Shabbat Recap — On the Clock, Finally!

The local rabbi likes to say there are no such things as coincidences. After Saturday, I’m inclined to agree.

I did get to shul, only to find that someone has moved the service time ahead a half an hour, meaning I was even later than usual (note for the Orthodox-unaware: it’s really not uncommon, at least in Orthodox synagogues, for people to come in late, and/or kind of drift in and out during the service, so I wasn’t exactly disrupting anything), and kind of slunk in, only to find that basically nobody was there anyway.

Rabbi: Well, we have a minyan on one side of the mechitza, but not on the other. So I’m going to give the sermon now, and when we get a minyan on the men’s side, we’ll continue with the service.

Apparently this is the time of year when a lot of the Orthodox community here goes on vacation, which totally makes sense, since nothing’s ticking but the clock outside the kehila, either.

After the service, I was walking back to my bus stop from shul (still coasting on goy privilege so I can keep living here for the time being), the rabbi and rebbetzin caught up to me (I walk slowly) and asked me if I wanted to come back to their house for lunch. I accepted, even though it made me very nervous; I get nervous in unfamiliar social environments to start with, and I always feel like interacting with the rabbi is a real pressure situation. I’m still not comfortable around him yet, really, for some senses of the word “comfortable.”

Lunch was kind of surreal, and the rabbi was doing his best to model behaviour, since in attendance were one guy who comes to shul occasionally but normally goes to the Chabad house near the university; a convert, and his ba’alat teshuva wife whose Jewish education was minimal and curtailed by a mixed marriage (she’s Jewish through the matrilineal line), and who almost became an Anglican minister, at her Anglican father’s urging.

I also got to dine under the fancifully artistically-rendered watchful eyes of five Lubavitcher rebbes. (Apparently no one knows what the other two looked like — there were seven all told.) My friend RH joked in Facebook chat: “A meal with rabbinical supervision of the highest order!” You got that right…

We actually wound up talking until motzei, at which point, the rabbi introduced us to some short videos made by Chabad primarily about R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, called The Living Torah. I mostly found this interesting because I could actually more or less understand the Hebrew in Schneerson’s Yiddish. (I speak not a word of Yiddish.) The rabbi’s toddler son is a big fan, but I don’t know if the family speaks Yiddish at home, although I suspect the rabbi himself is not a native English-speaker, even though he doesn’t have a Yiddish-speaker’s accent. (His actual accent is downright weird, though; it’s not quite New York, and not quite Chicago, and not quite California, and not quite southwestern Ontario, although he does have a bunch of New Yorkisms in his speech. He won’t tell me where he’s from.)

After that, he gave me and one of the other guests a ride home. So now I have the odd distinction of having been given a lift home by a Chabad rabbi.

During the conversation in the car, he also told me that the couple he was mentoring through the conversion process dropped out because they said it was too hard (a fate I devoutly wish to avoid), so he’s available to start teaching me now…

I start my studies in a week!! In the meantime, I’m rereading the three books that will form the first lesson block. I’m on my way, finally!


Shabbat Recap — Wow!

I made it back to shul this week, after mostly recovering from the nasty virus that pasted me last week. I’m really glad I went, more so than usual, anyway.

I met a nice old lady named Janet, with a British accent and a penchant for Siamese cats, and we talked about her newest addition, a neurotic Siamese fellow who has taken up residence under her settee for the last three weeks and won’t come out (boy, I wish my friend Jan were still alive — she spoke cat quite fluently).

I had a long conversation with my friend MR about why I want to convert and how crazy I really am (at least marginally), which helped me to clarify some things and think about some others. It turns out that a Facebook friend of mine from a town about an hour and a half away is good friends with her. Small world. MR confirms that it’s really, really difficult to be Jewish here, as if I didn’t already know that. She says that’s part of the reward of it, and I can certainly understand that perspective.

As usual, the rabbi was on form, and I really enjoyed the singing. At the end of the haftarah, he gave an “insight” about a child who is dragged onto a bus and taken away to a harsh environment with barracks-style living, guards who restrict your every move, and bad food…which turns out to be summer camp, which is all worthwhile at the end. I laughed involuntarily, since I hold the (ignominious) distinction of being someone who ran away from summer camp at the age of nine, since I hated it precisely that much. (It wasn’t worthwhile, at least not at the time, but I made my friend Ed laugh so hard he had to pull the car over because he couldn’t see straight enough to drive when I told him the story, so I guess it came to a little bit of something after all.)

I made it most of the way home before they caught me, although that was really only about a mile and a half.

Anyway, I do want to write more, but I also want to go to bed. I didn’t sleep well last night, and really kind of dragged myself out this morning.

Shabbat Recap — The Ironic Parsha, or A Nation of Larks

I swear, the rav sometimes targets his “insights” directly at me; or at least it feels that way. A previous time I was at shul, he spent the whole “insight” geeking about language. This time, for Parashat Vayera, which talks about Isaac’s birth and the Binding of Isaac (Akedah). Twice in this parsha, the text repeats that Abraham (a far more Godly person than I will ever be, surely) got up early in the morning

…which is precisely the thing I haven’t been able to do with any regularity since being laid off. Nice one, HaShem. Point taken. Ouch.

Unfortunately, I am by nature what chronobiologists call “an extreme owl.” Morning people are “larks.”

Abraham must have been a lark, but I am, alas, not. Judaism seems to prefer larks to owls, although the scholar who stays up all night studying Torah and esoterica is a stock figure in Hasidic stories.

After motzei, I discussed the parsha with a friend, and she said, “What about the people who stay up half the night to do the stuff other people don’t do? Where are the owl mitzvahs?” I concur. Where are the owl mitzvot?

The Canadian National Pastime, Mezeg Ha’avir

So while walking up from the bus stop to the shul (I always make a point of walking a ways up, bad idea this time) I was basically praying someone else would appear so I wouldn’t have to slink in by myself. The street was absolutely empty as far as I could see, and then suddenly, about four other people I know appeared. Wonderful!

Unfortunately, the weather was grim — the digital thermometer on the variety store near the shul said 6C, but it was lying its little electronic face off, I think. It was really cold, raining anywhere from a good stiff Scotch mist to a fairly heavy drizzle, and very windy. I wore this rather voluminous pleated skirt I got from a friend (traded it for a bias cut striped skirt that looked better on her than it did on me, and vice versa with the pleated skirt — I haven’t swapped clothes with friends since I was a teenager! Ah, nostalgia!). Unfortunately, the fact that it was voluminous meant that the wind was able to get at my legs very easily, and I was only wearing tall socks. I really should have put leggings on under my skirt! I was freezing for several hours after I got home, even accounting for eating a big bowl of hot soup, drinking a little l’chaim of amaretto, and curling up under the covers and a polar fleece blanket with the cats. Brr! I guess legging season is upon us again. Bah.

I feel ever so much better with myself for having made it to shul sof sof (finally)! I genuinely like going, but waking up is difficult. I think it would be easier if I lived closer, but that can’t happen until and unless I get another job here in town, b’ezrat HaShem…

Shabbat Recap — Special Occasions and Introspection

I did make it back to shul today.  Two special occasions in shul today — the rabbi’s eldest son (who looks to be in his mid to late teens — scary, as the rabbi is only four years older than I am!) is leaving to go to a yeshiva near Paris. 

Aside:  Le Juif et la France

I hope he stays safe, given how much antisemitism has been flaring up in France of late.  (Not that antisemitism ever really went away in France.  My friend RW was in France in the early 1970s and said there was still Vichy coinage in circulation!!  Unbelievable.)  A great number of French Jews have been moving to Israel of late; in fact, when I was in Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, there were a great number of services (including an entire real estate agency on the ground floor of the complex housing my hotel) disponible en Francais.  (This was comforting to me, because my French is much, much better than my Hebrew.  I actually had to transact some business in French while there, because the woman minding the counter spoke only Russian, French, and Hebrew, and my Hebrew wasn’t good enough to cover it.  I speak no Russian.)


The second special occasion was the first real service participation of a new Bar Mitzvah.  He did very well, and has a reasonably good singing voice, despite being in that precarious mid-pubertal phase characterised by voice breakages and other vocal problems.


Elul — Getting Right With G-d and Humanity

The rabbi also gave the blessing for the new month of Elul, which starts on Tuesday and is the last month of the Hebrew year, leading up to the High Holidays.  It’s a time for introspection, prayer, study, and cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, in which you take stock of all the bad and good things you did in the past (Jewish) year, and try to find areas where you could improve.  I know I’ll be looking at improving my obervance of mitzvot, minding my temper and my tendency toward foul language, and improving my conscientiousness generally, and improving my relationships with certain people. On the other hand, in the “profits” column I think I can count beginning to observe many mitzvot, doing a lot of studying toward my conversion, improving my attendance at shul, and improving my relationship with my parents.  I actually recommend doing this at least once a year, whether you are Jewish or not.  I’ve been doing this informally around this time of year (because the end of summer always feels like the end of the year to me) for years now, and I think it’s a good and healthy practice.

Elul and the High Holidays are also a time to pay off debts, ask for and give forgiveness to people, and do personal “housecleaning,” that is, getting your life and your relationships with others beseder (lit: in order).  Although this time of year is solemn, it shouldn’t be entirely about self-recrimination, guilt, or shame, although teshuva is part of it (but can mean correcting one’s actions as well as feeling badly about them).

I’m actually vaguely sad about the coming of the High Holidays again, as it was just about a year ago that I made my first appearance at Beit Meshugge, and I’m still not even formally taking classes yet.  I wish I had my friend DA’s boundless faith that everything that happens, happens for a reason, but I’m still working on that one.  It’s very hard.  Also, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to fully participate in the synagogue High Holidays services, so I’ll be sitting out.  (On the other hand, I likely will not be fasting on Yom Kippur — which falls on Thursday-Friday this year — but I also won’t be getting to do any of the fun stuff, either.)  *sigh*


Funny thing — there’s a woman who comes to Beit Meshugge periodically, and I’m sort of friends with her.  I think she’s a new baalat teshuva, so sort of engaged in the same process as I am, only from the perspective of a Jew who wants to become observant.  As we were walking back to where people usually break off and go their own individual ways coming from shul today, my friend M was explaining some things to her, and…I was actually helping to fill in the details!  I’ve done a lot of studying.  For some reason it came up in conversation, so one of the things I explained to her was how (in the Torah) G-d tells Avram and Sarai to take the ה from His Name into their names, to become Avraham and Sarah.  (My name is spelled the same way in Hebrew as the with-H Sarahs are in English.  Tangentially, I believe Elisheva and Elizabeth are probably the same name, which just makes me like the name more, as I also have a soft spot for the Queen.)  A, the BT, also thought I was a born Jew and not a conversion candidate.  (This keeps happening.  I’m not sure whether it’s because gerot are rare, or whether it’s because I look the part or something.)

I managed to do pretty well with my observances this Shabbat, aside from the usual things and using the phone a couple of times.  I just can’t seem to get past that “witching hour” without some sort of distraction, after I’ve napped as much as I care to, played with the cats as much as I can, and read everything I care to read right at that moment.  I really don’t know what to do about that, but it’s on my list of things to ask the rabbi.  If and when I can actually start studying.  Which, HaShem willing, should be in three months or so.  In the meantime, cheshbon hanefesh, surviving the depressing fall, and (b”H) keeping my job in the upcoming rounds of layoffs (which should be happening right around Rosh Hashana, nice).

Shabbat Recap — Dancing and Walking

I had a really good Shabbat yesterday, although kind of an abbreviated one, due to a previously-scheduled social engagement.  (Like I said, I’m still furtive.)

I did make it to shul, after a whole series of fashlot which almost convinced me I should stay home, but I managed to get there, only somewhat later than I usually try to arrive.  The service was good, and the rabbi talked about mitzvot and “partial mitzvot” during his “insight” this week, based on the story from the parsha of Moses setting aside three cities of refuge on the west bank of the Jordan (Yarden), despite not being required to set up all six cities until the Israelites had conquered the territory to the east of the Yarden.  HaShem apparently gives “part-marks.”  (That’s a relief! ^_^ )

I must admit that standing for a lot of the service was very hard this week because my back was hurting me.

I am getting to be much better able to follow the service, and read as fast as the rabbi speaks the various prayers and blessings, although it’s still hard.  I also still haven’t learnt all the tunes yet, especially since apparently sometimes they use different tunes — this time they used a different tune for Adon Olam, and so far, I only more or less know the version  sung here

I managed to attend for another buffet kiddush, which was nice — I like free food.  Once again, I ate probably half my weight in challah (do calories consumed on Shabbat count?), along with some really interesting eggplant-tomato stuff which may or may not have been some variation on zaalouk, three kinds of hummus, and vegetables.  I steered clear of the cholent this time, as apparently the local variation includes cinnamon or some spice that I think totally does not go with the rest of the flavours.  (Joke spotted on Facebook during the height of military operations recently:  “The IDF has respectfully requested that Ashkenazim stop sending food.”  Sefardi cuisine, on the other hand, is generally delicious…)

The best moment was probably near the end of the kiddush, when the rabbi started singing some nigun or other and he started dancing (while holding his young son) with two other men in long black coats and long grey beards, and one man in a blue short-sleeved shirt and a crocheted coloured kippah, spinning around each other’s joined hands in a square.  Beit Meshugge is a bit of a mixed bag, but in a tiny community like ours, that’s sort of to be expected.

Afterward, my friend M and a woman who was visiting from Jerusalem, the sister of a former congregant, walked back to near where I usually catch the bus (yeah, yeah, I know) through a trail in a park that I didn’t actually know was there.  Turns out that by using the system of trails by the river, I could almost walk from there to here without actually having to traverse much distance by road.  It’s also much, much shorter, but not so that I could practically walk it, at least not there and back again.  On the way, we saw about a million kinds of wildflowers and a Great Blue heron, who was obviously looking for some lunch.  (He should have dropped in at the shul; there was pickled herring.)

So.  I did not use any electricity, or any hot water (up until I had to get ready to go out), and I finally remembered about the toilet paper.  I also did all my cooking and cleaning in advance, so the house looked moderately nice and I had things I could just reheat, which I turned out not to need after all.  I did have to reset my Shabbat timer because somehow the time thingy had gotten out of whack, so that counts as touching muktzeh.  I also probably committed about a billion unintentional acts of Borer (sorting) while trying to find clean skivvies and socks and things, although I did my best to just sort of rummage through them and draw out the stuff I did want, as opposed to making a “keep” versus “discard” pile or anything.  I did light a candle and say the bracha, but I did not do a formal havdalah, as by the time I got home, although it wasn’t late, I was in a lot of pain and very tired and just wanted to crawl into a prescription bottle and go to sleep. 

I’m going to have to ask the rabbi about time-bound mitzvot and what I must do, and what I can elect to do, and what I can do bli neder so that if circumstances arise where I feel like I can’t do something, I don’t have to, and also what the rules are about observing time-bound mitzvot when sick or something.

All in all, it was a pretty good Shabbat, despite my not feeling terribly well.  Any Shabbat where I can refer to my absolutely canonically Scottish last name and say, “…you know, a good Ashkenazi name,” and have people get the joke, and where I can finish up at motzei by sucking on a slice of avatiach while watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is probably a good one.

Shabbat Recap — Well, I Blew It, But I Had Reasons

Thank G-d for bli neder, because I was riding on it pretty much all day.

I did make it back to shul this week again.  I wore my new dress (and remembered to say the correct bracha upon putting it on!), and it was nice.  Got some minor logistical problems with the neckline, but I’ll be able to fix those somehow.  I just need to experiment a bit.

I was out on my usual pre-Shabbat Friday-evening food and head back to my friend J’s place to watch a movie last night, and my friend Ed and I decided we were going to wander into the pet store near the Bulk Barn we frequent. They had some shelter kittens there, and I got friendly with this 13 week old pure white sweetie (neutered male) with huge ears and enormous blue eyes. 

Long story short, tl;dr version, guess who is draped over my front right now, purring his little white face off?  (Is it normal for 13 week old kittens to have giant grown-up cat purrs?  I thought kittens mostly buzzed until they were about half grown or so.  I’ve never had a kitten of my own before.) 

LZ at shul suggested I name him Israel because he’s white and blue. GJ’s husband thought I should name him Isaac. It looks like he might become an “Izzy” either way. I was vaguely thinking about naming him Solomon (or “Shlomo”) til I remembered that my friend JJT has a huge fluffy orange tabby named Solomon. I’m also vaguely considering naming him Rashi, because I have a soft spot for his story and the script named after him, and some interesting positive emotional connections to the name.

He seems like he’s partly like my boy cat who died on Sunday, and partly like my former boy cat, who died about five years ago (z”l, and oh boy, Goofus, do I ever miss you!).  He’s long and skinny like George the tragically abbreviated cat, but also super outgoing, gregarious, and social like Nero the cat with the slow charisma leak.  On the other hand, he does like to cuddle a lot, and he’s kissy, which is different from any of my other cats.

Shul was also pretty awesome.  Today I learnt from the “Saturday school” kids that you can sing Adon Olam to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” with very minor modifications (much like you can sing pretty much any poem Emily Dickinson ever wrote to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” I guess?  Common meter, perhaps?).  The “insight” today also inspired me to do more tzedaka, too, which I have been shamefully neglecting.

That said, I blew pretty much everything today, including using the phone and the computer, and I partially forgot about lights and toilet paper.  New habits take a long time to grow, I guess, and can be easily disrupted by distractions.  I’m also exhausted

Belated Shabbat Recap — Awesome, but Waiting is the Hardest Thing

Well, I finally made it back to shul this week and got to talk to the rabbi.  He thinks it’ll be three to four months before I can start my conversion classes formally.  This is actually not as bad of a thing as it sounds, because it’ll give me time to plow through all the reading material and take notes and write down questions and suchlike.  It’s all good.  Time is time.  Plus, it’ll give me more time to save up money so I can make a move to the Little Israel neighbourhood.

Shul was amazing.  The rabbi usually gives a dvar Torah in the middle of the service, or an “insight,” as he calls them.  This week, he talked about the phrase “Mi borei ele,” or “Who created this?” from the parsha.  He talked about anagrams of  מי (mi) and אלה (ele, “this”; “these” in Modern Hebrew), which, from my perspective as a language geek, was absolutely fascinating.  The glitter from my eyes might have been a trifle distracting, though.  It was almost as though he’d written it with me in mind!  (Not true, but hey.)

Also, he gave the blessing for Rosh Chodesh Av.  Av is a solemn month, marked by the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, among other things — it’s a really bad day in Jewish history.  So as the rabbi said, the blessing had to be extra-powerful to see us all through.  Well, I think he managed.  I know a few things about vocal music, having done to Ontario Conservatory Grade VIII vocals myself, and that man has a fine set of pipes.  Very reminiscent of the late great Jewish rabbi and vocalist Shlomo Carlebach, actually.  And this blessing had, as they say in baseball terms, mustard on it.  The shul walls practically leaned in as the rabbi poured all his energy into singing the prayer.  He filled the entire sanctuary (and probably beyond) with his voice, and it felt like a powerful beam of intention was going straight up into the heavens.

I literally got chills.  Wow. 

I hope to have many more Shabbats like that one.

I don’t think I will be fasting on Tisha B’Av this year, because it falls on a Monday/Tuesday, and I will still have to work (that “furtiveness” thing again), but I may do something (like eat vegan for the day or something) to compensate.


Shabbat Observances

I did:

— make it to shul

— light a candle and say the brachot

— not write anything

— get my Shabbat timer working properly

— not use the computer

— mostly manage to avoid tearing toilet paper (except once)

— remember to say brachot before eating, and Grace After Meals

— make an abbreviated Havdalah

— not use any hot water

I did not:

— make candle-lighting on time (“furtiveness” strikes again)

— manage to completely avoid turning on lights (I forgot once — this should change once I have my own place and can tape the light switches until I have better habits)

— eat any bread

— stay off the telephone (I have got to figure out something to do in the “witching hour” between the time I wake up after my post-shul-and-Shabbat-lunch afternoon nap and dinnertime, when I have read everything I feel like reading and everything)

— refrain completely from cooking, as I forgot and sliced raw eggplant into a stir-fry I was reheating

plus the usual “fixtures.”  I also had to wash my hair shinui, as my scalp was itching terribly after I got home.

All in all, not a bad job for bli neder.