12/23/2005

Funny Stories (that might make you cry)

This past week, I was at a conference for professionals in Jewish organizations. The spectrum of people there was extremely diverse, pretty much in any way that you can think of it. There were three elements that really leap out as being, well, just bizarre.

1) They had posted quotes from a number of well-known Jews about their own relationship with Judaism. There were three adjacent to each other at the entrance to the main meeting hall, one from Barbara Streisand, one from R’ Soloveitchik, and one from Natalie Portman. It goes without saying that the opinions Yentl and Amidala are at least as significant as the Rav’s; I just didn’t know that the Rav was so famous…

2) There was a banquet toward the conclusion of the conference. The band played a mixture of pop-culture and Jewish songs (they could’ve brought in Matisyahu and knocked out two birds with one stone), and there was intermittent dancing (mixed) during which I and my colleagues got fat. At one point, the band played Carlebach’s ‘Im Eshkachekh’, at which point some of the younger crowd began slow-dancing. It’s like, ‘let my right hand forget it’s way to my partner’s tuchus’.

[side note: ever notice that the word ‘tuchus’ is so much funnier than any English alternative? It can get a message across without it being confrontational or crude. To wit, threatening to bust out a can of whupa** is far more antagonistic than turning to the equally potent but far more diffusing whuptuchus. Next time you feel like using the word ‘butt’ or ‘a**’, substitute ‘tuchus’ and see how different it is, ve-acamo”l]

3) There was a session for Rabbis on conversion and intermarriage. An Orthodox colleague of mine and I attended, along with three other, non-Orthodox Rabbis (I believe all 3 were Reform, but I’m not certain). It was a great session, and we articulated ourselves pretty well. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I recently posted thrice on this issue over at MY, and had put a lot of thought into these issues in general. Also from that session:
  • A surprising phenomenon, that my heterodox colleagues pointed out, is that as one’s level of observance increases, one’s acceptance of Jews of different ethnic or racial backgrounds also increases. I suggested – with the agreement of all in the room (which shocked me) – that this is because if one’s Judaism is defined solely on ethnic grounds, then someone from a different ethnic background isn’t ‘really’ Jewish, whereas one who understands their Judaism as something more content-driven is much more likely to accept someone with common values, regardless of language or skin color.

  • One of the non-Orthodox Rabbis presented a dilemma where a non-Jew who was taking ‘conversion classes’ was offered, and accepted, gelilah. She (the Rabbi) approached him and asked if he had already converted, and when he answered in the negative, instructed him to decline the honor. Her point was that there are times when we need to draw lines and be somewhat non-inclusive, as much as it might be awkward. My Orthodox colleague and I agreed that in that situation, we would have allowed the person to continue rather than potentially embarrassing him, because glilah, is an honor which doesn’t require any type of legal stature from the honoree. We wouldn’t have given it out like that a priori, and the gabai would’ve been approached at a later time, but we wouldn’t have stopped in mid-stream. Our non-Orthodox colleague was very thankful for the explanation; so, bizarre as it may sound, I gave a hetter to a Reform Rabbi. I never would’ve thought it possible.
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