Posted by: RaeAn | 11 May 2013

I’m In The News! …Sorta

The N’kudot (points) system I created for my 4th grade Hebrew School class has been featured in the newsletter of Behrman House, one of the biggest Hebrew school textbook publishers in the country. Check it out!

Santa Monica Teacher’s Creative N’kudot System Encourages Hebrew Practice at Home

We’ve been piloting this new Online Learning Center (OLC) to reinforce the textbooks, and it’s pretty neat. There’s room for improvement, but it’s fairly promising, and the kids who do it think it’s fun. Worth looking into if you’re a Hebrew educator!

Posted by: RaeAn | 4 May 2013

Universalism vs. Particularism

I’ve taken too much of a break from this blog. I’ve decided to revive it, though since I’m no longer in exotic faraway places (I know, some may count Los Angeles as such, but once you live here, it’s just home), I’ll be transitioning to posting various things I write. Excerpts from school assignments will pop up a bunch, and I’ll mostly be posting writings on theology, ideology, philosophy, etc., but who knows what else will pop up here. Plus, can’t hurt to get some of my writing out there for others to enjoy when they’re sufficiently bored. 😉

This is a reflection on the relationship between universalism and particularism in Reform Judaism. Enjoy, and feel free to comment and debate with me! I love debates. Call me out on things. I dare you. (Just please be respectful. I moderate comments for appropriateness and niceness, not for the ideas expressed within them.)

My approach to particularism vs. universalism in Reform Judaism is one of intellectual and religious openness with a basis in core values. The term “reform” is the most accurate description of my approach to Judaism: we have a basis, a form, which each generation must re-form to make sense in their lives within the world around them. Religious diversity within our congregations is the result of this generational re-formation: every generation adds to the corpus of tradition; Reform Judaism re-introduced the possibility of also taking elements out of the tradition; and the variety of formulae (regarding what to leave or add in and what to take out) that people subscribe to will inherently increase over time if we leave the decision-making process behind creating those formulae to the individual (rather than to the community leader, for instance, as would have been the norm in Rabbinic Judaism more so than any modern form of Judaism, let alone Reform). This is a value-free observation: this increasing diversity can be beneficial, or it could be detrimental, depending on how we approach it. Reform diversity in the approach to universalism and particularism is no exception: it can complicate our unity as a movement, or it can create a multifaceted approach that deepens the commitments our people have in the world. The extent to which we see our obligations as Jews extending to the outside community will vary as much as all other views within the Reform Jewish context. The obligation to the stranger is mentioned too many times in the Torah to be ignored, therefore, the particularly Jewish worldview commands a responsibility to the universal whole.

As for social justice issues, my guiding value comes from the Pirkei Avot Mishnah, lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibateil mimenah – it isn’t required of you to finish the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it. We cannot, as individuals, fix all the ills of the world, nor even the ills within our own people, but we are all obligated to make some effort toward a better world. Some among our community will find their calling in universal causes – Darfur, hunger, immigration reform. Others will be more drawn to particular issues: Israel, outreach, youth engagement.  The diversity within the community aids in this goal, which the Reform platforms posit as the “mission” of the Jewish people, “to cooperate with all men in the establishment of… universal brotherhood, justice, truth and peace on earth” (Columbus Platform).

No one person can work on all the issues in the world or she would burn out. No individual could solve a single problem by himself. However, if each of us commits ourselves to working toward the resolution of one issue in the world, the cumulative effect can create a wave of change for the better. Particularism is important, as is universalism; my understanding of the Reform approach to such seemingly contradictory but valued elements is to vote for all of the above anyway. Some of us will work toward one, others will work on the other, and we, as a people, can accomplish the multiplicity of goals as set before us from the Torah, to seek justice and truth, and to continue as God’s partners in creation by working to repair the flaws, however big or small, wherever we see them. We all simply have different points of view and will approach the flaws that stand out to us – and that’s how it should be.


Assignment context: For our Mandel Inquiry groups, we write one-page reflections on various general topics. This month’s topic was Universalism and Particularism. Not much more context to explain than that.

Posted by: RaeAn | 22 April 2012

In Memoriam

My grandmother, Bea Antonoff z”l, known to my cousins, sister, and me as Granny, passed away on April 20, 2012. Below are the words I gave at her memorial service this afternoon. May her memory be for a blessing.

Bea surrounded by her husband, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren at Leah's Bat Mitzvah in June 2003

Granny was like the Tardis: much bigger on the inside than on the outside. Now, if you don’t know what the Tardis is, I’ll let you in on a little bit of British culture that has leaked across the pond and infected my friends: the legacy of the mysterious Doctor Who, a Time Lord who is a tad off his rocker and off on a big adventure in his Tardis, a little blue British Police box that looks to be about four feet by four feet on the outside but, once you step in, you’re in an enormous space ship about three stories high. I’m certain Granny had never heard of Doctor Who or the Tardis any more than many of you have, but one of her most striking qualities was that whatever one of her grandchildren was interested in, she was interested in, and if I’d told her about the Tardis, she would have laughed if for no reason other than the fact that it made me laugh and that made her happy. Now, I never hit five feet myself, and even I am taller than Granny was; but inside that deceptively small body was an enormous capacity for love and understanding.

Granny and Gramps moved from Florida to Georgia just to be near Leah and me growing up, and we spent at least one week every year at “Camp Granny Gramps” at their home in Jasper, GA. The basement was our own private Wonderland, with knick-knacks and toys (and even art supplies for me as I got older), and new ones appeared between every visit, acquired at some garage sale or another. Nothing was expensive, but everything was rich: no moment was more exciting than running up that steep driveway to the garage and basement to see what fun lay ahead that week. I spent one “Camp” session hunched over an old typewriter, experimenting with the messy black tape and annoying Gramps to all hours with the clicking until I could be convinced to go to bed, but only because Granny promised to read the story I wrote before she went to bed herself. While I may be a passably good writer now, I’m not sure how exciting the ramblings of an eight-year-old can really get, and yet breakfast was filled with rave reviews of what was clearly the start to the next Great American Novel. Granny would just laugh when I walked straight past the new box of Barbies to pick up the Scrabble board and beg to play game after game for the next four hours, most of which she spent helping me make bigger words so I could win.

Granny was very perceptive and understanding, and was always able to tell if we were in the middle of a “good cry” or a “bad cry.” With a good cry, we got a shoulder, as many tissues as we needed, and probably a piece of candy after we got it all out. A bad cry, though – you know the ones, when a kid is just being a brat and crying at her own frustration at not being able to make adults bend to her every whim – we’d get a healthy reminder of, “Oh, don’t get excited.” “I’m not excited Granny, I’m crying!” “Crying is excited.” “No it’s not! It’s SAD!” “Well, now you’ve stopped crying, haven’t you?” “Oh. Yeah.” She was always good at that.

And so that’s why I’m not crying. She wouldn’t want me to get “excited.” She’d want me to laugh as I finally remember that I’d only beat her in Scrabble so many times because she helped me cheat. She’d want me to take a trip to the Botanical Gardens and visit the butterfly house, because butterflies were her favorite animal. She’d want me to dig Raggedy Ann here out of her box and put her out in a place where I can have a red-yarn-headed smile brightening up my room, because she had always loved Raggedy Ann. She would have wanted me to go out and do whatever it is that makes me happy, no matter what anyone else says. Nothing was out of reach if one of her children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren wanted to do it, and the best way to continue Granny’s legacy is for us, all of us she has touched, to keep on reaching for the stars, because if it truly makes you happy, your star will certainly come to be within your reach.

I’ll miss you, Granny, but most of all, I’ll be try to be happy in your honor, because that’s what you would have wanted.

Shiva will take place at my parents’ home in Marietta, GA, tomorrow (Monday) at 7:00 pm, with refreshments graciously provided by the Temple Kol Emeth Caring Committee.

The Tardis... on the outside.

Inside the Tardis. Much bigger.

Posted by: RaeAn | 19 March 2012

Drash: Vayikra

Here’s the drash (mini-sermon of sorts) that I gave this morning on this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra. (I know, this is a totally random update after so long, but you can deal with it. Life is busy in LA.)



As I perused Vayikra over and over again this week, one concept kept popping out to me, the idea of sinning unwittingly – and, specifically, the fact that one’s guilt or innocence can rely on the unwitting (or “witting”) nature of the act in question. If you know you’re committing a sin, then the guilt is obvious. But if you, say, enter the Temple after accidentally brushing against a pork vendor in the marketplace, then it seems a bit more questionable. (According to our text, though, you’d still be guilty in that case.) Also, the type of sacrifice you’d have to offer to make up for a transgression can rely on whether you were aware of the situation that led to the slip-up.

This idea always gives me a bit of a philosophical twitch: if our knowledge plays into it, then God must have some opinion on our mental processes, and I was always taught in Hebrew school that in Judaism, we believe God cares about our actions, not our thoughts.

So I looked around, and it turns out there’s a parallel situation in Deuteronomy. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah  wrote about unwitting mitzvot: Deut. 24:19 mandates that, if a farmer drops a sheaf while harvesting the field, he leave it where it is so the stranger, widow, or orphan may pick it up. This is part of the basic social responsibility system which the Torah would have us set up in our communities. Tradition tells us that God has a special blessing for this farmer who has unwittingly fed the hungry around him, but the farmer is unaware that he has performed a mitzvah. If he had been trying to perform the mitzvah, then he couldn’t have “forgotten” the sheaf; if he notices he dropped it and leaves it on purpose in keeping with the law, then he might be blessed, or he might not, there’s no guarantee. However, if he has no awareness of his mitzvah, then he surely receives a Divine blessing.

And so here, again, it seems like God cares what we think. Intention is a part of the equation after all. It turns out my teachers weren’t entirely wrong, though. God does care about our thoughts – but He or She seems to care about our actions more. Among several of the accidental transgressions in Vayikra, a chunk of them come with punishment regardless of whether the person knew they were sinning or not; as I mentioned before, walking into the Temple with a smear of pork sauce on your tunic still incurs a punishment even though you were too busy keeping your doves in the cage to notice there even was a treif vendor in the Jerusalem marketplace. In the end, bringing the profane into the holiest of holy spaces is unacceptable even with no malintent behind the act. However, since you didn’t know the pork vendor was there, you can get off with a grain sacrifice instead of a blood one. This time.

The moral of the story is to be aware of your actions, because they speak loudest; your intentions will only be a secondary consideration. This, of course, applies far more broadly than just in relation to unintentionally wearing bacon oil into the Temple. In relationships, in the workplace, in school, or in a dozen other parts of life, you may be able to back-pedal from a screw-up when you explain your intentions, but to some extent, the damage may have already been done. The ideal situation, it seems, is to be aware of your actions and whether they align with your intentions in the first place – and your daily dose of HUC reflection work ought to be a good start.

Shavua tov.

Posted by: RaeAn | 11 July 2011

I’m alive! I promise!

Okay, it’s been a month since I last posted, so I owe you one. Sorry about that. It’s been a crazy month!

Classes are taking up the vast majority of my time. I’m taking 5 classes: Medieval Jewish History, Organizational Development, Evolution & Structure of the American Jewish Community, Experiential Education, and Introduction to Jewish Communal Institutions. Plus, there’s this Lunch & Learn thing every Tuesday, but I’m auditing that one (thank goodness — I would not be dealing well if I had to do work for yet another class!). The Lunch & Learn is all about Jewish philanthropy work… which I know in theory I need to be aware of, but it doesn’t interest me. At all. It’s a little painful. But I manage, and I hear from some big wigs in the field, and then I move on with my Tuesday. Organizational Development is also a slightly painful course, but I think that’s a combination of several factors that can’t really be helped (class size, the fact that it used to be a 2nd-year-only class and now we 1st-years are in it too so we don’t have the background knowledge that the 2nd-years have, and the fact that I just find the topic dull to begin with). Otherwise, I’m really liking the rest. The professor for Evolution & Structure was my mom’s professor, too, back in the day — and one of her favorites, at that, and I see why. He’s a pretty neat guy.

The Introduction to Jewish Communal Institutions class is what we affectionately call “Wacky Wednesday”: every Wednesday, we drive around to 6ish different Jewish nonprofits in the LA area and hear from some staff members there. It’s been interesting, but oh-so-exhausting… Wednesday nights are pretty much dead to me after that. Makes fitting in the homework for Thursday a it difficult. But, worth it overall, I think.

And Experiential Ed is the most closely related to what I want to do professionally, so that’s been great. We just had our first paper due last week; we had to pick a philosopher or theorist from any other field and connect it to experiential education. Being the former LGBT Studies student that I am, I picked Judith Butler, one of the most preeminent gender theorists out there, and connected her theory of gender performativity to experiential education.

I just got the paper back with all positive comments — yay for me! I think it’s pretty awesome. You can read it, if you want. I’m actually kind of proud of this one.

(That link goes to the Google Doc with the paper.)

Otherwise, I’m still working on settling into life in LA and looking for an apartment. I found a roommate, Sarah, who’s in the Nonprofit Management program with me (she’s not in ed, though, so at least one sane person will be in the apartment!). But we’re confident we’ll find a good place soon.

I finally got to my first dance lesson here, too! CalTech has technique lessons on Sundays all summer, so I went to Pasadena to check one of those out. Had a pretty intense Cha Cha technique lesson, which was good, but also exhausting after so long not dancing. I’ll try to keep going this summer since the lessons are affordable and Pasadena is pretty anyway. We’ll see how many times I actually feel like making the 30-minute drive, though. 🙂

Also, my kippah business is starting to take shape a little more formally: I booked a domain and ordered business cards and everything. The domain doesn’t seem to be redirecting correctly at the moment, but once it is, I’ll post a link to it!

[EDIT: It’s working now! Check it out: ]

I also got a shiny new laptop! My old one broke. Just the casing — the computer itself still works. But it was no good for carrying around anymore, and fixing it would have cost almost as much as a new one. So, Dad bought me a new one during one of’s one-day sales (thanks, Dad!) and I’m liking it a lot: wide-screen, built-in webcam, mic, and SD card slot, and came with Windows 7 already installed. Sometimes it’s nice to get some shiny new toys every once in a while. 🙂

And… I think that’s it for now. Honestly, life has been pretty boring since I got to LA. Mostly filled with school, homework, and the occasional venture out to find something I need to get in this town, but I spend most of my evenings at home doing work. I’ve turned into a boring old person. But alas, so it goes!

Off to more homework… hope everyone is doing well! Maybe I’ll even update again sometime before a month passes.


~ Rae

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