Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

For WhyMommy

Friday, January 28th, 2011

So, I’m a little behind the gang, but I’ve added the “No Princess Fights Alone”  button to the sidebar, in honor of the incomparable Susan (WhyMommy) of Toddler Planet.  Like many of the the others who posted this, I’ll donate to Crickett’s Answer for each comment on this post, say, by the end of February.  Because even as Susan has learned that her cancer has recurred yet again, she’s busy helping others.

It’s not fair that she has to deal with this.  But I was reminded today of Harlan Ellison’s introduction to Angry Candy, where he quotes Norman Spinrad as saying at his lover’s funeral “There is no justice inherent in the universe… except what we put there.  All the justice that exists, is what we make.  So let us show compassion and sense and courage, in Emily’s name.'”

I’m also thinking of Susan today because it’s the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and I love the passion with which she writes about her work for NASA and blogs about Women in Planetary Science.  I wrote my college admissions essay about coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t actually going to be an astronaut, but I still have the Annie Leibovitz poster of Eileen Collins on my office wall.

a day with no deaths

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.   I can vividly remember walking into the classroom building of my grad school to be met by the television coverage of that eviscerated building.  A quick search of my archives says that I’ve never blogged about it, although I did mention McVeigh in the discussion of who is a terrorist.   I don’t remember the news covering it as much in previous years.  Is it because horrific events get more attention when their anniversaries end in 5 or 0, or because the prospect of home-grown terror seems more likely this year?  Not sure.

And Friday was the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, which still gets a lot of airtime around here, although probably not elsewhere in the country.

I’ve written before that if you go back into history far enough, there’s presumably no date that isn’t soaked in blood.  Fortunately, we do have limited memories and most of the horrors are allowed to fade into obscurity.

I’ve been reading about Lag B’Omer because I agreed to lead a service linked to it.  Lag B’Omer is a truly minor Jewish holiday, the one day break in a 49 day period where otherwise you’re not supposed to get married or get a haircut.  It’s traditionally associated with Rabbi Akiva, and bows and arrows.  Sort of hard for me to get excited about.  But I went to the Velveteen Rabbi, and here’s what she wrote:

Custom has it that no weddings take place during the Counting of the Omer, because of a plague that struck the disciples of Rabbi Akiva during this period. The exception is on Lag B’Omer, when weddings do take place, because on that day during the plague, nobody died.

Jeff explained this on Friday night at services, before we counted the Omer that night. First he joked that only Jews could make a holiday of a day when nobody died. (We laughed.) And then he observed that, in this day and age, when so many of us begin our mornings by turning on the radio or checking news online to see how many casualties the Iraq war has generated overnight, we might find ourselves identifying with the impulse to celebrate such a day. (We weren’t laughing any more.)

Here’s hoping for a day when we turn on the radio, or check our news aggregators, and don’t hear a single thing about Iraq, Israel/Palestine, or anywhere else in the world where conflicts have been brewing — not because the world isn’t paying attention, but because the killing has finally stopped.


Thursday, April 16th, 2009

I've been making a lot of the NY Times Recipes for Health lately.  They're healthy (although not always low-calorie), usually reasonably easy to make and almost always tasty.  This week I made the Royal Quinoa Salad with Tofu and Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette.  I thought it needed more broccoli than the recipe called for, but otherwise it was pretty good.

Tofu isn't kosher for Passover by traditional Ashkenazi standards, because it's made from beans, which are "kitniyot" — not really leaven, but sort of guilty by association.  (Either because you can make bread-like foods out of them, or because they were grown in adjacent fields, not clear.)  A couple of years ago, I decided that worrying about kitniyot wasn't particularly meaningful to me — I won't eat cornbread, but I'm not going to worry about corn syrup, or tofu.

Quinoa's a different issue.  Although it sure looks like a grain, biologically, it's a member of a different family.  More to the point, it's a new world plant, and was totally unknown to the rabbis who wrote the laws about Passover.  So it's kosher for Passover, even for those observe the prohibition on kitniyot.

Passover ended tonight, so we had the traditional pizza for dinner.

Getting ready for Passover

Monday, April 6th, 2009

This year, for the first time in years, I'm neither hosting a seder nor traveling to see my family for Passover.  We're going to a friend's house for the first night, and to the community seder put on by our congregation the second night.  It feels odd.

Over the weekend, I made the raspberry flame version of the Chocolate Oblivion Torte from the Cake Bible, and I just sent my friend a few of my favorite Passover readings.  My all time favorite is probably the sermon that Dr. King gave the night before he was killed.  Some years Passover falls right on the anniversary, but it's appropriate any year.

I also like this bit:

Rabbi Michael Lerner teaches that the story of the departure
from Egypt was more than a single people's liberation from slavery: it was the revelation of
the divine message that the world as it is can be radically, awesomely
transformed for the good. That fundamental change for freedom and justice is
possible — this Pesach, in our all-too-frequent dejection at the state of the
world, let us remember yitziat mitzrayim, the going forth from Egypt, and
remember that if such an event is possible, then hope, not despair, is at the
core of the universe.

In the Torah, it is written that the people of Israel “went
into the sea, upon dry land.” Then, the Midrash tells us, one man, Nachshon by
name, displayed his commitment to freedom by walking into the sea. Only at the
moment when the water reached his neck, when he could go no further on his own,
did the sea part. Only when the Israelites had taken the first steps, trusting
in God, did God intervene to save them. Nachshon's act of faith and courage
opened the way from Egypt to freedom. He enabled us all to be reborn into

Rachel Barenblat has turned Michael Walzer's musings on Exodus and Revolution into verse in her Haggadah.

on the parted shores of history

still believe what we were taught

ever we stood at Sinai’s foot;

wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt

there is a better place, a promised land;

the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness

there is no way to get from here to there

by joining hands, marching


TBR: People of the Book

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

On vacation with my in-laws, I did manage to read a few books for fun. One of them was Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book.  It's fiction, but based on the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a rare illuminated Jewish manuscript, which was protected from the Nazis by a Muslim cleric and also survived the bombings of Sarajevo during the wars of the 1990s.

The title of the book is both a play on the traditional notion that Jews are "the people of the Book" (e.g. the Torah) and a description of the contents, as it follows the stories of the different people who were involved with the creation, use, and protection of the manuscript over the centuries.  Brooks uses the story to highlight stories of multi-cultural friendship in a part of the world known for its ethnic feuds. The story unfolds backwards, with each story tied to a piece of physical evidence found in the Haggadah, and at times reminded me of a highbrow version of a James Michener concept.  But Brooks writes very well, and I enjoyed the story as it unfolded.

By coincidence or serendipity, my in-laws gave me a reproduction of the real Sarajevo Haggadah for the holidays — purchased long before I showed up with the novel.  I certainly appreciated the gift more for knowing the story that went with it.

In writing this review, I remembered that I blogged about another Brooks book, March, a few years back.  I think I liked that one a bit more.

Fimian and abortion

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

I went to the homeowner’s association meeting tonight and, as is their custom, a number of politicians and their representatives were invited to speak.  Connolly and Fimian were both at a previously scheduled event, but they both sent people to speak on their behalf.  Connolly’s representative did a generally solid job, though he went on for too long.  Fimian’s representative was a young man, perhaps 20 years old, who began his speech by admitting that he usually spoke to groups of high school student and this was a step up for him.  It was pretty painful listening to him, as basically the entire pitch was that Fimian’s not a Washington insider and he knows what it’s like to be us.  Since we had just recognized Tom Davis for his years of service to the district, this was perhaps not the best note to hit.

At the question and answer period, one of my neighbors tossed him a bit of a softball, asking about the mailings that she’d been getting about Fimian, and weren’t they just accusing him of being Catholic?  (Note that Connally is also Catholic.)  He responded with a long answer about how they were making these accusations based on links on the Legatus website, even though the webpage includes a disclaimer that they didn’t constitute an endorsement.

Well, this ticked me off, because it sounded to me like Fimian was trying to hide his strong social conservative positions.  So I asked him about the info from Left of the Hill, that Fimian’s company amended its health insurance plan to exclude coverage of abortion, even in cases where the health or life of the mother was at risk.  (I found this via Anonymous is a Woman.)  The speaker had no idea, and so we moved on, but I found myself arguing with my neighbor about how common this is.

When I got home, I started googling, and I found this 2003 Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found that 46 percent of firms that provided health insurance included abortion coverage.  (I checked, and while KFF conducts this survey every year, they seem to have dropped the question about abortion coverage.)  Large employers were far more likely to provide abortion coverage than small ones.  Interestingly, 26% percent of employers did not know whether their insurance plan covered abortion, which makes me think that this is usually a cost-cutting provision rather than an ideological one.

What I can’t tell from this is whether plans that don’t cover abortion generally have life and health of the mother exceptions.  I can’t find this online — anyone have a source?  Or, if your plan doesn’t cover abortion, can you look it up in your benefits handbook?

Talmudic wisdom

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The background for this story is that we went to Simchat Torah services tonight. Since it’s a weeknight and lots of people were coming straight from work, the congregation ordered pizza and we had dinner before services.  And while we were getting ready, the half dozen or so kids in attendance were chasing each other around in circles.

One of the members of the congregation gave me this learning as a gift.  R said that he had been studying a section of talmud with a partner, and that they had worked through a long section about what you should do if you’re praying, and need to use the bathroom.  In particular, the rabbis addressed the question of if you’re wearing tefillin and you need to use the latrine, what should you do with the tefillin.  If you wear them into the latrine, it seems disrespectful, but what if you leave them outside and they’re lost?  The rabbis concluded that it was better to somewhat disrespect the teffilin than risk that they be lost.

So, R said, he and his partner were trying to figure out what lesson they could take from this section of talmud.  And they concluded that maybe the children of the congregation were like the tefillin.  Better that the purity of the ritual be somewhat compromised, than risk that they be lost from the community…

and on Yom Kippur it is sealed

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Annika’s getting a new liver right now.  It’s been a long time since I blogged about her, but I hadn’t forgotten her.

I don’t believe in the kind of God who would decide whether or not to let a little girl make it based on how many people are praying for her.  (And I know Moreena doesn’t believe in God at all.)  But I’m praying for her nonetheless.  I firmly believe that prayer is a positive thing to do, even if no one’s exactly listening.*  If you’re so inclined, you might spare a prayer or two for Annika, her family, and the brave family that donated the liver.

*Earlier this month, I decided that I felt more or less the same way about political canvassing — I’m not sure I changed anyone’s votes, but it made me feel more hopeful about democracy.

Updated: And if you’re looking for something more concrete than prayer, blood donation is always good.


Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

We had a truly delightful Rosh Hashanah.  For the first time, my parents came down to spend it with us, so I was able to both share it with my family, and with my home congregation. 

On Monday, I went to D’s classroom and read them the story of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride (which we discovered from the PJ library) and shared apples and honey with the class.   It was a nice chance to meet his classmates and the teacher. Unlike his old school, I don’t think D’s the only Jewish kid in the whole school, but he’s certainly the only one in his class. 

At services, the rabbi said that today is the birthday of the world, and N asked me how old the world was.  I told him we’d talk about it later, and at dinner we talked about how it was the year 5769 in the Jewish calendar, but that science indicates that the world is a lot older.  Somehow wound up promising the boys that we’d take them to Dinosaur National Monument someday.

It was a gorgeous day, so after services we went down to the beach and did tashlich, naming the bad things that we wanted to get rid of.  For the boys, it was mostly things like hitting and not listening.  I started with things like yelling and not listening, but when T offered up "cynicism" I had to ask for the bag of crumbs back.

Tashlich, 5769



Friday, September 14th, 2007

Tashlich is a ceremony where you symbolically cast your sins (in the form of bread crumbs) into the water so that they can be washed away. 

In looking for something to read at our informal tashlich this evening (the fish thought our sins were very tasty), I found this poem:

Tashlich, poem by Rafael Jesús González


These are the days of awe —

time of inventory

         and a new beginning

when harvest of what we sowed

         comes in.

(What have we sown

         of discord &