Meet Ken Lane – Creator of Okie Hebrew

Because most of the people who read posts to this website or listen to the podcasts are in far-away places and have never met me, I made this very short video as a tiny glimpse into my day-to-day world. Though we’re still a community, sometimes we have trouble putting faces/personalities with names and articles we see online. It’s also just another excuse for me to brag on Tulsa, Oklahoma. Enjoy!

OKC Thunder Hebrew

Getting ready for the next NBA basketball season, fellow Okie Hebrew Paul Monroe Cunningham sent me a pic of his dual team (OKC Thunder + B’nai Yisrael) spirit tziziyot in the team colors of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I wonder if any Oklahoma City Jews will rock these.

Shalom and THUNDER UP.

I Still Miss Pork Rinds

There are many rabbis I’ve heard talk about how we should make our will conform to the Torah. I’ve heard Christian pastors say similar things about believers. While I see some value in keeping organizations together, I find that this kind of thinking makes it where the Torah isn’t that much different from the world. It doesn’t feel as fresh. If the Torah’s laws are completely my own will, then the Torah is no more meaningful to a law that I don’t have the possibility of breaking. I’ll do my best to explain. 

Any converted Jew who says they hate the taste of ham, of REAL bacon, or some fresh shrimp is lying to themselves on some level. Yes, I’m making a very broad statement because there could have been people out there who didn’t like any of these things even before they started keeping kosher. But the point is, once you hit the mikvah or make a covenant with God, this does not turn off your love of things that you no longer than do. 

With full confidence and without shame, I can say I wish I could still do these things: 

  • Eat pork rinds – I loved pork rinds. 
  • Eat fried shrimp – I ate fried shrimp at every seafood restaurant I would go to. 
  • Take a bite out of a big fresh ham – FRESH ham, mind you; that low quality ham has always been gross. 
  • Play gigs on Friday nights – not every Shabbat, of course.
  • Shave…when it’s convenient (job interviews, etc), even though I don’t think I ever would. Just the idea that I could would be nice. 
  • Go out without wearing tzitzit. I get weird looks – especially being in Oklahoma.
  • Get some tattoos – I’ve never had a tattoo, but if they were ok according to Torah, I’d probably have quite a few. 

Is it wrong for me to still want to do these things? Not at all – as long as I don’t do any of them. That’s actually something I really love about the Torah; it’s so much bigger than me. I loved these things, but I love God more. The Torah can definitely be inconvenient when it comes to my own fleshly desires and that’s why I cherish it; it lets me know that not everything is about me. I don’t try and justify doing these things just because I want to do them and I feel that really makes the Torah so beautiful.

Small Town Synagogue: Oklahoma's Jewish Beginnings

I’ll admit that part of the shtick of my blog is that I talk about Hebrew concepts and living by the Torah in a predominantly non-Jewish place, but there once was a time when Oklahoma had several thriving Jewish communities. Any T-Town resident can see the evidence of Tulsa’s once-burgeoning Jewish beginnings in the names of buildings and foundations all over the city; from OU-Tulsa’s Schusterman Center at 41st  and Yale to the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art off 71st Street. Though there remains a Reform Jewish temple, a Conservative synagogue, and an Orthodox shul in Tulsa along with various Jewish congregations around the Oklahoma City area, most would be surprised to hear about some of Oklahoma’s first Jewish communities. 

While many Jewish populations are attracted to larger cities (like New York City; which is rumored to have more Jews per square foot than Jerusalem), Oklahoma didn’t have too many larger cities until a little later on in the game. If you were to ask the average person where the first Jewish congregation started, most would tell you Tulsa or Oklahoma City, but the answer surprised me once I found out. 

Organized when Oklahoma wasn’t even yet a state (still Indian territory), the small Jewish community of Ardmore, Oklahoma organized the first Jewish congregation called Temple Emeth (Hebrew for “truth”); though it would be a while before they’d have a building of their own. The records are somewhat unclear about their original buildings, but the synagogue closed its doors for good in 2004. Because of the immense cost of tearing the building down due to its asbestos construction, it still stands in Ardmore as a memorial to small-town Oklahoma Hebrew folks. I’ve heard that the building is for sale if anyone is interested in restarting a Jewish community in Ardmore, OK (current population of about 24,000).

Temple Emeth Jewish Synagogue Ardmore Oklahoma
Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net

Temple Emeth Jewish Synagogue Ardmore Oklahoma
Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net
Temple Emeth Jewish Synagogue Ardmore Oklahoma
Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net


While Oklahoma’s current Jewish population is only about .1%, there was a time when many thousand Israelites proudly called Oklahoma home. Though only around a thousand Jews lived in Oklahoma around the time it became a state in 1907, that number exploded to about 7,500 in the 1920s. 

Believe it or not, many small towns in Oklahoma at one time had Jewish populations. Enid was home to Congregation Emanuel. Chickasha’s Jewish population met at B’nai Abraham. Services were conducted in Hebrew in the small town of Hartshorne at B’nai Israel; which had been in existence since 1916. Though these congregations have long since dissolved due to a number of factors, little specks of Jewish activity still exists throughout rural Oklahoma. Most have no idea of their existence, but Temple Bethahaba in Muskogee, Temple Emanuel in Ponca City, and the Seminole Hebrew Center in Seminole, OK are still home to small-town Torah study. 

What is the reason for the decline in Israelite life amongst the Chosen People or lack of community? Could it be intermarriage, bombardment by Christianity, a lack of a Jewish infrastructure of kosher eateries and neighborhoods? The answer is anyone’s guess, but even with Oklahoma being the belt buckle of the Bible belt with places like Oral Roberts University and RHEMA Bible College, the remaining population of Okies of the Hebrew variety have remained dedicated to the Torah and their roots. 

They say it’s easy to be Torah-observant in places like Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, or Jerusalem. Oklahoma just makes you work for it. 

Shalom. 

P.S. 
Though Temple Emeth was Oklahoma’s first Jewish community, it was not Oklahoma’s first synagogue. That honor belonged to the building of Temple Israel in Tulsa, OK. The building was nestled in a neighborhood about a mile from my home in Midtown Tulsa. Built in 1914, Temple Israel’s congregants from the surrounding neighborhood met there for services before they moved to another location a few neighborhoods over in 1955. 

Temple Israel Reform Jewish Synagogue Tulsa Oklahoma

Sadly, just days after it was announced that the old then-abandoned synagogue was to be restored, it was consumed by a fire. Though the cause of the fire was unknown, many blamed faulty wiring which caused an electrical fire. Not being far from my home, I remembered seeing one of Tulsa’s most beloved historical landmarks burn to the ground with my own eyes. 

Temple Israel Reform Jewish Synagogue Tulsa Oklahoma on fire

Smash Lies: Easy-To-Condemn VS Must-Condemn

Coming out of Christianity into a Torah-observant lifestyle, one of the most surprising aspects of the shift has been discovering that many more things are “kosher” than I thought. I found this particularly amusing because Christians typically refer to the Jews as being “in bondage” to the Torah while they’ll turn around and make rules against alcohol consumption, smoking, dancing, saying certain words, and even consuming caffeine. Here are some things that aren’t as “unkosher” as you thought. 


1. Drinking. 
While it is very true that letting alcohol (or anything, for that matter) control your life is against Torah, consuming alcohol is certainly a kosher activity. Heck, in the ninth chapter in Judges, it reports that wine not only brings joy to man, but to God as well….and that’s in a book entitled “Judges”! King David said in Psalm 104 that wine gladdens a man’s heart and even the Apostle Paul even wrote in the New Testament in a letter to Timothy saying to drink wine to help ease the stomach (1 Timothy 5), which it has been shown to be a very remedy for the common “rumbly-in-the-tumbly”as wine eases digestion. My wife and I along with my in-laws welcome the Shabbat every week with wine and we frequently use wine to bless God. While, yes, it’s very true that drinking can be taken too far, the same can be said for eating or shopping. The key is to take all things in moderation.

2. Dancing. 
It has always perplexed me why some denominations ban all dancing. I can understand some modern forms of dancing because they aren’t really dancing; more like fully-clothed, simulated you-know-what. Still, dancing remains the body’s expression of the soul. Even though David did end up inadvertently flashing the help with his moves, it was because he was dancing before the Elohim with “…all his might” in a linen garment; not the best material for immense sweating from dancing as vigorously as you humanly can. Even though this didn’t put David on good terms with Michal, it didn’t keep him from writing extensively about the joys and benefits of dancing. I have a feeling if “the worm” dance had existed in his day, David’s tunic would have been dirtier than it probably already has from gettin’ down. 

3. Cursing. 
While some words might not sound as pretty as others, they certainly aren’t always sins to utter. The modern stigmatization of certain forms of speech has more of a cultural background than Biblical significance. While the Scriptures do not really put much emphasis against saying certain words, the Torah is very thorough in Its instruction to not take the Name of God (יהוה) in vain (Exodus 20:7) and further explains to the extent of saying those who do so will not be held guiltless. What does it mean to take It in vain? That means to make His Name common or devoid of meaning. This can be done by swearing by Name of the Creator in promises you don’t intend to or just don’t have the ability to keep. When a promise with His Name added to it is devoid of weight, that detracts from the importance of His Name and lessens Its holiness in the world. Another concept that blows my mind is when religious individuals will criticize someone over their use of a certain culturally unsavory four-or-five-letter word, yet the same individual will tell bold-faced lies about themselves or others. So, while it is prudent to be mindful of what you say, a lie is much more frowned upon Scripturally than a certain four-letter-world uttered when you hit your thumb with a hammer. 

4. Smoking. 
Again, smoking is yet another activity that has much more of a cultural stigma than Biblical stigma. I personally find it extremely interesting that tobacco smoking has been a cultural normal since before the exodus from Egypt, and the Torah takes no stance on its consumption. Even though the Torah does make statements forbidding certain types of meat, it never mentions tobacco once. In fact, God specifically says in Genesis 1:29 “…’Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” David goes on to describe herbs as being “for service of man” in Psalm 104. Many will make the claim that “Well, that’s because they did not know the potential harm that tobacco smoke can pose that the body”, yet that argument wouldn’t hold up when tobacco is compared to the consumption of pork or shellfish; which modern research has revealed these foods to be harmful to the human body beyond any understanding that the ancient Israelites could have had; yet God forbade them anyways. While it may not be the most savory of habits, smoking cigarettes, cigars, or tobacco from a pipe is certainly not a sin according to the Scriptures. In fact, smoking a pipe has been shown to lower stress levels in many individuals and stress kills more people  than all other substances combined.

While many of these “kosher” habits aren’t always the most favorable in religious circles, most of the same religious circles have much greater issues to attend to. While it’s very easy to forbid the usual frowned upon activities, many of these communities suffer from gossip and lies that tear their communities apart, infidelity that tear their families apart, and abuse that leave children and spouses permanently emotionally and spiritually damaged. 

It’s time to shift the focus from the easy-to-condemn to the must-condemn. 

Shalom. 

How We're Wired: Day of Rest

In this very fast-paced world, many are looking to ancient ways of dealing with modern problems. Today, stress is a huge contributor to illness and the reasons why seem to elude us. Hundreds of years ago, people who worked with their hands and minds still lived considerably long lives; even with the lack of breakthroughs in medical innovation that we enjoy today. Many are discovering that the reason why their desk job is actually generating higher levels of bodily stress than, say, working manual labor on a farm or in a carpentry shop is because while our ancestors were dedicated to their craft, they also understood that you need a break.   


Now, this post is not an “Enter into the Sabbath because the Lord commanded it or else” type of post; really you don’t even need to believe in God in order to benefit from this bit of information. Still, being a person who believes in God, I personally feel that God did not design us to function at full speed throughout the week which is why He commanded us to rest on the Sabbath. Just like a bear hibernates seasonally, so our bodies are designed to need a weekly break from pursuing material gain. Not only that, but our bodies become accustomed to a cycle of a specific day of the week on which to rest that, regardless of looking at a calendar, our bodies will be able to detect. I discovered this when I was wondering why, on Saturday afternoons, my body goes into a state of near exhaustion in search of sleep while at the same time of day on, say, a Thursday, my body is in a completely focused state; even having had much less sleep on a Wednesday night than a Friday night. 

Knowing that one needs to take a break and have a regular day off work is not the same as experiencing one, but many have trouble understanding why all business must cease; even if the business is buying and selling using wireless device while laying on a bed. The fact is that we have trouble entering into a true state of rest if our minds are still participating in our own quest or monetary or material gain. To think that we can fool our minds into thinking that we’re engaging in leisure is fool-hearty. Your mind control all you nerve impulses, respiratory function, digestion, and blood flow simultaneously; what makes you think you can fool it into thinking you’re resting? 

For those who are having trouble grasping with the subject of not resting, here is an exercise you can do:

– On a lunch break from work when you’re clocked out and on your own time, eat your lunch and do whatever you do to unwind a bit on your lunch break in a main area of business traffic in your office or work place. When someone approaches you asking for a favor or question that could wait till after you’re through having your break, focus on the internal struggle that is happening in your mind. You want to relax, but you’re being asked to break your rest in order to get back to business. Well, whether you can actively feel that struggle or not, it is happening within your body and spirit when you do not give yourself a day of complete rest from your weekly work, business, or commerce duties. Over time, this struggle can have disastrous effects on your physical health and make it more difficult to spiritually align your mind with your body.  

Relaxing on Shabbat with my niece,
Madeline Rose.
I personally challenge you to select a day, any day, and make that your day off from your job, your shopping, your chores, and rest. Read a good book. Watch a funny movie. Gather around the table with family and friends over a good meal to tell stories and jokes. Take a nap. There doesn’t have to be anything religious about it. Make it habit. After a few weeks you will see positive results not only in your health, but in your frame of mind. 

If you’ve already taken on this day of rest, comment about your experiences for others. I hope you all have a very relaxing day of rest. 

Shalom.
– Ken