How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

July 24, 2007

It’s the Irony, Stupid: Hospitality and Spirituality in the Middle East, Then and Now

When I started writing this (Sunday, July 15 or thereabouts) I didn’t know where it was going, so I didn’t post it. It took about a week for the realization to sink in that the thing that brought these two subjects into relief for me was the irony and sadness over the powerful positive connotations I held based on history, our sacred texts, ands personal experience, and the terrible depths of hostility and spiritual corruption we’ve reached today in the region. I am leaving much of the piece intact as I first wrote it, with the addition of the link to my friend Scott’s powerful piece at the end.
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Two aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and how they are played out today in the Middle East and here in the US, came into sharp relief for me recently: Hospitality and spirituality.

The hospitality I’m referring to is the “open door” policy extant in many Arab and Israeli homes – whereby friends, family, and sometimes even strangers are welcomed with open arms and well-stocked pantries, often with no advance notice. Last Sunday, after a lovely late morning playdate and light picnic at a park near our house, we invited a couple of the friends we were with back to our place for lunch. Eric & Shauna said they had to run a bunch of errands so they would take a rain check. Half an hour later, as we were noshing with Tamar, the one friend who’d come over initially, they called and said they were done, and would we mind some company. Without hesitation, we added two place settings to our dining room table, and our impromptu gathering lasted until the late afternoon. Once we’d started feeding them, Eric admitted that he’d only called because Shauna thought it’d be weird to just show up on our door unannounced. I assured her that it would not have been weird at all and that they are encouraged to do that sort of thing any time they feel like it. Jenn isn’t Israeli, but her subscription to this same philosophy is entirely unsurprising considering our compatibility with each other (which we discovered very early on – like on our first date).

When Jenn and I were looking for our first house together a couple of years ago, we walked into the abode we now call home and fell in love with it, largely because of the layout of the dining room/living room, which is really one enormous room divided only by the entryway from the front door, with no steps or walls separating the space. We immediately realized that this room could hold more than two dozen people at a festive meal, a scene we hoped to see brought to life in our home as often as possible.

Later that same night, as I was rocking Hadarya to sleep, I recognized (in the truest sense of that word: I revisited the knowledge, or cognition, of) the blessings she has brought into our lives. We are committed to giving something back in acknowledgment of and gratitude for those blessings. On her birthday, we want to do something to honor the sacrifice and bravery of her birth mother; and we also will continue to recognize the role my bone marrow donation played in the cosmic balance of our lives and our struggle to expand our family.

I don’t believe in an active God of history, a literal being of some sort that has a hand (outstretched or otherwise) in everyday events. My conception of a “higher being” is much more along the lines of a shared human trait of Godliness, a spark of divinity that each of us carries. The more people recognize that spark within themselves (and choose to follow its guidance rather than ignore it), the more God is present in the world.

All of these thoughts and experiences got me thinking about the geographical region where I was born, and the one I now reside in, and whether there’s some qualitative difference in how people relate to each other and to God in these two regions (and elsewhere). The whole cradle of civilization thing, and the old joke about the God hotline being a local call from there, make it clear that other people have thought about this before me (I’m not claiming originality here), and I don’t have any answers, but I’m thinking about it.

Modern history, unfortunately, puts hospitality and spirituality in a different light: A recent scene from the West Bank where the open door is specifically shut in the face of a neighbor (92 MB WMV – even with broadband, it’ll take a while, but it’s worth it here it is on YouTube), and the centuries of religion-based hostility and violence in the Middle East (um, read/watch the news?), highlight only the differences between the peoples and downplay (if not outright ignore) the positive aspects of these qualities.

I was aided in my move forward to post by this gut-wrenching recollection by my good friend Scott of his visit to Hebron. I was in Hebron for a couple of months – including the High Holy Days – while serving in the IDF in ’92, so I can sadly say that his characterization of that place is spot on.

Now I just need to figure out how to react and work for change.

July 16, 2007

Things that make me sad…

Filed under: Christianity,Commentary,SDSU,Torah Commentary,work — howdoyoujew @ 16:27

Sad in a cosmic, global way, not a “boo-hoo” way:

Evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who co-opt Hebrew, specifically Hebrew sacred texts and liturgy, without understanding or respecting their meanings.

I was prompted to post this by an example I ran into today, which itself reminded me of another from a couple of years ago.

Today I manned an information table on behalf of Career Services for incoming freshmen at SDSU as part of the orientation program that runs throughout the summer. At one point, two young ladies approached the table and my colleague and I asked them if they were interested in finding work on campus, thinking about their careers, etc. – the standard questions we ask to engage the uninitiated and create an opening to tell them about our services. The two immediately informed us that they weren’t, in fact, incoming students, but that they were from Minnesota and South Dakota, respectively. When I asked (politely) what they were doing on campus, they asked if we’d ever heard of Campus Crusade for Christ. My colleague Adam and I admitted that we had, and they told us they were here representing their respective campuses as part of a training program or some such.

This made the fact that one of them (the Minnesotan) was wearing a necklace with a silver pendant reading “אשת חיל” (Eshet Chayil – Woman of Valor) much more interesting to me. I’d noticed it before they’d identified themselves, and I commented that I liked it. When the wearer said she’d been told that it meant “Excellent woman” I noted the standard translation, and she balked, saying she didn’t want to be a woman of valor at all – that it implied things like courage (and a couple of other qualities she spit out) which she, apparently, either didn’t possess at all or didn’t aspire to. It turned out the other girl had an identical pendant (as did, presumably, all the other girls in their study group), and that they’d “studied” Proverbs 31 (Google search results, revealing thousands of pages of Christian reflections on this beautiful poem and nary a Jewish take; I guess all the Jewish web references to it refer to it by its title, as these searches for Eshet Chayil and Woman of Valor show) along with some other important women in the Bible, including Hannah and Rahab.

This exchange reminded me of one that occurred at the end of the 27 hours of parenting classes Jenn and I had to take when we signed up to adopt through the county a couple of years ago. During the last class session, we schmoozed a bit with the other “students” – all prospective adoptive parents. I don’t remember how, but I got to talking to a woman who was wearing a ring with “אני לדודי ודודי לי” (Ani l’dodi ve-dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). She rubbed me the wrong way to begin with by basically quizzing me on the phrase, not satisfied when I told her I knew what it meant in Hebrew; she had me recite the verse, then she showed off her knowledge by parroting the next couple of lines. When I asked about how she came to be wearing the ring, since she wasn’t Jewish, she said she’d gotten it through her church, and that she wore it around the house when she was doing chores and cleaning and stuff.

Wonderful. So our sacred texts are reduced to accompanying non-Jews on their chores and missions. Of course, we elevate the texts when we truly study them, reflect on them, and live by them, but should we be more possessive of them? Seriously, I’m asking.

p.s.: My favorite part of the exchange with the Campus Crusade girls was that the colleague I was at our table with is a practicing Muslim. He and I had a good chuckle at the irony of the whole situation after they left.

July 12, 2007

Random thoughts

I ought to be blogging more. edited to add: and I ought to fix/edit my sidebar contents.

I had a productive day at work today, with a “third time’s a charm” situation regarding videotaping a presentation given by our esteemed young employer relations specialist and a rep from SDG&E. Then the day was made more productive by a quick, off-the-cuff conversation with our bright associate director as I was on my way out of the office for the day. It’s very true that a great deal of learning (if not most of it) is accomplished outside the classroom, and that holds true for work as well – some of the most innovative, helpful ideas are reached not during formal “work” time, but in these side conversations, at informal networking happy hours, etc.

Hadarya was a little ornery this afternoon/evening, after a lovely time at the swimming pool. She was fine in the pool, but then didn’t have much of an appetite at dinner, then was very unhappy in the bath, which is extraordinarily odd for her. She went down for the night a little later than usual (with Ima), but has been sleeping soundly for the last couple of hours, so I’m looking forward to a good day tomorrow (end of her second week at the excellent SDSU Children’s Center).

I’m frustrated at the lack of time I think I have for things like updating our flickr site, blogging and podcasting, and other “leisure” activities, but I also know it’s more a matter of time management than actually not having the time. I wonder if Avraham’s sending me this link earlier today was a bit of divine intervention? I don’t know if I need the additional tool, having become a Bit Literacy junkie, but I’ll be examining my options more closely.

Having just written that (after a break for a family obligation that we’ll talk about another time), and having read a bit of Steve Pavlina’s stuff, I realize that this site and blog can serve as my vehicle for journaling, with the added benefit (?) of having other people chime in on my goals, activities, and writing, something that may serve as an additional incentive to improve myself.

I really want to go to Comic-Con this month. I’ve wanted to go for a few years, and this year, as a fan of a bunch of webcomics whose creators will be here in town for the festivities, I feel it’s the right first time. I want to take Hadarya, because I think it’ll be awesome-sauce to have some of the artists I enjoy so much sketch her now (and when we return in the coming years, as I hope to). So this weekend I’ll try to figure out if I can still get in, how much it’ll cost, and check with my better half as to the feasibility of this venture.

Most daunting part of this post? Going back and adding all the links.

July 5, 2007

I swear, this is the last one.

Filed under: funny,humor,webcomics — howdoyoujew @ 14:25

This is the kind of laser eye surgery I want:

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Comics that aren’t for kids

Filed under: funny,humor,webcomics — howdoyoujew @ 11:34

I have a whole list of webcomics I read daily (I’ll post the whole list another time), or at least as often as I get into my Google Reader account, but I just discovered this one today via RGS, and added it to the list. This is the most innocuous of the bunch – as the title of this post suggests, this is not a kid-friendly comic strip, unless your kid swears like a sailor/truck driver/surly character of choice and has a severely morbid sense of humor.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Hmmm. What does it say about me, then, that I really enjoy this?

Reasons #1 and #1 that I’m a happy man

Filed under: Family,Good News — howdoyoujew @ 10:02

Jenn & Hadarya, Foster City, June 2007

Why I’m never buying bottled water again, and why you shouldn’t either

Filed under: Commentary,environment,Health,News — howdoyoujew @ 09:47

Since I’ve been following No Impact Man for a while, I was primed for this, but there were still some severely sobering facts in this that managed to stun me. Take some time to read and react to The Truth About Bottled Water.

Highlights:

Except for this: Bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence. We’re moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 81/3 pounds a gallon. It’s so heavy you can’t fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water–you have to leave empty space.)

Meanwhile, one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water “varieties” from around the globe, not one of which we actually need…

…And in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji…

…And for this healthy convenience, we’re paying what amounts to an unbelievable premium. You can buy a half- liter Evian for $1.35–17 ounces of water imported from France for pocket change. That water seems cheap, but only because we aren’t paying attention.

In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000…

via MH, BB, and MeFi.

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