Archive | January, 2011

Did you just call me a Jew or a “Jew”?

31 Jan

One of the problems I’ve been having in infiltrating adapting into Jewish culture is the word Jew.

I’m a bit of a retrosexual, and have never been much for political correctness, but I acknowledge that some words for some people are off limits. Obviously racial epithets are out of bounds, but a word that seems to walk the line for some is the word Jew.

I’ve never had an issue with the word personally, but then I’m not Jewish (not yet, anyway). And I see it used all the time on Jewish websites. And yet, there’s this fear among a lot of people that the word “Jew” is so offensive, you’re more likely to get this reaction:

 

WHAT THE EFF DID YOU JUST CALL ME?!

…Now, I don’t mean to offend.

I just want to know the rules.

Is it like the N word where you can say it to each other, but others can’t say it to you? Or is it really how you say it? Some haters spit the word out of their mouth and it’s just tinged with antisemitism. Obviously, they suck. But then they could say the word “toast” and it would be offensive, because they’re offensive schmucks.

Is it 100% about context, or are there certain denominations where it’s acceptable and some where it’s not? Or is it just one of those things that most Jewish people don’t care about, but some do, depending on their personal experience, and I shouldn’t sweat it?

I suspect Jews don’t take offense at being called  a Jew as long as it’s said nicely. The only ones I’ve ever seen horrified by it are horrified by a lot of things and words, and that makes me think they view the world as a horrible place with horrible people in it.

I probably shouldn’t worry about it.

The B Word

30 Jan

Bacon.

Bacon stopped me from pursuing Judaism long ago.

Bacon now makes me feel guilty and just does not taste as good as it used to. I may lick the fragrant, smoky, salty grease from my fingertips, but I do not enjoy it.

Bacon and I had a last fling the first couple of weeks of the year of 2011, and since my heart was no longer into it, I was left feeling more empty than full. Dirty in ways beyond having lips rimmed in fat and splatters on my shirt.

Bacon and I are breaking up. The rest of the pig and I are breaking up, as well. And I am trying my darnedest to keep milk and meat separate. Shellfish and I have also called it quits. My attempts at being a good Jewish person are leaving broken hearts in my wake.

Bacon is the easy part. It’s easily identifiable, though I’ll need to be aware of bacon stealthily inserting itself in places. Our mutual friends – mayo, vegetables, eggs – will have to decide if it’ll be me, or bacon. It will be harder to keep an eye out for those little bits of dairy lurking in places such as bread. (For example, I made buns intended for hamburgers – note that I did not say cheeseburgers – and had to think to omit the milk in the recipe.) I will need to be vigilant and steadfast. While I will be tempted by such combinations as chicken, bacon, and cheese, I need to remember that we had our fun together. It was good while it lasted, but I’ve grown beyond it.

Bacon, as Sarah said to Jareth in Labyrinth – you have no power over me.

Bacon, we had a nice run of it. I’ll remember you fondly, and no one will ever take your place in my heart, though I may eventually take some sort of anti-cholesterol medication to eradicate the last sediments of our life together.

The Journey So Far, Part 2 (Witches and Other Stories)

21 Jan

I remember clearly a night – Christmas Eve – in 1997 when I was chatting with a boy from Kenosha, Wisconsin, on WBS. (If you never experienced WBS, you did not truly live.) We discussed many things that night, and he told me, as an older and wiser sophomore in college, that my religious beliefs sounded like a Wiccan’s. He knew, he said, because he just took a world religions class.

I filed this tidbit away for later. The next summer, I spent midnight to five a.m. frying donuts and stayed up for another few hours typing up a website in Notepad. It was called The Melody of Magick and I sure wish I could dig this gem up on web.archive.org to share with you. It was a one-stop source for candle magick, tarot layouts, and more! I considered myself a full-fledged Wiccan. I think I read a book or two. Sometimes I’d burn candles and herbs and pretend I knew what I was doing.

This phase was characterized by purchasing lots of incense, visiting Magus Books on a regular basis, and attending the occasional Pagan-oriented event – such as a bonfire for Beltane during which, (un)fortunately I didn’t get to partake in any naked frolicking – where I felt out of place for many reasons, and despite having a rather attractive, mass-produced pentagram necklace. I was very anti-organized religion and debating topics such as the Bible whenever I got the chance.

I found my box of “magick supplies” while cleaning out our basement. I opened it up and it smelled like naivety.

My first husband and I were wed in a ceremony officiated by a pair of witches. Later, I fielded many questions about whether it was legal. It was, despite also being medieval-themed. (That sort of thing should be illegal, I say.)

For some reason, all of that fizzled out. If I had to take a stab at what happened, I’d have to say it was my inability to suspend my disbelief about many things. I also never seemed to quite fit in with anyone, even if they were also on the fringes of normal society. I kept with me my reverence for nature and a belief that everything is interconnected, even if in a small way. I have a tattoo of a spiderweb that I got to remind myself of this, and also because tattoos are cool and having one makes me a badass, right?

And here we enter into a period of dedicated agnosticism, with a healthy glug of jealousy toward anyone who had faith. I envied people who knew what they believed, and who lived those beliefs. I wanted that badly. And, what do you know? It appears I got it.

A lovely and wise friend of mine told me once that I would know when the time was right to begin pursuing Judaism. The time has come. But you will need to wait to hear about it in Part 3.

Oy Betcha on TC Jewfolk!

18 Jan

Oy Betcha has premiered on our local jewish culture site, TC Jewfolk, with a column by Tiffany discussing the dreaded QUESTION that all converts get: What made you decide to convert?

Check it out!

Thou shalt not be an asshat.

18 Jan

Part of the process of my conversion is trying to be religious.

Like…at all.

That isn’t easy for me. I wasn’t raised to be a terrorist or anything. I had good parents. But there’s not much point to getting religion if you’re not going to hold yourself up to a higher standard.

One of my biggest vices is gossiping. I’m like an old woman. Really. I wouldn’t say I stab people in the back, but I can be a little two-faced. I’ve always liked gossip. I’m interested in personal things that are none of my business, and will gladly voice them to others, probably as a way of endearing myself to the person I’m talking to at the moment.

And when I write it out like that, clinical though my analysis may be, it sounds like a completely asshole thing to do. Over these last few months I’ve been trying to avoid this. I’ve had limited success. More success today. I’d tell you all about it, but that would completely defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?

But know, there is progress, and I’m working on it.

The Torah actually mentions gossip. I can’t remember the passage, but it was very Biblical sounding as I recall. And I like that. I like that G-d takes the time to say that. It’s not all rules for rituals, and wars, and Jacob being kind of a jerkface. I like that it, in every way underlines the tenant What is abhorrent to you, do not do to someone else.

Yay, G-d!

The Journey So Far, Part 1 (My Divorce from Christianity)

16 Jan

My distinguished co-author describes me as a “lapsed Lutheran,” though I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate. I was not Lutheranized by choice so much as under duress. Let me back up a little.

I was baptized in my grandma’s church – a United Church of Christ. We went to services on most Sundays we were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, which was only occasionally, as they lived an hour and a half away, and on Easter* and Christmas. I have fond memories of Easter in particular, where services were followed by fellowship full of home-baked goods and colored eggs and we’d have egg-cracking contests. My mom, sister, and I occasionally attended services at a Lutheran church in our hometown. We went to Sunday school and had bars and coffee/koolaid afterward.

When I was around thirteen, my parents decided I was going to go to confirmation classes. I hated the classes with the undying passion of a thirteen-year-old. My classmates were boys from my school, which was reason enough to hate the classes, but we also had to do homework and watch silly videos. I remember the boys and I asking questions about why we do this or that and the answer was, “Because it’s in the Bible here,” or “Because God says so.” I was a good kid and an obedient one (if memory serves), but this is one case where I put my foot down. I’d pretend to sleep through my alarm on Sundays so I’d miss church. I’d skip whatever confirmation classes I could. My parents struck a deal with me – get through confirmation and you can do whatever you want.

Really, I shouldn’t have been confirmed, because I didn’t meet the requirements due to my truancy. But one Sunday I put on a nicer outfit than usual and got up in front of the congregation and repeated some words that the pastor told us to repeat – without feeling them one little bit and doing it all the while just to get it done – and I was confirmed. I wasn’t struck down. So that was the end of any hope of Christianity and me, because, as far as I was concerned, any God who cared about this stuff would’ve sent down a thunderbolt and made an example of me and my lying ways.

Throughout high school I was very interested in religion. I’d read world religion encyclopedias and parts of the Bhagavad Gita. I had a penpal for awhile and I remember writing to her about how fascinating this all was, and one notable response of hers further turned me off the Christian path, despite her fervor, as she was talking at length about how she was eager to die so that she could be with Jesus in Heaven. I picked that letter up like it was a dead fish, set it aside, and never wrote her back.

In one of those encyclopedias I read about Judaism. I was fascinated. But, oh, I like bacon too much to give it up.

To be continued in an upcoming segment wherein I discuss how I was Wiccan for awhile, because all 19-year-olds become Wiccan, don’t they?


* One particularly interesting Easter service was lead by a pastor who, as it turned out, was off his meds. We were treated to a very long sermon about how we had to go out and save as many souls as possible before the upcoming nuclear holocaust. There were a whole lot of confused old ladies in the congregation that day and a whole lot of interesting talk over our baked goods.

Them, Them Them, and Us

12 Jan

“So we’re sort of converting to Judaism…

He kept driving, not saying anything at first.

“You’ll never actually be one of them, you know.” he said.

…Thanks Dad.

 

Changing religions is hard.

You alienate all sorts of people. This is understandable. If you’re converting away from Christianity then in the eyes of some of your friends and family, you’re damning yourself to Hell, or at the very least depriving yourself of Jesus.

I’ve never held it against my proselytizing Christian friends for trying to save my soul. It’s complimentary, really. I really do understand it. They have a harder time with it, though. They’re happy I’m into G-d, but why isn’t Christianity good enough for him? And really, he’s just being a smartass who has to be different and do things the hard way, amirite?

Finding religion from nothing is also a hard.

You alienate all sorts of people. This isn’t understandable. I get that secular friends would fear me becoming a Bible-thumper (or Torah-thumper, I suppose). No one likes annoying people. But I get this weird feeling of betrayal, like I converted to being a horse or something.

Oh mah gawds! Religious people! Run fo' yo' lives!

Honestly, I get more understanding from Atheists than from my typically agnostic, secular, oh-so-open-minded friends. I guess it’s because good hard Atheists believe something, and do it with a capital A. They’ve thought about it, and respect other people who think about it. But my secular friends and family seem betrayed. Maybe because I’m becoming one of them. The other side. The side that consults religious books instead of text books to figure out why things work the way they do. And worse than that. I can’t just pick a generic everyday religion. I’m the them of thems. Why isn’t science and sociology good enough for him? And to become a Jew? He’s just being a smartass who has to be different and do things the hard way, amirite?

 

Changing religion to Judaism is hard… for some Jews.

This is just weird. You get a lot of funny looks that say “Why on Earth would you ever want to possibly convert to Judaism?” It’s a strange question to me, because I think the reasons are self-evident. And if a Jewish person needs to ask that question, I kind of wonder why they’re not converting to something else.

I think it comes down to this concept that Jews are this strange, ambiguous tribe. They pretty much kickstarted all of Western civilization, but are so entirely separate from it. They are a them. They are the poster boy people of them.

To Christians my wife, who was never really Christian, is becoming a them.

To my secular family and friends I’m becoming a them them.

And to some Jews I’m becoming the weirdest thing of all: an us.

Becoming a them (or them them) is easy. I’ve already done it. I did something out of the norm. But will I ever become an us? Or is my dad right? Will I never actually be Jewish, no matter what I say, how I pray, or what kind of funny hats I wear?

I don’t know.

I grew up a fat, bespectacled Star Trek nerd, and I’ve never felt more out of place than walking through Fishman’s Deli on a Friday afternoon. How I’ll be accepted will come down to who I meet, I guess. I assume most of Judaism will be just fine with me becoming one of the Frozen Chosen.

As for the rest, what can I say? I’m a smartass. I have to be different and do things the hard way.

Amirite?

 

Latkes n’ Lefse? OY BETCHA!

11 Jan

A while back we wanted to start a blog talking about our conversion to Judaism. We don’t think it’ll break any new ground, or anything, but converts, or Jews by Choice as some like to be called, well… we’re a weird bunch. Most of us are doing it for religious reasons and so many Jews today are mainly secular.

Also it’s not exactly the easiest religion to shoehorn yourself into. Jewish communities are very welcoming, but they are, above all, communities. They’re tight-knit. And some are justifiably wary of the curious.

We can’t exactly sneak in, either. We’re about as Midwestern as you can get. I do all the Minnesota staples from downing hotdish, to staying at a comfortable 90 degree angle from anyone I’m talking to. And my wife is from the river valley in Wisconsin. She may as well have been born floating down the Mississippi on an inner tube raft with a Grain Belt in her hand.

I mean, seriously, our kids look like they fell out of an IKEA catalog. There’s no slipping in under the radar. We stick out. So hey, why not go with it, eh?

Minnesota may not be the Promised Land, but it’s our land, and it’s our home. And we’ll set our Shabbat table with the best lutefisk, wild rice soup, and challah we can make and raise a brew to the Frozen Chosen. Oy betcha!