If you know me, and I realize you might not, you know that everything you really need to know about me can be summed up in the name of the hospital in which I was born: Brooklyn Jewish. Never mind that I haven't lived in Brooklyn since I was nine years old. Never mind that I've never been bat mitzvah'ed, that my knowledge of Hebrew is disgraceful, that I don't fast on Yom Kippur, and I eat all things "pig" enthusiastically, except on Jewish holidays. The container of bacon fat and the container of chicken schmaltz share shelf space in my screamingly non-kosher fridge. Makes no difference. "My father was Jewish, my mother was Jewish, I am Jewish." And I do not say that flippantly, first of all appreciating these words were among the very last spoken by Daniel Pearl, and that the late Mayor Ed Koch, one of my heroes, had those words inscribed on his headstone.
Our friends Vicki and Dan have been living in the same house since 1977, and have belonged to the same Conservative synagogue almost as long. During the same period of time, Rob and I have lived in seven different homes in two different states and four different counties, and have belonged to four different congregations, and three different denominations - Reform, Reconstructionist, Not-So-Egaliterean Conservative. We are the quintessential Wandering Jews. Formally, we identify as Reform, and for me, that was after a lot of reading, research, and soul-searching. Reform is the most liberal denomination - the first women cantors and rabbis, counting women as part of a minyan, calling women up to the bimah to read the Torah blessings, the acceptance of Jewish members of the LGBT community into the Reform mainstream, outreach to mixed-religion families, redefining "Jewish" to include children whose father is Jewish and who have been raised as Jewish - all of that comes out of the Reform movement. We have a very different approach to observance of the commandments, which is why I don't keep kosher but do have mezuzot hung on the doorposts of our home, as well as my office over at City Centre.
So what was I doing attending services at the South Orlando Chabad this morning? Sitting with other women on the distaff side of the mechitza? Me, the social liberal, the seventies feminist? Railing against the glass ceiling, declaring that women were the last disenfranchised group in American society? I've been ready for Hillary since 2008! Hell, I was ready for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984! And the last time I sat separate from the men, I was at my friend Mark's brother's bar mitzvah. It was 1972 or -73. I was confused, but not offended. When in Rome, or the Avenue O Jewish Center. Besides, I had experienced separate seating, sans mechitza, at the Sephardic Temple, during the months I had attended services there at the invitation of a high school friend. Didn't bother me then at all, but that was in my prefeminist days.
I have to admit to having some weird Jewish throwback hangups, like my Aunt Ceil's unwillingness to eat shellfish even though she did not keep a kosher home. First one: I could not bring myself to put on a tallit (tallis, prayer shawl) even though I wanted to in the worst way. I have admired women's talliot wherever I saw them - in the Judaica store, in Jewish catalogs, and being worn by women at services - but it just did not feel right to actually put one on. Second: holding a Torah during Simchat Torah festivities, although that may have to do something with my fear of dropping it, which act of desecration would require that I fast for 40 days. However, I even found it difficult to "touch" the Torah scroll with the corner of Robert's tallit when we were called up together for an aliyah, an honor, during services or a bar mitzvah. We were the most famous husband-and-wife team since Burns and Allen; we even took it on the road a couple of times. I would chant the blessing in Hebrew, and Rob would wear the tallit, since Rob can't read Hebrew and I won't wear a tallit.
What happened is that I really wanted to go to services at the Chabad, and I knew that meant dealing with the realities of separation of the sexes. It may have helped that neither Rob nor Cory accompanied me, so none of us would feel like our family was going to be torn apart and sent to different foster homes, albeit for just three hours. When I walked into the shul, I saw that the mechitza was made up of a long row of carefully positioned silk trees. I liked it, very much. Very graceful, restful on the eyes, and it did what a good mechitza should do - allowed me to hear and see the Rabbi while helping me focus away from distractions. Everything distracts me - children's voices, chickens crossing the road, a minyan of men who cannot stand still. I went to pray, to contemplate, to focus on the words and the rituals, and the mechitza made it possible. Very good Shabbos, indeed.
The day before that, I indulged in a cooking frenzy of trief (non-kosher foods) - choucroute (pronounced "shoe crew") garnie, an Alsatian dish of specially prepared sauerkraut served with a vast variety of pork products. If you are planning on feeding an army, this is one of those dishes that does it best.
Choucroute Garnie - Reprinted from "It's All About the Food"- Recipes from Inspiration Nation - 6/12/11
4-14.4 oz cans Bavarian style sauerkraut, drained (Silver Floss brand)
4 tablespoons butter
1-12 oz package of bacon, cut into one inch pieces
4 carrots, thinly sliced
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
Bouquet garnie: thyme sprigs, bay leaf, 6 peppercorns, 2 large cloves peeled garlic, lightly cracked; place in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie closed with kitchen string
1/2 cup gin
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 cup white wine or 1/2 cup each white and red wine
1/2 cup water
1- 2 to 3 pound smoked pork shoulder butt (Freirich brand)
1- 1 pound ring Polska kielbasa (Hillshire Farms)
4 beef knockwurst (Boar's Head)
4 cooked bratwurst (Boar's Head)
Additional seasonings and cooking fats are indicated by underlining within the body of the recipe
This time, I made the fried potato cakes to accompany the choucroute, making for a very happy combo platter. I could also see myself making spaetzle to go with this, and one day, I'm going to figure out how to make a potato dumpling like the ones they used to serve at the German pavilion in EPCOT.