Monday, November 29, 2004

Need to laugh? Check out the tunes on this page:

The songs have been recorded by Dr. Carl Winter, a food toxicologist at UC Davis who also happens to be a musician. He's taken a lot of pop music and mangled the lyrics very entertainingly: imagine "Fifty Ways to Eat your Oysters." I imagine John Lennon would have laughed at "You Better Wash Your Hands."

OK, it's ridiculous. So enjoy.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I'm sitting here, enjoying breakfast and "Weekend Edition" before vaulting into the day. Breakfast is particularly nice: I've figured out something that tastes good, doesn't make too bad a mess, and is nutritious: a quarter of a block of silken tofu, a cup of frozen berries, and a cup of milk, all blendered together into a smoothie. I have to wash the blender, but that's no big deal, and then all that's left is a dirty glass.

Who grew the soybeans, raised the berries, milked the cows? Who made the tofu and froze the berries? The only people I saw were the people at the grocery store -- and what I know about them is that they went on a months-long strike last year and basically lost most of what they were hoping to accomplish. It makes me wonder about the people I can't see. How many of them, how many of their kids, had a good breakfast?

I'm part of one food-related epidemic here in the U.S.: I'm part of the obesity epidemic. The spiritual approach I'm taking to the problem (having realized that for me, it is indeed a spiritual problem) is making it harder for me to ignore the other epidemics. There's an epidemic in the media (print, TV, billboards, you name it) of advertising to persuade consumers that they'll be happy if they eat huge pizzas, sugared cereal, sugar water, or other weird concoctions that are anything but nutritious. I can't help but wonder what it would be like to see those ads everywhere if I were part of a different epidemic: the epidemic of working people -- or people who want work, and can't find it -- who have to choose between rent and food.

I don't have any answers. I'm trying to shape my life into a better question: I know I'm hungry, but do I hunger for anything that will truly satisfy? I don't think that you have to be a tzaddik [an ideal righteous person] to see that Justice would be more satisfying than a Big Mac, that a good breakfast for everyone would be more satisfying than French Fries and Donuts for All.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I read this and all I could think to say was, "Amen.":

This is the true joy in life:

the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap;
the being a force of nature
instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

—George Bernard Shaw

Monday, November 15, 2004

I am going to recommend a website to you, but before you take a look, be aware that it contains some graphic images of war. Fallujah in Pictures is not a pretty sight: it is a series of graphic photos from the war, along with portraits of American soldiers who have died there in the past ten days.

Whatever your opinion on the war, I think it is important to stop once in a while and think about what we are doing there. All those young soldiers are gone. The wounded children in a couple of the photos will be missing limbs for the rest of their lives. Every person dead or injured in the photos was or is someone's father, brother, son or friend (I didn't see any photos of women.)

It's so easy to sit here in the US of A and have opinions about this. Living in the middle of a "situation" is far different than living outside of it, as I learned in Israel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The new "quad" off and running, yikes -- for those of you who aren't fluent in HUC-speak, that means my classes have changed a bit, my schedule not at all. The new goodies: Early Modern Jewish History, Midrash 2, and Jewish Mysticism/Kabbalah. Lots to prepare, as always, and the faster I run the behinder I get, but that's ok, I'm learning.

One not-so-great thing is that Mondays and Wednesdays are now completely in the basement. As I've mentioned before, our class is large; the class behind us is also large. We are too big for most of the classrooms at HUC-LA. Last year we had most of our classes in the student lounge and in the beit midrash, which was not good because those really should be common areas, not classrooms. This year, my class is taking most of its classes in some new rooms in the basement. On the one hand, we are learning some lovely Torah. On the other hand, it is really odd to spend an entire day in a windowless room with poor ventilation. At lunch we can wander a bit, if lunchtime is not taken up with something.

On the other hand, we really are learning some lovely stuff. I've been very resistant to the idea of studying kabbalah, but so far, I'm enchanted. The translations are a bear, and don't make sense until Dr. Fishbane helps us see how to decode it, but it is a whole new way of thinking about Torah.

The text of the sermon I mentioned in an earlier posting, about Jewish tradition, kashrut, and vegetarianism, is now online. You can find it at -- scroll down and click on "Prophetic Priorities." Oh, and by the way -- the NRJ folks aren't allowed to mention it, but since I don't work for them, I can: if you click on their ads, it helps support their site.

While I'm mentioning sites I like, are you familiar with Mark Fiore? He's a political cartoonist in Northern California.

If you think webcams are fun (I do) check out the Mt. St. Helen's VolcanoCam. Some of the photos of the mountain are breaktaking, even when the volcano is quiet.

I don't live in Tennessee history anymore, but I have found a column in the Nashville paper, The Tennessean, that I enjoy very much. It's Learn Nashville, and is a local history column. George Zepp, who writes it, does more than research local curiosities -- he's a storyteller. Take a look.

OK, enough ads. I'm short on sleep and should have been snoozing an hour ago. Be well.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

We the People spoke, and we're going to have four more years of the Bush Administration. We the People also decided that marriage needs "protection" from gay folk. We decided that we want a more conservative Supreme Court.

I'm just now figuring out that as a queer, Californian, Jewish, female citizen of the United States, I may have a vote, but I'm a lot farther out of sync with 55% of We the People than I ever imagined. That came as a shock, a big shock. When I saw the lines at the polls yesterday, I felt hopeful, because I really believed that I may fit into several minority categories, but that my head and my heart weren't all that different from most of my fellow citizens.

There have been a lot of Bibles thumped in connection with this election. I'd like to do a bit of Bible thumping myself right now. I wish I could remind the President that while he and I may disagree on the interpretation of the message of the Biblical Prophets, there are clear, simple messages there that he and his party need to heed. We have millions of people in this country going hungry. More children fall below the poverty level every year. Our city streets are littered with our mentally ill and our homeless.

We've turned the profit motive into a graven image; we worship it by glorifying the bottom line. White collar criminals go to Camp Cupcake, and the whole process -- if there is even a process, if they are even held responsible -- is treated as entertainment for the rest of us.

Yes, we have enemies in the world. But going to the other side of the world to stir a hornets' nest in Iraq has not helped us in that respect. And please, enough with the "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." On your farm, Mr. President, do you deal with a yellow jackets' nest by poking a stick into it?

Why aren't our ports more secure? Why is the security at our airports 90% nuisance and 10% real security?

We keep hearing about innocent men on Death Row, and yet we keep on executing people. We have held God knows how many people in Guantanamo and places like Abu Graib without due process, without charges, without conscience or mercy.

We raise young men and women who don't recognize that an order to torture is a bad, wrong order. We cut funds for colleges so we can build more prisons.

We are wrecking the world of which we are stewards. Anyone who thinks that global warming is an unsubstantiated theory was not paying attention when the hurricanes mowed through the Southeast six weeks ago.

God knows, Mr. President. God knows what we are doing. God knows what you are doing, you and the people who work for you. That was the message of Amos, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah: God knows. And God is paying attention.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's been a long, long day and it's going to be a long night.

I started the day in line at my local polling place, on the second floor of an assisted-living facility a block from home. The lines were already long at 7:30 am, and long-timers in the precinct were saying that they'd never seen anything like it.

It's an interesting neighborhood: we're north of Pico-Robertson, the big Jewish and Jewish/Iranian enclave. We're south of Beverly Hills by a mere block. Lots of retirement-age folks in the neighborhood, and lots of immigrants.

In the voting line, the couple in front of me were from the former Soviet Union. They spoke Russian to each other, and heavily accented English to me. Ahead of them, a man with a heavy Farsi accent asked the fellow next to him (Arabic speaking, judging from his accent) for his opinion about one of the ballot initiatives. That sparked a lively conversation in the line, debating the pros and cons of stem cell research. The Arabic accented fellow worried that it would cost millions of dollars, and who would pay? The Farsi-speaker looked worried; he hadn't thought about that. All the diseases they could cure, surely?

Then he said to the guy next to him, "You want the old one, or the new?"

"Old or new, what do you mean?"

"Old Bush, or the Kerry fellow?"

"Well, what do you think?"

The couple just ahead of me said that they were afraid to vote for anyone but Bush, and looked at me for agreement. I hadn't planned to participate, but heck, I was not going to let anyone put his vote on my ballot. "Some of us are afraid NOT to vote for Kerry," I said.

"But the terrorists! And the war! You cannot change presidents in a war!" they protested. I just shook my head.

Others around us began to chime in with their own two cents' worth. Both parties were enthusiastically represented. The un-airconditioned hallway felt very close and hot. Voices began to rise. I began to sweat. I did not come to L.A. to die in a geriatric riot.

"Thank God we're in America," I chirped, as enthusiastically as I could manage. "We can disagree!"

"Yes! Thank God!" Everyone nodded and the tension was gone.

Thank God, indeed. Most of the people in the line with me today were not born in the United States; most of them, I'm guessing, can appreciate that precious ballot in a way I can only imagine. A polling place is a kind of holy ground, a place where people try to combine their own best opinion with the opinions of their neighbors. Some have fancy degrees; some came up through the school of hard knocks. The wise and the foolish each get a single vote, and the result is their common effort. In the voting line, we are no longer an assortment of individuals; we become, on election night, We the People.

I don't know who's going to live in the White House next year. I have my hopes, and I have my fears. I told a friend today that I'd vote for Richard Nixon before I'd vote for George W. Bush, but I said to someone else that if my candidate loses, I am most certainly NOT moving to Canada, or England, or even to Israel.

I'm staying right here.