You Shall Pursue

April 8, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 12:30 pm

As a music nerd and a Jew nerd, discovering these beautiful pieces of music here was really a treat!

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March 12, 2014

Dear B’nei Mitzvah

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 1:30 pm

When I first started this work, I was tremendously excited to work with people of all ages, except one. The thought of working with young teens, children between the age of 11 and 14, filled me with a sort of all-encompassing dread. And so, of course, I have spent a lot of my career so far hanging out with 7th and 8th graders. And, after two years of teaching Hebrew High School and interacting with this age group, I’m starting to realize that they are, far and away, my favorites.

Let me explain with a story. There was a particular young man (whose name will go unmentioned) who was a particularly difficult kid last year. He liked to talk, and specifically to try to take the class off on irrelevant tangents. He tried my patience. But underneath all of the frustration, he was fundamentally a good kid, just one who was going through that stage that teenagers go through. This year, I went back to visit that group of students, and he and I got to talking, specifically about his behavior the year before. I remarked, laughing, that I’d told him to be quiet so many times that last year. And he laughed back, and said “Yeah, I probably deserved it.” It was beautiful, this moment of growth, of clarity, of teshuvah, such that we could connect as two human beings rather than as teacher and student. Suddenly, I had the good person standing before me that I had seen all along.

And that is what I love about this age. Teenagers, both for good and for incredibly frustrating, are growing at the speed of light. They have so many feelings, that it kind of overwhelms them (and those who know them) all at once. Within each individual kid, there are moments of profound wisdom, worldliness, and naiveté. Dealing with teenagers is like dealing with the human condition condensed into its purest form.

I have the privilege to hang out with a lot of B’nei Mitzvah students this year, and to talk Torah with them. And their insights never cease to amaze me. They ask questions I’d never think to ask, offer interpretations that I’d never considered. They move quickly between child and adult selves, and I want to tell them that this time is so important for their growth into a moral actor, into the kind of good human being that I know they have the potential to become. So we talk about Jewish values, and I try to get them to think, and ask questions, and develop some comfort in their own intellectual instincts. And they keep teaching me about humility, and relationship building.

November 10, 2013

Why I am Still a Patrilineal Jew

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 1:26 pm

So I have been doing some reading in the past few days. I read these few articles, and I feel the need to speak.

I have been asked hundreds of times by dozens of people why I haven’t done mikveh yet. In fact, my parents asked me last night why I haven’t done it, and if I am afraid that my current halakhic status is going to hurt my career. And there are many reasons why, as of right now (although that could change) that I won’t do mikveh. Not least is a case of intractable stubbornness. But for me, the most important thing is my fellow Jews. I want to serve people who are like me. And I think the best way to do that is as a Jew with a questionable status.

I talk about my status a lot in my rabbinate. And some of that means talking about the times that I have been excluded or shut out. I try to explain to my students and other Jews that I serve what it means practically to walk through life as a patrilineal Jew. I agree with the authors of the above articles that it is very important for patrilineal Jews to understand what different movements have to say about their status, and what that will mean for them as they navigate the Jewish landscape. Because everyone has the right to a fully informed decision

But I also tell them about the sense of solidarity and pride I feel with the Jewish people, and how wonderful it has been learning more about my faith, and how my (Presbyterian) grandparents and my non-Jewish mother have been such an important part of that journey. About how my life has been indelibly shaped by both halves of my family. And about how they should feel nothing but pride in coming from their origins. There is nothing shameful or less than about who they are because of where they come from. That the path is hard, and that there are many ways of walking it (including Beit Din!) but that they should make that choice out of the courage of their convictions, and not because of outside pressure.

The Jewish community is in a period of rapid change, and change is scary. And I am not sure what we will look like in twenty years. But I do know that there will be more and more Jews from interfaith families, many more patrilineal Jews, serving as rabbis, and synagogue presidents, and Jewish educators. I am doing my utmost to approach the future with a sense of possibility, firm in my convictions. And if that means that I ruffle some feathers, I am at peace with that, because I am advocating for my vision of a Jewish future. And that Jewish future has a place at the table for me, and for others like me.

September 13, 2013

Life Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 10:37 am

So! I got back from camp August 18, spent two weeks nursing a bug, and then rushed right into the High Holidays. I am working this year at a synagogue in New Jersey doing a little bit of everything: preaching, teaching adults, teaching kids, visiting elders, sitting in committee meetings. I look at the work load, and I simultaneously get really really excited and really really terrified. It’s everything that I want to do professionally, and it’s going to be a LOT of work.

That plus my rabbinic year classes. I get to hang out with Talmud and Midrash all the time, which is once again exciting and terrifying. I have a deep and turbulent love affair with Midrash (she doesn’t like me with her difficult language sometimes, but we make it work). And I have a fascination with Talmud. Once again, lots of work for an amazing payoff.

I’ll be putting my Rosh Hashanah sermon and Yom Kippur D’var up here, so that you can read and tell me what you think. I’m pretty proud of both.

July 13, 2013

On Trayvon Martin

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 9:34 pm

Prayers for the Martin family, the sort of prayers that the prophets prayed, with their hands, and their voices, and their feet, and their anger. The sorts of prayers that raise up justice like mighty streams. In these moments it is not enough to reach out to people suffering. It is not enough to cry for them. Weeping does not bring back our dead children. We must change the paradigm, and change it well, so that more of our children do not die. How do we do that? We do it through action, through voices raised, through voting, and protesting, and crying out.

It is not enough to pray with our voices. We must pray with our feet.

April 22, 2013

Hunger Striking at Guantanamo Bay

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 11:36 am

Hunger Striking at Guantanamo Bay

How terrifying and awful. I’m really not sure what else to say about it.

April 17, 2013

By the way, that post I wrote for Jewish Eyes on the Arts

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 12:30 pm

It won first place! You can read it here. Many thanks to Jonah Rank for publishing my thoughts about pop culture and Passover.

April 16, 2013

In Which I am Scared, and Sad

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:16 pm

So it’s another day, and I am still angry, and I am scared. I am scared because I saw what happened to this country after 9/11. I was just old enough to have some sense of the world, and then things changed here, and for the worst. And I am terrified, terrified, that something similar is going to happen again.

I don’t want to live in a country where domestic terrorism is dismissed as “mental illness” and we run with open arms toward jingoistic chauvinism at the slightest provocation. I am tired of my elected representatives favoring party rhetoric over meaningful change that will make the lives of the poor and disempowered better. I am so, so very tired of knowing, knowing that there are so many people who agree with me, who want peace and economic equality and dignity of work for everyone, and yet our economy is still shit and we are still killing each other. I am tired of violence, tired of hatred, tired of fear.

The voices of those acting out of anger and pain seem so very very loud. We call out for peace, and our voices are dwarfed by those who advocate for war, for violence, for destruction, for bloodshed. There is so much beauty in hands reaching out to hands, and yet so very little seems to change, to get better. When will the voice of love rise up and drown out the voice of hate?

April 15, 2013

Doer of Good and Creator of Evil

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — marleyweiner @ 11:24 pm

For the second time since I have started rabbinical school, the news is buzzing with some horrifying evil. Last time I found myself scared and sad. This time, I’m feeling pissed.

How dare the evil people of this world keep blowing away innocents? How dare they? I was speaking to a good friend today, and she is a runner, and now she is freaking out at the idea of doing this thing that she loves, because someone had to go and blow it up. And several months ago, I had to go through aching sadness every time I looked at my pupils because someone decided it would be a good idea to go and murder some kids. 

We were given this incredible capacity, as social animals. We are bonded to each other, we seek each other out for comfort and love. And we have great capacity for love. This beautiful piece by s.e. smith shows the power of our capacity for love and supporting one another in times of crisis. And that is a truly miraculous thing.

But our power to love each other gives us also the power to wound tremendously, the power to produce twisted, stunted, evil people who think that it is acceptable to hurt other people to deal with their own darkness, their own anger, their own vicious sick brokenness. I don’t claim to know what would drive someone to cause this sort of destruction. But this is a real a piece of the human condition as our capacity for love. And that is fucking enraging.

Why, oh Creator of the Universe, did you create us so imperfect? What was your plan, in making us so ready and willing to hurt each other?

April 2, 2013

Steubenville, Justice, and Mercy

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 12:30 pm

So, Steubenville; I’ve been meaning to write about it for a long long time, and get my thoughts in order. Basically, it’s children taught that they are gods and can do no wrong, and then behaving in the worst ways imaginable. How disgusting and disturbing that they should feel entitled to act this way.

When it comes to the theology of this case, I think that my friend Jordan has really good things to say on the subject. My favorite part is this:

Americans, especially those fond of holding forth on “personal responsibility,” love to give lip service to this idea—action and reaction, cause and effect, and so on. But when news reporters lament that two high-schoolers’ lives and career prospects have been ruined because they will henceforth be registered as sex offenders wherever they go, it reveals how inconsistently people actually believe it. Mays and Richmond will be labeled as sex offenders because they are sex offenders. That they are remorseful after the fact (that is, if they regret anything besides getting caught) is a nice thing to know, but it shouldn’t suddenly tempt us to let them off the hook morally, legally, or otherwise.

Of course, keeping our hearts hardened like this is easier said than done. For most Americans, trained in the Christian ethic of guilt and redemption, turning rape into the opening act of a morality play is far more emotionally uplifting than treating it as a crime to be paid for. But that’s another, more stereotypical thing about being raised Jewish: I tend to strongly distrust anything that’s too emotionally uplifting. There are times when this makes me seem cynical and misanthropic, but in situations like the one in Steubenville I believe people are well served by this sort of skepticism. Otherwise we succumb to the message, in effect, that we ought to feel sorry for Mays and Richmond because they feel sorry for themselves. And can they repent and be saved? The majority of Americans may think so. It’s not indecent to hope that one day, they turn their lives around and come to terms with what they’ve done. But when we think of sin this way, we make it abstract. That they might be redeemed one day in the future isn’t a comfort to me, and it probably isn’t a comfort to their victim either.

The piece that I would like to add to this is that in Judaism, the virtue of justice is balanced by the virtue of cheesed, which you can translate as love, or mercy. Not that we should let the rapists off the hook, nor that we should raise up their remorse over and above the suffering of their victim. But we should recognize that they are human beings who perpetrated this terrible act, human beings who were told over and over that they were above consequences, and that women and girls were objects for their use. They were taught to dehumanize other people, and their arrogance and sense of entitlement led them to brutalize another human being. And if they were taught this, we can teach others differently.

But if we remember that they are humans behaving badly, we can start to shift one of the most insidious myths of our rape culture; that rapists are some sorts of inhuman monsters and that ordinary, normal men would never do such a thing. However, rapists are people who rape, nothing more, nothing less. And people learn from their environment. They learn that rape is acceptable, or that treating others as less than human is okay.

As we work to dismantle rape culture one bit at a time, we decrease, bit by bit, the number of people who think that ignoring boundaries is okay. We raise the possibility that victims will find justice, that people will treat each other with respect, that sex becomes a loving and caring activity rather than a source of trauma for so many.

This is the lesson of Steubenville. We must do better for all of our children. We must teach them to love each other, respect each other’s boundaries, and be good to one another. We must start when they are very young, and continue until they are no longer in our care. It’s the only way that we can prevent things like this from happening.

A good start:

 

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