Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 in Review

At this time last year, I was in Israel for the first time and getting ready to celebrate the beginning of 2013 in Tel Aviv. As 2013 draws to a close, I cannot help looking back on it as one of the most eventful years of my life so far. In this year, I have been to Israel twice, celebrated my 25th birthday, successfully counted all of the Omer, and (most recently) moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Not all of my memories are positive; this is also the year that I lost my grandfather and experienced anti-Semitism first-hand for the first time in my life. I can only hope that, in 2014, I will build up more good memories and not so many bad ones.

Let's take a quick look back at my most popular blog posts of 2013:

5. (95 pageviews) Taglit Mayanot Day 3 This was the day we met the IDF soldiers who would accompany us on our trip.
4. (98 pageviews) Taglit Mayanot Day 1 On our first full day in Israel, we went hiking and I had schwarma for the first time!
3. (99 pageviews) Taglit Mayanot Arrival On the night of December 27, 2012, my feet touched the land of Israel for the first time!
2. (104 pageviews) Mourning Online I found out about my grandfather's death on facebook, prompting me to rethink what we post and how we interact online.
1. (172 pageviews) Response to Rabbi Cosgrove's Conservative Conversion Proposal Out of the 117 posts I have written, this is the one I am most proud of. As a convert to Judaism, I was disheartened by the turn that Rabbi Cosgrove and some Conservative rabbis took in their stance toward the conversion process. Rabbi Cosgrove proposed relaxing the USCJ's conversion regulations to make it easier for interfaith families. As the USCJ continues to debate interfaith marriage and conversion, I hope that at least some of these 172 pageviews were people in a position to effect change within Conservative Judaism.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What is a dreidel?

On our first official day in Birmingham, Marc and I picked up our keys, bought some cleaning supplies, and cleaned our new apartment. Late the same afternoon, the moving truck arrived with 54 boxes and our furniture. After a couple hours unloading the truck and another few hours unpacking, Marc and I went out for a much deserved drink.

As it happens, we moved in on the day of the Iron Bowl (University of Alabama vs. Auburn), which ended this year in a 109-yard missed field goal return for Auburn to win the game. Though the game had been over for hours, a few unhappy Alabama fans had stayed at the bar to drown their sorrows. One of these fans was a young woman who, when we sat down, informed us that her grandfather is Jewish and then proceeded to ask me, "So what is a dreidel?"

The question seemed innocent enough at first. I wear a Mogen David necklace, so I am asked about Judaism from time to time and I'm happy to talk about it! Marc and I explained the extreme basics of how to play dreidel, which is essentially a gambling game. At that, she made a few jokes about Jews and money, which she assured us and the other man at the bar that she could do, because her grandfather is Jewish. At the time, I wasn't sure how to take her questions and comments and now I'm still not sure what to make of her. On one hand, she seemed genuinely curious about Judaism and even said that she had tried to ask her 92-year-old grandfather about his religion, but he refused to discuss it. On the other hand, her casual Jewish stereotyping, to say the least, and made me uncomfortable.

Is this anti-Semitism? Ignorance? A mix of both?

Ignorance is no excuse for prejudice. Despite Brad Paisley's assertions, I do not believe that one can be an "accidental racist." In fact, this conversation is not the first I have had in the south about Judaism. Southerners seem much more open to talking about religion than Northerners. In the north, it is rude to ask someone about their religious beliefs, but in the south, it is a fairly common topic of conversation. It is perfectly reasonable in the south to be asked to what denomination you adhere or where you go to church. When I lived in Nashville a few years ago, I had some great comparative religion discussions with co-workers and friends who were curious about my Jewish beliefs and practices and seemed excited just to share a belief in God, even though our religions differed. Those conversations never made me uncomfortable the way the dreidel question did.

In the past, I have always taken pride in leaving people with a better understanding of Judaism after being asked about some aspect or other. I seek out opportunities to educate others or invite questions about Judaism (wearing my Mogen David is one of those ways). I remain uneasy about the dreidel conversation not only because of the young woman's casual anti-Semitism, but because I don't feel that I succeeded in expanding her understanding of Jewish people at all. In the moment, I uneasily laughed off her remarks and turned my attention elsewhere. I felt, perhaps rightly, that her question and inebriated state did not really invite education. I hope that in the future, maybe when she is not drunk and lamenting a huge football upset, she will ask someone about Judaism again and actually listen to what they have to say. The south already has the open dialogue in place to support this informal education between acquaintances if only we can use it when opportunities arise.