I am a Yid. I like to rock. Veitur!

- [ Thursday, July 29, 2004 ] -
Decoding a Ketubah
I'm kind of the unofficial "rabbi" of the office where I work (I'm not a rabbi by any means, nor do I present myself as one). You know what I mean. Whenever people have a question about anything Jewish, they come to me.

We have a secular Jew at the office. He asked me how good I was at reading Hebrew script. I told him, depending on the handwriting and the context, I could hold my own. He then told me that he was going through his dad's old stuff and found his grandparents' ketubah (Jewish marriage contract). He knew very little about them, and he wanted to know all he could. I took it as a great honor, to help him out this way, and I started reading it.

For this kind of document, the handwriting was surprisingly good. I got the year as being 5678 (1918 C.E.). He said that was weird because he thought his father was born in 1913. We went back to the document to look a little closer. As is the case with many ketubot, the city/state is probably some horrible, outdated transliteration, which was a little too sloppy for me to read.

I went on to read the bride's name, and had some difficulty. My mutilated guesses didn't really ring a bell with this guy, so I went on the man's name. "Avraham ben R. Naftali Halevi." As it turns out, that isn't his grandfather's name, and his grandfather wasn't a Levite.

Maybe he'll go back and look in the pile for another ketubah...

- [ Wednesday, July 21, 2004 ] -
Al Sharpton is a scumbag

I just saw Al Sharpton on TV again. I can't stand people who give a stage to Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton is not a legitimate politician. Al Sharpton is not a legitimate candidate for any office. Al Sharpton is not a legitimate guest for a talk show. Al Sharpton is not a bit character for a cameo on TV or in films. Al Sharpton is a liar. Al Sharpton is a pogrom-starter, hate-monger and a danger to all humanity, black and white, alike.

Here are some items from his resume (courtesy of this column, by Boston Globe columnist, Jeff Jacoby):
1987: Sharpton spreads the incendiary Tawana Brawley hoax, insisting heatedly that a 15-year-old black girl was abducted, raped, and smeared with feces by a group of white men. He singles out Steve Pagones, a young prosecutor. Pagones is wholly innocent -- the crime never occurred -- but Sharpton taunts him: "If we're lying, sue us, so we can . . . prove you did it." Pagones does sue, and eventually wins a $345,000 verdict for defamation. To this day, Sharpton refuses to recant his unspeakable slander or to apologize for his role in the odious affair.

1991: A Hasidic Jewish driver in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section accidentally kills Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old black child, and antisemitic riots erupt. Sharpton races to pour gasoline on the fire. At Gavin's funeral he rails against the "diamond merchants" -- code for Jews -- with "the blood of innocent babies" on their hands. He mobilizes hundreds of demonstrators to march through the Jewish neighborhood, chanting, "No justice, no peace." A rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, is surrounded by a mob shouting "Kill the Jews!" and stabbed to death.

1995: When the United House of Prayer, a large black landlord in Harlem, raises the rent on Freddy's Fashion Mart, Freddy's white Jewish owner is forced to raise the rent on his subtenant, a black-owned music store. A landlord-tenant dispute ensues; Sharpton uses it to incite racial hatred. "We will not stand by," he warns malignantly, "and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business." Sharpton's National Action Network sets up picket lines; customers going into Freddy's are spat on and cursed as "traitors" and "Uncle Toms." Some protesters shout, "Burn down the Jew store!" and simulate striking a match. "We're going to see that this cracker suffers," says Sharpton's colleague Morris Powell. On Dec. 8, one of the protesters bursts into Freddy's, shoots four employees point-blank, then sets the store on fire. Seven employees die in the inferno.
Please mention this to everyone who is near you, the next time you see this disgusting individual.

Oh, yeah. And here is a picture of him with his buddy.

My Awesome Shver
... travels on business (shver is Yiddish for father-in-law). He is a very generous man who often likes to send back unusual gifts from these exotic locations. A while ago, he asked what I wanted, and I told him that I will always welcome musical intstruments that might be unavailable, or less authentic to me here. You may recall he sent me an awesome gong, when he was in Seoul, South Korea.

Today, at work, I got a package from my awesome shver. I love getting packages at work. From my research on the internet, it's a rattle made out of juju beans from Cameroon. This is a picture of me enjoying my Cameroonian juju bean rattle.

- [ Saturday, July 17, 2004 ] -
Formula for Pets
Pets are 50% unconditional love and 50% poop.

Note: Pets are great. Keep in mind when acquiring one that you will be responsible for picking up every single one of its bowel movements for the rest of its life.

- [ Friday, July 16, 2004 ] -
Adriel's Blog
Adriel's blog has been really awesome since he started posting pictures.

- [ Wednesday, July 14, 2004 ] -
Separated at Birth
The wife of Dave from Israellycool thinks that John Edwards looks like John Ritter. I agree. But oddly, I think the real twins are a little stranger...

John Edwards vs. Luke Ford

Don't mess with the Jews!
J-Bloggers are getting nasty during the three weeks.

After getting sufficiently agitated in the real-world, I've posted what upset me online. Then, fellow-blogger and friend, Cara, took offense and stood her ground. Thank G-d, we worked out what we needed to and we are handling our issues in a more menschlach fashion. So actually, our "fight" had much potential to be nasty, but is all better now.

Current J-Blog fights:Just let it go, people. Sometimes we forget that there are people on the other side of the keyboard and monitor. It's easy to start a flame-war, but you'd be surprised to see how easy it is to end it. Let's take some responsibility for our words and for our unspoken professional commitments. Aside from representing the "real" Jewish community, we have a responsibility to do away with baseless hatred towards our fellow Jews. Stop acting like assholes. All of you. Take some initiative and be the bigger man. Extend an olive branch, tough guy.

- [ Monday, July 12, 2004 ] -
Shul in the Hip Neighborhood, II
I want to clear some things up about the last post. I'm glad it started so much conversation, as per my intentions. I just didn't want to cause as many ill feelings. Some other people commented on the original post, but the opinion that matters to me the most is Cara's. She is a good friend of mine and directly involved in this situation.

The overall greeting people got when they went to the shul that morning, was overwhelmingly, the usual, friendly Shabbat greeting. The obnoxious statements made to my friends who showed up were, by far, the minority sentiments. Most people side with the Rabbi on this one: if it's off shul property, you can do what you want. But it's the nasty comments that drove me to post about it at all.

I can say for a fact, that when I returned to shul that afternoon for mincha, we were received with open arms. People didn't look at us twice for where we davened that morning. We were not put in cherem. In fact, I ended up leading davening.

As far as I know, there was no blowback from the minyan at shul this past Shabbat.

These are my feelings about the situation:

- [ Wednesday, July 07, 2004 ] -
Shul in the Hip Neighborhood
Here's an old Jewish joke:
A Jewish man got stranded on a desert island. He had minimal food and water and only the bare necessities to survive. He immediately felt the need to establish his religion on the island and built two shuls. When he was finally rescued, they asked him, "So nu, with your limited supplies and energy, why did you make TWO shuls?" He said, "I daven at this one. I wouldn't be caught dead in the other shul."
Maybe the joke means that even if you go to an amazing shul, sometimes you just need an alternative. Or maybe it means that Jews just have a basic need to complain about shuls.

My neighborhood, is home to an active Jewish community and has a few shuls. Only one is Orthodox, and it has been around in one form or another since before 1900. When my wife and I got married, we decided to live in this neighborhood, in part, because of the shul. We liked how friendly and easy-going the environment was. The shul is extremely hospitable. In fact, it was due to the extremely active hospitality committee, that my wife and I were able to meet there.

I have issues with the way things operate at my shul, especially regarding Shabbat morning services. I also have issues with the halachic standards of the shul. Let's just say that there are certain halachic leniencies practiced here that I don't agree with. And it's even worse when they are explained to me.

The two big issues are timeliness on Friday night and Shabbat morning, and women's participation in non-traditional ways. Aside from the occasional woman wearing tefillin, the weekday minyanim are okay. Kabbalat Shabbat is usually too slow, but not horrible. Shabbat mincha is usually fine. Shabbat morning services gets to be too much to endure. The women carry the Torah through the women's section during every Torah-reading service. There is no dress code.

The neighborhood in general is not an Orthodox neighborhood. It's not impossible to be Orthodox here, there just aren't as many choices for Jewish things. There is an eiruv, a small day school, and a small kosher section in the supermarket. There is one Orthodox shul with a single daily shacharit, mincha and ma'ariv minyan. The only Mikvah is Lake Michigan. There are about a thousand bars and traife restaurants and a Major League ballpark. In general, the people who live here moved here to party. There are exceptions, such as people who established families here fifty years ago, and those who moved here so they can be closer to their downtown jobs and schools.

Aside from the vast minority of people whose families lived here for 50 years, it's a transient neighborhood. You can meet several new people each Shabbos. Young people move in. Some manage to find their mates (thank you, G-d) and get married. Then as they get older and start thinking about saving money and raising a family, they move to a more appropriate neighborhood.

The Orthodox move out a lot faster, in proportion to their level of observance. In defense of the neighborhood and the shul, it is very welcoming to those lacking in observance wanting more. It is very friendly to those with beginner through moderate levels of observance. I have never met so many converts and people looking to convert in my life (I can name six off the top of my head). I can't even begin to list the number of ba'alei tshuva that I've met here. My wife among them.

Unfortunately, this shul does not welcome or cater to those already observant with the same gusto. Show up in shul with dreadlocks and piercings in your face or carrying a purse, wearing a miniskirt, you will be welcomed with open arms and many lunch invitations. You might not get as many lunch invitations if you show up wearing a black suit and a Borsalino.

There seems to be two organized camps in the shul that would like to operate things differently. One would be happier moving the shul closer to the progressive/liberal/egalitarian side (called "Tehilla"), and one would prefer to slice about an hour-and-a-half off the davening time with a more "standard" Orthodox davening. The way the shul is going now, the Rabbi and enough members of the board seem to have an agenda to lean as far to the halachic left as possible. I'm very curious to know how many members are satisfied with the shul the way it is, currently. The three-and-a-half hour davening time is etched in stone.

Fine. Wouldn't it be nice if we could have a second minyan at the existing shul? The regular minyan would be held in the main sanctuary, as it is now. Then the shul's beit midrash could house a second minyan. Maybe there can be different kinds of secondary minyanim, alternating Shabbatot in the b"m. People could have a choice where to daven, yet still be a part of the main shul.

This kind of compromise just isn't possible at this time. The board/Rabbi feels that this shul is the identity of the community, and that any additional minyan would be breaking it up. The official stance, held by the Rabbi, is that there can only be one minyan on Shabbat morning. Unofficially, the Rabbi is okay with other minyanim as long as they are not on shul property.

There are actually people in the shul that are against any "breakaway" minyan at all, even off shul property.

This past week, we had our first outside minyan on Shabbat morning. We had a sefer torah. We started at 9:15, and had more than ten men there by that time. We finished before 11:15 and had a total of at least 30 people at the end. We had a small kiddush and then some people went to the shul for socializing, kiddush #2 and meeting people for meals. Everyone at our minyan is a dues-paying member of the shul.

At shul they were greeted by people who told them they should be ashamed for showing their faces at shul, and going to kiddush. And that our minyan is breaking up the shul. I should remind you that shul usually fills up around 11 and a lot of people come very close to kiddush time, and many come only for kiddush.

I don't think having a second minyan divides the shul. I think the shul is already divided. The goal now should be to accept and unite the different camps in the same shul. We all like the shul in general and want to be a part of it.

In light of all this shul nonsense, wanting to increase our own levels of observance, and save a little money for making aliyah, my wife and I have decided to move to West Rogers Park (aka West Ridge). WRP is the central Jewish neighborhood--the epicenter of Torah and Kashrut in Chicago. Instead of being forced to attend a shul that disappoints us, we look forward to having our pick of shuls and Rabbis that can disappoint us.

We will continue to support the new Orthodox minyan in the old neighborhood, whether in its current form of an occasional minyan is someone's house, or under the official auspices of the big shul. We love the neighborhood and our friends there. We will be back to visit often--especially to take part in this minyan.