Friday, July 29, 2011

Just heard some fantastic news!

A fellow alumni of mine from Bat Torah Academy (which later changed its name to the Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva) has announced that it's shutting its doors for good! Boy do I have some stories to tell about that place...

But unfortunately I don't have the time right now, as I'm about to leave for a road trip with B and the dogs to visit my in-laws in the Midwest for the weekend. I figured out an alternative route for the way back home that takes us through some cool places and cities we haven't been to before in Kentucky and Tennessee, and which only adds an hour to our driving time (and when we're already driving 10+ hours, one more isn't a big deal). So that should be fun, cause the route we usually take is pretty boring- only 1 major city, and just a bunch of farms and forests and hillbillies the whole way there.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Atheist's Personal Moral Code

If there's no god, then there's no one to bail us out. It's up to us as individuals to make a society in which we would want to live. It's up to us to not waste and to not use more than we need and to not fuck up the planet. I want to live in a society where I can get help when I need it, so whenever the opportunity comes my way I will help out others, and will go a reasonable amount out of my way to do so. If I have more than I need I will share it freely. I will recycle, only purchase what I will use and need, use public transit when I can, drive a hybrid or other more fuel efficient car, plant my own vegetables, buy local, smile at whomever I pass in the street, and say "thank you and have a great day!" to the driver when I get off the bus and to the dude who makes my breakfast. I will treat people working in the service industry and homeless people and ALL people with the same respect and dignity that I give my students and colleagues. I will tip at 20% or higher. I will do my best to not actively make the world a worse place for other people. I will pursue a career in which I can promote understanding and social justice and equality, and in which I can help people improve their own lives.

We're the only ones we've got. This is the only life we got. All we are is how we impact other people on this earth. That is our legacy. All we have is one short life that could end at any moment. If we're lucky we can leave the world a better place when we're gone.

In our house we have a plaque with a Shakespeare quote that we found out on the curb somewhere when we lived in's a pretty good summation of my moral code: "Love everyone, trust a few, do wrong to none"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A brief history of Abandoning Eden

A few new people have found my blog lately from the new and improved Off the Derech facebook page, and I figured that now that I've been blogging a few years it might be nice to put up a post linking to some of the more 'exciting' things that have happened to me over these past years. A brief history of Abandoning Eden if you will.

After a long and convoluted journey Off the Derech (or, out of Orthodox Judaism) I first started this blog almost 4 years ago, right after my grandmother's funeral. My father used half the eulogy to give me a musser speech about being religious since about 6 months earlier I had told him I was dating my non-jewish, now-husband, B. When I got home from the funeral I was so angry I started googling around trying to find some support group for OTDers. That brought me to the blogger Jewish Atheist, one of (if not THE) only OTD bloggers at the time. After spending like 3 days reading his blog and doing nothing else, I decided to start this one.

For some more info on my relationship with B and my parents prior to when I started this blog you can check out the reposts of several posts I wrote in a previous blog about the beginning of my relationship with my husband and here is the response I wrote to my dad back to the first of the many letters and emails we wrote back and forth while he was trying to convince me not to marry my husband.

About a year and a half after we met each other (and after a few months of living together), B and I got engaged at which point the shit hit the fan. My dad almost immediately told me they would not be going to the wedding (which they did not), my mom told me if I wanted to talk to her I couldn't talk about B after which I didn't call her again for three years, my dad asked me to ask B to convert, I refused, my little brother called to say that his rabbi had said within 1 year either me and B would break up, he would convert, or he would die (didn't happen!), my mom wrote to say that if I marry B we could not have a relationship anymore (here's my response), my cousin "stopped by" to try to convince me not to marry B, I went to my cousin's wedding where I barely talked to my mother and saw my grandfather for the last time before HE died. And then finally we got married and the crazyness all seemed to die down.

After we got married I was pleasantly surprised by the responses of some of my extended family members- and disgusted by others, such as when my grandfather tried to convince me to marry a nice jewish boy after I was already married and told me I wasn't married according to him. My parents finally met my husband for the first (and so far only) time at my PhD graduation, which coincidentally was on our first wedding anniversary.

About a month after I graduated (in May 2010) I moved to the south and bought a house here. And since moving here a year ago I haven't had all that much to blog about- the drama has died down (for now), I hardly ever talk to my father and almost never talk to my mother anymore, and I can't really go to family events anymore because they are 10-12 hours away from where I live (and it's not like B is invited to them anyway). Although I promised one of my Charedi cousins that I will come back up for her wedding whenever that happens (she is around 18 now). I suspect when we start having kids there will be more drama then.

So that's basically the current state of things.

Post script: On Thanksgiving in 2011 I called my mom for the first time in 3 years and both my parents came to visit on new years day 2012. To be continued!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Zucchini flower harvest

Before the zucchinis come the zucchini flowers- first come the males, and later the females which are attached to the zucchinis. You don't want to cut the female ones off, but as long as you leave enough male flowers on the plant so that the female ones can get fertilized, you can have 2 crops of food from the zucchini plant- first the (male) flowers and later the zucchinis.

Right now the female flowers aren't even blooming, but there are a few tiny zucchinis attached to them. And there are more male flowers than I can count, and tons more coming. So I cut a few off today to make beer battered zucchini flowers.

Ingredients for batter: For every 12 Zucchini flowers (stamen's removed) 1/2 of a 12 oz Beer (or 3/4th a cup, use either lager or pilsner for beer, can substitute soda water) 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1 cup and 2 tbs all purpose flour

combine flour and salt, whisk in beer (but not too much wisking or the batter will go flat), drench each zucchini flour in the mixture and shake off the extra

Meanwhile heat up about an inch of veggie oil on a small pan (I use cast iron) over medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, put in zucchini flowers

Fry about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown

Remove using a slotted spoon and dry on paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt or more kosher salt and eat immediately

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gender divide in OTD blogs

So during my interview with that professor who studies blogs, at some point we got to talking about the gender divide in OTD blogs.

This is based on my own observations, and I'm not saying it's true across the board, but anecdotally I find that men who write OTD blogs tend to write more about arguments against religion, or current events, or things that are not personal to them, while women tend to write more about their own personal stories. The notable exception being in the past the now defunct blog Lubabnomore, and now Unpious but I bet if someone analyzed the gender of the authors and the content, the overall patterns would be similar. I'm not saying men NEVER talk about personal experiences, but looking at overall patterns of posts, there is a definite gender divide.

Actually, now that I think about this, in general I find this applies to all Jewish blogs. And maybe all blogs entirely, but I've seen many non-jewish blogs written by men who write about personal experiences (daddy bloggers for one) and I also follow intellectual blogs written by women- for instance Sociological Images is one of my favorite blogs and had been run entirely by two women up until very recently. But look at the jewish blogs- look at the type of posts written in Dov Bear vs. the types of posts in In the pink (both jewish blogs, the first by men the second by a woman). You'll find the same thing- intellectual arguments vs. personal experiences.

As a sociologist who studies gender I can give you several possible reasons for this. The obvious one most non-sociologists come up with is the "essentialist" biological argument that men and women are essentially different, their brains are wired differently, with men focused more on intellectual arguments and women focusing more on personal life.

But I think it's more the gender roles we grew up with. Especially in the orthodox jewish community- the OJ community tends to have very traditional gender roles. In part because the religion itself puts such an emphasis on gender differences (in the types of mitzvahs one can/is obligated to do), and when you create divisions like that you have to create justifications for those divisions. And the OJ community definitely has its justifications.

Other forms of Judaism such as Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism have specifically dealt with the gender inequalities in the religion to varying extents. In fact, I might argue that some more religious forms of conservative judaism and modern orthodoxy are ONLY separated by the gender role differences, and other than the way they approach women and gender (mixed seating, allowing women to do more than they could in MO), the religions are pretty much exactly the same. Therefore modern orthodoxy has an inherent interest in upholding traditional gender norms, since that is the very thing that distinguishes them from conservative Judaism, that is where the break occurred between conservative judaism and modern orthodoxy, so to give up on that would be to give up on what makes them a unique faction of judaism.

(Caveat: This is based on my limited exposure to conservative jewish views, and I'm sure someone who knows more about CJ views can challenge me on this point and that there are more intellectual differences I don't know about. But I went to many many conservative jewish services during my long gradual journey "Off the derech" and it always struck me that really the only major difference between that and the services I grew up with was mixed seating and female cantors- and maybe some different tunes for a few prayers).

One traditional gender role is that men are not supposed to talk about their emotions, especially stuff that might be hurtful to them. We start teaching men this at a very young age- "Big boys don't cry" ever heard that dudes? Men are not allowed to cry, and I think are not really taught the language of expressing emotions, which can restrict their ability to face those emotions head on. Now this is a general gender role, but within the Jewish community I think the blustery non-emotional douchy type of guy is fairly common. Frum satire calls a subset of this type of man- the type who also like gadgets- "Hockers." Not that all jewish guys are hockers, but the hocker type guys (and the guys who are not hockers but have similar gender expectations- the socially conservative jewish dudes), create an atmosphere in which guys expressing emotion is frowned upon.

As an OTD blogger who writes about my personal experiences, I can tell you that the process of writing is often an emotional catharsis for me, that often brings up very painful emotions. I could imagine that this might prevent some men, who don't know exactly how to deal with those emotions and were taught that "real men" don't express such emotions, from writing about their personal experiences.

Anectodally again, I think part of the reason I had such a hard time dating jewish men is that I have very non-traditional views on gender. I like breaking pretty much every gender norm there is- for instance right now I am the breadwinner in my house, while my husband takes care of most of the housework things. And I think that's freaking awesome. I have always broken these norms, and whenever I was told I couldn't do something because I was a girl, I set out to do it. If I was told that girls did X, I would do the opposite of X. What can I say, I'm a contrarian.

For years before I met my husband I dated many many jewish men, and differences in ideas about gender came up again and again. I once had a jewish man freak out on me during a date because I offered to buy him a drink after he had paid for the first round, and "Women don't buy men drinks" (Needless to say there was no second date). Heck, part of the reason me and my ex fiance from way back in the day broke up was cause I wanted to go to grad school and be a professor (which requires lots of moving around to random places like my current home in the south), and he wanted to stay in the same place and for his career to be the "main" career in the relationship. He dumped me the day after I started sending out my grad school applications- maybe before then he didn't take me seriously. Later on he married a woman without many career ambitions.

I ran into these types of problems again and again while dating jewish guys, but I always knew plenty of non-jewish guys who had non traditional views on gender, like I did. I ended up marrying one of those. I can't imagine any one of the jewish dudes I dated happily doing laundry for me the way my husband does. Not that such men don't exist in the jewish community - I'm sure they do- but they seem to be rare and I never was lucky enough to find one to be in a relationship with.

So again, in my experience, jewish men in general seem to have stronger gender-related norms than the typical American man (and those are pretty strong to begin with). This translates into a culture that makes men less likely to express personal emotions. And even after escaping that culture, OTD men still often have those strong ideas about gender and masculinity- at least insofar as showing emotional weakness is seen as a sign of diminished masculinity.

On the other side, women are taught that intellectual arguments are the realm of men. In high school we learned the mishna, but not the gemarah (non jews: The gemarah is basically a recording of a bunch of rabbis arguing over the exact meanings of the mishna, the mishna is a recording of "oral jewish law" - AKA the traditions that didn't necessarily have a biblical source- that was written down around 1800ish years ago). The gemarah is where the intellectual debates took place, where you could learn the ways of arguing. I sometimes wonder if attending my dad's gemarah shiur for about 7 years led to my later academic career, since I honed a lot of my arguing skills in that shiur when quibbling with my dad and his friends over various arguments in the gemarah.

So men are taught the intellectual debates that followed the law. Women are taught the law with the debates, if that. In high school the only jewish laws I learned about in depth were laws related to cooking and keeping kosher. All the laws I needed for a future career as a jewish housewife. And this was at a high school that called itself "Modern" too. Apparently modern didn't really include the second wave of the feminist movement (The one that took place back in the 1970s).

Women also don't have the restrictions against expressing emotion since the wider orthodox Jewish culture sees women as more emotion- driven anyway, and their gender identity is not tied up with the idea of denying their emotion. Hence the gender divide in OTD Blogs.

So AMIRITE? I notice I just broke the norm I'm describing by having this whole post devoted to an intellectual discussion, but even within this more "Intellectual" post, looking back, I seem to have inserted a bunch of personal experiences in this post anyway.

I hope some male OTD bloggers will take this as a challenge to write more personal posts. When I read blogs I find the personal experiences a lot more compelling to read than the intellectual debates or the current events. I didn't become a sociologist because I'm NOT nosy about people's personal lives. :)