Tag Archives | kutz

As the fringe gets longer, the conversation gets wider

Crossposted to Jewschool


They’ve become a recurring thread in my life. I put them on three years ago and have missed only a few days since. I keep wearing them, talking about them, blogging about them, thinking about them. I just did a search of my blog for “tzitzit.” It’s a sizable percentage of posts that contain the word. My first post for Jewschool was even about tzitzit.

Now, finally, it seems I’ve become a progressive evangelist for them.

Here at the URJ and NFTY‘s Kutz Camp, I taught five Reform high school students about tzitzit an hour a day for five days. Two girls, three boys. One girl had spent part of her life in a yeshiva and one boy was from South Carolina or something like that.

The catch was that I required them to wear one of my fifteen or so sets of tzitzit for the five days of the elective. Four of them took me up on that requirement, the one who didn’t being the girl form the yeshiva. She told me it just wasn’t right for a girl to do that. More on that later. The other four all placed an order for their own tzitzit from my preferred online tzitzit dealer at the end of the week and kept wearing mine until theirs arrived.

Each day we debriefed. The four who wore the tzitzit each day all faced comments from their fellow Kutz participants ranging from confused to encouraging to negative. Some even called their parents to tell them about it. One mother wasn’t surprised, that mother being the most reminiscent of mine when I told her. One parent asserted confidently that it was a phase and not to buy more than one. Another seemed indifferent.

We also studied some texts. We looked at some midrash, some Torah, and some commentaries, cheif amongst them Rashi and Nehama Leibowtiz. I even finally found a use for the WRJ Torah Commentary, which has a great discussion of the sociological underpinnings of tzitzit.

Before the camp session was over, four or so more kids had approached me about trying it out.

And then, at this post from earlier this year, a comment appeared: “I’m curious– what’s your opinion on reform women wearing tzitzit in daily life?”

Well, why shouldn’t they? I know a few who do, but it’s even rarer than progressive men doing so. I can count the women and girls I know doing it on one hand.

But in the final assessment, I don’t think wearing tzitzit is good or bad, really. I don’t even think that women doing it is good or bad. I just want to broaden the conversation about it. And now, some girl who used to go to a yeshiva is going home with the tools to talk about it. And three guys and one girl are going back to mainstream Reform congregations acorss America, where their mere tzitzit-wearing presence will certainly start a conversation.

Or at least they’ll earn themselves a few suspicious glances.

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Why I used a bullhorn during services last night [dispatches from Kutz]

Here at Kutz, staff week is in full swing. As usual, we all do jobs that aren’t actually our jobs. I’m the AV guy, but last night I was given the chance to be involved with services.

So I had a cool idea. I was thinking about the Barchu. It’s a call to worship, right? A call! Not a mumbled nigun thing or a mumbled chanted response thing.

I was also thinking about when you’re in Israel (or any mid east country, for that matter), you can hear the Muslim call to worship five times a day. It’s unavoidable. You damn well know when it’s time to pray in a Muslim country. So why isn’t the Barchu a wakeup call of equal force?

So I talked about that briefly before we began to daven. And then I lead the Barchu with a bullhorn.

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David goes to Yale, has an interesting conversation

An old Kutz friend of mine is now a freshman at Yale. In high school, she lived in Florida and I in Texas, so we hadn’t seen each other in a while. I paid her a visit this weekend, spending one very strange Halloween at Yale.

Saturday afternoon, after a gorgeous walk in some gorgeous weather, we sat down in the gorgeous courtyard of her residence, Silliman College, and had a very interesting conversation. She put into words something that I’ve felt, but had been unable to articulate.

After we spent the Summer together at Kutz on 2005, I was completely sucked into the Reform movement. I went on to go to Israel as a senior in high school on the Union’s EIE semester program, spent another summer and spent another summer as a participant at Kutz, not to mention two years as president of my synagogue’s youth group.

Her story is rather different. Though she is a product of the movement through-and-through (her father is a Reform Rabbi), she kind of fell out of the movement, and became involved in a couple of eye-opening pluralistic programs. First, she spent a summer at Brandeis University on a program called Genesis, which she described as being like Kutz, but not. Genesis has more of a college feel, a focus on text study, and includes participants from all walks of Jewish life, from black hats to no hats and everything in between. The following summer, she was accepted to the prestigious Bronfman Fellowship summer program in Israel, also a pluralist program

I eventually made it to the world of pluralism, but it took me until my first year of college to do it. I attended the Limmud NY conference in January of last year (register here for the 2009 conference, where you will have the time of your life) and, though I enjoyed the conference greatly, came away from it very frustrated with the Reform movement, but unable to say exactly why.

My friend at Yale explained that at Genesis she became very frustrated with Reform as well. She said that at Genesis, all the program participants planned Shabat every week. Her eyes were opened by the more observant students, for whom planning Shabat involved a slew of minute details and considerations, which she had never been exposed to.

I realized that Shabat at Limmud was a similar experience. Limmud NY also draws a very denominationaly (or lack thereof) diverse crowd. It was the first Shabat I had really spent around a considerably large group of people, many of whom were far more observant than I. In the Reform movement, I’m used to being one of the most observant people in the room.

What frustrated us both about these experiences was that the movment that had raised us and educated us and made Judaism dear to us hadn’t explained that there were other Jews out there. Obviously, there aren’t any Reform Rabbis out there claiming that Orthodox Jews are is imaginary as the Easter Bunny, but they are certainly an ignored, or sometimes even obnoxious, fact of life to the Reform institution. My friend and I both noted considering, if only for a fleeting second, joining their ranks.

But in the end, I think we’re just glad that our experiences with pluralism have taught us that there people out there for whom a strictly observant Jewish life isn’t seen as a burden. Instead, it is that observant life that gives their lives its meaning, in just the way that my Reform choice process gives my life meaning.

Though I’m not even remotely willing to say that our movement’s excellent relationship with the American Muslim communiyt is bad thing, it is certainly a shame that we may have a better relationship with members of other religions than we do with our own coreligionists. It is a shame that we are often so insular in the Reform movement.

Shavua Tov.

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Shabos Zmiros – Chana Rothman “We Can Rise”

This week’s Shabos Zmiros comes from former Kutz songleader Chana Rothman. Chana’s CD, “We Can Rise” is a fun combination of Judaism and reggae. The song take many of it’s cues from the psalm “Esa einai el heharim.”

YouTube – ORCA Media Moments “Chana Rothman”

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Shabos Zmiros: The lyrical genius of Dan Nichols

Until this summer, I was not a huge fan of Dan Nichols, one of the most well-known members of the current generation of Jewish contemporary-style musicians in America. Jesse Paikin, a close friend of mine, blogger of Philosophical Rants, and a fantastic Jewish musician in his own right, took some time at Kutz this summer to explain to me the genius of Nichols’ blends of Hebrew texts with his own creative English translations. In particular, he explained to me the genius of Dan’s use of English with his own version of Ani Ma’amin, which you can find on Dan’s newest and, by far, Dan’s best CD, The Roots.

Recently, I discovered some very clever lyrics in another of Dan’s songs.

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