~ Wednesday, March 23, 2005 ~
The Orientation Song, or, The Twelve Theses
There's something remarkably satisfying about writing songs. I don't really know what it is. Maybe it has to do with constantly absorbing all this delicious music and lyrics (Scott Joplin, TMBG, Veggie Tales, Gilbert & Sullivan, various klezmery songs, and other stuff that makes me think, "Man, that's such a great piece; I wish I could write something like that,") and then actually sitting down and doing it. Anyway, it's very exciting. So this week I'm getting my excitement fix from writing a song to sing at RRC's Purim party on Friday. To be honest, it's also exciting because it's another chance to make fun of RRC. Long boring explanations of the jokes are below the lyrics.
For the tune, try to imagine something like "Alma Mahler" by Tom Lehrer, except mine's much longer, there's a little vamp between each chorus and the next verse, adn my verses are usually four lines long and his are eight, so for my four-line verses, I only use the first four lines of his verse, and then go straight to the chorus. When there's eight lines in a verse, I make something up that fits the chord structure. Actually, I don't really know how to describe the melody short of uploading a finale file, which I don't have. Besides, the music isn't very interesting. It's enough to know that it's in triple time, and that the AABB rhyme scheme is reflected in the melody. Just make up your own melody as you read it, and you probably won't be far off.
The preamble will go something like this:
When I first came to RRC, we had an excellent orientation program that told us all about what life was going to be like here. Unfortunately, it didn't tell us everything, and those of you who've been hanging out with me know that occasionally I would do something and then be told, "Oh, you're not supposed to do that here." Which is fine. But at this point, I've acquired a nice little list of these tacit expectations, which I would like to bestow upon next year's students during their orientation, so that they don't have to go through the same learning process that I did. And in an effort to make it as palatable as possible, I've made it into a song.
[At this point I will "turn" my accordion "on", by playing the tune that a PC plays when it starts up.]
Oh, RRC is the place for me
With all due respect to the other three
I grew up Reform, but I'm past all that now
Now I am much more Post-Modern than thou.
Student rabbis, taking our classes in Ziegelman Hall
Student rabbis, individuals, all.
Now, maybe you davven from Sim Shalom
Or maybe Rav Art Scroll makes you feel at home
But we like our Kol Haneshamah very meutsch
Cuz ours comes straight from the finger of Teutsch
Student rabbis, stretching our spirits and growing our minds
Student rabbis, davven below the line.
The way that we talk here is lots of fun
We never offend or exclude anyone
But I secretly wish it could all be abandoned,
Cuz it's more convoluted than Thomas O. Lambdin
Student rabbis, talking gets awkward in Ziegelman Hall
Student rabbis, nobody gets it at all
As soon as you get here, they'll all come and say,
"Wouldn't you like to join Weaver's Way?
The food's all organic, the community's tight,
And everyone knows what you're eating tonight."
Student rabbis, shopping for groceries and shooting the breeze
Student rabbis, publicly purchasing cheese.
If you don't have anything more than a thin coat,
Then you'll freeze your face off in winter in Wyncote
But if there's a blizzard, you won't have to drive
You'll hear that the school is closed (once you arrive).
Student rabbis--Philly might not be the place we'd have chosen
Student rabbis: wipers won't work when they're frozen.
[quote of Jingle Bells during vamp]
The drivers in Philly are really high-class
They'll let you go first, right after they pass
But if they run red lights, I hope you won't mind,
Cuz locals round here are red-green colorblind
Student rabbis, too frightened to drive to Ziegelman Hall
Student rabbis, lucky to get there at all.
[quote of "Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah!" from Baby, You Can Drive My Car during vamp]
Now twice a year, there's a giant Shabbat
And everyone's there, except if they're not
We sing and we davven without inhibition
Then stuff ourselves full for the sake of tradition
And after the dinner, we'll all sing together
Gail will thank all the folks she remembers
And then, as we bentsch, at the top of our lungs,
We'll shout for Moshiach--with our cheeks in our tongues
Student rabbis, welcoming Shabbes and feeling renewed
Student rabbis, everyone label your food.
Falling in love is a beautiful thing
You radiate light like a holy being
But when you refer to her, let "Partner" be your term
A word that has all the romance of a law firm
Student rabbis' boyfriends and girlfriends no longer exist
Student rabbis, sweeties are getting pissed.
So a rabbi's expected to come with a partner
But finding true love's getting harder and harder
Who has the time to look for a mate
By sifting through all of the creeps on J-Date?
He has to be single, he has to be Jewish
He ought to be younger than forty-two-ish
And of those who are left, he can't turn and flee
The minute he hears you're a rabbi-to-be
Student rabbis, whadaya MEAN, I'm not girlfriend material?
Student rabbis suddenly lose their appeal.
It might just be simpler to date someone here
We've been getting to know them for most of the year
There aren't many guys here, but hey, that's okay
Because most of the girls prefer girls anyway.
Student rabbis come out of the closet and dance a hora
Silly rabbis, closets are for the Torah.
The Jewish religion is always evolving
A problem appears, so of course it needs solving
The reason that ours is so totally happenin'
Is we're on a mission to reconstruct Kaplan!
Student rabbis, whatever happened to the Age of Reason?
Student rabbis, reason was so last season.
Now, maybe there's someone who's feeling offended
And if so, I'm sorry. It wasn't intended.
What some find amusing makes others irate
Some people get angry at an orange fabric gate.
Because things go according to Process, you see
Process, you see, with a capital P
And if you don't follow this recommendation,
They'll put you on non-academic probation.
Student rabbis, watching their asses in Ziegelman Hall
Student rabbis, individuals all
Fine individuals, all.
[exaggerated plagal cadence]
1. The name of the one building that makes up RRC is Ziegelman Hall. Mr. Ziegelman apparently made a very generous donation.
2. The Reconstructionist movement is in this funny paradoxical position. On one hand, it rejects the idea that God chose the Jews because it finds the idea that we have exclusive access to God to be offensively superioristic, and incompatible with our enlightened post-modern understanding that there are many ways to reach God, and that your way might be right for you and mine right for me, and neither one wrong. On the other hand, if we go around saying that no one has any more access to God than anyone else, and that, furthermore, you're wrong to think otherwise, then we're right back to being all superioristic, at least with regard to people who disagree about the chosenness issue. I actually have a huge problem with this aspect of the movement, and I don't really know how to fix it.
3. Davven is Jewspeak for worship. Conservative Jews usually davven from Sim Shalom, which means "establish peace" and is practically to prayer books as V-I is to cadences. Almost everyone has had some exposure to it, and some people have never seen anything else. Another widely-used siddur (prayer book) is the Art Scroll, which is the authoritative version for the Orthodox community. It's a little less user-friendly than Sim Shalom (there's less white space, and prayers don't start at the top of the page, so you kind of have to know exactly where things are, and if you get lost, there's no hope), but it's much more complete, and people who are used to it usually carry theirs around so they won't ever have to use anything else, because they find it so much better than the others. It has all the liturgy in its original version, with no omissions, and it also has commentaries telling which dead rabbi said what about this or that, instructions telling when to stand, when to sit, what to do if you messed up, what to concentrate particularly hard on during which section, stuff like that. Very pious. The book is so informative that it's used not only for davvening but is also consulted when people are trying to remember information about the liturgy for other purposes. Art Scroll is, I believe, the name of the publishing company, but the question, "What does Art Scroll say?" gets asked so often that people jokingly refer to it as Rabbi Arthur Scroll. Kol Haneshamah is the name of the prayer book published by the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and distributed to its members. This prayer book is special because all the liturgy that used to have "offensive" language has been replaced. That includes chosenness, statments that the well-being of Israel is more important than the well-being of the rest of the world, things implying that enemies of the Jews should be violently smushed, statements that when the Messiah comes, the dead will be resurrected, and petitions for the speedy arrival of the sort of Messiah who will make this world go away and create a better one (Reconstructionists endorse a this-worldly salvation in which God works through people to fix all the existing problems and make everything perfect, not an other-worldly salvation in which we ascend to a heavenly version of our current habitat.) In addition, there are neat little tidbits--commentaries, poems, explanations, and other thought-provoking pieces--that accompany almost all the prayers and blessings. These are presented kind of like footnotes, on the lower half of the page, which is divided by a little horizontal line, thus the reference to davvening "below the line". Some of these tidbits were collected by the editors from lots of different sources, and some were written by the editors themselves. One of my instructors, Rabbi Teutsch, was one of the editors, and his initials appear all over the prayerbook. Some people have a problem with the idea that anyone should be so presumptious as to assume that they can write stuff and put it on the same page as the liturgy that Jews have been repeating for over a thousand years, which is generally taken as originating, albeit indirectly, from God's own hand, but that's what Reconstructionism is all about.
4. RRC has its own language. It's polite and respectful, but it's beyond that. It's the language of inclusivity, and that means gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and everything else you can think of. RRCspeak is also the language of non-judgement and respect. People are really serious about it here. Sometimes, though, if you're not well-practiced in that style of speech, you have difficulty getting your point across without having to double back four or five times. Once at a meeting, someone was trying to "raise a concern" (translation: make a complaint) about something some other people were doing, and you could tell she was very passionate about getting her point across, but she was trying so hard to follow the tacit rules of RRCspeak, speaking with so many euphemisms and generalities rather than saying anything specific and possibly offensive, that not a single one of us could figure it out, and the girl facilitating the meeting had to stop her in the middle and get her to start over.
5. One of my classes is Biblical Hebrew, and the text for that class is Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, by Thomas O. Lambdin, who was my teacher's teacher. Sometimes the textbook goes so deeply into the subtleties of the grammatical rules and exceptions of the language, especially regarding the rules for how to vocalize (add vowels to) the words, that it just gets laughably impossible. Then our teacher delights in reminding us that Lambdin's book was the first of its kind, and that nobody before him explained everything so clearly, *and* that it was written for college freshmen.
6. When I first arrived, I was totally bombarded with the current students who lived in Mt. Airy (my neighborhood) suggesting that I join the local co-op, Weaver's Way. Everything's organic, they said, and you only have to work a few hours a month, and the choices are excellent, and everyone else at RRC shops there too, so it's always very social. I'm not usually attracted to co-ops, but in this case, all that member-devotion and heavy recruitment made it sound like some sort of cult, and I, cultophobe that I am, was totally repelled.
7. Remember Snow Jew? That was the day the school was closed at almost the last minute. Some people weren't ever notified, so they had to drive an hour through a fresh dumping of snow to go to school so they could turn around and go home. They weren't happy.
8. I think my friend Tanya explained the Philadelphia driver philosophy best: "Me first." They also have a disconcerting habit of acting as if the light is still green even when it's well into infrared. Apparently, if you're running a red light, it's okay as long as you honk. ??
9. RRC invites everyone linked to the school to its biannual Shabbat gatherings, and the expectation from Above is that unless you have a really really good excuse, you come. A little under half the community showed up for the spring Shabbat, which was last weekend. Presumably, the rest of them had really good excuses. There's a lot of volunteer time and effort put into planning the event, especially by Gail, who also does things like warmly welcoming everyone, thanking them all, and making transitions smooth. Gail always makes a point of publicly acknowledging everyone who performed any sort of service whatsoever for the event, no matter how trivial and forgettable, but every so often, in her effort to remember all the micro-contributions, she neglects to acknowledge some of the really major ones. That happened last weekend, when she forgot to acknowledge the girl who led the entire Torah service on Saturday morning. Oops.
9a. This all-RRC Shabbat is a two-part event. It begins with an evening service to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat, and is followed by a morning service the next day. Both services are followed by a vegetarian potluck meal, at which everyone eats too much. (So much of Judaism is about getting together and eating. Why? There are so many things to do socially besides eat.) After the meals, we sing traditional songs and bentsch (that's Yiddish for sing/chant the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after meals). Bentsching takes 10 or 15 minutes; it's a long sequence of blessings. For some reason, even though the references to messiah-as-saviour-who-will-usher-in-another-world is removed from Kol Haneshamah, the Reconstructionist bentscher (little booklet that has the text to the after-meal blessings, as well as the words to a few songs) keeps the messiah references in its version of Birkat Hamazon. Now, some Orthodox Jews tend to be really excited about hastening the messiah's arrival in whatever way they can, and when they get to the part in B. Hamazon that petitions God to speedily bring the Messiah, they tend to all shout out, "Moshiach!!" in unison. It works with the rhythm of the prayer. Lots of the RRC kids have adopted that habit, and while it could be that they're just kind of doing it for the sake of irony (they're postmodern like that), it also seems that many of them are kind of attracted to the idea that instead of it being up to us to do the impossible, Moshiach is going to come down and make it all better. Maybe it takes the pressure off. So anyway, it might be that they're pretending to mean something they don't really mean, but it might also be that they're pretending to not mean something that they really do mean.
10. There are a wealth of food allergies among the various people who are invited to the community-wide Shabbat thingies. Nuts, onions, lactose, wheat, cilantro, etc. Everyone is supposed to write little notes telling the ingredients of each dish they bring, so no one eats the wrong thing unknowingly. The mandate to label ingredients gets emphasized so heavily that we all grow weary of the constant reminders.
11. Back to the RRCspeak thing, we don't use terms like "husband" or "wife" because it's not fair to people in same-sex relationships who aren't legally allowed to marry. Nor do we say "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" because if one person is gender-specific in any given conversation, someone else might feel obligated to be gender-specific too, and maybe they aren't comfortable being open about the fact that they're not heterosexual. So, we say "partner" instead. The flaw in this method is that "partner" usually implies long-term commitment, so there's no way to talk about a love interest to whom you haven't made a commitment yet. It's "partner" or nothing, and the pressure to hurry up and commit to someone, rather than just date to explore, is quite heavy. Apparently, rabbis without partners are frequently rabbis without jobs. Synagogues don't want their rabbis to be seen as available by the congregants.
12. In an effort to find a partner while also taking courses and holding down a job or two, many of the girls (and RRC's student body is mostly female) use J-Date, a Jewish online dating service, which has produced some successes, but countless creepy stories about desperate 45-year-old Jewish guys who lie about their age, among other things, in order to score hot dates. They use it anyway, though, because apparently it's worth the creepth quotient to avoid the heartache of meeting someone great and then finding out that 1. he flat-out refuses to be the husband of a rabbi (and you can't really blame him, because it's not an easy life, being as constantly publicly visible as a rabbi's family is) or 2. he's the wrong religion. Did I mention? We can partner ourselves with whichever gender we please, as long as the person's Jewish. Rabbinical students who "are in committed relationships with" someone non-Jewish aren't ordained. For that matter, prospective students in committed relationships with someone non-Jewish aren't accepted into the school until they fix that, whether through conversion or separation.
13. The Torah, that big strip of goatskin rolled onto two wooden scrolls and then upholstered and bedecked, is usually kept in Aron Hakodesh, which is usually translated as "the holy ark". That's Biblical Hebrew. In Modern Hebrew, though, the word "aron" is used to mean "closet" or "wardrobe", which is sensible, because the thing where the Torah is kept *is* very much like a wardrobe, only it's a wardtorah.
13a. Remember those old commercials for Trix, with the rabbit trying to get the Trix from the kids, and never succeeding? Remember the line, "Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids!"? You do? Good.
14. Reconstructionism has changed a lot since Mordechai Kaplan created it back in the 20s. Then, it was supposed to be Judaism for ethical, deeply rational Jews who were patriotic U.S. citizens, and who weren't interested in that supernatural/supersticious crap. Then, the reconstructionist (note the lowercase r) was someone who had fallen away from practicing his religion, but still believed in Truth, Justice, and the American Way, and needed to be brought back without having his intelligence insulted. This Reconstructionism appeals to me. That whole rationality thing. Currently, though, it is much more influenced by the New Age movement...there's oodles of meditation, mysticism, overfeminism, and fuzzy-wuzzy spirituality stuff which kind of leaves me standing around wondering what to do. The original idea was that Judaism was irrelevant to the Modern Man, and Kaplan and friends were out to reconstruct it to make it relevant and meaningful again. Now, though, Kaplan seems to be irrelevant to the post-modern Reconstructionist, so in certain areas (particularly theology) he tends to get alternately reinterpreted or just ignored by the people here.
15. Remember Mephisto's Gate, and how upset people were about it? One of the reasons why they were so upset is because I hadn't honored the Process, which at RRC means I didn't go around and respectfully ask everyone in a position of importance how they would feel about my proposed act before going ahead and doing it. If someone had had a concern, we would have scheduled a meeting so we could deliberate over it, and then attempted to reach a decision by means of the Values-Based Decision-Making Process...although first, we'd probably have had to give voice to what our values are with regard to this proposition, and whether they're being threatened by it or not. Yay RRC.
16. Whether or not a student is ordained depends both on whether he passes his classes and on whether the faculty approve of his behavior in interpersonal situations, whether in classes, at Shabbat meals, at work, or anywhere else. If you do something socially questionable that someone on faculty hears about, and if the faculty member thinks that act indicates that you're "unfit for the rabbinate", you can be placed on non-academic probation, in which they watch you closely to see if you do anything else that might indicate your not being fit for the rabbinate. There's no established way to find out why you were placed on non-academic probation, nor is there an established way to free yourself of that state...it seems to be left to the whim of your Review Committee (the people who are examining you) to decide whether you've redeemed yourself.
~ prattled by Miriam at 6:38 p.m. [+]
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