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So I’m having this conversation on Facebook with a very dear friend. It started with his news that he no longer counted as a Jew for the purposes of a minyan.
For those who don’t know, a minyan is a group of ten Jews who have gathered for the purposes of prayer. Issues surrounding who is eligible to be counted in a minyan are complicated. Traditionally, only men over the age of 13 count. Traditionally, only men who are Jewish count – if you are in the process of conversion, you are not eligible. These rules are opening up in more liberal strains of Judaism to allow for all sorts of other people to be included in a minyan – women, transgender people, and gender queer Jews are all finding their ways into minyans.
So, back to the conversation. I am talking with my friend Stuart who is sad that he no longer counts for a minyan. He has converted to Christianity and is happy as a Christian. But it is a sad day when something that was so important no longer applies. Becoming eligible for a minyan marks you as an adult Jew responsible to the community. To lose that identity marker must be hard.
My first response to Stuart was that I would always count him in a minyan if I was praying.
That was about three days ago and I am still thinking about it. I am no longer so clear on what my answer would be. I love Stuart. I would pray with Stuart with absolutely no problems and count it as a sincerely spiritual experience. I believe that we are all straining towards the same G…d, and the value of interfaith prayer is incalculable.
But at the same time, there is a reason I am a Jew and not a Christian, or a Muslim, or a person who is spiritual but not religiously affiliated. We pray in specific ways. We perform our rites and rituals in specific ways. There are things that make us Jews and not something else. And there are reasons behind why we do the things in the ways we do them.
How do we understand what makes our religious identity? How do we decide which traditions should be maintained and which traditions can be shifted?
I don’t have the answer to any of this, just as I no longer have an answer to whether I would count Stuart in a minyan. I’m not sure if this is a line that must be held, a tradition that marks us as Jews who pray together. There is something about being in a room with nine other Jews, praying towards the same goal, praying in the same language, praying at the same time. Stuart could be there; he could speak the language. He knows the forms. He could go through the prayers, and he would (I’m sure) mean them deeply. But at the same time, in many ways, he is not a Jew anymore.
Does it matter? Does it change the prayer if he counts in a minyan and isn’t Jewish? Does it matter if there is a minyan?
I don’t know…
Dear Mitt Romney,
I’ve heard you are having money troubles. After all, if the best thing you can think of to do with 10,000 dollars is make a bet with someone on television, then clearly you aren’t getting creative with ways to invest your money. I thought perhaps you could use a little help thinking of things, so I am making a list for you. I’ve stuck with mostly things that could happen in this country (though I have a ton that you could do overseas as well), and I’ve tried to cover a bunch of bases for you, so surely something on my list will appeal to you. Please let me know if you find that any of them move you.
1) Buy textbooks for a school. Any school. I’m not picky. Students are going home to study without books. Students are sharing in classrooms. I cannot begin to guess how many textbooks 10,000 dollars would buy, but I bet it would let some of our youth actually choose not to do their homework, instead of not being able to do it.
2) Pay someone’s medical bills. Thousands of us are uninsured and facing crippling debt just to pay our medical bills. This year, for Christmas, give one of us a break and pay off our bills. Then maybe we can sit down and talk about what healthcare reform platform you are running on.
3) Feed someone. Feed a lot of someones. 10,000 dollars buys a lot of fruit and veggies. Support a food bank. Give a gift to a homeless shelter. Feed some of the children who are living on our streets, starving. Imagine, a huge outdoor feast in central park where all the homeless and starving of NYC could come and have a gigantic Christmas dinner. It would be amazing!
4) Support a church that would otherwise have to close. America loses 3500-4000 churches a year. Now I’m sure that some of this is because of lack of attendance, but some of these churches are closing their doors because they cannot afford to operate. They are small churches in small communities. They are churches that are desperately needed for their after-school care, their support of community faith, their shelters, and their education services. They are needed because communities need churches. Find one and allow them to stay open. I’m pretty sure it’s something Jesus would like.
5) Donate to a women’s shelter. Women are running for their lives in this country. They are hiding from spouses. They are leaving everything they have and living in fear on a daily basis. They are starving in shelters. They are terrified for their children. DO something. Build a shelter. Support the shelters that already exist. Save a woman’s life. Show her that there is an option for a life without fear.
6) Pay the adoption fees for a family desperately longing for a child. There are families desperately hoping to bring their own child home for the holidays. They have been waiting and struggling and praying for a chance to make their families whole. At a time of year that is supposed to be all about family, use that 10,000 to make a family whole for the holidays.
7) Open a no-kill animal shelter. Rescue some of the thousands of animals that are being tortured, beaten, or neglected this holiday season. Our friendship with animals is a gift from G…d and we should cherish it. Instead, we abuse and neglect them, leaving them on the streets to starve. Open a shelter that would allow this to end. 10,000 buys a lot of dog food.
8 ) Promote sex education. Help provide condoms and birth control. If we really want to move beyond the discussion about pro-life or pro-choice, then the way to do this is to create systems in which abortion does not seem like the only option. Perhaps if we could educate our youth, give them the tools they need to be safe, and create support systems for when mistakes do happen, we could create a world in which pro-life truly meant pro-life – instead of being a political term that is thrown around. Pro-life could mean all life, and pro-choice would include options beyond just abortion. See #6. Families are longing for children. Let’s make a world where instead of abortion being the easiest option, adoption is.
9) Rebuild a house. They are everywhere – the houses that people have left, the houses that nature has damaged. People are living in houses with blue tarp roofs because they cannot afford to get them fixed. People are homeless while houses fall into disrepair. Why not put the money you were going to bet to good use and give a family the gift of a house for Christmas? Nothing says love like a roof over your head where there used to be a tarp.
I’m sure that one of the above nine options will move you. I can’t wait to see what you decide to do.
One of the 99%
One of the strangest parts of my job is the completely transitory nature of the relationships I build. Sure, every bar has it’s regulars. They keep the bar going. But for the most part, people come in and out. You see them once or twice, while they are in town, and then they disappear. Because of where the bar I work at is located, these transitory relationships are both fleeting and intensely personal in heartbreakingly strange ways.
See, my bar is right next to both a major hospital and a veteran’s center, which specializes in mental healthcare. The people who come in come in devastated. They are waiting for bad news. They have already received bad news and are at the hospital for treatment. They are in town to watch loved ones die, or because their children are in the cancer ward, or because they gave months or days or years of service and it left them broken.
They come into the bar for the hours, days or weeks during which they are being treated or waiting for treatment. I see them through the worst parts of their treatment, fear, and depression. I rarely see them afterwards. I never get to find out if they are ok. I never know if the spouse/child/parent survived surgery. I never know if the cancer/heart disease/mental illness is made better.
And I’m never sure what to do. I rarely know their names. I am not a part of their lives. All I know is why they are in my bar. What I hear is:
“I’m waiting for test results on my wife’s cancer.”
“My daughter has been in the ICU since she was born.”
“I haven’t slept without nightmares since I came back.”
It breaks my heart.
But in other, surprising ways, I think it has brought me closer to G…d. I have found that I pray more – for these nameless people who come in and out of my bar. They are the people constantly in my thoughts. They are the people for whom I pray in the evening. And I am learning to let go of asking for an answer to the prayers.
When I first started at the bar, I didn’t ask people why they were there. I knew that I wasn’t going to find out if they were healed, and I couldn’t stand the constant questions. I couldn’t stand the wondering. Now, I ask. I listen. I pray. I know that I won’t know if they are healed. I won’t know if they are cured. I won’t know what happens to their loved ones. I no longer think I need to know. My prayers shouldn’t be about the answers. They should be about the people, about letting G…d know that I care for them. The need for answers is a selfish need, and not the point of the prayer.