Archive | October, 2010

Help me get money

Remember that time when I said rich people should give me money so I can continue my Jewish education.

It turns out that anyone, regardless of how much money they have, can help me out with this. I applied for a blogging scholarship. Yes, it seems there are people who will give me a big pile of money just because I blog.

So if you like my blogging here, you can vote for me and help get me some dough by clicking here to vote for me.

UPDATE: Here is the essay I wrote for the contest:

I am David A.M. Wilensky and I have a bizarrely specific passion. I am obsessed with Jewish liturgy. For reasons still not entirely clear to me, on September 20 of this year, I had 507 page views. That’s a new record for me.

My blog is called The Reform Shuckle. To Jews, the name is an incongruous blend of the liberal (Reform Judaism) and the traditional (shuckling is the rhythmic rocking back and forth that some more conservatively observant Jews do while they pray). This combination is exactly what I wanted to evoke. I blog almost entirely about Jewish liturgy and ritual from a Reform/liberal/progressive perspective, but I often arrive at what many would call “Orthodox” conclusions.

I’d be hard-pressed to pin down the most inspiring blog post I’ve ever read, but a series of posts by Ben Dreyfus of springs to mind. The series, Hilchot Pluralism is a description of guidelines developed for use in pluralistic Jewish settings where many styles of observance need to be recognized and accomodated. The content is amazing on its own, but what’s more compelling is that his guidelines have been adopted or referenced for years now by upstart pluralist Jewish organizations.

With Dreyfus’ as the perfect example, Jewish blogging has led to a diversity and a creativity of opinion that’s wholly new to the Jewish community. 50 years ago, his guidelines would never have been as widely read unless they had been written by a rabbi. But Ben is just a lone blogger.

My blogging has brought me enough attention that I’m now a contributor to, one of the oldest and most well read Jewish blogs. I’m now being paid to write a book by a publisher I met through blogging. I’m also a paid editor/writer/blogger at New Voices Magazine.

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Invest in me

Crossposted to New Voices and Jewschool.

I have a friend, X.  X college graduate. X wants to do a variety of Jewish learning and then go to a rabbinical school. X also has what basically amounts to no money.

X also works for a Jewish non-profit that has a wealthy executive director.

We were just chatting and I asked if X minded telling me how X plans on paying for X’s education. After first saying, “A lot of prayer,” X told me about a few options and then said…

…that X is hoping the rich executive director, who likes X a lot, will be willing to invest in X.

Which got me thinking. Rich Jews should invest in young, not rich Jews.

We have Jewish start-up organization investment stuff going. But we don’t have individuals investing in individuals.

Bikkurim is an organization that invests in organizations. Joshua Venture is an organization that invests in individuals who have specific projects that they’re already working on (I think).

But I think rich Jews should just invest in young Jews who need more money to get more education so they can be better at stuff. Or something.

I’m kind of kidding. Kind of. But also, if you wanna invest in me, that would be cool.

Or you could invest in X. If you want me to set you up with X, I can do that too.

Think about it.

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Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week. (And yes, Larry, I’ve also been thinking about your admonishments about creating vs. criticizing).

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

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A new record

On Monday, Sept. 30, The Reform Shuckle had 507 page views. Not only that, but the discussions we’ve been having in the comments lately are at the best they’ve ever been.

Thanks for reading, everybody!

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If my pen is offensive, I’m gonna need some kind of warning.

Crossposted to Jewschool

If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made. Please?

Last year, I spent all of Yom Kipur and the morning of Simchat Torah at Kehilat Hadar. I did a repeat performance this year, adding several hours at Bnai Jeshurun on the night of Simchat Torah.

On Yom Kipur this year, a gabai told me to stop writing in the margin of my machzor at Hadar. When all is said and done, it was frustrating, but not out of line. Hadar uses no amplification or anything on yom tov. It’s a community that defines its communal spaces as shomer shabbat. So I stopped writing.

But BJ is a whole other story. I have a whole list of regular complaints about BJ (it’s a meat market, etc), but Simchat Torah had me more miffed than usual. I’m often told that on the evening of Simchat Torah, BJ is the place to be. So I went.

Far beyond my usual complaints, it was a night club, complete with Israeli bouncers at all entrances and exits. The only thing to distinguish the gyrating mass of Jews from night club was the sprinkling of people dancing with sifrei Torah.

For me, events like this are a spectator sport. I felt most comfortable when the dancing was over and the Torah reading began. During the dancing hakafot, I stood off to the side, sporadically annotating my siddur and chatting with the many friends I was running into. It all reminded me a lot of summer camp. I was always that kid standing off to the side during Israeli dancing, grotesquely fascinated, but utterly unwilling to join in.

Amid all of this, there’s a piano playing, rabbis are singing loudly into microphones. Everything sounds beautiful.

Except for one thing. Four of five times during each half-hour dance hakafah, one rabbi or another would shout over the music into the microphone, “No pictures, please!” People were indeed taking pictures–with flash!–of the rotating clod of Jews. To me, far more distracting than the odd flash here and there were the announcements admonishing us all to stop taking pictures.

But I can understand it. The flashes distract. One person I chatted with said the flashes were more distracting to her than the announcements. Fine. The microphones enhanced the dancing worship, while the flashes detract. I get it.

But more than anything else, I was amused by the notion of shouting into a microphone to tell people not to take pictures. There’s something halachically hilarious about it.

And then some rather officious woman in fanny pack decided that my note-taking was a problem and told me to stop.

So now we come back to my original point: If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made.

If there will be amplification, mixed dancing, totally nonreligious Jewish high school students, at least two well-known Orthodox rabbis (that I spotted), admonishments over the mics not to take pictures, My Number One Fan, a handful of Jewschoolers (hey guys!), etc., there’s no way to know what’s appropriate.

In a Conservative shul, in a Reform shul, in and Orthodox shul it is, with the occasional exception, pretty easy for someone as ritually literate as I am to know what it’s acceptable to do and not do.

So, fanny pack lady, despite the look of disgust on your face, it was perfectly non-obvious that what I was doing was wrong in any way.

If I can’t write in your shul, please have a sign made to go along with your no cell phones sign. How else is anyone to know what is appropriate? (Or, dare I say, allowed?)

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