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John Propper’s Path to Judaism, Part 2

When my wife’s grandfather immigrated to the U.S., he took the name Propper, a shortening of his birth name. He’d escaped the pogroms, and the future was bright. As an American Jew, he was a respected member of his communities, both religious and secular. He made the most of his great potential. His story resonates with me. After years in an isolated community, I escaped, got an education, fell in love, discovered Judaism, and found a place of my own. The future is bright. I wanted to pass on a name to my children, b’ezrat Hashem [God willing], that reflects that potential. I am honored to share it with him.
John's answer to my question about changing his last name

The second half of my two-part interview with my friend, former colleague and all-around interesting dude John Propper is now up at the Jewish Outreach Institute blog. When he started working for me at New Voices he went by John Wofford. I got into the habit of calling him just “Wofford,” which has made adjusting to his new last name particularly difficult for me. But I love his reason for it! Check out the rest of part 2 over here or go back and catch up on part 1.

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A Rabbinate-Bound Convert’s Story

He comes from a Pentecostal family, went to a Catholic college, converted with a Reform rabbi, changed his last name, married into the interfaith family of a nice Jewish girl—and he’ll be a first-year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in the fall. John is a good friend of mine. Until now, I’ve been learning his story in bits and pieces. So, to get a more complete picture—and believing readers of this blog would find his journey as interesting as I do—I interviewed him about his story so far.
Part one of my two-part interview with John Propper for the Jewish Outreach Institute Blog

Check it out. It’s my second blog post for the Jewish Outreach Institute. This one is the first part of a two-parter so stay tuned for second half.

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Patrilineality & My New Job

My non-Jewish roommates were confused by the idea that I would “convert” to Judaism. “From what?” Brent asked. It was a fair question. Jon seconded: “Yeah, if you’re not Jewish now, what are you?” There was no easy answer. My first attempt at answering them – I launched into a preamble about my half-baked idea of drawing a distinction between “converting” and “undergoing a conversion” – didn’t help much.
My first blog post for the Jewish Outreach Institute

Better late than never, right? I’m finally getting around to pointing y’all toward this now weeks-old blog post, the first of my monthly blog posts for the Jewish Outreach Institute. (As you may recall, I recently started a new job at JOI.) If you’ve read the op-ed I wrote for The Forward about the Conservative conversion I underwent a while back, this post will cover some familiar ground — but from a different perspective and for a different purpose.

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My new job: Program Associate, Jewish Outreach Institute

For a while there I was very anxious about my search for a new job:

  • What should it be?
  • Do I want to stay in journalism?
  • What kind of career do I want?
  • What will the rest of my life look like? Are there any other unnecessarily big questions that will make this an even more stressful time that I’m not already stressing about that I should be stressing about?
  • Etc?

My therapist, however, was too smart for that shit. Her advice, plainly obvious in retrospect, was this: There’s no need to figure out your entire life just yet; for now, all you need is a job you can see yourself doing for a few years. That was several months ago. Looking back, it’s laughable what a stunning revelation that seemed me. As I’m only qualified to work in the Jewish non-profit world, I made a list of Jewish non-profits doing work I believe in, hoping that one or two would have openings I could apply for.

The Jewish Outreach Institute was on the top of my list. As luck would have it, they needed a new Program Associate. I start on Monday!

They do great work, working to make the entire  Jewish community more open, inviting and welcoming to more kinds of Jews. Here are a couple of their (our?) programs I’m most excited about:

  • The Mothers Circle: a series of programs for women from other backgrounds who are raising Jewish children with their Jewish partners. Given my own background, this program really speaks to me.
  • Passover in the Matzah Aisle: More Jews observe Passover in one way or another than any other Jewish holiday. Because it’s mostly observed in the home, none of the barriers to entering a Jewish institution are present. JOI meets them right where they are, setting up in grocery store matzah aisles.

That is all. Carry on.

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Help David A.M. Wilensky Get a Job

After two years, my term as Editor in Chief of New Voices and Executive Director of the Jewish Student Press Service is nearly up. I’m leaving New Voices and JSPS at the end of June to do… something else.

I may stay in journalism, I may move into communications or I may do something entirely new. I’m looking at and applying for a variety of things, all in either the non-profit world or the journalism/internet content world, most in the Jewish non-profit world.

If you know of something you think I could do, let me know!

Thanks, y’all.

UPDATE: I have a new job!

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What the Orthodox think about us… and what we think about them

I work very closely with Simi, a Jew who is very Orthodox (she’s my age and about to get married) and very modern (she associates with Jews of all types and started wearing pants last week).

Right before Rosh Hashanah, she was surprised to discover that there are observant Jews (Reform, etc.) who only do one day of yom tov. And yesterday she turned to me and said, “So I hear Reform Jews do actually fast on Yom Kippur.” I was dumbfounded.

A little while later, she saw an article someone posted on Facebook that had something to do with the Orthodox. A comment on it read, “I am almost always impressed by the trends of thought in Judaism. The only exceptions are anytime I encounter information about the Orthodox.”

Simi turned to me and said, “What is this about? Why do people think this?”

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Welcome, Jewniverse Readers!

If you’ve arrived here because of today’s Jewniverse email, welcome! (If you’ve come for some other reason, well….)

And if you’re a regular here and you don’t know what I’m talking about: My Jewish Learning does this great daily email called Jewniverse. The material in the emails is original — I don’t even think it appears online at MJL — and it’s all over the map.

The signup page on their site says it’s about “the inspiration, the extraordinary, and the just plain strange.” We’ll leave aside the matter of which of those three categories I fall into. So I’ll just say that I’m a big fan, I get it every day and you should too.

The text of today’s email:

Book reviews are found in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals. But what about prayer book reviews? Who can you go to for a good siddur review?

Writer and editor David A.M. Wilensky answered that question with his blog, the Reform Shuckle. Here, Wilensky posted lengthy reviews of any siddur or Mahzor (High Holiday prayer book) he came across. A true siddur enthusiast, he commented on everything from design and layout, to commentary, liturgical integrity, and of course translation. He dings one siddur for coming without a bookmark ribbon, and praises another for “sensical and elegant line breaks…with the blocks of English and the blocks of Hebrew mirroring each other in shape like a Rorschach ink blot test.”

These days Wilensky, who’s the editor-in-chief of New Voices, has a new blog, but you can still explore the archives at the Reform Shuckle, and read his thoughts on all kinds of liturgical texts, from old family siddurim, to new bentchers.

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My latest for the Forward: ‘Just File Your Forms, Mort!’

Remember that time when the ZOA’s Mort Klein went on a tear about me, observing that I was “young and inexperienced,” and thus unqualified to critique them? Here’s what I wrote at the time.

It seems that Mort is now presiding over some rather silly attempts at governance over there at the ZOA, as the Forward has been reporting. They’ve lost their tax exempt status on account of forgetting to file some forms with IRS for three straight years.

Since the organization I head doesn’t have any trouble maintaining its tax exempt status, I thought I’d help Mort out with an explanation of how to file your taxes:

If you’ve never worked at a non-profit or served on the board of one, you might not know why this all sounds so completely bonkers. As the executive director of a non-profit organization, I, like Klein, work closely with a board of directors. This qualifies me to explain why all of this is, in fact, completely bonkers.

I feel safe in these assumptions despite Klein’s lack of confidence in me. He published anattack on me in May, in which he called me “young and inexperienced” and my writing “amateurish.” Despite these handicaps, I shall press on, given my meager knowledge of such things.

Go read the whole thing over at the Forward.

By the way, the version of this piece that got published is somewhat tamer than my original. I can’t help but include this little gem that we had to cut: “(Note that I did not, in turn, point out that he is a grouch with a constituency of octogenarians and a soapbox that reeks of irrelevance.)”

Shabbat shalom, shanah tovah, etc.

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Two posts for the Forward: ‘Whither Occupy Judaism’ and my first crack at food writing

In news that is recent enough to be called news, there’s a new post by me at the Forward’s “news and views” blog, Forward Thinking. And in news that is a couple of weeks old already, I also did a bit for the Forward’s food blog, the Jew and the Carrot, which was having hummus week at the time.

 

 

Whither Occupy Judaism?

Whither Occupy Wall Street? And whither Occupy Judaism?

September 17, the one-year anniversary of the launching of the movement/mood/fracas, has been declared the Occupy National Day of Action. September 17 — or #S17, as it has inevitably been hashtagged — also happens to be Rosh Hashanah. And so, inevitably, Occupy Judaism has announced that there will be a Rosh Hashanah service and potluck in Zuccotti Park as the new Jewish year of 5773 opens on the preceding night, September 16.

As soon as Sieradski got done humoring my questions about attendance, he said this: “We’re still doing this without a permit, as an act of civil disobedience. We’re still doing prayer as an act of protest, praying with our legs, as it were. That’s still pretty powerful.”

My favorite part:

“It’s still incumbent on us to get out there and speak up,” he said. “I still think the most powerful thing you can do with your prayers is uphold the dignity of those who are in need, and that’s what we should be doing instead of having spectator sport-style congregations where we just sit down and listen to a cantor and phone it in.

Go read the whole thing. And click on some ads.

 

 

 

Shabbat Meals: My Catholic Dinner

In my experience, there’s often a token non-Jew at Friday night dinner or at the Seder — the Shabbos Goy or the Passover Goy, some call them (affectionately).

Last Friday, however, I experienced the unfamiliar sensation of being the Shabbos Jew at a Friday night dinner with several Catholic friends. And when I call them Catholic, understand what I mean: One is a seminarian in Rome and another is a playwright studying at Catholic University – and our host for the evening, Sarah, has a degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

This is followed by amusing anecdotes and an actual recipe. Go read the whole thing. And click on some ads.

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Life updates: wardrobe changes, behind the scenes at The Forward, etc.

If you had some notion that you might like to know what the bathroom at The Forward looks like, here it is.

Hey, everyone. It’s been a while. Since I last posted, a few things have happened:

  • I stopped wearing tzitzit. Actually, that happened in December, but I don’t think I ever mentioned it here. Sorry.
  • I started dressing kind of like an adult.
  • I don’t grumble under my breath to myself when I put a kippah on before going to services anymore. (Which is not to say that I don’t immediately rip it off when I leave the building. The only reason I put it on before I get there is that I’m afraid I’ll forget and then the USCJ kippah patrol will set the dogs on me.)
  • Back in the fall/summer, when I started working semi-normal hours in an office (like a normal adult), I was doing a lot of pants/untucked-collared-shirts-with-buttons-all-the-way-down/sport-jacket kind of things.
  • But then I realized I lost all this weight (it was on accident, I promise; no one congratulate me — because people always do that, but it’s undeserved because it’s not like I sit on my ass any less than I did before). Having lost weight, I could now tuck my shirt in, which I’ve always hated doing. (Just ask my dad.)
  • So I started doing that for like a week, but it still bugged me so I bought a waistcoat.
  • Yes, I know, normal people call it a vest, but calling it a waistcoat achieves two excellent things: First, you get to say a silly word. Second, you get to use a more arcane word with overtones of eccentric pomposity.
  • I now have three waistcoats and I wear one every day. (Read: I wear one every office day.)
  • It took me some time, but I’ve made my peace with tucking my shirt in.
  • T.M.I. alert… in 3, 2, 1….
  • Here’s the one thing that still bugs me, the little extra bit of complexity this newfound tucked-in-and-put-together-ness has brought my life: Going to the bathroom is way more complex now. (Not the standing version, obviously.)
  • Wearing tzitzit and going to the bathroom was like a cakewalk compared to this craziness.
  • I had plans to relate at least a couple other things in this post, but it’s pretty clear this post has gotten away from me.
  • And that I have no idea what
  • bullet
  • points
  • are
  • really
  • for.
  • If you didn’t read the caption on the photo above, but you did read the headline, and you are now disappointed that this post is coming to an end without any hint of anything “behind the scenes at The Forward,” the photo above is from the bathroom at The Forward. In case you had a smoldering desire to know what the bathroom at The Forward looks like.
  • Or something.
  • OK. Bye now.
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