Author Archives: Rabbi Susan E. Lippe, she/her

About Rabbi Susan E. Lippe, she/her

My Ten Year Plan: To live without debt. To work at a meaningful job that I love. To live in My Dream House with My Dream Garden with Less Clutter.

A Letter for Anaya

My review of the book Akata Witch

By Nnedi Okorafor https://nnedi.com/

(includes spoilers!)

I finished listening to the book. I’m sad. I get sad when good books end. (But there are two more in the The Nsibidi Script Series so…YAY.) I was very surprised that none of our four protagonists died, but also I’m super relieved!

Favorite parts: I love the nicknames. I love that there is a person named “Calculus” and someone named “Sugar Cream!” Also, I used to have a pal named “Sonny,” so I love that name. I always think about whether someone named Sunny is sunny. In this book, I did wonder if the author named her Sunny also because she describes her skin as “yellow-ish.” I do also know a funny toddler named “Sonny” like Sonny Bono!

Silliest part: I thought it was funny that coins fell out of the sky when they learned. I’m glad we are rewarding learning, but also – the way the coins drop reminded me of a video game.

Sometimes I think about how people with “magical” abilities are supposed to – and often can – hide their abilities. In real life, most people’s disabilities are super visible. For example, everyone can see Sonny’s albino skin. She can’t hide it, and people treat her differently – sometimes very badly – because of it. Now, she can use her beautiful magic, but they demand she hides it. (See also the way superheroes have “normal” identities.) 

Also, some people treat invisible disabilities like ADHD or Depression with impatience – and sometimes disbelief and rudeness!

Also, sorry – this is negative, but it’s hard to tell the difference (maybe just for me) between a special, beautiful, magical town and a ghetto. In 2022, I try to love Jewish places. Aren’t I really lucky to be in a Jewish place where people “get me” and where people “speak my language” and I can live on Jewish time?! Yay. 

You can read more about this historical issues here – https://jwa.org/blog/postcards-from-yiddishland

You can see more info about this historical conflict here – https://www.tenement.org/

On the other hand, I used to visit a neighborhood of Ethiopian immigrants to volunteer in Jerusalem, but it also reminded me of when European countries and their original home in Ethiopia would restrict where Jewish people were ALLOWED to live and work. Some people told me – it was just a fast way to make sure all the immigrants had safe homes. Regardless, it’s not like that anymore. Here is some background about that neighborhood – Givat HaMatoshttps://jcpa.org/article/givat-hamatos-strategic-jerusalem-neighborhood-freeze/

Also, it reminds me of the women’s sections in traditional synagogues. So lovely for me to be surrounded by women and girls, but I get MAD when I remember WHY the men created the sections in the first place.

Here are two more motifs I think about a lot:

MOTIF #1a – I don’t like the idea of “Don’t tell your parents.” 

Here is some more info about the difference between a bad secret and a good surprise https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/keeping-youth-safe-surprises-versus-secrets

I get that – in books and movies, sometimes the kids don’t tell the adults about plans because then the adults will stop them from fighting evil. I get that –  in fiction –  that is an exciting way to set up a cool adventure for kids. In real life, it is the job of the adults who have kids’ best interest at heart to figure out the best way to protect you from bad stuff. 

MOTIF #1b – a corollary – instead of not telling their parents – their parents are dead or gone?! Oy vey.

I know that in a lot of kids’ literature the parents die. I get that in kids’ literature this is a theme. Like Bambi. 

https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691197746/the-original-bambi

Then, the kids are mostly on their own or stuck with bad guardians in bad situations. 

First of all, so sad. Second, I feel really uncomfortable telling kids not to trust adults! I’m not saying that all adults are great. (They are not.) However, I do not like secrets. I think surprises can be cool, but I think all kids need a few different kind, trustworthy adults to help them get through life. Not just crossing streets when they are little and other stuff like that, but also helping kids see things from different perspectives at different times. And to remind kids that what seems permanent might be temporary. AND ENCOURAGING KIDS! 

I read somewhere but I cannot remember where – probably way back in college – that most kid literature indulges in a fantasy life where the kids are actually part of something bigger and cooler than their regular lives of healthy breakfasts, bedtimes, school rules, etc. That kids imagine they are really princesses or wizards. That kids dream about leaving their parents behind and finding their true, magical, royal, special purpose, but I do also know that Sonny wishes she could know her mother, aunt, and grandmother better. That Sonny wishes that her dad could be kinder and more interested in her life, the way he is interested in her brothers. 

MOTIF #2 – I actually really like the idea that kids have special abilities and can save the universe. AS LONG AS THERE IS REAL TEAMWORK. I love teamwork. 

I love teachers, books, authors who tell kids – You have strength and creativity and ideas that you can use to make the world better – no matter your age!

This motif is part of why I love Stephen King books so much. King loves rescuing kids with special abilities. He loves a group of kids who come together to protect each other (and usually their town and the whole world) from anything bad or evil. 

Stephen King loves kids and magic. He loves bikes and friendships. He loves when kids who are suffering work together to make their world better. He believes that kids can fix bad stuff, and it always makes me feel better.

One of the main things I’ve learned from Stephen King is that some adults can still see “magic.” I used to worry that my ability to connect with kids was weird or bad – as if I am not growing up properly. My dad says that, when I was in 5th grade, I told him I didn’t want to ever have kids. He thought I would change my mind, but I didn’t. 

In the book IT, the adults who didn’t become parents retained the ability to see and conquer evil. I really like this idea. I want to be an adult kids can trust to help them fight their battles against anything evil or scary. https://stephenking.com/works/novel/it.html

Is Stephen King right for everyone? No. Some people cannot stand horror, and kids are too young to read most Stephen King books – even though I really think that some of his messages would be really healthy for kids to read. For adults who want to read Stephen King and other scary stuff, here is my gift to you!

My tips for the scary/gory parts!!

I used to never read/watch horror, but now I only read/watch horror. I have learned over and over that life is not about happy endings, perfect days, or perfect relationships. So much of the “happy” books and shows feel contrived to me now. Most days, only horror makes sense to me. I am not recommending this life/perspective. However, I have learned a lot that I think might help other people when they encounter scary stuff.

  1. Don’t read in the dark. Don’t read scary stuff alone. If you can look up from your book to a sunny spot or to peoplewatch, the fear can’t really take you over.
  2. Don’t close your eyes (especially if you are reading). Your imagination is way scarier and more detailed/real than anything the movie or tv studios can invent/produce. 
  3. Be curious. While whatever is happening in the book or on screen, if it freaks you out, think to yourself: How did they do that?! Because it’s never really the real thing. It’s never real blood. It’s corn syrup with food coloring! They aren’t really injuries. That’s make-up!
  4. Pretend you are in the middle of writing a review. Note down any good or bad lines of dialogue. Note which scenes work and which scenes look silly or fake.
  5. Sometimes, look away at something normal, like your slippers or your snack. Think to yourself: Isn’t it silly that peanut butter and celery can exist in the same world as this book/movie!?

WHY people are STILL sexist – October 10, 2018

[A letter I wrote to a friend.]

So, I’ve been thinking about your kid since you told me that she asked WHY people are STILL sexist. I really want to write her a letter but I’m afraid that I’m too ANGRY to write a polite, clean, appropriate letter. So, instead I’m going to write you my thinking now and then you can decide which parts the kids might want to read/know.

First, I want to acknowledge the fact that the STILL in the question is important. It’s hard for me to separate out the “original, ancient” causes of sexism from the present issues. Second, I think that people are STILL sexist for a lot of reasons and here are some of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list but I have a few reasons in my head since I got your text.

  1. People who have power are afraid of losing power.
  2. People are afraid of change. Even people who want change find change difficult. Take for example, a person who wants to move cities or change jobs. Even though they WANT that change and know in their head that it’s right or good, they still have a hard time with change because change is rough no matter what.
  3. Some people have been told their whole lives by society that they DESERVE the top spot. So our society has told white, straight, rich, men that they are the TOP of humanity in the United States of America. It’s hard for them to change their thinking. (My example of this is – I met with a bunch of liberal Jews to talk about Sarah and Hagar in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran. I told them that I thought Jews are trained to see Sarah in the best light – even though she was pretty mean to Hagar – and that as a result we are protective of her. They argued with me: “Oh no, we aren’t protective of Sarah.” But then as we got further and further into the conversation I realized that they were so protective of Sarah that they didn’t even know they were. They were trying but they needed even more help than I thought to open their minds.)
  4. Some people don’t realize how lucky they have it and how hard other people have it. So, that’s why people accuse people who are suffering of “acting” or of being “paid protestors.” If their whole lives, people are respectful of them, certain people don’t realize that that only is true for people who look like them or have money like them, etc.

Third, In terms of how sexism Got Started, there are a few theories:

  1. It is true that more women can get pregnant than men. So, in some times of their lives – pregnancy, nursing, etc. –  it is true that women need protection from society. Also, most men’s bodies are different from most women’s bodies so that – while women are built to withstand pain – many men seem built to hunt and travel and fight. I think that there is a short leap from “women need protection sometimes” to “women are weak and need men to tell them what to do and how to do it.” So, some of this original sexism might have to do with biology.
  2. Power scares people. The fact that women can get pregnant and give birth and nurse babies is all about their amazing power. And I think that some men may have been scared by this. Pain is scary.
  3. Change is scary. After puberty, men’s bodies don’t change so much but women’s bodies change every week of every month in cycles.
  4. Blood is scary. Women deal with blood a lot. They take care of babies and kids. They bleed every month. When they give birth, they bleed again. I think that maybe men thought that women’s connection to blood was scary.
  5. There are more theories, but we can’t do anything about them so we might as well move forward.

Fourth, here is the vocabulary word for the decade: KYRIARCHY.

Kyriarchy is a new word created by Dr. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She has a PhD in bible and she knows a lot about ancient societies in Greece. Instead of trying to examine sexism and racism and classism and other kinds of prejudice separately, she recognized that all kinds of prejudices work together to create a kind of pyramid. So, white, rich, men, for example, are at the top of a lot of prejudices that put down people who aren’t white, aren’t rich, and aren’t men. So, when some people talk about “patriarchy,” they are only talking about sexism, but there is so much more that goes into it. And this is also part of why people are “still” sexist – because they might be more afraid of having their white kids in schools with kids of color than they are of having a sexist president.

Fifth, at this point I also think it’s important to talk about the word MISOGYNY.

  1. Some people don’t realize they are sexist. (For example, I hate when people talk about a book being seminal! Because the “germ,” the “embryo” comes way before the semen. So if you want to say something is first and best, then you really have to say it is GERMINAL not seminal. I also hate the word disseminate – why does everyone want to spread sperm around? Why can’t they just “distribute” information or “share” the resources?)
  2. Some people are sexist and they don’t care that it’s mean. Some people really believe that men are better/stronger/smarter. Some of those people are actually women. Boo.
  3. Some people are so scared or so self-centered that they actually HATE women. That is misogyny, hatred of women. And those people don’t usually change. It’s usually not worth interacting with the misogynists. However, it’s definitely worth it to warn people about misogyny.
  4. People who “think” that women are less or deserve less or need less aren’t evil. I think they are thinking inaccurately and could benefit from learning more – maybe even just from polite interactions with smart, cool women, BUT – if you think/see someone is misogynist, stay away, don’t try to fix it.

Here is a blog article that talks about it – but it’s by “new” feminists aren’t really scholars of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza or Kyriarchy. https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/04/kyriarchy-101/

Also, when you feel sad about politics or current events, it’s worth it to re-read this letter from Leslie Knope:

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/parks-and-recreation-leslie-knope-writes-letter-to-america-following-donald-trumps-victory-142904267.html

Here is something else that is very important to remember – Even before you can vote, you are important. If you go to a protest, for example, it doesn’t matter if you are 18 yet. All that matters is that you are a human being standing in protest. (Or sitting and eating snacks while holding a sign or something.) The point is when you put your body or your voice in the political arena, that makes a difference, even before you are of voting age.

Same goes for phone calls. When you call the office of an elected representative, the point is that you are taking your time to use up the time of a staff member to communicate what matters to you. I know that people ask that you write letters/postcards, but it barely takes any time for a staff member of an elected official to read and count your letter/postcard. It takes way more time for them to talk to you and get your zip code and hear your concerns. When the staff members have to spend time out of their busy day listening to you, then they 1. Remember and 2. Tell their boss. And you don’t have to be 18 years old to communicate your concerns.

On that note, it’s valuable for you – even before you are 18 – to call/text adults you know who CAN vote and remind them that it’s important to you.

I also have to say this – we live in a two party system. I think that every young person experiments with being Independent or Green Party or something that isn’t Democrat or Republican. However, unless you are willing to work your tiny tush off to change the two-party-system into a three-party-system, I think it’s more efficient and effective to work within the system we’ve got.

There are a lot of people who would benefit from hearing smart, thoughtful, compassionate kids’ questions and concerns.

Please continue asking questions and sharing your concerns. Just even by thinking critically about the world, you are making it better.

ALSO, I love you and your family. ALSO, I’m sorry that the world can be so frustrating and scary.

More later, LOVE, Rabbi Susan Elizabeth Lippe, the First

November 9, 2022 – the day after Midterm Elections.

I don’t know how I’m the one who woke up with the pep talk energy this morning, but I guess it’s just my turn. Making the world a better place is difficult and slow! WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER. We can take turns.

When you feel sad/sick today, remember: Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert is trailing with more than 85% of votes counted in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District! [Update: she ended up winning in the morning, but I hope she made the most of that long, tough night of not knowing.] This morning at 9:30, Dr. Oz called John Fetterman to concede!

I know a lot of hateful people got elected – again. I know that many of us are feeling hopeless and powerless. Please don’t let hate take you over!!! We have so much more work to do. Hate saps energy! Some days, I have to focus on the successes so I don’t sink into despair!

Did you know that people with disabilities can vote FROM THEIR CARS in North Carolina????

Did you know that the third African American governor was just elected????

Democrats flipped Republican-held House seats in Ohio and Michigan and held on to vulnerable seats in Virginia, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, won re-election in an Ohio district redrawn to favor Republicans. She is set to become the longest-serving woman in congressional history.

Mary Peltola, a Democrat and the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, was ahead of Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich in Alaska’s sole House election!

Remember this: “Dems have a Florida problem, but Republicans have a Trump problem. That seems harder to solve.” — Jen Psaki, former Biden press secretary

Hear This: “My name is Nabeela Syed. I’m a 23-year old Muslim, Indian-American woman. We just flipped a Republican-held suburban district. And in January, I’ll be the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly.”

We – all of us –  have to do the work! And, if we have privilege, WE HAVE TO USE IT TO MAKE THE WORLD BETTER!

I heard Eitan Hersh in an NPR interview about his book Politics is for Power a while back, and he has really inspired me. He said that focusing on national and world politics makes people feel helpless. Americans can use our power/agency in local politics. If I hadn’t focused on the mayoral race this time, I can’t imagine how sad and hopeless I would feel today.

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Politics-Is-for-Power/Eitan-Hersh/9781982116798

I’m here for Celia Israel because Hersh’s words encouraged me to act locally!

Related: I’m going to say something controversial. Maybe – just maybe – it’s time to stop spending so much of our energy on JK Rowling and to start focusing more of our energy on stopping the hateful people who keep getting elected in our home states. Let’s focus on what we CAN DO to protect our most vulnerable humans.

Also, this poem brings me a little hope too: To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall by KIM ADDONIZIO.

https://poetrysociety.org/poems/to-the-woman-crying-uncontrollably-in-the-next-stall

I don’t like talking politics on Facebook.

But I do want to share my support for BOTH Israelis and Palestinians.

From May 14, 2021:

I am a Zionist.

I also know that the Israeli government and the Jerusalem police are NOT perfect.

I also believe that all of the Israeli people AND all of the Palestinian people deserve safety, freedom, independence, etc.

For me, Zionism means I believe Israel is a legal, vital, contributing part of the global community.

4a. I don’t believe Israel is perfect, but I love her anyway, which is similar to how I feel about the imperfect, racist, sexist, classist USA – the country who took in my two of my grandparents when they escaped from Poland/Russia – and yet still pisses me off almost every day.

4b. I don’t agree with most of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem police, BUT I LOVE my Israeli friends/family. I love Israeli art, food, technology, reproductive freedom, and socialized medicine. I am grateful that there has been a tiny, welcoming place on earth for Jewish refugees from the FSU, Iraq, Ethiopia, and more.

4c. For Jews, loyalty to ANY country is complicated since most countries have one or two events in their history where they treated Jews like garbage and/or tried to kill us. So, nationalism and patriotism are complicated for us.

If you want to unfollow/unfriend me because of any of these above points, please go ahead. I can take it.If you want to discuss Zionism more, that’s cool, but it has to wait until Sunday because I’m going to try to observe shabbat a bit.Shabbat Shalom, Jummah Mubarak, and all the prayers for peace, health, safety, and justice for ALL.

From May 18, 2021;

While a lot of American self-proclaimed human rights activists are busy telling me how to feel about Israelis and Palestinians, the country where we vote is busy dismantling reproductive freedoms, deeming trans rights/health care “child abuse,” and buttressing voter suppression.

I’d prefer that we all be allowed to continue to express our own opinions and feel our own feelings while we 1) respect each other and 2) fight for justice for all in the country where our votes and voices are supposed to matter……….

A discussion is a respectful exchange of ideas. Trying to make someone change their opinion to yours is not an invitation to a discussion. It is an invitation to a conversion.

Side Note – the next FB “friend” who comes to this page to tell me my opinion is wrong or “not liberal” will be treated just like anyone else who tries to silence me. If you want to judge me, that’s fine – but not in the guise of “discussion.”

Feel free to unfriend/unfollow. I promise you – I can take it.

More Gun Sense Requests

I dream of a world where gun violence is not a constant presence.

  1. There are mentally ill people in every country but there are not mass shootings on a comparable scale in most other countries.
  2. There are mentally ill women in our country and yet most of the mass shootings are committed by male shooters.
  3. I agree that these murderers are sick but please let’s not conflate these two issues.
  4. Calling murderers “crazy” or “nuts” isn’t helping anyone. All it really does is: a. pretend that shootings are unusual and b. stigmatize mental illness more.
  5. Every time we add to the stigma of mental illness, we are contributing to the obstacles that prevent people from admitting they need help and actually seek help
  6. NATIONAL UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS NATIONAL UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS NATIONAL UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS.
  7. We need to spend some money on scientific studies. We need to apply this groundswell of concern to actually FUND some studies on guns, gun violence, and gun laws. PLEASE.
  8. Mental Illness is a real human problem that cannot be “solved” with laws.
  9. Gun violence is a real human problem that cannot be “solved” by blaming it on the mentally ill.
  10. The money the NRA uses to buy politicians and to lobby against legislation is a huge problem that we, the voters, can address directly. Let’s do that now.

 

UPDATES: (A) I posted this on Facebook a while back. Since it’s still getting “likes,” I thought I should post it here. Thanks for reading. (B) If you want to support mental health awareness, go to: www.nami.org

 

 

#GunSense

Every once in a while, your rabbi quotes one of your other rabbis, and your heart swells with affection. Yesterday, Rabbi Neil Blumofe quoted Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who was my rabbi-supervisor at Gindling Hilltop Camp in the early 90s (and one of my “big brothers” among the “Pacific Area Reform Rabbis”).

My heart was already full yesterday morning: A) The Torah scroll that was read & lifted yesterday was scribed by a female soferet. B) I was sitting next to my lovely friend Yaira, across from my adorable friend Chris, and looking around a beautiful Jewish sanctuary filled with amazing people. C) I was praying with a Jewish community who loves liturgical Hebrew.

My heart was also broken: It takes me a few days for mass shootings to sink into my brain. At first, Shock – How can there be another mass shooting? How many kids died this time? Again?! Next, Anger – How did no one stop this troubled teen? How is it so easy for a kid to get guns, bullets, and alone time to mount a full-scale attack on a school? Also, Confusion – How is it possible that we live in a so-called advanced society and we don’t recognize the importance of safety for our children? How can we not agree on the most basic of needs for the most vulnerable of humans?

Then, in his sermon, Rabbi Blumofe cited Rabbi Kipnes’ blog:

Two by Two: Saving the Children
From the Storm of Bullets
Raining Down on their Heads
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes

In his poetic charge, Rabbi Kipnes implores all of us to:

Join an organization that reflects your views
Or Send a check to a candidate that reflects your views
Or Attend a rally to reflect your views
Or Make a donation to a group that reflects your views
And then
Encourage two friends to do two by two

So, I wanted to amplify this message and add my two cents.

1. Contacting our elected representatives – I know that postcard parties and sending emails are easier for the introverts than calling. I personally do not enjoy talking on the telephone either. However, everything I’ve read, for example, from INDIVISIBLE suggests CALLING is more effective than mail of any sort. Our mail and email just gets counted and reported as statistics – and we know what conservative politicians do with stats. However, actually CALLING during business hours takes up the office staff’s time. When the staffers report to their bosses, our elected representatives, they report that our CALLS take time away from the rest of their productive work day. That’s GREAT. Let’s do that. CALL. CALL. CALL. Keep a list in front of you. Crochet while you are on hold. Do whatever you can to force yourself to make these calls on the regular. (I’m going to do this awkward thing and link you to a blog post I already wrote about this: A New Resistance.)

2. We were on fire during the first 3 or 4 months of this American presidency. I know that my senators complained about the phone calls we snowflakes were putting in. Let’s get that fire back. If our team can run this marathon of resistance NOW, then it won’t turn into a full 8 years of this presidency. (Heaven, help us.)

Here is a pep talk from EVERYTOWN.org

throw them out.jpg

I found this scary drawing (below) on a friend’s Facebook page.

We CANNOT let this be our future.

mass shootings.jpg

The Doctor is a Woman.

 

December 25, 2017

Starting tonight, the Doctor will be a woman. 

I pity those narrow-minded, under-educated jerks who are mad that the Doctor will be female. (Learn your history, jerks.)

Cool Whovians: If anyone comes at you, please remind them:

1. The show was designed, directed, and sustained by a Jewish woman and a gay British Indian guy.

2. If there was ever a time when women deserved a female hero with the power to dole out poetic justice on a grand scale, this it. She is long overdue. #metoo 


3. Last semester, I took a Hermeneutics class, and every week, our class discussions reminded me of scenes where the Doctor re-invented interpersonal communication, moments when the Doctor helped two very different groups (species even) truly hear each other.


4. No, her Companion does not have to be a straight male or a gay female. Two female leaders can often be trusted to become a successful team who produce meaningful work. Even the ostriches have learned this year: Some of our (formerly) favorite men cannot be trusted. Many of them have secretly been abusing women for decades.


5. Girls and women have been identifying with male characters/heroes for our whole lives – Moses, Joseph, Paddington, Harry Potter, the Winchesters, to name a few. – because we often do not have many other choices. There are not many Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars, Pippi Longstockings, and Leslie Knopes out there.
It won’t be so bad for boys and men to learn to empathize with an imaginary woman. It might even help.


6. Maybe you’ve never watched Doctor Who. Maybe you don’t even like SciFi. Maybe you don’t need a righteous, mindful, fanciful imaginary character to comfort you during the next 3 years (or it could be 7 more years). But – for me – I need Doctor Who to get me through. I will miss Peter Capaldi, and I will miss Pearl Mackie as well.


7. Here, I must thank the talented Jessica Rosenberg who introduced me to the universe of the Doctor, and who continues to answer all of my questions.

This is my favorite part of every December.

Enjoy tonight, my Whovian friends.

 

p.s. As Jodie Whittaker becomes The First Female Doctor, we’re remembering Delia Derbyshire, who composed the theme tune for Doctor Who but was barred from studios due to being a woman. She is now credited as paving the way for women in the music industry.

Yom Kippur 5778

Many Jews and Muslims are fasting tomorrow. I attached this weird but interesting article about it at the bottom of this post. Also, I ranted below – for a change.
Hineni. Oh, how I love/hate Yom Kippur! I love the liturgy of Yom Kippur. I love Yom Kippur tunes and tropes and traditions. Ki Anu Amechah! I always, always love the shofar and havdallah. But I hate fasting. So. Much. (Yes, “hate is a strong word.” That’s why I’m using it.)
I’ll think of you with love, my sisters, brothers, cousins in faith. I’ll think of your strength, your stamina, your determination, your cotton mouth.
I’ll think of those of you who cheerfully feed small children lunch while your stomach growls and your head pounds. I’ll daydream fondly about the makers of over-the-counter pain killers, starting around 3pm when my familiar YK migraine takes hold.
I’ll try to remember to cover my mouth when I talk to people because fasting breath is the worst breath.
I’ll think of my Beth Am friends who spent one post-Yom-Kippur morning at a Home Depot with me looking at sukkot blueprints and then joyously shopping for sukkot building materials.
I’ll think of my Muslim friends with admiration because they probably think that one day of fasting is a piece of cake compared to a month of fast days and because it’s so cool when our holy days line up.
I always think of the YK afternoon I fell asleep next to a dozing teen-aged RK Rachel Marder in the front row during the afternoon liturgy. I always think of Rabbi Janet Marder politely reminding everyone to take the lessons/intention/tone of Yom Kippur into the parking lot. (And how people behaved rudely in the parking lot anyway.)
I think longingly of Cantor Kay Greenwald‘s voice and of that time 2,000 people sang happy birthday to Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback at Kol Nidrei. (That was totally my idea, you know, my brother.)
I think of my stalwart clergy friends powering through Yom Kippur from the bima – teaching, speaking, chanting, singing, smiling, turning pages, blessing folks, remembering names, blowing shofarot, and, finally, happily welcoming havdallah.
I think of everyone who this year (!) won’t have to explain to work/school why we need a whole 25 hours off and why we won’t be “all there” the next day.
I always think of my grandma and my bubi who made the comfort foods that concluded Yom Kippur with joy and satisfaction and family. I think of my grandpa who washed all the dishes and who remembered the Hebrew blessing for wine, long after he forgot so many other important things by age 89.
I’ll think of you all tomorrow. I already regret not reaching out to each of you to apologize for my forgetfulness and insensitivities and errors this year. I’ll think of what I can do better next year. And I’ll re-dedicate myself to calling/writing/texting/visiting everyone I love.
And tomorrow night, this ordeal of heart/soul/body will all be over, but I hope my new hope and dedication will survive.

The Jewish Holiday of Purim and Community Response to Hate and Violence

Good evening. I’m Susan. I’m here for the dialogue and the Turkish food. I also have some ideas I want to run past you.

The Title of my talk is: The Jewish Holiday of Purim and Community Response to Hate and Violence.

I’m going to tell the story of the Book of Esther. I’m only going to tell selective sections of the Purim story. Some of the story of Esther is uncomfortable, especially in a world where women are supposedly equal to men.

Once upon a time, King Ahasuerus was a drunken, fictional king in Persia. His wife Queen Vashti refuses to be exploited during yet another drunken feast. Ahasuerus sent for her. She doesn’t come. The King’s advisors are outraged. The King’s advisors convince him to get rid of this wife and search for a new one.

Esther is a pretty young Jewish girl who lives with her uncle, Mordecai. When the king’s administration demands all pretty young things come to the palace to audition for queenship, Esther’s uncle prepares her to go. His big advice is: Don’t tell anyone that you are Jewish.

Esther is one of a large group of women who spend a year at the palace being groomed. Mordecai spends a lot of time around the gateway to where the women are, hoping to hear how Esther is. Let’s skip some of the uncomfortable details of how Esther wins this beauty contest. The bottom line is that Esther becomes queen, wife to the drunken and easily influenced king Ahasuerus. Queen Esther is safe and comfortable in the palace.

Now, Mordecai spends his time in the gateway to the palace. He has become an advisor to the king. Not exactly part of the king’s regime, but not exactly a regular citizen either. Mordecai is appreciated for his mind and for his concern for others.

Enter Haman. Haman is an advisor to the king. Though he is not the king, he demands the respect the king’s position might afford him. Just like the king, Haman demands that citizens bow to him. Mordecai refuses. Maybe he refuses because Jews do not bow to earthly kings. Maybe he refuses because he doesn’t think Haman deserves that kind of respect.

Bottom line – Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman. Haman becomes obsessed with Mordecai, complaining about him and his whole people. Haman makes revenge his pet project. He gets a law passed. On the fifteenth, all the Persians are encouraged to attack the defenseless Jewish citizens of the kingdom.

When Mordecai hears of this new law, he is outraged and worried. He puts on the traditional clothing of mourning. He seats himself at the gateway to the palace, wearing sackcloth and ashes. His niece, the queen becomes uncomfortable. She sends a messenger to him with clean clothing.

He sends her a message: “Haman is planning to kill all the Jews! Go to the king! Fix it! Fix it! Fix it!”

She sends him this message: “While that is upsetting news, what do you want me to do? My whole job is based on pleasing the king. I can’t interrupt him, and I certainly can’t tell him bad news. Plus, you told me never to tell anyone that I’m Jewish.”

Mordecai writes back: “Don’t think for a minute that you can stay safe in the castle. Being queen won’t protect you. If you don’t stand up for the Jews, help will have to come from another place……”

Esther thinks about it. Then, despite her fear and discomfort, she sends a new response: “Gather all of our people. Ask everyone to fast with me for three days. Then, I will go to the king to ask for help.”

The people join Mordecai in sackcloth and ashes and fasting. Esther visits the throne room. The King welcomes her. Esther prepares two consecutive feasts for the King and his advisor, the evil Haman. At the second feast, Esther tells the king that she’s worried about the Jews and the new law. She admits that she is, in fact, Jewish. The king takes a moment to absorb all this information and then his administration quickly adds to the law.

The new law is that the Jews are allowed to fight back. So, the Jews and the Persians prepare to fight. The Jews win.

This story is violent and fictional. And it leads to a famous joke about us. Purim and Passover are both summed up this way: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

What have we learned from Purim?

Some of our lessons are these:

Jewish survival is confusing and wonderful. Jews are a minority in the world, and yet we survive.

It’s important to stand up for what is right, even when it’s terrifying.

Sticking together, working together, praying together, fighting together means everything.

Find the entry ways. Mordecai is almost always at a doorway or a gateway. The royal administration notices him because he’s always by the entrance.

Be a Noisemaker

We bring noisemakers to the Megillah reading. When the reader says Haman, people make so much noise, trying to blot out the sound of his name. Since January 20th, many of us have had a the chance to be a noise maker. There are a million suggestions and guidebooks out now about how to be the best and most-effective noise makers. Here are my favorite suggestions this week:

One: I have heard from a few sources that we should start talking about the Republican Administration. When the president does something that we find offensive or frightening, instead of talking about the individual president, we can talk about the Republican Administration. Instead of trying to hold one slippery person accountable, we as a group will hold the party responsible. And hopefully, the party will care about how we see them as a group.

As far as I can see, this party sees us as our group identity, religious minorities. So, we can let them know how that works – from the other end.

Two: When it comes to letting a politician know what we think, emails and voicemails aren’t as powerful as calling. (You must know that I  never never ever talk on the phone. I text. It’s faster and it doesn’t depend on two people being free to talk at the same time.)

BUT I’ve been calling our senators and my neighborhood’s representative. I haven’t called every day, but I’ve called at least once a week. I have a new notebook and I keep track of whose lines are busy, who answers, what I say, and what they say.

I’m a noisemaker. I get my ideas from a few websites and journalists whom I like and respect. I write down one issue. It usually starts with – “I’m concerned about….”

Hamentaschen

I have a Cookie Proposal.

If you’re Christian, then the whole country validates you, your customs, your traditions, your calendar.

The country doesn’t know that much about us Jews, but they believe they do. They know that we don’t accept Jesus as our savior, but most of what they know about Jews, they know from television shows like Seinfeld.

The main thing that non-Jews in Texas know about us is food. During hannukah, my friends ask for potato pancakes. During the high holy days, they ask for matza ball soup. During Passover, I usually share chocolate matza brittle. During Purim, I make hamentaschen, these three cornered cookies with different sweet fillings.

So, here is my idea: a Muslim Cookie Strategy.

The non-Muslim Americans don’t know you. They have no idea what Eeeed is, how to pronounce it, why there are two of them, and when to expect them in the calendar.

My strategy is teach folks about Islam with cookies. It’s not a brilliant theory, and it’s not just a play to receive snacks, but this is my idea: Before or after Eeed and other celebrations, bring some snacks to people who don’t really get you yet – the fire department, the police department, the teachers at your kid’s school, the nurses’ station at the hospital. I am proposing Cookie Diplomacy.

Storytelling

On Purim, one of our mitzvot, holy obligations, is hearing the Megillah, Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther. We are not obligated to read it, we are obligated to hear it. So, to fulfill this divine commandment, we gather together to hear the same story, every year. Storytelling is the glue that binds our community together. But just being part of the Jewish community isn’t enough. We, all of us, can use storytelling to bind us to our neighbors.

The reason we are here tonight is the Dialogue Center, a group that values connection.

As I have learned from my chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, storytelling binds us.

As I have learned from the New Israel Fund, it’s time for us to stand together, to tell each other the good stories and the bad stories.

There is no better way than to deepen empathy than to share our stories.

Compartmentalization

Take the tough stuff seriously, and then party seriously. Ta’anit Esther is the fast the day before Purim. It’s hard for some of us to celebrate the fictional death of the fictional Persian attackers. Judaism provides us a fast day to separate our grief from our celebration. There is nothing like a day set aside for grief to make a day set aside for a party possible.

Conclusion

Thank you for this invitation. I’m honored to be included at the Dialogue Center. The Dialogue Center does important work, and the Dialogue Center also feeds me very well. Being part of this community, a group of friends, cousins, and bakers, is a blessing to me.

A New Resistance

GOOD MORNING, AMERICA. HOW ARE YOU?

For the next 4 weeks, I’m going to make these 6 phone calls every day, except Shabbat. I wanted to give myself a limited time to see if I could pull it off without pulling my hair out.

Today, I want to let them know that I oppose Sessions appointment to Attorney General. He is unfit to serve.

Day One:
Cornyn’s Washington office: Can’t reach a staffer, though there are many rabbit holes to follow on the options menu. They all lead nowhere.
Cornyn’s Austin office: Busy signal.

Cruz’s Washington office: Their voicemail inbox is full.
Cruz’s Austin office: Found a lovely, yet repetitive human! (It only took about 5 tries.)

In William’s DC office, a lovely human being named Elise answered the phone and listened to my concern. Super polite.
William’s Austin office: Voicemail inbox full…….

On my way out of town, I might stop by Cornyn’s 6th Street office – just to check to see if he is okay!
Senator Cornyn, you’re not answering ANY of your telephones, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?

Note: It only took about 20 minutes to call, including trying each number a few times and talking the two people I actually reached.