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.

You Are Your Own Spiritual Government

Every so often, I get questioned from the average person along these lines: 
You’re a religious person. Why aren’t you more up in arms about the gay marriage debate?” 
You’re a religious person. The Democratic National Convention refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Why are you not more upset about this?” 
You’re a religious person. A public school teacher got in trouble for leading a prayer in school. Why are you not willing to fight for them?” 
In the past couple years, I’ve come across so many people who are adamant about their religious beliefs intertwining with their political opinions that they have simply forgotten that there are other people in the world who don’t share their beliefs. And guess what? That’s not a bad thing. God created us all as unique beings with our own freewill, our own likes and dislikes, and our own paths. Here is my message for these people: learn to self-govern. 
1. I will be the first to say that I firmly do not believe in gay marriage. Why am I not flipping out over people who attempt to legalize gay marriage? Were you not listening? I said I don’t believe in gay marriage. 
You see, as a religious person, I believe marriage is a spiritual act and outlined in spiritual teachings. The first definitions of marriage started with people who came together and both swore to God that they would remain faithful to each other. Before that time, people cohabited; not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, as I’d rather not have people pretending to make a promise to a god they don’t believe in. Still, the very definition of “marriage” was of a spiritual unity before the God of a faith, whether that be Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, or whatever other religion. I believe that marriage is a sacred union between man and woman. Why am I not more up-in-arms over people trying to legalize gay marriage? Simply because my own beliefs speak louder than society’s attempt to alter the definition of marriage. If two men or two women claim to be married and the law of the land says they are, that still doesn’t change what I believe marriage to be. That marriage to me is the same as Christians saying the Sabbath is on Sunday. There are many “Sunday Blue Laws” in place in Oklahoma and other states that ban the sale of liquor on Sundays because it was historically the Sabbath for an entire community of Christians. Does this make this so with me? No. Would legalizing gay marriage change the definition of marriage for me personally? No. Either way, I believe in self-governance and staying out of other people’s business. I wouldn’t argue with someone who claimed to be the tooth fairy because they’re probably not interested in hearing why I think they’re not.
I never knew Homer was so progressive!
While I personally do not believe that gay marriage can exist because it is a religious institution by definition, I couldn’t care less about two people living together and whatever legal implications that incurs, so be it. Eventually, I’d like to see marriage completely phased out of regulation and anyone who desires to be legally bound to another individual should be allowed to be, regardless of sexual orientation, religious belief, gender, or otherwise. If you’re married, that is between you, your spouse, and God and Uncle Sam is only getting in the way.
2. The Land of Israel was promised to the Children of Israel. These days, man has made a mostly secular city that didn’t exist in the time of Ancient Israel its capital. Not only that, but more and more people are attempting to call this land Palestine. Why am I not more outraged? 
Regardless of what people call Eretz Yis’rael (the Land of Israel), it is Eretz Yis’rael. If I was living there and a government overthrew the Israeli Government, renaming it Boogerland, I would still know that it was Eretz Yis’rael. If they changed the capital from Tel Aviv to a newly found city called Jerksville, I would still know that the capital would be Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). What man does to Eretz Yis’rael does not make it any less Eretz Yis’rael to me and my God. 
Biblical Israel: Just think about how much they’re not fighting for.
3. They’ve stripped official prayer from schools! Oh, no! As a religious person, I should be outraged. Well, guess what? I’m not. In fact, I think it’s about time. 
“Now, just put your hands together like this or else God can’t hear you. This is your God antenna.”
You see, in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, it reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” 
A teacher in a public school has an enormous responsibility. Not only are they teaching the upcoming generations, but they are also government employees. During the period of time that they are fulfilling their duties as teachers, they are representing the United States government. Not only that, but they are teaching a wide variety of students. They could be teaching Christian kids, Jewish kids, Hindu kids, Sikh kids, Muslim kids, Atheist kids, Agnostic kids, Buddhist kids, and the like. If you officially pray to one universal god, you are discriminating against the Hindu kid. His parents taught him to pray to all the many Hindu gods. You’re also being disrespectful to the Atheist kid, who was taught to pray Richard Dawkins (only joking). If you pray to Jesus, you’re likely to disrespect the Jewish kid, and if you pray to Allah, you’ll be disrespecting the Sikh kid. 
Most all people who fight for official prayer in public schools are members of the majority religion. After all, if you were a Southern Baptist living in Iran, would you be upset when the school teacher taught your child to pray to Allah? Of course you would be.
In the end, restrictions aren’t preventing children from praying in schools or even from children leading other children in prayer. They are simply keeping children from being coerced into a prayer they may or may not agree with by a government employee. If you want your teachers leading your kids in prayer, you still can! Simply enroll them in a religious school of your choice. 
In conclusion, I am not saying that I believe gay marriage is ok by me. I’m not saying that Israel should just give up to the Palestinians and the secular people should decide what is its capital. I’m not saying that prayer should be banned from schools. I’m simply saying that if we all learned how to self-govern and not mettle in the affairs of others, our faith should be able to protect us from what some thing of as an impending doom. 
Nobody is forcing you to attend a gay marriage or even believe that such a thing exists.
Nobody is forcing you to deny that Eretz Yis’rael is the promised Land of God. 
Nobody is forcing anyone to abstain from praying in school. 

Be your own sovereign nation and do not engage in political interventions with other people’s sovereignty.

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

The Statement of Faith Vs. The Quest for Truth

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to belittle any specific faith or denomination of religion, but instead act as instrument of mind stretching and heart testing. 


A week or two ago, I was talking with my mother-in-law about religious individuals. She was sharing a story with me about a conversation she had been engaged in with a religious young man who had started the conversation in hopes of winning her over to his religious viewpoint. As she is very learned in Torah, the conversation quickly tilted and she ended up as the one imparting spiritual knowledge and the man was then the listener. Overtime, another religious man who was supposed to be supervising the younger man came over in attempts to inhibit the conversation and take the younger man away from the situation before she imparted some bit of knowledge that caused the younger man to possibly re-think his religious beliefs. 


I was perplexed by this scenario. I began to scratch my head about why the older, more experienced man hadn’t let the younger man ask his questions and receive knowledge. My mother-in-law’s reply to this question hit me right between the eyes. 


“Some people are truly seekers of truth and others are not.” 


She went on to explain that she sensed that the younger man, who was not as experienced within his religion, was a genuine seeker of truth and the old man who broke up the conversation was more concerned with the convenience and comfort his specific organization currently enjoyed. He could see that his student was starting to “stray from the path” of their specific religion even though everything my mother-in-law was saying was straight from the same Bible. The reason why the older man was growing concerned was because what he believed to be true based on his religious sect’s pillars of faith did not align with the texts they claimed to base their faith on. 


We live in a world where religious people have lifted other’s interpretations of their sacred texts above the very simple meanings of their sacred texts. The “statement of faith” on the congregational website has grown to be more powerful than the holy text itself. This “don’t go there” mindset has completely removed the possibility for growth and hindered the quest for ultimate truth within a movement for the sake of convenience. The most detrimental outcome of this strict unquestioning devotion to any specific sect’s interpretation of their source of truth is that the source of truth is then truly shifted elsewhere and any new quest for truth outside of those guidelines is not tolerated. It is for this reason that I am very proud of my spiritual community’s distaste for the “statement of faith” which has allowed for us to truly dissect holy texts and question their true meaning and implications. Is there a possibility of two people disagreeing on a subject in the text? I would hope to God that there would be or else I would highly doubt our ability to have any progress towards seeking truth. 

Here is my challenge to you this day: 
Completely turn off all outside influences, all commentaries, and all interpretations of your faith’s ultimate source and study the words completely for yourself. Make your “statement of faith” the text itself and no other man-made condensed versions. Take your sect’s “statement of faith” out and as you find concepts the in “statement” that have no foundation in the text or are outright untruths, feel free to mark them out. There is nothing blasphemous or wicked about this if you are using the text that your denomination says is the source of holy truth. As you discover new truths, feel free to make note of them; but not on the paper – make them in your heart. Feel free to update the list as you study and if a concept doesn’t feel right, restudy it to make sure that’s what the text says.


Your statement of faith should only be a true dedication to a quest for ultimate truth. If your internal statement of faith changes, there’s no need to shun those with a different statement of faith because yours may not be the same as anyone else’s. Instead, commune with those who have the same hunger for truth that you have. It may be uncomfortable at first, but true comfort will come once you are completely honest with yourself and with God. 


Shalom. 
– Ken

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

When Your Tzitzit Come Untied: More Than a Blog About Fringes

There is a Jewish tradition of making a brakha (blessing) over the ritual fringes that are commanded in the Torah: 

דבר אל־בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על־כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם ונתנו על־ציצת הכנף פתיל תכלת
“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.”
– Numbers 15:38 

The verse continues to explain why Israel is commanded to wear fringes with cords of blue in them: 
You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.” – verses 39 & 40. 

That was just a little background on tzitzit (tassels/fringes). Now, I will get to the subject matter of the post. 

Anyways, like I was saying; there is a tradition of making a blessing to God for giving us the opportunity to wear these fringes everyday so that they might serve the purpose for which they were intended. That blessing goes like this: 
בָּרוּך אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אַשֶׁר קִדְשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל מִצְוַת צִיצִת

“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding the commandment of fringes.” 

There is another tradition that accompanies the first one; examining the tzitzit to make sure the fringes are suitable to be worn. This means checking out the strands of the fringes to make sure they are tied and that the strands are not overly frayed. In many instances, these fringes can be metaphors for one’s spiritual life. I had an encounter with this recently. 

Though I’m devoted to Torah observance, my practice of certain traditions that surround different mitzvot (commands) of Torah isn’t all that strong. I don’t always kiss a mezuzah when I pass it, I don’t always make a brakha before I eat, and I don’t always check my tzitzit. 

Lately, I had been pretty immersed in things going on at work, things going on with my band, my friends, hobbies, and additional activities to the point of it cutting in on my prayer life and my study of Torah. I was very stressed out about a whole number issues going on in my life one morning, when I went to don my tzitzit, I noticed that the double-knot in the bottom of a few of them had come completely untied. These were not easy knots to untie and I know my cat had not been in my room, they must have been coming untied over the course of a few days.  Instead of just immediately stopping to tie them, I sat on the edge of my bed, held them in my hands, and just stared at them for a couple minutes. 

A rush of shame washed over me. No, not shame of a couple knots that weren’t tied correctly (the Torah makes no law about how exactly tzitzit should be tied, so that part of it has been left up to the wearer’s discretion), but about myself. I had been so wrapped in my life that I had it took God causing my tzitzit to become untied to get my attention. In that instant, my tzitzit were me. They were starting to come untied just like I was letting stress and other activities make me begin to unravel. 

It took me a second to gather up my thoughts, make a blessing to God for my tzitzit, and get to work, but the thought stuck with me the entire day. Wearing tzitzits has been one of the weirdest experiences of my life, but also one of the most rewarding. Just like these strands of white and blue are never far from me, this helps me remember that God is never far from me either. 

Because we can’t see God just like we can’t see the wind, God instructed B’nai Israel to wear these weird fringes on the four corners of their garments so that we can begin to see the good that He brings to the world everyday. They are a reminder that He is always there. Baruch HaShem (Blessed be The Name [of God]).

Shalom. 
– Ken