Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Am A Chasidic Hippie.

An SVG version of the Chabad-Lubavitch Mashiac...Image via Wikipedia

We tend to worry about our self image here in America. I have noticed that. We hoard it as if it is our only possession, this being obvious in the advent of bloggers and vanity sites.

In the tech world, if you write a little snippet of code to do something that no one ever uses, or if they do, they wouldn't care about, then all of a sudden a site with your name must go up, with all of the bells and whistles, and it must be presented as if you were James Gosling or Larry Wall.

I understand. I used to be an attention whore, too. I was a writer, or trying to be, and it was a big production, trying to look as cool if not cooler than the others in my genre already were.

Perhaps I have forgotten the self-image thing. I'm just not up for it anymore, I guess. I generally avoid putting my picture up, eventually I'll get around to it, but more so my online friends know what I look like more than trying to be a media star. I won't be one of those.

I don't wanna be one of those.

So, I'm in the bank, and my teller (I have got to remember her name... it's simply rude not to know) has had plenty of questions about Judaism, especially since I look like I walked out of Crown Heights. I always answer them, which leads to a delightful conversation about this, that, and the other.

I don't get excited and bent out of shape about the fact that she thinks Messianic "Jews" (Vegetarians for Meat is another way you will hear me refer to them) are a valid sect of Judaism. I simply encourage her study, and thank my lucky stars that we (Torah Jews, actual Jews) are thought well of.

We had a recent discussion about Shabbat, and how Jews celebrate Shabbat with rest and the best of everything. She asked if she could celebrate Shabbat. I suggested that it would be an awesome idea. There's a website called Sabbath Manifesto that is perfect. It's sponsored by a group called Reboot, and I was glad to be able to share it.

Today, she wanted to know more about myself and our family, because, as she put it, I was "so laid back." I was informed that she had been studying more about Orthodoxy and the impression that she was left with was something to the effect of what I call the "Orthodox Snub." I did explain the concept of yichud, and how my wife and I avoid any physical contact with the other gender, or be in a closed room with them.

So yes, we're strict. And then the discussion progressed to the differences between Haredi, Chabad, and Breslov. The latter is how I came to the title of this post.

I said that in the Chassidic world, Chabad was the "geeks," and Breslov would be the "hippies."

I am an ultra-orthodox geeky hippie.

I like it that way.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Areivut, Et Al.

A Sefer Torah opened for liturgical use in a s...Image via Wikipedia
Did I ever mention that I started a blog to go with my study course? Did I even mention my study course?

Probably not.

One of the things that resided in my mind from the very beginning of this adventure into Judaism was to follow the rabbinical path. Perhaps in the beginning, to be brutally honest, it was the vision of a kid that wanted yet another title.

Let's face it. I'm turning 40 soon, and that means to a great extent that if I do take statistics to heart, and I am fortunate enough (G-d willing) to merit a full 80 years on Earth, then my life is half over.

Gone are the days of college life (I "enjoyed" the military instead). Away with the notions of all the frivolous chasing of co-eds as a single man. I don't miss them that much, to be honest with you.

Now is the time of Hillel, in regards to myself, anyway. I'll give you that he lived to be 120, and that he probably forgot more than I will ever learn about the Law. But we are both starting out at about age 40. It can also be understood the desire to know what all of the tradition is about enough to climb on top of the yeshiva and learn until they were frozen there.

I had a few editions of the Talmud, and frankly, they weren't doing me very much good. I donated them to a friend who would be far more prepared to use them. I am too easily distracted, and tend to swallow the cake only to attempt to remember what the icing looked like. You have to start from the beginning, learn the "little things", just like they say in hockey. So for me, that means Tanakh and Mishnah.

The current plan is basically a tractate a week, beginning with Tractate Berachos, in Seder Zeraim. Each mishnah is read, digested, elucidated, and written up at my site A-B-C. There will also be editing and additions at Wikipedia.

With an infant son that will eventually grow up to need this information at a much earlier date than I was allowed to gain it, I can only hope that it will make his life easier in some form or another than having to go through the search "around the city" as I did in order to finally "find the gate."

Others undoubtedly could use, or would choose to have this information at their fingertips, and with the advent of the technological world as it is, I see no other proper way to address the issue than to just go ahead and get it up and out there, available for perusal and correction by the world at large.

I may or may not ever actually become a rabbi. But I will learn and share what I learn, and hopefully that will be sufficient.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Have Tzitzit! (And a shul...)

The tzitzis strings of one corner of a tallit.Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday, we came out of our shells and went to a shul. Like I had said before, we have been extremely segmented and basically isolated from the Jewish community. I think some of it was our own shyness and hesitancy. Some was the fact that I have a very hard time getting callbacks. We have already discussed this.

So, we took ourselves to Congregation Shema Yisrael. I think they were a bit surprised to see us, but they were extremely welcoming, and once I got out of the perfectionist panic I tend to have, We did rather well.

They had a visiting rabbi from Pittsburgh, whose name unfortunately escapes me, and his discussion on Ki Tisa was wonderful. The attending congregation was rather intimate, and the age range was our age, perhaps older. I think this is a great thing, as it allows our children to learn to respectfully interact with older adults, a tool that they need.

We've been keeping the children out of the public because they tend to behave as cretins, but perhaps pushing them into society might be best. Who knew?

And we went to our favorite judaica shop where I checked with the nice attendant regarding a tallit katan. I was under the impression that they did not have them there, when in fact they had them in a cabinet, out of view.

So now I have one to wear, and will get more. I also have a new set of the Shuchan Aruch to study. They make me happy. They have that wonderful "new book" smell.

Shauvua Tov! I know it will be for me, as I have a new shul, tzitzit, and new books to study.

And instead of all the trouble for being Jewish regarding work, my current job releases me early on Friday to prepare for Shabbat, and I get to work from home on Wednesdays. Granted, I work from home on Sundays, too. But I now have a go-ahead to prime our software for use in yeshivot and in Eretz Yisrael.

Baruch Hashem!
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Labels and the T-Shirts That Wear Them

The Baal Shem Tov's personal Siddur (now in Ch...Image via Wikipedia
On the 15th of Tammuz, 5754, I officially became one of those to covenant with Hashem at Sinai. Yes, I converted.

I did not convert to marry another Jew.

I did not convert to be cool.

In fact, I was raised in the Bible Belt, and converting to Judaism was about the most socially "uncool" thing I could have done. I was raised in a Baptist Church, but my father had a complete set of the Blackman Mishnah, a set I now possess. He had a few of the Torah Anthologies, he had a Haggadah and a Machzor, even though we didn't celebrate Pesach or the High Holy Days. Yes, I know for a fact I have no Jewish ancestry. Even if I felt like I did.

It wasn't a "shotgun" conversion. I started trying to get a Orthodox rabbi to assist in my conversion in 1988. It took two years until my Jewish chaplain, also Orthodox (US Army), would even address the issue. For obvious reasons, he was not very cooperative. I was determined.

I received a milah l'shem giur in 1991. I was, of course, nervous, but it wasn't that bad. However, there were two more parts left, and I was re-stationed to another state. I had to begin all over again convincing the local rabbi to convert me, arguing the point, and after realizing I had already begun the process, we continued until I was immersed in a mikvah that no longer stands, and in the presence of a Beit Din named Yehonatan ben Avraham Vasseira.

A woman in my shul had just completed her conversion as I was coming into the synagogue to continue mine in 1992, and she had chosen the name "Vasseira" as her legal name. It comes from the standard phrase of a ger, "[name] ben Avraham v'Sara" (son of Abraham and Sarah). I asked her if I could use it as my name when I finished conversion. She said she would be honored. "We're related as Jews anyway, I think it's a great idea!"

 This is the way things were where I came to convert:

Friday night, all of the "money people" came to the temple, your local doctors, lawyers, the social group. Shabbat morning was poor folks, those who only had a change or two of clothes, the ones that didn't fit the standard stereotypical vision of the American Jew. You know the one: "My son's a doctor, he's a lawyer, business is very well..."

We came because of our faith and our love for Hashem, and each other. We would enjoy Shabbat hospitality with each other. I was in the Army, as I've stated, but my mentor had a log cabin he built with a dirt floor. Another had a house with no running water and an electric generator. But we were Jews, and it means something deep and pure. Our rabbi, Harry,  is without a doubt one of the best men I have known.

Even with a proper, halacha sound conversion, my last name caused me trouble the moment I arrived back in the States. I discovered that not only did my own mother tell me delightful things like, "You're going to burn in Hell forever and ever!" and "I would have rather you told me you were gay than Jewish..."  but the local Jewish scene was not as I was used to.

My dad saw me for the first time in years as I awoke on their couch, still in full Chassidic garb. He giggled and rubbed my beard. He was so happy to have me home. My friends said I looked like Grizzly Adams. I had no support, and the local Jews I found all shaved and couldn't understand why I didn't.

My attempts to re-connect with this joy of yiddishkeit I had before began to evaporate. I did not make a Jew that fit this new, unfamiliar vision. I tried Conservative, Reform, an Orthodox, and several varieties. In most cases, with a few personal exceptions, I was just some guy who passed through that "thinks he's Jewish. He can't be Jewish. XXX is not a Jewish name!"

I didn't have enough money. I couldn't afford to be a member. My car wasn't nice, I didn't have a college degree, and I had a goy last name. I was a Jew, I didn't believe in Jesus, and I was now a "weirdo". I had a people by faith and a people by blood, and neither wanted me around.

I floated, I hid, I wished I could be more observant, but knew I would be alone.

Enter the Rebbe. When no one else wanted me, wanted to assist me, wanted me to be what Hashem set me out to be, the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe made it clear that Hashem did.

Who's got the ability to rubber stamp G-d?

I was well aware of the Rebbe, I was in Manhattan when he took ill and chassidim filled the streets to overflowing outside Beth Israel. I knew the shliach in my former area who was a wonderful fellow, but as useful as a football bat the second he heard my name and where I was from.

The differences between what I read of Chassidus written by the rebbes, and what I saw with my eyes were night and day. However, if I were alone with another Jew, all was usually okay. I would be exempted from the inquisition. I find, as a general rule fellow chassidim to be the warmest, gentlest, true to earth people one can know. Mitnagdim, not so very much.

Between that and people like Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin, I truly claim  the Rebbe as my Rebbe.

I am now old enough and wise enough to tolerate the position I am in. I believe that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. When I speak about specific groups, I speak in general, and while some individuals uphold the various complaints I have, there are always individuals who do not, and that is a very good thing.

For example, I am considered too Orthodox  for Reform. I wrap tefillin, I have a mezuzah on my door, the first thing you see on entering my house is a picture of the Rebbe smiling back at you. My wife is conscious of tzinus, and that gets us stares from time to time. We would not fit in with Conservatives. We don't live within an eruv, we don't know any other Jews in our city, and the others we have tried to contact have basically ignored us.

I believe in the Rebbe's work and philosophy, and well as the thoughts from the Baal Shem Tov forward, and I support Chabad. As far as supporting me outside of 770 as a local, concerned synagogue, I will stop beating that dead horse.

I fall in more closely with the Renewal Movement. I'm not too into the happy poetry and singalong time I am told exists, but I have never been in a Renewal service, either. From what I have gathered, they are chassidic without judgement. That fits me. I can handle a bit of leniency. Once it begins to look like a Jesus rally, I'm out.

One thing those born Jewish do not realize is that I have yet to meet a convert that had a family delighted that they converted. Usually, we lose our entire families. We are cut out of wills, exempted from the birthday card list, the whispers about how "bad" we are go on behind our backs, or behind closed doors. Eventually, as I am now discovering, we will end up changing our names.

We become wanderers, just like the Jews we are. We walked into this knowingly, and there is pain involved. But there is also the richness of knowing we did the right thing. Many of us also learn from being on the other side of the fence, that poking a ger or a ba'al teshuva is painful for that person. It is nothing different than being a bully.

We know we were born different. We know we weren't born Jewish. We invested everything into it. Personally, I have no desire to see conversion processes laxed. It is fine the way that it is, and I understand why it is made difficult for the prospective convert. It's a realistic notion, and necessary.

What is not necessary is rubbing it into a convert's face that they weren't born like you, or that because their family intentionally blocked Jewish heritage in order to escape persecution, that you have the right to question, malign, or abuse them.

Apparently the self-righteousness does not limit itself to the ger. Perhaps some converts become the aggressor. I don't know. I just know that I share a common faith and destiny. I am Jewish. You might not like my name. You might be confused about my teeth. You can even puff out your chest and tell me I'm not a Jew, even though my conversion process meets Orthodox standards.

You can even pat yourself on the head and say something degrading and crass to the effect of me being an anti-Semite trying to be a Jew (yes, this just happened to my wife yesterday...). I would love to try some of that stuff you are smoking, because it hasn't been a picnic. I came into this knowing it wouldn't be.

In the end, you can say I'm still a goy (although I'm not), but listen here...

The goy see me as a Jew. I am a Jew. And if they decide to come kill you for being a Jew, they aren't going to check my universal papers and give me a pass for my name. They are going to waste no time killing me, too. I checked into the Yiddishkeit Hotel knowing this and accepting it.

Because, like I've said a hundred times (say it with me... all together now!) I'm a Jew. I am making aliyah because I belong, and I have a divinely instituted right to do so.

The Rebbe basically says that labels are for shirts. I agree.

Here's my take:

So you say you converted. Okay. Need anything? Want to know how to wind tefillin? Okay, I'll help.

So you're Jewish and you're gay. Okay, so what? Sure, I know what Torah says. My business is to interpret and follow my own covenant, not to be the Jewish Mitzvah Police. I'll even count you in a minyan.

You're a woman, and your title is Rabbi? Okay. Who am I to claim all of your study and work is worthless. You did the study, you know what you're talking about. They now have a Hebrew word for a female rabbi, and there is a sitting Orthodox female rabbi. Good enough for me.

Want to talk Torah? Philosophy? Kabbalah? Need someone to say Tehillim for a sick friend or relative? Okay. What do you mean he is a Reform convert? Why does that matter?

My job is not to police. It is to be a good Jew. The Rebbe makes it very clear that a convert is a gentile that had a Jewish neshama all along. Who am I to argue? My job is to fulfill 613 mitzvot. My job is to study those mitzvot, and everything attached to them.

It is also to try to be like the Rebbe, and accept people for who they are, and if they like how I live and choose to emulate me, fine. If they don't, fine.

I am not allowed to judge and poke at anyone else anymore than those who have, in a misguided fashion, labelled me from the hip. But I will report on what I have experienced. If you don't like how it sounds, then change it. You are the only one who can.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Catching Up

Hasidic boys in Poland, circa World War I.Image via Wikipedia
So much has happened since the last time I posted to this blog.

For starters, I had to rip it all out from another account and associate it with this current one so I had everything together. Fun times. Everything is still in English, but we'll get to that in a moment.

My youngest son has now been born, Mica ben Yehonatan Vasseira, and that is always a wonderful thing.

As I mentioned before, my wife went through a conversion only to discover that she was Jewish in the first place, by birth. It is funny what families will do under duress to protect themselves, and I can't really fault them at all for the way that they were forced to handle themselves. Geneaology was the way we were able to put it all together. In one case, we had a picture, originating city, and the fact that the surname had changed. The city was a traditional Jewish town in Germany. It would be the same as claiming you were the only goyim on the 700 block of Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights.

As for myself, the old job went away, and now I find myself in a job I not only desired, but dreamed of. I work with libraries and books now. I hear you giggling. I am back in my software company startup mode, throwing all I can into it, because the company is good and ethical, the job itself is intriguing and never lacks for interesting things to accomplish. There is also quite a bit that can be done to make the software useable in eretz Yisrael, so that's a plus as well.

We have also realized that now it is time to make Aliyah. But that is a whole different subject, one that is addressed in my own personal aliyah blog. It wasn't quite my original idea. My wife thought of it first, after the blogs we had seen from some of our friends. So she started her blog first.

So basically, I decided that this blog has to do with general life, discussions, and observations of things not directly aliyah related, and vice-versa.

As for a family, we have become more observant and continue to improve every day. She keeps me on my toes, and generally keeps me straight, and in my own opinion, the whole thing is working famously.

I had some stupid title before, but I have changed it. Partly because the whole A-B-C thing lists me at the top of blog lists, but more that I needed a handy acronym for A-B-C, and Areivut ( the mutual responsibility that exists among the Jewish people ), Bitachon (the faith that everything that G-d does--everything that occurs--will be for the good), and Chassidus - (The movement within Judaism founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), stressing service of G-d through the mystical in addition to the legalistic dimension of Judaism, the power of joy, love of G-d and one's fellow, emotional involvement in prayer, finding G-dliness in every aspect of one's existence, and the elevation of the material universe) seemed to really sum my own philosophy up.

I basically got fired from my last job for reasons that included my being Jewish. I won't go into all of the sticky details, but it was enough that the people in political control basically didn't like Jews, and I was hiding it. I got discovered, out the door I went. They claimed "job performance" until I provided the Department of Labor my last good performance review. Their copy had been "updated", while I had an original.

Glad it happened. I couldn't be happier here. I ran the numbers, and I got a raise that has me making more now than the former boss that fired me. I also have a real job now.

Baruch Hashem!
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Market Positioning

Two homemade whole-wheat challahs covered by t...Image via Wikipedia
I know that perhaps a title like this isn't the very best thing to use, but hear me out.

My wife and I formally changed our tags on Facebook from the ambiguous labels from before to Jewish. Are we Orthodox? Conservative? Reform?

And there are other "variants". We have Chabad, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Traditional... It's a soda shop of deliciously Jewish flavors. We aren't sure where we are, and we know we hit multiple points of the spectrum.

For example. I am primarily Chabad. I wear my kippah, usually hidden under a ballcap to keep those less Semitically favorable at bay (read that "my employer"), we observe Shabbat in a very stringent fashion, we have the timers and such, but no synagogue close by.

For the first time in my life, I managed to "score" a pair of tefillin via crafty personal budget manipulation, and my wife keeps her hair covered in public. On that note, I finally get it. I am now used to seeing her in the scarf, and naturally, I think her very beautiful (after all, I married her, didn't I?). At night, when the scarf comes off, I always say, "Wow!" It has a very positive impact.

With all of the cultural differences, I share the progressive forward thinking. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Sexual preference doesn't matter to me, and I have no problem with a homosexual or a woman becoming a Rabbi, and I believe that if one has done the study, then the title on the hat should fit.

However, I draw the line at women donning tefillin, just as I strongly object to males giving birth to live young.

My wife has converted of her own accord, and it is highly possible that she might not have even needed to. But that means our little growing jellybean will be Jewish by birth.

We have two sons that will end up having to formally convert (should they desire to) and in toto, three young potential husbands that are driving us batty at the moment. I spend a good deal of time trying to get myself in check so that they have a proper role model to emulate. I'm not always as patient and tolerating as I should be of pre-adolescent nonsense.

But seeing them eager for kiddush, and running around with their kippot on just screams that we as a people aren't going down. Completely, anyway.

In the end, we're simply Jewish. The tags just don't work so well.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Raising The Bar

I finally got the kids on board with the whole Shabbat thing. They are addicted to the raisin challah. That's what did it. Hamin has been good for the past few weeks. My youngest is the only one who will eat it, though. But he loves anything that Daddy cooks, so that isn't exactly fair.

And now Kiddush is implanted in their brains, and on Erev Shabbat my oldest asks, "When is it we do that thing with the bread?" I have to toe a fine line there, as my younger son gets the general idea, but my oldest is still programmed to believe that anything that involves wine is bad. We've been in the habit of getting the wine and what not for Shabbat on Friday, on the way home. But that also cut into Shabbat. This past weekend, it cut into it by a full hour.

I had explained to my wife (who is getting very knowledgeable on these things) about how once you get something into your head, and you begin to perform at least a decent amount of mitzvot, that Hashem raises the bar on you. Things you would get away with as a newbie are simply unable to let slide later on.

My hamin was in the crockpot. It was good. Very good. Then, with my wife on the other side of the kitchen, and everyone else in the living room, a heavy vase shifted six inches off of the fridge, and fell at a perfect angle onto the edge, splitting the ceramic dish into three pieces. All of the liquid drained out onto the floor.

The message was very clear.

Needless to say, we now have a new crockpot. And now we are doing the shopping for Shabbat on Thursday.