Monday, September 27, 2021

You Didn't Know Bubbe, But...

Of all the Jewish big holidays, Sukkot is my favorite. Not the first and last two days that are Yom Tov, but the in-between days of chol hamo'ed. At minyan, there is lots of singing, a bit of parading with the lulav and etrog, and a general feeling of camaraderie and thankfulness. Congenial and convivial. It's nice. It's long for a morning minyan, but it's still nice. 

Even though my dad said waving a lulav and etrog around is about as pagan as you can get and refused to do it, I find myself sneaking a sniff of etrog when the opportunity presents itself. (Etrogs are citrons and they smell really good.) I love the sound the lulav makes as it's shaken during Hallel and other parts of the service. And on the last day, Hoshanah Rabbah, the BIG prayer for rain is recited and then you beat willow branches on the ground in a symbolic attempt to free ourselves of any remaining sins that might cause G-d to allow a drought. Clearly, we have some serious praying to do here because we are in a terrible drought cycle in this country.

But there's serious part of the holiday cycle that cannot be overlooked. Granted, the cycle itself is a bit intense; besides the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the three harvest festival holidays come with their own idiosyncrasies. Passover has matzah, crazy cleaning, seders, Uncle Davey's death, and Yizkor. Shavuot has all night study, cheesecake, a week later, Ziggy's death, and Yizkor. Sukkot has sukkot in the backyard, lulavim and etrogim, Grandma Bessie's death, and Yizkor. Each one of these joyous holidays, as happy as they are, is tempered by the recitation of Yizkor, the memorial service when we recall the lives of our loved ones. Used to be, kids were not permitted to stay during's bad luck according to my own mother, so I never stayed for Yizkor until a year after Ziggy had the poor form to leave me upright and breathing. [Traditionally, one does not say Yizkor in the first year of mourning. I didn't understand it until that first Yom Kippur. I could not be in that place.]

We don't really need Yizkor to remember those we loved; most of us do it regularly, like breathing. No one has to remind us of their names, those names are engraved on our hearts and on our souls. Or on plaques in the shul. Jewish death rituals begin with caring for the body, then move to care for the survivors. The seven-day mourning period runs concurrently with the 30-day mourning period that also runs concurrently with the 11-months of mourning. On the surface, it may sound excessive, but if you have ever grieved for a loved one (and who amongst us has not) you already know grieving takes time. Letting go takes time. Learning to breathe again without that other person takes time. Death is a rupture in the fabric of our lives, regardless of how you felt about a particular person. 

The recitation of Yizkor 4-times each year (the three harvest holidays and Yom Kippur) gives the living a contained chance to recall those who had a part in shaping us, for good or for bad. Doesn't matter. What matters is that we recall the sum of that life. I cannot speak for others, but my remembering lets me revisit the things I want to keep and the things I need to let go...without being mired in endless grief. It's as much about searching my soul as remembering the souls I've lost. In the sacred space of the sanctuary, I wrap myself in the sacred time that is Yizkor. I let myself remember, I let myself feel. For me, that's a big deal because I'm not good at that. (Just ask my sons.) When I was a kid, I did not understand the weepy exodus from shul after Yizkor, what we called The Tissue Brigade. Now, however, I am overwhelmed by the power of those sacred moments and thankful that the grief part is contained in the context of Yizkor.

The older I get, however,  the more I crave that feeling of connection between me and those who came before me. I retell the stories: the ones about Grandpa Ben who died when my mom was a kid, tales of Great-grandma Nechama and Great-grandpa Tzadok. Their pictures just don't hang on my wall, they hang on my heart. I pass them every morning, and their names roll through my head as naturally as the names of the ones I knew up close and personal. Their stories matter because they are part of our family story. Both my grandmothers told me on numerous occasions: when you talk about them, they live. 

And in the context of family history, I want them to live.

When Little Miss barrels through the front door and says, "I need a Grandma Don't story," my heart sings because she may not have known my Grandma Bessie, but oh, how she loves her anyway! I tell and retell the stories of challah covers embroidered by Grandma Sarah, kiddush cups that belonged to my father, my Grandpa Moishe, and my Uncle Sam. And just as I tell the stories, Little Miss  has her own to tell Young Sir. They all begin with "You didn't know Bubbe, but..." I feel my mother's smile in my heart. 

Yizkor isn't necessarily about the past; it's about carrying our history forward. Not all important histories end up in textbooks. Most are simple day-to-day stories about how we lived, how we loved, how we survived, how we endured. Torah tells us only part of the big story. A bigger part is the stuff we actually remember ourselves. Both are important, but the stuff we carry forward needs to be passed to the next generation so they don't have to reinvent our wheels.  And if we're lucky, they will learn from our mistakes and do stuff better. 

For the record, I do remember the ugly and the painful. We all have those less than stellar memories. Those are recalled, and if one is lucky, one uses them in constructive ways. That's the best you can hope for. 

The rest of it? It's who we are. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If you live above the Mason-Dixon line,
now is the time to get your furnace checked.
Trust me on this one:
don't wait until the first frost. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Abundance of Fools...I Mean Fall

Well, here we are in the middle of Jewish Holiday Season. For those of us who observe, the period between Rosh HaShana and Simchat Torah usually feels like 24-days of endless holy days. You are so tired of cooking by the end of Sukkot, that the shabbat dinner that this year follows Simchat Torah by a day is usually pretty basic shabbat dinner. I have long suspected the Jewish holiday cycle is the real punishment for whatever went down in Gan Eden. 

Beth Jacob's Sukkah 2021
Still, there is something magical about Sukkot. If you're observant, you might build a sukkah in your back yard, and maybe even sleep in it. The roof is not solid; you have to be able to see the stars. Eating in the sukkah is always fun. It's a harvest holiday kinda thing, and no matter where you are in the world, you have to think about agriculture because this is what the holiday is about: first fruits. And by extension, you have to think about growing seasons, the land, the weather, and all the rest of the natural world that allows us to eat. 

If you know your Bible well, you know there is a call for a jubilee year for the land, and this year, 5782 is one of those years. In Hebrew, it's called shmita ...return:  
             Leviticus 25:1-7

1 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai:

2 Speak to the Israelite people and say to them:

When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the LORD.

3 Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield.

4 But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the LORD: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.

5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.

6 But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you,

7 and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield.

Shmita is still observed in Israel today. For example, Jewish National Fund does not plant trees during the shmita period unless it's an erosion emergency needed to protect the land. This year, however, medical cannabis is a new issue facing Israel. Read the article; it's fascinating.

See, it's like this. stewardship of the land is nothing new. The idea that we need to take care of the land so the land takes care of us was codified thousands of years ago. That concept was taken pretty seriously back then, long before university ag departments and rural extension services. The drafters of the bible did not overlook the relationship between earth and humankind.

The weather events of the past couple of weeks are more indications of an imbalance in our atmosphere. The increased power of hurricanes and typhoons coupled with what we know about rising ocean temperatures should be a pretty serious warning, especially for all those evangelicals who are busy with climate science denial. I wanna know if any farmers in places like Iowa, Alabama, Florida, California, or even Minnesota are observing the Jubilee Year for their land. Or is this just another one of the inconvenient laws tossed out along with observance of kashrut or the sabbath on the seventh day? 

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., everyone is asking What if we threw a rally and nobody came? Apparently, only 400-500 people were there although a permit had been granted for up to 700. Earlier in the week, the word was out that a far larger crowd was expected, and the U.S. Capitol Police prepared and executed a significant show of strength at the event. However, the crowd was peaceful and nothing of note took place. A friend in DC said they strolled over to watch, and she thought there were more reporters than protesters. That might not be strictly true, but the comparison she drew was rather telling. 

Kids watching soldiers at Second Bull Run
She mentioned that during the Civil War, it was popular to take a picnic lunch to some of the battles, sit on the nearest hill, and watch as soldiers slaughtered each other. It was a fine afternoon's entertainment if you didn't mind the smell of death. She said it was  like driving on the Belt Parkway and seeing a car crash off to the side. The Belt is so narrow that you are right on top of the scene, making rubbernecking inevitable. Gross, but human nature. I did not doubt her assessment for one New York minute. As we talked about the lack of a rally, she admitted that they had, indeed, gone to see the blood and gore, figuring they could join a counter protest if necessary. 

I know she is reading this, and I can hear the guffaw when I shamefully admit to thinking they are fair weather patriots. And I know there will be another phone call in my future. 

But It got me to thinking about what we take for granted. We assume democracy will save us when, in fact, we are watching it erode. The recent attempts, some successful, to restrict access to voting is clearly an attempt to control what should be a free election. We assume Roe v. Wade is settled law when it is clearly under attack in Texas, with a dozen or so states waiting to see what happens before passing their own draconian laws. So much for settled law.

And about those laws. Do any of them hold sperm providers responsible for this? Are there laws preventing men from inseminating women willy-nilly? Or taking responsibility for those offshoots? A woman can have sex once, conceive, and bear a single child in 9 months. A man can fuck a swatch through a population, inseminating hundreds of women, yet there is not one law on the books telling him that's illegal or that he is responsible for the care, feeding, and raising those hundreds of children. That, by the way, is a really BIG hint about what those laws are really about. And it ain't about the children. 

In a 2017 interview, Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid's Tale, said:
Sometimes people have to live their dream. So if living their dream means a lot of dead women and orphans, maybe they're going to have to live that dream and maybe they're just then going to have to figure out, 'Who's going to pay for this?'" Atwood asked. "Who's going to pay for the orphans and the dead women, because that's what you're going to have. And I'm waiting for the first lawsuit. I'm waiting, you know, in which the family of the dead woman sues the ... state and I'm also waiting for a lawsuit that says if you force me to have children I cannot afford, you should pay for the process. They should pay for my prenatal care. They should pay for my, otherwise, very expensive delivery, you should pay for my health insurance, you should pay for the upkeep of this child after it is born. That's where the concern seems to cut off with these people. Once you take your first breath, [it's] out the window with you. And, it is really a form of slavery to force women to have children that they cannot afford and then to say that they have to raise them.

It is a form of slavery to remove self-determination from a person. And it's a red herring. If a legislative body can do this to women, what other groups can and will be targeted? I don't think we have to think real hard for that answer. The demise of democracy in this country will not be with a bang, but with a whimper. (Thank you, T.S. Eliot, for The Hollow Men.)

But I digress. This week's episode is supposed to be about the abundance of fall...not the abundance of fools. 

So, at this juncture, I want to point out that fall is a great time of year for changes. The weather is a bit snappier, the bugs are slowly disappearing, the fruit is ripe, and the colors are grand. Take a moment to think about the gift that is autumn. Take a walk. Go to an orchard. Visit your local farmer's market or farm stand. Then remember that all of this comes from the earth to you. Be aware. Be cognizant. Be considerate of the planet. 

As a very young Junior Son once insisted, "Be ecowogicawy fweindwy." (Yes, he really did sound like Elmer Fudd.) And that drive toward ecological responsibility continues to this day as he and Mrs. Junior Son teach Little Miss and Young Sir how to be ecologically friendly. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Check your living footprint.
Work to make it as small as possible.
Your children and grandchildren will thank you.

Monday, September 13, 2021

All Vows, Obligations, Oaths, and Anathemas...

 Well, Yom Kippur is just about here. Wednesday night we begin with Kol Nidre:

All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called 'onam,' 'onas,' or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. 
May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. 
The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.

It's generally accepted that the prayer first appeared in Spain in the 7th century, documented in use by the 8th century, and specifically addressed the problem of forced conversion to Christianity. For those of you who think persecution began in 1492 with the Inquisition, guess again. It's older than that. The words are not about the world at large; they are about promises between the individual and G-d, the ones that cannot be fulfilled in the hearts. It is highly personal and, at least for me, very intense. 

Every year at this time, I think about that prayer, recited three times in Aramaic, not Hebrew, why it's there, and why we still say it. For Jews around the world, Kol Nidre is an annual moment frozen in time. A lot of Jews who are totally secular will attend Kol Nidre at the start of Yom Kippur even if they do nothing else. It's like a silent shofar drawing us all in. It's the moment that even if you don't believe in G-d and have done nothing Jewish all year, you confront yourself. Kol Nidre is a visceral response to the challenge of living. 

Last week, Rosh HaShana services at my little shtiebl, Beth Jacob, were held outside in an open-sided tent, but you couldn't miss our armed security officers standing nearby. We, too, have installed new security measures this past year. If someone wants to get to us while we are praying, they will; we can only hope the new additions will slow them down enough for people to take cover. How grotesque is even considering that as a necessary option? But has to be. 

Last Friday, Beth-El Synagogue in St. Louis Park received a credible threat of attack. The synagogue was immediately closed, pre-school cancelled for the day, and additional security measures kicked in. That's right. Kicked in. They were already in place, ready to go. In Saint Paul, a Jewish cemetery was vandalized. 

Events like these add up on the trauma scale. You become more watchful, more suspicious, more cautious, and less trusting. Kids on the lawn now have parents casually guarding the space not because it's official, but because there are credible threats that are not delivered per se. Don't let anyone tell you antisemitism doesn't exist here. It does. 

Meanwhile, back at the CDC:

As we face another year even in partial isolation, social distancing, and masks, I have to be thankful for the progress we've made. There ARE vaccines. If you have enough brains to behave responsibly, your chances of staying healthy are vastly improved. If you behave responsibly toward others in public places, their chances are improved because you are being sensible. Not radical. Not over-the-top. Just merely sensible. Is that so much to ask?

FOX News may go down in history as the only network that actively sought to kill its own audience, but the bottom line is that they're stupid and you can't fix that. And I'm getting awfully cynical when I think, sure, don't wear a mask. Get sick. If you all die then there will be fewer GOP voters at the polls. That's a terrible thought....but I catch myself thinking that every time I watch the news about how stupid people are. And there ain't a damn thing anyone can do about it.

Al Drago/NY Times
And oh, I did want to say something about President Biden. I caught some of his vaccine mandate speech the other day. He had that disgusted parent voice going, and boy, I was impressed. He was so parental it was amazing. Not condescending or mansplaining: he was matter-of-fact and spot on. Was he overstepping Presidential authority? Maybe. I don't know. But I know that voice was really effective when I was growing up and my Dad used it. I thought this was particularly good:

Third, if you wonder how all this adds up, here’s the math. The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Nearly three-quarters of the eligible have gotten at least one shot. But one-quarter has not gotten any. That’s nearly 80 million Americans not vaccinated. In a country as large as ours, that’s 25 percent minority. That 25 percent can cause a lot of damage, and they are. The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals or overrun the emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer.

I'm developing a serious like for Biden's style. He is the Anti-Orange. He speaks calmly even when he's mad. He puts out vetted information. Sure, sometimes stuff comes out wrong, but he has a better track record with facts. The more I read about the previous administration's negotiations with the Taliban, the more I think Biden did what had to be done and did it as well as could possibly be expected. Yeah, there's more to do getting people out, but that's what diplomacy is for. And now, Kim Jung-Un is playing with his missiles again...frankly, it's an AGD: Attention-Getting Device. Someone oughta figure out what he's really after. Probably a bigger winkie judging by the way he poufs himself up. If he has done nothing else, at least Biden is appointing qualified diplomats to crucial posts. I am so okay with that. There is a lot of damage to undo, and the back-biting-back-seat-driving-armchair-quarterbacks just need to sit down and shut up. There. I said it.  

And if in the course of certain events I have pissed anyone off, too bad. That's my job. I cannot/will not apologize for speaking my mind. Even I get to have an opinion. It might be wrong, or screwy, but I hope not. I really do try to be somewhat reasonable. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
An easy fast to all who do. 
May you be sealed in the Book of Life 
for a happy and healthy new year. 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Just In Time For 5782

A couple of weeks ago, I said my initial reaction to the word manscaping had something to do with men abrogating responsibility. I think that is exactly what manscaping means. I like that better than personal grooming. And it really does sound like man-escaping.

And speaking of men escaping responsibility...

This past week, the Texas legislature passed the most draconian, arcane, and downright moronic law that bypasses the Constitution to allow individual miscreants to sue a woman, the driver of her ride to her clinic appointment, the doctors, the nurses, the providers, and anyone else who helps her to LEGALLY terminate a pregnancy. Never mind this has to happen before 6 weeks into the pregnancy when very few women even suspect they are pregnant. 

In case you think I'm making this up, political historian Heather Cox Richardson explains it well:
In May, Governor Abbott signed the strongest anti-abortion law in the country, Senate Bill 8, which went into effect on September 1. It bans abortion after 6 weeks—when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant—thus automatically stopping about 85% of abortions in Texas. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Opponents of the bill had asked the Supreme Court to stop the law from taking effect. It declined to do so.
The law avoided the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision protecting the right to abortion before fetal viability at about 22 to 24 weeks by leaving the enforcement of the law not up to the state, but rather up to private citizens. This was deliberate. As Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern explained in an article in Slate: “Typically, when a state restricts abortion, providers file a lawsuit in federal court against the state officials responsible for enforcing the new law. Here, however, there are no such officials: The law is enforced by individual anti-abortion activists.” With this law, there’s no one to stop from enforcing it.
S.B. 8 puts ordinary people in charge of law enforcement. Anyone—at all—can sue any individual who “aids or abets,” or even intends to abet, an abortion in Texas after six weeks. Women seeking abortion themselves are exempt, but anyone who advises them (including a spouse), gives them a ride, provides counseling, staffs a clinic, and so on, can be sued by any random stranger. If the plaintiff wins, they pocket $10,000 plus court costs, and the clinic that provided the procedure is closed down. If the defendant doesn’t defend themselves, the court must find them guilty. And if the defendant wins, they get…nothing. Not even attorney’s fees.
So, nuisance lawsuits will ruin abortion providers, along with anyone accused of aiding and abetting—or intending to abet—an abortion. And the enforcers will be ordinary citizens.
But I'm not here to talk about the ridiculousness of citizen spies on personal choices for health care; I want to talk about the most obvious oversight in the rush to judge: the impregnators. 

Nowhere in this clearly unconstitutional aberration is so much of a mention of the universal cause of  pregnancy: sperm. Excuse me for being a bit clinical here, but it seems to me that you cannot get pregnant without it. And near as  I can tell, sperm only comes from one place. 

In this new Texas scenario, the sperm is not held accountable at any point in this process. The impregnator has no responsibility here, even if he wants some. Which should tell you about the basis of this abortion of a law. 

According to a number of polling sources, over 60% of Texans believe abortion is a women's health issue and should remain legal. Apparently, the Texas Duma feels otherwise. They clearly don't represent their constituency if the data is correct. They only represent their own penises. 

My cousin Karen Hinton uses the phrase Penis Politics. In an op ed piece in the New York  Daily News, she wrote:

In Cuomo’s world — and he would never admit this even to himself — working for him is like a 1950′s version of marriage. He always, always, always comes first. Everyone and everything else — your actual spouse, your children, your own career goals — is secondary. Your focus 24 hours a day is on him.

If you need more time with your own family, he will treat you like you are cheating on him. If you have your eye on another, better job, he’ll try to make that job disappear. Escaping Cuomo is tough because he has to exercise total control. 

Which makes me think Texas is about Vagina Politics and it has  nothing whatsoever to do with the owner of the vagina. In fact, it has nothing to do with the family of the owner of the vagina. It has to do with some teeny-tiny dick in Austin (which is a pretty liberal part of Texas) telling women what they can or cannot do with their vaginas in order to control their lives. This is a matter of controlling what a woman does not just with her body, but with her time and energy. This is a form of enslavement by a government. 

Obviously, I have a problem with that concept. My vagina, the vaginas of my daughters-in-law and my granddaughter are nobody's business but their own. NO ONE....and I mean NO ONE has the right to tell them what to do with their own vaginas...unless......

UNLESS THEY START PENALIZING PENISES for irresponsible behavior...stuff like incest, rape, domestic abuse, predatory sex acts, anything that ends up with an unwanted pregnancy.  Not really. But if you're gonna insist on legislating sex, it had better be quid pro quo. 

And speaking of irresponsible behavior, this week Texas also passed a no-permit-required conceal-and-carry law. Wow. Can you imagine some self-righteous zealot pulling a gun on an uber-driver taking some miscarrying woman to her doctor's appointment in a quest to collect that $10,000 bounty on pregnancy termination. Oh, wow, indeed!

The way I see it, Texas should just secede from the union and get it over with. Or  we can attempt to boot 'em out for total disregard of the Constitution? Can we do that? But wait! A whole bunch of other states are waiting in the wings to see if the impotent (as in no balls for defending the rule of law at all) Supreme Court just stands there while women are reduced to unprotected chattel while penises run amok. Yup, there are a whole bunch of rubber-stamping dumas waiting to see if they can legalize attacks against women. 

Folks, make no mistake about it: Texas is the bellwether here.  This is a map of the reality of abortion availability:

And if Roe v. Wade falls, this is the expected result:

The right to an abortion as guaranteed by the US Constitution is not just about abortion. The bigger picture is how states can and will limit freedom. Voter rights are currently in the crosshairs for more restrictions. Every day we read some other GOP attempt to overthrow the election. The attempts to stop the investigations into the attempted coup on January 6th should be sending very real shivers up your collective spines. Tip o'the iceberg, people.

If state dumas can erode the Constitution on women's rights, what makes you think they are going to stop? Or do you need to see the "no-working-while-pregnant" rules be reinstated? How about the one that says a husband cannot rape a wife? Or a man can beat his children for disobedience?

Have you figured out how really angry I am yet?

On April 16th, 2012, I wrote:
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is a growing political movement that would quash the gains we have made. Candidates Perry, Santorum, and Romney stood behind their podia and made pronouncements that would limit the choices women have. They would penalize us for having that which they don’t have: a uterus. We can grow new life and they cannot. That, dear readers, is not penis envy; it’s uterus envy. And we’re on to them.
Now, who hasn’t heard of LYSISTRATA? This is a little play written about 2500 years ago by a Greek guy named Aristophanes. In the play, the women want the interminable Peloponnesian War to stop. So when other methodologies fail to convince the guys running the war to knock it off, Lysistrata convinces the women to do what comes naturally: cut the menfolk off in the bedroom to force them to negotiate for peace.
If our male politicians want to use our sex against us, I would suggest that we follow Lysistrata’s example. If they want to inhibit access to birth control, we inhibit access to the birth canal.  If they want to limit our choices of what we can do with our bodies, well, I suggest we limit what they can do with theirs.

I am holding to my suggestion that women of Texas take up Lysistrata's mantle and start weaponizing their vaginas the same way these dickless wonders are attempting to weaponize their dicks. 

Or is it really their attempt to bring back the past? Are vaginas such a dreadful threat? 

You betcha.

A wise social studies teacher once told our class that even if man cannot control the weather, he can control the rivers. Once he controls the rivers, he controls accessibility to water for fields, villages, towns, cities, the nation, and ultimately the world. Eventually, however, every dam erodes and crumbles. In the  end, water always wins.

Women are rivers; we do what we need to do when left to our own devices and we do it well. You can harness our energy, or you can attempt to control it by damming us up. But like water, we will eventually wear you down, wash over you, and you will disappear. It's what we do best.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Day
Beginning Monday night, Jews worldwide celebrate the birthday of the world.
A very nice birthday present would be kindness toward the planet.
That will go a long way to ensuring we get to celebrate next year, too.
L'shana  tova u'metukah