Category Archives: Dissertation

Judaism, the Convert, and Identity

Today, I take a short break from dissertating and finishing the road trip blog (yes, I know I’m three weeks late and 2 days of trip behind… I’m having problems with the GoPro footage) to bring you some thoughts I’ve been having about race, identity, and Judaism in light of the Rachel Dolezal coverage.

I can’t speak the motivations, thoughts, and aspirations that led Dolezal down the path she has taken the last several years.  And frankly, plenty of other people are weighing in on those sorts of issues.  What I can speak to is the kind of personal questions her story is making me ask about my own identity.

I’ve spoken before about converting to Judaism on this blog, so I won’t rehash those details.  What I instead want to focus on is one’s identity once one converts to Judaism.

Part of our religious lives as human beings is the history we inherit from our family members.  And I can give you dozens of such stories about my family: from stories my dad has told me about getting Easter suits to the history behind each of the Christmas ornaments my mom’s parents bought for myself and all of my cousins each year to the hour upon hours of my own childhood spent rolling and mixing cookies with my Baltimore cousins in December.  And I will gladly tell any children I may have these same stories.

However, these are the stories connected with my formerly Christian identity and my family history.  The stories of my Jewish identity, while plentiful and fun in their own right, do not stretch past my own lifetime.  In a religious tradition where history is so linked with identity, being a convert to Judaism leaves me at least feeling somewhat bereft of history and traditions.

I’ve talked to many of my convert friends about this feeling–like something is missing or, even worse, like we’re “faking it” on some level.  We don’t have years of camp memories or a menorah we inherited from a family member.  On some holidays, even years after our conversion, we still struggle to sing songs that, if we were raised Jewish, would be second-nature to us.  Our hearts are Jewish, but our cultural memory is sorely lacking.

For me, my first Passover as a convert was a pivotal moment in this search for a Jewish identity.  Would my fiancé and I be serving rice and beans as part of our seder?  Were we instituting Ashkenazi or Sephardi rules in our house?  And for what reason?  I brain-agonized over this for a while.  My family history is that of Western Europe, so… Ashkenazi?  I’ve actually traveled and studied in the Middle East and have (barely) learned some conversational Arabic, so… Sephardi?  And those of us who convert often joke about which identity we get to “claim” (most of us go Sephardi because, let’s face it, a Passover without rice, corn, or beans sounds like hell), but the jokes really cover up a feeling of emptiness.

The beauty of conversion is that one chooses their religious identity–that one becomes Jewish because it the religion that speaks most to them.  But there is a comfort that comes from inheriting tradition that we did not realize we took for granted prior to conversion, from the little things we did in our pre-Jewish lives that we did not realize were so much a part of our identity.

For instance, I had a Christmas tree in my California apartment this year–the first Christmas tree in my home since my conversion.  Hanukkah bushes as a general rule annoy me–Hanukkah has plenty of its own beautiful traditions without having to co-opt the Christmas tree, too.  And yeah, I do get it.  Christmas trees have absolutely nothing to do with the baby Jesus and any sort of truly Christian symbolism.  But in my brain, you can’t separate the two.  But my partner (also non-Christian, I might add) grew up with a Christmas tree and decorations and mentioned missing having them in our apartment, so I picked up a small rosemary plant and some lights and baubles and set it up as a surprise.

I didn’t realize how much it would hurt, not because I felt like I was betraying my Jewish identity in any real way (Again, I totally get that a Christmas tree is a pagan symbol brought into Christianity.  It’s not like I set up a manger scene in my living room.), but because I didn’t realize how much I missed the ritual of decorating a tree.  And yeah, I do get that warm, fuzzy religious feeling from lighting my menorah and setting up my seder plate, but I don’t have the memories of a childhood of doing that to meditate upon as I do it.

What I’m trying to say, incredibly longwindedly, is this: for the last week or so since the Dolezal story broke, the story of a woman who went great lengths to take on an African-American identity, both internally and externally, I’ve been asking myself if I am any different as a convert to Judaism?  I say prayers I believe in with all my heart, attend services with other Jews, and identify with Jewish culture and literature, but I was not born/raised Jewish.                               If (and I say a huge if here because, again, I really don’t know enough about the situation to pass any judgements) Dolezal has anything to feel/be guilty for, am I guilty of the same things?

So I’ve reached out in various ways to other converts I know.  And we’ve all kind of come up with the same answer:  the difference is in transparency.  When you wish to convert, you make your intentions known to the community.  The entire conversion process is very public.  First, the rabbi introduces you to members of the community as one seeking conversion.  Then, you go through classes, some of which include members of the temple/synagogue who are there to instruct you on ritual, practice, Hebrew, or any other number of things.  You publicly attend services and eventually, you stand before that congregation stating your intentions plainly.  And once you have converted, it is considered a sin for anyone “born Jewish” to remind you that your ancestors were not Jewish (basically, you are to be treated as if you have always been Jewish).  You are not barred from any part of Jewish life after your conversion; you are as Jewish as anyone else.  This sort of transparency seems to be lacking from Dolezal’s story.

Judaism is a religion.  There are cultural elements, there are ethnic elements. There are last names inherited in some traditions, and there are dietary traditions.  Judaism is far more than the books of the Tanakh and the Talmud.  And conversion to Judaism is accepted by the community (though I can tell you that more than once, the other Jews in my life seem baffled that I would convert).

As a convert, I have had to learn to navigate these elements, and sometimes, in incredibly weird ways, I’ve had those moments of “passing” as a lifelong Jew.  I remember inviting people to my conversion, and having one of my Israeli friends be shocked to find out that 1) I wasn’t Jewish already because 2) I “looked” more Jewish than her (I still can’t even tell you what the second half  of that means).  And with the last name of Jordan, I’ve had Jews go 50/50 on whether or not they consider Jordan to be a “Jewish last name.”

But I’ve never lied about my convert status, even if it supposedly is a sin to remind me of it.  I have never and would never enter a new Jewish community and lie about having a grandparent who survived the Holocaust or claim an Israeli family members that did not exist.  I don’t create a narrative of participating in childhood Purim spiels or fake knowing prayers I don’t actually know.  This would be an insult both to my tradition and to my loving family who raised me with their own traditions, holidays, and prayers–family members who have been beyond supportive of me on this journey.  My cousins, aunt, and father, for instance, held a Hanukkah meal for my ex-husband and I years ago, asking us to bring a menorah and say the prayers so they could learn about who we were.  And if my mom or dad ask me to help put up Christmas lights, you better believe I will.

I guess what I’m saying is this:  identity is fluid.  I don’t feel comfortable making decisions on where to draw the line on that (in Dolezal’s case, the conversation has gone from can one be transracial to whether or not she has been performing the equivalent of blackface to whether or not she should lose her professorship–and I feel in no way equipped to answer any of this), but in any case of identity, and maybe this is my background in religious and ethnographic studies talking, I do believe that transparency is key.

I’ll admit it:  I do sometimes feel that I’m not as Jewish as someone who grew up in the tradition (and I wonder if others see me that way).  It’s a pretty shitty feeling, and one I know I shouldn’t have.  I worry about what being a stand-alone convert (one without any sort of Jewish heritage and without a Jewish partner) will mean for raising children to feel any sort of connection with a Jewish identity. And then I remember all of the Jews in my life who have welcomed me into their homes and lives and realize that any kids I may have are going to have plenty of adopted aunties and uncles that will spoil them rotten (Singer, I’m looking at you) and give them the kinds of Jewish role models that helped shape my own religious life.

I’ve gotten really far away from Dolezal, I know.  Like I said, this post was going to be about the things her story has made me consider.  Frankly, this TL;DR post is going to end in aporia, mostly because I still don’t really have any answers.  If nothing else, talking about her story with other Jews-by-choice has helped me remember both that I’m not the only one who has these doubts and that I’m incredibly grateful for a religious community that is supportive of my entrance into their tradition.

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Road Trip 2015 Entry 5 (Day 3 – MO to TX): Everything is Bigger (and Weirder) in Texas

As promised, I’ve got some more thoughts and stats about Day 3.  Between a lack of internet and sheer exhaustion, I’ve gotten behind on this blog.  Luckily, I took trip notes.

I-40 went on forever... and ever...

I-40 went on forever… and ever…

Left Springfield and made it to Oklahoma within the first hour or so.  I was immediately surprised by the speed limits on many of the state routes and highways.  I don’t believe I’ve ever driven on roads were the posted speed limit was 75 mph.  (I have, however, driven I-85/I-285 in Atlanta hundreds of times, and while the understood speed limit was at least 75, it wasn’t, exactly, legal.)  My mileage was definitely affected by going this quickly, but it was completely worth it.

As I mentioned before, Oklahoma looked nothing like I expected.  I think we get this impression growing up on the coasts that the “middle” of the country is just open, brown, and boring.  Oklahoma was anything but boring.  Rolling hills out of the Ozarks morphed to wide open spaces full of trees.  I only really got to the prairies I was expecting toward western OK going into Texas.  Tulsa was kind of a weird city to drive through.  Both kind of cooly modern while simultaneously weirdly dappled with casinos.

Me and my Aunt!

Me and my Aunt!

Stopped in Shawnee, OK to have lunch with my awesome Aunt T.  She’s my aunt in the sense that she is my mom’s oldest friend/maid of honor.  While the trip that day wasn’t particularly long mileage-wise, it was nice to have the break in the middle to catch up (I hadn’t seen Aunt T. since high school) and have some Pho at the brand-new Shawnee Pho (I’d link to it, but that’s how new it is).  Got that selfie in for Mom (how adorable are we?) before hitting the road again for Amarillo.

Leaving Shawnee began the long trek across I-40/Route 66.  Once I passed Oklahoma City, the road completely opened up and it began to get flatter.  The cross into Texas  was exactly what I expected.  Lots of oil fields and refineries.  The largest free-standing cross in the Americas (complete with matching late 90s style website!).  The prairie got more scrubby and desert-like as I went.  Absolutely stunning.


Got to Amarillo right before sunset for my second night of Couchsurfing.  While I still completely recommend it, I was a little wiped by the time I got there.  I get unusually (for me)  introverted when I get tired/stressed, so as lovely as Angela and her family were, I found myself struggling to be sociable.  Luckily, she and her kids seemed to get it and let me sit there watching Full House and Fresh Prince with them without expecting all that much interaction with me.  Went to sleep relatively early, as Angela needed me to get out of the house by about 6 a.m. (kids had to go to school), which gave me the opportunity to get going on my longest leg of the trip pretty early.

At this point in the trip, I’m at 1514 miles, so over halfway.  Definitely going to need an oil change once I get to California.

More posts coming up in the next few days.  Don’t want to rush this.  Luckily, all of the tech I used on this trip (and the actual handwritten notes I took) are allowing me to reconstruct this pretty well.

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Genius playlist based on “Everlong”

Trip Stats:
Starting OD (Springfield, MO):  214830
Ending OD (Amarillo, TX):  215407
Stop 1:  277 miles (Shawnee, OK)
Stop 2:  Some Miles (Somewhere near Texas?)
Stop 3: 299.3 Miles (Amarillo, TX)

Gas:
Fill-up 4:  12.263 gallons @ 2.36/gal – $29.05
Fill-up 5:  10.217 gal @ 2.37/gal – $24.20

MPG Day 2:  Tank 1:  27.23 mpg.  Tank 2:  27.11 MPG.  75 MPH highways had a lot to do with this.

Music:
Walk the Moon – Talking is Hard
Genius Playlist based on Foo Fighters “Everlong”
Jimmy Eat World – Futures
Kongos – Lunatic
matchbox twenty – Yourself or Someone Like You
MuteMath – Armistice

Road Trip 2015 Entry 4 (Day 3 – MO to TX): Brief Edition

Apparently this is the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere...  East Coast, take note.

Apparently this is the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere… East Coast, take note.

Made it to Amarillo, Texas in one piece (though I am a little scarred already).  This is going to be a brief update, as I don’t have access to wifi at the house I’m surfing at today (I’m using my phone’s hotspot).  I’ll do something more extensive later today or tomorrow.

Oklahoma was far greener and prettier than I could have possibly imagined.  Apparently, there has been a ton of rain in the last couple weeks, so it was unseasonably green.  The rolling hills of Eastern Oklahoma slowly blended into the flatter plains and scrub of Western Oklahoma right as I dumped into Texas (I’ve finally made it to I-40 y’all).

Couchsurfed with the lovely Angela, her two daughters, and three dachshunds.  Got my own room and everything, so I feel very spoiled.

Today’s goal is Laughlin, NV (via Route 66).  Who can say no to a $15 hotel room ON A BOAT??

Like I said, I’ll do a far longer post later, including trip stats.  Music yesterday included Walk the Moon, Foo Fighters, matchbox twenty, and MuteMath.

Peace, Love, and *cough*Signal Boost*cough*!

Road Trip 2015 Entry 3 (Day 2 – KY to MO): I Crossed the Mississippi And None of My Oxen Died (with Couchsurfing!)

Day two was pretty amazing.  I’m currently importing all of the photos from the GoPro, and I can’t wait to see this timelapse (This might be delayed, y’all.  It’s really big).  Kentucky continued along with rolling hills until Illinois (which I was in for all of about 10 miles).  Torrential downpours from the end of KY through the beginning of MO made the trip a little gross, but when the sky cleared up.

So you know how you know something will happen but you don’t know it because you just didn’t think about it?  Yeah, totally had that moment crossing the Mississippi.  To be fair, it was pouring and I’d just crossed several other rivers.  But there was definitely a “oh hey, look at that!” moment.

Crossed into Central time at some point.  Have no idea where.

Missouri was beautiful.  A little flatter than I expected at first, but then I entered the Ozarks.  Best part of the Ozarks:  passing all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff while simultaneously passing Amish buggies on US-60.  For a hot second, it felt like being in an episode of Little House on the Prairie.  With cars.

Stopped in Poplar Bluff, MO at a Harps grocery store for a homemade hoagie.  Totally worth the stop.  Am starting to think I’ll stop at grocery stores instead of fast food joints from now on (except Taco Bell.  Please.).

Made it into Springfield in early evening and met up with my Couchsurfer hosts Melanie and Holly.  If you’re looking to do this same cross-country route, I highly recommend them as hosts.  Holly and Melanie, their two dogs, and one super fluffy cat made me feel quite at home.

Beer Mac and Cheese.  OM NOM.

Beer Mac and Cheese. OM NOM.

After arriving, they took me to downtown Springfield, which has a wicked cool college town vibe.  After dinner at the Springfield Brewing Company, we popped over to this amazing townie bar, the Patton Alley Pub, which was having a tap takeover by Mother’s Brewing Company, a local brewery out of Springfield (beers I tried:  McJagger Irish Red, Ruby).  Another friend of theirs, Devin, joined us, and we had a fantastic time.  At the end of the night, we returned to their place to marathon HIMYM and have a few more beers.

Congrats, Melanie and Holly, you have set the CS bar way too high.  I look forward to seeing if my next couple stops can compete!

Today I head to Amarillo, TX by way of Shawnee, OK (where I will be having lunch with my awesome Aunt!).  Leave me some love!

Trip Stats:
Starting OD (Fort Knox, KY):  214326
Ending OD (Springfield, MO):  214830
Stop 1:  176 miles (Paducah, KY)
Stop 2:  114 Miles (Poplar Bluff, MO)
Stop 3: 191 Miles (Springfield, MO)

Gas:
Fill-up 3:  11.187 gallons @ 2.59/gal – $29.08
Should have done Fill-up 4 before I got to my host’s house…

MPG Day 2:  25.65 for first tank.  Not sure what the second one is.  Given I was averaging in the 30s before I left, I’m going to blame weight and the untested cruise.  Other suggestions would be welcome.  This is making me angry.

Music:
Grouplove – Never Trust A Happy Song
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll, Folie A Deux, and Infinity On High
The Heavy – The Glorious Dead and The House that Dirt Built

Road Trip 2015 Entry 2 (Day 1 – VA to KY): “Sister” Time and Childhood Lies

The first part of my trip was relatively short and pleasant.  I met my college best friend (and “big sis”) in Lexington, KY along with her family before a quick jaunt to Best Buy (I’ll explain) on the way to Fort Knox, KY.

IMG_3563-1

Morton Travel Plaza, WV

The trip started pretty frustratingly.  My plan to use the GoPro for the trip was (nearly) foiled by a firmware update.  Went to update the Hero3+ Silver for the first time in (probably) months, and for some reason, it wouldn’t turn back on after the install.  Several bad words later, I left for breakfast with the brother, the brother’s roommate, and the brother’s roommate’s dad.  After a brief respite from the camera stress, we went back, hoping that it had magically fixed itself.

It hadn’t.

Angry, I made my last stop on the way out of town, gassed up at the University City Kroger, and headed out.

IMG_3519Not going to lie, I was super bummed about the GoPro.  If you’ve never done it, the drive up US-460 West to I-77 North/I-64 West through Charleston and Huntington, WV is some of the most beautiful driving on the East Coast.  I’ve done the trip a few times (though never past Charleston prior), but never in bright, green spring.  Nearly every time I drive through West Virginia, some well-intentioned person always warns me about being “safe.”  “Hillbilly” prejudice drives me nuts, especially given I was raised in WV for many years (and I’m related to half of Keyser, WV…).  It’s a bias that just grates on me.  Not having the video of the trip to show people just how lovely one of my homes is is going to be one of my biggest regrets of the trip.

IMG_3651Yesterday was my first time in Kentucky.  Fun fact:  the grass is not blue.  It’s not.  At all.  I feel lied to.

Once I crossed the WV/KY border, the mountains died down, and I was driving through gorgeous piedmont.  I don’t know why I assumed KY would be more mountainous.  Probably because elementary school geography was over twenty years ago… (my G-d).  The drive was stunning.  I cannot wait to see more states I haven’t seen before!  Plus, the roads seriously opened up the second I entered KY.  If this is any indication about how driving is going to be in “the middle part of the US,” I’m really looking forward to the pace.

Made it to Lexington with relatively few problems (springtime roadwork is going to destroy me on this trip, I think).  The cruise control has kind of a weird relationship with my throttle, but I’m getting used to it.  Ate at the Cracker Barrel in Lexington (I seriously hadn’t eaten there since college.  It did not disappoint.) before swinging by Best Buy.  My awesome partner ordered me a new camera for the trip (we’re not 100% if the other one is fixable.  It’s being sent off), so we did manage to get video from Lexington to Fort Knox.

This was set to take photos every 5 seconds.  Let me know if you have any suggestions on changing that.

Today is a chill day in KY with J.  Watching The Fast and the Furious 1-4 (relationships make you do funny things…) and staying in on a truly miserable rainy day.  Tomorrow I leave at the crack of dawn to drive to Springfield, MO.  Looking to Couchsurf across the country (Yes, it’s safe.  No, don’t yell at me).  Any suggestions for stuff to do in Springfield if I get there early?

Remember, please signal boost if you’re enjoying these updates!

Trip Stats:
Starting OD (Blacksburg, VA):  213894
Ending OD (Fort Knox, KY):  214326
Stop 1:  108 miles, 2 hours (Morton Rest Stop, 77N/64W, WV)
Stop 2:  201 miles, 3 hours (Lexington, KY)
Stop 3:  119 miles, 2.25 hours (Fort Knox, KY)

Gas:
Fill-up 1:  8.18 gallons @ 2.09/gal – $17.17
Fill-up 2:  11.335 gallons @ 2.69/gal – $30.59

MPG Day 1:  27.6mpg.  Terrible, given I’ve been averaging over 30 since I had all the work done.  I blame weight (my entire trunk is full with clothes and books) and mountains.  We’ll see how this goes now that I’m in flatter areas.

Music:
Beck – Mellow Gold
Broken Bells – Broken Bells and Meyrin Fields (EP)
Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway
Lieutenant – If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going to Eat For A Week
Plain White Ts – All That We Needed
Silversun Pickups – Seasick (Single)

Road Trip 2015 Entry 1: Car Upgrades and Music Requests

Well the road trip officially starts Friday, but I’ll be packing and getting ready all day today and tomorrow.  Finally got all the last bits of Nigel squared away, including her stickers and cruise control.

Still need to fix the stickers...

Still need to fix the stickers… “SUBARU” is a bit wibbly and in the wrong spot, and the Impreza sticker is wrong and in the wrong spot.

Look, Ma! No Feet!

Look, Ma! No Feet!

Thanks so much to all the fantastic employees at Shelor Motor Mile Subaru (especially Michael in the Parts and Accessories department) for the new car parts and at Main Auto Spa for all the hard work they put into making my old girl sparkle inside and out.

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Compare that to the paint on my last post!

Now we all know how boring those 2700 miles I’ll be taking can get, even with brand-new scenery, so I’m asking for your help, Constant Readers.  I’ve gotten a bunch of new music for the trip, but I could use some suggestions.  If you go over to my last.fm profile, you can see my overall top artists plus what I’ve really been jamming to the last six months or so.  Anything alt. rock (especially lesser-known stuff) would be right up my alley.

So feel free to leave me a comment here (or wherever it gets publicized) with an artist, album, or if you’re feeling really creative, an entire playlist!  If you need to email me something, just let me know, and I can shoot you my email address!  The music you suggest will help me both get to California and through the writing of my dissertation this summer!

Finally, if y’all are interested in this trip (or know someone who may be), please feel free to give me a signal boost along the way.

Love: It’s What Makes a Subaru MY Subaru

I will start this post off by saying that yes, this is shameless pandering on some level.  But nothing I’m about to say about my car isn’t completely true (and anyone who has ever heard me wax on and on about my nearly eighteen-year-old car can confirm the validity of the sentiments hereafter).

My parents purchased our 1997 Subaru Impreza Brighton (2-door, green) at the end of the model year, just prior to the unfortunate exploding of our faithful 1987 Volvo 240DL station wagon.  The car was my mother’s, then my father’s after the Volvo’s demise (Mom got a 1999 Honda CRV that she still drives).  When I finally got my learner’s and then my license in 2003, the Subaru became mine.

Early 2014 (or: the Year I (Finally) Learned To Park Backwards). Look at that pretty Impreza (covered in salt)!

Early 2014 (or: the Year I (Finally) Learned To Park Backwards). Look at that pretty Impreza (covered in salt)!

Her name is Nigel.  Yes, her.  My roommate M. was there when she was finally named.  I really wish I had noted how many miles she had on her when I got her.  Definitely over 100,000.  Probably closer to 110,000 because that’s when her last timing belt went on until recently.  She currently stands at 214,000 well-earned miles.

There is a bond that comes from your first car, whether you like the car or not.  My brother’s first car, my cousin’s Passat, met an early demise due to rapidly falling snow, and I’m pretty sure my brother is still mourning its loss.  I wasn’t around for my partner’s first car, but the first car I knew him with, a purple (yes, purple) Honda, was one of my great loves (though, I’m pretty sure, he would have purposely wrecked that car to collect the insurance money if it had been worth it).

So many times different people have told me to junk this car.  The vinyl is starting to tear, I’ve had to put about 1500 bucks into her this year alone (all general maintenance stuff i’d have to do on a 5-6 year old car, too, I would add), and I’m sure she’s not as safe as a brand-new car.  But I love her, and like the love of Joni Mitchell, true love lasts a lifetime.

Clearly she needs new paint (and a bath)...

Clearly she needed new paint (and a bath)…

So now that she’s just hit 200,000, and I get ever closer to 30, I find myself getting nostalgic.  In an attempt to channel that nostalgia in some meaningful way, my goal this summer is to drive my love across the country to San Jose, to spend the summer with my partner writing (finishing?) my dissertation:

Roughly 2800 miles.  The first half I have places to stop (J. and Aunt T., you’ve been warned).  After that it gets murky.  If you live along this route, and I don’t know it (and you want to see me), please respond.  Or if you want me to pick you up and you want to come along, I can promise Haribo and music.  All in all, it’ll be about 6000 miles before I return to the East Coast just in time for my 30th birthday.

In an ideal world, some of the people who have taken the many East Coast road trips I’ve been on (Boston to Atlanta, Savannah to Orlando, North Carolina to Ohio to Boston) would be there for stints of the drive.  And in a really ideal world, Nigel won’t blow up from the stress (notice I’m taking the southern route).

In the most amazing world ever, Subaru would make an epic commercial out of the experience.  They’ve done it before, focusing on families and the lived, loved experience of owning a Subaru.  Why not make one about a (nearly) vintage car still on the road?

My father, in what I can only hope is my 30th (and 40th…) birthday present (it’s on the internet now, Dad, so it must be true), has taken care of having most of her current wears and tears replaced or shined up.  She’s even had her headlights realigned, so now she can see properly.  Add to that a new axle, new hubcap covers, and a paint job to cover with new bumper stickers.  Heck, with the amount he’s done, there’s probably a new primary buffer panel and port compression coil (with functioning catalyzer) in there somewhere (seriously, thanks again, Dad).  In addition to all of the repairs Dad did, I have replaced the head gasket and the steering column wiring.  I also splurged for cruise control and new window cranks.  I’m waiting on the last couple stickers to put on the trunk (It’s a Subaru Nothing at the moment), and then I’ll post photos.  According to my mechanics at the wonderful Shelor Motor Mile, what I’m doing is actually “restoring” this car, not “repairing” it.  Who knew?

I’ll be writing a few more posts in the next couple days.  One will most definitely be a request for music suggestions and/or playlists.  Once the last touches are on the car, I’ll post a gallery of photos.  And I will definitely be GoPro-ing and live-tweeting the trip as I go.  Wish me luck!

Sun Salutations in Shul

In June, my partner and I drove from Blacksburg to the Poconos to spend time with his family and on the return trip, we visited his Shanti Mama – Big Mama to many of those there.  It was definitely a kindred spirits sort of moment, wherein Big Mama and I immediately began speaking of our mutual love of comparative religion.  He took S. aside at one point and began talking with him about the connections between Hinduism and Judaism and how he and I could find much common ground between our religious backgrounds.  I joined into the conversation and (as usual) derailed it to other things, but the ideas stuck in the back of my head.  Part of the wonderful challenge of being in an interfaith/intercultural relationship is having to navigate these differences in religious traditions.

Yesterday, when I attended my first yoga class at Hillel at Virginia Tech, the concepts I had discussed with Big Mama resurfaced in my mind.  My Hillel has partnered with Blacksburg Yoga Collective to offer donation-based yoga classes once a week at at our Jewish center.  The new Hillel center has many multipurpose sorts of rooms at the center, so I was quite shocked when our yoga session was held in the main room normally reserved for services.

If you are unfamiliar with the Malcolm Rosenberg Hillel Center, the sacred space is actually one of my very favorite.  It is simple, multipurpose, and not one piece of furniture or decoration in the room stands out to me as ostentatious and unnecessary.  Natural light streamed through the room coming in from narrow windows starting halfway up the walls and going up to the top of the vaulted ceiling.  It was the first time I had seen the space not set up for worship – the chairs were stacked at the periphery of the room, the ark housing the Torah was closed, and yoga mats and blocks were stacked at the side of the room.  Sunlight poured in, heating window-shaped blocks of warmth on the carpet under our bare feet.

I was immediately struck by how awesome (an overused worse, to be sure, but in this religious setting awe-struck was how I felt) it was that we were practicing an ancient Indian form of bodily and mental meditation in a religious space dedicated to a (not quite as equally) ancient monotheistic religion from Palestine.

I will admit that with regard to the meditative quality of yoga, as with most meditation, I am completely unable to clear my mind or focus solely on my breath or the alignment of my body.  And often, when trying to ease into a particularly difficult pose, my lack of poker face shows the instructor (in this case, Thea, one of the best yoga instructors I have ever had) just how much I loathe them for a single instant (after which, I attempt to, you know, remember that I’m there to relax and care for my body and not to have angry thoughts and facial expressions…).

So it should not at all have come as a shock to me that my mind wandered back to Big Mama’s words about the similarities between Hinduism and Judaism.  And, being in a space where I’ve sung Kol Nidre, where I’ve attended Shabbat services several times, I began to hear the Hindu-inspired words from our instructor and attempt to put them into a Jewish context.

There are two things I cannot shake from brain thoughts yesterday, the first being Thea’s reminders to find support in the earth below us, to press our hands into the ground below us, to place our weight back onto our feet that ground us.  We have a phrase in Hebrew, tikkun olam, which translates to “repairing the world.”  If you research the word olam in Strong’s, there are connections with this word and eretz, or earth/land, in the Hebrew Bible.  So often my brain hears tikkun olam as “repairing the earth,” however etymologically problematic.  Tikkun olam is the directive we have as G-d’s created beings to care for or be stewards of creation.  In our yogic practice, instead of repairing the world, we actively used the earth, or land, or world to repair ourselves.  We found strength pushing against the ground beneath us, finding stability and strength in its immovable, constant nature.

In Christianity, there is a Golden Rule, given down by Jesus:  Do unto others as you would have done unto you.  In most of the World Religions textbooks I’ve taught from, they point out that “Eastern” (I use this with a slight rolling of my eyes.  Eastern from what POV?) religions generally have a version of this rule in the negative sense:  Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself.  It is a difference point of view on the same basic concept.  Of course, we cannot just call this something unique – these texts refer to this negative sense of the Golden Rule as the Silver Rule, and those of us who grew up under the influence of the modern Olympics know that Silver Is Not As Good As Gold.  The Silver Rule, if we choose to call it that, is not inferior to the Golden Rule; it is simply a different way of describing the same concept.

As I stretched and pushed my body ever so slightly past where it was willing to do, finding strength in my breath and the ground beneath me, I was struck how my yogic practice was the inverse, or a different point of view, on the same practice only a few weeks ago I had done in that same sanctuary space.  Instead of vowing to help repair the world, the world – the earth – was repairing me, was helping me to realign my sore joints and come as close to achieving five feet of height as I ever will.

The second thing I was struck by was the sunlight itself.  As part of our morning practice, we performed the surya namaskara (sun salutation) multiple times.  I have performed yoga in multiple states, over about a decade, in various spaces, but never in a space with that much sunlight washing over us.  In college, yoga class (my PE credit) was held in an auxiliary gym with no windows.  At Virginia Tech, our on-campus classes are held in an, again windowless, gymnasium.  When I lived in Athens, my favorite classes were held in an old warehouse, again, sans sunlight.

To perform a sun salutation, in my Jewish house of worship, while being mindful the creation words of Genesis 1, was powerful.  It was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside when I left for yoga, bundled up in a hoodie, but inside the sanctuary, I was not cold at all in my yoga pants and tank top.  It was the first time I had ever truly performed a sun salutation (and I’d never realized I hadn’t!), and the feeling was almost overwhelming.

I am one that tends to get quite sad during the winter months.  The shortening days and the lack of sunlight (we don’t call it Bleaksburg for nothing) really does get to me.  Even as much as I love rain, days on end of bleak weather can bring me down.  This year, I have read/reread about 100 books preparing for my comprehensive examinations for my Ph.D., and I spent as much of that reading time outside as I could, either on my back porch or, for most of this summer, in California, soaking up the sun like a lifesaver.  In fact, I think this summer was the first time in my life I’ve been even remotely tan (yes, Dad, I did wear sunscreen).  And the fact that most of the major changes in my life that have come in the last year have been supported by my partner whose name literally means Sun was not lost on me as I stood there, toes grounding me to the earth, beams of light flooding the room.

I doubt I would have felt this way if we had had our practice in any other room of Hillel.  The merging of two forms of religious practice, and the meaning that can come from interfaith dialogue, should never be taken for granted.  Shanti mama, you are right; there is much that can be found in common between Hinduism and Judaism.  I had not, however, expected to discover some of these connections so powerfully as I did at my Temple during what was supposed to be just me getting up that day and heading to yoga.

The Night of the Dissertation Proposal Defense

For most people, nightmares include intrinsically scary elements.  Your second grade teacher suddenly becomes a T-Rex and disembowels all of your classmates Red Wedding-style as you stare on in horror.  Out of nowhere, you’re in your dorm, and MONSTERS! Scary MONSTERS! show up and all you have to fight them with is your stupid Red Devil pitchfork from your “sorority.”  In most nightmares, something “scary” happens, and you have no control.

For me, nightmares are dreams I cannot wake myself from.  I’m a very lucid dreamer.  If a T-Rex shows up in one of my dreams, I can conjure a dinosaurs-obliterating asteroid to land on its head.  If scary MONSTERS show up, I can turn that plastic pitchfork into a flaming sword.  A nightmare happens when i 1) don’t realize I’m dreaming and thus 2) cannot wake myself up from it.

The worst is when it happens ALL NIGHT.  I swear, every time I did manage to wake up (I’m an end-of-REM-cycle-wake-up-long-enough-to-roll-over-and-flip-a-pillow-sleeper), I’d fall back asleep into the same hell:

My dissertation proposal defense.  Which is today.  For which I will probably look like this:

This was yesterday.  Note the bugged-out eyes and size of the mug.

This was yesterday. Note the bugged-out eyes and size of the mug.

I really don’t know if it was the heavy dinner (which was amazing) that my brother made me last night, or if my brain-phasers were set to AHHHHHHH!!!!!!, but I think I just had an 8 hour proposal defense the night before my 2 hour proposal defense this afternoon.

So, in an unprecedented foray into my psyche, I give you the list of things that *could* happen in my defense today, apparently:

  1. Non!Stoner!In!Real!Life!Classmate brings roaches for all of my advisers (including advisers I’ve never met), who then toke up during the defense and get the giggles.
  2. All of the Converse memers (thanks Caitlin) show up and live-meme my defense, complete with loud color commentary throughout.  I then kick them out for being bad Connies.
  3. A professor I don’t even know calls me out for referring to Star Trek: Enterprise in my bibliography (note: while I do teach with ST:  Enterprise, it appears nowhere in my MS) as Star Trek: Enterprise instead of just Enterprise (I made some sort of BS reply about how it went from ST: E to just E when Berman died, which isn’t even remotely true in Real Life).
  4. Another professor I don’t know, apparently a Known Defense Troll, shows up and starts asking long, detailed questions about her podcast as it relates to my research.  Newsflash: it doesn’t.  Even Stoned!Committee!Chair can recognize that, which he states before forcing me to still answer the question.
  5. My mom shows up, and whenever someone asks me a hard question, interrupts and asks why they’re trying to make me cry.
  6. The defense literally goes for 8 hours, during which time I manage to make it 2 sentences at a time into my prepared 5 minute speech only to be interrupted for issues of “clarity.”  We never actually finish.
  7. In reference to the speech in point 6, I have no idea what the hell I was reading in the dream.  It was like a few sentences from every single paper I have written in the last 10 years of college, put together, and I kept insisting the entire time that “No, trust me, it all comes together at the end and if you would stop gorram interrupting me, you’d know that!
  8. One committee member shows up 1.5 hours late, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve only gotten through 2 paragraphs of said speech.

All of this became a nightmare, and not hilarious, simply because yeah, I didn’t realize I was dreaming.  In good news, I’ve already defended for 8 hours, so what’s the worst that can happen now?  Pretty sure that none of this is going to happen today.  Except maybe point 3…

ETA:  The high of the day today is 28 degrees F.  I’ve read enough of my Dante to know that the lowest levels of hell are frozen.