Great(!) news: a very special school

A major milestone for our Israeli family

In Israel, the education system consists of three tiers: primary (grades 1–6), middle school (grades 7–9) and high school (grades 10–12). The major decisions about schooling have to be made for 1st grade and 7th grade.

Last December, I wrote about applying to elementary (grade) schools for our daughter who will be entering 1st grade next year. In January, we officially submitted our preferences to the municipality. Then we waited.

The application process requires families to request four different potential schools for their children, and at least one of the four most be “local” (i.e. a neighborhood school). Three of the four of the schools we applied for are officially “State-Orthodox” schools. One of them is officially registered as “State-Secular”, and that’s the one our daughter was accepted to.

If you would like to know about the different tracks of Jewish education available in Israel, I’ve written about this in a previous post. And, as always, I would be happy to answer your questions.


State-Secular & State-Orthodox

As I mentioned above, the two categories of Israeli schools that are relevant to our family are “State-Secular” and “State-Orthodox”.

State-Secular

State-secular elementary and high schools provide a general studies education, including a minimal amount of Tanakh (Bible) study. Some of these schools offer a limited Jewish enrichment program.

State-Orthodox

State-Orthodox elementary and high schools offer a dual curriculum of Judaic and general studies. There is a commitment to both a Torah-observant lifestyle and to the values of religious Zionism.

Nota bene:

Most people in Israel would translate ‘State-Orthodox’ as: ‘State-Religious’, but this is not quite accurate. For historic and political reasons, the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations have a very limited footprint in Israel. For this reason, the Hebrew word ‘dati’, which means: ‘religious’ has long come to mean: ‘Orthodox’ in the minds of Hebrew speakers.

In reality, an individual could be a ‘religious Conservative’ or ‘religious Reform’ Jew, and(!) one could also be a ‘non-religious Orthodox’ Jew. This is why I more precisely call Israel’s ‘religious’ schools ‘Orthodox’, for they only represent a limited range of Jewish religious expression.


The exception to the rule

Why is it, you may ask, that David and his wife decided to apply to one State-Secular school and three State-Orthodox schools? For that matter, why is he so happy about his daughter having been accepted at that particular State-Secular school?

I’m so glad you asked.

The State-Secular school that’s not secular

Despite observing Jewish holidays in a traditional manner and keeping a kosher kitchen, and despite my wife and I, of our own accords, having chosen to live traditionally religious lives, we are both religious pluralists. (More on this here.)

Ultimately, despite our misgivings, we decided that providing our daughter with a substantive Jewish education (which neither of us received), outweighed our concerns about religious coercion. The three State-Orthodox schools we applied to are just about as religiously openminded as possible; and, probably, we would have been happy “enough” with any of them.

The 4th school, which is now our daughter’s school(!), is officially State-Secular, but it prioritizes rigorous religious education no less than any State-Orthodox school… and it’s non-coercive! For us, there is no question that this unique school is the best of both worlds – our daughter will receive a substantive religious Jewish education, without being expected to believe in a particular theology.

The mixed student body

It gets better. So much better.

This school deliberately strives to maintain a student body that is 50% Secular and 50% Orthodox. In Israel, this is practically unheard of. Generally, Israeli children are educated in either the “Secular” track, the “Orthodox” track, or an “ultra-Orthodox” track.

At our daughter’s school (it’s actually hers now!), the student body is mixed, and classes and activities are run in such a way as to deliberately encourage dialogue between the students and their families. The families at this school are deliberately building a Jewish community together that is not defined by religious practices and preferences.

Mixed-sex education

It gets better.

Since this school is officially State-Secular, and since 50% of the students come from Secular families, the classes are coeducational. At some State-Orthodox schools, boys and girls are separated from one another as early as 4th grade; none separate them from one another any later than 7th grade.

Coeducation is not the worst thing in the world, and I know many people who prefer it, but I am not among them and neither is my wife. We would have accepted it as the default if our daughter had been accepted into any one of the three State-Orthodox schools that we applied for… but now we don’t have to.

Additionally, at State-Orthodox schools, girls are required to wear skirts, which I am not in favor of requiring. There are religious reasons for this, which I personally do not buy into… but, again, now we don’t even have to worry about it! (My wife, of her own free will, wears skirts nearly all the time.)


We are so lucky

No matter what, we would have considered ourselves lucky had our daughter been accepted into this school for all of the above reasons. However, we don’t just consider ourselves lucky – we are lucky.

You see, unlike most schools, our school opens enrollment for preschool, rather than 1st grade, and most of its preschoolers remain for 1st grade, which means: an incoming 1st grader can only get accepted into the school if one of the preschoolers drops out. Then, if one of the preschoolers does drop out, the school holds a lottery to determine who will take their place, and there are a lot of applicants.

Beyond this, the younger siblings of all former students are automatically accepted, and the school is not very large… and let’s not forget that they strive to maintain a student body that is 50% Orthodox and 50% Secular… 50% female and 50% male…

In any case, when we included this school on our list of four potential elementary schools, we never expected that our daughter would be lucky enough to be accepted there, but she was.

I am, to say the least, very happy.

The Sabbath, or: Shabbat

A palinode to: ‘Shabbat, or: The Sabbath’

Fuck that noise;
Sabbath law annoys
girls and boys
who want toys;
They're denied their simple joys;
Onus ~ faith destroys

d’Verse prompt:

Write a palinode

A palinode or palinody is an ode or song that retracts or recants a view or sentiment to what the poet wrote in a previous poem.

The d’Verse writing challenge is to write a palinode. This can be in relation to a poem you have written before (please link or include prior poem), or as part of poem.

The poem of mine to which I wrote this palinode is called: ‘Shabbat, or: The Sabbath’


Shabbat, or: The Sabbath

A shadorma

She draws me;
Jews' age-old decree;
Through her we
are set free
for our holy day weekly ~
we simply can be

I don’t blog on Shabbas (the Sabbath)

According to most traditional interpretations of Jewish religious law, Jews are forbidden from using electronic devices (such as computers, cell phones, etc.) on the Sabbath. This has its benefits and its drawbacks.

You can read more on this here: I don’t blog on Shabbas (the Sabbath)


P.S.

Shadorma poems need not rhyme.

Kaddish for an individual

Jewish tradition: mourning in community

Papa died in July of 2018. I started blogging about my journey of mourning (i.e. kaddish) that August. That year was very intensive for me; I produced a great deal of content based upon numerous readings; research; reflections; recollections; conversations; and, yes, prayer. The kaddish, after all, is a prayer.

I have written so much about kaddish that I won’t belabor the following point; I will simply spell it out: traditionally, the kaddish doxology is only recited among other Jews in a prayer quorum of ten adults. In other words, upon losing a loved one, those Jews who are inclined towards tradition will [at least attempt to] attend prayer services at a synagogue on a daily basis so that they can recite kaddish in memory and honor of their deceased loved ones.

My kaddish year ended in the summer of 2019. The global pandemic began less than one year later. By coincidence, I launched this blog at around at that time.


COVID-19 & kaddish

Even after I completed my year of mourning; even after I had recited my final kaddish; even after I had stopped researching and blogging about my experience of Jewish mourning… I couldn’t stop.

I conducted Google searches on kaddish every day; I continued looking for other kaddish bloggers; I continued thinking about Jewish mourning… I couldn’t stop myself. That is, to a large extent, why I decided to create this blog – I desperately needed some sort of outlet.

Obsessed with kaddish as I was, you can guess what I first thought of when all of the shuls (synagogues) were shuttered due to COVID-19. I immediately thought:

  1. “Oh no – those poor mourners!” and:
  2. “Thank God I completed my year of kaddish recitations before the pandemic hit – I would have been so lost that year without the structure of Jewish tradition. What would I have written about without reciting kaddish? What would I have reflected upon? Whom would I have exchanged my doubts with?”

You see, as much I made my traditional year of kaddish a uniquely personalized spiritual expedition (and, at that, one that embraced my theological skepticism), it wouldn’t have been much of a journey without the traditional Jewish framework that has served us for centuries. Sure, I went beyond the demands of Jewish tradition… but it was always-always dependably present in my daily life, ever beckoning for my reactions to its expectations.

COVID-19 upended human lives in sundry ways all around the world. For Jewish mourners, one of the greatest fatalities of the pandemic was the opportunity to recite the mourner’s kaddish for their loved ones. Synagogues were closed, prayer quorums were limited in number of attendees, and many Jewish mourners were left without their communities – and without their kaddish.


Alternatives to traditional kaddish

The pandemic forced people to get creative, and various alternatives to traditional kaddish recitation were proposed by various Jewish leaders and communities. Of course, different denominations took different approaches, as was to be expected.

The religiously liberal Jewish denominations generally accepted the idea that prayer services could be conducted online, rather than in person, and their religious authorities ruled that a virtual prayer quorum would suffice for the purposes of permitting mourners to recite kaddish. In the Orthodox world, opinions were divided, with most communities rejecting the religious validity of online prayer quorums.

Given my fascination and deep investment in the concept of kaddish, read everything that I could find on the subject; and I came across an article written by a young Orthodox rabbi who works at Brandeis University. Rabbi Seth Winberg published an opinion piece in the JTA, in which he suggested that Jewish tradition had long provided alternatives for kaddish in the absence of a minyan (prayer quorum):

Our ancestors created legitimate substitutions for Kaddish when a minyan wasn’t available, or when someone arrived late to shul, by using biblical verses with words similar to Kaddish — and we would do well to avail ourselves of those solutions now.

Rabbi Seth Winberg, March 25, 2020

Rabbi Winberg wrote of “a modified version of the traditional prayer” which could be recited “privately at home,” and, curious, I reached out to him, requesting a copy of that 12th-13th century text, which he ever so kindly provided to me.

This prayer is very little known, or, at least, it certainly was before the pandemic broke out (and probably still is). In fact, I haven’t seen it included in a single Jewish prayerbook.


Anniversaries of Papa’s death

Last summer, when it came time for the 2nd anniversary of Papa’s death, Israel had entered its 2nd lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 1st lockdown, I remember hoping that we would come out of it in time for me to host a kiddush (refreshments after prayer services on Shabbat) in Papa’s honor. Naively, I never expected another lockdown.

To me, at that time, the shuttering of our synagogue was a temporary measure. To my mind, the dissolution of my Shabbat prayer community was also temporary. Thus, despite the 2nd lockdown, I invited my acquaintances and friends from my formerly existent prayer community to a kiddush in the park after services – back then, I was still relating to our weekly prayer quorum as merely having lapsed, rather than being gone.

Today, based upon Israel’s current reality, it seems possible that my Shabbat prayer community will gradually reconstitute itself, but most of its members have yet to return. The attendance and camaraderie today are shadows of what they once were. Israel’s situation is improving, but the way back to “normalcy” will be slow and long. Things will likely never be what they once were.

In any case, while I allow myself some optimism for the future, my Shabbat community does not currently exist as it did once. And, unlike last year, I don’t particularly want to host a kiddush in the park for a community that hasn’t been part of my life for more than a year. That feels unnatural to me.


“Kaddish for an individual”

Papa certainly wouldn’t have cared about me reciting kaddish for him on his yahrzeit. If anything, as I’ve said, he would have appreciated the idea of his loved ones enjoying themselves in his memory.

-Me, ‘More skeptic than kaddish’, July 19, 2020

Last year, I somewhat accidentally missed reciting kaddish on the anniversary of Papa’s death. This year, I may do so deliberately. As I wrote last year, my practical Papa would not have cared. Perhaps we’ll mark his passing at a local waffle café that our daughter loves, just as we did last year. Afterwards, I’ll probably light a candle.

In terms of reciting kaddish, I may recite the prayer that Rabbi Winberg introduced me to – the kaddish for the individual. Technically, that prayer was designed for circumstances in which one is not able to join a full prayer quorum (which is traditionally required for kaddish recitation), but I can use it for my own purposes without breaking with Jewish tradition.


“Kaddish for an Individual” – prayer text

from Sefer Hasidim (12th-13th century Rhineland)

אָדָם שֶׁהוּא דָּר בַּכְּפָר וְאֵין עִמּוֹ עֲשָׂרָה לוֹמַר דָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה אוֹ בִּמְקוֹם קְהִלָּה וְאִחֵר לָבֹא עַד אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ כְּבָר יְהֵא שְׁמֵי’ רַבָּא יֹאמַר A person who lives in a village without a prayer quorum or who arrived late after they had already said “may God’s great name…” should instead say:
   
וְעַתָּה יִגְדַּל נָא כֹּחַ אֲדֹנָי כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ לֵאמֹר (במדבר יד:יז). Therefore, I pray, let my Lord’s forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying (Numbers 14:17):
וְהִתְגַּדִּלְתִּי וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתִּי וְנוֹדַעְתִּי לְעֵינֵי גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ (יחזקאל לח:כג). Thus will I manifest My greatness and My holiness, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations. And they shall know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 38:23).
יְהִי שֵׁם ה’ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם (תהלים קיג:ב). Let the name of the LORD be blessed now and forever (Psalms 113:2).

Forms of poetry; forms of life

Exploring poetic forms

Since creating this blog and embarking upon this chapter of my life journey nearly one year ago, I have taken to experimenting with various forms of poetry.

From the first, I had no intention of becoming a poetry blogger. I only wanted to create a personal website on which to host my blog series about my year of mourning for my Papa, which had originally been published on the Times of Israel.

But then I wrote a poem in Papa’s memory; that was a spontaneous decision… I think I was feeling that my ‘kaddish’ blog needed a cover page ~ and a poem seemed suitable. I hadn’t written any poetry for some two decades before that.

Long story short, that first poem whet my appetite for creative writing (especially poetry), and I found other poet-bloggers on WordPress, which, in turn, led me to the d’Verse poets’ community (specifically through Dwight’s blog). By way of d’Verse and other writers, I was gradually introduced to forms of poetry that I had never heard of or imagined.

What fun!


An unexpected insight

Living according to Jewish tradition

I am a Jew, and I am very invested in [exploring] my Jewish identity. This comes across in my poetry and prose all the time. Heck, my blog is named for one of the most universally known Jewish prayers.

So I suppose it was just a matter of time before I made the connection between forms of poetry and forms of living ~ namely, traditions.

It’s important, for the purposes of this blog post, to understand that traditional Judaism is very ritualistic. We have traditions for putting on our shoes, eating, using the bathroom, sleeping, making love, etc., etc.; you name it.

Now, I would say that the majority of people who strive to live their lives according to all of these religious strictures believe that this is what God wants of them. At the very least, this is certainly the official party line; it is what one hears declared from Orthodox pulpits all across the world.

But for those of us who don’t believe “God said so” (or – “men said so on behalf of God”) there is rather a problem. Many traditions are, at best, simply meaningless in and of themselves. If I (we?) want to consistently follow ancient traditions without becoming deeply unhappy, I (we?) must find other, personally meaningful reasons to do so.

The inspiration of limitations

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what it is that draws me to these many forms of poetry. Why not simply write free verse poetry, as so many others do?

For one thing, there’s an element of curiosity for me in my poetry adventure. After all, these sundry forms were developed by brilliant poets around the world, throughout the ages – who am I to dismiss them out of hand? Also, I’m constantly wondering – how do these many differing forms affect the intending meanings of my words?

Beyond that, I would like to develop my classic poetry skills before letting loose with my own style. Picasso, for example, didn’t create cubism until he had mastered classical painting.

However, above and beyond any of the above reasons, I would say that I find these endless poetic forms fascinating and even inspiring. I come up with images and ideas for poems that arise from the forms themselves – the struggle against the limitations they impose upon me births pieces that I never would have imagined, let alone imagined coming from my mind.

And this has led me to think… could the strictures of [Jewish] tradition also inspire one to live a more creative, more fruitful life?

The limits of limitations

To an extent, I think there is truth in my insight, but there is a clear “flaw” in it as well, from the perspective of a [Jewish] traditionalist.

The “flaw” is this – my fruitful excitement at exploring poetic forms is not only a product of the forms themselves – it is no less a product of my search for forms that suit my shifting moods and thoughts. I could not honestly say that any one poetic form best suits me.

Of course, a committed traditionalist would probably argue that there are many different traditional paths within Judaism, and they would be correct in their assertion… but my counterargument would be just as sound: there are many more traditional paths outside of Judaism than within it, the vast majority of which I have never explored.

That said, the greatest caveat to this counterargument would be my mortality – at the end of the day, I must decide how live life based upon inherently finite experiences, just as we all must.

So… to what extent should I embrace the forms of life that I was born into?


Addendum: Some words of wisdom

By coincidence, I just came across the following video on Lesley’s blog; and it’s the perfect bookend to this blog post of mine:

Leavened bread, or: Technology

On Jewish holidays I must
   draft poetry in my head

   For lack of laptop, I dare trust
      my memory instead

This Passover, I did not just
   hanker for leavened bread

   Still, all last night, I long discussed
      the Exodus instead...

And now I type, ere neurons rust,
   and soon I'm off to bed!

Mourning my morning minyan

I would like to share an important aspect of my Jewish life with you, which is primarily (but not exclusively) representative of traditionally religious N. American Ashkenazi Jewish communities. This slice of my Jewish culture is known as the Shabbat morning kiddush.

Essentially, the Shabbat morning kiddush is a social phenomenon, which takes place at synagogues (usually) after morning prayer services on Saturdays (the Sabbath). Somebody at the kiddush sanctifies the Sabbath by reciting a blessing over a beverage (usually: wine, grape juice, whiskey) on behalf of those attending and then recites a second blessing over a baked good (usually: a cracker), which is representative of a Sabbath meal. Then everybody eats food together (usually: crackers, herring, fruits, cheeses, nuts, and various desserts) and socializes with friends and new acquaintances.

Incidentally, the Hebrew root of the word ‘kiddush’ is Q-D-Š, meaning “holy” or “separate”. In the summer of 2019, when I sponsored (i.e. provided the food for) my community’s kiddush in my Papa’s memory, I had the following thought:

In theory, the purpose of the kiddush is to sanctify Shabbat, by reciting a blessing over a cup of wine, but on that early morning of Papa’s yahrzeit I saw this communal ritual in a different light.

While the words of kiddush are of lofty, holy intent, perhaps it is the gathering together in community and the sharing of simple, human pleasures that truly sanctifies the Sabbath and sanctifies our loved ones’ yahrzeits. For me, on that morning, and perhaps on every single day that I had recited kaddish throughout the year, it was my community that warmly embraced me.

– Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #50, Aug. 5, 2019

My early morning Sabbath minyan (prayer quorum)

During the year that I was reciting the mourner’s kaddish for my deceased father, I attended morning services every single day at shul (synagogue), as is traditional, but it was the Shabbat (Saturday) morning services that I most loved – because of the kiddush that followed.

I must emphasize that I am not a morning person. If I had my druthers, I would go to bed some time after midnight (after reading the news, writing some poetry, drinking an Irish coffee, etc.) and wake up after 9:00 AM, at the earliest. This is significant to know because my beloved Saturday morning prayer quorum, which I am about to describe to you, meets at 6:45 AM on Saturday mornings; and I would usually be there by no later than 7:00 AM every week. (The kiddush following services would generally begin at 8:30 AM.)

Precisely because morning people are uncommon, my 6:45 AM Shabbat morning minyan (prayer quorum) was an intimate affair. There were, according to my estimate, some thirty regulars, and we had twenty to forty people in attendance weekly at shacharit (morning prayer services). More than half of us would remain for the kiddush after services, but not all of us.

Those of us who regularly partook of the kiddush were of all ages and social classes, and most of us would sponsor the kiddush at least once annually in memory of a departed parent or to celebrate a happy lifecycle event with the community. It was cozy and comforting to see the same small group of familiar faces every week and very socially egalitarian. Men and women of all ages would have friendly, meaningful conversations over whiskey, and while many of us only saw one another for several hours once weekly, we felt ourselves friends. There was a lovely atmosphere of warm camaraderie and community. It was our space.

My Shabbat morning kiddush at shul (synagogue) was a major part of my life.


Kiddush vis-à-vis my religiosity

In many Jewish communities, there is a phenomenon known as ‘JFK’, which stands for ‘Just For Kiddush’. There are a good number of community members who are don’t attend prayer services on Saturday mornings; instead they show up ‘Just For Kiddush’. Some people look down upon this; others don’t mind it; and some embrace any form of community participation.

I have never been a ‘JFK’ Jew; I always felt it incumbent upon myself to attend services before kiddush, largely because the Orthodox Jewish prayer quorum requires ten adult males to be considered a full quorum for the purposes of prayers and rituals. Without ten Jewish adult males, a prayer group cannot, for example, read from the Torah Scroll, which is so very central to Jewish communal life. I have always been the community-oriented sort to take communal responsibility seriously, and I would have felt very self-conscious partaking of the kiddush without having participated in minyan beforehand.

In fact, looking back at it, I was motivated to attend morning services even during weekdays largely because I wanted to help my community form a daily minyan; the community provided me with something very important and special in my life, and I wanted to give back. In all honestly, this feeling of responsibility has always far outweighed my personal desire to pray, but it’s having this sense of community in my life that has been so very, very important to me.

Also, largely because our Saturday morning minyan was so early, and because our intimate little kiddush was privately sponsored by individuals every week (rather than by the entire community), almost nobody came to our early morning kiddush without having first attended the prayer services (even if some people would arrive later than others). In this context, I was not the only one who took communal responsibility seriously – almost everyone did.


COVID-19 maimed my minyan

If you were to ask me what I miss most from before the COVID-19 era, it would undoubtedly be my Shabbat early morning community.

When the pandemic first hit, the prayer services were moved outside, and attendance was limited to a small number of people. Also, one had to sign up in advance in order to attend. In Israel, the summers are hot, and there are plenty of flies buzzing around outside; sitting in the heat with a face mask on was hardly comfortable, but this was something I could have lived with.

What did the most damage to the minyan was the dissolution of our kiddush. At first, there was no kiddush at all. Eventually, a small group of attendees did start holding small kiddushes in the park outside, next to the synagogue, but this was hardly the same. Many of the regulars had stopped coming for services entirely, and even among those who signed up and attended, many were fearful of socializing and sharing food and drink with others. The sense of community I’d had and loved so dearly was gone.

The second anniversary of my Papa’s death was in July 2020, and I decided to send out personal emails to members of my Shabbat kiddush community with an invitation to join me after services at the park for a nice kiddush in memory of my father. I deliberately purchased disposable plastic containers and prepackaged all of the crackers, herring, cheese, etc. in individual servings so that nobody would be worried about COVID. I even made alcoholic hand sanitizer available.

On the whole, the event was successful, and I felt fulfilled. Back then, I naively assumed that COVID-19 would blow over and that my Shabbat community would regroup. For me, last year, hosting my guerrilla kiddush in the park was merely a temporary measure because I never expected the restrictions imposed upon Israeli society to become so protracted.

Even now, with so many Israelis having been vaccinated and ‘green passes’ being made available to those who have received the vaccine or tested negative for COVID-19, and even with infection rates in Israel decreasing, our little early morning Sabbath community has not been allowed back within the walls of our synagogue.

Now, I’m not upset at anyone for this because I get it – the pandemic has killed more than six thousand Israelis, and people are still dying… but the absence of my Shabbat community has left a major hole in my life, and I mourn its absence weekly.

This year, if minyan and kiddush aren’t reconstituted at my shul (synagogue) before Papa’s third yahrzeit (anniversary of death) in July… well… I don’t think I’ll bother with a kiddush.

My community doesn’t actually exist any more. 😞

Jewish and normal

I had an unexpected flash of insight the other day regarding the following themes:

  • My Jewish identity
  • Living in Israel
  • Blogging on WordPress

My Jewish identity

While I only encountered Orthodox Judaism and gradually began to adopt a religious lifestyle in college, I have always strongly identified as a Jew. If I were to sort the many facets of my identity out into a hierarchy, I would put the label ‘human’ at the very top. My second tier would include: ‘brother’, ‘father’, ‘heteronormative male’. ‘husband’, ‘Jew’, and ‘son’ in no particular order.

For several reasons, the many strictures of religious Jewish life have always appealed to me. In part, I feel that I am simply being outwardly true to my core identity by presenting myself as a Jew publicly in the most apparent way possible.

Mind you, I began college more than twenty years ago; and my religious journey has had many ups and downs in the many years since. There were periods when I reverted to a secular lifestyle, and there were periods when I managed to convince myself that the God of the Torah existed and strived to follow His laws to my utmost accordingly.

I have been up, down, and all around on the spectrum of religious Judaism. However, throughout those years during which I turned back towards secularism, I always missed the outward trappings of traditional observance. The personal inconveniences of keeping strictly kosher, keeping Shabbat traditionally, praying thrice daily, etc., never bothered me ~ it was, rather, always a question of the extent to which any of these practices actually mattered.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that while I never minded the demands that traditional Judaism made upon my life, I did find myself wishing that my religious lifestyle wouldn’t create such barriers between me and all other human beings on earth who were not attempting to live a traditional Torah lifestyle.


Living in Israel

Not religiously comfortable for all Jews

From a religious perspective, Israel is not necessarily a comfortable place for all Jews to live.

For political and historical reasons, the Chief Rabbinate is Orthodox, rather than heterodox (Conservative, Reform, etc.), and its religious monopoly over Jewish life operates with the full weight of the government behind it. For example, Jewish weddings performed in Israel outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate are granted no legal status (and civil marriage does not exist). Also, the Chief Rabbinate’s state-empowered religious monopoly grants it the exclusive right to certify Israel’s food establishments as “kosher”, unlike everywhere else in the world.

Also, questions of Jewish status are decided by the Chief Rabbinate for religious purposes. This decides whether or not citizens of Israel can get married in Israel at all, where they can be buried when they die, etc., etc. Therefore, Israeli citizens whose mothers are not Jewish, as required by religious law, are considered “not Jewish” by the Chief Rabbinate, and they cannot legally marry Jews in Israel without first undergoing religious conversions under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate (even if they are secular).

Religiously comfortable for me

While I 100% oppose these infringements and all others on freedom of religion in Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious Jewish life does not much inconvenience me on a personal level because I happen to live an Orthodox lifestyle (my wedding, for example, was conducted through the Chief Rabbinate).

Also, while I have explored and flirted with non-Orthodox religious communities, they do not feel like home to me personally. Therefore, as the vast majority of Israeli synagogues are Orthodox, my religious preferences are not marginalized in most public prayer spaces. Further, even when my commitment to my religious practices vacillates, it is always fluctuating on the spectrum between Jewish secularism and Orthodoxy, both of which are mainstream in Israeli society.

All of this is to say that I feel very at home in Israel from a religious perspective. Kosher food is – and kosher food establishments are – abundant, synagogues are available everywhere, the national holidays are my own religious holidays, etc., etc.

Living here in Israel (especially in Jerusalem) dramatically lowers the religious barriers between me and all the other people around me.


Blogging on WordPress

I have been increasingly enjoying the sense of community that I have discovered here on WordPress.

Bloggers from around the world share with – and are supportive of – one another, and for the first time since moving to Israel I have been feeling significantly less divorced from global society, which is predominantly not Jewish.

The unexpected insight that I had last week is that our virtual WordPress community grants me something not entirely dissimilar from that which living in Israel grants me: a sense of normalcy.

Of course, I am aware this comparison has many flaws. For one, every blogger chooses whom to interact with on their blog and on other people’s blogs. My virtual community is entirely self-selected and filtered according my preferences… and, of course, writing and reading blog posts is a far cry from in-person interactions… but… well…

Here on WordPress, I feel simply human.