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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]

Yesterday, jonbaker's cousin Jomack was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. We are about as proud as two cousins who only see him a couple times a year can be.

His family lives in Park Slope, which is a tad too far for us to walk (others can and do manage it.) It's also where we lived for ten years and where I still work. They go to the Park Slope Jewish Center, which is egalitarian Conservative (almost aggressively so, although it's actually mellowed since I was last there, seventeen years ago.) This also presented a problem - Orthodox Jews cannot participate in prayer services in places without a mechitza (a physical (and some say visual, too) separation between men and women.) The only exception are temporary minyans, as in a house of mourning, and even then, the men and women separate themselves as much as possible. So, that meant two problems to solve - hospitality and what to do about daavening.

We solved the first problem by calling our old rabbi. He was going to offer us a place in his own home but then remembered that someone else had asked for hospitality that same weekend first, so he put us up in an empty apartment - the owners were in South Africa. It was about a block away, so we would still go to them for meals. The second problem worked out by itself - we'd simply go to our old shul Shabbos morning, rush through shacharit and musaf, and then go on to PSCJ as observers more than participants. (And staying in that apartment was very, very nice - it meant we had privacy - I wouldn't have to bring a robe or wear a hair covering all the time. The only problem was that the bed I slept on was a board covered by a very thin futon. Jonathan's was thicker and had a springy surface.)

When we walked into B'nai Jacob, it had changed. Instead of daavening in the social hall as they had when we left, they were upstairs in the largely un-refurbished main sanctuary. And there was only one face I recognized in the women's section.

Our cousin Judy. Who was the one (with her husband and son) staying with the rabbi. They live in Riverdale, NY - even further to walk. Just. So funny. We walked back to the rabbi's house together - the rabbi could rely on us to show them the way, after all. And their son Benjamin had already made friends with the rabbi's youngest sons (and the little girl between them.)

And dinner was lovely - the rebbitzen (and, I suspect, her 17 and 19 year old daughters, who happened to be home that weekend) is a fine cook. We were also really comfortable - it may have been six years ago, but we spent many a Shabbos and Yom Tov dinner and lunch around that table. Even if the faces had changed - either aged or just new - it was normal for us.

We got up in time to go to B'nai Jacob the next morning, where they gave Jonathan the opening psalms. We thought it would make us late for the bar mitzvah - our cousins left before we did - it didn't. We got to PSJC during the repitition of the morning service, and found the main sanctuary filled. PSJC was designed to be an Orthodox synagogue, so it has a balcony. They unlocked it for us (and it got populated, too), and we had a fine view of things. We sat next to each other, but such that there was a wooden bracket between us, and he also put his tallis bag there.

When I had gone there before, there were signs requiring eveyone to wear a hat and a tallis. This time, they only required hats. There was a pile of green yarmulkes and another of lace doilies with bobby pins, but I, of course, had a head scarf on. Many women wore the doilies, many women (and a fair number of men, including the bar mitzvah boy's non-Jewish father) did NOT wear tallisim, so it was all a choice. This was nice.

The Torah reading was interesting - first, all of the readers were women (except that Jomack read the final portion, and very well, too.) Second, they had multiple readers and the rabbi said it was an extra challenge for them because, unlike other week, they were reading the full portion. It's parshas Yitro, where we hear the Ten Commandments, and if it were put in thirds like the others, they'd only hear them every three years. So this one they say completely every year. This explanation - well, in O shuls, we read the complete portion every week *and* only one person reads it. More than that - the first leiner was another cousin, Terri, who could certainly have leined the whole thing by herself, not just the first seventh. So, I really don't get it.

However. They were all fine, and Jomack did a very impressive job with both maftir (the final reading) and the Haftarah (the reading from prophets.) He also gave a wonderful speech - one it was clear he'd done all the work on, and that he'd worked hard on it. And that he had a lot to say and knew how to say it. Pretty darn good for a thirteen year old. He apparently startled the rabbi, who had told him to read the parasha twice and come up with an idea - she didn't expect him to choose the 2nd commandment (no graven images.) He also expounded about Yitro - Moses' father-in-law, who is the only non-Jew to have parashah named for him, and how that shows we need to learn from all nations. As I mentioned, his father isn't Jewish. He was, however, immensely proud. (We didn't see any of Pappo's family there. That is very, very sad.)

I do have a couple of observations that may seem judgemental, and I'm sorry about that but - why were people (men and women) wearing *jeans* to a religious service? That women wore pants - okay, fine. It's 2008, a major presidential candidate is wearing (unflattering) pantsuits, and pants are simply a normal part of a woman's wardrobe. The rabbi herself wore a pantsuit. (Confession time - I thought, at first, that she was a teenaged boy - she had a masculine haircut and deepish voice and her suit jackett, along with her tallit, obscured her shape. She looked like a somewhat chubby teen-aged Jason Bateman.) So, I wouldn't have blinked at dress pants. But jeans? Some of the older kids looked like they'd stopped by the shul on their way to the park. Part of honoring the Shabbat is wearing special, nicer clothes so that we are aware it's not just another day, and so we know that shul on Shabbat is special.

And I seriously don't understand why women wear kippot. Is it because men wear kippot? Why would they want to look like men? It reads like "men do it, so it must be better." And, well.

Anyway, after services, there was kiddush and a nice spread (and it was kosher - we checked the caterer.) I didn't eat a huge amount because there was a big crowd of congregants and family and because we were going to have lunch at the rabbi's, but what there was was good. I don't do well in crowds - after talking to a few relatives, I escaped for a while, waiting for things to ease up. Then I returned, spoke to a few more people, told Jomack's parents how wonderful he'd been and then walked to the rabbi's house alone - Jonathan was having too good a time to drag him away. His family sees each other mostly on Chanukah and for funerals - it was nice to have a different sort of celebration.

My in-laws were not there. Their subway broke down at Wall Street and, instead of getting in a cab (which they should have done in the first place, given how difficult stairs are for them), they went home. Everyone was disappointed and her cousin Florence was very upset - she'd come up from Arizona just for her great-nephew's bar mitzvah, after all.

Lunch was lunch. Jonathan came in somewhere before dessert, and led the grace after meals. (Cuteness - Judy's husband Roger is a kohen, and should have gotten the honor. "Roger's a koihen!" "It's okay. I waive." (He waves.) "Anyway, you're a new Levi and mishpocha (family.)")

Then we went back to CBJ for afternoon and evening services, where Jonathan got his first Levi aliyah in our old shul (startling those few people who knew him, which was fun) and later Roger gave us a ride to our bus stop.

Being in Park Slope was surreal. Our shul was full of new faces and new arrangements; we'd never daavened in the PSJC main sanctuary, and the kiddush was held where we had daavened for many years, during the days of the law suit, before we bought our own building. And then...

We live in a very Orthodox neighborhood. It closes down before sunset on Friday and stays that way until Saturday night. Not totally - there are a few non-Jewish businesses and there is business for them on Saturday - but in large part. The traffic gets much, much lighter, and most of the people you see on the streets are very well dressed, with none of the women carrying purses. And you smile and say "Good Shabbos" or "Shabbat shalom" when you pass them. We're spoiled.

Park Slope is NOT such a neighborhood. When we walked onto Seventh Avenue (the main business street), it was clearly Saturday. The people were running errands or going into the many, many coffehouses. And random people don't wish you peace of the day. Also, things are spread over a greater distance - running into someone I knew from shul in Park Slope was an occasion. Here, it's nearly daily because things are closer together. And, well, flatter. (Why it's called "Flatbush"). So, it was different. But the tiny Orthodox community and the larger Conservative one are both thriving, so it's all good.


And I seriously don't understand why women wear kippot. Is it because men wear kippot? Why would they want to look like men? It reads like "men do it, so it must be better."

As a woman who used to wear kippot, I'd say most women don't wear them because men do, but (assuming they're halachically minded) because they also want to fulfill the obligation of covering their head when davening. Either that, or they want a visible symbol if their Jewishness (since men get all of the identity markers- kippot/hats, tallitot, tzitzit, and t'fillin). At least that's how I perceive it.

I actually got myself into a quandary because if I wore a kippah it would be saying something about my ideology that isn't true, (either that I'm Reform or Conservative) but I want to cover my hair when I daven, but I don't want to wear hats or whatever because people would think I'm married. I wear a headscarf when I daven on Yom Kippur, but usually that's it. I guess I have to wait until I'm married to cover my hair.

What about those crocheted wire ones? They don't look like men's wear at all, but they don't cover enough to look like you're married.

It's not an issue of looking like men's kippot, they still look like kippot period. The ones I used to wear were in fact the wire ones or lacy ones with beads or whatnot, since I thought I looked weird in men's kippot. I'd still probably be making the same incorrect ideological statement.

Actually in many of the Sepharadi shuls, he who gets the Aliyah, leins that portion - it's not that he just recites the Brachot before and after.

Nod. But standard Ashkenazi practice is to have a baal korai because not everyone knows how to lein, and this way no one gets embarrassed.

Yes, but there are O shuls where there are different readers for different aliyot; it's not always one reader/week.

In my own very limited experience, I've only seen it when the normal reader was called away and the back-up one wasn't available, and so you get people who hastily learn an aliyah so there is something done.

I don't get the jeans to services thing, either, no matter what religion it is. I may not do the whole religion thing, but even when touring old churches, the least dressed up I'll be is wearing black trousers. I think I'm just a formal person to begin with, but... if I can dress up out of respect and I don't even *believe*, why can't someone who DOES believe show the same respect?

That's my point. It's kavod - honor and respect. Honor for the day, honor for the situation.

If I get dressed at all on Shabbat (sometimes I just wear a velour dress I designated as housewear for Shabbat), I wear clothes suitable for synagogue - even if I'm at an SF convention. This is my choice, and many O fans wear normal con clothes instead, but for me it helps.

I agree about the honour and respect. I have to chivvy Jeremy into fancy clothing sometimes, but if we're going to a wedding, funeral, or other significant holiday (even if it's not MY holiday) I generally declare, esp. where my family is concerned, what appropriate clothing will be for the situation at hand.

Besides, dear, your Shabbat clothing is always gorgeous. :-)

Thank you, sweetie. I'm sorry I missed you at Arisia - I didn't see you there at all.

It's the idea of dressing up for church that seems bizarre to me, but then I was raised Unitarian Universalist; going to the UU was an opportunity to show off bizarre political T-shirts that would have gotten you strange looks on the street.

I grew up Catholic, so that might explain my formality.

Congratulations to Jomack on reaching such an important rite of passage and sailing through with dignity and aplomb and yes, based on your description of the speech he gave, he sounds like a nice, thoughtful young man.

Regarding jeans -- I'd wear them (a clean and new pair) to a normal church service, but to a ceremony of any extra importance (wedding, funeral, first communion, high holy day ...)? No, not unless it was a case of I'd flown in and the airlines lost my luggage. (Even then I'd try to find something else to wear.)

Anyhoo, glad you and JB had an enjoyable weekend.

People wear what they want to a weekday service, of course - I'm sure there are many guys who wear jeans to those.

You know there is no specific bar mitzvah service, right? It was a normal Shabbat service - it's just that Jomack did parts of it for the first time, and gave the talk instead of the rabbi. And there were a lot of extra people.

Yes, I know that there's not a special bar-mitzvah service, per-se, but considering that this is still a special day and an important rite of passage for a member of the community, and that the Shabbat service is more formal than a weekday service? Jeans (even clean and new) are a poor choice of clothing.


Incidentally, the last time I attended a Sunday Mass was two days after after my grandma's funeral and it was in a tiny church on an indian reservation in a (poor) rural farming community. (FYI, I had only the clothes that fit in a carry on bag -- the only luggage I could take.)

Wearing anything but jeans (or work pants) would've made me overdressed for that congregation, considering it was an "ordinary" mass.

The dresscode ended up being (clean and new) jeans/dockers/dickies and a shirt with a collar. Also, pants, not overalls. Clothes you would have to change out of before doing anything but the most casual labor.

So in my jeans, polo shirt and simple cardigan, I fit right in.

I'm sorry about that - I'm in explain mode and I get pedantic. But,yes, it's a milestone in Jomack's life and his friends, at least, should have dressed accordingly.

Kavod is such a big deal in my world - Shabbat is a queen, and when one goes before a queen, one wears one's best clothes. Even women who don't go to shul (to have a day off or because they have small children) wear something special for the day. It might be just a robe, but it will be beautiful and something they would never wear on an ordinary day.

He also expounded about Yitro - Moses' father-in-law, who is the only non-Jew to have parashah named for him, and how that shows we need to learn from all nations.

Noach and Balak weren't Jewish either...

The Torah reading was interesting... they had multiple readers...

I've seen this done at Orthodox simchas where there are multiple people who can read and want to, as a way of participating even more than just having an aliya. This makes sense even more when a main part of the celebration involves the bar mitzvah boy reading for the first time, since this way the others are reading with him as it were.

I've also seen this at smaller Orthodox congregations where there is no designated reader who does the whole thing every week, so that the work is spread out each week among multiple people who may not have time/energy to prepare an entire parsha but can each do an aliya or two.

Noach and Balak weren't Jewish either...

Beat me to it.

I've also seen multiple readers in Orthodox and "traditional" (their term) services. Were the multiple readers at this service relatives? Was it an honor thing?

Only the first aliyah was done by a relative, one who leins in her own shul. The other six were done by three other women who seemed to be part of the synagogue. Jomack, of course, did maftir.

Aliyot were given to the grandfather, the mother and an aunt, as well as to the incoming and outgoing shul presidents (in tandem) and a woman bentching gomel (giving thanks for surviving something - I don't know what.) I forget who the other two were, so we think they may have been from his grandfather's side.

(Just as a sartorial point - our cousin wore a hat, the two lay readers wore doilies and the cantor wore a kippah over her long blonde hair. So it was purely choice here.)

Right. I'd forgotten. And Balak wasn't even a good guy.

This wasn't a small shul, though. Even factoring in the guests, well, they have a professional cantor, and the women who leined seemed very capable.

But it was a complete parasha, so they were "overworked."

I do have a couple of observations that may seem judgemental, and I'm sorry about that but - why were people (men and women) wearing *jeans* to a religious service?

This will strike you as odd, but if their jobs forbid them from wearing jeans this is a way of distinguishing Shabbat. Dressing down is for many of us a way of marking the release from bondage that the sabbath helps us commemorate. Certainly if I am leining, giving a d'var, or acting as shaliach tzibur I will dress UP to give Kavod to the role, but otherwise . . . relaxed is my preference.

And I seriously don't understand why women wear kippot. Is it because men wear kippot? Why would they want to look like men? It reads like "men do it, so it must be better."

In egalitarian communities women take on the yoke of many of the mitzvot that traditional communities view as incumbent only on men (Tallit, tefillin, kippah, etc). Wearing a kippah makes it clear that it is that which is going on, that the head is not covered for the sake of tzniut (a notion that is very problematic in egal communities because it places the onus on the woman to control the yetzer ra of the men).

I can see the sense in both these things, and I know you speak from a different perspective.

It's that from my perspective, they don't work. It doesn't show respect to the day (or the location) to wear casual clothes in public.

And - (again, from the Orthodox perspective) women don't do men's mitzvot because they don't *need* to do them. It's like they're lowering women to the level of men.

Besides, tzniut is a mitzvah, too.

Edited at 2008-01-28 03:54 pm (UTC)

Yeah, the perspectives are very different. I spent some time in my youth exploring Orthodoxy, so I'm not unfamiliar with these positions. The gender issue, especially, can get complicated. If you have not read "One People, Two Worlds," I recommend it. They grapple with the issue of Gender and Mitzvot in a way that explores both points of view very thoroughly.

Wow. It sounds very eventful overall!

btw, I need clueless goy translation...kippot?

Kippa = small round head covering, often nearly flat. Kippot = more than one kippa.

Ah!!! Thanks. I had clue...but only a background job of clue, and wanted a foreground one. ;-) That helps a lot. :-)