a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

New Year, Old Resolutions

Posted on: December 28, 2011

I’ve read several blog posts and articles on various websites this year about Christmakkah: Christmas vs. Hanukkah.  Christmas Tree vs. Hanukkah Bush.  You can’t celebrate both, you can celebrate both.  I’ve read the majority of these articles and watched the dust fly on Facebook and Twitter, but mainly kept my arguments to the validity of latkes as authentically Jewish or authentically European.  You’ll all remember that they’re European and became Jewish.

Now, comes that fun time of year where we Jews get one more New Year to celebrate.  I’m a person who stands on either side of a “do I celebrate X or do I not celebrate X” line depending on the holiday.   For the record, I don’t personally celebrate Christmas, but I do enjoy the carols.  I’m ambivalent towards Halloween and love Thanksgiving.  I’ve never celebrated St. Valentine’s Day because I feel love should be a 365-day celebration, but I will be celebrating the New Year.  New Year’s Eve is one of those wonderfully universal dates, at least for everyone who follows the Georgian Calendar.

As I said last year, I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions.  I have the right intentions when I go into them, but find that half way through the year I’ve disappointed myself because I haven’t succeeded at the commitments I’d made for myself on December 31st.  This year won’t be different.  I’m not making any resolutions, I’ll be re-examining the commitments I made on Rosh Hashanah 5772:

  1. Kosher.  Erika Kosher goes a little something like this:  I don’t eat non-kosher food* (meaning shell fish, pork, etc.)  I don’t mix dairy and milk (although I may alter this one a bit).  I have a kosher kitchen (meaning I kashered my kitchen for pesach, no non-kosher food or food products have come in)*
  2. Religion.  Use religion as my “north star”, the thing that guides my decisions
  3. Modest Dressing.  TBD

1.  I’ve finally figured out Erika Kosher.  You can read about the process I went through here and here.  The way that I keep “Erika Kosher” isn’t halachically kosher and I’m okay with that.  People have asked me why I bother when it doesn’t “count” and I am comfortable with the answer my conversion class rabbi gave us for why she keeps kosher: It connects her to Judaism.  When I say I don’t eat non-kosher food* I’m talking about the actual forbidden foods.  No shrimp, lobster, bacon, ostrich.  I don’t eat kosher meat as a rule, unless it’s the only option.  For my personal belief of treating all beings ethically, eating sustainably and locally is more important that a kosher certification.  So, is the beef in my freezer kosher?  Technically it is because beef is kosher and technically it isn’t because this organic, local free range beef doesn’t have a rabbinical supervision.  It’s this sort of flexing that I’m doing with my Jewish practice.

2.  Treating Judaism as my north star is definitely vague, which is how I like it.  It leaves it open to interpretation, is Judaism guiding me or is it something I always know is there to look at?  I don’t have an answer to that question and that’s okay too.  Judaism has never appealed to me because of rules and structures.  I knew coming into Judaism that I wouldn’t be one of those, “but the Torah tells me so” kind of Jews.  There are Jews like that and I’m grateful for them.  I think the best ones have their hearts in places of complete certainty and I admire and even envy that.  Judaism can’t just be by the book, so to speak, because the book (Torah) isn’t black and white.  It may seem so, but there are actually many shades of grey.  It’s in those grey areas, those nuanced areas that I find my comfort and my conflict.  They’re the areas I focus the most on because I think they are where I will find the best answers.

On my trip to Israel one of our leaders told us this nugget of information: The opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.  This was especially true in Israel, specifically around Israel/Palestine.  It is also true in Torah, kosher laws and modesty.

3.  Believe it or not, I used to be a size 0…and I thought I was fat.  Now I think I actually suffer from a sort of reverse body dysmorphia where I think that I am still a size 0 when, in actuality,  my size 12 jeans are getting a bit too snug (fucking latkes).  I’ve been blessed or cursed with an ample bosom, which until about four years I go I was proud to show off.  There’s something really messed up in the world when a woman with large breasts in a v-neck t-shirt in Brooklyn or a modestly dressed 13 year-old-girl in Israel are harassed in the street.

Street harassment is something that I’ve become acutely aware of since moving to New York City.  In Ohio the cat calls were usually by clusters of teens in the mall.  They would be answered by a firm talking to.  Here in New York, I’ve told off elderly men with canes calling me sexy and men in their thirties looking me up and down while pushing a baby in a carriage.  But, it gets old.  And I’m getting too old to let it “all hang out.”  But why can’t I, if I choose?

Part of the reason I’ve started to dress more modestly happened while in Israel.  On most days I wore a long skirt and long sleeved shirts.  Part of it happened when I realized that wearing a kippah feels a bit weird and I wanted to find another way to connect with God and part of it is because it’s easier to walk around looking “religious” than it is to just be a secular-looking woman.  I’m not talking long black skirts, shells under t-shirts and flat black shoes, just a greater awareness of how I present.  Most of the time, I feel pissed that I can’t just be without getting harassed and there are times when my head is covered that I’m reminded that there is a greater power above and around me.  I’m trying to think of it in that way.  How and what I put on my body is a reminder of that power all around me.

To be sure, if I go to a lesbian bar with my partner and friends I’ll ditch the long sleeves.  I don’t even wear long sleeves or covered necks every day as it is.  I haven’t traded my pants for skirts, and I sometimes wrap my hair to avoid doing it.  I don’t know what it means, really and I’m just trying it on to see if it fits.  I don’t even know why it needs a label, but for some reason it does.

We have to learn to be flexible as people and as Jews we always have been flexible.   Are we open to that flexibility or do we judge it?  I applaud a fellow blogger and online friend for her recent admission to being flexible in her Jewish practice.  As a people we’ve always ebbed and flowed.  We’ve changed and we’ve grown, we’ve never stayed the same and we’ve never stayed put.  If we had, where would we be?

These ideas and thoughts and realizations about working on dressing more in tune with my age and my practice, using Judaism to guide me as well as my instincts, being comfortable knowing that my way of keeping kosher, my conversion, my sexual orientation all make me “not really Jewish” in the eyes of some.  These are my realities.  They’re my areas of grey, the things I want to continue to work through.  Like Chaviva, I don’t and have never fit into neat little boxes.  I didn’t fit into the perfect daughter box, didn’t fit the Christian box, didn’t fit the straight box.  At 32 I’m comfortable in my skin.  As a gay, black Jew I still don’t fit into the boxes people expect me to fit neatly into.  We’re not supposed to.  We simply have to be.  Be happy, be who we are, be flexible to change.  These things, these ideas, these thoughts are not resolutions, just ways I’m seeing through the grey.


1 Response to "New Year, Old Resolutions"

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