Obama and Jesus


Today, I’m taking a break from my usually sunny, optimistic stance to comment on the mid-term elections. There may be some sarcasm, snark, and more than a few bad words. Let’s begin…

What the fuck is Tennessee thinking?

The only significant seat the Democrats won is Jim Cooper’s U.S. congressional one. And since both houses of Congress are now controlled by the Republicans, he will get exactly zero done for his state.

In Nashville, we returned two dozen or so Democrats to the house, with about a third of those running unopposed. The state senate has less than one-third Democrats.

I wish I could say that the good, ole-fashioned ass-whuppin’ the Democrats took in our state* was due to outside money buying the races, but that ain’t it.

You may ask yourself why any woman, minimum-wage earner, blue-collar worker, person of color, gay, elderly, sick or disabled person votes Republican, the party that never, ever votes for things that would help them or even give them half a chance in this world. The governor has held our health care hostage, keeping us from federal funds we have already paid in. He’s an unapologetic union buster, and his buddies in Washington, also elected by Tennesseans, help him. Tennessee is near the bottom of the barrel in every measurement of the standard of living, yet we ask for more of the same.

Why would any small business owner vote for the party that is clearly bought and paid for by big business like oil and pharma? Do they honestly think Washington, or the state government, gives a hairy rat’s ass about them?

Why would the women of Tennessee continue to return Marsha Blackburn** to Congress, a woman who has voted against the Violence Against Women Act every single time, by her own admission because it covers Native Americans and lesbians. Let’s just beat the shit out of those women, they don’t matter. P.S. She’s all too happy to show up for photo opps at fundraisers for the domestic violence shelter in her county of residence. I know who I’d like to give the ass-whuppin’ to.

Probably the most disturbing development is that the citizens of our great state deemed it the government’s business what women do about their health and reproductive rights. We actually passed a constitutional amendment that attempts to dismantle Roe v. Wade and send women to back-alley abortionists again. And they did that with the cynical lie that they were concerned about women’s health.

In related news, we also re-elected Scott Dejarlais*** to congress, which means that 60% of his constituents don’t mind that he ran on a pro-life platform and encouraged his mistress to seek an abortion. And he’s a doctor. If there is any real karma, the little medical center works for in rural Tennessee will close because the governor won’t take his foot off the hose of federal funds (your money and mine) that keep it open.

So why do these mean, greedy, hypocritical politicians keep getting elected? Here’s why…

Obama and Jesus.

Let’s go to the higher power first, because that’s what makes the ding-dongs think all this hypocrisy and meanness is okay. They’ve convinced themselves that this country is founded on a religion – their religion – (it wasn’t) and that anything they do, anything at all, is okay because they say it is (it isn’t). Never mind that Jesus would be purely horrified at all the commandment-breaking. He was a Jew and fully aware of the commandments; please read them before you vote again.

Now, on to the president. Since he got elected, he has been the personal whipping-boy for everything the voters don’t like that they elected people specifically to do. And the Republicans in Washington, who have been in a state of gridlock, are more than happy to blame Obama for their failure to serve their constituents. And the constituents keep sending them back. Because Jesus said to.

If you think that’s a bit hyperbolic, I grew up here. If you didn’t, you have no idea how things go here on the buckle of the Bible Belt. There is a church on every corner, yet people insist on government-sponsored prayer in publicly funded schools because they just don’t have enough places they can pray. Their religious rights are being somehow limited by the ACLU. Please notice that I am not bashing Jesus: he seemed like a nice Jewish boy and had lots of good things to say about treating others like you want to be treated. When Christians don’t do that, I have to agree with Gandhi. Look it up.

If you did grow up here, you know that discrimination is stirred into tall glasses of sweet tea and fed to us in our mother’s milk. Politicians will never, ever go wrong in Tennessee by blaming a black man for all their troubles. That’s why Marsha Blackburn can’t say a whole sentence without “Obama” in it. She’s smart like that. She lives in one of the whitest, wealthiest counties in the country, so it plays well with her neighbors. It also plays well with the poor, blue-color dumbasses in this state vote Republican but who have never benefitted from a single Republican policy, because the “O word” has replaced the “N word.”

Just for the record, if you think I’m saying that all Republicans are racists, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that, if you vote for racists, you are helping racists. Maybe Jesus  would approve of that, but I doubt it.

So, my usual rose-colored optimism about mankind has been replaced by a pair of inky black Ray-Bans. I just can’t look any more. I will continue to vote, because I won’t give up on what should be, even if it can’t be.

*Tennessee mid-term election results
**Marsha Blackburn’s voting record
***more on Dejarlais

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A Convert’s Bill of Rights Version 2

conversion to judaism

Reading Bethany Mandel’s article in The Times of Israel, I felt so badly for her. Her betrayal by Rabbi Barry Freundal, who presided over her conversion to Judaism, feels like the ultimate lie: the very clergy responsible for advancing the tenets of a religion, and for presiding over a conversion to that faith, is a sham. She is, understandably, outraged, as we all should be.

As she says herself, this rabbinic betrayal fetches up a simmering anger about the way converts to Judaism are treated post-conversion. What’s the connection? Trust, and who’s in charge.

As Bethany was converted in the Orthodox stream of Judaism, you might be tempted to say that perhaps she would have had an easier time of things had she converted in, say, the Reform movement. Not necessarily.

I’d like to offer my own “bill of rights” for converts below, with the following caveats:

  • Nothing I am about to say is intended, in any way, to diminish Bethany’s experience. In fact, I hope she finds some of it comforting.
  • If any rabbi, or any Jew, sees themselves in any of the points made below, they can become part of the solution.
  • If you have an opinion about the conversion process – or anything that happens post-conversion – that is helpful and uplifting, feel free to comment. If you have anything hateful to say about your fellow Jews or Jews in general, it won’t show up here.


  1. Converts have a choice. The streams of Judaism are very different: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist. There is also “post-denominational” Judaism, the chavurah movement, and secular Judaism. All hold validity in some aspect or another.
  2. There is no governing body on earth for a soul. No human on earth can fully understand or determine another person’s relationship (or lack thereof) with the Divine. Where and how Jews, converted or otherwise, practice their faith is entirely a personal matter. Governing bodies are human constructs.
  3. There should be no cost for a spiritual conversion. I worked with my rabbi for a solid year, meeting weekly. Not a penny changed hands.
  4. The convert should be welcomed. All the streams of normative Judaism accept converts. There is plenty of support for that in Jewish law (remember when and by whom most of it was written). Some congregations don’t make a big deal out of conversion for the protection of the convert; it used to be a very private event for that reason.
  5. Why converts choose Judaism is none of your business. But we get the question frequently, so we’ll come up with a nice answer.
  6. Jewish ritual is mostly a matter of custom. If I, as a Jew (converted or otherwise), feel bound by the instructions in the Torah or subsequent rabbinic interpretations of it, that’s a good reason for me to obsess about the details. If I am a different sort of Jew, ritual may hold a different place in my life. (See #1 above.)
  7. Proving Jewishness may be required. Some institutions need to be sure of your yiddishkeit and may ask for documents. Others will take your word for it. Deal with it, or don’t. Institutions create their own rules, and you can belong or not.
  8. Conversion for born-Jews is complicated. Each stream of Judaism defines “Jew by birth” differently, so if you jump from one stream to another, you usually have to play by their rules.
  9. Acceptance by other Jews isn’t required. Some born-Jews will welcome converts with open arms and never give it another thought, especially if they pay their temple dues and serve on committees. Other Jews-by-birth will never fully accept the convert. This will be true no matter what hoops the convert jumps through, which stream of Judaism is entered, how “religious” the convert is, how well the convert performs ritual acts, whether the convert has a Jewish parent or ancestor, or anything else.
  10. The convert’s status is really determined by the convert. Once a stream of Judaism is chosen in which to convert, the newbie can follow the prescription set forth by that stream and the presiding rabbi. If so, the convert has done all he or she can do and, in fact, may walk out the requirements of his or her new faith better than lots of people born to it.

The relationship with a rabbi is a sacred one; it is, for many Jews, the most important connection one has with Judaism. Bethany’s relationship with her rabbi was violated in the most alarming way; she is reeling from that. Such a betrayal calls into question the very fabric of organized Judaism; the organization failed her. But Judaism itself won’t.

Recently, a rabbi that I know made a flip comment about the status of converts, implying that some converts don’t really know what they are getting into and that they are simply converting to a synagogue, not to the thing itself. The great thing about Judaism, what has saved it against all odds, is its portability. It does not depend on a place, or a person. The wisdom of the Torah and its teachers transcends organizations, even rabbis. It is a sacred relationship with the Divine and with the world.

A Jew can walk out his or her Judaism in an infinite combination of ways. Some of the best Jews I know don’t set foot in a synagogue; others who follow the Shulchan Aruch to the letter and spend their days studying Talmud may be the biggest jerks you ever met.

My own rabbi likes to talk about the Three Bs: birth, belief, and behavior. The first one I can’t do anything about; the last two are up to me. Whether I choose to allow other people, ordained or otherwise, to help me walk out my Judaism or to prevent me from it, that is also up to me.

It hurts my heart to see someone having a hard time with conversion or being ill-treated afterward. My own conversion process was lovely; I hesitated initially because I thought it should have been harder. I had the idea that I should suffer in becoming a Jew, because so many Jews across history had suffered for their Judaism. In reality, nobody needs to suffer. Judaism should be about light and enlightenment, about joy and awe, and about making the world a better place. Bethany, any Jew who makes that harder for you should have their own Judaism questioned, not yours. Am Yisrael Chai.

Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist, marketer, and certified pararabbinic in Nashville. She is also mom to Jacob, the Most Awesome Cat.

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Teshuvah, and other people’s flowers.


When I was about four or five years old, there was a neighbor down the block that had a huge swath of yellow daffodils in her yard. I sashayed down there and picked them, almost all of them, armloads of them, and proudly brought them home. As soon as I walked in the door, my mother gasped; she knew where they came from and that the neighbor-lady was very proud of her flowers. I didn’t understand why it was a problem. To my very young mind, you couldn’t really “own” flowers, could you? Weren’t they from the earth, and therefore belonged to everyone? Still, I got a spanking for it.

In recent days, NFL football player Adrian Peterson has come under fire, and potential jail time, for whipping his kid. Was it child abuse? Nobody knows except the parties involved, but surely a man of his size and strength can discipline a toddler without exerting enough force to leave marks. The high-profile nature of this case, increased no doubt by coming in the midst of intense criticism of the NFL for its handling of players who practice domestic violence, has caused renewed discussion about whether or not to use corporal punishment on kids.

I have lost count of friends who have said, while pregnant, “I’m never spanking my child.” Three or four years later, when time-out isn’t working? You guessed it. Fannies get tanned.

In the debates, those of us over 50 like to bring up the fact that we were often spanked and “it didn’t hurt us.” My own mother would send us to the yard, which was surrounded by hedges, to fetch the implement that would have us dancing shortly. A couple of swats and an admonishment to “think about what you did” and it was over. Probably there was precious little repentance, just a stinging sensation from the switch.

Once, a friend and I got into some mischief and our mothers found out about it. I got several whacks with the switch, and she got “I’m so disappointed in you.” Her parents never hit her, but there was damage nonetheless. The switch – or the hairbrush or, if we were really bad, the belt – didn’t do violence to who we were as people, only to our temporarily indignant backsides. A steady stream of disapproval wounds the psyche. I remember she said to me, “I wish I had got spankings.”

The best lessons, the ones that stick with me today, are the ones that required teshuvah on my part. The Hebrew word means “return,” or “to turn,” and can be understood several ways. Turning away from the bad, turning toward the good, coming back to where you know you should be.

After I got the spanking for ripping up the neighbor’s daffodils, I had to return them and do chores around the neighbor’s house to make up for the trouble I had caused. The Jewish concept of teshuvah was operating quite literally, but it also taught me that when I make a choice that injures someone else, I have to turn that situation around. True repentance is never doing the bad thing again, say the rabbis of the Talmud. I can guarantee that I never stole another flower, or anything else for that matter. But I have plenty of atoning to do on Yom Kippur. I’ll be thinking of Momma, and daffodils.

Whether to spank a child or to use other corrective measures like lectures, groundings, time-outs or loss of privilege, the choice is not what it used to be; maybe we’ve evolved in the last 50 years. Whichever a parent chooses, the act of reparation will likely be the most-remembered lesson.

Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist, marketer, and certified pararabbinic in Nashville. She is also mom to Jacob, the Most Awesome Cat.

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ray rice controversy

The current flap about football player Ray Rice’s beating of his now-wife, Janay, may not help her but it may save other women.

In a HuffPo article, writer Rachel Leibrock has a problem with the shaming of domestic violence victims who felt compelled to tweet about their experiences with hashtags like #whyistayed. In the article, Leibrock lists her own reasons for staying in an abusive relationship, and they are the same ones that are true for nearly every woman in that situation:

I felt alone, like I had nobody else.
I worried about being able to survive, financially.
I felt shame for “allowing” myself to be treated that way in the first place, a shame that kept me captive in a vicious holding pattern.
He loved me. We were better than this.
He could change.
I should change.
It was my fault anyway.

But there is another reason why my mother stayed with my father, who routinely beat her in his drunken rages: religion.

Not hers, and not his, but the religion of his family, a particularly toxic form of fundamental Christianity that blames women for pretty much all forms of sin; if it’s not her actual sin, her original Eve-like state of natural evil made him do it.

My father got my mother pregnant at age 15, she was whisked out of school and into a home for unwed mothers, and her child was taken away and given to someone else. She married him because she was “ruined” for anyone else. Then she had me and my brother. Without a high school diploma (which she later got), she was stuck in a crappy job; one of his favorite times to beat her was on the birthday of her first child, when she would bake a cake and cry. Divorce was taboo and, if it happened, it was the woman’s fault for not being a good enough wife. And, as it often happens, he told her he’d kill her if she left.

You might say, that was a long time ago, the 1950s and 60s were different, things are better now. For many years, I worked with two domestic violence shelters and learned that one of the biggest segments of women who end up there come from Orthodox religious traditions: Jewish, Christian, or any sort of fundamentalist group that preaches the authority of men over women.

A friend of mine, in much more recent years, had a husband who would calculatedly hit her in places the bruises wouldn’t show, like the middle of her back. He would wait until the children were in bed, and she was careful not to cry out. When she went to her preacher, he told her she should just go back home and get her act together. I have heard countless stories of women who where sent back into domestic violence situations by their trusted imams, rabbis and ministers.

This is now, and this is why we need women to think about why they stay. This is why we need women to tell their stories, to put the shame where it properly belongs: on the men who beat women and on the “faith” traditions that facilitate it.

Domestic violence doesn’t affect only the woman who is enduring the abuse: it affects her children and the choices they make. I made up my mind that no man would ever, ever lay a hand on me – if you allow it once, it will happen again – and that I would never be saddled with children who made it harder to leave if it happened. My brother had a different reaction: he had kids and set out to be the best dad ever, the kind he didn’t have.

It’s not surprising that people wonder, “Girlfriend, what were you thinking?” especially when a woman marries a guy after he knocks her out cold in an elevator. If she thinks “he’ll change,” she is more than likely in for another beating, ask any domestic violence professional. That’s not shaming, that’s common sense.

I hope I’m wrong about Ray Rice, that he does change and that his wife doesn’t have children who get to watch their father abusing their mother. And I hope that every single spiritual leader of a congregation denounces, both publicly and privately, any man who hits a woman.

Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist, marketer, and certified pararabbinic in Nashville. She is also mom to Jacob, the Most Awesome Cat.


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I’m gonna love y’all.

love love love

A friend of mine, a committed Methodist, was telling me about her new preacher. The Methodists usually assign ordained ministers to their posts, and those ministers are pretty well educated: bachelors degree and seminary, at a minimum. So when my friend told me they got a “neighborhood” preacher, I was surprised. What’s a neighborhood preacher? It’s someone who hasn’t been to seminary, someone who simply feels called to serve.

I am Jewish and one of the reasons I converted to that faith is the emphasis on education. Rabbis are superbly educated: four years undergrad, five years rabbinical school, often additional MAs and PhDs, some are even rabbi/cantors. In addition to biblical studies and rabbinics, there is the Hebrew language to learn, rotations in pastoral counseling, student pulpits. Some go on to do military service as chaplains.

So my gut reaction to a “neighborhood preacher” was, uh-oh. Pure snobbery on my part.

The friend related how, on first stepping to the pulpit, this neighborhood preacher started with these words:

I’m gonna love y’all.

That’s it. No hell-fire and brimstone of the sort I knew growing up in fundamentalist churches. Just love.

The high holiday season for Jews starts in a few days. At Yom Kippur, we say a prayer of confession, or vidui, in a prayer called Al Cheyt (For Sin):

For the mistakes we committed before You under duress and willingly.
For the mistakes we committed before You through having a hard heart.
For the mistakes we committed before you through things we blurted out with our lips.
For the mistake we committed before You through harsh speech.
For the mistakes we committed before You through wronging a friend.
For the mistakes we committed before You by degrading parents and teachers.
For the mistakes we committed before You by exercising power.
For the Mistakes we committed before You against those who know, and those who do not know.
For the mistakes we have committed before You through bribery.
For the mistake we have committed before You through denial and false promises.
For the mistake we have committed before You through negative speech.
For the mistakes we have committed before You with food and drink.
For the mistakes we committed before You by being arrogant.
For the mistakes we committed before You with a strong forehead (brazenness).
For the mistakes we committed before You in throwing off the yoke (i.e. refusing to accept responsibility).
For the mistakes we committed before You through jealousy (lit: ‘a begrudging eye’).
For the mistakes we committed before You through baseless hatred.
For the mistakes we committed before You in extending the hand.
For the mistakes we committed before You through confusion of the heart.

As with most Jewish prayer, this is a communal prayer. Not only have we all done these things at one time or another, to one degree or another, but we are responsible for each other and our behaviors.

This year, I’ve seen two different synagogues articulate their own Al Cheyt prayers for their failings and omissions as organizations. One of them, composed by a friend and rabbi I greatly admire, Nicole Roberts, goes like this:

A – Acceptance of diversity within our sanctuaries and social halls
B – Bimah policies that don’t cause hurt or insult
C – Creativity (versus monotony)
D – Development of long-term strategy
E – Experimentation with new styles of worship or programming
F – Financial responsibility, sustainability, and Fundraising
G – Generosity towards both Jewish and non-Jewish causes
H – Healing, Helping, and offering Hope
I – Inspiring and being Imaginative
J – Jewish identity-building
K – Knowledge-building and Know-how
L – Life Cycle rituals that are meaningful, not rote
M – Minimising our carbon footprint
N – Nurturing optimism
O – Outreach to those who feel marginalised
P – Pastoral care and support of our members
Q – Quieting the noise of the work week on Shabbat
R – Relevance of our text study and our rituals
S – Synagogue transformation
T – Tikkun olam
U – Understanding of other cultures, religions, and movements
V – Values embodiment
W – Welcoming the stranger
X – eXcellence in Israel education for all ages
Y – Youth and Young Adult engagement
Z – Zero-tolerance for bullying, harassment, or other workplace woes*

For all the areas in which our synagogues may have fallen short of the hope and faith placed in us, by the people Israel and the God of Israel, s’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu. May this season of reflection and aspiration inspire us all to renew our collective efforts in the year ahead.

Some congregants pay their dues (or tithe, or drop something in the plate, as the case may be) and expect to have religion served up on the platter they paid for. Some houses of worship provide facilities and programs and religious training for children and consider their work done. But no amount of seminary training can instill in clergy a love for people. As one of my husband’s favorite sports quotes goes, “You can’t teach that. It’s learned behavior.” And this business of congregational life is a two-way street. It is a covenant, and we are all responsible for each other.

I recently joined a new synagogue, and my fervent hope this year of 5775 is to simply be able to say, I’m gonna love y’all. And I may just go check out that neighborhood preacher.

*The Hebrew prayer is an acrostic, so the rabbi formulated the congregational Al Cheyt that way in English.

Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist, marketer, and certified pararabbinic. She is also mom to Jacob, the Most Awesome Cat.


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rear view mirror depression


CLARIFICATION: In the 24 hours since I wrote this post, I have heard and read two mental health care professionals say that articles should take care not to glorify suicide or offer it as a “way out.” This article does not aim to advocate for suicide but rather to offer to people who do not suffer from depression some inkling of how bad it can be. There is help; it’s just hard to know that when you are in the depths of depression. If the people around you are suggesting that you get some help, it may be that they are simply not equipped with the necessary tools; call the Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Winehouse did it one way. Robin Williams did it another. People who were so very present, always in our view, then just gone. Gone.

It’s the gone-ness that is so hard to fathom, the not-here-ness.

How can someone who seemingly has it all – fame, fortune, family, children – just up and go? Who does that?

People do that. People who are in so much pain every day of their lives that dying looks better to them and, guess what, folks? It might be. If you thought you had to live every single day of your life in abject terror, with the physical pain that depression can bring all by itself, and the absolute conviction that you would never be happy again.

What if you had to live with all that and couldn’t tell anyone? What if the people you did tell – friends, family, spouse, clergy – all said, “Go get help.” And that answer just sounded like “Don’t tell me, tell somebody else” to you? What if you did get help, and it didn’t help, and you felt like more of a loser?

What if, when someone asked, “How are you today?” you said, “Not so great, actually,” and that caused them to leave skid marks in your driveway? What if depression cost you nearly every friend you had? And what if that made you angry, and the anger cost you the rest of them?

You might kill yourself.

I thought about it.

Several years of textbook PTSD (you can check the symptoms here), a horrendous physical injury, two surgeries, and my mother’s painful death in another country from something more than cancer, mind-numbing anesthesia, pain-killers, full-blown menopausal mood swings, and a genetic propensity to addiction joined together in life-crushing bout of depression.

Go. Get help. That’s what people said. Go. I nearly did.

Until you have truly made up your mind, with lots of objective evidence, that every good thing in your life is in the rear-view mirror, you don’t know from depression. Until it takes every ounce of your energy just to put your feet on the floor in the morning, you are in no position to judge.

Until you have sat with a seriously depressed person and said, “Tell me what’s bothering you,” you haven’t helped. If you haven’t seen the anger and known it came from sadness, you haven’t paid attention.

Sometimes people for whom the world is simply too painful just have to go.

Kim Phillips is an Judaica artist and marketing consultant from Nashville, Tennessee. She’s still here.

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tallit for women of the wall

Tallit with silver tzitzit.

It’s been a rough month.

On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinians, probably Hamas operatives. In what was certainly an act of revenge, a Palestinian teenager was burned alive in a forest near Jerusalem. What followed was an increase in rockets being fired from Gaza and an escalating military response from Israel. Hardliners on both sides are asking for justice, for more revenge, and a few on both sides are asking for peace.

If anyone has a very direct, vested interest in recent events, it’s the parents of the four murdered children. Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of one of the Israeli teens, accepted a shiva call from a group of Palestinian neighbors, a very touching event in the midst of bombs and riots. It seems to me that women are often caught up in wars they didn’t start and have to deal with the fallout. Rachel Fraenkel showed more strength and grace than a thousand warriors.

But she did something else even more radical than accepting a shiva call from Palestinian neighbors: she said kaddish. You might say, why shouldn’t a mother say kaddish for her son? Why indeed. It’s not forbidden, it’s just that women in traditional Judaism don’t count in a minyan, so they’re not fulfilling a mitzvah when they say kaddish; you still need 10 men to accomplish that. But she did. And the Chief Rabbi of Israel said, “Amen.”

Meanwhile, down the road at the Kotel, the Western Wall, women are not allowed to read from a Torah scroll in a service. The “Nashot Hakotel,” Women of the Wall, still try, every month for Rosh Chodesh, to have a peaceful service there. They have been spat upon, yelled at, and even arrested, often by other women. But they refuse to be silenced.

What has any of this to do with us, as Reform Jews in the United States? Women here can read Torah, pray how they like, and be full members of a congregation if they join the one that suits them.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we get the story of Zelophehad’s daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Zelophehad died and left no sons, and the daughters would not have inherited his holdings under Jewish law. During a census in preparation for entering the Promised Land where holdings would be assigned, Zelophehad’s daughters went to Moses and said they felt they should receive their father’s portion. Moses took it to God, and God said, “Fine.” (Most translations render it “Their plea is just,” but the Hebrew doesn’t say that.) The daughters went through proper channels and got a ruling in their favor. They changed history.

For the Women of the Wall…no so much. They have been through every channel and have been turned back every time by the religious authorities. They have tried, peacefully, to change the system and haven’t been successful…yet. It’s likely that they will eventually prevail, much the same way that African Americans did in the civil rights era; they are up against a similarly ingrained culture.

The lesson that Zelophehad’s daughters carry to us across the millennia is this: change is possible, but it’s hard. They had to send it all the way to God, for Pete’s sake. The way we govern ourselves today is a bit different, and our channels may not go to an authority that high. But there is still much that can be done. Women’s voices are still silenced, and women are still marginalized for their gender, and civil discrimination is sometimes wrapped in a religion covering. Hobby Lobby comes to mind. Zelophehad’s daughters didn’t sit still for the status quo and neither should we. Speak up. Buck the system. Do what’s right. Don’t let it get to the point where someone has to lose a life before a little prayer can be said. Some things are so clearly “just” that even the Chief Rabbi of Israel can’t deny it.

Little things matter. People count. All the people. Give the help to the ones who need it most, to those without a voice. It’s the Jewish way, and it makes the world a much better place.

Kim Phillips is an Judaica artist, marketing consultant, and writer from Nashville, Tennessee. She wears extra silver threads in her tzitzit in honor of the Women of the Wall.

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Girlfriend, can we talk?

not your vagina

Just not about your vagina. Lady bloggers, I’m tired of hearing about it. Here’s why.

Growing up in the South, there was an unwritten rule: if it happens below the waist, we don’t talk about it in polite company. There were a bunch of other unwritten rules, like black people couldn’t live next to white people, that needed to go away. But I’d like to hang on to the below-the-waist thing.

Every single day, I’m greeted with some blog post or other about somebody’s vagina. Near as I can tell, all us ladies have one, and it’s good for two things only:

Women in my family get pregnant if you look directly at us, so I’m sure I could have had some. I didn’t, but I love seeing pictures of your babies on Facebook, many as you want. Brag on them all you like. Just don’t keep them screaming in restaurants where my dinner costs more than $20, or in religious services, weddings, funerals, or movies. Walk them outside like people used to do.

Call me a prude, but the only sex I care to hear about is mine. Don’t tell me about yours, and certainly spare me discussions of which toys your va-jay-jay likes best. Post-menopausal? Me, too. And the only thing I care to hear less about than vaginas is old vaginas.

Beyond those two things, the “lady business” is mostly just a lot of trouble. Whatever is bothering yours, most of us have had some version of that. Don’t need to hear more. Tell your gynecologist and leave me out of it.

If men blogged incessantly about their johnsons and shared their musings about their members widely on social media, we ladies would call them creeps, perverts, and maybe worse. So why is it okay for women to yap on and on about every little thing her little Jane does?

Before you comment about how I’m not a good woman or I’m insensitive to the really terrible things that can befall a vagina or maybe that I’m a lesbian or a mommy-hater, save it. Heard it all before. But if you’re also tired of hearing about other folks’ lady parts, share. You’ll be doing us all a favor.


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Mini-Mitzvahs, and Miracles

Editor’s Note: there’s a glossary at the end of this article.

Rabbi Zalman Posner z''l
Photo used with permission: www.collive.com

In the Tel Aviv airport, at the end of my first trip to Israel, I was looking for a tzedakah box to put my remaining shekels in. Across the way, there was a Chabadnik laying tefillin on a guy. They’ll have a tzedakah box, thinks I. As I dropped coins in the box, the tefillin-wrapper says, “You know Chabad?” Yes, we have Chabad where I live. “Where’s that?” Nashville. “Oh! Zalman Posner!”

Yes, Zalman Posner, z”l, the rabbi of Sherith Israel for 53 years. When I read yesterday that he had passed away, the word hasidut came to mind. Not so much in all of its various meanings about organizations, movements, and schools of thought within Judaism, but its root ~ chet, samech, dalet ~ meaning kindness, hesed.

Reb Zalman lived in a world of Judaism that I don’t move in, that I and many of my fellow Jews feel removed from. Yet, Rabbi Posner treated me with such kindness, such hesed. At a Torah study, at which women were welcome with him, someone asked a question about keeping some mitzvah or the other and he said, “If you can’t keep them all, keep some of them. If you can’t keep many, keep one. If you can’t keep a whole one, keep half of one.” A mini-mitzvah kept was better than none at all. All attempts to keep the mitzvot contribute to perfecting the world. A very gentle point of view, Hasidism at its best.

At lunch that day, after services, the Rabbi asked me to sit with him at his tish. Being a newbie to Judiasm, this was special but I didn’t realize how special. His wife, Risya, sat next to me and was very sweet and engaging. As emissaries with a long, long sojourn in Nashville, their welcome was just right. It made me want to know more, to study more, perhaps keep an extra mitzvah or two.

As I went through the conversion process, I attended a lecture by Rabbi Posner at which someone asked him to define a miracle. He said, with such kindness, and a sense of awe he never lost, “It’s all a miracle.” It is indeed.

Baruch dayan emet, blessed be the judge of truth, and may his mourners be comforted. A great man has passed. Read more about his amazing career here.

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Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist at www.hebrica.com

Z”l: abbreviation of zichrono livracham, may his memory be a blessing
Tzedakah: charitable giving, from the root for “justice”
Tefillin: prayer phylacteries
Chabad: organization of Hasidic Jewry; more here.
Hasidut: kindness, school of Jewish thought; more here.
Mitzvah: pl. mitzvot, commandment
Tish: table

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This Passover, let ’em eat cake.

chocolate cake for passover

We Jews, especially Reform Jews, have a complicated relationship with food. You might think in the Orthodox tradition it would be cut and dried—do this, don’t do that—but not so. At Passover, the holiday most fraught with food issues, even the most observant Jews don’t agree. (Surprise.) The Sephardim often allow themselves rice and beans, while the Ashkenazim go cold turkey on ANYthing that may ferment. Given that I am a kosher vegetarian, my Passover diet roughly matches that of a rabbi from 18th century Lithuania, only without the meat. It’s pretty grim.

This year, in the run-up to Passover, I’m drooling over the mouth-watering images of Passover foods on Pinterest. There’s chocolate matzah, Pesach pizza, sweet potato fries, gefilte sushi, and my personal favorite: the BEST EVER KOSHER-FOR-PASSOVER COOKIE RECIPES! And I’m pinning those suckers like crazy. (Okay, not the gefilte sushi. Eeuw.) I’m searching the limited Passover section at Publix for my favorite chocolate macaroons and scouring the local liquor stores for drinkable (I do NOT put Manieschwitz in this category) pesadik wines. That kosher-for-Passover beer is calling my name, too.

The seder I attended was a shmancy affair with a tender brisket (not for me, but my friends enjoyed it), a potato casserole that weighs in at about 1,200 calories per serving (I brought it, so I know), and a flourless chocolate torte that would make a Jehovah’s Witness jump ship. Oh, the usual ritual foods were on the table, including plenty of the “bread of our affliction,” and we told the story of how our ancestors suffered in Egypt, while we didn’t.

This week, it has been egg salad, matzah, and potatoes. The pesadik wine makes the slave-diet a bit more tolerable, but I kvetch anyhow, and I’m too lazy to make all those sumptuous Pinterest treats. My way-Reform friends roll their eyes and butter their toast; Kim’s lost her mind… another convert gone round the bend. Why suffer? Let’s enjoy our freedom to have a biscuit. Or beer. Or pork barbecue. Or the shrimp.

I get that. I really do. We have the freedom to make choices, and we’ve had to fight one Pharaoh or another for thousands of years to keep it. The world has changed in all that time, and what difference does it make whether I eat chametz or not? Maybe Passover kosher is just plain silly.

Or maybe suffering has its purposes.

What is enslaving us now? What is keeping us from being the best Jews we can be? The Israelites couldn’t find out who they really were until they got away from their oppression in Egypt. They suffered 40 more years in the desert before they were ready to accept their destiny, to be chosen as a distinct people, a “nation of priests.” What does that mean today? Maybe it’s more important to think about how (and by whom) our food is grown than to do without yummy yeasty bread. Or, maybe by forgoing the bagels for a few days, on our next trip to Brueggers, we’ll wonder if the person behind the counter is making more than $7.25 an hour. Were the tomatoes picked by an undocumented immigrant woman who is sexually harassed but keeps it to herself out of fear of deportation? How was the cow raised, and slaughtered, for the next juicy Rueben at Noshville?

Making the conscious choice to follow what some consider to be an outdated tradition might have spiritual benefits we didn’t expect. The fact that Reform Jews consider keeping Passover kosher a choice doesn’t necessarily diminish the integrity of the holiday. So we tell our story of suffering and freedom, and hope there’s enough flourless chocolate torte to go around. Let’s make it so everybody gets cake.

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Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist at www.hebrica.com

Note: The contents of this blog are copyrighted. If you want to refer to a post, you may publish a short excerpt with a link back to the source. That’s all.

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