U.S. Election 2012- Hope for Minorities, Like Me

This morning, I woke up and watched the final moments preceding the announcement of the elected U.S. president. Just a few minutes into watching, the magic number of 270 electoral votes was hit. Even though Romney had not yet conceded, I knew that Barack Obama was going to continue to be my president.

I am one of the most apolitical people I know. I would not call it apathy, but I am the first to acknowledge that I am not educated enough on any political issues. I can not even believe I am writing a reflection on anything related to the presidential election right now. Despite my limited attention to politics, I could not help but think of a true shift in the political paradigm of the United States in the days leading up to the election.

For the first time in U.S. history, there was no White Anglo-Saxon Protestant candidate.  And in the days leading up to today, I knew that regardless of the outcome I was excited for this shift. I am not saying that White Protestants can not make good candidates, but the realization that the country was for the first time voting outside of this demographic that has been the vast majority of presidents was thrilling.

Not as a Democrat, not as a Republican but as a young, Jewish, Hispanic, female U.S. citizen, this gave me hope. No matter which way you cut it, I am a minority (even if the female population is technically the majority statistically). The fact that regardless of which candidate would be president, my president, the president of the United States, would also be in the minority was reason to smile and feel more secure in the future of all minorities in the United States.

I struggle with being a minority in both the United States and in Israel, but then  moments like this make me feel the weight of the worth of the historically repressed and underrepresented voice- my own voice included.

A Practical Question: To Wear a Kippah, Tallit and/or Tefillin or not?

With my conversion date approaching so quickly, I am facing practical questions I really hadn’t given much thought before.

Today, the question I have on my mind is trying to decide if I will wear tallit, tefillin and/or a kippah when I convert. Up until this point, I have never worn any of them, other than trying on a friend’s kippah once just to see how it would feel.

I don’t know how comfortable I feel with the idea, but it is also the custom in my Conservative community. I know when I move to Israel I will most likely not have to wear any of them, but I am trying to decide what to do while I still live here. I know I don’t have to do any of them, but I feel that it is something important to consider since it is so important to my community. The majority of women in my shul wear tallit and a kippah at least during Shabbat services and some wear tefillin during weekday services. My community also does require anyone going before the community in the service to wear both tallit and a kippah (or some sort of head covering).

The main thing I want is to be consistent in my practice. I want to believe in what I am doing to the point that I am not just sometimes praying with my tallit or only sometimes covering my head in the synagogue. But I know it will probably take some trial and error before I find out what I is comfortable and meaningful  for me.

I think I wouldn’t mind wearing tallit in private while I pray in the morning, but at this point couldn’t imagine myself doing it in public. Maybe just because I have never worn it. I think my biggest mental barrier is that I see all of these things as clearly masculine and  maybe that is why I don’t feel comfortable with them. If I don’t even wear pants, how can I wear tefillin? Also, a head covering doesn’t seem to give me the same uncomfortable feeling as wearing a kippah itself. A kippah is not a mitzvah, but a minhag (custom) that is traditionally for males. I see it as something that is a male symbol where as I see another head covering, like a scarf, as female. I would like to cover my head for the same reason that men wear a kippah, but then how do I justify only wearing it in the synagogue? And can I really cover my head in another manner, not a kippah? I think wearing a hat or scarf might be as equally uncomfortable because it is a symbol of a married Jewish woman, and I am not married.

At the same time, I do like the fact that tallit and tefillin are strictly Jewish and therefore outwardly represent a change in my identity. A man once converted can begin to wear tallit and tefillin that he was not able to before during prayer. I can’t really think of an equivalent for a female. I wish I had an outward symbol of my Jewishness. Something that is reserved for Jews. I mean, I will wear a Star of David, but that doesn’t feel quite the same.

I will keep thinking over the question of wearing a kippah, tallit and/ or tefillin. I will also try to think of other meaningful mitzvot or minhags that can be added when I become a Jewess.

Video: “So, You Want to Go to Rabbinical School”

It is true. I am thinking about the possibility of one day going to Rabbinical school. It seems crazy to be thinking about becoming a rabbi even before I am Jewish, but it is something that has been on my mind since very early on in my relationship with Judaism.

While I obviously have time to think over the decision, especially since I am not yet Jewish, it is a question that keeps preoccupying my time and energy. And for good reason, it is a big, life changing decision, just like becoming a Jew.

I came across this video from You Tube and could not stop laughing (and almost crying) because of the dialogue that for the most part rings true. The dialogue for my own conversation about wanting to become a rabbi would be different, but the overarching concerns remain consistent and seem to be universal, especailly for women.

Saying Goodbye to My Shorts

Winter has been in full swing, even in Texas, for the past few weeks. The cold weather is a big reason why my shorts have been buried in the back of my dresser drawers. But this week, in the middle of January, I pulled out all my shorts and boxed them up for donation.

Over the past several months, I have been attempting to incorporate a more modest, Jewish way of dressing, tznius. Tznius, or modest dress, is largely observed in Orthodox communities, but some Conservative and Reform Jews choose to dress modestly. Dressing modestly according to Orthodox Jewish code is more than just not wearing short skirts or showing mid-drift. The concept of tznius varies from community to community, but in general, for a women, dressing modestly includes wearing skits that at least cover your knees, wearing close toed shoes, wearing shirts that cover your elbows and collar bone, and if you are married, covering your hair. Some colors or styles of clothing are more traditional for certain communities so if you are joining a particular community it is important to follow their understanding of tznius.

In my community, part of the Conservative movement, dressing modestly is a concern, but not in the traditional ways of understanding tznius. For this reason, and the fact that there aren’t many Jews were I live, I really stand out when I dress according to tznius, but I keep reminding myself that that is no reason to not dress according to the way I understand and value tznius. Dressing according to Jewish tradition is not something I should be ashamed of. All people dress according to what they value and for me that means being in solidarity with Jews around the world who follow Jewish tradition.

Each time I am afraid to look foolish as I put on a skirt and thick leggings (opposed to warm Jean pants) in the middle of Winter, I think of the courage it is taking many Jews around the world to dress differently. Women who are going through the same internal debate as they get dressed, and men who wear a kippah even though no one else around them does.

The action of taking every pair of shorts I own and getting rid of them seems rash, but honestly I have never really like wearing shorts anyway.  I also packed up most of my pants for donation, but a couple pairs stayed in the drawer. I kept them for a few reasons. First, I can wear them with a dress over, if necessary, on a really cold day. Second, it is scary to totally let go of all my clothing, and since my community is okay with pants, if I do want to go back to wearing pants I can. Lastly, it is empowering to know that I have perfectly good jeans sitting in the drawer but I am choosing to wear a skirt.

Following Orthodox tznuis isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t follow it as strictly as someone else might, but I find it to be an important dimension of Judaism in my life, especially at this point of trying to enter the Jewish community. I wish everyone luck in finding what tradition has to offer them and ways to incorporate meaningful practices into their daily life. Clothing is just one way I am reminded in daily life of my relationship to Hashem and to other people in the world.