a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Scored some High Holy Day Tickets and an Invitation to an Orthodox Shul

Posted on: August 18, 2010

…and am the new owner of an Israeli shofar, coming from a a friend who’s currently in Israel.  I also received all 7 of the books I ordered on Amazon including my new favorite cookbook, “Aromas of Aleppo-The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews”  by Poopa Dweck.

 

All in all, a great day yesterday!  Let me rewind; Starting with the Tickets

High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, the month of Elul, etc.

As you all know I’m taking a conversion class at Central Synagogue in NYC.  Our wonderful rabbi, has given us the opportunity to attend High Holy Day services at a very discounted price-Donation!!  I’m grateful to be able to attend, and even more grateful that we’re not required to pay the high ticket prices.  I understand why we have to pay for them,but do you?  In case you don’t and thinnk that we Jews are crazy here’s a little explaination.  Shuls, or synagogues, do not pass around an offering plate every Friday during Shabbat services.  You don’t have to send a little check each week or month.  Instead shuls have membership prices that range from holy cow that’s expensive to wow that’s expensive.  I have yet to come across a shul that turns away potential members for their inability to pay the membership prices and most have a sliding scale based on income or other factors like being under 30, or being a student.  With the price of membership comes tickets to High Holy Day services as well asmost events that happen at the shul.  Folks like me, who are not members, often have to pay for admittance to High Holy Days.  So it’s really an amazing opportunity that we’re allowed to attend services at a much discounted price, as we’re not yet Jews nor or we members of the synagogue.

An Invitation to an Orthodox Shul

One of my friends attends a Modern Orthodox shul in Brooklyn.  She invited me to attend services with her.  I will admit that I have a few reservations that are anxiety inducing.  I cannot even begin to imagine what it’d be like to attend a service at an Orthodox Temple.  Will I have to cover my head?  My arms?   My legs?  Is it all in Hebrew?  Can I wear flip flops?  Do I have to wear tights?  Then I remember what she looks like.  She’s a hip dresser, she’s opinionated and outspoken and last I checked didn’t wear a wig or cover her hair. Quite unlike any of my “normal” images of an Orthodox woman.  Then I think of Aliza Hausman and Yavilah McCoy, they don’t “look” Orthodox either and they’re people of color.  Surely I will go, I’m excited to go, I actually can’t wait to go.  Unfortunately, I have to wait until after the Holidays so from now until then I will be researching what’s kosher and not kosher.  I also want to attend a conservative temple as well as a few others in the city.

My new Shofar…

I’m not sure that it looks like that and surely I will not look like that blowing it because I haven’t purchased the dress yet.   My friend is in Israel now and I got a message on FB that she’d just picked up my shofar.  I don’t know how one blows a Shofar nor have I heard one live but rest assured that I will be blowing it on Rosh Hashanah at least 100 times.

Lastly, my 7 new books.  Besides the mezuzah on my door and the Hamsa around my neck and the dozens of books I don’t have a collection, yet, of Jewish objects in my home.  I will aquire them, in time, so I’m grateful to have this beautiful shofar in my house all the way from Israel, no less!

Like that stack of books?  That’s my required reading for my conversion class.  I’m not going to lie, being back in an academic environment, albeit one that I’m obsessed with and one that will change my life for ever, is thrilling to me.  I love reading books, taking notes, high lighting passages that I find inspiring or inspire questioning.  I’ve been rattling off facts and tidbits to Mirs so much that she’s suggested that I consider going to rabbinical school when I’m done converting.   I’ve started with Jewish Literacy, the largest volume and the cook books (no required reading) are always distracting with the beautiful pictures.

Today I have a conversion mixer/intro/community thing at Beit Simchat Torah, NYC’s LGBT Temple which I’m thrilled about and a one-on-one meeting with a Rabbi at another temple on Friday.

Despite being out of work on an injury and slightly depressed about that, these things have been a source of inspiration and motivation that I’m truly thankful for.

6 Responses to "Scored some High Holy Day Tickets and an Invitation to an Orthodox Shul"

OK, so I’m queer and Orthodox so let me take a bite at this:

“One of my friends attends a Modern Orthodox shul in Brooklyn. She invited me to attend services with her. I will admit that I have a few reservations that are anxiety inducing.”

It might sound dismissive to say “don’t be nervous” but I really do want to say that… because there’s really nothing to be scared of (nothing that goes beyond the usual stuff that might make you nervous going into a new, mostly white environment that is). Check out the Modern Orthodox shul. Then check out a Chabad shul (totally different). Check out everything you possibly can before you do your Reform (non-halachic) conversion. You may find that you’re interested in a more halachic conversion. If you google it you can probably find lots of articles about what to expect at an Orthodox shul.

“Will I have to cover my head?”

First of all, Ortho women don’t cover their head, they cover their hair – and only if they’re married. If you’re not a halchically (Orthodox converted) Jewish woman halachically married to a Jewish man, you are not required to cover your head and in fact would not be treated nicely for covering your hair since single (read: anyone not halachically married) women are discouraged from doing so, though that wasn’t always the case in Jewish history. My partner and I are considering covering our hair after our commitment ceremony but that’s another conversation for another time.

” My arms?

Yes, at minimum at a Modern Ortho shul you should cover to the elbows but preferably, you should cover the elbows.

“My legs?”

You should wear a skirt (or if it’s a VERY liberal shul, dressy and wide-legged [modest] pants – but you’ll rarely see other women doing this). It should cover your knees even when you’re sitting but needn’t be longer than that.

” Is it all in Hebrew?”

Yes, except for the “dvar torah” (where someone gives a speech about the Torah portion). But you can bring with you a transliterated Artscroll siddur or translated Koren siddur, etc. to help you follow along if you find that useful. Going with a friend who knows the service will also help. Transliteration is not usually available in the siddurs a shul will have on hand, but they will usually have ones that have English.

“Can I wear flip flops?”

No. Too informal for ANY shul, Ortho or not.

“Do I have to wear tights?”

No, not if it’s Modern Orthodox and your skirt is of a modest length.

Chabad services are usually more geared towards people who are new to it so they are more likely to read page numbers, etc. Just keep that in mind.

If you are converting to Judaism I would strongly encourage you to learn about Orthodox Judaism. No better way to do that than exploring the Orthodox community. But as important as it is to go to shul, it’s even more important in my opinion that you ask you friend if she can get you two invited to someone’s house for shabbos lunch. Because it’s there that you’ll really see what’s different about Orthodoxy!
If you can’t do that, then contact a Chabad house and arrange to go to services and eat lunch with them – Usually they host lunch for anyone who wants.

I would also encourage you to look at Conservative synagogues. I’ve been told by many people that until you’ve been to more than one shul of each denomination, you can’t possibly know what kind of conversion or lifestyle you want to follow. BTW, Conservative and Orthodox people do not call them “temples” usually. The only “temple” Jewish people have is THE temple (the first and second temples) which were destroyed. Until Moshiach comes, when the temple will be rebuilt. We refer to synagogues as shuls or sometimes as synagogues.

I would be more than happy to answer any questions you have! Seriously. I became Orthodox as an already-out-as-queer adult and my partner converted before I met her (though she was raised Jewish by a non-Jewish mom and Jewish dad). We are foster parents to a biracial, non-Jewish 9 year old.

Best of luck to you!

Bryna-
In a completely platonic way-I love you!! I feel so fortunate that you’ve found my little blog and came on to help me with so much!!

When I read this in the UHaul today on our way back from DC with my girlfriend, I smacked myself in the head about the temple usage. Mirs and I both went, “oh yeah” in that sort of sheepish way. Thank you thank you thank you!! I feel like going back and editing all of my posts which I will do ;)

In terms of an Orthodox conversion I have lots of questions about that. I just had two meetings with rabbis at two different shuls than the one I’ve been attending and I asked her just those questions. While, I do understand that a conversion other than an orthodox one wouldn’t be “kosher” and it’s not something that I’m going to discount right now, in this early stage of my conversion process. It’s not what feels right, for me. Granted I’ve only attended services at two different congregations so it’s pretty biased. It’s been my desire and her suggestion (as well as another rabbi’s suggestions) that I visit as many shuls as I can and I plan on it!

Thank you, thank you for my attire guidelines as well!! Unfortunately, we don’t have plans until after the Holidays so it will be a while but I’m on to another congregation next week so I will keep you posted!

Thank you so much for your words, insight, and thoughts! Keep them coming, please!

[...] A few new-Jew fails as we close out this year.  Last year, if you remember I’d secured my High Holy Daytickets way in advance.  This year, I was focused on trying to get to Israel and sort of kind of [...]

While you’re shul-hopping, I recommend that you check out a couple of progressive affiliates like a Jewish Renewal congregation or a Reconstructionist one. I belong to a renewal community that’s loosely aligned with Aleph, the organization of renewal congregations. They should all be progressive, egalitarian and welcoming. And my impression is that renewal communities are more involved with personal spirituality and hark back to chassidic teachings much more than reconstructionists do. I went through this process many years ago, though I didn’t ever consider orthodox or conservative shuls. I’ve recently been exposed to chabad and it’s not bad.

I’m 95% sure that I’ve found my shul-but for the HHDs I’ve been at the LGBTQ shul in NYC. They offer wonderful, diverse, and FREE services.

[...] their attention is not only hard, it’s close to impossible. Yet, it was right before the High Holidays in 2010 when I first approached a rabbi about my desire to convert to [...]

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