Author Archives: Mel Weiss

Live from the Lilith Blog

December 28, 2017 by

How To Apply Successfully for an Internship at Lilith Magazine

Step one, and I really cannot stress this enough, is to screw up your courage, take the plunge, and hit send. Forget your fear about being exposed as a literary fraud; tell your imposter syndrome to shut up, already. (And if in thinking, Shut up, imposter syndrome, you make proper use of the apostrophizing comma, soothe yourself with the idea that you could soon be in really solid company.)

Coax up in yourself the kind of patience that is also a kind of impatience. You want to change the world, but through print and pixels, so this should come fairly naturally to you. Write your first email with pizzazz, with passion, with professionalism. Have a dynamic introduction, explain your immense qualifications, but with a little self-deprecating humor—we’re feminists, after all.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 12, 2017 by

Two Jewish Moms. One Mischievous Toddler. And Mothers’ Day.

It’s the first year I have to really enjoy the geeky, subtle cognitive dissonance. Last year, when my daughter was still just emerging from the “fourth trimester,” I was too exhausted to think much past diapers. This year, though, with a mischievous toddler who imitates us and giggles with glee, it’s staring me right in the face. The world celebrates Mother’s Day, but in my house, it’s Mothers’ Day.

I trust the cohort of women and others who make up Lilith’s readership to be more than canny enough to catch and appreciate that tiny apostrophic migration, the thing that technically loops me into the equation in the first place. My wife and I don’t really do much for secular holidays—she can never keep track of when they are, anyway—but I feel like for our first real Mothers’ Day, we might have to mark the occasion in some manner. We have a daughter, and she has two moms. Two seriously Jewish mothers.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

April 7, 2017 by

“The World’s Least Likely” Multicultural Seder Prep in Small-Town Maine

flickr.com/cadencrawford

flickr.com/cadencrawford

It bears mentioning that very little about Jewish life in our small town in central Maine resembles the larger world. And it also bears mentioning that, in a lot of ways, this is the most traditional community I’ve ever been part of.

It can be hard to tell if some of our idiosyncrasies are cutting-edge or a throwback to an earlier era. When I have kosher meat ordered in bulk through our local Maronite Lebanese butcher, am I embracing a post-modern, consciously interfaith model of community… or just trading on a historic relationship between the two “other” groups in town? When my wife and I schlep kosher items from Portland, Boston, and points south up to our town, are we ironically embracing an intersectional understanding of our Jewish and female identities and responsibilities… or are we just doing the modern version of what women of our congregation have been doing since they had boxes of groceries shipped up on the bottom of a Greyhound bus?

And, maybe first and foremost, when I gather the world’s least likely group of women to clean, kasher, and cook for days straight before our rowdy community seder, am I doing the radically innovative… or the most boringly practical? (And as long as the chametz gets destroyed and the matza ball soup doesn’t, should I care?)

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Live from the Lilith Blog

September 18, 2013 by

Dispatches from Lesbian Vacationland

medium_252409289As the new school year begins, I want to take one moment to reflect on the summer. And my biggest lesson this summer? To be honest, it was about Jewish education. And who says a Jewish education can’t be fun? (Okay, it’s possible that I did, for much of my childhood. That was back in an earlier period for me before I fell in love with Judaism, a rabbi, and the small town where she landed a pulpit – in that order. These days, since she’s the basically village rabbi and I work as the Jewish educator, we not-so-jokingly call ourselves the Lesbian Chabad.)

The Lesbian Chabad, as I’ve mentioned, is stationed up in Maine – which in the winter months does a striking imitation of the Eastern European shteppe from which we both hail. Come summer, though, this place magically morphs into Vacationland, and you’d think there’s not a lot of room for Jewish learning in Vacationland.

You’d be wrong, however, and vastly underestimating both the efforts of my wife R. and myself – and the absolute love of Judaism our Hebrew school kids have up here (not to mention the devotion their parents have to making sure they have Jewish experiences as often as possible). They so love spending time “doing Jewish,” whether it’s in the single room where we teach several grades of Hebrew school at once, at synagogue, on Shabbat hikes – whatever, wherever, our kids are in. They’re an educator’s dream.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

February 5, 2013 by

The Creep Factor in “Dress Up America”

Image via Wayfair.com

It should be admitted that I am not your average, or ideal, consumer. But sometimes, it seems that I am in the majority in looking at a product and asking, What in the name of all that is holy and sane were these people thinking?

Recently, when Facebook and Twitter both blew up with news of the Jewish costumes in the “Dress Up America” line available through Walmart, everyone seemed to be saying what I was say; namely, “Wha?”

Let’s break it down a little. Fast forward past the creep factor of small children in “Rabbi” and “Grand Rabbi” gear, clearly modeled on the love child of an Eastern European rebbe and Ovadia Yosef. Oh, sorry – did I say children? Because I meant boys. Boys dress up as rabbis (or “rabbis”) and girls can dress up as “mother Rachel” or “mother Rivka.” And you know, keep on fast forwarding past the fact that the “mother Rachel” costume includes what appears to be a nun’s habit, and a picture on the costume itself of kever Rahel, Rachel’s tomb, in Bethlehem.

So, what? Boys can be rabbis – even “grand rabbis” – and girls can be foremothers? How is it possible that it’s 2013 and this still somehow scans as normal?

Happily, perhaps, the company’s bizarre gender-enforcement doesn’t only come down on its Jewish or oddly philo-semitic customers. A quick perusal through Wayfair.com – the website of the retailer – reveals discrepancies between the fire fighter’s costume (labeled “boys”) and a Red Cross nurses costume, which wins this week’s disturbing time-machine award. Or the fact that there are separate boys and girls chef costumes, and the girls version has a skirt, not pants. I want to call up all the fierce women on the ragingly popular Food Network shows, and ask them if they find that skirts work better when they’re throwing knives around the kitchen.

Or at least, that’s what my fiancé – female, and a rabbi – suggested I do.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

July 23, 2012 by

A Busman’s Holiday in Tel Aviv

Sunset in Tel Aviv-Yaffo beach

There’s seriously nothing like a two-week stint in Israel, with an extended weekend layover in New York City, to throw one’s shlicha mission in mid-Maine into a serious sort of relief. At least, that’s how it was for R. and me, coming back to the small town in Maine where she basically serves as the town rabbi and I, well, I do many of the things a rabbi’s partner does in a small town, even though in the old days, the rabbi wasn’t a woman—nor was she partnered to one. We returned to what we jokingly, or not so jokingly, refer to as our role as the Lesbian Chabad of Mid-Maine.

We’re just back from a well-deserved vacation, in a place where even the vacation have a veneer of the hectic. (Plus, a rabbi on vacation in Israel can, at times, feel a bit like a busman’s holiday.) Having eaten schwarma, spoken Hebrew, argued in the shuk and visited a vast array of friends, teachers and family, we’re back in the Northeast, having lugged as much of the Middle East home in our backpacks as we could.

It was a fun experience, telling Israeli friends about what we’re doing up here. The Lesbian Chabad joke works both much better and far worse: some of our friends laugh harder than any American at the idea, while my extremely secular cousin worriedly asks if I have to pass out candles in the bus station on Friday afternoons.

And the fact of the matter is that it is hard—it might actually be impossible—for Israelis who haven’t spent time in America (outside, perhaps, of New York and LA) to imagine not only why on earth we’d want to spend our time doing what we do, but how such a thing could possibly be necessary.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

July 9, 2012 by

Fridays with French Fries

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It’s a system I have just about down, and R. knows it.

Fridays, particularly when school is in session at the college where she advises the Jewish student group, are frankly epic. By the time she stumbles out of our bedroom at what most people would describe as a normal hour, I have inevitably brewed some coffee, cranked up my Rachel Maddow podcast, rolled up my sleeves and started chopping onions as though we’re going to have to feed an army. And, well, sometimes, close enough.

R. launders the tablecloths and sets the table, unfolding the plastic chairs we’ve borrowed from the college. We estimate the number of student dinner guests in intervals of a half-dozen. I proceed from chopping veggies to rubbing down chicken with herbs, roasting homemade spicy French fries, setting the slow cooker with beans, garlic, onion, root veggies, kosher meat—tonight will be yet another night of explaining what cholent is to wary-looking teens.

Maine is, as you might know, pretty far north. This means that in the summer months, R. and I have a leisurely day of cooking that will still result in us bringing in an early shabbos. In the winter months, which are incidentally the months when we’re most likely to have twenty hungry students over for dinner, and another ten lined up for Shabbat lunch, our prep time shrinks precipitously. The week Shabbat rolled on in before 4pm—well, I won’t admit to frustrated crying. I might admit to a frustrated early cocktail hour.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 12, 2012 by

A Near Miss

It ended up being one of our favorite lesbian Chabad stories, but it was almost a tale of tragedy.

Mid-January, mid-Maine—even in the era of global warming, we sometimes get snowstorms that blanket the streets and muffle every possible noise. When R called me moments before I entered a staff meeting, I expected a gripe about shoveling out the car. Instead, she was calling to tell me that our favorite octogenarian congregant was in the hospital, and it didn’t look good, and could I make some calls to find someone to cover her class?

A lot of that entire week is a blur. Once it became clear that this congregant was out of imminent danger, I remember holding an exhausted R, who’d spent the whole day in the most chaotic day-long pastoral visit of her life. I remember driving through the night snow—my very first time, shekhekhiyanu!—to the hospital, chatting with our friend for a couple of hours, trading Yiddish jokes and explaining the punchlines to her kids and grandkids. I remember some sort of cook-a-thon, stepping back an hour before Shabbat to realize I miraculous had enough food for the twenty guests we’d have over the next 25 hours.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 7, 2012 by

Lesbian Jewish Missionaries

Let me start by saying this: the whole “Lesbian Chabad” thing began as a joke.

Okay, actually, maybe that’s not the clearest point to pick up. Let’s try that again: my name is Mel, and I’m one-half of what is jokingly (sort of) known as the Lesbian Chabad of Mid-Maine.

Okay, one more time: my name is Mel. My partner is a rabbi, and though I’ll just refer to her as “R.” here, if you’re even a remotely talented Google-stalker, yes, you can probably figure it out. I am a New Yorker, born and bred, but I spend my time these days a bit farther north. Maine, to be specific, a lot of it, along with R., in the town where she serves as the rabbi for a local synagogue. 

(This would be a good time to state, for the record, that in my house we don’t use the word “rebbitzen.” Rather, I am the only one ever allowed to use it. This is not intended to offend anyone who chooses the term. It’s just that quirk of courtesy that lets us reclaim words that pertain to us, and screw anyone else who tries to use them.)

So, anyway, though I’m from New York and R’s from New Jersey and between us we have a pretty serious case of mid-Atlantic-accented potty mouth, along with a seriously dorky habit of making Talmud jokes, we spend half our time up in a town about twenty minutes north of Augusta, that for reasons I’ll also ascribe to quirks of courtesy, I won’t call by its real name. Let’s just call it C-town.

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Posts from the Field

November 15, 2010 by

On Israel and Aggression

Krauss I’m a third-generation born New Yorker. Aggression in random interpersonal relations has never been my issue. I have been known to slap the hood of an anxious cab that barely skidded to a stop, to icily and brutally reject late-night propositions on subway platforms, to push as good as I got pushed. And then, I moved to Israel for a year.

Part of my sudden feeling of meekness is surely just that my Hebrew isn’t great, and I’ve been learning a new city.

But here, on the streets of Tel Aviv, I’m no longer the aggressive one. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re not even on Broadway.

Look, it’s not that everything you’ve heard about all Israelis being hyper-aggressive is true. There are people here who avoid public confrontation, who respond to a yelling shuk vendor by shrinking away or allow the ever-present bicycles to roll over their toes unremarked upon. It’s just that there aren’t very many people like that. At all. And, it’s worth noting, there doesn’t seem to be much of a gender bias for who gets included in such a group.  (more…)

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