Monday, February 23, 2009


For anybody who might glean something from my writings it might help to have an idea of where I'm coming from. I'm an only child raised in a rural farming town in SE Wisconsin, pop. 2000. Ethnically, I'm paternally Polish and Cornish and maternally Germanic. Religiously I was raised the Conservative equivalent of Roman Catholic but had 'Orthodox' Catholic cousins, Luthern grandparents and cousins and Southern Baptist cousins as well as friends of various other Christian denominations. I had no real contact with other religions other than from an academic point of view but comparative religion and finding the thread that runs through all has always been one of my interests. I was one of the most devout and knowlegeable Catholics in my age group and it was my dream from jr. high on to be a nun which was remarkable as I didn't know any nuns.

In high school I had a job as a receptionist for a seminary in my hometown and one of my favorite things to do was to take an hour or so after work for prayer in the chapel; my dad and I also would ride our bikes over there on summer mornings for daily mass. By my senior year of high school I had reformed my dream to being a cloistered contemplative nun and spent vacations and part of summers doing retreats and essentially experiencing/interviewing various orders. I finally found an order in northern Illinois that I felt was the right place and was set to enter the summer after my freshman year of college.

My, did the feathers fly. Not over me wanting to be a nun; I already had 2 cousins who had been or were in religious orders and an aunt who dearly had wanted to be a cloistered contemplative nun before a disease shattered her dream. My father was adamantly opposed to me doing anything like that before getting my degree though; what I did afterward was up to me. I told my folks during winter break my freshman year and my father threatened to disown me. Talk about traumatic. With all of that Mother Abbess suggested I take some more time and make sure this was the right thing to do.

I took the opportunity of all this chaos to intensely examine my beliefs and discovered that they weren't Christian and really hadn't been for a while. Makes being a nun kind of awkward. I have always had a relationship with the Holy One (ie. G-d the Father in Christianity) but had never been able to have a real relationship with Jesus no matter what aspect I tried to focus on. I don't get the whole original sin thing and can't understand the spiritual savior aspect of Jesus without it and don't see Christianity as a monotheism which was a big thing at the time. That was back in 1991 and having discovered I wasn't Christian I felt very much adrift. Perhaps if I had had the courage then that I do now I would have been comfortable being a Pagan but then again in all of this I discovered I have Jewish soul.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Thorny Issue Refined

My last post closed with the question of 'what is the essence of Judaism in regard to how and what it can absorb from other cultures?' Perhaps the better question in light of my thorny issue would be 1) what is Judaism to me, 2) why am I a Jew and 3) how exclusive is one required to be to be Jewish?

The answer to #3 is fairly simple - it depends on who you ask. There is one end of the spectrum, the end that has laid claim to Jewish Tradition, which would claim that one must not know what the world outside Judaism is like lest it corrupt you and draw you away from the the Chosen path and they have utilized and enhanced halachah to enforce this. They have also attempted to make others feel guilty for taking a different view. There is the other end of the spectrum, where, frankly, I'm more comfortable, that sees Judaism as one of the great mystery religions holding some of the pieces of the puzzle of the universe and the Source and if we do not share with and learn from others humanity will never reach it's potential and that if Judaism or individual Jews change from what has been the Jewish path that is all right.

I see Judaism as a special and unique path; one which has been chosen by the Almighty for a certain people but which already contains many of those universal elements. One of the most important things about Judaism for me is that it does not claim to be the *one way* to the Source - even stringent Orthodoxy doesn't claim that, just that it's way of being Jewish is the only way to be Jewish; an idea I don't accept. History has shown that even Orthodoxy has changed it's way to fit the needs of the people. It may be hubris to put myself alongside the great Rabbis especially as I can't hold a candle to their wisdom or knowledge of halachah or Torah but to paraphrase Harry in 'Order of the Phoenix', if they can do it for the needs of their community, why can't I? Especially since the community I'm deciding for is the very small one of me, myself and I. ITA with Myfanwy that one's spiritual path is something each person must find for themselves and maybe the most help we can give each other is not saying that this, that or the other is or is not the way to reach the Divine Source but helping and encouraging each other to examine one's spiritual needs, the nature of the Source in as much as collective humanity can comprehend the Source, and what is the best route for any person to get there. Can you tell I'm not a dogmatist?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thorny Issues

Wrestling with this issue is the thing that prompted me to start this blog. Having come out of the broom closet as a Jewitch, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that means for me - how far can I step outside of conventional rabbinic Judaism and incorporate practices I find meaningful from other earth-based spiritualities without breaking the oath I took when I converted? It seems that the majority of those who identify themselves as Jewitches come from a Jewish heritage which gives them an undeniable right to claim to be Jewish. Although there are a few I've run into who converted to Judaism, those who converted under the guidance of a Reform rabbi don't seem to have to have taken the same oath I did despite it being part of the official conversion documents produced by the UAHC aka URJ or if they did, the same things don't bother them that bother me or nobody is saying anything about it which doesn't help me either.

  1. I make this affirmation as I enter the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, the children of Israel.
  2. I choose to become a Jew of my own free will.
  3. I accept Judaism to the exclusion of all other religions, faiths and practices and now pledge my loyalty to Judaism and the Jewish people under all circumstances.
  4. I promise to establish a Jewish home and participate actively in the life of the synagogue and the Jewish community.
  5. I commit myself to the pursuit of Torah and Jewish knowledge.
  6. If I am blessed with children, I will rear them as Jews.

Most of it isn't a problem and in fact a joy; of the sticking points though, #6 appears to be a moot point and #4 was entered into with good intentions but some things just don't work out. Even when we moved up here to the middle of nowhere we chose this piece of nowhere partially because it has a beautiful synagogue and appeared to have a Jewish community to participate actively in - look for another post on my views about that. I therefore consider myself absolved on that count since moving is not an option and the nearest synagogue we feel comfortable with is 4.5 hrs away. Between my unpredictable inability to travel distances due to the fibromyalgia and seizure disorder and the fact that Dad isn't really able to maintain the house for a day in winter, which is effectively half the year, we just don't get down there more than a few times a year. One of my real regrets of living up here.

Item #3 is the problem and makes me wonder if in stepping outside of recognized Jewish practices I'm an oathbreaker. Many rabbis and Jews would say yes including probably the ones who created that oath and the rabbi who oversaw my conversion but how much should that really count for? I know at least one rabbi, Gershon Winkler of the Walking Stick Foundation, that would applaud my wrestlings and might even affirm my decision if I decide to take on practices that I find meaningful say from Wicca. Knowing him though he'd point out the things in Judaism's own earth based mystery tradition that would cover whatever need I'm trying to cover by drawing from other earth based religions; unfortunately he's not readily accessible for me and I don't have access to the resources he draws from so I'm kind of on my own there. Another rabbi that might support my meldings is Rabbi Jill Hammer co-founder of Tel Shemesh a site I use frequently as a resource. I'd dearly love to study with her and possibly engage in the Kohenet training program but between the economy, the fibro, taking care of dad and the distance I don't see how that's happening but I digress. Even knowing that there are leaders of the Jewish community who would be supportive doesn't make this isssue much easier as it is something I have to square with myself. The language in #3 is pretty clear on not adopting the practices of other religions so that raises the question of what is the essence of Judaism in regard to how and what it can absorb from other cultures?

Fibro and a Good Book

I could have alternatively entitled this entry 'The Curse of a Good Book'. Today was really rough both in terms of the level of pain and the fact that half my brain cells took an unscheduled vacation; the joys of not getting enough sleep and having fibromyalgia. I only got a couple hours of sleep last night. The pain of fibro and the spasming of that stupid seizure disorder kept me up even with the pain meds and phenobarb but fortunately it wasn't bad enough to keep me from reading.

My current easy read is Kelly Armstrong's Industrial Magic, the 4th book in her Women of the Otherworld Series. It's well written and a good book in of itself but I started to read it and found out that I needed the background in book 3, Dime Store Magic, to really understand what was going on. That one was good too.

4 hrs later I finally couldn't keep my eyes open anymore thank the Goddess. Only a few hours after that the best husky puppy ever, who I could have cheerfully tossed out in the nearest snowbank, except for the fact that she'd think it was some new game and enjoyed it way to much, woke me up by knocking over piles of books and driving the Purr-cat, aka Purim, aka The Tribble, nuts. Of course the husband was dead to the world for which I was both glad and could have tossed him into that same snowbank I wanted to toss the dog into and I guarantee he wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. Anyway, after getting rousted out of bed and tending the fires I wasn't able to get back to sleep so I spent another several hours reading until it was way too late to get any sleep and still have anything of a day to work with. Like I said, the curse of a good book.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hail and Well Met

Welcome to my blog. At this point I don't know what's going to appear here but it is born out of wrestling with some issues and my current search for others dealing with some of the same ones. Sometimes I find people's writings and draw value from their words. In too many cases though I don't find anything and I figure I can't be the only one dealing with some of this stuff. In the hopes that others may find my words enlightening or provoking or affirming I post them.

That being said, please be courteous here - effectively I have left my kitchen door open and I expect that those who drop by will act as proper guests. Come in, sit down, grab a virtual cup of coffee or herbal tea, depending on how much you need the caffeine :-) (if it's any time before noon there will be a *large* pot of coffee on), and make yourself comfortable.

Ok, so now you're sitting in some stranger's kitchen which is generally an awkward position to be in so let me introduce myself. I am called Gavrielah by most everybody and live in the northernmost section of the upper peninsula of Michigan where there are almost more bears than people. Although the distance to a significant population center and it's conveniences is greater than I'd like and winter brings on a serious case of cabin fever, I wouldn't trade living here for the world. Thank G-d/dess for the internet and satellite broadband though. I'm a thirtysomething bi Jewitch living with my beshert and we are caretakers for his live-in dad. My household is rounded out by the best husky puppy ever, 3 furry terrorists aka cats who make life interesting and mostly enjoyable and 2 chickens, the sole survivors of last summer's massacre of the flock by the local wildlife. I daily wrestle with fibromyalgia and a non-epileptic, non-specific seizure disorder which unfortunately greatly influences how I handle and look at life. I describe myself as insatiably curious and my interests and talents are myriad and varied many of which will probably show up in one post or another here.

Thanks for dropping by and look for posts of probable substance soon.