She’s Only Seventeen*

Years of marriage, that is.  

I’m happy to say that even when all sorts of awful stuff happened to either of us, Sarah has always been there for me (I can only hope I’m as good to her).  There is no one I’d rather have on my side, and I’ve been greatly blessed since meeting her.  

Scorpions said it best.

Our family has grown since then, and God willing, will continue to grow.  But Sarah is the foundation, and without her, nothing else would matter.

To the next seventeen!

* apologies to Winger.  Seriously, not trying to go all Mike Judge on you.

Venti!

While many of my friends count today as 27 (3 weeks and 6 days for those in base-7), and some others ascribe assorted other significance to today, for me, what today really adds up to is 20.  Yep, עשרים, or in Starbucks’ parlance “extra-awesome-size”.

So why 20?  Because 20 years ago today, I met Sarah for the first time.  I would not have guessed that a college student who was willing to meet a stranger, but insisted on doing so in front of a different dormitory, would turn out to be the one person in the world who is absolutely perfect for me.  

There’s one person who completely shares my sense of humor, who exposes me to new and awesome things, who challenges my assumptions, and who makes me want to be a better person to be good enough to be with her.

And we met by sheer hashgaha pratit (Divine Providence).  If that’s not enough evidence of God’s handiwork in this world, maybe the fact that she’s the best mother I could imagine or want for Roya makes the miraculous unliklihood a little more clear.

So happy anniversary, love, now and forever.

The best thing I’ll do this week

I have the ability, like all employed people, to grumble about how frustrating my customers are: they occasionally find ways to get under my skin and leave me all itchy with complaints.  It isn’t breaking rocks in the sun, but the frustrations are real.

And my synagogue has done well, all things considered, but like any other organization, it’s got it’s ups and downs, and it is not without its share of frustrations.  

But today, I’m all sorts of sore, mostly from carrying Roya around and playing with her all day.  At Westminster Park, she crawled and climbed her way up that large twisty slide, and threw herself headfirst down it.  What followed was a look of terror followed by squeals of excitement – and the inevitable “again!”

So I’ll go forward this week, and encounter lots of daily nuisances, but am fortified by the reminder of what actually matters.

  

Everyone old is n00b again

We had some friends stay over the weekend with us, and it was delightful. They have a toddler a few months older than Roya, and I learned two things (which I assume are eye-rollingly obvious to more experienced parents):

1. No two children naturally have the same nap time. Corollary: each set of parents have different strategies for maximizing the coveted sleep.
2. Children learn from each other fast.

Their toddler walks fine, he demonstrated to Roya that stairs were possible to climb, and presto: climber monkey!

I remain awestruck by watching her figure things out – “you mean if I put my foot like this and push, I’ll be standing?” “Wait, you mean I could hold my own spoon??? Woah.”

Now all I need to figure out is how to mount a gate at the bottom of the stairs without completely wrecking the oddly-shaped railing…

A Bitter Pill

It’s been a little more than a week since my synagogue was rocked by the arrest of Rabbi Freundel.  Elanit spoke eloquently about the first-order effect on Shmini Atzeret;.  Since that time, I’ve seen all sorts; of reactions and even more additional information.

My perspective on the matter might be a bit different from some others.  I’m a convert – and one of Freundel’s converts, no less, but I didn’t have quite the horrific experience which many of the recent (female) converts describe.  I came to Judaism after a long journey through a bunch of different religions (up to and including paganism) – I was reading Rabbi Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy, and I realized that this was exactly what I had been looking for for years.  I initially contacted a nearby Conservative rabbi who enrolled me in the conversion class and gave me a reading list.  Around the time he dismissively brushed off the idea of taharat hamishpaha, I realized he wasn’t the rabbi for me. I switched sponsoring rabbis, and then finished the conversion with the Conservative movement about 2 years after I had started.
Two notes about that: first, the mohel didn’t show up, so my hatafat dam brit was performed by one of the (non-mohel) rabbis there, using a diabetic finger-stick. Relatively high on the unpleasant scale, that was. Second, of the three rabbis, one later left town after allegations about discretionary fund mismanagement, and another got featured on “To Catch a Predator” (in the wrong way).

I was attending the third rabbi’s synagogue, but quickly found myself too far to the right for the Conservative movement. When I went to a local Orthodox minyan, the gabbai checked with his rabbi, and told me I wouldn’t be counted. D’oh!

I called Rabbis Tessler and Freundel, and RBF returned my call first. When I went to meet with him, I wore a suit (dress up to meet the rabbi, ‘natch), and had tzitzit (fringes) out, and at the time had a full beard. He later told me that his first thought was “this guy must be here to talk about his girlfriend,” and that he was really surprised to hear that I wanted to convert myself. By this point I had already taken a year of Hebrew at U Maryland.

After ratcheting up my observance a bit, I converted with him about six months later (shortly after simhat torah 5758). The mohel showed up, and was one of my beit din. My big surprises were getting my circumcision inspected – to make sure that I didn’t need to go have it re-done surgically – no, that wasn’t traumatic at all, and the other surprise was that the men’s mikvah in Silver Spring wasn’t heated at all. In October. Yep, composing an impromptu declaration of faith while standing in extremely cold water was my idea of a good time.

But that was the end of the crummy part.

Sarah and I got married shortly after, and RBF performed the ceremony – his wife Sharon walked Sarah down the aisle, and we got introduced to Kesher Israel by the lovely wedding the community threw for us. We babysat for the Freundel kids when they were little, attended their bar & bat mitzvahs, and even one of their weddings. Sharon was the person we spoke to about our daughter’s name to make sure we weren’t walking into an accidental Hebrew language trap (or picking a name with bad associations).

I’ve been fully welcomed into the community, serving as a mashgiah (kosher supervisor), gabbai (sexton), ba’al tokea (shofar blower), speaker, sheliah tzibbur (prayer leader), board member and later officer, and then president of the mikvah. I’ve taught classes in practical Judaism (primarily directed for converts and the newly observant), and innumerable times I’ve been the person RDBF would send someone to talk to after their first meeting with him (generally after morning minyan) – I would tell people that they’d be evaluated by the questions they asked: “why do we keep kosher” is asked by a person in a different place in the process than “I just bought a chicken and it had a broken leg – is it still kosher?”

So I’m heartbroken. With the actions of which R’ Freundel has been (compellingly) accused, I feel like I just had a big chunk of family taken away.

The betrayal is really raw – this isn’t a private porn addiction, an affair, or the like: this is the perversion of a fundamental Jewish institution. It’s a betrayal of the years we all spent building the mikvah (especially given all of the flack we got during the construction). It’s a betrayal of all of the trust we’ve built since then.

I remember conversations with RDBF on many occasions when some Jewish religious leader or other would get into an ethical or sexual scandal – I would lament that I would wish that being immersed in the study of Torah would have served as a prophylactic against that sort of behavior – that is to say, that being learned would make someone better. He said he understood my disappointment.

He has been a mentor to me, and now that crumbles through my fingertips. I keep hoping that I’ll wake up, and this will turn out to have been the longest dream ever, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

There are a lot of stages of grief, and I’m probably holding at anger, mostly, but in the words of a good friend, sampling of the different emotions is like a misery tapas.

It isn’t supposed to be like this, with the chief of police on the bimah – people asking (legitimate) questions like “how do I talk about this to my kids”? That just twists the knife. I don’t think I was videotaped (but it’s possible – there were men’s hours recently), but I feel terrible for all of the people who have been. I feel terrible for Sharon and the extended Freundel family, who also didn’t ask for this, and now suffer for something they didn’t do.

I’ve never been prouder of the community and our leadership – Elanit (KI) and Adela (NCM) both acted with all due speed and without hesitation. Not every institution is as responsible or as committed to ethical behavior. But I sure wish they weren’t put into the position to have had to do this. This is horrible.

It is worth noting that many articles are calling for “the keys to the mikvah to be in the hands of women” and the like. That’s nice, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this case, because 5 of the 6 National Capital Mikvah presidents have been women (including the current and immediately past president). The current president of Kesher Israel likewise is a woman. Clearly, being run by women didn’t keep the local rabbi from causing a deep hurt. However, being run by the right women – the best people for the job – meant that their responses have been clear and compelling. The problem is, as Juvenal asked, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” (who watches the watchmen?) – when the person at the root of the web of trust defects, it is nearly impossible to prevent and is devastating.

But back to the issue – this sucks mightily. I miss my friendship, which was apparently gone before I realized it. I miss the trust I had – the sense of innocent search for truth, and the feeling that I had a friend and ally. I miss the feeling that someone was actively trying to protect converts, and actively trying to hold the center against the pull of the left and the pull of the right.

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

I know to me it leaves an ashen aftertaste.

Before there was Sgt Pepper

Nineteen years ago today, my life changed for the best.

I didn’t know it at the time, being a callow youth, but making a phone call at 3AM was about the best possible thing I could have done, because on the other end of that call was Sarah. We wouldn’t have actually met in person otherwise, and I’m reasonably certain we wouldn’t have started dating had we not met at that particular juncture in our lives.

Boy, I sure am glad we met when we did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Roya is glad too.

smile

Now a 3AM call means something a bit different, and this kind of 3AM call, like the kind that started it all, is a worthwhile one – the kind that I’m happy to answer.

Happy anniversary, love; for this nineteen, for the nineteen to come, and the nineteens to come after that.

Survey Says…

Obviously, no baby yet. The results of the highly-not-scientific-at-all poll for when Sarah would give birth are (N=34):

poll_results

Interestingly, not a single person thought that she would deliver on the “due” date. The graph is a little distorted because the 2013 ranges are two days, and the 2014 ranges are four days – if you normalize that, you’d see that it’s top-heavy (which the bottom graph shows better).

percentages_from_poll

I was also surprised to see that more than half of the respondents thought that she would deliver before the stated due date, even though 80% of women deliver after the calculated due date in their first pregnancy. Interesting!

Non-political polling

When will Sarah give birth?.

Thank God, Sarah is well, and we’re all pretty much ready (or as ready as you can be to begin a commitment for the rest of your life), but there have been some jokes about when she would deliver, so I figured that an actual poll would add pseudo-rigor to it. Science!

Kacy is bitterly upset about all of this: she is guarding Sarah, and is about to have her life change dramatically – she’s all jealous, and is acting out a lot already. Hopefully she will adapt well: at least we aren’t getting a puppy!

XV (not to be confused with Quinceañera)

I’m exhausted, and very happy. In the last week, I’ve built four pieces of furniture (a shelving unit, two bookcases and a crib) to get our house a little more ready for the birth of our daughter.

It wasn’t long ago that this seemed like a chimerical will-o’-the-wisp, and now it feels quite real indeed.

But none of those dreams would have been more than figments, let alone realities, had not Sarah taken my hand in marriage fifteen years ago. That remains the best thing which has ever happened to me. I will always be grateful for her ability to see beyond who I was then, and her willingness to give me a chance – it would have been very easy to write me off.

I fell in love with Sarah right away, but each day is better than the one preceding. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

For fifteen beautiful, wonderful years, I thank you. And for the years to come, I applaud.

My cup of blessing runs over.

Iron Mom

20130908-220847.jpg

Our friend Jacob Warrenfeltz, who also drew the cover for To the Rescue!, agreed to do the coolest thing ever: make a maternity shirt with a foetal “Eddie” from Iron Maiden. Sarah is wearing the shirt in the picture above, taken in a hotel lobby – we ended up having the shirt shipped here in advance of arriving, so we were nervous about whether it would make it)

We’re in Austin to see Iron Maiden with special guest Megadeth (because nothing says “repentance” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur like awesome heavy metal). Actually, if they do “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, that’s all about repentance, but that’s another story…