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Let me speak only for myself to start with.

Over the Recent Race Kerfluffle, where it became abundantly clear that, among other things, things are messy, people have been living with pain unrecognized outside of their communities for their whole lives, and people often don't understand each other, one thing that was brought up was the idea of white people trying to claim non-white status, for whatever reason, and in whatever way.

Speaking for myself: I sat on my hands for that. And now am not.

Because it's totally true that I have White Privilege. And I don't want to diminish the challenges that people who don't have that, who ARE visible minorities, face, challenges that I don't face. I don't want to make it all about MEMEMEMEME!, because it's not. And the things I deal with are very different than people whose skin colors, face shapes, or speech patterns are different than the majority in the area that they live.

I have White Privilege, I consciously USE it, even. But I don't feel "white". I feel like "The Other". I just feel like I hide it.

Other Jews have been posting about things that RaceFail made them consider -- I don't think any of these people are saying, "We have the SAME experience as black people, or Asians, or whatever." In the United States, we're not legally discriminated against. Being Jewish doesn't block us from marrying whom we choose, unlike some other "invisible", or semi-visible, minorities. We're not generally blocked from education, or jobs, or public life.

Here are three of the posts of people poking around at how being Jewish interacts with the topics brought up during RaceFail:


And yet . . . we don't take our lack-of-significant-oppressedness for granted.

These past fifty years or so, in the United States, have been good. Like under Alexander, some of the times under the Roman Empire, a fair portion of the Caliphate.

But I think many of us consider this to be just part of the way the world goes. Right now is good. That doesn't mean that things will always be good. Hamas or other anti-Zionist organizations will, eventually, get enough friends that people will decide that the Jews don't have any right to Israel -- after all, the Jews killed the Canaanites to get the land, the Canaanites are the Phoenicians, and the Phoenicians are the Palestinians, so they get the right to the land, and the Jews should be kicked out. And, when that happens, the worldwide backlash will include more violence against Jews, and that may well happen within my lifetime, which is one of the reasons my wife and I can shoot, do everything we can to maintain friendly relationships with our neighbors, and think about having skills that are portable in case we have to run.

Because we have White Privilege. But privileges can be granted, and can be revoked. And history is NOT a smooth march toward equality. There are better times, and worse times. Worse times will come, and those who have ANY mark of difference must be prepared for them, even if "worse times" are not NOW.

Who is white? In the United States, right now, Jews, Irish, Italians, and Poles are all white.

But Italians are not white in North Linconshire in England right now. Their "whiteness" was revoked. "British jobs for British workers".

I've got people on my friendslist who can testify to just how tenuous the Irish hold on "whiteness" is in England.

I'm white. Right now. But I'm deeply aware that that could change with really no more than a few months' warning. And that affects how I look at the world.
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Crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] bard_in_boston and [livejournal.com profile] weirdjews

An interesting thing I learned at the Actors' Shakespeare Project Conversations about the play:

There are good things and bad things about having a Jew playing Shylock in Merchant of Venice. The bad thing is that religious Jews read texts that they care about with the same care and introspection that they bring to the Torah, which, I believe, is entirely inappropriate for Shakespeare, which was written by a human.

The good thing . . . Jeremiah Kissel is a ba'al koreh for his shul . . . and, a couple weeks ago, found the name "Shylock" in the Torah.

See, we've all assumed that "Shylock" was just a name that Shakespeare made up out of whole cloth. But Kissel was reading Parshat Noach . . . and found, in Genesis 11:12, "When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he begot Shelah".

In Hebrew, that name is שָׁלַח -- a better transliteration would be "Shelakh". Which would go into English as "Shylock".

Jeremiah Kissel solved one of the ongoing niggling mysteries of Shakesperian scholarship -- where the hell the name "Shylock" comes from. Of course, it raises a NEW niggling mystery, of how the heck Shakespeare was AWARE of this name -- in English translations of the time, the closest I can find is the spelling "Shelah" in the Geniva Bible -- the other translations put it "Sale", which is even farther away.

One mystery potentially solved, an even more interesting mystery opened. That's the way it goes, right?
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So, Lis and I usually just go to services in the morning on Yom Kippur, and don't leave all day.

Basically, roughly speaking, services on Yom Kippur go in three chunks. You've got stuff at nightfall, when it begins. Then you go home and sleep, and come back for the morning section, and the Torah reading, and the service to remember dead friends and family, and the service to remember martyrs, and the service to remember how we Used To Do Yom Kippur Sacrifices Back In The Good Ole Days When We Had A Temple.

Then there's a break. If you have kids, that's a good time to take them home and feed them. And you come back for the afternoon service, the closing service, the evening service, and finishing off the day.

During the break, most people go home to rest. But some people don't.

In most communities I've been in, during the break, you find people resting in shul -- a couple people sacked out on benches; maybe someone asleep on the bima, or in the classrooms -- you've basically got people stretching out wherever there's a reasonably comfortable piece of floor or chair, and taking it easy until it's time to pray again.

Now, Lis, of course, gets her superpowers from libraries. The bigger and more impressive the library is, the more power she gets from them, but ANY library will recharge and energize her. And, downstairs in the shul is a room where we have books, and a card catalog system, and a sign saying "Library."

It's not a BIG library, but it's enough for Lis's superpowers to work. So, we just sacked out there, so Lis could soak up enough energy to make it through the fast.

She spent the afternoon reading various Jewish books from the library; I'd brought Lis's Tanakh from home.
Read more... )
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To use the sukkah. So we got to meet three neighbors -- who are Jewish and live in town, but their oldest son is having his bar mitzvah tutoring at our shul in Somerville! Small world, eh?

Nice folks, seems like, and pretty much what we were hoping for when we put up the sign.
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And then lectured them about lashon ha-ra.

I feel vaguely guilty about yelling and lecturing, but I'd feel a lot worse if I hadn't taken some action about students hurting each other's feelings.

I just don't know if I handled it right. One student wrote something that could be construed as hurtful about another student in zir notebook. A second student looked over zir shoulder, read it, and called the student about which it was about over to also see it, who saw it, grabbed the page of the notebook, and crumpled it up. Only the last part of this was obvious, so I yelled at the third student. Who was more upset by this than zie usually is when I yell at zir, so I knew that something else was up, and found out the rest of the story.

I told them that all three of them had done things wrong, but that they weren't of the same magnitude. I said that writing hurtful things in one's own notebook is bad, but that, as it wasn't intended to be seen by anyone, and therefore wasn't intended to hurt anyone, that is mitigating. So it's bad, but not SO bad. I said that grabbing someone else's notebook and crumpling the page was absolutely unacceptable. But that the person who had done the worst thing was the second student. Because that was lashon ha-ra.

And I lectured them about that. And how we, in the classroom, are a community, and lashon ha-ra damages communities. You don't have to LIKE everyone in your community, but you ARE a community. And avoiding lashon ha-ra is one of the ways you preserve communities.

The three students looked abashed and ashamed at their actions, and the rest of the class looked intent and somewhat worried. And at the end of the lecture, I asked if we were all willing to, in a sense, pretend that this whole situation hadn't happened. That, to repair our community, we had to forgive each other, which, in this case, would mean trying to remember the lessons, but forgetting the incident as much as we could.

They all agreed that they would like to move past the whole thing and pretend it never happened. I did try to be certain that all of them knew that, if they DIDN'T feel comfortable moving on, we could still work on it, but they were all embarrassed by it and wanted to just have it over and gone, so we did.

I still don't know if I did the right thing. I think I did an okay thing, but I don't know if I was right.

It's hard to know if one was fair. It's hard to know if one was correct.

Was I right that crumpling up the page was more wrong that writing the page? Was I right that calling attention to the page was more wrong than either writing it, or destroying it? I don't really know. I THINK I was at least close enough to right, but I'm not certain, and am still feeling guilty and unsettled. But I would feel MORE guilty and unsettled if I HADN'T done something like that. I'm responsible, in part, for my kids' moral and ethical development, and for their emotional health.
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Our sukkah is gorgeous, and the weather is unseasonably nice right now, so eating outside in it is practical and pleasant.

Sukkot is a holiday of rejoicing, so I'd like to invite anyone who's stressed out to come by to sit in it and de-stress. If I'm around, I can lend you our lulav and etrog to shake if you like, or, if it's close to a mealtime, I'll make you a sandwich or something. But even if I'm not, it's really just a nice spot to sit and think and relax.

Especially if you're stressed and/or depressed like a lot of us are. You are all welcome.

I need to figure out a better way to attach the big sign I wrote up and stapled to the outside of the sukkah, facing the street. It fell down again.

It says,
This is our "Sukkah" for the Jewish holiday of "Sukkot", as described in Lev. 23:33-44 (. . . ) "And you shall REJOICE before the LORD". If you would like to celebrate with us, or have any questions, ring the top doorbell. Guests are an important part of the holiday!"
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Lis noticed that, in two years, Talk Like a Pirate day will fall on Rosh Hashana.

When we informed my parents of this, my mother, who typically runs High Holiday Services at her community, got very thoughtful and said, "Remind me of that a month before, because I'm not going to remember, and it ought not pass without recognition."

My father thought a moment, and said, "Arrr! Who by cannon, and who by cutlass. Who by scurvy, and who by walkin' tha plank. . . "
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Someone posted to [livejournal.com profile] weirdjews asking 1) if animals have souls, and 2) how wanting the body to decompose is compatible with a belief in bodily resurrection.

I think I've posted these theories before, but I can't remember. Oh, well -- if I have, that's what cut tags are for.
Read more... )
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They ate him.

It's right in the Bible: Exodus 16:35

וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אָכְלוּ אֶת-הַמָּן

U-vinei Yisrael ochlu et Haman.

U-Vinei (And the children) Yisrael (of Israel) Ochlu (they ate) et (a not-really-a-word that says that the next word is the direct object of the sentence) Haman.
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[livejournal.com profile] goljerp just pointed out that Purim is on a Saturday night/Sunday this year.

Which means that it starts after sundown, on Saturday.

Which means that the 13th of Adar is Shabbat. Which means that the Fast of Esther is pushed back to the 12th of Adar. Which means that the 13th is Yom Nicanor.

I hate Yom Nicanor. I much prefer the Fast of Esther.

(Quick recap: Alexander the Great dies. His empire falls into bits. Each of those bits is still "Greek" in culture, but is its own little thingy. One of the Greek-Flavor Mini-Empires was the Selucid Empire, based in Syria, and the dynasty that was in charge of that chunk at the time of our story were a bunch of guys named Antiochus. Antiochus IV had, for a number of reasons that seemed like a good idea at the time, invaded Israel/Judea to find their weapons of mass destruction and depose their dictator. They didn't have weapons of mass destruction, OR a dictator, so they decided it was high time they made both, and they did. The Syrian army marched in and captured Jerusalem, where they were greeted as liberators. And then a fundamentalist cleric from one of the rural villages became the leader of an insurgency. His sons act as warlords, but, of course, they can't stand up to the Syrians in combat, largely because, back in Antioch, most of the people are driving around in their giant carts with yellow ribbons saying "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS" on them. That, however, doesn't keep the insurgency from killing the Syrians piecemeal. However, the insurgents DO manage to win one battlefield engagement, on the 13th of Adar, against the Selucid general "Nicanor". And then the fundamentalist clerics declare that Adar 13 will be known as "Yom Nicanor" forevermore, to remind people of when they kicked Selucid butt. After the Selucids left, the fundamentalist cleric's family became the new dictators, since they didn't have dictators before, and they did the kind of good, careful, and just management of the country that you expect from religious fundamentalist dictators. This, of course, made Yom Nicanor deeply embarrassing to the non-fundamentalist religious leaders who came later, and who instituted a fast day on Adar 13, to wipe out the embarrassment of Yom Nicanor. Of course, about one in every seven years, that fast day lands on the Sabbath, and you can't have minor fast days on the Sabbath, so the fast day moves -- and once it moves, BANG! there's Yom Nicanor.)
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Okay, I was supposed to have done this earlier this week, but I finally finished it. If anyone wants to read it and critique it, I'd appreciate it. Please make any suggestions you have.
The schpeil I just wrote )
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Oh, and having thought about it, I think I got the story of the four rabbis wrong: one died, one went insane, one became a heretic, and Akiva came out unscathed. Mier wasn't part of the project.

And I think I'm getting the details from a work of fiction: Milton Steinberg's amazingly mindblowingly brilliant book As a Driven Leaf. Which is a brilliant piece of historical fiction, in which Steinberg takes the, like, four pieces of information we know about ben Abuyah, and turns him into a fully-realized character.

Frankly, I think that future generations could do worse than to declare that a divinely-inspired work, and put it into the Bible. Various people tried to excommunicate Steinberg for writing the thing, which is always a good sign.
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So, over on [livejournal.com profile] weirdjews, someone asked the perennial question, "Do crosses work on Jewish vampires?"

Of course, several people pointed to Roman Polanski's movie, "The Fearless Vampire Killers", but after thinking about it, I came up with another answer:
Oh a slightly more serious note: )
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IAN: "Hey, Lis?"
LIS: "Yes?"
IAN: "Will you be the voice of adult reason?"
LIS: "Um, sure. . . what's going on?"
IAN: "No, you don't understand -- I'm not going to tell you unless you promise NOT to be the voice of adult reason."
LIS: "Is this something dangerous?"
IAN: "Um. . . not really. . . "
Read more... )
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So, I'm totally not "in the closet" about being Jewish at work. I'm a function bartender, and when we function bartenders and waitstaff are talking and getting to know each other, one of the basic questions that we ask is, "So, what ELSE do you do?" 'Cause most of us have other jobs, or school, or something. A fair number of folks basically do waitstaff stuff, but twenty hours for this temp agency, and thirty hours for that hotel, and another ten or twenty hours made up of whatever they pick up.

(By the way, if you're a congresscritter who's bitching about having to work five days a week at, y'know, Congress, note that that adds up to sixty or seventy hours a week, and no benefits, like health care. Just think about that -- that's an entire class of Americans, and that's considered normal. Some of them make sure to take time off once a week to go to church. Many of them have children. Those children tend to have two parents who love them very much, and would be more involved with them and their schoolwork and stuff -- except BOTH parents are working -- one sixty or seventy hours a week, and one twenty to forty, with no benefits. At that, they can probably pay rent on a crappy apartment, deal with some emergencies, and get enough food for them and their children, but can't save for retirement or college for their kids, and can't really pay for health care. Just think about if that's what you want your country to be. But that's not the point of this. Sorry for getting diverted. It's just that it's IMPOSSIBLE to not be political when you deal with people. 'Cause, y'know, that's what "politics" means -- "people". There are lots of different opinions about how things could and should be changed, but the one thing that it's impossible to do is to have NO opinion when this is directly about your life, and the lives of your friends, family, and co-workers. Like, the main reason I'm against crackdowns on illegal immigrants? Because I have worked with them, and like them, and they're cool people, and great to work with, and I want them HERE in the USA, where I can work with them and where they make the country better. The political is always personal.)

Anyway, my point is that you have the conversations, about "what else do you do when you're not waiting tables/tending bar/whatever". Some folks are college students, some folks are parents and are the primary caregivers of their children, some folks have other jobs, some folks are college students and have children and have other jobs (they're the ones with the dark circles under their eyes that NEVER go away). Me, I tell folks that this is my main job, and I teach Hebrew school on Sundays. So everyone knows I'm Jewish. Which is cool.

So, today, I was hanging out in the kitchen of the MIT Sloan Center Faculty Club, and the dishwasher turns to me. He's, I guess, maybe forty, maybe fifty or so -- could be younger with a rough life, could be older and aged well, dunno. I think he's from Chile or somewhere in that area -- he looks like he's got a little Indian blood in him somewhere, as well as Hispanic, and there's something about his face that just says "Andes" to me. He speaks perfectly reasonable English, although his accent is thick enough that you have to listen.

So, he says, "Hey, Rabbi." I grin and say, "Yep?" "I got a joke, about a rabbi and a Catholic priest."

Turned out it was one I know, but it's one of my favorites, so I didn't have to fake a laugh.

You know the one. I'm going to tell it about the way he did. 'Cause I liked his delivery.

A rabbi and a priest are friends, and one day, they're talking. The priest says, "So, rabbi, your laws say you can't have pork, right?"
"Well, you ever, you know, once in a while, go and have some?"
(Here, he kind of looks around, over both shoulders like he's checking for anyone listening.)
"Well, yes, once in a while, nobody's around, I'm in another town, maybe I'll have some pork, some ham, something."
"It's good, yes?"
"Yes. Well, your rules say you can't, you know, have any business with a woman, right?"
"That's true, yes."
"So? Do you?"
(He looks around, just like before.)
"Well, every once in a while, maybe, yes."
"Better than ham, eh?"

Why do I like that joke so much?

Well, in this case, because it was a Latino/Indian Catholic telling it to an Anglo/European Jew, in the kitchen of a function hall, while we were killing time and working together. That's why.
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The word "tzedakah", in Hebrew, is often translated as "charity", which I hate. The connotations of the two words are totally different. "Tzedakah" is an obligation -- something you do because you have to; "charity" is something that you do because you are a good and kind person.

I realized a word that I like better in English to mean "tzedakah". I like the word "tithe". People who give charity do so because they want to. People who tithe do so because they have to. You can grumble about tithing all you want, just the same way as you grumble about having to pay taxes. But you still have to do it.

And that's the way "tzedakah" works.

So that's what I like. "Tzedakah" approximately equals "tithe". Instead of "charity".
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So, I just went to the convenience store across the street to get a drink of juice (I have plenty of juice in the house, but I saw that Fonzi, the owner, was in, and I wanted to buy something and say hi), and he asked me whether Anna had put that thing up in my front yard for grapes or something, and I said that, no, I'd done that for a Jewish holiday. There were two other customers in the store at the same time, and they had both been wondering what it was, too, so I gave them the one-sentence summary ("Two thousand years ago, everyone would go to Jerusalem for the Jewish new year, but there was another holiday like a week or so later, so, instead of everybody going back home, they'd just put up those things and live in 'em for a week, and so we do that to remember it. 'Course, if you're in the Mediterranean, you can actually live in 'em -- around here it's a little cold for that, so it's more symbolic. But when I was a little kid, I'd sometimes get my sleeping bag and camp out in it, but I'm a little old for that these days.")

One of the folks said that he used to know a rabbi down on one of the streets around here that would do that, and I told 'em all that, next year, when I put the thing up again, feel free to ring my doorbell and I'll feed them, 'cause we're supposed to have guests over for it.

I like living in a neighborhood. I like having neighbors. I like being able to do weird Jewish things and have people ask me about them. It feels good, y'know? Our town has Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Unitarians, Congregationalists, Jews, Pagans, atheists, and all sorts of folks, so I feel comfortable talking about being Jewish. If you live around here, you've got to be more-or-less cool with other kinds of folks. Fonzi is, I think, a Lebanese-born Christian, although I'm not sure about either of those parts, and he's got no real problem with Jews, Muslims, Anglos, or anything.

The other thing I notice, and this is kind of unrelated to my first point, but I've been thinking about it for a couple days, anyway: I do religion because I like it. This is good, because it means that I've got no problem if other people DON'T like doing religion. If I didn't like my religion, but did it anyway, I'd be doing it because I felt I had to, and I'd get kind of put out of other people didn't do religion.

But, for me, I like religion, and I like role-playing-games, and, if you don't like doing religion, that bothers me exactly as much, and for exactly the same reasons, as if you don't like playing role-playing games. Which is to say, "not in the slightest," and "why should it?"
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So, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are for dealing with open issues interpersonally.

The biggest part of this is apologizing for things that you've done wrong, and trying to make amends.

But, it's really more general than that, I think. I think it's a time to work on any relationship that is having problems and imbalances.

Right now, I know of one relationship which I have with someone with big, glaring open issues. And it's been open for YEARS. And I'm STILL not figuring out how to fix this and make it work. To you, Kiralee, I say that I'm still not doing well at working towards making things work, but I haven't stopped trying to stumble towards some sort of resolution. I don't know how to fix things, and things are awkward, and I'm sorry about that. And this is not going to be fixed before Yom Kippur. And I'm sorry about that. But I'm going to continue to try to figure out ways to stumble haltingly in the right direction.

That one relationship, I know about. And it's precisely the sort of thing that one is SUPPOSED to work on in these ten days, and I can't. I'm sorry.

There are other relationships which are changing and growing and figuring out their place -- those are fine. As far as I can see, they don't need to be pushed or resolved or anything like that -- if we are becoming friends, or figuring out what kind of friends we are, or anything like that, and you are comfortable with how the relationship is growing, then so am I.

But -- if you and I have some sort of relationship which has a breach, or a roughness, or a disharmony of some sort, these days are a time to try to work on it. If I have hurt you, that is a disharmony, and please tell me, so we can try to figure out a way that we can fix it. If I have insulted you, please tell me, so I can try to apologize.

If I have unhonored commitments to you, remind me of them. That is a disharmony. And if it is not too late to honor them, I can try to. And if it is. . . I can see if there is a way to make amends.

If we have unanswered questions, confusions, or unclearness in our relationship, these days are a chance to clarify them, to define them, to understand them.

So, please. If there is a disharmony in our relationship, let me know. You can comment here, or email me at ian@io.com. If you know me in the flesh, you can talk to me face-to-face, or telephone me. I can't promise that I can fix things. But I'd like to try.
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Hi Ian,
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and consideration inherent in your email
below. As Executive Director, I too am concerned about what we have been
seeing in Bnai Mitzvah celebrations. We don't want to encourage this

I have asked our Executive Committee to delegate a task force to more firmly
outline what is permissible at a temple function so that both members of our
community, and others, like yourself, who participate here in one way or
another are not made to feel as you did on Saturday night.

Again, I appreciate your reaching out to us.

Executive Director
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Friday, I tended bar for an event at MIT; tending bar at the Sloan Center is always weird, because they've got the weirdest system of inventory management and alcohol setup: bartender's choice. Every other place I've ever worked, the event planner and the event holder jointly choose what will be served at the bar; at MIT Sloan Center, if there's a full bar, the rule is just "Go into the liquor closet and grab what you think people will want, and keep track of it." I guess it's pretty fun, but it's weird. Oh, and they lack some things that I consider basics, like Jack Daniels. They won't buy the stuff -- their bourbon is Wild Turkey. No idea why.

Anyway, on to Saturday night. It was a bat mitzvah, but not through Bruce. I like to think that, had Bruce been in charge, it wouldn't have been like that.

Here's a copy of the email I sent to the Temple:
I was one of the people working at [REDACTED]'s bat mitzvah celebration this past Saturday.

It was an example of the kinds of excesses that I had heard about in the past, but had never seen at any bar or bat mitzvah celebration.

Booze luges are inappropriate at a bat mitzvah celebration, and, indeed, at a Temple except possibly during Purim.

And go-go dancers are significantly beyond the pale.

Several of us who were working the event were shocked and dismayed at the event. While the dancers were perfectly nice people, this was not an event at which they should have been working.

If the [REDACTED] family did not have a basic comprehension of what constitutes appropriate behavior, as, evidently, they did not, I believe that the rest of the community should have taken action and not allowed such a shonda. Several of the people working were Jewish, and, although they did not make us ashamed to be Jewish, the [REDACTED]s certainly made us ashamed that they
were Jewish. We found ourselves having to explain repeatedly to our co-workers that they were not typical examples of Judaism.

While a celebration of a bat mitzvah should be a simcha, this party was something else entirely.

Such an event reflects badly not only on their family, not only on your community as a whole, but would have reflected badly on the entire am Yisrael, had those of us who are Jewish not explained how abberant the [REDACTED]s' actions were.

If anyone at the Temple, including the [REDACTED]s, would like to contact me to communicate further about this, this email address is usually the best way, but I am also available by telephone at [REDACTED].

Thank you for your time;

- Ian Osmond

There were other examples of excess, as well, of course, but those weren't worth getting into in an email. And, really, the the bat mitzvah's best friends reading a three-page poem they'd written about how much of a slut she was, that wasn't really the family's fault.

September 2017

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