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!
Hebrew In An Okie Accent has now been changed to Okie Hebrew and is now found at www.okiehebrew.com for easier access. Check back for more articles concerning Torah, Oklahoma culture, Jewish culture, politics, and changes in society in general. Thanks again for visiting the site.
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.
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).
|Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net|
|Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Relaxing on Shabbat with my niece,