Archive | January, 2007

THE DONKEY SAYS: Coming of age has never been so mundane

10 Shvat, 5767

I think I may have come of age earlier this evening. My status as a Bar Mitzvah, a Confirmand, and a person who has spent four months abroad, did not count when it came to a Temple board meeting ths evening. As the issue upon which I shall speak here was personnel-related so details will not be present here. The focus is, with most things in this world, me. ;)

(I wish I had not put that smily there, but this is set in stone, right?)

The issue involved a known individual and an unknown. My sense of how I would vote changed at least five times during the meeting, during which I spoke on a number of occasions. I am opinionated, decisive, and quick to judge. I came into the meeting knowing how I wanted to vote.

By the time the question was called, I was so uncertain that I asked that we take a five minute break for everyone to not discuss this. At the end of the five minutes we reconvened and I, physically knotted in my gut (which was telling me nothing) had to vote. The decision hurt me and matured me at the same time.

This is the first time in any of my various capacities as a member of various committees and boards voted without being confident in my decision. My gut is still twisting over this. I feel increasingly like life and my life at Temple in particular is the relelvant to the future. Meanwhile, I find it hard to get anything done at school or homework done for school because it all seems like irrelevant bullshit.

And so, in our modern American world with little wonder left in it, in a board meeting lacking any fire brimstone, or wilderness, a seventeen-year-old Jew came of age because of a personnel decision.

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THE DONKEY SAYS: Chaned my name.

9 Shvat, 5767

I changed the name. Again. My apologies. I just like this better. It may actually be a more recognizable reference too!

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Bein David L’Tony

Shevat 8, 5767

On Thursday I took the bus from school down to Guadalupe and 38th, then walked to my now weekly Talmud study session with Rabbi Sternman. One of the things one learns when riding the bus frequently in Austin is how to converse with sketchy characters who are often not here on Planet Earth in the same way most people are. Not of your own free will, of course. They just start talking to you.

On Thursday an odd fellow wearing a bright blue blazer, khaki corduroy pants, a Hawaiian shirt on top of a tie-dye shirt, and a peach bandana got on the bus. He looked to be an older fellow. He had sparse read hair and ruddy, bulbous nose. His face bore a look on contentment. He sat down not next to me, but near enough to me to talk to me. I was wearing a shirt which said Israel on it in English.

The man took his time reading the words and then spoke. His words were unclear. The teeth that he still had were little nubs and his palette seemed flawed in some way. He said quite a bit more than what I will type here because I do not know what most of what he said was. When he was done reading he asked “Have you been to Israel?” I said, “Yes, I have.” He shouted with glee and clapped a couple of times. “When? For how long?” “I was there for four months and I just got back earlier this month,” I told him. Again, glee and clapping.

There was then an extended exchange which I bullshitted my way through concerning how the energy in the air is different there. I figured he was just some religious nut. It became clear shortly that he knew a bit more about Israel then the average fellow of his appearance. “Were Saturday nice there?” “Yes?” I was puzzled at the question, then realized he was referring to Shabbat observance in particular. “Yes! Because they do Shabbat there!” Again, clapping with joy.

Then he threw me for a loop. “Did you say the Shema?” His voice, as usual, was unclear. I was not sure I had heard correctly. “The what?” “You know,” he said, “The Shema! Shema! Yisrael! Adonai! Eloheinu!” Et cetera. He sang the entire thing write there on the bus. I was puzzled. “How do you know that,” I asked. “Are you Jewish?” He then proudly pulled out his tallit bag and announced loudly, “I’M MESSIANIC!” My bus stop approached mercifully. As I departed the bus, he quickly gave me directions to Mishkan Elohim, our local Jews for Jesus outfit.

If the story ended there, it would be odd enough. Yesterday I was hanging out with my buddy Solomon. Solomon made a reference to his days in “the Cult.” Solomon, a real Jew now, had been a member of Jews for Jesus earlier in life and fondly refers to it as “the Cult.” I then decided to tell Solomon about my encounter on the bus. I began to describe the clothing the man wore. Solomon broke in, “Were his teeth mostly not there?” “Yes!” “Did he have red hair?” “Yes!” “Yeah,” Solomon told me, “That’s Tony. My Mom and I used to know him in our days with ‘the Cult.’ He gave us a chicken once.” I didn’t bother asking.

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Some Dumbass With A Pencil And Two Ounces Of Brave In Him

Shvat 4, 5767

In the time between when I went to Israel and when I came back, one of the boys’ bathrooms in particular has become far more, shall we say, decorated. In my second period study hall today I was discussing this fact with Mrs. C, the study hall teacher, G, a tenth grade student, and a few others. L, a squirmy, awkward, easily disliked freshman noodled about ovnoxiously in the back ground. The topic of discussion being my crusade of copy-editing the defacements in the bathroom.

G went to the bathroom to survey the current state of affairs. As he was coming back, L announced to what seemed to be no one in particular that there was something new on the wall for “You.” Shortly, I would find that “You” was in tended to be me. G says, “Oh yeah! There’s one of those Nazi symbols on the wall!”

I stood up immediately and went to the bathroom without asking permission of Mrs. C. When I got to the bathroom, I could not find the Swastika! I surveyed all the stall doors and walls and finally found a tiny Swastika in pencil next a urinal. It was no more than four or five inches across. I took a paper towel with some water and handsoap and caused the Swastika to disappear.

To L’s dissapointment, I returned to study hall after no more than five or six minutes and announced, “Boy, if that thing hadn’t been removable with handsoap, we mighta had a real incident here!”

A year ago I would have flipped at this. Now, I am just not interested in making myself a victim in a situation in which no real anti-Jewishness was at work. This was just some dumbass with a pencil and not enough brave in him to do anything interesting.

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Here We Go Again!

Shvat 3rd, 5767

MY RETURN TO THE BLOGOSPHERE
Unless you are brand new to here, you may have noticed me rather proglonged absence from the blogosphere. You may also have noticed that I have given the blog a facelift and renamed it. (Anyone wanna tell me how to put the title in actual Hebrew, by the way?) I have also left up most of the posts from the Live from Israel version of this blog for posterity’s sake. Point being, I, as usual, find myself full of things that need saying. So here I am online again and attempting to do just that.

MY RETURN AUSTIN
To answer your questions, if you have not already been able to ask me:
-Yes, I had a good time.
-Yes, it was amazing.
-No, I am nowhere near fluent in Hebrew.
-The thing that I most enjoyed was the people I was with.
-The thing that most suprised me was how much I like davening all in Hebrew.
-Yes, I have a girlfriend. (For those of you that did not ask me that upon my return, you might be surprised by how many did.)
-Yes, going to back to regular school is hard. Traumatic, really.
-Yes, I know where I am going to school. Drew University has accepted me and offered me an obscene scholarship.
-Yes, it is terrible what is happening with the Israeli government.

School is strange. Life feels like purgatory. I have a sense now that I am waiting in a train station for the last train to the rest of life. I know what I am want to do and why and what I want to do next and yet, here I am, still in high school.

NFTY-TOR WINTER CONCLAVE
I returned Sunday from the North-American Federation of Temple Youth-Texas Oklahoma Region Winter Conclave. My report follows in a few different sections, each one containing some connections to larger issues.

“ONE FISH, TWO FISH, RED FISH, JEW FISH.” “WHAT?”

The theme of the event was “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Jew Fish.” Cute. The problem is that I am left wondering why. A good theme should start with an actual theme. This was slice of pop culture with a joke thrown in. The attempts to drag programming on being Jewish out of this theme fell largely flat.

The Lorax was a fine avenue for exploring Jewish environmentalism. The flaw was that the connection made between Judaism was through the fact that Dr. Seuss was Jewish and therefore the Lorax is clearly an allegory for Moses. Everyone whip out your copies (or internet synopses) of the Lorax and you tell me. I frankly, did not see it. However, Judaism does have a long tradition of being one of the few voices crying out for some sort of Justice in the world. That was the direction the program went in.

When my group was asked what issues they would be “Loraxim” for, the list was, shall we say, interesting. In included environmental issues, animal rights, child abuse, more puppies, gay rights, unfair municipally-instituted teen curfews, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur… You will notice that amongst this list there is not one single Jewish issue. There may be opinions on these issues informed by Judaism involved, but I fail to find a real Jewish issue. I suggested adding assimilation, Jewish literacy in America, and the crisis Israel is in via Iran. Added though they were, these issues did not seem interesting to my group, which wanted to talk about puppies and Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur… I am all for helping to protect other people from injustices that befell the Jewish people in the past. There is a genocide in progress in Darfur and there was a genoside perpetrated against our people in the 20th century. We can look out for other people and feel great about it and we should because it is one of our ehtical obligations. “Welcome the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt” and all that jazz. But, and this is one big but, we can not look out for others at the expense of ourselves. There is a man in Iran who wants to wipe the State of Israel off the map! With nuclear bombs! For real! And here is the worldwide Jewish with out heads in the sand and our hands over our ears yelling “La la la la la I can’t hear you!” and it is not a nigun! So maybe we could deal with this issue a bit more and then worry about the kids with flies on their faces in Darfur!

Are you mad yet? Mad at me for being flippant about the fly-face kids in Darfur? Fine.

“SERVICES ARE SERVICES! NOT A CREATIVE WRITING PROJECT!”

No offense disclaimer: For themed services, these were alright. This is less a criticism of these services and more a criticism of themed services, using those from this weekend as an example.

A service is, by and large, a service. We have one for every occasion in Judaism. Each variety has its structure and its quirks and the only options ought to be related to melody and ideology. For instance, if you have a great new melody for Ahavat Olam, I am all for giving it a shot. If you have a group of people who do not believe in Moshiach Ben David, you can excise that Hebrew from the Amidah and insert something new on a similar theme.

Here is what happens at NFTY events. There is theme for the weekend, Dr. Seuss, in this case. For some reason, the entire weekend must be permeated with this theme, including the services. Thus, the Amidah (which we did not stand for all of, an entire post in and of itself) recieved a few cuts and a few themed readings written in a Dr. Seussical style were inserted. They called attention to themselves and eclipsed real prayers.

We constantly wonder why there are nor Jews in the pews on Friday night, Saturday morning, or, in the rare and glorious case of my own Temple, Wednesday evening. The answer is that we try and try and try to do new things to get people interested. Why new? Why not try something old for a change? Use Hebrew. It is our language. We’ve lost the archaic beauty or our own supremely archaic practice. If we just do something authentic and real and Jewish, there will be Jews in the pews.

If any of that spoke to you, read Gonzo Judaism by Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein.

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