Oct 18 2012
When I was in middle school, I was lying on the couch one day reading a book when my dad walked through the living room. He asked if I’d done my study guide for a test I had the next day. I told him, “No,” as I continued reading and he asked if that was a smart idea. I said, half paying attention, that I would be fine. I failed the test.
When he asked about it later and I begrudgingly told him that the teacher surely had it out for me, he said, almost to himself, “I wonder if you’d have failed if you studied.” Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 24 2012
Rabbi Heidi Hoover is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek in Brooklyn, NY, but unlike most rabbis, Hoover grew up the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. We sat down with Rabbi Hoover to talk about her conversion, swapping clergy stories with her father, and why her Jewish kids believe in Santa Clause.
Do you and your dad ever bond about both being in the clergy, albeit different religions?
Yes! The day-to-day work of a member of the clergy has a lot of similarities across religions. When I was in rabbinical school he once called me to say, “I want to tell you about this committee meeting I just had, because you’re going to have to deal with stuff like this.” Another time he told me I’d inspired him to brush up on his Hebrew, and he called me once to say, “What do you think about [the word] chesed?” A couple of times I’ve called him for advice, in particular one time when I had to lead services in a very challenging situation.
(BTW, I love this question, and it’s not one I’ve been often asked.) Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 1 2012
The ghetto mikvah.
Early on in my conversion study I remember sitting in bed reading one of many books on becoming a Jew-by-choice. I stopped mid-way through a passage and scanned back over the text once more. I turned to my husband and said, “Um, did you know that if I want to be Jewish I have to take a NAKED bath… IN FRONT OF PEOPLE!?” He laughed and said surely this was something only Orthodox women did, but the more I researched and spoke with my beit din (rabbinic court), it was confirmed. I had to take a naked bath if I wanted to join The Tribe.
The photo in Mayim’s recent post (which was wonderful, by the way) is what most literature will show you of a mikvah (ritual bath)–beautiful lighting, marble floors, and immaculate waters. A spa-like experience connecting you with your maker. The mikvah where I lived at the time came with an official rabbinical disclaimer of being “rough around the edges.” The Midwestern city we lived in, like many in America, had succumbed to urban sprawl and what was once was a vibrant Jewish neighborhood was now plagued with one-way routed streets to prevent drug trafficking. The mikvah was a small ritual bath in the back of a weathered home. Read the rest of this entry →
May 9 2012
It always comes up when I least expect it, inevitably catching me off guard. It’s an innocent question asked in the course of small talk at a party. It’s an observation made by our Irish-Catholic plumber as he is fixing our sink. It’s an article on the Huffington Post that I wasn’t expecting to see.
It’s the question of who is a Jew. And if you aren’t a Jew, who can make you one?
My family history is both common and uncommon, especially in the decades since the Holocaust. My father’s family is Jewish, but I’ll never know for sure about my mother. Her maternal grandfather was almost certainly Jewish, and there may be reason to believe that her maternal grandmother was as well, but persecution and fear in northern Italy during WWII resulted in well-guarded family secrets, most of which died with my grandmother. I’ll likely never know. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 10 2012
Time to hide the Jew stuff: the HVAC guys are coming. HVAC is pronounced H-V-A-C, by the way. I used to say “aytchvack,” thinking I sounded cool and handy, until a technician corrected me. I’ve checked online, and authorities are mixed, but I’m sticking with the letters.
We chose a huge maintenance firm based on the assumption it would give us peace of mind. Not with prices or guarantees, but with accountability via a hierarchy of supervisors. When we had dudes from small handyman services, I never knew what would happen. I could be preached to, “witnessed” at, or told I’m going to hell. Why? Because we live in Nashville and our house is Jewish.
Evidence is everywhere: e.g. books, seder plates, Hebrew puzzles, Ketubah (wedding contract, jumbo-size, gold letters) and whatever holiday project I might be in the middle of all scream Jewiness. If my husband is home, he’s the evidence himself, what with his Ashkenazic je-ne-sais-quois and Philly dipthongs. Sometimes, I’m glad when he is, so I don’t have to deal with the weirdness alone, but sometimes his presence is what triggers the weirdness. “Are you Joosh?” the tree man asked him, “’cause you sure look Joosh.” And so on. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 26 2012
It’s a big news day for Jewish celebrity gossip! Drew Barrymore has announced that she will be converting to Judaism for her fiance, Will Kopelman. This of course excites us, as we hope that the couple will eventually have adorable Jewish babies that we can talk about in the Kid-Dish week after week.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!
According to a source, Drew reached out to her former co-star Adam Sandler to help with this important transition. I am very curious to know how Sandler will help Drew convert, but I guess if she needs to perform a kitschy holiday song before dipping into the mikveh, she’ll be covered.
Kopelman, who she’ll be marrying later this year, is not totally new to the celebrity scene. As an art consultant, he’s helped pick out collections for Zooey Deschenel and Robert Pattinson, his father was the former CEO of Chanel, and his sister is a “fashionista” who went to private school in Manhattan with one of our other favorite Jewish mamas, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Mazel tov to Drew and Will. May the rabbis go easy on you.
Dec 15 2011
For most of my life, Christmas was spent at my grandmother’s two-family house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She was Roman Catholic, and she made homemade pizza on Christmas Eve. We’d devour it at the kitchen table after accompanying her to midnight mass. Her home was decorated with tinsel and a tiny Christmas tree that she placed atop a card table in the enclosed porch at the front of her house. Like the electric menorah at our house in the suburbs, her tree sat in the window for all to see. Its tiny lights seemed to whisper, a person who cares about a holiday lives here.
The specifics: I was raised Jewish. Completely, totally, My-dad-is-a-Rabbi Jewish. My mom’s a convert to Judaism, and a super involved Jewish educator. But despite that, despite my Bat Mitzvah and conservative Jewish Day School education, despite years spent living in Israel, fluent Hebrew, Shabbat dinners and sukkah building —I am sure that I learned more about being a good Jew from my Roman Catholic grandmother and our time spent celebrating the holidays together, than I did from any Talmud class I took.
Agnes D’Amico, a faithful churchgoer until she became too old to leave the house, sprinkled grated cheese in her non-kosher chicken soup and tried to serve us Italian bread on Passover. And even though she’s been gone for ten years, each December, as the 25th approaches, I miss spending Christmas with her.
There were many years when Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped. When that happened, we piled into the blue Pontiac with the bumper sticker that read “Hang in there, Shabbos is coming” and we’d take along our menorah and ingredients for latkes. Agnes liked latkes. She liked matzah balls too. She liked to sing along at our Passover Seders and eat matzah and drink wine. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 1 2011
This is photoshopped, in case it's not obvious.
Here’s a joke for you: what do a Jewish manager, a Hebrew tattoo, and the Shema have to do with Hanukkah? Apparently nothing, if you ask Justin Bieber, whose debut Christmas album, Under the Mistletoe drops today. And according to his inappropriately blunt manager, his testicles have dropped too, rendering him deeper than ever! Yay?
Justin sings two octaves lower on his new album, but for you pre-pubescent falsetto lovers, he’s also belting it out in his girly voice with Mariah. He’s a favorite amongst tribe members, but overlooking even a driedel mention could be detrimental for his rep in the holy land.
Me? I’ll be adding JB’s holiday mash up to my collection alongside Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers Once Upon A Christmas and NKOTB Funky, Funky Christmas (don’t judge). When I converted to Judaism, I surrendered three boxes of snowman ornaments, my Jesus cookie cutter (because Jesus cookies are delicious), and our annual tree-cutting – on ONE condition – I was able to keep, AND LISTEN TO, all of my holiday music. I am totally THAT PERSON who programs my car radio to the Christmas station the day after Thanksgiving and belts out jingle bells with the car windows down in the middle of a snow storm. I’m hardcore, people. You couldn’t pry my precious holiday CD collection out of my steely grip if you promised me chocolate hands and painless childbirth.
I can’t tell you the number of people (including my husband) who have tried to tell me, “There really is some beautiful Hanukkah music out there, you should try it.” Does it include a boy drumming? Perhaps a serene chariot ride through the woods to your bubbe’s house? Does it talk about winter or snowy wonderlands? No. No it does not. And while there are a lot of things about Judaism that are just as special, if not better than Americanized Christian celebrations, winter holiday music ain’t one of them. Admittedly, I do own a few Hanukkah albums, including the Adam Sandler classic and my favorite Hanukkah song is by far, “Ocho Kandelikas” (I dare you to listen to that song without shaking your hips!) but there really isn’t a comparison and probably explains why my husband plays The Maccabeats “Candelight” on repeat for eight nights. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 28 2011
I walked into the grocery store last week and saw a tower of gleaming honey crisp apples. As I carefully picked my bounty, I breathed in a memory of last year’s Rosh Hashanah when my husband and I toasted the new year by dipping our favorite apples in honey while our 8-month-old son gobbled up some homemade apple puree. “This year, he’ll have apples and honey with us,” I smiled to myself.
Over the last few weeks, the anticipation of my toddler dipping apples in the stickiest substance on the planet and watching his eyes sparkle with delight still brings a smile to my face, but this time of year also reminds me that being Jewish and, even more so, feeling Jewish are very new to me. Four years is not enough to time to have a full repertoire of Rosh Hashanah recipes tasted and perfected to bring to a friend’s house. I don’t have crafts and decorations from years ago to pull out and hang around our house and my shofar blowing is spotty at best. I’ve never baked my own challah and I mourn the loss of my mother-in-law because we have no Jewish family to tell stories of my husband’s Jewish childhood. At a time when Jews around the world are reflecting on a year of works and worship – I find myself asking, “Was I Jewish enough?”
We only lit the candles a handful of times, but I perfected the art of cornflake chicken strips and we sing the Sh’ma every night.
We had a Hanukkah party and fumbled our way through latkes while my baby ate the wrapping paper on his gifts and returned the ‘present’ in his diaper the next day.
My best friend sewed an adorable King Ahasuerus costume for my son, but he fell ill with fever and we spent Purim in the emergency room.
My husband and I gave up chametz for the entirety of Pesach for the first time this year and I baked some delicious chocolate meringues and almond butter cookies.
And this past month, my toddler and I welcomed the return of Tot Shabbat at the JCC and I almost cried when I saw him clapping along to the familiarity of dinosaur Shabbat. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 1 2011
For those not in the know (and until yesterday, I counted myself among you), yesterday marked the first day of a new month on the Jewish calendar: Elul.
The morning begins like any other: our toddler twins wake up screaming, I change diapers, prepare breakfast, play with them, get them dressed, and call my parents so that they’ll Skype with them while I shower and give me time to actually wash my hair. As I get the computer ready and open the door to the bedroom, wherein our linen closet lies, to find a towel, I realize that this morning is not like all others. It’s the first of Elul.
I enter the bedroom and find my husband Marco wrapped in the tallis (prayer shawl) my parents bought him for our wedding, and my father’s tefillin (phylacteries). Two Judaic reference books lay open on our bed, illuminated by the glow of his iPad, which is on. It’s his first time laying tefillin, and he’s trying to follow the rules.
I’ve come in to hustle him into the shower—I need to get ready before the babysitter arrives so I can start my workday on time, and he needs to shower first and get out the door! But seeing him dressed in the regalia of full Judaic manhood stops me in my tracks.
“Oh—I’m sorry,” I murmur, slightly embarrassed that I’ve walked in on him this way.
He looks up from the texts. I notice a YouTube video streaming on the iPad: How to Lay Tefillin. “This is going to take some time,” he says.
I restore his privacy by closing the door.
Read the rest of this entry →