How the Holocaust Changed Interfaith History

November 1, 2011
If the title of this post interests you, you won’t want to miss this year’s Kristallnacht Commemoration Speaker.  

Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, marks the beginning of the Nazi Holocaust against the European Jews. For two days and nights, Nov. 9 and 10, the Nazis carried out pogroms, or riots, against the Jews.

This year, the Columbus Jewish Federation, the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, and Ohio Wesleyan University will commemorate Kristallnacht by welcoming a scholar-in-residence from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Victoria Barnett, staff director of the national museum’s Committee on Church Relations and the Holocaust, will discuss “How the Holocaust Changed Interfaith History” at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 in Room 312 of the R.W. Corns Building.

Barnett, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York, is a scholar of the Holocaust and of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian known for his resistance to the Nazis.

Dedicated in 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum seeks to inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Since the museum opened, it has welcomed more than 30 million visitors and 91 heads of state. Learn more at


Occupy Judaism

October 31, 2011


More at



October 9, 2011

…I agonized over Yom Kippur this year.  Personally.  Professionally.

This blog hit a record number of hits in a single day today with 82 views.  I was trained as a qualitative researcher so numbers are not usually a driving factor in the work I do.  However, I’ll take this as hard evidence that I did the right thing blogging last night and emailing OWUJews today.


For the sin which we have committed by blogging on Yom Kippur…

October 8, 2011

….and for the sin which we have committed by not blogging more the rest of the year.

I’m not supposed to be using the computer/working on Yom Kippur, but somehow this seems like the most fitting way to mark the holiday at the moment.  My husband worked late tonight.  The baby didn’t nap.  Lots of excuses, but the bottom line is simply, I’m not at Kol Nidre services (where I should be) right now.

It seems like so many of my sins come down to time.

For the sin which we have committed by not walking our dogs regularly.

And for the sin which we have committed by not listening to our children’s stream of consciousness commentary on the world as they see it because we are multitasking making dinner/checking email for work/planning for a night out.

This year, it seemed lots of students were also finding it hard to make time for Yom Kippur.

“Yom Kippur is not exactly at the best time right now.  I have a lot to do this weekend.”

“I have a game on Saturday.  Do you think it would be okay if I fasted on Sunday instead?”

What are we missing by not making the time, for not taking the time?

I am already feeling sorry that I didn’t plan ahead, that I didn’t make the time, take the time, to stop, rest, and reflect.  We are so fortunate to have this day when we are invited, like Shabbat, to pause and consider the year gone by and the year to come.  We all know High Holiday Jews who come out of the woodwork only on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and then return to hiding the rest of the year.  What draws them out of their routines?

Perhaps it’s because being with other Jews for the holiday provides us with a sense of communion and belonging.  Personally I feel like this is much more important in the Midwest than it was for me in the Northeast, where there were so many Jews around all the time.  And still, here I am at home with my family and Bob Dylan (who was Jewish, afterall, so that counts for something, right?).

For the sin we have committed by not feeling moved when we go to temple;

And the sin we have committed by not being moved to go.  

It always feels too late – too late to send New Year’s cards, too late to meaningfully explain the holidays to my step-children, too late to reflect as completely as I would like.  So this Yom Kippur, I am going to spend some time contemplating how to prepare for next Yom Kippur.

For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

A New Meaning for Rosh HaShanah

September 20, 2011

When I found out I was pregnant and that my baby would be born in the fall, one of my first thoughts was how busy a time of year that is for Jews.  I wondered how we would we fit in a party around all the holidays.

My daughter, Cora Lena (Chai Sarah), was born on September 23rd, 2010.  Fortunately, the holidays are late this year.  Her first birthday is the week before Rosh HaShanah.  In 2015, her fifth birthday will fall on Yom Kippur.  I’m not exactly sure what that will mean yet, but I know we won’t be entirely focused on cake and presents.

Rosh HaShanah is the time when we look back on the year that has passed and look forward to the year ahead.  The first year of a baby’s life is truly remarkable.  Every few weeks there is a new milestone to mark – the first time she smiled intentionally, the first time she grabbed a hold of something on purpose, the first time she sat up, the first time she giggled, the first time she sat up on her own, the first time she flipped through the pages of a book by herself, the first time she ate a Cherrio, the first time she went on the swing at the playground, the first time she crawled, walked, and on and and on…  I had no idea how much pleasure I would get from watching my child explore the world around her and make connections between things.  5771 has been a truly blessed year for me.

5772 next year is sure to be filled with more amazing discoveries, as well as moments that test the limits of  my strength and patience.  As much as I have experienced profound joy this year, I have also felt pain, exhaustion, and frustration.  I have tried not to take it out on Cora, her siblings, father, or others around us, but I know that I have missed the mark on occasion.  I have cried out , in the words of Adam Mansbach, after a day of no napping “Please go the f* to sleep!”   I have been distracted from helping my step-children with their homework and hobbies.  I have been selfish at times; thinking that my own situation was so trying while a friend’s brother-in-law was, literally, dying.

From now on, Rosh HaShanah will always be a time to mark Cora’s growth, as well as my own.

Reflexive Advising

August 26, 2011

A few weeks ago, I received the following email (names deleted to preserve anonymity).

“Hello.  I am an Alumni of OWU, I graduated this past May. I received your email from my friend… Over the years I have been studying and researching Judaism and I truly feel in my heart that I am ready to convert to Judaism. I am not entirely sure where to start or what steps to take. I was hoping you could give me some advice and point me in the right direction. Thank You.”

Reading this, I was struck with a feeling I’ve had on other occasions since I took this job nearly three years ago; a feeling I wrote about in an article for Harlot for the Arts (2010).  I thought, “Who am I to give anyone advice on becoming Jewish?  I’m still trying to figure out what it means to me to be Jewish.” Of course, I don’t expect my own quest to end anytime soon.  So, while I may not be a Rabbi or qualified to supervise anyone’s conversion process, I realized I could speak about my own understandings of and relationship and commitments to Judaism.  Most importantly, I knew that I could listen to this young woman tell me why she wanted to become a Jew.

I suggested we meet for coffee and that in the meantime, she ought to do some reflecting and writing on what being Jewish means to her and what questions she has about it.  This morning, she came to my house and we spent an hour getting to know one another.  She shared somethings about her background – she was raised by her mother, whom she described as “obviously Christian but not very religious”, until she was thirteen when her mother passed away and she move in with her sister, a devout Christian who attends church at least three times a week.  She first learned about Judaism from a high school teacher and then attended a Messianic Temple on and off through college.  She came to realize that this was not a sufficient enough shift for her as she no longer thought of Jesus as a messiah.  She had been drifting for awhile, but expressed a longing for a spiritual home and a new community with which to worship.  The laws of kashrut and Shabbat appealed to her but she still had a lot to learn.  Speaking with her informally about what that learning might entail – exploring different denominations and congregations, experiencing the Jewish calendar, becoming mindful of the laws of kashrut, etc. – helped me realize how much I know and take for granted.

It makes me wonder what I take for granted when I talked to non-Jews about Judaism.  It makes me wonder what I take for granted when I speak with students about their relationships to Judaism.  It made me wonder what I will take for granted in raising my daughter as a Jew in the midwest.  Clearly I have me own work to do.

Yiddishisms for the New Year

August 14, 2011

There are a lot of things I miss about living in New York; the museums and restaurants, walking everywhere, and seeing and hearing Jews everywhere I go.

This week, I’m back in New York for an end of summer family vacation.  We’re staying at a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn (Michael I know you’re reading this and thank you again!!) and on our way in we saw a family of hasids renting a car for what I’m sure was to be a lovely summer Shabbat in the country.  We talked about the similarities between how they dress and the Amish back home in Ohio.

Today we’ll be seeing some of my family for brunch and I’m sure we’ll be having a bagel with a schmear.  I look forward to talking with my aunts, uncles, and cousins and listening to their accents when they plotz over the new grandbabies in the mischpoche and kvetch about the state of the economy and our fakakta leaders in Washington.

Our identities are reflected by what we wear, what we eat, and how we speak.  This year, let’s commit to making OWU more Jewish by speaking a bit of Yiddish, or as my Great Aunt Gert refers to it, “talking Jewish.”  (According to her experience, Hebrew is for Israelis and Rabbis, Yiddish is Jews.)  Here are a few resources to get started.

Yiddishisms from the folks who do bagels and lox best – Russ & Daughters


I bet you didn’t know that Dick & Jane speak Yiddish…

And the Yiddish Book Center.

Californians Against Circumcision

June 9, 2011

Jews planning to have baby boys in San Francisco and Santa Monica, California may soon have to make a trip to relatives for the bris.  An article in this past Sunday’s NYTimes reports on ballot initiatives that could lead to bans on the ancient ritual as soon as November 2012.   While backers of the ban say they are trying to protect children from unnecessary medical procedures, is it anti-Semitic/Islamic to exclude an exemption for religious practice in such legislation?

Article: “Efforts to Ban Circumcision Gain Traction in California” (NYTimes, Sunday, June 5, 2011)

Defending Israel @ OWU

May 31, 2011

Oftentimes, in the past when students talked to me about hosting Israel-related events on campus, I’ve gotten nervous.  In my short time at OWU, I’ve been confronted a few times with anti-Israel rhetoric and I never know quite how to respond.  I’m do not unilaterally support Israel.  At times, her government has betrayed her reputation, and ours on the worldwide stage.  At other times, the world has betrayed her, leaving her to drown in the tumult of political and moral tides.

My mother is staunch supporter of Israel.  She recently sent me this article about Defending Israel on (College) Campuses.  I hope some of you will read it and we can discuss it, and a pro-Israel program in the fall.  I think I’m ready.

A Vegetarian Pesach

April 19, 2011

Since high school, I have observed some form of vegetarian diet.  At times I was super strict – “No thanks.  I can’t eat that veggie burger because you cooked it on the same grill as your beef burger.”  At other times, I was more flexible – “Miss another year of Grandma Sarah’s infamous chicken soup with matzoh balls?  No thanks.  I think the earth and animals can forgive me just one bowl…”

Passover presents a special challenge to those of us who count grams of protein rather than calories.  Aside from passing over matzoh ball soup in chicken broth, Ashkenazi Jews – those of us who descend from families from Eastern Europe – are expected to pass on legumes as well.  This means no soy (think tofu, soy milk, tempeh), no chick peas, and no lentils.  These are staples of many vegetarian diets.

I found the following recommendation for getting protein during the holiday on a discussion board about vegetarian Pesach meal planning:
“Remember that you want to get protein into your diet, not necessarily into the main course. Cheesecake or a rich chocolate torte (the kind where the recipe begins: separate a dozen eggs) can follow a vegetable main course.”
Cheesecake for dinner?  That doesn’t sound so bad, but it doesn’t sound too healthy either.  Part of the reason I eat a primarily vegetarian diet is to show respect for the body I have been loaned to live in.  Not to mention, what does this offer a vegan??

The Ashkenazi Rabbis expanded the prohibition of eating leavened bread to any food that expands or ferments and any food that might be ground into flour and confused for wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oats.  As with the inclusion of chicken on the list of meats that should not be eaten with dairy products, they wanted to avoid confusion.  Nevermind that a chicken could never be boiled in its mother’s milk…  They made an exception for potatoes because these were a staple of the Eastern European diet.

Elsewhere, in Spain, Italy, and the Middle East, for example, the Rabbis allowed rice for the same reason.  Vegetarian Jews from these areas, Sephardim, can also enjoy all the legumes they can bear to eat.  My grandfather used to say that his family was expelled from Spain during the inquisition – usually as an explanation for my mother and her brother’s dark skin.  We never heard much more about it, and in all ways my grandpa enacted the role of an Ashkenazi.  But at Passover, I embrace this bit of family history and allow myself a few legumes along with my bowl of matzoh bowl soup made following Grandma Sarah’s recipe.

Beyond the basics – no pork, no milk and meat, no shellfish – a lot of Jewish dietary laws are about traditions of interpretation.  I’m not a Rabbi.  I’m not trying to change the laws of Passover.  I am however devoted to treading lightly on this earth and maintaining my health – especially now that I am breastfeeding and essentially eating for two.  My traditions for Passover no longer mirror those I grew up with – strict Ashkenazi – they are my own.