Friday, October 10, 2008


So I was able to show it to my host family (they were really excited) and do this:

Hell yeah. Obama/Biden '08.

In other news, I'm off to London/Amsterdam/Barcelona/Munich/Prague/Vienna tomorrow.

I'm back in Copenhagen on November 2nd. Be well!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jeg er jødisk

During the (Jewish) holiday season, I've had a lot to think about while here in Denmark. Not surprisingly, there aren't many Jews here, and, even less surprisingly, the Orthodox synagogue is the main shop in town. Many Danes, including my host family, have never met a Jew before, and it was a bit challenging trying to describe my religion and why I wouldn't be going to school on certain days or be at dinner, possibly just because I had a hard time pronouncing "jødisk."

I spent Rosh Hashanah at Shir Hatzafon, a small progressive synagogue that doesn't have its own building. A member from my synagogue at home had helped start the congregation when he was living in Copenhagen, and since 2002, they've been doing monthly Shabbat services and celebrating the major holidays. Many of my friends here and I went to Shir Hatzafon for Rosh Hashanah this past Monday night, and the service was very nice. The visiting Israeli Rabbi was originally from England, so we used the Liberal Judaism (one of the two streams of Progressive Judaism in the UK) siddur, which dictated that the service would be in Hebrew and English - much to my liking. Only about 50+ people were there for the evening and morning services, including many DIS students and other Progressive Jews living abroad (we met a Progressive Jew from Australia who is studying abroad at one of the universities here), but the community was welcoming, and many of the tunes for the prayers were similar. For someone that often has a hard time feeling truly happy at different congregations around the world (and even country), I felt very comfortable. This Wednesday night and Thursday, I'll be going back to Shir Hatzafon for Yom Kippur.

Today though, Becca and I were invited to the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen, by an extremely nice Danish Jewish girl we met on one of our field studies. Even though her uncle is the head Rabbi at the Orthodox (and main) synagogue, she isn't religious - I think it just happens to be the main place to go, which I suspect is a large reason many people go there. Because Progressive communities aren't well known or aren't well established, in Denmark, like in many countries besides the US, if you are Jewish, most often you are "Orthodox."

Nevertheless, I was excited to go to Shabbat services today, mainly because I had only been to an Orthodox service once before, and tried to go in with an open mind. Personally, I am proud to be a Reform (Progressive) Jew, because (without going into too much detail) I believe that our religion should be interpreted and practiced in a modern context. One (very simple) example to illustrate this: besides the fact that keeping kosher wouldn't make me feel any closer to God, many of the laws were written when it was unsafe/unsanitary to eat animals such as pigs and shellfish, and in my eyes are not practical for today. For this, and many of my views, such as the fact that women should be allowed to be ordained as Rabbis (they are in Conservative and Reform communities) or that Jews who convert (not an easy process at ALL) should be recognized as Jews, I wouldn't be accepted in most Orthodox communities.

Becca and I met our Danish friend, Josephine, at 10:30 a.m., though services had apparently started at 9 (apparently that's what you do), and didn't get in for a while because we had to go drop our bags off back at DIS (security reasons). Becca and Josephine left to head upstairs (Orthodox don't allow men and women to sit together), while I donned a kippah and walked into the main sanctuary. Nearly everyone was middle-aged or elderly, with a few sons just starting to grow their peyes (curly sideburns), and seemed to be intently mumbling (praying), occasionally chanting aloud a couple words. I eventually was able to recognize a prayer and found my page, but never really was able to "join in" for there was nothing to really join in to. Orthodox communities, in my eyes, don't breed community. A man in front would chant maybe the first line of a prayer, occasionally most of the congregation would say a line or so, and then everyone would just mumble. To me, prayer has always been a communal thing - everyone singing, praying, focusing, and acting together. Also, during multiple times during the service, men would just turn around and talk (somewhat loudly) to each other while others would be completely consumed in their own prayers - something I feel you'd never see in a Reform or Conservative service. Josephine and Becca said that the women are no better - they constantly just talk and look down at the men praying (or also talking). I've heard that Orthodox services are often like this, but the entire time, I just tried to think if this was really how God wants or wanted us to follow God's teachings. Am I, or any other Jew, "worse" or even "not Jewish" as many Orthodox see those who aren't Orthodox? If anything, I felt better about how I practice my Judaism. A group of men, only some of whom are actually reciting or even reading the prayers (though, yes, many were just praying silently), but often just talking to each other and saying one line of some prayers while their wives look down and also kibitz (the Yiddish word for chatting) did not seem like celebrating Shabbat to me.

I might not know every single one of God's teachings and don't follow all of the "rules" like these men do, but I feel happy about how I practice and celebrate my heritage.