You Shall Pursue

April 5, 2014

The Brilliance of Communal Storytelling

Filed under: Choosing Life, D'var Torah — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:30 pm

Someone shared this on my wall recently; it is from Sermon Slam New York. If you are a person who loves people talking about Judaism, go to the Sermon Slam website and hear people speaking in amazing and intelligent ways about Torah

I so deeply love listening to religious women talk cogently about their faith. There is so much strength and power in giving space for us to critique the systems that we love and hopefully, to change them for the better.

Some translations for those who aren’t so familiar with the lingo:

The Hebrew that she’s reciting is from the Morning Blessings that Jews say every morning. They thank God for things like waking up, giving strength, freeing captives.

One of these blessings is gender differentiated in Orthodox tradition. Men say “shelo asani ishah” meaning “Thank you God for not making me a woman” and women say “sheasani kirtzono” meaning “Thank you God for making me according to Your will.” Liberal Jews say “sheasani b’tzelmo” meaning “Thank you God for making me in Your image.”

She uses the term “agunah” at the end which means “a chained woman” or a woman whose husband refuses to give her a proper Jewish divorce.

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January 9, 2014

Gratitude

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 11:56 pm

Today I am grateful for my broken places. I am grateful for the reminder that I am not perfect, that perfection is an illusion, and that it is the height of arrogance to pretend that I am anything even approaching perfect. I am grateful for the opportunity to fortify myself in the cracked places, to get stronger, to grow better, and to continue on more humbly that before. I am grateful for the supportive loved ones who hold me in my broken times, and for the people who treat me with compassion even as I am disappointing them. I am grateful for the reminder that I need to treat others with compassion even as they are disappointing me. I am grateful for the opportunity to remember that we are all of us broken, and that it is my duty and privilege to hold all of the people of the world with compassion and love when they are hurting and scared and unsure. Because I have been so blessed to come through the fire, again and again, each time a little stronger, and a little more whole, than the time before.

November 5, 2013

You Guys! I Did a Wedding You Guys!

A few weeks ago, I had the delight and privilege of performing my first wedding. Yay weddings! My dear friends H and K, who I have known for quite some time, called me last December with the announcement that they were engaged to be married and the request for me to do the wedding. It was a no brainer! I love these kids and was so amazingly blessed to help them level up to this new phase in their relationship.

The couple is both Conservative leaning and fiercely feminist, so it was important for them to have an egalitarian wedding that was founded in Jewish Law. As such, we worked together to create a ceremony based on the Brit Ahuvim, or Lovers’ Covenant, laid out in Rachel Adler’s book Engendering Judaism (learn more here!). The idea of this ceremony is to move the foundation of the wedding from traditional Jewish purchase law (how the traditional wedding works) to a wedding based on contract law. In other words, my friends bound themselves in a partnership to create a new life and family together. We spent nearly a year working out all of the details, and in the end it came off with lots of spirit, participation of family and friends, and love.

Doing weddings for friends is lovely, and stressful, and really exciting! From the beginning, I knew exactly what I wanted to say about both of my friends, and about their relationship. I was able to work in references to their favorite nerdy things  (in a moment of beautiful serendipity, I added a reference to xckd to my opening remarks, which perfectly matched the groom and groomsmen’s ties). I was able to craft something that felt like my two wonderful friends, and also like me, and it was a beautiful fit for all of us. Of course, with friends there is the added pressure to make sure that everything is good, because otherwise you have to see them socially, and well.

This weekend really reminded me of what a privilege it is to train for this line of work. I have the opportunity to be with people in their most emotional moments, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and I get to shepherd them through that. And that is a true blessing.

And now, a picture of me looking all rabbinic and such:

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July 10, 2013

Some thoughts from Camp

Filed under: Choosing Life, Jewish Communitty — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 9:49 am

There were finals, which ate my soul, and then I packed everything away into my car and went to New Hampshire. This summer, I am the head of Jewish Life and Learning (otherwise known as the “culture lady)” for an independent Jewish summer camp outside of Boston. And I have not had a moment to catch my breath until today. I’m at my day off, writing at a local Dunkin’ Donuts, and I LOVE my job.

The thing that is great about camp is that your curriculum MUST be creative, hands on, and practical, or it will not fly. We are building tower-and- fence settlements, and doing scavenger hunts, and tie-dyeing talitot. We are talking about speech ethics, and BDS (boycott, divest, sanction), and the importance of being a Jewish leader. I’m leading services, and helping the kids to lead services. And, more often than not, the kids seem to be enjoying themselves. They are talking to their counselors about the things that we do in class. That is huge.

It’s also my first time managing a staff. I have some really great counselors who are coming at our projects with a lot of enthusiasm and great ideas. I’m really blessed to have them, and I feel oddly protective of them and their growth as grownups and as teachers. I just really really really want them to be able to do a good job, and it’s weird not only being responsible for my own job performance, but for making sure that they are doing the best job possible as well.

Camp is strange, because it is simultaneously so transient and so stable. The counselors move in and out of the system as they age. It is very strange, at 25, to be considered one of the “old ladies” on staff and to have most of your colleagues be 18 and 19 years old. At the same time, these counselors are already veterans of the system; most of them have been at camp for eight, nine, ten years and they have so much to teach me about the way that camp operates. And into that deep commitment to camp tradition, I am trying to inject my own ideas, innovations, and trying to keep integrity to Jewish tradition and proper Jewish pedagogy as I see it. It’s a delicate balancing act!

Camp is also really really constant, just all the time. When I’m not teaching, I’m prepping, tutoring Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, helping that week’s Torah readers with their reading, planning an evening program (now I’m working on Tisha B’Av) and just trying to keep up with all of the different life and ritual pieces to infuse the life of this camp with Judaism. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve been fortunate that my co-workers have been so willing to help out.

And the kids. Oh my god, the kids. I wish I could post pictures of them and their fabulous (obviously I can’t because confidentiality) but the kids are awesome. They are excited and eager to learn and to ask me questions, which is just so gratifying. And it’s really cool seeing the older kids (who are 14 and 15) start to understand what it means to be Jewish leaders within camp. It’s such an important lesson for them to learn, and I’m so impressed with how seriously they take it. Plus they are just so GOOFY. It’s a delight watching kids being utter goofballs.

I think the structure and the busyness are actually really good for me. I’d been sinking into ennui and anxiety at the end of the finals period, because there just seemed like an overwhelming amount of STUFF to do. But what camp is teaching me is that I can get an absurd amount of stuff done, and make it work, even if things are not perfect, even if not every project comes off exactly right. The show goes on because it must, and I just have to throw myself into the process and hope for the best. And that even if my efforts fall short of my expectations, they can still produce amazing results. That is really powerful.

March 31, 2013

Out of Egypt

Filed under: Choosing Life, Jewish Communitty — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:48 pm

In our culture there are two quite distinct ways of defining oneself as a Jew. One way is primarily ethnic and secular and arises from the experience of being “other,” of not being Christian in Christian America… But the second sense of Jewishness arises from an attachment to Jewish religious traditions, including lighting the Sabbath candles, celebrating the Passover seder, and singing Hebrew songs.

The Educating Synagogue, Joseph Reimer

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.

Exodus 12:37-38

This year was my first year hosting my family’s Passover seder (after many years of leading the seder at my parents house). Because my family is what it is, this year there were more non-Jews than Jews around the table. My mother, my cousin’s wife (who is the daughter of a pastor), my Presbyterian grandparents, my Wiccan roommate, my sister’s Presbyterian boyfriend, and my atheist former-Christian friend all joined the Jews  in making the journey out of Egypt. And today, I am going over to my grandmother’s house with my Jewish dad and sister to help her celebrate the resurrection of Christ with ham and lox and bagels. Welcome to my family!

In large part, I owe my faith to my grandparents. They are the only religious people in my family, they introduced me to scripture and houses of worship at a young age, and they have supported my journey into faith. Granted, my faith is not their faith, but we are family, and I recognize that part of family is things turning out well, but not exactly how you planned.

Intermarriage has been in the news a lot this year (and every year; it’s a contentious issue) but what the naysayers seem to miss is that the ship has already sailed. My family is what Jewish families look like. And it’s not just a matter of praying that somehow the children of these families make it through with a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah and maybe some Jewish summer camp. It’s about the multiplicity of our lives now. We have non-Jewish friends. We have non-Jewish family. And if we reach out to them and make them a part of our celebrations, we are that much stronger as Jews for having to explain our faith and our customs to those whom we love.

The trick is making sure that we, as people, know enough and have enough passion to be able to explain competently. It is not enough in this world to say that Judaism is doing what your parents and grandparents did, without meaning, without understanding, because what if your grandparents did exactly none of it? No, we must actively embrace Judaism, and build memories for ourselves and our children, and seek out the beauty of our tradition, because there is no easy path any more. We must find the path ourselves.

My cousins have a two year old daughter, who is just getting old enough to start to understand things a little bit. This year, I handed her the egg on the seder plate and she tried to crack it on the table. She laughed at the singing. She and her mom hid the afikomen, and then opened the door for Elijah. I think she had fun, although it’s hard to tell sometimes with two-year-olds. She’s the next generation in our complicated family, and I wish nothing for her but love and an understanding of the stories of all of her people.

March 7, 2013

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:10 pm

The beauty and fragility of family narrated by a brilliant kid. I see great things in store for him…

March 4, 2013

Amanda Palmer’s TED talk

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:36 pm

The Jewish community has a lot to learn from Amanda Palmer.

Lipstick and Pearls and Tefillin, How to Navigate Frumness and Femme

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:41 pm

Recently, I read this article written by a future Orthodox rabbi struggling with messages about her gender presentation within her religious community. I find these sorts of articles talking about the ambivalence that is so often paired with religion frustrating on a number of levels. These sorts of conversations offend me as a feminist, because I believe in every person’s fundamental right to live in their bodies without shame. But I also struggle with articles like these as a liberal Jew, because in certain ways we are not doing much better for our Jewish leadership.

The issue is one of degree rather than of kind. While I have classmates who wear miniskirts, I struggle strongly with a feeling that certain clothes (that I used to wear to work in my office job, mind you) are “not appropriate” for my clergy work, not because they are revealing, but because they are feminine. I tend to cultivate a certain degree of severity in my professional appearance these days, because I have absorbed the message that rabbis should not exude any hint of sex appeal, especially the female ones. An important part of this is that I mostly supporting myself through teaching, and I feel doubly pressured to dress frumpy in front of my students and their parents. While my choice of professional clothing was never anything but scrupulously modest, it was often selected expressly to show pride in my body and my femininity. My favorite business casual clothes are a-line or poofy dresses and pencil skirts. I feel drab in slacks. And I never wear red lipstick to teach (although I wear it to go out or just to show up for hanging out with my friends).

On the other hand, sometimes I feel as though I intentionally need to be drab. We rabbinical students are encouraged to live up to a high level of professionalism in our relationships with our students, co-workers, and congregants. This includes a clause that encourages us to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” And in our society, what bears more of the “appearance of impropriety” than a woman who is attractively and femininely dressed? You need only listen to victim-blaming comments about the length of this or that girl’s skirt to know that American society still buys into the idea of women, especially attractively dressed women, as public property, who dress to advertise availability rather than to make themselves happy. And I know that the Jewish community is none so enlightened that it is entirely free of broader American prejudices.

And now the question for my fellow femme classmates who do feel comfortable wearing more explicitly femme clothes at work: how do you rock that shit with pride and confidence? I have a red dress that I’d like to break out sometime in the near future.

February 17, 2013

Having it all, Doing it all

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School — marleyweiner @ 6:29 am

The challenge of being in an environment that I truly love is I want to FIX everything. If I am indifferent or dispassionate, I am able to let the system alone and take it for what it is. This is not true of the things I am passionate about. I want everyone to love everything that I love as much as I love it. I love it, so if you don’t love it, there must be something I can do to make you see how great it is! (I never said my logic was SOUND, people) Since everything is flawed, there is always something that could change, that could make the system work better. And my greatest love is Judaism, and so my greatest frustrations lie in the flaws of the Jewish community.

I think part of the reason that I’ve gone a bit off the deep end in terms of wanting to take on everything so far this year is this feeling that if I know everything, I will be able to bring the best of everything to the table at all times, and that will mean that everything will be flawless and I will be able to create meaningful Jewish experiences that speak to everyone that I come in contact with. If I don’t know that it exists, how will I be able to incorporate it into my future rabbinate? And when it comes to learning, there is such a large gap between what most Jews know and the corpus of things to learn. And the things to learn are all fascinating! The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know, and the more desperately I try to cram new knowledge and new experience into my head.

And here’s where I have to acknowledge that life may be beating me up through the very systems that I am trying to reform. I can bring the best lesson plans in the world, but if I have a student who is having a terrible day, they may just not learn. I may prepare an amazing service, only to have nobody show up on account of impending bad weather. There is no such thing as doing the job so well that it works perfectly all the time.

But I need to balance that with the knowledge that there ARE so many barriers standing in the way of Jewish community and identity building for so many Jews. It’s a question of soft power; how do we provide the tools that people need to find Judaism and giving them ownership of that process without feeling responsible for every step of the way? I’m really not sure how to answer that question, and I have a feeling that I’m going to spend a LOT of time over the next five years figuring it out.

January 21, 2013

New President, Same as the Old President!

Filed under: Choosing Life, Social Justice — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 9:54 pm

Barack Obama speaks so movingly and compellingly about the triumph and dignity of properly compensated, just, and meaningful labor. It’s a beautiful thing.

… I also want to take a public speaking class from him. That man is CAPTIVATING.

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