Enjoying Shabbat and its Blessings

One of the benefits of having Kourtney at home (since she works in theatre and they are not starting back up anytime soon) is that she has been baking constantly. Last week she made apple pie, blueberry cheesecake, and puff pastry with strawberries. This week we’ve been eating strawberry shortcake, broccoli and cheddar pasties. But my favorite new tradition is the challah she makes every Friday, from scratch.

Kourtney is not Jewish, but she loves me, and loves creating new traditions for our daughter, so she has really jumped into weekly challah baking. And beyond that, she’s been helping me build out our weekly Shabbat traditions with Aminah. It’s been really gratifying to now see our daughter get excited as the sun goes down on Friday night, because she knows that it’s time for challah!

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The Virtual Seder

For the last 4-5 years I’ve been going to my friend Bekah’s mother’s house for Passover. As someone who is not fully integrated into the community and very hesitant to do anything solo, I haven’t even bothered to try a Seder myself– why would I when Irene’s is already so great? And If I did host a Seder, who would want to come? I don’t know all the rules! I don’t know all the customs! I’m still learning!

Well, this year has thrown a bit of a wrench in my plans of continuing the tradition of leaving it to the practiced Jews. All of California is still under a shelter in place order because of the coronavirus pandemic, and even without the restrictions, most people would be loathe to leave their house when we all seem to have a risk of being infected or spreading the virus to others. How lucky it is, then, that we live in a time where we don’t have to be in the same room to gather together and celebrate? This year we’ll be celebrating Passover via Zoom!

This of course means that we all have to set up our individual houses ourselves, which I have never done before and to be transparent I am not at all prepared to cook dinner and set up my house in a way that is kosher for Passover. Despite my love for Judaism I have been slow to make my life completely Jewish. If I’m being honest, fear is mostly driving this. I don’t have a firm foundation to build my own Jewish identity on– none of my family is Jewish, I was raised in a fairly traditional Christian household, and I know few Jews that I can lean on to teach me how to be a Jew. Add onto that the fact that I’m queer and Black, and I just haven’t met a queer, Black Jew by choice who can share their experiences with me and make this process feel less scary…. it feels like my true desire, to feel like I belong in the community, is just beyond my reach.

It’s not that there are not people out there who are kind and open and willing to welcome me in. There are such people, I have met them, they are all very nice. But it’s hard to trust that the welcome is real, and not just a nicety, like when you and a friend say “We need to hang out more, let’s meet for dinner sometime!” but neither of you will actually follow through. It’s something you say but don’t really mean. I often fear that it’s all talk when someone invites me to come to Friday night or Saturday morning services, and if I actually take someone up on it they’ll backtrack, “Oh sorry, you wanted to come this Saturday? I can’t, sorry….”

So what does this sudden change in venue mean for me? On the one hand, I feel totally unprepared, and I worry I won’t be able to do this holiday justice. When Kourtney went to the grocery store today for supplies, the only remotely Passover-related product she could find was whole wheat matzo. Because we have no car, she had to bike to the store, and had no room in her bike bags for romaine lettuce (for the bitter herbs). I’m too much of a novice to make my kitchen the level of kosher it needs to be for this holiday, and when I looked online for Seder plates I couldn’t find any that could be shipped in time (April 23rd is not going to cut it this time, Amazon).

On the other hand, being able to do this in the comfort of my own home, without being worried that people are watching and determining if it’s Jewish enough. When they’re watching through a screen they only see what I want them to see, and there’s a lot of freedom to that. I don’t have to get everything ‘right’. I may not have the matzo I want, but it’s better than no matzo at all. And it turns out that you can substitute potato for romaine as the bitter herb (it’s doesn’t quite make sense to me but I’m willing to roll with it). And if I don’t have a Seder plate this year, that’s okay. That just means I have time to find one I really like for next year’s Seder. Maybe next year I’ll even go further and try out this African American Seder plate setup I found online (God bless the internet). Who knows? Maybe I’ll give myself permission to find my own Jewish identity without fear of doing it wrong or making mistakes.

Why Aren’t You Pagan Anymore?

My mom asked me that the other day. Why aren’t you pagan anymore?

And I just kinda made a noncommittal grunt in response, mostly because I have a hard time discussing my spiritual beliefs with my parents in general but also because my mom is pretty against organized religion (which includes Judaism) so although she has attempted to be supportive, she’s made her opinions on the matter pretty clear. That makes it hard to share my journey with her. However, the bigger issue in that moment was that I didn’t really know how to answer her because the answer is kind of confusing and if you’re a black and white thinker it’s actually not possible.

I’m not NOT pagan. I think my pagan/hippie/liberal leanings can coexist in harmony with my Jewish ones. But I don’t know how to explain that to anyone, really. I know most people won’t be okay with it, many people will not agree that it’s possible to be both. But here I am, being both. The biggest barrier for most people about the combination of pagan and Jewish is that Judaism makes it pretty clear that there is ONE God, capital G, who you should worship “above all others”, and people take that to mean that there’s only one god that exists and that’s the omnipotent Man Upstairs guy who is full of both wrath and mercy. And for many people who are not really acquainted with paganism(s) believe that all pagans worship and believe in many gods all equally.

The problem is, those are two misinformed assumptions about Judaism and Paganism. The more your research, the more you realize how overly-simplified and wrong those two statements are. As the saying goes, ask two Jews what Judaism is about and you’ll get three answers. Ask two pagans what paganism is about and you’ll get probably 50 answers. There are not only different movements within Judaism which have institutionalized differences in “how to be a good Jew” but within those movements you have many individuals with personal connections to their religion that differ from one another. Yes, there are plenty of Jews out there that believe in the One God, the only one out there, masculine father. But there are also Jews out there who make space for multiple faces of God, including the feminine. And others (a much smaller group, I’m sure) who worship God “above all others”, but believe in those others and have relationships with them while still following the letter of the law. And of course there are those who make a case for themselves around being both an observant Jew AND an atheist or agnostic.

Just google paganism and you get tons of sites talking about different pagan paths that vary widely not only in how they worship but WHO they worship. Paganism does not equal Wicca, with one god and one goddess, although Wicca is included under the umbrella term of paganism. Not only do they worship different gods and goddesses depending on their own path, their idea about how gods and goddesses exist also varies. Some believe in the idea that “all gods are one god”, that the many different gods we’ve come to know through research and personal experience are just different facets/personalities/manifestations of the same deity, one grand supreme being. Others, called hard polytheists, believe every deity is it’s own and that the gods and goddesses are independent of one another, and cannot be called upon interchangeably.

All this to say, religion in general isn’t black and white. And my own understanding of my spiritual path is complex, but I truly think that my beliefs taken from my pagan practice and my Jewish practice sit in harmony with one another within me. So while my rituals may have changed, and although my focus as of late has been on strengthening the rituals around Shabbat and Jewish prayer, I would not necessarily say I’m not pagan. I’m still partial to the term Jewitch, personally. That being said, there is still a lot of fear around using that term out in the real world. Being so new to Judaism, and wanting to find an accepting spiritual home, I am wary of stepping on toes or rocking the spiritual boat. I don’t want people to think I’m weird, and I certainly don’t want people to feel like I’m being blasphemous. I know in my heart I have to do this my way, regardless of what others think, but I also know that many people will want to force encourage me to do it the Right Way– the way it has always been done (whatever that means). I’m all for tradition (that’s why I love ritual so much), but I don’t want to live in a box. I want to worship how I see fit, because at the end of the day my relationship with Divinity is my own, and if I don’t worship in a way that is best for me then I’m doing myself a huge disservice, and weakening that relationship.

So…. that’s how I feel about that.

Making Lists and Other Coping Skills

I know. I said I would write about Pesach and Beltane like two weeks ago. I truly was committed to that, I promise. However, life has been…. hard. I had a really great time at the Passover Seder I attended and I did really want to blog about it because it was so fun and made me that much more committed to converting to Judaism. It made me want to learn more, to DO more. But every time I logged onto wordpress to write, I just couldn’t muster the brain power to put my thoughts into words.

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I found the afikomen again this year, so I feel pretty good about the whole thing.

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Flowers and Fun Time

This year is going by so fast! It feels like just yesterday we were celebrating the winter holidays and now we’re like two weeks away from Beltane, and Passover starts this Friday! I feel like we’re only moments away from summer, which will hopefully mean some beach time and swimming for me. I figure it’s a good time for a spiritual update because I feel like I’ve really been focusing on my wls journey on here and although it is a big part of my life right now, I created this space to talk about my spiritual life so I want to kinda get back to that. Continue reading

The Spiritual CAN Influence the Mental

Getting back into Shabbat was the best choice for me last week. I know I have yet to fully experience it as a true converted Jew, but even observing it in the small ways I did was not 4274418_origonly meaningful but also something my mind really needed– a time for rest. I made a commitment to go through the blessings, light the candles and bless the food, but also to stay away from my phone for just the night. It was totally worth it.

Right after work I went to the grocery store to buy my dinner (rotisserie chicken– perhaps this week I’ll make my own chicken in the slow cooker?) and get some grape juice since I can’t drink alcohol. Let me just say, it’s so nice being able to get off work at my regular time, be able to stop by the store and still get home before it’s time to light the candles. In fact, I had enough time to get home, prepare the meat for my weekend meals, do some dishes, and get the table set for myself. Of course I loved the ritual of it all, it felt really good to be a part of something bigger and older than myself. I could just imagine all the other people in the world doing the same thing I was doing, saying the same blessings around the same time and it made me feel like I was a part of something really cool. Continue reading

Book Haul for March

As I said in my previous post, last week I made a spontaneous trip to Berkeley to visit Kourtney at work. While I was waiting for her to meet me, I found myself wandering into the bookstore down the street. Now, I love my kindle and I use it often, but there is just nothing like reading from an actual book. I’m kinda excited because I think I got a pretty good haul for books about Judaism and Jewish life. Continue reading

Celebrating Alone

Since surgery I’ve really lapsed on my observing of Shabbat (I hope the Divine will forgive me, I was recovering from surgery after all). Now that I’m on solid foods I’m thinking about starting back up again tonight. One of the things I’ve been struggling with as far as observing Jewish holidays is not having anyone to celebrate with. Judaism isn’t really made for solitary practitioners, I mean there are some prayers you’re not even supposed to say without at least 10 people. So it can feel especially isolating when you’re trying to celebrate on your own, especially when you’re a newbie like me and have no one knowledgeable to walk you through it. However, I don’t want that to stop me from at least trying to make it work (baby steps, ya know?) so here I am, back at it again.

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Words to live by.

Since I still can’t eat bread or drink alcohol I’m probably going to skip the challah tonight and drink grape juice instead of wine. After eating my little baby meal, I’ll get settled in with some of my new books (see my next post for a rundown of the haul I got in Berkeley last week) and try to accomplish my Shabbat challenge for the week: I won’t use my phone the whole night. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s incredibly hard for me to unplug. I’m constantly on my phone using time-wasting apps. Shabbat has quite a few restrictions, and I’m not looking to tackle them all at once because that’s just setting myself up for failure, but I do want to eventually get to a place where I’m pretty observant most of the time. I don’t want to half-ass it, okay?

I’m Always Seeking a Spiritual Home

I’m kind of getting used to being in this sort of spiritual no man’s land, Interfaith-Tree1where I’m looking for a place to lay my head but it seems like everywhere I look is just this great expanse of emptiness. That could be an exaggeration. But honestly, I keep thinking the answer is out there just beyond my sight line, so close. Is there a spiritual home that exists in the world that fits all of my needs? I love paganism, and I love Judaism, and I even love Christianity a bit (but more in a nostalgic kind of way), but they don’t completely meet my needs. Are they even supposed to? It seems pretty selfish of me to ask something to meet my every need.

Judaism has structure and longstanding traditions and customs. I love that. I love, to a certain extent, having the roadmap sorta written for me. That’s not to say that there’s no wiggle room, but it in some ways makes it easier to be observant. The instructions are relatively clear! Although I say that knowing that I actually only know a very, very small part of the traditions and customs of Judaism, and some of them are quite complicated (and in an entirely new language for me). Every ritual is on paper somewhere, and discussed by scholars ad nauseum. Jews are not messing around, they take ritual pretty seriously and I really appreciate that. Paganism doesn’t have that kind of structure, at least not what I’ve experienced so far. There are rituals written down, but there are so many for one simple event! Look up “Winter Solstice ritual” in google and you’ll get probably 20 different rituals to choose from. Which one is best? How do you weed through all the flowery bullshit and get to some meaningful ritual that meets your needs (in my case, can be done solitary, without a whole lot of tools, and doesn’t involve a bonfire)? Continue reading

Apples and Pomegranates

In case you didn’t notice, I’ve changed the name of this blog.

I first called this blog the Seeking Place. I thought it was a nice name because I’m seeking answers to my faith questions, I’m seeking a place that I can call my spiritual home. And although that still holds true, I have expressed many times here that I feel I have my feet placed in two homes– one being Paganism, and the other being Judaism. I chose a new blog title to reflect that.

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Being Jewish-ish

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Me in another life.

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker today about Judaism. It all started with Yiddish, and somehow I ended up talking about brisket, which naturally led to me talking about keeping kosher and what that entails, and then Shabbat and all of its rules and customs, and then the bible. My coworker looked at me and said, “You seem to know a lot about being Judaism. Are you Jewish?”

I was surprised at how badly I wanted to be able to say yes, absolutely, no hesitation. Because honestly, I still feel a connection to Judaism– I spent a lot of time learning about it, trying to immerse myself in the religion and culture, and I liked it. Even now, I still subscribe to many Jewish blogs and websites (and yes, I read the articles). I still have my Shabbat candles, I still recite the blessings in my head, even if I am too scared to say them out loud– I guess because I would feel like a fraud for doing so, since I’m so obviously pagan. But I still feel a connection to it and in some ways I feel like it’s now part of me, no matter what I do. Maybe I have ancestors who were Jewish, maybe I’m feeling a historical/familial connection. there are parts of Judaism that just feel right, make sense to me on a spiritual level that I don’t really know how to explain it without sounding stupid.

I continue to feel like I’m caught between two worlds– paganism and Judaism– and I have no idea how to reconcile the two. I just want to be able to be spiritual in a way that feels right to me. I don’t know. Rosh Hashanah ended last night, and I was sad that I didn’t get to celebrate as a Jew, with other Jewish people. I’m sad that I can’t celebrate Yom Kippur and Mabon at the same time (they’re seriously on the same day this year). I refuse to let go of my hanukkiyah, and I think I’ll probably still light candles for Hanukkah even though I don’t have to do so. I don’t want to let go of Judaism. It’s so beautiful. And so is Paganism. Honestly, I don’t know what to do, and I wish I had a teacher to guide me, to tell me what my options are.

I told my coworker that I am Jewish-ish. Jew Adjacent. I wanted to say honorary Jew, but that feels like a title that should be given to me, not taken by me. I don’t feel like a regular gentile, but I’m not a confirmed Jew. I’m somewhere in between.

Stepping Back from Judaism

I am feeling more and more everyday that a jewish identity and a pagan identity are incompatible. As much as I love the idea of being a Jewitch, I worry that it is too much to have to fight for. I can’t find much of a community for those Jewitches, online or otherwise. Most resources online are really outdated– one blog dedicated to jewitchery hasn’t been updated since 2013. that’s twelve years of silence! Most people who define themselves as Jewitches are Jewish born women who follow a pagan path, but still culturally define themselves as Jews. They don’t participate in most (any?) Jewish practices, but because being a Jew is as much about ethnic identity as it is about religion, they are still considered Jews. Once a Jew, always a Jew– maybe a bad Jew, maybe a heretic, but still a Jew.  Continue reading

The Poor Woman’s Altar

In my last post I talked about diving in. Well since then I made the decision to buy some actual altar supplies. Now, it’s still a work in progress, but I wanted to show you what I’ve gotten so far.

imageI know, it looks a bit sparse right now, but I have a lot more on my list to buy and I’m not done decorating. It’s a work in progress, just like me.  Continue reading

Why Don’t You Dive In?

A conversation with my wife a few days ago– or, me talking and her listening:

You know what my problem is? I don’t go whole hog. I’m talking specifically about my spiritual life, but it probably applies to everything else, too. I’m all witchy or all Jewish, and yet I can’t commit fully. Like my altar supplies. Or my mezuzah. Or even Shabbat candle holders! I can’t seem to take the plunge and buy  the things I need to do good ritual work. So I’m stuck in this “in between” place. Where I am beyond beginner but not in the place of true spiritual belonging. And it’s the same with working with others: I want to be a Jew but I’m too afraid to go to temple. I want to be witchy but I’m too afraid to go to festivals. I want to do things by myself that I actually need help with. But I’m so afraid.

“Why don’t you dive in?”

I’m afraid of being judged, laughed at, rejected. Like, what if I spend all this money and time on Pagan and Jewish things for our home and life and then it turns out that Judaism and Paganism don’t work for me? What if I’m meant to be Buddhist (or Quaker, or Taoist, or Hindu, or nothing, or everything)? Then I will have wasted all of my time and energy and money on things I can’t even use.

“You won’t know any of those things until you dive in.”

I know! So. I’ve made a list of things I need for my altar and just for being a witchy Jew in general, and I’m going to buy these things. And you’re going to help me by telling me that it’s okay to spend money. And by reminding me that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And to not worry so much because it will all be okay.

Pulled in Two Directions

I alluded to this in my previous post, but I really want to talk about where I am spiritually. Honestly, I’m stuck. That is, I feel pulled to go into two different directions. On the one hand, I’ve spent the last few years exploring Judaism and really trying to immerse myself it its culture and ritual. I subscribe to Jewish blogs and websites, I say shabbat blessings on friday nights over my candles, I celebrate Pesach and other holidays throughout the year. I added hebcal to my google calendar! And to be honest, I truly enjoy learning more and more about what it means to be a Jew and I crave that stability and ritual. It’s a comfort to know that when I am singing my prayers on friday nights I am joined by many all over the world, even if in my own home I am alone. Also, I have Jewish friends who have been so kind and eager to help me learn. I feel less isolated than I did when I identified as Pagan. Continue reading