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The Choosing

The Choosing: A Rabbi's Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days

Rabbi Andrea Myers
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Choosing
    Book Description:

    A young Lutheran girl grows up on Long Island, New York. She aspires to be a doctor, and is on the fast track to marriage and the conventional happily-ever-after. But, as the Yiddish saying goes, "Man plans, and God laughs." Meet Andrea Myers, whose coming-of-age at Brandeis, conversion to Judaism, and awakening sexual identity make for a rich and well-timed life in the rabbinate.

    InThe Choosing, Myers fuses heartwarming anecdotes with rabbinic insights and generous dollops of humor to describe what it means to survive and flourish on your own terms. Portioned around the cycle of the Jewish year, with stories connected to each of the holidays, Myers draws on her unique path to the rabbinate--leaving behind her Christian upbringing, coming out as a lesbian, discovering Judaism in college, moving to Israel, converting, and returning to New York to become a rabbi, partner, and parent.

    Myers relates tales of new beginnings, of reinventing oneself, and finding oneself. Whether it's a Sicilian grandmother attempting to bake hamantaschen on Purim for her Jewish granddaughter, or an American in Jerusalem saving a chicken from slaughter during a Rosh Hashanah ritual, Myers keeps readers entertained as she reflects that spirituality, goodness, and morality can and do take many forms. Readers will enthusiastically embrace stories of doors closing and windows opening, of family and community, of integration and transformation. These captivating narratives will resonate and, in the author's words, "reach across coasts, continents, and generations."

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5095-4
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Author’s Note
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-2)

    In the Mishnah, the earliest rabbinic compilation dating from the end of the second century c.e., we learn that the Jewish calendar has not one but four ʺNew Yearʺs. Each has its own meaning. Most important, however, is the underlying concept: there is always an opportunity to begin anew. Or, as my grandmother would say, ʺGod closes a door and throws you out the window.ʺ

    Everyone keeps track of time in different ways. My mother, for example, remembers major family events based on the untimely deaths of pop stars. She never gives an actual year; rather, it is ʺthe summer...

  6. 1 Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Bird in Hand
    (pp. 3-12)

    Chickens run very fast when they get upset or scared. I had the opportunity to see this firsthand while living in Jerusalem.

    On the Friday morning between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I decided to do my Shabbat shopping early, in an attempt to beat the crowds. Theshuk, Jerusalemʹs famed open market, is especially frenetic at this time of year. It is supersaturated with visibly armed security, and with adventurous, wide-eyed tourists wandering off the beaten track. The locals weave their way among them, efficiently going about their business. I was proud to be a rookie among the regulars....

  7. 2 The Secular New Year: Happy New Year
    (pp. 13-18)

    It happened at midnight. Piercing lights, clanging metal, the acrid smell of gunpowder, and deafening screams woke me out of a sound sleep. Having just returned to America after two turbulent years in Israel, I quickly concluded that it was a bombing. A sickening synesthesia overwhelmed me, like the moment in which the senses of sound and sight were combined in the revelation at Mount Sinai. I saw the noise and heard the flashes of light. A burning sensation coiled around my left arm and burst through my chest like an electric shock.

    There was only one other time in...

  8. 3 The New Year for Trees: The Lance and the Twig
    (pp. 19-38)

    It was a classic lesbian moment. My partner Lisa and I were sitting in our Brooklyn apartment, playing Scrabble over herbal tea, as our two cats rubbed against our legs. I pushed my chair back from the table and looked her in the eye. ʺIʹll show you mine if you show me yours.ʺ Five minutes later, we came back to the table, each holding our high school yearbooks.

    Mine was calledThe Lance; Lisaʹs wasThe Twig. The Lance, in title at least, followed the martial theme set by my high school football team, the Gladiators, and the dance team,...

  9. 4 The New Year for Animals: Because No One Is Allergic to Butterflies
    (pp. 39-53)

    Dear Kindergarten Parents,

    Today while the students were at the park, the teachers saw a raccoon walking around the play area. While the raccoon did not show any evident signs of disease, they believed that it was prudent to keep our students away from it. As soon as the raccoon was spotted, the teachers had the students line up and everyone left the park quickly and safely. Many of the children saw the raccoon and may talk about it tonight. We did talk to the children about how they were all safe and you should know that none of the...

  10. 5 Sukkot: Wild Turkey
    (pp. 54-77)

    The morning after my first Yom Kippur in Jerusalem, I woke up transformed, ready to begin my life anew. After a day full of services and conversations that went late into the night, I was bleary-eyed but inspired. I reached over to turn on my tape player and begin my morning ritual.

    The familiar sounds of ʺO Mio Babbino Caroʺ filled the room as I enjoyed a Middle Eastern, Merchant Ivory moment. I jumped out of bed ready to greet the new day, singing the libretto as if the world was my shower. I was thousands of miles away from...

  11. 6 Chanukah: Miller Light
    (pp. 78-93)

    The scent of singed cat made an appearance in our home the night the Christmas tree went up. The ornaments were placed carefully on the tree, and my fatherʹs favorite music, the Christmas collection of the Germanic boysinger Heintje, was set on a loop to play through the night. My fatherʹs penchant for Teutonic music was given free rein over the holidays. We all quietly thanked God that Abba never made a Christmas album.

    Because my parents bought their tree late in the season to save money, there were two basic models left to choose from. There was the supermodel...

  12. 7 Purim: Surprise Endings
    (pp. 94-108)

    The fifth grade assignment seemed simple enough: write a play, make it legible, and be prepared to read it out loud. After a few regrettable efforts, I realized that there were only so many stories a girl could write about angst-ridden unrequited love and the perfunctory flying unicorn.

    Having just seen the movieA Streetcar Named Desireat the tender age of nine, I was inspired to write an epic drama. I just needed my Stanley and Stella. My parents simply would not do. My father was a quiet man, and my mother would have beaten him to death with...

  13. 8 Passover: I’ll Be Home for Pesach
    (pp. 109-117)

    In the days before Caller ID, I relied solely on the hairs on my neck to tell me that my mother was calling. Half-mast meant a reasonable chance at a ten-minute nontoxic conversation. On this particular day, my hair stood at full attention as the telephoneʹs ring elicited its Pavlovian response.

    ʺWeʹre making arrangements,ʺ she stated. Arrangements. My mind reeled at this choice of words.

    ʺArrangementsʺ conjured images of random family funerals. I envisioned open caskets with slut-red lipstick applied to the otherwise chaste elderly deceased, prompting distant relatives to say, ʺShe looks so lovely, doesnʹt she?ʺ

    My mother didnʹt...

  14. 9 Lag B’Omer: The Work of the Chariot
    (pp. 118-121)

    The thirty-third day of the Omer is a respite from a period of mourning that spans seven weeks, from Passover to Shavuot. Some sages have said that, on Lag BʹOmer, a scourge on Rabbi Akivaʹs students was lifted. Deep spiritual meaning is also attached to this minor holiday because of its association with one of the greatest students of Rabbi Akiva, the mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. In Israel, the holiday is celebrated by huge bonfires and outdoor games, and is a special favorite of teenagers.

    I am not especially mystical, and I have a healthy respect for fire. On...

  15. 10 Shavuot: Take Two Tablets
    (pp. 122-151)

    His blue eyes twinkled. When he looked at you, he could tell immediately if you had been bad or good. He reminded me of Santa. Not just any Santa, but the one fromMiracle on 34th Street, which talks about Santa being like an angel. Years later, I would learn that, in Judaism, an angel,malach, is not a flighty being with a halo. Rather, an angel is Godʹs messenger, and that is precisely who I had just met.

    It was my first encounter with Rabbi Al Axelrad, the Brandeis Hillel rabbi. He was walking around the campus introducing himself,...

  16. 11 Tisha B’Av: Broken Sound
    (pp. 152-166)

    As someone who looks more like a German tourist than a stereotypical rabbi, I am rarely what people expect to see. This came home to me when I was preparing to lead my first High Holiday Services. After traveling through a hurricane to get from New York to Boca Raton for my first pulpit as a student rabbi, I waited at the airport for the congregant assigned to meet me. Someone who matched the description I had been given entered the baggage area, and briskly walked right by me. I watched as she asked everyone else on the flight whether...

  17. 12 Elul: Hit-or-Mitzvah
    (pp. 167-178)

    ʺI canʹt imagine how deep your conversations must be at home.ʺ Occasionally, when someone finds out that both Lisa and I are rabbis, they say something along those lines. I think they imagine that our every conversation is about the Talmud, and that we never, ever laugh. They would probably be shocked and disappointed to see our nightly Scrabble games or card games, how we sit at the dining room table with popcorn or—for a special treat—a selection of interesting cheeses. We talk, and we read.

    On Mondays, we read catalogues. On Tuesdays, we readThe New Yorker....

  18. 13 Purim Katan: Customs and Gratuities Included
    (pp. 179-186)

    After my grandfather died, my grandmother stopped going out, and she stopped answering her phone. Callers couldnʹt even leave a message; she had never had an answering machine, and she was not about to get one. She saw it as one piece of modern technology that she would never be able to wrap her head around. ʺWho am I and where the hell am I going? If someone needs to reach me, they know where I am.ʺ Sometimes, I would be upstairs with her, and the phone would ring. ʺGrandma,ʺ I would ask, ʺwhy donʹt you answer it?ʺ ʺI just...

  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-187)