Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chag Sameach! Shavout

Random bits ......

Once again I was surprised by my email reminding me of various candle lighting times. Here I am in the middle of my work day and like a giant "Boom!" there is this little portion of Jewish mindfulness in my email in box. I am excited about tonight's program at the synagogue I attend. I have worked on my little "big idea" piece and feel ready to present it....but I must admit I am nervous.

I am also concerned that I don't have a large enough candle to light that can stay burning until Friday so that I can then light Shabbat candles. All I can think of are the large skinny glass candles from my childhood in the Catholic know the ones, you can find them in most any bodega....but some how using a catholic devotional candle might not be the best way to do it! I guess I will have poke around on the Orthodox sites to find an answer!

Chag Sameach!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Alysa Stanton....A woman of Valor

I just love this story....
I think this might be a good time to say a Sheheḥeyanu

First African-American Rabbi To Be Ordained Was Raised in a Pentecostal Family

Growing up in a black, Pentecostal family in Cleveland, Alysa Stanton never imagined the day when she would be preparing to be ordained as a rabbi.

Alysa Stanton is set to become the first African-American female rabbi when she is ordained next month.(Courtesy Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)
But that day will come June 6 for the single mother who will be ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, becoming the first African-American female rabbi in the world.
"Ten years ago, if someone said I was going to be a rabbi, I would have laughed," Stanton, 45, told "Me, a spiritual leader?"
Soon-to-be rabbi Stanton and her daughter Shana, 14, whom she adopted when she was 14 months old, will move to Greenville, N.C., in August, where Stanton will take her spot behind the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom, which is both conservative and reform.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Big Idea

Our annual Tikun Leyl Shavuot at my synagogue has a theme this year...the Rabbi wrote in his announcement:
" Since Shavuot is the time of the giving of our Torah, we´ll spend our study session looking at the Torah in a different way. This year´s theme is, "THE BIG IDEA," and I´m inviting members of our congregation to select one Big Idea from one of the Torah portions and speak about it to the members of our congregation who will be there."
Ok we have about 4 minutes or so each to do this...well the excited Jew By choice that I am got all fun! then doubt set in....they don't want to hear from negative thoughts implored...

But despite the negative self talk I think I will go forward...So please see below the first rough draft of what I think I'm going to present....if you have any ideas, good quote please let me know...I have until next Thursday to work it out!

The Book of Devarim/Deuteronomy Parashat Re’eh 11:26
the "Big Idea": Human Free Will/Freedom of Choice.

26. Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.

Over the past year I have learned and absorbed much . When I read of tonight’s opportunity to share, I was at first hesitant, but also excited. I think much about these types of subjects, and one readily came into my mind.

the "Big Idea"I would like to share is : Human Free Will/Freedom of Choice.

The first Torah book I have read with an intense level of inquiry has been Deuteronomy. This is Because the Shama was the first Hebrew prayer I learned and I wanted to seek out its origins which of course ultimately led me to Devarim.

Upon my exploration of Devarim several themes have stood out . I see it as a clear advocate of monotheism which is obvious seeing that it is the book that is the foundation for the Shama prayer. It also spells out the loyalty /convent between Israel and the divine. additionally Throughout the book there is an emphasis on God's love, justice, and transcendence.

But It is also the book where the concept of human free will/ choice is put forth in a clear dramatic way. In Re’eh 11:26. It is written “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse” This concept of choice is further expanded upon in Deuteronomy 30:15 where it states “ See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

In contrast to many other religions who’s internal debates first extolled then vilified human will and freedom in relationship to the divine, Judaism is clear in its understanding of human kinds power to choose. In the words of Maimonides: “ Freedom of choice has been granted to every man.... This concept is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments.” Maimonides in regards to this Torah portion, also explains that Moshe is placing before the Jewish people a stark choice between two life-paths: the path of allegiance to the Torah and the path of turning aside from the Torah to follow the dictates of one's own heart. The different directions of the paths are straight forward if not out right blunt, blessing or curse… Alternatively, life or death…..

Clearly, the concept of human choice, free will, is one that is wrought with consequences….. some might think, would it be easier if it all were predetermined…destiny alone…but not in this faith… our actions and our choices are our own…both positive and negative actions are ours to hold.. without free will could human kind be here now? It is this very concept that has carried the flag of human potential throughout the centuries through to today and the modern form of democracy which we are privileged to experience.
Human will and freedom to choose is a concept/philosophical point that is close to my heart…
We are here today to celebrate to honor shavuot…on this holiday we read the story of Ruth….I recently comment to a friend, Ruth has big shoes…..the strength of her convictions, her will , her choice are strong and unwavering in the face of incredible difficulties and strife…..she chooses.. without hesitation

“ Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

She is deep into the choice presented by Parashat Re’eh….she had free will and she optioned it! May we all have the strength of Ruth when faced with the choices detailed in Parashat Re’eh…hopefully we all can strive to fill Ruth’s shoes…..

NYC Terror Plot

What can one say but that the power of hate and ignorance again surfaced in New York.

When I was listening to National Public Radio this morning they stated the group met in prison and that the ring leader was a high school drop out.

This small but very interesting piece of the story I believe holds strong significance. It points to the The positive power of education,and a society that provides equal opportunity to all . I believe this is an anecdote, we all can focus on. Of course diligence by those who are charged with protecting all of us is a good thing too!

On a more personal note,

my synagogue had already been involved in a security up grade and last night they sent out an email seeking to both calm and reassure congregants that we will also be diligent and prudent ourselves. But I hope all can resist their own extremist reactions. Fear can be the base of many difficult situations and cause the replication of all that we seek to overcome.

May all beings feel safe and secure and find the path of peace.
Shabbat Shalom

York terror plot broken up by FBI, police
Posted: May 20, 2009, 10:11 PM by Ron Nurwisah

Update: BNO News has a statement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
"I want to congratulate the men and women of the NYPD, the New York State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force who tonight foiled a terrorist plot that targeted Riverdale Temple and Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx for bombing. The same plot also targeted U.S. military aircraft in Newburgh for Stinger Missile attacks. While the bombs these terrorists attempted to plant tonight were – unbeknownst to them – fake, this latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism.”
WNBC-NY is reporting that an alleged terror plot in New York City has been broken up by the FBI and New York Police.
Four men have been arrested in what authorities are calling a homegrown terrorist plot allegedly aimed at attacking New York area synagogues. From the WNBC story:
Raids by the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force in the Bronx captured the suspected ringleader and three followers in what law enforcement sources are calling a homegrown terrorist plot. Investigators stress the suspects' meetings had been infiltrated early on and there was "no chance" the alleged plot could succeed.Investigators said several of the suspects are Muslims who allegedly talked about destroying two Jewish temples, including at least one in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
The New York Daily News has more information on the suspects and the police sting operation that led to the arrests. From their story:
The four men also allegedly had what they believed was a working Stinger missile in their car: officials said they wanted to shoot down a plane near Stewart Air National Guard Base.Sources said the four men were arrested after a year long investigation that began when an informant connected to a mosque in Newburg said some militants wanted to buy bombs.FBI agents posing as militants sold them what they thought were C-4 and a plane-downing Stinger missile.
The New York Post reveals that a fifth man initially involved with the alleged terror cell alerted the FBI about the plot. The Post also has the press release from the District Attorney's office. From that document:
In June 2008, an informant working with the FBI met [Alleged ring leader James Cromitie] in Newburgh, New York. CROMITIE explained to the informant that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset about the war there and that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the United States Military forces. CROMITIE expressed interest in returning to Afghanistan and spoke to the CW about how if he, CROMITIE, were to die a martyr, he would go to "paradise." CROMITIE also expressed an interest in doing "something to America." The following month, CROMITIE and the informant discussed the organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization based in Pakistan, with which the informant claimed to be involved. CROMITIE stated to the informant that he, CROMITIE, would be interested in joining Jaish-e-Mohammed to "do jihad."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ruth Has Big Shoes

I have been feeling a bit on the defensive side regarding my Jewishness. I'm not sure if it is a word, but it is the best way for me to describe it.

What is a Jew? many other Jews would say I am not. So many others have attitudes and opinions that can be hurtful and some downright prejudicial. It can be exclusionary and detrimental to individuals and ultimately to the greater Jewish world. Let’s face it, the world has not always been kind to the Jews…need we give the anti-Semites a roadmap of how to divide us?

In the Jewish Convert blogosphere there are so many bloggers who identify as orthodox and/or orthodox in waiting. They are interesting to read, and prolific, yet there is this subtle and sometimes not so subtle point of view/perception that choosing an orthodox world view is being “more Jewish.”

I was taught that the souls of all Jews, from all times, came together to hear the Ten Commandments from the divine on Shavuot. So I see that as meaning we are all equal, and “chosen” in our own individual ways. I may not be from Eastern European ancestry, or had grown up going to shul, or summer camp or any other event/test that can be thrown my way, but I am a Jew.

This shavuot I stand with all the Jews, I stand in the history and the faith wearing the symbolic cloak of Ruth. I am proud to be a convert, and I am proud to be in the Conservative stream of Judaism. I embrace all Jews as my brothers and sisters in faith, even if they do not embrace me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blog Havurah

I have been speaking with my Rabbi about how to feel more connected and to find others with similar issues to me . He suggested starting a now it is a project in process. This endeavor has started me thinking that the conversion community on the web is my Havurah.

Thank you Havurah.

Dunking Rachael

Love, Faith and Life