A NaNoWriMo Excerpt

For the first time ever, I present an excerpt from my #NaNoWriMo project. I figured I’d been talking about the writing enough that I really should share a little.  The background you should know is that the protagonist is Rabbi David Zimmerman. I’m not sure anything else is necessary.

I walked into the building at about 10:30, said hello to Trudy, the temple secretary, checked my mailbox, and headed back to my office. As I dumped my briefcase on my desk, pulled out my laptop and fired it up, I pressed the voicemail button on the phone.
“Next new message, left today, at 3:46, AM. ‘Good morning, Rabbi, you don’t know me, but my name is Robert Jones. I’m not Jewish, but I read the Old Testament a lot, and I’ve got some questions. Could you give me a call at 555-0873? Thanks a lot, and Shalom.’” Robert could be a sweet guy, but a lot of these calls came from folks who were Christian evangelicals who decided to get closer to Christ by practicing his religion. Most often, they were also a little mentally unbalanced. I’d have to return the call, so that the Jews in town wouldn’t get a reputation for being stuck up or rude, but it was times like this when I wished there was more than one congregation in town, or that I wasn’t the only rabbi for fifty miles in any direction. It would be okay if there were at least someone to split the nuts with, rather than having to deal with them all myself.

Fortunately, August is a somewhat slower time at synagogues, so I had the time to return the call to Robert immediately. “Hello, may I speak with Robert Jones please?”

“This is he.”

“This is Rabbi David Zimmerman, returning your call.”

“Rabbi,” his voice lit up, and I could hear the smile through the phone cord, “thanks for calling me back. As I said in my message, I’m not Jewish, but I believe in the bible, and believe we worship the same God. And I was reading in the Pentateuch about all the sacrifices, and it got me thinking. I did some things when I was younger, when I was in Vietnam. Some things I’m not so proud of. I was young, and wasn’t a God-fearing man then, but that’s no excuse. So I was reading the bible, like I said, and I came to the sacrifices. And I realized, that I owe a guilt sacrifice. So I was wondering, would it be okay if I brought you the goat for you to make the sacrifice for me on your altar? I’d do it at my church, but we don’t have an altar for animal sacrifice.”

Now, every month or so I have a conversation with someone who is under the misconception that Judaism still looks like biblical Israelite religion. They sort of missed the last 2,000 years of change in the tradition. But this was the first time I’d had anyone actually want to offer a sacrifice (though every now and then someone had wanted to come watch us do the sacrifices).

“Robert, we don’t do animal sacrifice in Judaism. Haven’t for the last 2,000 years, almost, since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.”

“So who does your sacrifices for you? ‘Cause the bible is real clear on this, when you have to do it, what you have to bring, how many of each animal.” He sounded puzzled.

“We believe that prayer replaced sacrifice when the Temple was destroyed.”

There was a silence on the other end of the phone, and then Robert began again, slowly, clearly trying to wrap his head around this as he was talking. “Ah, okay, then, so ah, then could you help me with the prayer thing?”

I sighed to myself, hoping the phone wasn’t picking it up. “Yes, we pray every Friday night at 8PM for the Sabbath. You can join us for that service.”

“Okay, rabbi. And do I just bring the goat to the service and you’ll pray over it then?”

Apparently I hadn’t been quite as clear as I thought. “No, Robert. No goats. We don’t pray over goats, we don’t sacrifice goats. We pray the same way Christians do, using words to talk to God.”

“Well, umm..okay. But rabbi, I know you’re the only synagogue in town, and I know your Temple isn’t, ah…the most religious kind of Judaism. Do you know where the nearest temple that could do the sacrifice is?”

For a moment, just a moment, I was tempted to give him the phone number of my Orthodox colleague 75 miles to the south. For a longer moment, I was tempted to give him phone number of HABaD in Portland, and let the ultra-orthodox black hats deal with him. But much as I may have my issues with the ultra-orthodox, I behaved myself and explained to him that, really, no Jews, anywhere practice animal sacrifice today. As he hung up, he thanked me for my time, but I’m not sure he believed me about no one doing sacrifices.

Year in Review: 5769

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I try to review my year. The Jewish Year coming up is 5770, and the year just ending, is 5769. Last year I started a tradition of doing that, in part, by doing a review of the year in the blog. I’m continuing that tradition this year. It looks to me like there have been 62 posts since last Rosh Hashanah. So let’s review the year.

It seems like the year was dominated by deaths and endings. These started right at Rosh Hashanah with the death of my dear friend Pam Webb. Then there was Cat Saga, starting when we adopted Shadow. It seemed an auspicious start, but by the time I took her to the vet a few weeks later, there’s already a tone of frustration (though also some pictures). After this, about 3 weeks later we decided to bring her back to the humane society, but they couldn’t take her for about 2 weeks.  Then Artemis, my most beloved cat, died. I tried to write an appropriate remembrance of her, but failed. Eva wrote her memorial to Artemis for me. I still intend to write about her one of these days, but I’m not quite ready yet. The loss of Artemis was a big blow to me this year.  Shortly thereafter, Shadow, still not coming out to visit us, was again captured and returned to the humane society.

The downside of this year really was capped off by CubeSpace folding. My first post as we were figuring out what was going on, linking to the CubeSpace blog, and other places to catch people up. The next post on the subject, was our farewell, which I posted on the CubeSpace blog and linked to. Then there was the post about my plans after-CubeSpace. My post on last day of CubeSpace was definitely sad, as was the day. And then my post, most of a month later, about moving forward. And then about my first disastrous interview for a job.

There was also some joy and celebration. Politics was definitely a significant part of this year. Election night, a super quick post. The next day, I spent some time looking at Obama and Hope and optimism. A list of things I’m thankful for in honor of Thanksgiving. Then came innauguration, which I live-blogged.

There were definitely reflections on ways I was stretching: new types of projects I was working on. And how many types of projects I was working on towards the end of this post. And how many things seems to hit all at once. And just how busy life is, and how to do lists seem to be growing, not shrinking.  How frustrating computers can be when I’m trying to stretch. Again with the whirlwind of life. And being tired after barcamp. And then trying to figure out how to organize time after CubeSpace, and mindfulness as a tool to do so. A few days later I was writing about how we use words to organize our understanding of the world.

As always, rabbinic work spurred some writing. A post about my first weekend with a congregation in Bend. Or my recurring Rabbinic nightmare of being unprepared. I talk a little about the spriritual experience of performing a wedding. A rant on the subject of the lack of marriage equality, in response to false news that Prop 8 had been overturned. A post about how I, as a rabbi, have something to say. A post about how I write, and how I write sermons. More reflections on God and spirituality were spurred by burying a teenager.

There were reflections on Judaism and Jewish Spirituality, starting with some thoughts about Yom Kippur. Also some thoughts about Shabbat, as noticed by my not observing it. Some reflections on Humility, followed immediately by a humorous view of humility. Then came Passover, and a post about Passover and the Tough Economy. Immediately following Passover, begins the counting of the Omer, and I talk about my Omer practice for the year, reading spriritual text. I then share some thoughts on theology, coming out of Tomer Devorah. I finished up the year with some thoughts on Rosh Hashanah prayer.

Reflections on Portland and nature, and seasons, and the like. Walking home from work, and how it’s different from walking to work in the morning. Also a post on walking to work in the rain. And also Portland and the Portland technical community, and the nature of electronic community. Then there was Sam Adams, and his indiscretions, and my plea for people to let the dust settle. Wonderings about how the community could pull together in the face of the economic disaster area. Followed immediately by the flowers of Portland. And then, more photos of flowers. Also a post about the CubeSpace Community as a Spiritual Community. And then a post about gratitude, and expressions of gratitude.

There was a little bit of knit-blogging, but not much. Working on mittens on a deadline. I also revisited those mittens in this post. I started a lace scarf, but really never got very far with it.

There was some deliberate humor. Thanksgiving, and how not to do it. An already mentioned post about humility. Some attempted humor about how busy I was. A Psalm for Purim amused me.

Some stuff defies classification: Preparing for my Ignite Portland presentation and the a wrap up of Ignite Portland; A survey on what you want me to blog about. A post about how Eva and I do anniversaries, not necessarily in the most normal ways. A post for the Portland Interview Project in which I interview Grant Kruger. A short film I embedded because I thought it made such a good point about religion. Some thoughts about memory. I wrote about reading introductions. A list of workshops I’d like to teach.

It was, all in all, a really tough year. I got through it with love and help from friends and family. I’m really hoping we don’t need as much help in the coming year.

Reading Introductions–or Not

When I was younger, I never read the Introductions to books. I’d skip right to the beginning of the text itself, whether it was a story or non-fiction. Somewhere along the way, however, I decided that the Introduction was part of the book, and needed to be read before reading the book in order to understand the book as the author intended. I suspect this transition was somewhere around when I started college, and I needed all the help I could get in understanding many of the books I was reading.

It only just occurred to me, some 20 years later, that maybe I don’t need to read the introductions to books. Maybe I can just start in on the book itself. After all, if I find myself needing greater clarity, there’s always the option to go back and read the introduction (read the book out of order? That’s heresy). Often, I find, introductions are the least interesting part of the book. Often, they are an expanded in table of contents (“in chapters 1 & 2 we will discuss the evolution of the idea of left-handed knitting; chapter 3 will explore the early innovators of left-handed knitting, with particular attention to the social pressures they felt to knit right handed; chapter 4 chronicles the acceptance of left handed knitting, while chapter 5 gives examples of patterns especially developed for left handed knitters; finally, chapter 6 lays out a plan for world domination by left handed knitters”). At other times, the introductions explains why the author felt the need to write the book (“as  I was learning to knit, I sought out resources on left handed knitting–as I have been a leftie all the days of my life–and was shocked and dismayed to find that all the books seem to regard left handed knitting as an inferior cousin to right handed knitting. In this book, I set out to show that all true knitters are left handed, and all who knit with their right hands are to be executed–or at least locked away.”). Frankly, at this point, by the time I’ve picked up a book to read it, I probably don’t care why the author felt the need to write it, and it’s rare that knowing the structure of the book will improve my appreciation of it.

Therefore, I am giving myself permission to skip introductions. From now on, I can go right to the text itself. I might even skip the dedication page .

A Psalm For Purim

Purim is coming up on Tuesday, and it is traditional  to celebrate with humor making fun of things we normally take seriously. With this in mind, I offer the following from the Notebook of King David:

A Psalm of David when he felt particularly low one afternoon, but felt like he needcd to get something on paper anyway:

Yea though I walk through the waters of the streams of  the left bank of the river of sadness
I shall fear no bad stuff, for you  are in the general vicinity are hanging out are my Main Man support me.

I praise thee with words, I praise thee with song,
I praise thee with harp. I figure even you are annoyed by accordion.

Lord, don’t hide your face from me.
I seek you in the morning, looking for solace.
I seek you in the afternoon, searching the cupboards of my heart.
Lord, you play a mean game of hide and seek.

Who may approach the mountain of  the Lord? Who may stand in God’s Holy Place?
Those with clean hands and a close shave good breath,
Those who  never swear before children or speak with a full mouth,
they shall find help from the Eternal.

How long, Oh Lord, How Long?
I have suffered the idiot advisers those who trouble me without killing anyone with a serene heart,
but I trust you have plan to make this all work out somehow in you for no good reason I can see because your “goodness” never ends.

Give thanks to the Lord, For it wins votes.
For God’s Love is everlasting.
Give thanks to the Lord, for it makes the chicks swoon.
For God’s Love is everlasting.
Give thanks to the Lord, cause it beats digging a ditch.
For God’s Love is everlasting.

From out of the depths have I called you, Lord.
In my time of travail did I write.
I have visited your shrine, and prayed at your holy mountain.
Do you ever  call? Do you ever write?

I have trod my paths through your world,
for all your ways are one way,
and all your paths are in need of some capital reconstruction. [note to self, must talk to chamberlain about infrastructure bond].

I praise you Eternal one, and sing out with words of song:
You are without measure, beyond compare.
No words can describe you,
So I guess I better stop writing.
KTHNX BAI

Humility: You’re doing it wrong

After yesterday’s post on humility, I felt there might be a need for another look at the subject. Lest anyone think that humility implies a lack of humor, I thought I might talk about how not to be humble:

  1. While it may be okay to be proud of being humble, boasting about it to everyone you know seems like it misses the point.
  2. Telling your coworkers, “I can’t talk to you right now, I’m working on my humility”? Not so much.
  3. Deliberately screwing up so that you have things to be humble about (admittedly, there is a school of thought in Mussar that calls for making oneself appear foolish–for instance, walking into a bakery and asking to buy a hammer–in order to inculcate humility, but that’s different).
  4. Refusing to take a drivers test because you might pass, and after all, you know you’re not worthy of passing.
  5. Offering to teach a class in humility.
  6. Avoiding certain people because they “harsh my humility, man.”
  7. After beating someone else’s highscore, explaining to them that they shouldn’t feel bad, because really, you’re not very good.
  8. Printing up and wearing a t-shirt which says: “I got your humility right here, babe.”
  9. Going around all day and pointing out to everyone how they would act differently if they were as humble as you. (This is just a bad idea in general…it really will get you smacked a lot…which now that I think of it might lead to learning some humility…well, your choice on this one).
  10. Aspiring to be a Master of Humility.

If you’ve got more ideas, leave them in the comments:

Rabbinic Nightmares

Like everyone else, rabbis have nightmaes.  We do, however, have our own special twist on some of them.

You know that dream where you’re sitting down to take a final exam in a class you forgot you signed up for, and didn’t attend all semester? Rabbis have their own special version of that dream. We dream that the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) have snuck up on us without us noticing somehow, and we’re standing in front of the congregation with no sermon. (I’m pretty sure other rabbis have this dream also). Last night, I got a new twist on it.

Over time, I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good speaking extemporaneously. I may spend hours, or days, planning what I’ll say, but I can actually do most of the talking without notes. And I can, if desperate, usually come up with a fairly coherent sermon on the spot. Therefore, the idea of standing before a congregation unprepared does not fill me with appropriate terror anymore. At least, so says my subsconscious.

Side note: One of my professors in rabbinical school used to quote his wife, who wrote children’s books, as getting to a point in the plot and then saying, “let’s make it worse,” meaning, let’s get the protagonists into deeper trouble. My subconscious was apparently taking notes.

So if standing unprepared in front of a congregation  is not adequately terrifying, how is the situation made worse? Yom Kippur falls on the same day as Christmas (by the way, this can’t happen), which means I’m holding services in some hotel in a beach community. I had to fly to get there, and for some reason was bringing my cat, Artemis with me. Except I left her on the plane when I changed planes in Cincinatti. Which completely freaked me out. But I didn’t realize this until I reached the hotel. I spend hours on the phone trying to figure out where she is, and chasing around the airport, at which point I realize I’m hours late for the services I’m supposed to lead. Not only that, but I’ve forgotten it’s Yom Kippur and had 3 cups of coffee (Yom Kippur is a fast, no food, no drinks). So I finally get to the chapel at the hotel, to a bunch of somewhat displeased congregants, who were wondering if I’d ever show up.

The little chapel in the hotel has prayerbooks, but they are all a mishmash of various differnt ones, so page numbers and wording will all be different. But the congregation all seems okay with that. They tell me that’s how they do it every year: I sh0uld just pick my favorite prayerbook and they will follow along in theirs. And wonders of wonders, they have the prayerbook I’m most familiar with. I’m feeling better again, because I can fake my way through the service. So I open up the prayerbook, and begin the first Yom Kippur prayer before I find my place, because I know the beginnning. Except, as I flip through, I realize I’m having a little trouble reading the Hebrew…and it doesn’t seem to be laid out the way I expect. In fact, I realize this must have been a very early hand written copy of this prayerbook, when it was in draft state (this is a prayerbook, by the way, which was composed in the last 15 years, and was never handwritten, but a word-processed manuscript would not have served the needs of my subconscious). So I had a lot of trouble navigating, and only then discovered that in this draft of the prayerbook, the prayer I was singing had been left out for theological reasons, and I’d reached the limits of my memory. Not only that, but certain congregants were correcting me in ever more disapproving tones.

To make matters worse, the congregation was getting bored and wanted to go to the beach, so I was trying to lead services while on the bus to the beach, which was distracting because the bus driver wasn’t stopping at all the stops, and people were getting annoyed with him, and just started jumping out the rear door at whatever point they wanted to get  off, even though the bus was moving at 30 miles an hour.

Fortunately, at about this point, my alarm went off.

I’m hoping you find this as humorous as I do, in retrospect. Otherwise, this is deeply self-indulgent navel-gazing in public, which could be fodder for another nightmare.

Walking in the Rain

As many of you no doubt know, and more of you have no doubt forgotten, my theoretical form of exercise is walking to work. I say theoretical not because this doesn’t count as exercise when I walk to work, but rather because it doesn’t count as exercise when I “theoretically” walk to work. And for the past month or so, there has been rather a lot of the “theoretical” walking to work (unless walking the 4 blocks to the bus stop counts…and I really don’t think it does).

Yesterday and today, however, I walked to work. Braving gray skies, and even drizzle today, I walked. I am back in my exercising groove (or at least getting there).

For those of you who don’t know me in person, and may not be acutely aware that I live in Porland, Oregon, or what that entails, you may be asking, “it’s raining, why not just take the bus when it rains?” (The rest of you, stop giggling; Not nice to make fun of the uninformed).  The thing is, it is supposed to rain in Oregon from roughly mid-October to roughly mid-March. Not quite all the time…we get about a week off in February for good behavior. But other than that, it traditionally rains all winter. At least part of every day. Therefore, if I chose not to walk on the wet days, I wouldn’t walk at all during the winter. That’s just not a healthy way of life. So I walk in the rain.

The good news about walking in the rain is that most often the rain is not particularly hard. A good gortex raincoat and your pretty much ready to go (except for the spotty glasses). And it’s not too cold. Way better than walking in the snow.  And the big payoff, of course, is the spring flowers. Which should begin showing up about a month from now. Which is what makes the Oregon winter so worthwhile.

Thanksgiving Innovations that Should be Skipped

Here is a list of ideas that SHOULD NOT BE IMPLEMENTED to refresh the Thanksgiving Holiday:

  • Forget roasting a whole turkey…make a butter sculpture of a turkey the centerpiece of your thanksgiving dinner. Butter goes with everything: bread, vegetables, stuffing, corn, potatoes. What more could you ask for. Just carve slices off and serve them up.
  • Recreation of the first thanksgiving, complete with Pilgrims as Bioterrorist insurgents. 
  • Thanksgiving Carolling: A variety of new songs await composition: 
    • Gather Round the Ol’ Football Game
    • Thomas the Tottering Turkey
    • On Thanksgiving Day (We’ll Eat ’til We Barf)
    • The Family Gathers for Thanksgiving Day (and no blood was shed)
    • I’ll Be Home for Thanksgiving (Assuming I’m not stranded at O’Hare)
  • Ask each person at the table to name 1 reason they are thankful they are not the person to their left.
  • Asking teenagers to name 1 reason they are thankful.
  • Hiding thanksgiving eggs filled with stuffing around the house for the children to find.

This list is a starting point, but I’m pretty sure you all can help us avoid future disasters by suggesting your own additions in the comments.

Rosh Hashanah: Celebrating the King.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is coming remarkably soon. With it comes God-imagery that many of us find difficult to relate to, the image of God as King. So I thought I might take a little time to help explicate this, and maybe introduce a new piece of liturgy for the central part of the Rosh Hashanah service: Malchuyot, or Sovereignty. 

First off, it is important to understand that we are not speaking of a democratically elected president. No, The King is something entirely different, with great power, and praise, aclaimed by all. The relationship to the King is complex, a mixture of love, fear, trembling. Therefore, I offer this new arrangement of Malchuyot verses for use in services this year. 

We approach the King with Awe and Trembling, as much as with Love. As it is written: 

My hands are shaky and my knees are weak
I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet
Who do you thank when you have such luck?
I’m in love I’m all shook up
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

This is one image of our relationship with the King. Yet there are others. There is the demand that we, in turn, love the King: 

Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.
For my darlin I love you,
And I always will.

Yet the king is not all love. There is also the anger and disappointment:

You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
Well, you aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
You aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

Yet through this all, through the turmoil of life, the travails, we are reminded that must celebrate. Even when we feel that we are in the “jailhouse”, it is incumbant upon us to celebrate, and cling to our Rock. 

The warden threw a party in the county jail.
The prison band was there and they began to wail.
The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing.
You should’ve heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.
Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.

But in the end, it comes down to our assertion, that there is only one King: 

Only you
Can do make all this world seem right,
Only you
Can do make the darkness bright,
Only you, and you alone
Can feel me like you do
And do fill my heart with love for only you.

And let us say, Amen. 

 

Now, there are those who say that we ought to more gender-neutral, and praise the Queen as well as the King. However, the problem with that is this: The Queen is known to be bitchy, and therefore fearful beyond our ability to pray. Thus do we pray to the King, and hope that the Queen will be absent when it comes time for the Judging. 

Auction Items

Shortly, I’ll be headed off for the Temple’s Annual Auction. Like many such events, our congregational auction consists of both a live and silent part. I have donated a knit kippah (crocheted by me) to the auction. But it led to me think about some of the things that I might, but won’t donate to a synagogue auction:

  • Get out of Yom Kippur free cards: didn’t work so well for the Catholic Church. They were called “indulgences” and were one of the major causes of the reformation if I recall my history correctly.
  • Choose the topic for the rabbi’s sermon: could be kind of fun, but seems like it might get me in trouble.
  • Choose the length for the rabbi’s sermon: too hard on the ego.
  • Dinner with the rabbi; second prize is TWO dinners with the rabbi.

Nonetheless, I have to wonder whether we’ve solicited donations from all the relevant individuals. This is Salem, after all, and in Salem we have a lot of government. Have we asked the state government for donations (after all, they sell a bunch of stuff on ebay). Not to impinge on the honesty of the anyone, but there must be a senator somewhere who is bribable. And if you sell favors, why not give away a few to a synagogue auction (I really am joking here; as far as I know everyone in the Salem legislature is completely honest).

Alternatively, the congregation is filled with academics: why has no one donated dedication rights to their next book? We just aren’t thinking creatively enough.

And I’m not thinking creatively enough if this is what is passing for humor this Sunday afternoon.

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