as instructed to be mindful. Women are taught to be coy and realize they are vulnerable creatures that are moved by emotional connections. In the reform household my mother raised me in, I was taught that women are sexual creatures that need and desire both types of love, physical and emotional… both before marriage.

One shabbos in Los Angeles there was a rabbi who mentioned a poem called To My Coy Mistress. The premise of the poem was that a man wanted to have sex with a woman he just met. She clearly wanted to be courted, but the man was very carpe diem about his libido and basically states “Baby, I don’t have all night”. I found this to be the VERY feeling of the show. These Australians were going to show their “underoos” as soon as possible, before one of these women popped an artery because “baby, these ladies don’t have all night!” So the show begins!

At first I was sure all these men were Jewish. The dancing was horrible and the choreography looked like something out of Fiddler on the Roof. (I am so sorry Grandma!) As it continued and the pants came off, I realized that this was the most unkosher venue I have ever attended. Now, don’t get me wrong, people are entitled. However, I was more than surprised as to see women of all ages touch the tushies of men they don’t know, or worse, the man’s unit! I was absolutely dumbfounded when a mother-in-law of the bride to be (not my bride thank goodness) was tossed on stage and made out with and fondled. The man pinched her nipples as she touched him in places that are making this YentaPunker blush like it’s going out of style. No one should ever see a 60 year old gray haired Bubie on stage!

I was really surprised when we left. I felt like I needed some mikvah action. Like something needed to be washed away quickly! My eyes had been scared! Then it dawned on me. I used to ask why the heck someone who was in the orthodox world wouldn’t see a porn or maybe even just watch TV. That the beaches could be difficult if you’re teaching your child to be snius (modest) and clubbing could be wicked. Then I realized what I had just left was 1 call short of a donkey show. It took watching an old lady being happily molested on stage for me to realize that I might have been desensitized by my experiences in the world. Now, I am not saying that I agree with completely shutting experiences out due to fear or emotional trauma, but I do see why one would limit their experiences.

I feel like my punk rock--ness went down a little in Vegas. Like me being Jewish let me be a little less “hardcore”. That somehow To My Coy Mistress only served a purpose for double mitzvas on shabbos when the kids go to sleep. That knowing someone might actually be better than paying to see something you cant have. Later realizing, that someone cannot even respect what they could have with a significant other. That love and lust can be mutual or mutually exclusive. It made me question what these women might be missing from their husbands or boyfriends. It made me wonder how many of these women connect to Hashem on a level that’s so meaningful, that cheap penis cannot compare.

Ultimately, I learned that my Judaism follows me from shul, home, and to the depths of the Las Vegas strip and that even when I think I might have a moment to break free from what might bind me, I’m still bound. I think I have seen enough “thunder” for one lifetime. It’s not to say that women shouldn’t enjoy breaking lose, but above all I will NEVER say that men are worse than women after what I have experienced. And as I drove home from Vegas, the idea that someone needed to take off their clothing for money only made me sad inside.

As always, be true to the streets (and yourselves)


Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Yentapunker Origional

Society tells us, “Stand in line and take a number.”

Well, they make numbers seem so optional now.

And Tattoos no longer taboos.

Make a trend out of what they brand.


“Take a number!”

Lines once made for dyin’

Women and children cryin’


Moved like cattle

Guns to fists my people battle

And you want me to take a number?

Why don’t I just sew a patch on my arm?

What’s the harm?

I’ll give you a number.

6 million of me filled in line.

Not doing time-

Doin’ eternity.

Brother don’t look at me.

You called that a ghetto?

Your ghetto gets groceries!

I don’t know what a food stamp is.

And your showers have water

That’s different too.

Washing our bodies with toxic gas

Being called Jude

Where the only way your number was gone was burned.

In an oven no less.

The flames of fire cave in your breast.

Heads shaved, shoes stolen, women raped for fun.

Police were public enemy number one.

Crimes against humanity-

Nazis countless, Jews none.


Take a number! Take a number you say?

Kristlanach was not just some shards of glass on broken sidewalks

But broken dreams from twisted hearts.

And those tears fallen were swept by angels.

Take a number!

But numbers mean nothing

I am a statistic

Of the sadistic-


You conceder the 1930’s the good ol’ days.

Take a number


I’ll stand in line, but I already have my number.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Culturally Overlooked

I think religion is interesting because for some people it’s terribly personal and for others, it is absolutely not. Living in a predominantly Christian society has been interesting. I, like many of you, was stuck in an elementary school class doing something that was not part of my Jewish culture. In the 4th grade, I had to write a letter to Santa Clause. Interestingly enough, he never showed up to my house to deliver the million dollars as per my request. To make matters worse, the Easter Bunny rejected my 100lb of chocolate request. In jest, as an adult I claim these two Pagan features of the Christian religion are anti-Semitic and do not want to share their goodies with Jewish kids. However, in my humor, there is some rage. In high school, I had to fight with my choir director. He repeatedly tried to make me sing about Christ and even threatened to fail me. I was appalled. I felt like there was this constant battle between church and state in my public education. And of course, it got so bad my parents had to follow up the issue with a Jewish stereotype and call a lawyer. I, now as an educator, do not allow any holiday parties. I do allow healthy discussion, but in no way do I allow judgment or ridicule.

I think the classroom has led to many misconceptions about what is appropriate in the realm of religious tolerance. In school, Hitler jokes and Holocaust jokes are not permitted, but it’s okay to dye Easter eggs. Clearly I see a difference, but the concept between hateful speech and ignorance is still a blurred line. What message are we sending? What does the Jewish kid do?

As we get older, we experience this naïve perspective, when a college roommate or an acquaintance makes a poor decision to express how okay one of these taboos is in a Jewish kid’s public school experience. We get Christmas and Easter cards and have holidays off because the government gives us those days, but we have to take off Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. I’ll work Christmas and Easter! What do I care?

Ultimately, with all this kvetching, I know I want better for my children (if I ever have any), or at least yours. I think we as a culture need to express that not everyone values the same holidays. It’s true we have many things that are flawed about our society, cultural awareness being one of them. I have not figured out how to solve the problem yet, but I am sure I can identify the scenario as it unfolded.

So for Jewish kid that sat upon Santa’s lap, but he never came…. For any Jewish kid who learned Christmas songs… For every Jewish kid who had to take a test in college on a Jewish holiday… For every kid who’s school took picture day on Yom Kippur….Remember, we can make a movement for cultural awareness, but we cannot be silent. One small stand at a time might make it easier for someone else.

Keep kickin’ it old shul and be true to the streets!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Activism Means We Have to Do Something?

Miriam-Webster’s dictionary stats that activism is: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

The problem with understanding this term in a Jewish context and an English teacher’s context is that I understand “active” as a verb. This means there is actual movement or action within every calculated move. So what does it mean to be an activist? Can one do so in the context of their own spiritual beliefs or do we hand this thought over to the Zionists and socially aware? I think we can have it both ways.

To be an activist within your own spirituality might be learning or taking up new prayers. It can be attending a class that makes us more active spiritually and within the community. To actually connect with G-d is an act of activism. When every ounce of faith you have is poured into a heartfelt conversation or plea with G-d, when we realize that we need to put in some work with G-d to get something in return. Maybe it’s a short Bracha we learned in class or maybe it’s a prayer that might help traffic part on the way to work. Sometimes it’s mitzvot that we do in turn to connect. Whatever it might be viewed as, it’s active.

Social activism comes with a different context and sometimes at a different price. Both are seen as valuable in the Jewish world. To stand with Israel is an activist approach. Maybe you feel more Jewish or more connected when you stand with your Israeli flag on a street corner and sing “Shalom Alechem” while the opposition shows depictions of terrorism in IDF uniforms. We attend rallies, encourage peaceful demonstrations, and teach a local group or random neighbor something insightful about Israel. Maybe it’s as simple as screaming at the left wing reporter on the news that clearly has misguided information about a place you know and love.

None of the above suggestions or tactics work for you. Clearly you want to be an activist in your Jewish world and of course you’re entitled to decide what is “Jewish” so let’s look at what you like. Maybe you’re very much into the concept of social work or you have a skill like law. You can do some Pro Bono work for your community or help Jewish families in crisis. You cant do this? Why? You work at a grocery store. Perfect! Start a canned food drive for Mazon, A Jewish Response for Hunger.

The problem with wanting to be an activist and actually being one is that we can all WANT something. Doing is really the key, really the act of mitzvot. By being an activist in your Jewish life, you are connecting with G-d on a level you feel most comfortable. No one can tell you that Tikkun Olam, my favorite of all concepts in Judaism, is not needed or valued.

I implore the Jewish community to challenge itself. What makes us active in our own faith and actions? What is the verb in our daily worship or conversation with G-d? If we are able to find one, try to find more. Every act we do can help create a bond stronger than the one previous. It is when we forget that activism is defined by doing that we, as a community, can become empty vessels. An active heart and active hands will promote a Jewish home. Jewish homes promote Jewish community. A Jewish community can promote Tikkun Olam. And to think, just a few small actions a day…

Be true to the streets!


It's Punk Rock to be Wicked

Hurry and clean the bread out of your homes! Quick! Those bagels are about to become the very link to your own personal disconnect with Hashem. What? No bagels? That’s fine, a breakfast burrito or some pancakes will do. Yeah, right! Welcome to Passover! Carbohydrates in some of their best forms become sinful thoughts for eight days.

For two nights (the two seders), we find ourselves surrounded by family and friends. For some, it’s a joy. For many, it’s a challenge. For few, it may be the only Jewish experience we have all year. The way we handle our Judaism can also be compared to the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah. The four sons are: the wise (“Chacham” in Hebrew) , the simple (or lazy, “Tam” in Hebrew), the wicked (“Rasha” in Hebrew) and the silent ("She'aino Yodea Lishol" in Hebrew, meaning "The Son who Doesn't Know Enough to Ask").

Many people focus on the one who does not know how to ask. However, ironically, many of us at the table are actually the wicked son. I mean, if you’re at the table, you probably have the idea you’re Jewish right? It is exactly this that keeps cites like our very own alive. For many Jews, you have sat year after year at a shabbos table or a Passover seder and thought “Why am I here?” You know at least the most basic of laws and you might even attend young adult events or have hit a Hillel in college or a BBYO event in your teen years of punk rock rebellion.

What is crucial to understand about all these sons (or daughters… I mean, I am a YENTApunker… not a MENCHEpunker) is that each has a place at the table. What Jewish person wouldn’t have enough food for one more extra person anyway? Yet, it is the wicked son that seems to be embraced by many of us though. The wicked thinks the laws apply to other Jews, but not themselves.

Situation: It’s a Monday morning and after a long night of punk rock craziness you ignored your alarm. You’re now totally screwed and cannot make it to work on time. You throw on a shirt that is only moderately wrinkled, hop in your economy vehicle, and speed to work.

Now, it is highly possible that a police officer never catches you on the way to work. However, Hashem sees everything. He knows that you’re aware you’re breaking laws and putting yourself or others at risk. If you continue to speed, knowing the legal limit, you too fit in the wicked category.

Why would I want to label many of my loved ones as wicked and not the wise or the simple? Well… it seems so much nicer to realize we all have an ability to grow. The wise son almost implies we have nothing left to learn. However, our nishamas have much to learn and can always learn more. Many of us are not simple. We are not lazy, we are functioning in the secular and the Jewish community. The long hours of Tikkun Olam have to count for something right? But wicked, many of us proudly are, despite the connotation.

Wicked sounds so unpleasant, but I implore you challenge the connotation and see its beauty. Embrace the idea that you might learn something at the table or that you might have it in you to learn something this year. Being wicked doesn’t have to be looked upon as bad. Acknowledge and embrace your wickedness. Enjoy it, but use it to identify where you can grow spiritually.

Overall, the laws do apply to us all. This Pesach try and find one law to learn. Hell, pick up some Leviticus and read. It won’t hurt you anymore than those commercials for Viagra do. I mean, if it’s from Hashem it’s perfect right? So nurish your spiritual roots in four glasses of wine and remember, it’s punk rock to be wicked. L’Chaim and Chag Sameach!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Jewish Namesake

It’s terrible to feel like you don’t stand out. Like you could fall in to chasm of Jewish people at shul and never be identified because your parents thought it was beautiful to make your name sit amongst many. It’s the way we work as a people. A baby boy clearly has a chance of being named Josh, Ari, Dan, Issac, Jacob, David or Matthew. A baby girl also has a risk of commonality: Rivka, Leah, Sara, Rachel or Miriam. Some of us have been blessed by getting both a first and a middle name that are common, almost stripping us of our individuality at the core.

For years my mother bragged that she had given me a very Jewish name. She said she wanted everyone to know with a name like Rachel Sara that I would be a strong woman. At shul she could yell my name and thought it was a sheer delight when 20 other girls would turn their head to a thick Brooklyn accent yelling for her daughter. Little did she ever know she would have to direct her voice to the other Joshes and Davids of the world because that’s where I was, playing football during breaks at shul.

Everywhere I went someone had my name. It made me feel like I was swimming in a world of Rachels and I had nothing special in my name to offer. I met a Merav once and nearly wept at the fact she had such a different name than most. Even dating got awkward since I have had a fair share of dates with Davids and Daniels. Speaking to my friends, we would have to name them attributes of their character, to distinguish one from the other.

As I got older there were so many Rachels at one particular shabbos table that I had to become “Schiff”. Now I not only had a first name that was so common we had to come up with something new for me, but I felt like a line backer for a major football team. What girl gets called by her last name? Like being a member of the tribe was a team and I had a jersey that read “Schiff” in large letters on the back. I was like all the others, but now had a new issue of feeling masculine. People introduced me by my last name, like I had no first. This name thing was really getting to me.

Just recently, I decided to read “The Boy in Stripped Pajamas”. A young boy name Shmule is in a death camp. He’s around 7 years old and talks about how everyone on his side of the fence has his name. He complained that his name was nothing special and that he was one of many. I bawled. What a way to identify with people. To have a name that binds you culturally, historically, and shows understanding on such a deeply rooted level. Then, I finally realized what my mother had been so proud of. It took me 27 years and a book with a 7th grade reading level to get it, but I think it did.

A name is like an onion. First, at the center (for my name), is Rahel, who is buried in Israel at the side of a road. Ever since her, there have been other Rachels in Jewish history, each making a layer around the original. My name adds to the many generations that have come since then. I stand on the shoulders of strong women who have come before me.

It is an Ashkenazi tradition to name your child after a family member who has passed away. My mother continually tells me that all Jews are family. That when one is hungry, we all need food and that when one needs help we should give as though they are our flesh and blood. By giving me a name that seems so unoriginal, so plain, she was giving to those women who had come before me.

Although I still find it frustrating to thumb through my blackberry and try and distinguish one Jewish name from the next; I have found some humor and pride from it. Funny enough, I owe my comprehension and appreciation of my name to a small, fictional boy in stripped pajamas.

I no longer complain about being one of many.

Be true to the streets! –Yentapunker