Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shabbat Solidarity

The days between the High Holidays are a time of reflection, apology, prayer and introspection for the Jewish people. While Shabbat affords us this opportunity each week, I feel like the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Shabbat Shuvah, is all the more special and powerful. So last Friday night I joined more than 100 young adults (both in age and in spirit) at Temple Shaarey Tefila for Shabbat Unplugged. This service is a celebration of Shabbat, bringing together people of different backgrounds, creeds and orientations to sing, celebrate and be together as a community to welcome the Sabbath bride.

I take the community aspect of this service very seriously and feel it is perhaps the most important aspect of my Shabbat. That is why I got up early on Saturday morning to travel to Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope to help this community—a community of people from different backgrounds, creeds and orientations—enjoy and sanctify the Shabbat.

Unfortunately the Westboro Baptist Church, the infamous hate group, was outside of Beth Elohim trying to deny this community of its Shabbat Shalom, its peaceful and meaningful Shabbat. Hatred needs to be combated with love and support, so I went to stand in solidarity with this community as it celebrated a young girl becoming a woman in the eyes of the Jewish people, to sit together with members and guests to learn some Torah portion and to take action in the face of injustice and hate.

It was a pretty sad showing from the Westboro contingent; no more than six or seven people with disgusting signs that will not get air time on this blog. But on the good guys’ side, there were more like 150 people from all walks of life. There were rabbis, priests and pastors. There were gay, straight and bisexuals community members (I know because the good guys had signs explaining these things). But the thing that was best about this was the positive message of the good guys’ counter demonstration.

Rabbi Andy Bachman, who is the spiritual leader of CBE, took a strong stand against a counter-protest but was open to the peaceful show of communal support that was emanating from the crowd last Shabbat. He lead this group from different backgrounds, creeds and orientations in a Shofar service, using the ancient horn of the Jewish people to shock us awake from the indifference that allows the Westboro brand of hate to flourish. He also called upon us to, in the tradition of the God of compassion to welcome the stranger, to accept all human beings as God’s creation and to never allow hate to triumph over tolerance.

He also called upon us to act in the tradition of the God of Groucho Marx and stick our thumbs on our noses and wave our hands at the protestors…you can’t be serious all the time (even in Park Slope).

But all this show of hate and counter-tolerance was not the most important aspect of this day. After the visitors from Kansas left, we all went inside to services. A young woman became Bat Mitzvah. A rabbi celebrated his 50th anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah. A member of the congregation gave a d’var Torah that dug deeper than most sermons and a guest from the Upper East Side took part in a beautiful Shabbat Morning experience.

People told me I was doing a great thing and I happen to agree. But the singing and dancing in the face of the hatemongering anti-Semitic homophobes was nothing important. The real power and meaning, a place where we found true Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of return to the community and people of Israel, was that this group of people from different backgrounds, creeds and orientations, joined together in what we were going to do anyway. The evil of those Wichita base bigots changed nothing. Together this community stood strong in the face of injustice, stuck our tongues out at hatred and joined together in a joyous celebration of the Jewish people.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nutty Homophobes Picket Nice Brooklyn Shul

I learned about this via Dan Sieradski and read more from the Congregation Beth Elohim blog. Those nut-bag-crazy-homophobic-racisit-anti-semite bastards from the so-called church, the "Westboro Baptist Church" -- the same people who run "GodHatesFags.com" and other such big tent and love thy neighbor type websites -- will be there protesting the Jews and the gays this Shabbat in Park Slope. I will be there to support CBE, will you?

Here is the congregations statement on the situation:
CBE Official Statement on Westboro Baptist

Congregation Beth Elohim
September 22, 2009
Dear Friends,

On Saturday, September 26, from 9:45 AM - 10:15 AM, Congregation Beth Elohim will be picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist anti-Semitic, anti-gay independent church based out of Topeka, Kansas.

They plan to send representatives who will stand on our sidewalk displaying disturbing signs and provoking those entering our building. They try to create enough confrontation to incite others to provocation. It is their constitutional right to picket.

Congregation Beth Elohim does not welcome this group's message or actions in any way. Our focus and mission as a community is to build an inclusive Jewish community that celebrates the strength of diversity. It is a home for individuals and families of all backgrounds to grow and to learn and to care about and deepen their connections to one another.

We have clear priorities during difficult moments such as these. Protecting our members and visitors, and most importantly our children, is a primary goal. Our internal security team is already in action and local police authorities have been alerted. Although you are entitled to your right to free speech, we ask that you calmly pass these protesters and walk directly into our building without incident.

For more information about the Westboro Baptist and for educational materials about responding to hate groups, please download a PDF provided by the Anti-Defamation League.

Congregation Beth Elohim is an amazing community in that it is a warm and welcoming place. This group will be picketing us because of our commitment to those who desire community. Though Saturday may be upsetting, it is important to remember that our precious values are truly a source of great pride. Our best and only response is to conduct ourselves as usual.

And this Shabbat we have so much to celebrate: Natalie Chertoff becomes Bat Mitzvah; Shir l'Shabbat and Yachad meet in a wonderful, family learning and Shabbat atmosphere; Rabbi Emeritus Weider celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of his own Bar Mitzvah in the Lay-Led Minyan; and Alt-Shul is hosting its bi-monthly traditional minyan. Truly a diverse and celebratory Shabbat worthy of our values of openness and celebration as one community!

Let's focus our energy and attention on making this truly a Shabbat Shalom at Congregation Beth Elohim.

May you all be blessed for another year of life, tolerance, and well-being.


Rabbi Andy Bachman
Elana Paru, Executive Director
David Kasakove, President

Monday, September 21, 2009

Going out in shorts and a sweatshirt

This weekend my sister was in town for the holiday and after our prayer was completed, we went out to a bar her friends had chosen. She was leaving the next day so we figured this would be a good time to hang out, grab a beer and chill.

Very often my sister and her friends choose great places to hang out and have a good time. Places of less than stellar repute, but great drink specials and possibly even free hot dogs are often the preferred location for this group.

But this weekend, the choice of The Ginger Man proved to be a bit higher on the reputation scale but with significantly fewer drink specials, no hot dogs and a seriously high level of trying too hard to have a good time.

I was wearing my favorite multi-color Adidas low-tops, a pair of well loved plaid shorts and a Brooklyn Cyclones sweatshirt and was the only guy in the place not wearing either a button down, polo shirt or designer-T with a blazer over over-priced jeans. Granted a guy did come up to me and say “great hoodie, man.”

This place felt like a bar out of the “Look at my striped shirt” nightmare that made the Internet rounds a few years back. I mean there was a line for the men’s bathroom. On any fall weekend, a bar (which this was, not a gastro pub or club or beer hall or anything else; it was nothing more than a bar with too many beers on tap to possibly be fresh in the keg) should have football on TV. This would have cut down on the number of Blackberrys and iPhones that were constantly in the hands of those “gentlemen” leaning on the bar.

Granted the back area where we were hanging out had fewer striped shirts per capita and we did get to enjoy the comfy couches, not all was lost in this trip.

The part of the evening that pushed me right over the edge was this guy—-complete with bouffant, too much cologne, expensive-tapered jeans, low-cut-man-boots, a fitted blazer and pastel shirt with just one too many buttons undone—-turning to my lovely wife and flirting with her as I finished reaching over the bar to get our change. “Enjoy that Goose Island IPA, I brought it here,” he says. “Next time you should try this one; it is [some name I forget because I was trying to figure out how I could kill him and get away with it]. Want to try mine?” At this point my she said no, flashed me a look and I was starting to position myself between this tool and my wife.

He proceeded to tell us he was the [big name beer company] rep for the bar and that he was trying to get [big name beer company] to mass produce this very expensive and exclusive beer for wider distribution, but because he was such a great guy he had it put into his account because he cares. Thank you [big name beer company] rep, you did a great job. Needless to say it was good thing I was holding my seltzer water (my stomach was not so pleased with Rosh Hashanah eating choices) in my right hand or he would have had a broken nose...I mean maybe.

The true saving grace of this place was that my sister was there and having a good time with her friends, so we were able to just chill and enjoy the time at The Ginger Man. It was fantastic to see her and her crazy bunch of overly intelligent friends (who more often than not make great choices about bars).

Oh and the house beer there is awful.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Getting ready for the New Year

Tomorrow night is Rosh Hashanah and Jews will gather the world over to pray, eat and hope for the best with the Book of Life thing. My sister is coming into town from Chicago to visit my wife and me and will join us for services. It will be lovely. I am planning a roasted chicken, with a side of wild rice and a succotash of late summer veggies. (Corn, Peas and Tomato, in olive oil and garlic) It will be very nice.

This year has flown by me. A year ago I had just started a new job, was engaged to be married and green as a member of our community. I wrote about not knowing how to be a “real adult” on RJ.org and now I think we have figured out how to pretend to be adults. I will report on how that goes next week.

Even as the year passed without a break, there is work to do to get ready for the beginning of the next one. I have my calls and apologies to make, as well as dinner.

However, there is much more to this than simple apologies and good food. I personally need to be in a place that is conducive to thinking, reflecting and Jewish-ing during the High Holidays. If I am not—which is currently the case but it seem to be moving in the right direction—the holiday is lost to me.

Last night getting ready for bed I lamented the fact that we would miss some wonderful college football this weekend and my wife rightly stated I would have been upset if she had made a similar comment about services. I clearly am not there yet.

So I have been writing Jewish stuff about our community, going to see Jewish art and trying to think about Jewish things. I sure hope it works.

Happy New Year to the Jews, a meaningful Ramadan to the Muslims and happy weekend to the rest of you.

Oh yeah this too:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Subway Music - A PSA

Please excuse this public service announcement:


While it is your choice to listen to very bad music, we don’t need to hear the latest hip-hop mariachi mash-up first thing in the morning. That tin-can-sound of off tempo, non-lyrical rap your cousin “produced” on his computer does not put anyone else in the mood to get their day started. Some like coffee in the morning and others blasting Ramones, but you often don’t see people pouring their cup-o-joe on other subway riders, so it is time to turn down the music, punk.

The people around you thank you for your cooperation and participation in the turn your own crappy music down project.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


“Now you will have something to blog about,” said my lovely wife as we waited to take the turn in the Emergency Room parking lot at 8:25 pm on Sunday. My response at the time was heavily influenced by my lack of hydration. “I will never blog about this.”

After four hours in the ER in Southern New Jersey and a few days of felling pretty much like death-hung-over I decided it was time to find a teachable moment here within my food poising. Once again, my lovely wife was right.

Here is the timeline:
Friday night – Eat Evil Food Never to be Consumed Again
Saturday morning – Feel not so hot; consume Gater-aid and pepto and hope for the best as we leave to go to our friend’s wedding in South Jersey.
Saturday night – Attend rehearsal dinner; feeling a bit better; ate stupid food for my condition, goes way down hill very fast
Sunday morning – Sick like dog
Sunday afternoon – Get ready for wedding; a sudden and dramatic change in condition that makes me worried
Sunday night – Condition unchanged; Go to Hospital
Sunday night/Monday EARLY morning – Enjoy two lovely bags of IV drip, get tests taken, find out not much, given meds, sent to Pharmacy, get drugs, go back to hotel and sleep.
Monday – SICK, travel back to NYC, sit on couch, sleep
Tuesday – SICK, see doc, he said ER was right
Wednesday – Back to something that could be considered human

Ok, now you know what happened. Needless to say it was a tough few days.

(Quick sidebar: My wife was 100% supportive, holding my hand when it sucked (it sucked a lot), laughed at my really pathetic jokes, made me feel better and helped me make the right choices about the care I needed throughout this process and I would have been totally screwed without her help. Thank you honey.)

I am blessed to have a great job where I am challenged every day, where I have to work hard, think in and outside the box and a lot is demanded of me both personally and professionally. However in exchange for this commitment my employer has supplied me with, among other things, fantastic health insurance.

This insurance that I got because I work for a fantastic company, allows me to walk into any ER when I need to go and get treated with a co-pay of $60. I was prescribed two sets of pills each costing $10 and were filled right away at 1:45 am on Monday. I saw my Doctor on Tuesday for $25. After not being able to eat or drink for two days, I was treated in two facilities, was given what I needed and now I am on the track to being healthy again for a grand total of about $105.

If I didn’t work for a fantastic company, I would be broke now, possibly in debt for years. But I am not because I have a wonderful job and a fantastic company.

So we reinforce in my story, the story of a very well off young white man who ate some very evil food and got what he needed quickly and manageable cost, the need for a national healthcare system. The care I received should not be a privilege of my job, my status or my checkbook.

I am so lucky to have been in the situation I was after eating the evil food. Who knows what would have happened if I was one of the millions of people out of work across this country when I made a poor choice for dinner.

So all five of you reading this blog: the time is now to act. Call you people in DC and demand action. There can be no more excuses from the right wing nuts jobs. Stand up to the stupidity and demand a reasonable, logical and useful healthcare system in our country. The President called upon Congress tonight and I call upon all five of you now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Top Chef without a soap box

You may remember last week when our intrepid social justice chef Ashley Merriman took to the camera all indignant like because she being gay couldn’t have a bachelorette party. Now that was not what she said but it sure felt that way.

Anywho, this week’s show had the chefs making a meal for 300 Airmen and their families. Anything from Chef Merriman on the injustice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Nope. Not a word. Now here is a ridiculous, homophobic and downright disproven idea and our culinary crusader of the order of Lamdba put down her rainbow flag in order to rally around the stairs and stripes.

Please do not misunderstand this post. I love this country and am proud of the men and women who choose to fight to protect it and our interests (see what I did right there). But Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t get the press it deserves. I mean a few weeks back the New York Times wrote a major piece on women serving in combat rolls. They shockingly have sex with their fellow soldiers and they are still able to kick ass and take names.

This fact flies in the face of the entire argument against having LGBT service personnel. The idea that they would be so distracting is a) disproven and b) just not enough to take away someone’s right to protect his or her way of life. If (and only if) our country is fighting to keep our liberty and freedoms unobstructed by extremist nut job terrorists who read just one book and then take aim to kill as many people who don’t do and think the same way as a narrow-minded reading of that book dictates, don’t you think that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans individuals may want to pick up a gun fight back too?

ACH I say.

There was a great soap box moment for any of the gay chefs this past week and it was missed. Bravo being that LGBT safe-zone is also a controversy free safe-zone. While marriage equality is controversial it is very widely accepted in the liberal, affluent communities that make up the target audiences of Top Chef. But, talk about the troops, perhaps challenge the sitting Commander and Chief regarding promises he made on the campaign trail regarding LGBT rights, then you may face some problems. I would be interested to see the uncut interactions from Merriman and other gay chefs regarding this episode. However I would be shocked to see anything different than what came out in the final cuts.

Here, call your Senators, House member and the White House and say Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a policy that needs to change.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Slow food’s fast idea

The Slow Food movement is not an American movement. This is not to say it is un-American. Our culture is not one to savor but rather one of getting the big event going. To say we are a nation of fast food junkies is a bit short-sighted, but in reality the number of people choosing to spend time on a farm to see how food is grown for vacation is relegated to a small number of wacky journalists.

Food Evangelists like Alice Waters and Michael Pollan will harp ad nauseam about the need for local, organic and other-catch-words-of-the-week foods. I like to eat organics and foods that are locally grown, but sometimes you can’t do it. Sorry Alice, it just isn’t possible in the current market. I think we should increase our organics and local food intake and learn more about the process. I mean I am blogging about it what more do you want Michael?

But earlier this year the Slow Food USA decided to take action away from the table and things are beginning to move a bit faster. This weekend, Labor Day to be exact, will see nearly 300 lunch time rallies calling upon Congress to allocate $1 more per student for school lunch programs. That is a lot of money in case you didn’t want to do the math. This however speaks to the average America more than enjoying a piece of aged Gouda or a raw goat’s milk brie. (Which reminds me I should plug my local Formagerie, The Big Cheese. If you live in NYC, you should go. Tell them I sent you. I will do a bigger post on them another time.)

This protest movement is represented in nearly every state in the country and will bring together concerned parents (remember Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads?) to learn about the crap schools offer for lunch all while eating good, local foods that are most plentiful right now. What better way to engage in meaningful food politicking than to eat with friends and neighbors? I would love to go to this event but I will unfortunately be on the road at the time of the ultimate food fight with Washington.

I don’t think we need to get the Gouda or brie on the lunch line, but some green veggies that have not graced the warming embrace of fry oil might be a nice step. School is more than learning the three Rs (which is so stupid it hurts my head), but about culture and becoming members of our society. This includes learning how to interact with different kinds of people, conflict resolution and learning how to eat on your own. Granted none of these are “organic” but are controlled by the school administration.

Don’t misunderstand me: New text books are more important than fresh veggies in the lunch line. But there is something to a healthy meal being offered in place of the tots and soda. It is all about fostering a better, smarter, healthier generation of leaders, inventors, scientists, authors, artists and such. So way to go Slow Food USA for figuring out people like to get together and eat outside on Labor Day.

Find a Time For Lunch event near you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Not good

This come by way of the "God Blog" written by Brad Greenberg. He explores in his post could these horrible fires be seen as acts of God. It is interesting. The comments section is where it gets a bit out of hand.

Ben Plonie writes:
In the absence of Biblical-quality prophecy, it is not easy to connect the dots between the spiritual and the temporal. The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways. It doesn’t seem fair somehow after Prop 8 passed, although the issue is not yet dead. But that’s just me. Ah well.

Ok I can get behind that, I think...not really sure though...oh no...biblical homophobia, sorry missed it in there.
Or could this be related to Obama’s fawning over the Muslim community at the expense of Israel and the worldwide Jewish community (as predicted by this reporter and every other observer with at least half a brain)?

Going forward, this could be Obama’s Katrina, or one of them. Let’s see how he handles it. After all, he did have a white grandmother, who could easily have been a victim of the fires. But no matter what Obama does, we can count on the the former Katrina protesters to give him a rave review on his performance, even though he has run out of funny-money after all of his crony payoffs and grandstanding. Obama’s lack of response will all be the fault of right-wing talk radio.
Wait hold on, only whites are getting burned out of thier homes? No Hispanics or Asians in the area? And for that matter only blacks lost thier homes during Katrina? I am lost.

ACH I say to this! What crazy-town talk. So I reply:
I am not one to take away from the horrific affects of these fires, living through a few close brushes when living in LA, but saying this will be President Obama’s Katrina is just silly. While this fire is far from out, Los Angelinos have lost 62 homes to NOLA’s 275,000 in the aftermath of Katrina. This idea and for the rest of your comment it would seem like the half of brain you may have isn’t working very well.

I did get a (respectful) note from Brad saying that this kind of exchange happens regularly when Plonie leaves a comment on the God Blog. But I have to wonder why an intellectual conversation about theology and current catastrophes always has to bend to the nut bag of the week's ideas? I suppose I am guilty of playing into it but can you leave such ridiculous statements without response?

Why not sit back and think about the concepts that Brad explores. Say “huh, I could be a better person in my daily life” or “wow, I really could do more with the community to make this a better world” as opposed to running your mouth about what you think is wrong in the world. But then what would be the point of blogging? Without this free, unregulated platform how would people like me Plonie ever be heard?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What do you eat at a gay wedding?

Bravo TV is without a question a LGBT safe zone. Complete with a wide variety of reality shows that host about 45% openly gay contestants, it is hard to call the network or its programming homophobic or even heteronormative. But last week this well established fact was called into question by Ashley Merriman on Top Chef.

If you missed the show, the group of 16 remaining boys and girls were broken down into teams of by gender to do a bachelor and bachelorette party for a couple complete with twists and turns that make it a worthwhile TV show. But the thing that took me back was Merriman’s distaste for the challenge because she can’t get married legally. The other three openly gay chefs on the show (if not more) didn’t touch on this issue and Ash Fulk was even able to make a self-effacing, somewhat homophobic joke without worrying about his rights being called into question by this challenge.

My position on marriage equality is well documented and taking to the street, soap box or blog to fight for equality is a great thing. But I am a little confused about this protest. I can only assume that Chef Merriman will open her Seattle restaurant to a wedding party and she would provide food to a client who was hosting an engagement celebration. So why now put up a fight in when she is on TV? Platform or not this seems like a silly way to protest a serious issue.

In other marriage equality food news, Ben & Jerry’s is celebrating Vermont’s celebration of marriage equality (the law goes into effect today) with a slight twist on a favorite flavor. For the rest of the month lovers of the vanilla-malt-fudge-covered-peanut-butter-filled-pretzel-nuggets classic will need to order Hubby-Hubby. While I love Ben & Jerry’s for no other reason than they make some really fantastic ice cream, this kind of simple, consumer-based activism makes me smile. Here hoping that they continue to sell B&J south of the Mason Dixon.

No word yet on a lesbian wedding ice cream.

Finally—while not really food related but kind of because the essay explores a “wife’s job” in the “traditional sense”—I suggest reading this past weekend’s “Modern Love” in the New York Times. We read of two women who were married, had kids and call each other wife. They wanted to raise political awareness by using the term wife but it gave way to a term of practicality and life together. One (the author and self described more culturally womanly) is the bread winner and the other (the author describes her as “butch” and has been known to enjoy power tools) stays at home with the couple’s children. The author notes that she gave birth to both kids. I found the story to be both well written and thought provoking. On side note, the author is working on a book about fatherhood…