You Shall Pursue

August 29, 2012

God in the Dance

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — marleyweiner @ 4:53 am

One of the things I am most excited about moving to Philadelphia is the great swing and blues dancing community here. I have been a dancer since I was three years old, mostly ballet, modern, and jazz. I first discovered swing dancing in college, and then blues dancing in 2011. That discovery has changed my life and given me a hobby that is very odd for a typical rabbinical student.

Here’s the thing about blues. It is an extremely sensual dance, performed in close embrace (think tango). Here is a video:

See? This is what I do with my free time. Not necessarily the style that you might pick out for a rabbi, and yet I can’t think of any other type of dance that feels as naturally spiritual as this.

There’s a tremendous amount of power in dance, something that I think Judaism as a whole neglects. A study that I learned of recently showed that the brains of dancers are like the brains of religious people, bigger and more capable in the areas that indicate spirituality and connection. While I get a tremendous amount out of other ritual, I find that dance is an especially important part of my spiritual practice.

Dancing in general, and especially with a partner, leads to these fabulous moments where it is just you (and your partner if you have one) and the music. Everything else falls away and you are left with a tremendous focus on the minutiae of your body and the music. You learn the feelings of small muscles in your legs, arms, core. You close your eyes and focus on your partner until you can feel each small articulation in their back. And then you start to play. Building from these small delicate articulations, you move bigger and smaller, up and down, creating a moment of perfect artistry that is just for you and the person (or people) that you are dancing with. The most beautiful thing about social dance is that it is ineffable; you will never dance the same series of steps twice.

As goes dance, so goes God. Each Amidah has its template of prayers to move through, but the prayer is never entirely the same. Each High Holiday season, each Passover, each moment of quiet personal contemplation requires a stilling down to breath, and a moment of dialogue and searching between you and your Partner, the Divine. We as Jews speak of God as lover, parent, king. But I also like to think of God as dance partner, someone with whom I do not hit every step perfectly, someone with whom I always need to be focused and on my toes. But if I am listening, than the dance will guide me to a moment of perfect bliss.

August 26, 2012

Quick Post: My Future Classmates are Amazing

Filed under: Choosing Life, Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School — marleyweiner @ 4:40 am

I just got back from our orientation retreat and it was one of the most powerful Jewish experiences in my entire life. I am sleepy now, so much more on that tomorrow. But oh man, I am so incredibly lucky to have ended up here.

August 21, 2012

Thoughts on Patrilineal Descent: All My People in the House!

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Patrilineal Descent, Rabbinical School — marleyweiner @ 7:54 pm

So, I sort of disappeared for the last month… oops. But! It was for a very good reason! I now have a place to live, and a car, and a bed to sleep in, and jobs! That took a lot of time and effort, and now I’m ready to start putting time and effort into writing again.

I’m renting a house by school with three other women; two of them are fellow rabbinical students and the third is a good friend from High School. All of us have Jewish and non-Jewish ancestry, and the three future rabbis are all straight up patrilineal Jews. And we are not alone at RRC. There are several others in our incoming class alone. This is really really really cool.

I spent some very formative years in terms of Judaism at a school that was hostile to my desire to embrace my halakhic ambiguity. I cannot tell you the number of former professors, rabbinic mentors, etc. who have offered to set up a beit din for my conversion, which I know comes from a place of love, but it bothers me that I would need outside affirmation and confirmation of something that I know to be already true and fundamental to me as a person.That leaves deep marks, psychically. On the one had, it strengthened my desire to be a role model for other Jews from interfaith backgrounds, to show them that they can have a home and even a leadership position in the Jewish community. On the other hand, it left me a bit defensive. Being in a learning environment where a significant chunk of my peers is dealing with some of the same challenges as me is hugely freeing.

That is not to say that we are all on the same page in regards to our patrilineal Judaism and what to do about it. Some of us are thinking about mikveh, others are not, and I am adamantly against it. But we are already starting to have the conversations amongst ourselves. How we relate to our halakhic status. How our mothers’ cultures influenced our Jewish journeys. How we all feel about Christmas (and whether or not to have a tree in our house this year). It is nice to talk to other future Jewish leaders, people who have strong ties to Judaism and have thought very deeply about these issues, and who really get it.

More importantly, I no longer feel the need to be a “model Jewish leader from an interfaith home.” There are so many of us within the student body grappling with these issues, either for themselves or for their children. Instead of needing to speak for all Jews from interfaith backgrounds everywhere, my voice can be just one of many opinions (and I will admit pretty freely that I am not a centrist when it comes to this question).

The broader Jewish community needs what is going on at RRC, and not just along axes of interfaith. When there are few or no Jews from interfaith families, or Jews of color, or QUILTBAG Jews, or Jews from poor or working class backgrounds in communal leadership positions, those who do have those experiences become tokenized, and their opinions and feelings must stand for the feelings of ALL Jews coming from that position. However, it is incredibly difficult to both speak freely and stand as THE representative from one group to the broader community. It is only by opening ourselves up as a community to diversity rather than tokenization that we will really begin to see these traditionally marginalized groups as consisting of people who relate to Judaism in a variety of complex and often conflicting ways.

August 16, 2012

Quick Post: thoughts from Facebook

Filed under: Choosing Life, Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School, Social Justice — marleyweiner @ 10:30 am

A comment I made on a future classmate’s status about how to make the Jewish community more welcoming:

It’s all about relationship building. When a person walks though your door, they should be greeted, talked to, asked about their needs and wants from the Jewish community. If you can’t provide for those needs, you make a personal introduction to a group that can. You train your staff regularly on issues of diversity, interfaith families, queer-friendliness, and anti-racism. You look at your financial model and see how you can adjust policies to get poor families in the door. And most importantly, when someone comes to you with questions, or concerns, or worries, YOU LISTEN TO THEM AND TRY TO HELP THEM. Start with basic customer service, and work up to being decent human beings.


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