Caffeinated musings on my place within Judaism, feminism and community. Pontification on political and social topics. Definitely not decaf.

30 July 2006

No Words

People say all the time, "I thought it could never happen here." And then it does.

I'm left in that painful, speechless, clueless zone. I'm standing there now, trying to make sense of what happened just before Shabbat here in Latteland. If you haven’t heard what’s happened, read here.

It was one of those crazy afternoons. DH, child #1 and I were just at my office ready to collect child #2 from daycare across the street. We were heading out of town to go 200 miles to the south to be with family for Shabbat and the weekend.

And then DH – the Jewish professional – got the call. He swore and paled. I heard the words "shooting" and "Federation." And I just assumed it was in some other city.

It was in my town.

Of course we headed back to his office, our phones immediately ringing off the hook. The press, both local and national, other community leaders, rabbis and more. He fought to keep up and keep abreast of the developing tragedy. The person was still at large and the scene was unfolding.

So what does one do in this situation? DH held up multiple phones and sat at his desk (when not pacing) emailing and answering the deluge. I put my PR hat back on and wrote up a press release based on the little I knew. Oh, and I found candy and chocolate, dried fruit and soda and tried to ply the kids and keep them quiet in the chaos.

DH joined community leaders to stand vigil. He was just having lunch with two of the victims only a few hours earlier at the site. We knew each of the victims and he was especially close with several.

Shortly after candlelighting – at least I think so since time became a blurr – I dropped DH at the hospital and took the girls home. We didn't bring in Shabbat as we normally do but somehow, just being together, sitting on the bed reading stories and letting them know that we were going to make sure they were safe felt right.

DH stumbled in at nearly 4 AM and the media and community leaders began calling at 7. National officials, major networks, local reporters. It was a zoo and DH stepped back into it an hour later.

I attempted to keep the children focused on our regular routine. We had our cereal and got ready to walk to shul. Child #1 kept asking all sorts of questions, which I tried to answer in an age appropriate way and child #2 just kept calling for "abba."

Shul was, understandably, packed. We were supposed to be having a celebratory kiddush luncheon. Instead people huddled together and spoke quietly about the victims. In a small community, and amongst my friends, everybody knows everybody.

DH continued to work like a maniac all day and into the night. If he got more than three hours' sleep over both nights I'll be surprised.

I've tried to do my best to help him field press inquiries, read over and rewrite statements he's drafted, run interference and pass him notes and make hand signals to keep him focused and on point when speaking to assembled crowds and reporters.

And now what? We wait to make sure those injured have a complete recovery. We gather on Monday to say goodbye to one of the victims. We begin to think about our community’s healing – and our longer-term plans for our collective security.

As we struggle through these next few days that are "within the straits" (bein hametzarim), what else can we do? Should we do?

We should hug our children, grasp the outstretched hands of our friends and look to the future. What else can we do? Sadly, we must recognize that it can – and it does – happen here – and we must work together to do our best to ensure that it won’t happen again. It’s important to remember Kol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh.

Hamakom yinechem otam.

27 July 2006

Hazek Shalom

Watch this video. (Here's the link to Voices for Israel in case you need to plug it in...

Grab a tissue and be stregthened.

26 July 2006

Lavender Shortbread

Remember that old Burl Ives' Disney song "Lavender's blue dilly dilly...?" Somehow whenever I think of lavender, that childhood memory comes to mind.

I made this shortbread for Shabbat to serve with sorbet. DO NOT MAKE THIS PARVE. There's just no point as shortbread is all about the butter. I found this recipe online from the Herbfarm cookbook.

2 sticks unsalted chilled butter
4 tsp. fresh lavender, or 2 tsp. dried
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour (spooned and leveled, not tamped down)

Remove butter from fridge 15 minutes before starting.

Use a blender or clean coffee grinder to blend lavender and sugar until fine.

Transfer the lavender sugar to a mixing bowl and add butter. Beat on low until you can't feel any lumps of butter when you roll some of it between your fingers, but DON'T beat till fluffy. Add the flour all at once and beat on low just until it forms a cohesive dough.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface, press into rectangular shape, and dust top with flour. Roll into 12 x 9 inch rectangle. (You can roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper.)

Cut into squares or other shapes. Put cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 1/2" between them. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let dough rest.

Bake at 300 until cookies are lightly colored, but not browned, 22-25 minutes. Let cookies cool completely on pan before storing.

Cook's Notes: You can make this with other herbs such as rosemary or lemon thyme. And considering my absolute love of rosemary (and that there's lots growing in a pot by the front of the house), that's next on the to-try list.

Serve with sorbet and some fresh fruit and call it good.

Flags and Straps

So, last Sunday’s Support Israel community-wide rally was not as good as I hoped. But, since I’m married to the rally’s main organizer, perhaps I’m a tad too critical.

First a beef about professional Jewish organizations, their structure and their management (or lack thereof). In a nutshell, most Jewish nonprofits in this community are poorly organized and bloated. They run on past glories and the pocketbooks of a few key players. Of course, since those powerful few hold the purse strings, well, you can fill in the blanks.

The annual big-deal events may bring out the dressy duds and diamonds, there’s still a vacuous quality to the interaction. I know, ‘cause I used to attend those fancy-schmancy parties. And, I quit. And, basically quit giving my money to an umbrella organization.

Why, you might ask.

Because there’s something inherent in Jewish organizations that related to being Jewish, living Jewishly, doing Jewishly and knowing shtickel of something about being a Jew.

I got burned out trying to coordinate Jewish consciousness and education from the inside of a major organization. People wanted to party, write a check and pat themselves on their backs. I’m convinced you need to have a basis in who we are as a people and what are our core beliefs before you pull out the checkbook.

True, there are many local, national and international organizations – large and small – that play a role in this community. But is there a single organization that speaks as the voice for the community. Apparently there is…and it does a lousy job.

Our local Jewish newspaper is improving. Thanks to JTA, our paper is now a step above a Federation rag. But, considering its small circulation, it’s not the singular voice.

There are several big deal organizations in town (the group formerly known as Aish, the ADL, Chabad, etc.). They all do tremendous things and provide immeasurable benefit to the community as a whole. Yet, they do not speak for everyone.

And, since we all know that two Jews = three opinions, of course there's no way in the world a single organzation can be the voice of an entire community – no matter how much any one organization wishes to take on that role.

So, where does that leave me? As an individual I struggle with finding my place in the community and building my own community within the larger one.

But where does this leave the broader community? Somewhere slightly west of nowhere. I mean, here there are something like 45,000 Jews. And how many are affiliated? Less than half.

Why is this? Demographers (pundits, voices of gloom and doom and naysayers) of many stripes, watchdogs and outreach groups (e.g., JOI) have all sorts of reasons. Some communities – Atlanta for example – are growing and affiliation is being strengthened. It seems like in many places – outside of the mainstream Orthodox communities – opposite is true

OK, I'm probably doing a disservice to gazillions of R and C Jews out there. But, the numbers (à la Neusner's Jerusalem Post article), intermarriage rates and shul membership stats speak for themselves.

I way digress... Let's get back to the topic at hand: the recent Support Israel rally.

When the first bombs started falling and we glued ourselves to our televisions watching with concern and horror, my DH, as a professional Jewish professional stepped up and said we – the community – needed to come together. A rally. That’s what we needed, he said.

And, so, since others in the community were slower on the uptake, DH took on the task – nearly single-handedly. Working nights until 1 and 2 AM (I know ‘cause I was up doing OT for work and research for school), being bombarded on Shabbat with calls and emails…he made the calls, coordinated with the press, got the speakers and much more.

Honestly, while I was/am tremendously proud of him, I was also pissed. He was nearly completely absentee for a week, scattered, over worked and non participatory.

And then…

Next thing we know, the 1,000 lb. gorilla (AKA the federation) took over, took the glory and took the credit. Anyway, he was the one doing some serious negotiation between the various factions (Brit Tzedek on the far left, AIPAC as well as other groups on the right). He was the one going into the office right after Shabbos ended and working like a dog until after the rally.

Like a mama bear protecting her cub, I was pissed. Here he was taking time from the family and from all of his other responsibilities. He was destroying our Shabbat with his crushing workload. And he was busting his tuches for someone else to take the communal kudos. It probably didn’t help that I busted his chops because I was upset for him but too it out on him.

Here’s my post-mortem assessment of the + and ∆ (delta or improvements needed).

First the positives:
+ Wet. Lots of cold water was passed out for the crowd. Constantly. It was over 90F, bright and sunny.
+ Religiously connected. Rabbi XXX from one of the main O shuls ROCKED!!! An amazing talk tying the three weeks and being “in the straits” to the current situation. It was emotional, had gravitas and made me want to say “amen” at the end.
+ Positively political. US Congressman Dave Reichert showed up and spoke... other elected officials didn't
+ Peaceful...the far left had their signs, banners and slogans but police kept the various groups separate. There was no violence like there was 4 years ago.

Now the let’s-do-better-next-time:
∆ Size:
Crowd was too small. Police estimate 2,200. What's the excuse people?! You have nowhere else you need to be on a sunny Sunday other than at the rally! I mean this town has 45,000 Jews – and 2,200 show up? A shonda.
∆ Speakers: Were lame and too wordy. Even the Jewish organizational folks the so-called planners (read: not my spouse) lined up and touted as “great speakers” were nebishy. Feh. One interfaith speaker is exempt from my scourge.
∆ Ending: Weak. Weak. Weak. When it was all said and done, I shared my assessment with DH. I said we needed to get someone to grab the mic (a group of kids, maybe?) to say "repeat after me: Am Yisrael Chai!" or something to pump up the crowd and send them off home feeling energized, connected and personally committed to taking a stand. Instead it was “blah blah thanks blah blah” and the crowd petered out. OK, so we couldn’t sing Hatikvah since we’re in the three weeks. But we could chant, clap, pound our feet, pump it up and get people motivated. Take a stand people. Write your elected officials. Show your support visibly. Get on a plane to Eretz Yisrael. Read a blog. Buy Israeli products. Eat a falafel…whatever it takes to stand shoulder to shoulder and in solidarity with Am Yisrael.

But, to end this rant on a positive note…here's the most amazing thing that happened at the rally.
Earlier that morning, DH and I were sitting on the stairs for a brief moment. We were trying to connect between the mishegas of planning and frantic emails. Anyway, we (I) started to discuss tefillin. I said I wanted to buy him a pair and DH said he's not ready.

Here I am, much more observant than my ex (who said he was going to be shomer mitzvot with me...and didn't...which explains the ex factor). Here I am, somewhat more observant than my DH. What’s up with me and partners who are not on my level?

Why, you might ask, did I not marry someone within the mainstream O community?

I ask myself the same thing. But the pool was small and the people I met were politically and socially very different (i.e., they were somewhere to the right stuck in 1954 and I was a million miles to the left.)

When I met DH, it was a real "click." And he has moved way closer to where I stand...He’s moved from being a lawyer and civil rights activist to business person to a high techie and now to "professional Jew."

But, even though he’s a “professional Jew,” he’s still not a full-time, shomer mitzvot professional Jew. And he tells me he’s not ready to go there yet. (Which explains some of my synagogue and observance related travails. But, again, I digress.)

So at the end of the rally I gathered water bottles, snacks, flags, kids and sunscreen as DH walked across the lawn to meet one of the new Chabad rabbis in town. He'd wanted to make professional contact anyway. The were closing down a table where they were helping people lay tefillin.

I said to dear DH, “Hey we were just talking about this. Why not go do it?” His response, somewhat based on embarrassment was a mumbled “another time.”

Of course, being the nudgy Chabad rabbi that he was, he managed to coax, guilt, entice and cajole DH into rolling up his sleeve.

The funny thing was that DH put out his arm and I called out stop: wrong arm. The rabbi looked up and said that he was a lefty too. Probably kinda weird for the wife to butt in here but…

How meaningful it was to watch DH lay tefillin for the first time since his bar mitzvah. At least I think he lay tefillin for his bar mitzvah. I looked over and the girls were also watching. Now, that was a high after the rally. That made it all worthwhile.

18 July 2006

Slip-sliding Away

So the Columbia University alumni magazine just published an article, which featured outgoing JTS chancellor Dr. Ismar Schorsch. And, I’m troubled.

It’s not that he didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know. And I’m not covering any new ground here. I’m still stuck.

Driving on Shabbat was the death knell of the Conservative moment. It wasn’t the ordination of women as rabbis (although it’s not something I’m at all comfortable with). It isn’t gay marriage or non-kosher cheese, either. (Although I should add that the cheese problem is a biggie for me. I don’t hold by Conservative kashrut.)

My concern is more holistic – it’s about keeping a community together. Once you tell people “sure live in the ‘burbs or anywhere you want,” it’s a short leap to soccer on Saturdays and side trips to the mall.

There’s something wonderful about having your neighborhood pulse to the rhythms of the Jewish year. You look out your kitchen window in the fall. You see your sukkah and the one next door. You see your neighbors walking to shul. Your kids run from house to house on Shabbat for playdates.

OK, so this is idealized. We aren’t the only Jewish family on our block but this bucolic image isn’t quite our reality. Yes, most of our friends live in a one or two-mile radius. Yes, there are Shabbat playdates and our hevra meets most Saturday afternoons for a picnic at a local park.

And, many of our friends are sort of that mainstream, middling Conservative. They say they keep Shabbat – and they watch tv or go skiing in the winter on Saturdays. They keep say they kosher – and they’re label readers.

I realize I’m being judgmental. Fine. I’ll own that. I’m far from perfect. I’ll own that, too.

Nevertheless, I have a problem with this wishy-washy movement that is Conservative Judaism. What my real problem is: is my laziness or my inability to get off the dime.

I really want to be a member of a Modern Orthodox shul. And, there isn’t one here. In my neighborhood there is a Conservative shul, a Reform temple and Chabad. To be fair, I really like Chabad. They do a lot of cool things and their new mikvah rocks. Still, I don’t feel all that comfortable davening there.

So I continue to go to the LCS (local Conservative shul) in spite of the fact that while the rabbi is a nice person…well…it’s a gender thing. I continue to go to the LCS because my family all wants to go together. I continue to go to be a part of “my” community. I continue to go because they put out a full lunch – so that’s one more meal I don’t have to prepare and the kids love that they can count on bagels, cream cheese and tuna. (I should add that I wouldn’t necessarily bring the food back to my house since I don’t hold by the kitchen…)

And, where does this leave me? I can’t always beg off and stay home on Saturdays. Plus, this isn’t the message I want to convey. At the same time, I’m tired of the overt to the point of overkill egalitarianism. I wish there were options and frankly, I’m too tired to go out and start my own shul. Plus, my learning isn’t that solid. So I feel stuck.

Calgon, take me away.

Now back to thinking about which side dishes to serve on Friday night.

17 July 2006

Do the Swiss Eat Swiss Chard?

I've been pondering this question as I've been innundated with the stuff lately. Yes, it's fresh. Yes, it's healthy. But there are limits. Herewith is a recipe I've adapted/created to serve as a Shabbat side dish.

Swiss Chard Tarte
2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 c water
1-2 Walla Walla or sweet onions -chopped into small pieces
1 large bunch Swiss Chard cut into 1/2" pieces
4 eggs
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 c half-n-half/milk/cream
1/2 to 1 c ricotta cheese
fresh ground pepper and nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Mix together flour and salt. Add in olive oil and water to make a soft dough.
Pat the dough into a 9" pan (2" high) with a removable bottom.

Sautée onions until golden. (Quantity depends on what you have in the house - I'm all for adapting.)
Wash, check chard for bugs etc. Dry it and then cut the chard and stems into ribbons about 1/2" wide. Add the chard to the onions and cook until it's wilted - about 5 minutes.

In another bowl beat eggs, half-n-half (or milk or cream), Parmesan and ricotta cheeses. Add some cracked pepper to taste along with a good dash of nutmeg. When it's all combined, mix it with the chard and then pour it into the prepared crust.

Bake until the custard is set - about 45 minutes. It's great room temperature - which in my book makes it an ideal Shabbat dish.

Now on to other things. I'm posing a few questions to the blogosphere:
  • I wonder: if we could learn to regularly and effectively collaborate, would we generate change? If hierarchical organizations – or small groups within an organization – or political entities – were to operate from a collaborative standpoint, look to group members to rely on each other and develop situational leadership, wouldn’t these actions generate a groundswell? Wouldn’t change be the logical extension and result of new behaviors and ways of participating?
  • Can we link collaboration to a Multiple Intelligences’ perspective? Howard Gardner proposed the theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind. The basic premise is that there are seven – or perhaps eight – types of intelligence (i.e., verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, body-kinesthetic, auditory-musical, interpersonal communication, intrapersonal communication, naturalist), which each relate to certain spheres of our lives and activities. Initially geared toward educators, Gardner wrote teaching could be tailored to better reach students once their type is identified.
    Using this idea as a starting point, do Multiple Intelligences come into play in the workplace, in political groups or in organizations? Presumably, one’s type influences how one takes in and processes information. If this is the case, does a person’s type influence how they approach collaboration?
  • Is there an intersection between how people perceive information, data, stimuli, etc. based on their Multiple Intelligences type and how people collaborate and interact with other group members – based on these types.
  • Can we teach how we collaborate? Can collaboration be learned and tailored? If we collaborate, can we achieve systemic organizational change? Perhaps if we understand how we learn, synthesize and apply information, can we collaborate more effectively?

In thinking about what is going on in Israel, I am no naïf. Wishfully imagining a world where collaboration is the rule rather than the exception will not generate peace and stability. Using an appreciative inquiry approach is nice...but what about secure borders?

Still, I have to believe there are ways to change how we think and interact with each other. In essence, I'd like to believe that if we can collaborate and interact with greater comfort and readiness, then we can confront our challenges and opportunities with a greater willingness to take a more creative outlook.

Anyway, at this time when our hearts turn toward the east, remember folks, check Jblogosphere frequently for the latest information.

11 July 2006

And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint

Another in a series of my "oh my gosh we have Shabbos guests and I have no time to make an elegant dinner" creations.

Not Quite Tiramisu and Not Trifle Either (aka my fast, delicious, dairy Shabbat dessert)

1 8 oz carton mascarpone
1/4 c whipping cream
2-4 T sugar (to taste)
1 purchased butter pound cake (e.g., Sara Lee) or two packages lady fingers
1 bag frozen raspberries (thawed)
Chocolate sauce (recipe follows)
Liqueur (e.g., brandy, something coffee flavored, Frangelico, Amaretto)
Cocoa powder and powdered sugar for dusting

1. Whip mascarpone and whipping cream in an electric mixer until thickened (like whipped cream).
2. Add in sugar and brandy (about 2 T) or vanilla (1 T) and set aside.
3. Puree raspberries with sugar (to taste). Use a sieve and discard seeds. Keep the pulpy juice.
4. Slice cake into strips (about 1" wide and about 1/2" thick) and layer the bottom of a serving dish with strips.
5. Brush cake with a little liquour (of choice) and liberally spread first with raspberry puree, then chocolate sauce.
6. Smooth cream mixture over the top.
7. Brush remaining cake pieces with liqueur and place (face down) on top of cream.
8. Refrigerate until ready to serve and dust with cocoa and powdered sugar. Serve with raspberries.

Chocolate Sauce (from NY Times Passover Cookbook - but it's parve, great year 'round, keeps forever - and is great on ice cream or mixed with milk and zapped in the microwave as hot chocolate)

1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c sugar
2/3 c cold water
1/2 c honey
In a saucepan, combine cocoa and sugar. Stir in water with a whisk and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add honey and simmer 3 minutes longer. Remove from heat.

Perfect Salmon for Shabbat

Apparently my Shabbat menu has become somewhat routine. Perhaps that's because I know I can do it and it turns out well - and on time.
Anyway, I've discovered the key to perfect salmon: a 400F oven and a kitchen timer set for 10 minutes. Granted I like my salmon a little underdone. Maybe 12 mintues would be better for those who like it a little drier. Anyway, 10-12 minutes should do it for a piece about 1" thick. I estimate less than 1/3 lb per person - because there's always loads of other foods on the table.
Make the salmon in advance and serve it at room temperature.
Last Shabbat I also made a "salsa" to serve on the side.
Mince a shallot or two and a clove or two of garlic and sautee in olive oil. Finely chop a bunch of Italian parsley and chop several good-sized tomatoes. Add to the gently browned shallots and garlic. Toss to coat and add in some pitted Kalamata olives and/or some drained capers. A bit of lemon zest and some cracked pepper brightens it up, too. Maybe a splash of white wine if you want. But don't let it get soupy. Also serve room temperature. Voila. Friday night's main course is done in about 15 minutes.

It's Just a Flesh Wound

Apparently one is supposed to catch a frisbee with one's hands and not with the bridge of the nose.

Who knew?

Yes, I've been away. Again. Working. Schlepping. Learning all sorts of interesting things. For example:
  • Appreciative Inquiry - in the world of organizational development, this idea is based on the concept that we can build organizations around what works, rather than trying to dwell in and fix what doesn't. (And it's antithetical to being a pessimist...which basically means I'm working against type here.)
  • Collaboration theory - working jointly with others or together – especially in an intellectual endeavor. (Which is easier said than done. Duh.)
  • Transparency - the state of being without barriers, deceit, pretense or other things which clouds "showing up" as the real you. (And you thought I was talking about clean windows.)
  • Presence - the place of being present in a metaphysical or emotional/personal sense - and it's more than just taking up space.

All very cool. In fact, I'm going to spend much of my summer learning about collaboration and how it intersects with leadership.

And all of this learning is very much taking up every spare moment that I'm not using to bake the perfect Shavuout cheesecake ("Look Ma! No cracks."), potty train #2 or pack #1 off to camp.

Which brings to me to my goals for the summer:

  1. Get to the gym at least twice each week and do something more than haul baskets of laundry from the top floor to the basement on Sundays.
  2. Read at least thing for pleasure...but again it'll probably have something to do with school (I've had Hermann Hesse's Journey to the East sitting by the bed for weeks along with Ha Jin's Crazed, Candace Robb's A Trust Betrayed and piles of other books sitting reproachfully gathering dust.)
  3. Get through the entire Torah portion on Shabbos and not just have the good intention to do so...and make it to shul on time most of the time (ok, wishful thinking)
  4. Practice the piano twice a week...I feel so much better having done something creative. And I've worked so hard to become proficient at a couple of those Chopin Etudes.
  5. Enjoy our CSA. We're part of a "shared" farm. Community Supported Agriculture is a good thing. Each week (Thursday) we get a box of produce delivered. Dirt still clings to the leaves of the organic lettuce. OK, so it throws Shabbos menu planning into a tizzy. It's still wonderful to eat berries that taste like, well, berries.

So, before I go off to eat my lunch (a half pint of raspberries), and return to pondering intercultural communication, I have one more goal to add to the list: write just a tad more here. After all, if she can do it (with twins no less) or if she can, too (with a wedding to plan), maybe I can too. I mean, it's only grad school. Oh yeah, and everything else.