Becoming Jewish
One Girl's Journey

Effervescence is a state of mind. It's about choosing to bring sunshine to the day.
Every person I meet matters.

If it's written down, I know it (If it's not written down, I don't know it)
If it's color-coded, I understand it (If it's not color-coded, I don't understand it)

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Two Different Tales

Tale One: The Difficult Discussion - Class this weekend had a really tough situation in the very opening few minutes, which I think will live with me for a while. I'll give you some background first, to explain why this was so difficult. And I'm somewhat torn, because I want to explain the background without being a gossip or slanderer. So I'm going to try very hard to stick to factual statements, and mark my personal opinion clearly.

There are many people in my Intro to Judaism course. The course has open enrollment through the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and it's not just for people intending to convert to Judaism. There are some of us who intend to convert, and we were told this is a course that is part of our requirements for conversion. There are many students in the class who were raised Jewish and want to learn more about it.

There is one married couple, where the wife wants to convert, and the husband wants to attend class because (as he tells us), "He wants to support his wife." He, however, is a Christian, and will describe himself as "born-again." I would observe his words and philosophy and describe him in my opinion as an "evangelical fundamentalist, who feels it is his mission to proselytze and/or witness 24/7 to everyone, in all situations." He might agree with this description on several points, but he might not agree with this description 100%.

That said, in class for the past 10 weeks, he has clearly participated more frequently than some class members, which is to say he talks a lot. It is my opinion and interpretation that he seems to struggle with the subtly of the give-and-take of conversation. But I've observed a lot of patience in the classroom, where he is rarely interrupted, and is not cut-off very often when he speaks long about his Christian perspective on scripture, culture, history, ritual, Biblcal interpretation, the nature of the Divine, and other topics.

Unfortunately, his opinions and his perspective might be classified as extremist, and certainly many Americans who call themselves Christian would not agree with all of his opinions.

There. I think that was a factual and accurate, non-slanderous description of the background.

At the start of every class, the Rabbi opens up with questions like, "So, what did you experience this week? Any sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touches, dreams that you would like to share with us?" And we have very interesting input on people's experiences for the week -- conversations they've had, books they've read, movies they've seen, rituals in which they've participated, etc. There was a speaker this past weekend at the synagogue where our class is held, and many members of our class attended, so they spoke on their impressions of the lecturer, his message, and his book. The discussion in class moved toward the idea of "Is G-d in everything?" or "If G-d is Good, then is there Good in everything?" and the painful question of "How can you find the Good in the Holocaust?"

This man I described above, spoke up. I'm going to have to paraphase what I thought I heard him say, because I cannot quote him completely. Take that grain of salt as you will, I got the distinct impression that he said that once upon a time, the Jews were under Covenant with G-d, and under His protection, and then they broke the convenant and went away from G-d, so they were no longer under His protection (implying that the Holocaust occured to people no longer protected by G-d). Then he said that after this, G-d made his New Covenant (implying Jesus and the New Testament), and all those under the New Convenant come back under the protection of G-d.

I saw looks of shock and anger on people's faces, and I myself felt much anger at his unspoken, implied assertion that it was the Jews fault they were killed in the Holocaust because they rejected Jesus and were not under G-d's new covenant, and that G-d had abandoned them and they got what they deserved.

I raised my hand early, and left it in the air for the majority of the time he was speaking. A few people started to shift in their seats, but they didn't clamor to speak like I did. When the Rabbi indicated I could speak in response, I was firm and confident. I can almost quote myself, as I said, (emphasis below matches how I remember making vocal emphasis),

"It is my opinion, that it is *very* dangerous to suggest that horrible circumstances happen because of the actions of this (victimized) individual or people. If we stipulate that there *is* such a thing as an innocent person, if we believe there is such a man, then even an *innocent* person can get hit by a drunk driver. An innocent person can get hit by a stray bullet from gang bangers shooting several blocks away. And an entire people can be harmed by the actions of a single man, and those men who followed him [implying the Holocaust is the fault of Hitler and his followers, not the fault of the victims of the Holocaust]. And it is extraordinarily dangerous to pursue this philosophy, that harm is the fault of the victim and something they did to remain outside the protection of G-d, or that G-d would punish someone or remove His protection from someone and purposefully allow harm to come to them."

The Rabbi did not allow anyone else to speak up, he left my words as the conclusion on the topic. He switched us from open discussion before class, directly into the topics of the syllabus. I believe he might have said something like, "These are very weighty topics. Wow. I didn't know we were going to get so serious this week. Well, I'm going to shift us back to our discussion of the week, and let's talk about the Passover Seder."

By the time I finished speaking, my hands began to shake a little and my eyes teared up and my face was hot. I'm told that I spoke very calmly and yet firm and strong. The class is 2 hours long and we always take a break at the 1 hour mark. All throughout break, nearly half the class took the time to come over, one by one, to say a fervent "Thank you" to me for speaking up, and for standing up to him.

Unfortunately, some fellow students have expressed to me that they are at a loss, trying to either figure out what to say to this man, to understand what he just said, or to even understand why he is in the class. Several students have said that he comes across as threatening and rude, annoying and frustrating. They are shocked that he would say such things (this is only the worst, but not the only incident we've experienced). And a small handful are now concerned and hurt enough to speak to the Rabbi.

I've had dinner/late night coffee with him and his wife once. I left the experience thinking, "Wow, there are a lot of dynamics going on there." My opinion was not improved, but it was very enlightening to ask him direct questions and listen to him explain his motivations and philosophy.

But most strikingly, that was the first time I've heard someone suggest, "Well, the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves by not accepting Christianity." And I was thankful that I was calm enough to stand up to his argument and say, "That's a dangerous assertion, and completely unacceptable."

Another student spoke with him at length after class. She told several of us that she said, "We [the Jews] *do* have a convenant with G-d." And he said, "Not anymore, you don't." Now, I cannot guarantee that this is what he said, but this was the impression she got from the conversation.

Wow. That's the first time I've had to encounter this attitude.

The Other Tale - The other thing to tell you about is completely fantastic. I was browsing podcasts in the iTunes "store" directory, and found a series of podcasts from the Skirball Center (in Manhattan, NY). I downloaded all 42 episodes, and have listened to the first 2 1/2 so far (while doing laundry this evening). I'm really pleased with the recordings. They seem to be from a lecture series so far, and have covered modern politics, Torah study, philosophy, religion, cultural history, etc. I really love listening to them, and imagine that I might listen to some of them more than once.

I cannot begin to tell you how at home I feel, being immersed in a culture that says "Study, study, study! Read, learn, consume, question, struggle, grow!" I have *so* found my people!

* * * * *
Today's Blessing That I'm Thankful For: Tracy, Judy, Linda, Julie, Megan, Rabbi Steve, and all the other students in class from whom I felt so much love and support this week

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