Hear, O Israel

It’s been over ten years since I visited Israel, and yet I still see that time as a formative period in my life: It was the first time when I came out to a large community of people, and the support and love I received encouraged me to live more openly as a gay man.

When I started college, later when I added a second major in political science to my degree, I focused primarily on national politics: After all, it was my desire to achieve LGBTQ civil rights in the US that first drove me to political activism. Even later, when my responsibilities directed my focus toward pedagogy and equity in education, inevitably my involvement in politics waned.

And with it all, so did my awareness of current events in Israel. As a child, I heard most of my Israeli news from my rabbi’s sermons every Shabbat; when I moved to college and no longer regularly attended services, that avenue of information closed, and I was so focused on my studies and campus involvement that I never searched out that information on my own.

Now, in the news, there are big talks about annexation and sovereignty and human rights and racism–and as a Jew, what else can I do but to do what I do best: write about it?

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Points of Experience

It’s hard to admit it was last year when I last mentioned my trip to Belize in the spring (and I had to say it–the joke’s too good not to). On the bright side, with many thanks to my contributors, I’ve reached twelve percent of my fundraising goal! If you’re able to help, you can make a donation here. If you’re still not convinced, keep reading and hopefully I’ll change your mind.

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The Vacancy of Freedom

When the world didn’t end on Friday, I thought I’d post a revelatory message on Saturday. Instead, I got carried away applying for a scholarship and lost track of time. So, I figured, let’s just read the next lesson of the Pirkei Avot and post it promptly on Sunday. Well, as I decided to finish said application this evening and took something of a nap earlier in the afternoon, time has once more gotten away with me. Regardless, learning is learning no matter what time it happens at (although, arguably, midnight learning is best left for Shavuot).

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Let the Yoke Run Down

I just finished reading an article about Israel’s draft law, and I find it ironic because it concerns precisely what I was speaking about yesterday in my thoughts on this week’s teaching from the Pirkei Avot. Not about integrity or faith, however, as metaphors of relief from citizenship and earning a livelihood–no, not at all. In Israel, the trouble isn’t in taking this teaching metaphorically, it’s about taking it literally.

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The I is in Israel

I spent six weeks in Israel the summer of 2009. It was one of the most amazing and definitive experiences of my life and served as the perfect bridge from homeschool and Hebrew school to college. One of our writing assignments near the end was to write about what it means to be Jewish. A lot of people despised it, many of us knew it was coming, and I just sat in the computer lab until it was finished.

No matter, as a prelude to the assignment, we were asked to walk around an area of Tel Aviv where we were visiting for the day and see what people living in Israel considered Jewish. We went up and down the streets in small groups. We walked to a cafe. We walked past soldiers. We sat down with some modern Orthodox Jews. It was exciting, yet nerve-wracking approaching strangers in a strange land (alright, it wasn’t that strange, but I’m naturally quiet, so it was surely an exercise in extroversion!). And then, with our classes, we sat down. And then they dumped it on us.

The essay doesn’t stand as my best example of writing (in rereading it, I feel it lacks an air of sophistication about its coherence and structure), but it reflected my evolving views on Judaism and being Jewish at the time, and for that, it did what was intended of it. I hadn’t ever had the intention of sharing it at the time, at least with none other than our teacher, and since length wasn’t it issue, it ended up becoming a fair bit longer than the bit I posted yesterday. So, without further ado, I present to you the essay I called “Recon.”

(Short for “reconfirmation,” of course.)

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Bring Out the Bling

There’s something ironic to everything, and I think one of ironies of my life is that everything I say I’m not, I become. For example, I’ve never considered myself one for jewelry, and yet I find I wear more now than I ever had before–period. The funny part is, when I forget to put on my watch, or when I lost my Equality Ring in the car, I felt a part of my identity had slipped away. It was like missing a breath and knowing your lungs aren’t as full as they should be–but that breath is already gone and you can never bring it back.

So, although I’m sure it’s an odd thing to say (especially coming from one such as myself, who frequently must refer to dictionaries to divine the meanings of slang), today I’m thankful for bling.

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A Family Theme

This morning was the second “Shababa” at the religious school where I teach. It’s a new experiment this year, having “Shabbat school” one weekend every month or so instead of having school on Sunday. So far I’ve enjoyed them; they’re different, but unique and a pleasant experience for teachers and students alike.

Today I had the honor of giving the d’var Torah, which in Hebrew means “words on the Torah.” It’s comparable to a sermon, except it’s not preaching, it’s teaching. See, Jews don’t proselytize–we perseverate. And with all our perseverative studying, it’s only natural to share it with others (since studying the Torah is itself a commandment).

In any case, though short and sweet and written with a younger audience in mind, I thought I may as well share the drash here for anyone who may wish to read it.

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Occupy America

It’s been a while since I wrote Maximum Occupancy Approaching. I was hesitant to post it before I got my grade back in case I had miswritten or misrepresented anything in composing the piece. I appreciate facts. I want to make sure I’ve got all of mine in order before I say anything. This is simple in op-eds and fiction. Not so simple in journalism. It’s why I want to be a novelist not a newspaper headliner.

Occupy is still around. It’s still as relevant today as it was then–and perhaps even more so because it’s still there and it’s spread further still. Their position has gotten clearer although their leadership remains sparse, and news reports abound with both the good and the bad. I remember the morning after I submitted my paper I saw a clip on the news about the protests at Wall Street: Not only did they have free yoga classes in the middle of the park, they had a library composed of hundreds of books that Occupants had brought by. There were groups to go around collecting trash and recyclables and there was a breakfast served for everyone there.

It seemed peaceful. Like a picnic.

But the principles were still there.

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I is for It Gets Better (Part Two)

Yesterday I began sharing my story, my own experiences that have shown me it truly does get better. I spoke about my experiences hearing the word “gay” before I knew what it meant, and I shared the slow evolution from confusion to realization that despite all the pain it gave me, helped me to know I’m gay. I ended on a precisely hopeless note, but today all that withheld hope comes pouring out–and I hope you’ll continue with me on this journey.

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Scents and Sensibilities

“Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you,” sings Alanis Morissette in her hit song Ironic, “when you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right.” Had I remembered this lovely little factoid, I might have decided to start my weekly reading of the Pirkei Avot next week instead of last.

See, it started with a tiny little thing. An ant. But since there’s never just one, there had to be hundreds. (On the bright side, they definitely are not termites, so that’s a small blessing amidst this whole thing.) And since normal cleaning and trails of cinnamon (a panacea of past problems) failed to feature vibrant successes, we knew we were in for a deeper clean. Who knew deeper would also mean darker.

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