The Karaite Jewish Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma

This is part blog post, part event invitation.

The Idea

For the longest time, I have dreamt of a Karaite Jewish community forming in my hometown of Tulsa, OK. Most of the time, I live as a Karaite Jew alone in this buckle of the Bible belt without any synagogue to speak of besides my own living room or occasionally going into nature to pray and study amongst creation. This seemed like especially far-fetched dream of mine due traditional Karaite Judaism in the United States being limited to but one officially recognized Karaite Jewish synagogue in Daly City, California and handful of micro-communities flung throughout the continental United States. Even with that, the sparks of Karaite Jewish thought are being fanned by the passionate and the curious alike. It’s only recently that I’ve felt in my tishkes that the potential for a Karaite Jewish community of Tulsa, OK could be a reality – no matter how small it may be.

Why Tulsa, OK

Many tell me that I should move to city with a larger Jewish community. They suggest Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and even New York City. I don’t feel like that’s necessary or where I’m being led. At one point in time, none of these cities contained even a single Jew, yet that’s how all of these communities began. I feel like Judaism, especially Karaite Judaism, has the potential to flourish in a place even as seemingly remote and non-Jewish as Tulsa, OK. Despite the odds, Tulsa has proven to the world that it is capable of supporting a Jewish community and does so. Because of that and in combination with the slightly less typical spiritual vibe of Tulsa – a place where people are searching for a spiritual home – I believe that Karaism can have growth in Tulsa.

Not a Faith of Opposition

This is not an act in opposition to the existing Rabbinic Jewish community of Tulsa, OK. We would like to work in concert with the Rabbinic Jewish community of Tulsa to help those who are curious about any strain of Judaism be able to learn more about it and interact with those involved within it. Karaite Judaism is rather just another option, another style, of Judaism that may appeal to those who may feel like Rabbinic Judaism doesn’t jive with them. If Karaite Judaism doesn’t jive with you, I’d even recommend another Jewish community in town where you feel more at home.

For the Karaite-Curious

If you feel drawn towards the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and His Torah, I’d suggest that you give Karaite Judaism at least a look. The few of us that share this mindset in Tulsa are very warm and welcoming. We don’t bite! Ask as many questions as you want and we will try and supply with the very best answers we can.

The Invite: 

This coming Erev Shabbat (Friday night, just before the Sabbath commences) July 11, 2014, myself and notable Karaite Jewish personality/soon-to-be full-time Tulsan Isaac Kight will be conducting traditional Karaite Jewish Evening Prayers for Erev Shabbat. This will be the first of hopefully many gatherings of the traditional Karaite Jewish community of Tulsa, OK. The exact time and location have not been determined yet, but we’ll figure it out.

We’re you’re Jewish…
…non-Jewish…
…Karaite…
…Karaite-curious…
…Rabbinic…
…or anything else, hit us up!

Feel free to hit me up on Facebook or email me at kenjaylane@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to get back with you very promptly. If you attempt to add me as a friend on Facebook, please first send me a message outlining your intentions (“Hey Ken, I saw your blog post about the Karaite Jewish Community of Tulsa…” etc.) so I know why you’re attempting to friend me!

Shalom,

Ken

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.

Carrying a Mitzvah

The night before last, my wife and I stopped off at a gas station a few blocks from our home on the way back from some evening errands. I went inside while my wife stayed in the car with the door locked. As I came back outside, I noticed there was a woman at my wife’s side of the car talking to her through the glass. As soon as I stepped out of the gas station, she focused her attention on me rather than my wife in the car. 

“Excuse me, sir? My car is broken down a little ways over and I need a ride back to it. It’s very hot outside and I’m simply exhausted.” 

The woman certainly did appear incredibly exhausted as sweat was making her make-up run, her hair was wet, and the collar of her shirt was soaked through. She was breathing heavy and there wasn’t another car in sight. Without much hesitation, I said “Sure, hop in.” Before I had really a chance to think about it, we were off. 

“It’s just down the street a couple blocks over and under the bridge.” 

As the woman began to tell me where to go, something didn’t seem right about the situation. My mind began to race. Her car is broken down, yet she wants a ride back to it? Why was she in my neighborhood? How had she gotten there? Where she was telling me to go was becoming seedier and more ominous. More shadows loomed and I started to think about what is happening. I looked in my rear-view mirror to the backseat to now notice that the woman’s eyes were sucken and hollow with large gaps where assorted teeth used to be; features that aged the rest of her by decades. Is this a trap? How do I know that a couple able-bodied friends of hers hadn’t dropped her off in a relatively nice neighborhood to lure some unsuspecting good Samaritans back to a place less visible to be robbed? Thoughts started to race of how stupid I was for giving this woman a ride and how thoughtless I had been for not better protecting my wife.

She pointed to a dark spot a block or two away. “There. You can drop me over there.” I didn’t see any car. Quickly, I tried to come up with some excuse for dropping her off just a block short; where the street lights exposed all the details of the corner. 

“I want to take this upcoming one-way street back to where I was. Can you get out here?” 
“It’s just a block over. Over there.” 

My stomach sank. I remembered that my wife had left her cell phone at home, so I started to reach into my pocket for my cell phone to discreetly pass to her in case things went awry so she could call for help while I attempted to fend off any would-be attack; even if in vain. As I reached into my pocket, the lady called out. 

“Here is fine!” Again, I didn’t see a car for blocks and the point where she had called out was a ways before where she said she wanted to be dropped off. Before I even had a chance to grab my phone, I had stopped and the woman jumped out of my car before I could think twice. 

“Thanks!” she exclaimed and started walking ahead; beyond where I had dropped her off. 

Driving back home, I started thinking about what had just occurred. My wife commented about how the woman had a strong smell; like that of a cleaning product. I assumed so because similar products are used to make crystal meth; a popular street drug amongst the down-and-out. My mind jumped back to what had occurred. Why did she want out before she originally did? Why was she there? Why did she request to be taken back? Had some kind of attack been thwarted and if so, how? 

The next day, I relayed my story to a very good friend of mine who is more of a self-defense and weapons expert than I am; especially since I’m not one by any means. As I retold the story to my friend (a friend who has his concealed carry weapons permit and never leaves his home without a concealed firearm), it popped in my mind before he could even mention what I had been thinking: maybe she thought I was on to her scheme and thought I was reaching for a weapon. 

“Dude, that sounds sketchy as all get out. As much as I would have wanted to help, I would have thought it out more. And yeah, both you and Jill should have been armed in that situation. I’m glad it ended up it ended up not being as scary or as sketchy.” 

As I explained to him that I was only trying to do the right thing, he said that was good, but that I need to be more careful with any good works. 

“I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone is needy. I’ve watched teams of con-artists here in town swindle money and things. I’ve almost gotten attacked physically because a buddy and I were trying to help a lady. People are scary at times.” 

So, what do I do? Do I stop helping people in need? Do I say “Thanks, but I don’t know whether or not you’re a thieving crook” and let that prevent me from trying to stay true to myself, my faith, and my fellow man? Do I do what my friend recommended and arm myself? 

When I began thinking about it more, I began to realize that this really is one of the first instances in history when people have started to put their own protection solely in the hands of another entity; mainly, the police. In the past, even with police available, it wasn’t uncommon for citizens to carry protection in the form of a firearm or some other means of self-defense. Only in the past 20-50 years has the practice of carrying a weapon been stigmatized. Sadly, even in this technologically-advanced day and age, when only seconds stand between individuals and danger, the police are, at best, a phone call and a few minutes away. 

Do I really feel threatened enough or feel like I live in a rough enough neighborhood to justify carrying a firearm on my person at all time? Not necessarily. Still, the threat of danger always persists; even in the nicest of neighborhoods. In addition to the possibility of danger, the more people forget about the right to bear arms, the more that liberty is taken from them in the form of more gun regulations which mainly only act to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens because they are not practiced by the lawless. Those with intent to wreck havoc with a firearm do not pay any mind to “gun free” zone signs or weapons permits. It only tells these individuals to expect less resistance while committing their crimes. 

Am I going to start carrying a concealed weapon? Well, I’d have to start by first legally obtaining a firearm as well as the training necessary to confidently carry and use one. So, while I haven’t yet made up my mind on the issue, it is certainly on my mind; even if for no other reason than it is a right that the founders of my country fought to hold on to. If I do decide to carry a firearm one day, you won’t even know it. If that day comes, I pray to God that I never end up having to use it. 

Shalom. 

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. 

God Has it Figured Out

As I was headed home from work today and taking my usual exit off of the highway, one of Tulsa’s finest pulled out and changed lanes to end up just behind my car. Any other time there wouldn’t have been any problem, but today…I had expired plates.

I knew it was difficult to see the date on the plates without being right behind the car, so I tried to think of a way to limit the amount of time this officer of the law would be sitting directly behind my car at the red light that was up ahead. I immediately changed lanes to be able to hang a right at the red light. Guess what? So did he.

As I headed down the street, I kept a close watch in my rear-view mirror as the police car passed a car to wind up directly behind me. All but riding my bumper, I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw the inevitable blue and red lights. At the approaching intersection, there was a gas station on the left on the opposite side of the street. If he was following me, he’d just follow me into the parking lot. I got into the left lane just a second before he did as well. I decided to pull off to allow him to hit me with a traffic ticket or at the very least, a warning. I really didn’t feel like receiving either. 
The green left-turn arrow flashed and I turned first left, then immediately right into the gas station parking lot; assuming the squad car would follow me all the way in. As I turned into the parking lot, much to my amazement, the cop kept driving. As he vanished around the corner, I pulled into the nearest parking spot to celebrate my near brush with the law. Not paying attention to where I had pulled in, I found myself looking into the blood-shot eyes of a sweat-covered poor man in a stained and tattered t-shirt standing over the open hood of a car. We locked eyes and my stomach sank. I did my best to shoot him a smile. 
As I got out of the car, I could tell this man was in real trouble besides just having a broken down vehicle. In barely coherent words, he told me that his car needed a jump so he could get “him” home. Before I could ask who he was talking about, he pointed to the backseat of his car. In the backseat sat a little boy slumped over asleep in a car seat not a day older than three. The boy was drenched in sweat and his nose had run completely down his front. The backseat of a non-air conditioned car on a 90 degree day was no place for this little boy. I quickly scurried to my trunk to get out my jumper cables and hooked them up. I didn’t immediately notice that he had been holding up the hood of his car until I got out and he asked me to hold up the hood while he tried to turn the car over. The car started right up, I detached the cables, and the man mumbled a “thank you” as he quickly drove off in his rattling car; the little boy still asleep in the backseat.
From the moment that I saw the little boy, I felt like I was being drop kicked in the chest with the sensation that God is completely in control of everything. Many people ask “Where is God?” in certain situations. Others say “I will wait for God” in other situations. These people desperately need to open their eyes to see that God is not a man in the sky, but rather every molecule screams His existence. God lead me straight to that boy. He could have sent a tzadik (righteous man), but instead He sent someone who avoiding ridicule. He could have whisked the little boy away in the arms of an angel but instead, He chose someone who was trying to outrun responsibility.
I hardly remember pulling out of the parking lot to go home because I was so jazzed on the Oneness of God. May we never forget that God is in complete control. 

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