Saturday, November 21, 2009

Where I was over break

This past week was our fall break.
I started off in Zichron Yaakov with Galya (Mechina) and her mom. There is an excellent Conservative shul there (Kehillat V'ahavta) that their family friends started.
Then I went with Jeff Blumenthal (Akiba) to Jerusalem and that night slept at Gal Chaitchik's in Herzeliyah.
Then I went to Inbal's (Mechina) in Gedera
Then I went to Asaf's (Mechina) in Rishon Letziyon
Then I went to Sara Goldberger's (WOFI) and learned with her for a day (!) at Migdal Oz in Gush Etziyon
Then I came to Jerusalem, where I spent a day with Sara Dritz (camp), Shabbat with the Kochins (where I also saw Mindy Shimmel, Cheryl Birkner, and Sarah Kass), and tonight I'm with Galya and her mom again at their family friends.

So basically, I saw people from the Mechina, camp, Write On, Akiba, and Chicagoans/Hyde Parkers. It was excellent!

CHECK THIS MAP (hm, looks like it's not showing the points. Go to and make the trip Zichron Yaakov--Jerusalem--Herzeliyah--Gedera--Rishon Letziyon--Gush Etziyon--Jerusalem):

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Kotel with Jeff Blumenthal and Bill Clinton

I got an email yesterday from Jeff Blumenthal saying Surprise! He was in Israel for a long weekend and where was I and did I want to see him.

I called Ethan/Linda to get his number, and made plans to go with him to Jerusalem today. We met up (after taking Galya to the dentist's in Ra'anana) and drove to Jerusalem.

After getting terribly lost (let's just say I've never seen so many gates to the Old City before...) we found our way to the Jaffa Gate and the Jewish Quarter. We walked around in the underground shouk, and had a kabab lunch at Jeff's favorite restaurant.

We went to the Kotel, where we were met by black Sedans, tens of security guards, and even more people crowding around. Some people said the Prime Minister was there, other people made other guesses, and some were just along for the ride. We ignored the mess, continued to the Kotel, and when I came out I saw a bunch of men in the kind of kippot that Millie gives out. I looked, and then saw a head of white hair emerge, and then a suit with a red tie and then--Bill Clinton!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shiur Chanich on the Conservative Jews

One of the great things about Nachshon is that we don't just invite lecturers to speak, we also get a chance to be the lecturers.

Each chanich teaches at least one shiur chanich on any topic of their choosing. Before one is allowed to teach a second shiur, everyone has to have taught at least one. I decided a long time ago--probably after the first argument that I had on the topic--to teach mine on Conservative Judaism. I wanted to do it this week because this shabbos was the 5th annivesary of my bat mitzvah (Parshat Chayei Sara) and I originally planned to chant a few psukim of the parsha as part of my shiur (for the section on egalitarianism).

Although I knew for a few weeks the general gist of what I was going to teach, and even the date of my shiur (I asked for a Thursday so that it would be a Torah-reading day), my planning ended up being like senior year, when I only really began to work on it two days before the Big Day.

I chose to work with Dan (our madrich who is religious) on purpose, although I knew that of the madrichim he would be the most frustrating for me to work with. Whenever we talk about religious/egalitarianism and the conservative movement I get very worked up because he pushes me; he pushes me to define what I stand for and he pushes me to explain why I stand for it. Which is really really hard. I know that at the end of the year I'll be glad that he's digging deeper, but when he's asking all the questions it's just frustrating because at this point I don't have the vocabulary (not in terms of language barrier. In terms of ideology)--or maybe even the knowledge--to explain why I think that what the Conservative Movement has is great.

In any case, I sat down with Dan to talk about my shiur because I really had no idea where to start. I knew in general what I wanted to teach, but not how to turn it into something more interesting than me standing up talking for however long. This time I made a point of hearing him out on every comment he made, every kashe he asked, although at times I disagreed with him so vehemently.

The night before my shiur I stayed up until 3:30am planning it--I had done most of the research before, but hadn't compiled it all. I wrote my entire outline in Hebrew, before realizing that I'm still unable to skim in Hebrew, so those notes wouldn't really do me any good in realtime when I would want to be glancing down for reminders of what I wanted to be talking about. So I rewrote the entire outline in English, with Hebrew every now and then for words that I had to look up and phrases I didn't know so well so that I wouldn't struggle. Here are pictures of both outlines so you can see what I talked about (Grandma, that's for you, for your lecture series).

I spent about 30-45 minutes going through the information in the outline. What I planned to do then was to play the "agree on this side of the room; disagree on that side of the room" game with a few statements ("agree" meant that generally they agreed with the Conservative position). After that I was going to switch them--have those who were usually on the "disagree" side argue for the Conservative movement (and vice versa).

We never got to that point, however, because the first question I asked exploded the discussion. The first statement was: אפשר להיות דתי\שומר מסורת בלי להיות אורתודוקסי (It's possible to be religious/keep the tradition without being Orthodox). The reason for this question is mainly because in Hebrew the words for "religious" and "orthodox" are generally the same: dati and I had a hard time trying to explain that one could consider herself religious without considering herself Orthodox.

The discussion was actually incredible (although admittedly weighted towards the Conservative side). I employed the Mr. Wright technique of everyone (including myself) sitting in a large circle
and the Mr. Karafiol technique of calling on a list of people (X, then Y, then Z, then Q) instead of waiting for one person to finish before calling on the next. Both of these techniques worked very well for me, especially the X, Y, Z, Q; people at the Mechina love to respond to each other's comments (even when not called on) but this set a precedent and people knew when it was their turn to talk and when not.

I was pleased with the level of partcipation (naturally not everyone participated, but I did think there was a good amount of variety) and that Galya's mom, who is in town for a bit, participated as well.

When I mentioned that the Mechina is split into two for shiurei chanich I forgot to mention that the groups are called siman and sh'ela. I specifically asked to teach mine to siman because it had all the people who have ever argued with me about Conservative Judaism. I can tell that they still don't agree with me--even a little bit--but I'm hoping that maybe my shiur chanich planted a seed in their heads that maybe, just maybe, there's something okay about another type of Judaism.