Interview from katancelt

1. What’s your relationship with Judaism like? Specifically, what’s made you identify as a Conservative Jew?

Wow, we’re asking about all the stuff I normally avoid writing about, aren’t we Kat? Okay, this may sound preach-y, flakey, and it’s going to be long…deal, or skip past this question [/end religious disclaimer/warning]

Anyways, as to part one of your question: my relationship with Judaism is a close one; I see the work of God all around me every day, from the grass sprouting up out of the snow to the inner strength of a child walking down High Street, alone, finding his way home steering clear of all the paths that could lead to his destruction. I see God in the eyes of the survivors who are now leaving us like sands in the wind and I weep when I read their stories or see statutes in honor of those who are Righteous Among the Nations, because they helped my people in times of need and have strength and courage that is unimaginable. When I begin to complain to myself of the cold as I walk to school in the morning, I chastise myself and imagine if I were at Auschwitz how cold I would feel and then thank God for allowing me a comfortable life and I do the same if the delivery place is closed, at least I have food to eat. I feel God in the arms of the men that I’ve dated when I would lay on their chest at night and hear their heart beat and I’d feel safe both in their arms and within his presence. I weep when I read the psalms and my body shakes on the High Holy Days as I tremble in awe, not in fear, as I stand before the lord and beat my chest with my fist saying “I have transgressed, I have transgressed, I have transgressed” and making my confession before God and my people, as I beg not only for judgement, but for forgiveness. I went on many years of questioning and soul seeking to see if Judaism was the right faith for me after my Bar-Mitzvah, because after-all, would I not be Muslim if born into a Muslim family? And after seven years of searching, I found myself standing, once again before the Ark and before my God re-affirming my faith.

My personal relationship or orientation within Judaism is as a soldier in the service of my Lord. I very much take to heart the belief that it is my personal obligation to be a part of the Tikun Olam and part of that obligation is to fight racism, to stand against terrorism, fascism, homophobia, misogynism and sexism, to feed the poor, to treat the victims of violence with care and give them the strength that they need to turn them from victims into survivors and to make a difference in the world. Money may be nice, but you certainly can’t take it with you and life is so, painfully, short that once you realize that money can’t stop the angel of death from taking you when it’s your time to go the choice between dedicating yourself to a work that will make a difference is very easy.

As to part two, I define myself as a Conservative Jew (Conservative not denoting anything political, but rather the Jewish branch that I find myself in) because, from my experience in the Reform Synagogue, they don’t question enough and it becomes very much a show. Why read from the Torah at your bar, bat or b’nai mitzvah if you don’t know what it is that you’re saying? Why pray in Hebrew at all, if all you know is how to make the noise? Pray in whatever language you know, God’s heart will hear you! Fall to your knees and cry if that is how you need to express yourself because even in your native tongue you don’t have words to express the pain and the frustration that you are feeling inside: if you are hurting and need to share the burden with someone stronger than you, he is there to listen at all hours and in whatever way you need to communicate. Go to the woods and scream at the top of your lungs, play your flute, stand upon one foot or jump up and down or spin in circles until you can stand no longer, or wheel yourself to wherever you feel comfortable if you cannot walk. If you cannot speak and you have no hands to sign with, he will count your tears and if you cannot cry he will hear the beating of your heart and know; he does not need an interpreter to understand every word of what you’re saying to him, screaming at him or crying out to him. God understands all languages, all music, all movement and he counts all tears so I can’t identify with the theatrical component of Judaism that I found within my synagogue because it becomes so impersonal and prayer is a personal thing.

At the synagogue I grew up in, parents drop their children off to be educated and pick them up, and then drop them off for services again on Friday Nights and Saturday Mornings, complaining that they have to make the trip or take the time out of their day to walk them there, and then they come and pick them back up again; as if religious responsibility was no longer theirs because they wrote checks and it was upon their child’s shoulders to bear the religious responsibility for the families. They say they are for things because they are Jewish and they don’t even know what they’re standing for, but they know that they should…and knowing that you should is not enough. You must be your own devils advocate: you must question, you must ask, you must introspect and challenge…if you don’t, you get radicals who don’t understand that Sodom and Gomorrah was actually about rape and oppression.

My other issue, at least in the synagogue that I grew up was the prevalent message that their children had to follow blindly in their parents faith. Judaism recognizes that there are many paths up the same mountain to God and that you don’t have to be Jewish to be forgiven for your transgressions or to take a seat in God’s court, and this is all according to our faith. So if your child decides to follow the path of Buddha, or of Christ, or of Muhammad or Artemis then support your child in their decision. No closets are acceptable, whether it’s the broom closet (for the Pagans) or the closets that hide peoples sexuality. No one should have to lie about who and what they are, or what faith they find in their heart, rather they should sing it out loud for the world to hear “I have found you, I have found you.” Just because you find your salvation in Christ doesn’t mean that they won’t find it in Odin and ultimately, it is their right (and their obligation) to determine for themselves who they will worship, and who can ever ask for more than their child to be truthful with themselves and with others? And if you don’t believe in faith or believe in God, then believe in nothing more than being a good person and being honest and you’ll do just fine, just be honest.

For that matter Amor vincit omnia – Love conquers all: wars have been fought for the heart of a lover, land razed, poison ingested, daggers stabbed through rib cages; to limit your child to who they are allowed to love based on faith, was another thing that I heard often and could not agree with…if my lover turns out to be an Arab, than what greater gift can I ask for than to have found my B’Sheret out of all the grains of human souls among the nations, to have found the one that I am meant to be with? Hate consumes from within and destroys, love creates.

2. How much of growing up just outside the city do you think has affected who you are as a person? Do you think you’d be basically the same if you had grown up somewhere else, or do you think the city has shaped you in a fundamental way? Do you think you would have been drawn to it if you hadn’t grown up there?

I think it’s affected me a great deal; I grew up thirty minutes (less, if I were driving) from arguably, one of the greatest cities in the world. I am used to having things at my finger tips, and twenty-four hours a day; however, living next to the city and working in the West Village for as long as I did removed all the magic the city holds for other people, mostly because I learned that the magic you find in the city is the same magic you find anywhere in the world that two lovers or a group of friends gather.

3. How do you feel linguistics plays into your other interests especially your political/activist interests?

It’s funny that you mention this; I was a political operative in NYC and Washington for five years for various organizations, sometimes organizations that were in direct conflict with one another. Because of one of the professors that I had, I was able to change my mind on fundamental issues that I thought were unchangeable (and, as Taylor Mali says “sometimes changing your mind is the only way of knowing if you still have one); this course lead to my resignation from political work for all organizations, a change in all of my contact information so as not to be easily found and a change in my politics to Libertarianism: live and let live, do not tread on me.

Practically, however, it gives me a greater understanding of language based political issues: for example, why a national language is needed in some countries to protect the minorities and why in other countries, such as the U.S. such a law would hurt minorities (and why it isn’t needed).

Language Acquisition teaches us that the first generation of an Immigrant family speaks (for the most part) their native language, their children are bi-lingual in their parents native language and in english, and the third generations children are monolingual in English so a law saying that our national language is English is pointless, in the United States that is the language that people gravitate to since it’s the language of power, wealth and prestige.

4. How has being a twin affected your relationship with your younger brother? Or do you think that there’s no real difference between having a twin and having another brother close to your age? Have you ever wished you weren’t a twin?

Well, first, my younger brother isn’t close to my age, he’s six years younger than I am; he’s 16, I’m 22; because of this, our relationship is very different, a lot of it is me watching him grow up and providing support or some ‘wisdom’ when I can, and since I’m away at University I miss a lot of his growing up as it is to begin with, and it’s hard.

Being a Twin has had somewhat of a negative affect as well, actually. Dave and I don’t have to speak to know exactly what they other is thinking, not that we’re psychic…we just know. We can sit in a room together, in silence, watching a television show and we’ll laugh at the exact same time, and for the same reason. We can be at a dinner party, on opposite ends, and walk out and have the same comments about the same people. We know each other better than anyone else knows us, after all, I was the first person he met and he was the first person I met (we were wombmates) so we have a closeness that Sam and I don’t really have. However, Sam is the best brother someone can ask for, he’s loving, sweet, and accepting (when I came out of the closet, he was upset…that I didn’t have a boyfriend…because dammit, now who the hell was he going to play nintendo with!?).

5. What’s your favorite art form, and why?

Rap, it’s the highest form of poetry.