In my last post, I wrote about explaining the laws of kashrut to our nanny and I ended with this paragraph:
Keeping kosher is something we do; it’s part of our tradition and part of who we are. But it’s not the easiest thing to explain. I mean, it’s easy enough to say, “There are a bunch of passages in the Torah that are all about dietary restrictions and Jews have stuck with those for an awfully long time.” But it takes a good deal more than that to explain why those dietary restrictions are ones that we — in this house in this time and place — still find meaningful and worth following, especially since we don’t read the Torah literally and we don’t take to heart all of the rules-and-regulations passages from right alongside the passages about keeping kosher. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to explain oneself to others … despite, or perhaps because of, the difficulty that often attends making sense of one’s beliefs and actions.
And so a number of people wanted to know why I keep kosher.
In the first place, it’s a return for me to the way I did things when I was growing up. My grandparents kept a kosher home and so did my parents; I went to a private Hebrew day school from kindergarten through eighth grade. So keeping kosher was the standard for me until high school. I didn’t keep kosher in high school, college, or graduate school. Returning to it now that I have a family of my own is a sort of homecoming for me.
But it wasn’t necessarily a choice I would have made for myself. It was my wife’s idea and it was important to her; when we drove out to Nebraska from Virginia back in 2008, she suggested it and, over many hours in the car, we debated and decided to give it a try. It was actually pretty difficult to do when we lived in Lincoln; there was no kosher meat available in the city until Trader Joe’s opened shortly before we moved, so we had to drive to Omaha and stock up on frozen meat. Most of the time, we were de facto vegetarians. Despite the challenges, I have to say that it was a great feeling to know that my grandparents could eat anything in our house, using the proper dishes and silverware, when they came to visit. My grandfather never would have said anything, but I’m sure it was a concern when he visited me during my grad school stint in North Carolina.
Having moved to Omaha, it’s much easier. The Jewish community is larger here and there are many more kosher items available in the grocery stores. Buying kosher meat, separating dairy from meat, choosing to have a whole bunch of sets of dishes, or asking questions about ingredients when you’re at a restaurant are all things that could be a hassle but, at this point in my life, they bring a sense of intentionality to a meal. Rather than just choosing anything from the fridge and putting it on a plate, each meal represents an opportunity to pause and consider what’s important to me.
Finally, and very much related to the last point, keeping kosher has become something that’s a part of our identity because we’ve joined a vibrant Jewish community here in Omaha and we’re raising our kids in that community. Keeping kosher is something we do to explain Judaism to our kids; it’s a connection with the history and tradition of the Jewish people. And it’s part of consciously creating a particular identity as Jews in a place where Jews are a very, very small minority. My sense is that this will pay dividends as the kids get older, as their Judaism always will have been a clearly defined part of who they are just as it was for me.
The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska explains the meaning of “Omaha” to Peyton Manning and invites him to visit the Omaha Tribal Reservation.
It would be pretty fantastic to see him take them up on their offer.
But seriously, my Christmas afternoon and evening involved helping out at the synagogue for the annual Men’s Club Kosher Chinese Buffet. This year, we had more than 125 people in attendance and more entrees than a Friday night dinner at my grandmother’s house.
We set up, we cooked, we ate, we served, we ate, we cleaned, and we ate a little more. My sense is that no one went home even remotely hungry and we still had plenty of food left over to take home and to give to others.
Major thanks is really due to the core crew — especially David, Ben, and Mike who came in early and stayed late — so that a slacker like me could swoop in for a few hours during naptime and after bedtime.
If your synagogue isn’t serving up a ridiculous amount of kosher Chinese food every Christmas, well, you just might want to think about moving to Omaha …
Over the past few days, I’ve gone to four different stores in an attempt to find Hanukkah candles. When I ask about the candles, the clerks look at me like I’ve lost my mind and try to show me other candles I might like to buy.
It’s not that they don’t know what Hanukkah is or that candles are involved in it. It’s that their vision of Hanukkah is just Jewish Christmas … so I’m asking them for candles about a month too soon.
Except that, this year, Hanukkah begins next week and I need some candles.
All of these stores are going to stock their shelves with Hanukkah candles in mid-December and they’re going to be perplexed that no one’s buying them. And then they’re going to order fewer boxes of candles for 2014, assuming that the Jewish community has either left town en masse, has given up on Hanukkah, or is shopping at a different store.
I had a bunch of essays on Foucault to grade … so I took them with me to a sushi place downtown that has an All-You-Can-Eat lunch deal.
I graded five essays, which is good. And I definitely got my money’s worth. But, in retrospect, I probably just ate way too much sushi.
All-You-Can-Eat is not the same thing as All-You-Should-Eat.
I gave what can only be described as a stirring public lecture on human rights earlier this afternoon, as part of the Global Day of Jewish Learning.
My hour-long session was up against a presentation by a colleague of mine who’s an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, so turnout was obviously depressed. Of my seven attendees, though, five remained awake throughout … so I’m counting it as a pretty successful example of community outreach.
And, yes, I’m also available for weddings, bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, and children’s birthday parties.
How segregated is Omaha?In this image from Dustin Cable, the colors represent the following races:
- Blue dots: White
- Green dots: African-American
- Red dots: Asian
- Orange dots: Latino
- Brown dots: all other races
The map, created by Dustin Cable at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is stunningly comprehensive. Drawing on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, it shows one dot per person, color-coded by race. That’s 308,745,538 dots in all – around 7 GB of visual data. It isn’t the first map to show the country’s ethnic distribution, nor is it the first to show every single citizen, but it is the first to do both, making it the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.
Something unusual happened on Friday night during Kol Nidre services at Beth El Synagogue in Omaha, Nebraska.
Addressing the entire congregation — since it’s one of the rare times that virtually every member is in attendance — our rabbi, Steven Abraham, spoke for about fifteen minutes about a decision made by the clergy, the Religious Life committee, and the Board of Directors to make ours a more inclusive community.
He talked about intermarriage, which Conservative Judaism does not support, and about how encouraging Jews to marry other Jews is different from ostracizing Jews who marry non-Jews. In particular, he talked about making changes to long-standing rules in our congregation about programming, committee membership, and even some aspects of our worship to make them open to non-Jews. Given the rate of intermarriage and given the number of children who grow up in such households, it seems incredibly important to be welcoming and encouraging to non-Jews who want to raise their children as Jews and to participate in a meaningful way in their spiritual upbringing.
Our congregation has always talked about being open and welcoming, but our actions haven’t seemed so welcoming. There are lots of examples, but one that stands out is not allowing non-Jewish fathers to participate meaningfully in the b’nai mitvah celebrations of their Jewish children; while it would be problematic for them to be called to the Torah, for example, it wouldn’t be at all problematic for them to read the “Prayer for our Country" that we say in English each week or to participate in placing the tallit on their children.
But the topic of the rabbi’s short speech wasn’t the unusual part.
The unusual part was that, when Rabbi Abraham finished speaking, a sizeable part of the congregation spontaneously applauded.
There is never applause when the rabbi or the cantor finish speaking, or when a member of the congregation speaks on some topic during the weekly service. It’s simply not done. And on Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, it’s certainly not done.
I suspect the applause made some people uncomfortable. But it made me incredibly proud. I was proud of Rabbi Abraham for addressing a topic that many might find controversial when he might have talked very generally about atonement or about setting goals for the new year. But most of all I was proud to be a member of a congregation that felt so strongly about being inclusive toward others that people couldn’t really contain their emotions, even though it was the Kol Nidre service. The congregation had clearly been waiting a long time to hear Friday evening’s message.
It’s a privilege to be a part of such a community, one that is actively working to be open and welcoming to others. And it was a really fantastic thing about which to be reminded on Yom Kippur.
Local business uncertain of the meaning of either “mainstream” or “out of the ordinary,” so opts to use both.
Every year at Rosh Hashana, amidst all the time for prayer and reflection, one thought never fails to impress itself on me: “Wow! What are all these people doing in our synagogue?!”
In all seriousness, today is a good day to note that, when we can’t travel to be with our family, we’re very lucky to be a part of this wonderful community here in Omaha.
Happy New Year to everyone, here in Omaha and everywhere else as well!
!שנה טובה ומתוקה
It was a Mitzvah Morning here in Omaha.
Judah has been putting coins into his train-shaped tzedakah box every Friday evening for more than a year and, this morning, we decided to learn about charity by making a donation to the Food Bank for the Heartland.
Judah opened up his train and sorted the coins into quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. He counted them all and put them into little boxes to take to the grocery store. At the store, we shopped for canned goods; we bought items that the Food Bank told us they always need: tuna, green beans, and corn.
Then we took all of the cans to the Food Bank, where a member of their Leadership Team weighed Judah’s donation (22 lbs!), took him on a tour of the facility, and showed him how all the donated food is sorted, boxed, and ultimately loaded onto trucks to go out to local food pantries for people who need it.
It was a fantastic experience and gave Judah a real understanding of how little things we do, like putting away a few coins every week, can really impact other people who might need a helping hand. I’m really proud of him and I loved to see how proud he was of himself too. And I’m so grateful to the people at the Food Bank for helping to give him such a positive and fun first-hand experience of giving tzedakah.
In the wake of an absolutely horrific and brutal crime in Omaha, one local politician raced to make the tragedy all about immigration.
Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Janssen took to Twitter to blame “illegal immigration” for the crime. Days later he took to the opinion page of the Lincoln Journal-Star to respond to a letter written by Lincoln resident Daniel Moser:
Daniel R. Moser (“Janssen stirs up hate,” letter, July 29) correctly states my position that the brutal rape and murder of a 93-year-old Omaha woman at the hands of an illegal immigrant should be part of our ongoing discussion of immigration policy.
Whenever a crime of this magnitude occurs, the societal factors that contributed to the crime are discussed and analyzed endlessly. To omit or ignore the illegal immigration issue in relation to this tragedy is politically correct nonsense.
Those who share my opinion will not be surprised to hear I’ve been labeled a racist threat to the Republican Party for holding this view, but I am undeterred and will continue to speak out despite these lazy and ignorant criticisms of my character.
I have visited with Nebraskans across the state and can say with certainty that our citizens are deeply concerned about the ramifications of illegal immigration in our communities. Last week’s sad and horrific events are no exception.
This crime is undeniable evidence that our borders are not secure and we have no idea who is entering our country. The result of the federal government’s failure here — not only criminal violence but human trafficking and drug smuggling — has cost our state immeasurably.
Nebraskans have demanded leadership on this issue, and I will continue to regard their command and concern as my top priority.
Now, the editorial board of the Journal-Star has issued their own opinion on Janssen’s move to suggest that a particular crime at the hands of a particular individual is indicative of the broader immigration problem:
In marked contrast to the apology issued by State Auditor Mike Foley stand the actions of gubernatorial candidate Charlie Janssen.
No sooner did officials hint that the assailant in the heinous rape and beating of a 93-year-old Omaha woman, who later died of her injuries, was in the country illegally than Janssen tried to tie the crime to immigration policy.
Clearly Janssen has no compunction about making a sweeping and damaging generalization.
By painting immigrants with such a broad brush Janssen does a disservice to genuine and productive discussion of immigration policy, which people on both ends of the political spectrum agree is a mess.
If there’s one thing we can learn about crime from this absolutely awful case, Janssen suggests, it’s that the real culprit is every single Mexican person who wants to come to the U.S.
Can someone explan to me when exactly the 4th of July became a 10-day holiday that was observed by keeping my kids up (and screaming) literally all night?
By the way, here’s the Omaha city ordinance that says the 4th of July now begins on June 25th. I don’t know why, but the ordinance isn’t called “An Ordinance to be Inconsiderate of Your Neighbors” … because that’s what it is.