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.

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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:

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.

The Year that Was

Every year at Rosh Hashanah, I try to look back over the year which passed, the events which have transpired and how I’ve changed. This year, I thought I might do some of that by looking back over the blog posts I’ve written since last Rosh Hashanah. 

I’ve written 95 blog posts (this will be the 96th) since last Rosh Hashanah, going back to last October and this post, wherein I was noting how strange it was to move from the workaday world to sitting with a family as a loved one died. It was light postings through December, as I was really getting my feet under me as a congregationally rabbi in Salem. I was learning to balance the roles, while still talking about knitting upon occasion. 

There are the posts that describe specific events from the year. There’s the post talking about how I invoked the Oregon State Senate, which was amazingly cool. Also when I passed the 100,000 mile mark on the car, and thinking about where the car had taken me. There was the time I saw a pair of raccoons in the yard. There’s the post I wrote as I was leaving Salem

Then there are the feline related posts. We adopted Chloe and were excited. A week later she was dead, and I wrote my prayer for a dead pet. Ten days later, we faced a much harder loss. Diana, who had been with me for 14 years, died. 

There are posts about the connections between knitting and spirituality. And posts about my experiences teaching Sunday school and bar and bat mitzvah students. And posts simply about Jewish Spirituality and theology

There were a whole slew of posts about Shabbat. Some commenting on how ready for it I was, some on how I planned to spend Shabbat. 

There are a huge number of posts about knitting, and I can track my progress through various projects over the course of the year. I note a few times that I seem to have a lot of projects going at once. My celebration of finishing a shawl that took about 6 months. 

I note a number of posts talking about how much I’m enjoying what I’m doing, but I’m exhausted because I’m doing too much

 And also a post about how cool it is that I get to perform weddings. And several posts about doing funerals, how satisfying it is, and how hard it can be.

There are blog posts about me. About me feeling like I’m getting older and that my brain is less efficient

There were some humorous posts (or at least attempts). One about Hannukah. One about Purim and Talmud and Knitting. A post about why I haven’t been posting. A very mildly humorous post about fictional items for auctions. A post about Rosh Hashanah sort of rounded out the year. 

There were post about flowers and the coming of spring. A post about cleaning up the front yard. And a post when I realized I’m not going to have the garden I’d hoped to have this year. Then I took some pictures of flowers on the way to work

Also some posts that are among the most frequently searched by keywords. One about the fact that life isn’t fair, usually in our favor. Another on the subject of being strangers in the land of Egypt

It’s been a long, full year. I’ve been at CubeSpace and at the congregation in Salem. I’ve performed 8 weddings, and 6 funerals. I done 9 bar or bat mitzvahs. It’s been a long year, and a good year. I’ve grown and become more the person I want to be. I’ve shared much of that with you all who read my blog, and it’s been a privilege and a pleasure. You’ve made insightful comments and sympathetic comments. 

May the new year be a good year for all of us. Shana Tovah umetuka. A good and sweet year to us all.

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.