A Call For Diversity: Parshat Vayera

*JN Magazine thanks Isaiah for sharing his weekly My Jewish Learning series with us.*

This week, I’d like to focus on the self, not as the observer, but as the observed. Not when we felt comfortable enough to notice the difference in the other, but more the moment my insides pinch from when realizing everything we believe ourselves to be, is called into question. It is because in those moments that my identity has been threatened that I not only retreat inwardly, but fend off all potential opposition—losing not only myself, but connection to a community and lifestyle.  Continue reading A Call For Diversity: Parshat Vayera


A Right of Passage

I walked slowly up to the entrance to Brú na Bóinne. The Palace of the Boyne. You know it as Newgrange, the Neolithic Irish passage tomb. I looked forward to this visit, nay, pilgrimage for such a long time. Like so many Irish before me, I was entering the passage tomb of my ancestors. Far from my mind were the scrunched eyebrows of my neighbors and their confused questions. “Why would you want to go to Ireland?” “You should be going to Israel.” In that moment, all I cared about was acknowledging my Irish heritage and connecting to a part of my genetics that had been playing second fiddle to my religion for a long time.  Continue reading A Right of Passage

Building Jewish Families

I teach Sunday school, and we just finished Parshat Vayera, the story of Abraham and Sarah. The Torah is filled with barren women: Sarah, Rachel, Hanna, Michal, the list goes on and on.

There is both solace and frustration in this persistent theme for students of Torah who are, themselves, coping with reproductive health issues. On the one hand, it is helpful to know that this is an ancient struggle, and even our greatest matriarchs were not immune. Yet so often, these women were able to pray their infertility away. Sadly, for many modern Jews, prayer alone won’t solve the problem.  Continue reading Building Jewish Families

A Call For Diversity: Parshat Lech-L’cha

*JN Magazine thanks Isaiah for sharing his weekly My Jewish Learning series with us.*

“Is she converting?”

“Clearly, she is not from around here, I wonder if she is even Jewish.”

“She must be someone’s nanny…”

These were not just the petty thoughts of those who saw me with my mother, but also at times the actual words spoken. Did these people aim to offend and to distance us? I pray not, but somehow and sometimes, the natural tendency of those who experience something foreign is to immediately cause distance for the sake retaining his/her individual comfort.  Continue reading A Call For Diversity: Parshat Lech-L’cha

Shia LaBeouf and Judaism’s White Flight

In a recent interview with Interview Magazine, troubled Jewish actor Shia LaBeouf of Transformers fame and Indiana Jones infamy touted his newfound faith in, and conversion to, Christianity. The announcement was met with equal levels unrest and skepticism as the public response vacillated between anguish at another loss to the numbers of American Jewry and the reality that LaBeouf has proven time and again to be quite the adept prankster. In fact, the Religion News Service is quoted as saying “[some people] really want to believe that LaBeouf is a Christian now because having famous people on ‘our’ side makes ‘our’ case stronger. But after watching the movie and then re-reading the interview, it will be clear that Shia was laughing his way to the bank over all the hubbub.”

Regardless of how sincere LaBeouf’s claim is, it nonetheless is proof positive of the endemic laid bare by the most recent Pew Survey: American Judaism is hemorrhaging. And non-Orthodoxy is hemorrhaging marginally harder.  Continue reading Shia LaBeouf and Judaism’s White Flight

Sidekick Stupidity

There’s nothing like a game of WWILF. You’ve done it, I assure you. You go onto Youtube to look up something obscure, like a 90’s music video, maybe something with a weird lyric like “No more roses for your gun, no hippy chick”, and then, somehow, you end up watching a documentary on prison camps in North Korea or a Brit’s review of American junk food. Yes, that has a name. WWILF. What Was I Looking For?

You’re welcome.  Continue reading Sidekick Stupidity

Your Mother Called My Grandparents What?!

My latest experience with what I like to call the “fake liberal friend” or FLF began with a Facebook discussion of the conversion crisis sparked by the recent accusations of abuse of potential converts leveled against Rabbi Barry Freundel, a leader in the Modern Orthodox movement. As part of the exchange, my FLF noted that her mother belonged to the Conservative movement and held generally liberal views, but was unable to accept converts as truly Jewish.

“I think it may be a generational thing,” she wrote. “She’s 87.”

Jokingly, I replied, “Yeah. She’d probably still be calling me colored.”  Continue reading Your Mother Called My Grandparents What?!

A Call for Diversity: Parshat Noach

While driving down Route 95 on the East Coast, one has the ability to survey hundreds of billboards along the way. They aim to tell the passerby that life without their product is a life that is incomplete. Without that specific phone, insurance plan, TV show or washing machine, one may run the risk of being an outcast, unaffiliated, and simply on the wrong train. All too often, the sole intent of the advertisement company is to draw one away from their current status of living and suggest that uniting with their agenda is the best way to succeed in the world, denying diversity, for the sake of uniformity.

In this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 11:1-9) we read about the demands of the nations to create a world of sameness and uniformity: the Tower of Babel.  Continue reading A Call for Diversity: Parshat Noach

A Call for Diversity: Parashat Bereishit

Before much ink is used, the Torah already tells us about the Divine call for diversity. From the outset, we see throughout the creation story that “God separated,” at each day’s end. Arguably the most referenced biblical commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, RaSHI, (12th Century, France) stated that “God saw that it would not be good for darkness and light to serve together, because it would bring about confusion; so He established a boundary for the day hours and boundary for the night hours.” Our first call for diversity, was not to keep darkness and light away from each other, but rather to create a space where each can summon its own strength so as to prevent confusion from plaguing the world; to develop the space (eve) for the two to exist in harmony.  Continue reading A Call for Diversity: Parashat Bereishit

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