Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Adventures in Reform Judaism

I have always wanted to visit Temple Beth Ora. Having always been something of a rabble rouser raised in a modern Orthodox home, Reform Judaism holds many allures for me. Reform is on the left wing of Jewish observance. It is not at all like the Reformed movement in Christianity, which is actually quite conservative. Services are egalitarian (men and women have equal standing in services and leadership). There is an emphasis on social justice to the community - the entire community, not just the Jewish community.

At the same time, my Orthodox baggage has made me somewhat cynical of certain aspects of the movement. Despite my desire for egalitarianism, something inside me cringes when I see a woman wearing a kippa (yarmulke) - to me, that is a man's piece of clothing. Our covering is our hair. Reform also accepts patrilineal descent. While I know this is all part of being egalitarian (it works both ways), the privilege of a Jewish heritage being transmitted through women makes being a Jewish woman all the more sacred and special.

Reform is based upon the principle of informed choice. That is, one learns the laws and then decides what one will or will not do based upon one's conscience, lifestyle considerations, and so forth. I totally respect this, and in fact have done this in my own life to varying degrees. However, now that it has been officially given a name, I kind of smile and wink while I sometimes refer to the principles of Reform Judaism as "Pick and Choose-ianity."

Is Reform a legitimate form of spiritual expression, or an excuse not to follow the laws, and engage in a feel-good social time on Friday nights or Saturday mornings? I would argue it is legitimate - the singing, prayers, and atmosphere in the place was absolutely reverent. I saw a lot of the same enthusiasm for G-d that I have witnessed in some of the most Charismatic churches I have visited. There is a choir that is absolutely stunning in its musical interpretations of prayers, and the rabbi has a gorgeous voice as well. In fact, there were a lot of similarities between this service and a church service - the choir, the piano playing, the singing, men and women sitting together - with the exclusion of anything having to do with the New Testament.

I love the fact there is a woman rabbi. That is the biggest point of contention between me and my traditional family when it comes to Reform. When I was a little girl I actually wanted to be a rabbi, and when I was told I could not because I was a female, I lost a lot of interest in my culture.

TBO usually meets on Friday evenings, which often does not work for me for family reasons. However, there is a Saturday morning service once a month, and when one of my friends on Twitter turned out to be a member of the congregation, she invited me along. The service also included a Bat Mitzvah of a young lady with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, and both sides of her family were equally represented in front of the congregation. She also have to give a drash (a teaching sermon) about that week's Torah portion, and her major conclusion was that she had studied the laws of kosher, figured out why G-d gave them to the Jewish people, but has decided that they are not for her. She sounded very much like a 13 year old girl! I will try not to be too cynical here, but this hearkens back to what I wrote about earlier concerning "Pick and Choose-ianity."

Even still, I am very intrigued about what I experienced here and plan to return, if only occasionally as my schedule allows. Despite the fact that I cringe at the thought of patrilineal descent, despite the fact that I am as likely to meet non-Jews here as Jews (most of the people there appeared to be part of intermarried couples), I think Reform is probably one of the few Jewish outlets for spiritual expression a lefty like me can go.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Web 2.0 for Activists and Community Organizers

These are the notes I used for my presentation during the breakout session/workshop, "Using the New Media" during Public Interest Alberta's third annual advocacy conference, "Beyond Band Aids and Bailouts: Public Solutions in Critical Times." My actual presentation stayed a bit from what I prepared, as I found myself faced with a number of questions concerning the use of Twitter. As a result, I did not spend as much time on the pros and cons of Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 for Activists and Community Organizers

I’m Paula Kirman and for the past several years I have been documenting the local activist community through photos, videos, and writing. In doing this, I have been utilizing several Web 2.0 applications and platforms to both organize events and publish content afterwards.

How many of you are on Facebook? Facebook is popular with activists for good reason. You can create or join groups for organizations and causes. You can organize events by creating a page for the event with all of the details and then inviting people on your friends list. Using one message, you can contact everyone on an event or in a group to inform them of changes or other relevant information. Facebook also allows one to upload photos, videos, and write notes (which are similar to blog posts), but do not have the space allotments, ability to organize, or audience potential of other social networking sites that specialize in these areas. Which brings me to . . .


YouTube allows user to upload videos on practically any subject matter. YouTube converts the video file into the proper format for streaming, hosts it indefinitely, and allows the video to be shared with a user’s subscriber and friends list. Videos typically have to be shorter than ten minutes, so longer videos have to be divided into parts.

Flickr is a photo sharing website owned by Yahoo. Users can organize photos into sets (based on date or event) and sets can be organized into collections (based on themes, like peace marches, for example). There is an upload limit and limit to the number of sets for free users. Site members have unlimited use of the site for a reasonable fee (something like $25 per year Canadian). You can have a contact list made up of other Flickr users and be notified when they upload new content.

Blogging allows anyone, anywhere to be a citizen journalist. You can integrate your photos and videos from Flickr or YouTube into your blog, allowing one to write a full report of an event with visuals. After I upload my photos and videos I will often blog about an event, using embedded visuals or linking to the specific videos or photo sets.

Twitter is a microblog. In 140 characters or less, you answer the question: What are you doing? In some ways, it is like the Facebook status update. However, users are taking Twitter to another level by posting short news items, links to articles, and other kinds of timely information that can come across well in a soundbite. I often post direct links to videos, images, articles, and blog posts.

·By using YouTube and Flickr I reach a much broader audience than simply hosting videos and photos on my own website.

·Web 2.0 is cost effective for the average person, because most of the applications are free, or have a very small fee. Videos and images take up a lot of bandwidth and private hosting can get expensive.

·YouTube and Flickr allow users to directly post videos and photos to their blogs. The image or video can be embedded directly on the blog post.

·The ability for YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and most blogs to have content uploaded directly from one’s cell phone or portable device allows a media activist to report on things while they are happening.

·You don’t have to know any programming or formatting languages. All of the formatting functions you need to blog are right there on the screen. This is called “push button publishing.”

·The social networking aspect of these sites allows for user feedback and interaction.

·Some Web 2.0 applications allows one to integrate all of their social networking and new media in one place, such as FriendFeed and Tumblr. If you produce a lot of content, these are extremely powerful tools. Someone can go to your FrendFeed, for example, and get a total aggregate of all of your recent uploads, blog posts, Twitter posts, and so on. Facebook is also excellent for posting thing to from other websites.

·User Agreements/Content Ownership: we’ve heard a lot recently about Facebook changing their User Agreement to use one’s uploaded content in any way they wish, including after said content has been deleted. This is nothing new – other user-content based sites have similar agreements. This is a concern for many people, myself included who makes a living from my original content like photos. At the same time, we have the use of these websites for free (mostly) so this is the tradeoff.

·Privacy: The more things you upload and publish online, the bigger your online footprint becomes. This can be an issue depending on what you’re putting out there. There are people who have lost their jobs or not been hired because their potential bosses found photos on Facebook of drunken debauchery. So first of all, I would recommend never posting anything that presents yourself in a compromised situation. But in presenting our politics as well, we may be put into positions where we have to explain or defend ourselves, although as activists that is probably something we are used to. In terms of personal safety, on most social networking sites you can set your viewing permissions to only people on your friends or contact lists. I do this on Facebook, which encompasses both personal and professional information. However, my Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, and blogs are mostly public because this is how I communicate and present my work – but even with these platforms you can set your permissions to reflect your comfort level which what people can view. Use common sense – don’t post private information (address, phone number) on a public site.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Put Norman Finkelstein on Twitter

Well, sort of.

It's a "fan" page because:

a) I don't feel comfortable officially representing someone without their permission.
b) Due to the interactive nature of Twitter, anything other than a "fan" page could end up becoming a one-sided conversation.

The page will post articles and news that Dr. Finkelstein's site are updated with, as well as additional links, videos, and interesting things I dig up during my many web searches concerning Israel/Palestine and his work. It's another way of promoting Dr. Finkelstein's work and related issues.

If you are on Twitter, you can follow @finkelfans. Even if you are not on Twitter, you can still view the page at

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Gallery Walk - An Afternoon of Firsts

I took part in the 124 Street Gallery Walk for the first time ever yesterday. The Gallery Walk takes place twice a year, so the galleries can show off their new displays for the season. I live-blogged my experiences and what I was seeing at my Twitter (@livingsanctuary). This was also the first time I set foot in most of these galleries, with the exceptions of Bearclaw Gallery (from which I proudly sport a turquoise ring) and Scott Gallery. I also stepped in to Front Gallery because it was along the way (right next door to several of the other galleries, in fact), even though it does not participate, for reasons I cannot figure out. Despite the wind, it was a lovely walk, even though I did not get to all the galleries. A couple of them were way in the other direction, making their inclusion in a route that otherwise had most of the galleries within a four block range surprising. However, I really enjoyed the diversity of subject matters, cultural representations, medias, and the other art lovers who were wandering around. It was great to be in the galleries with more than one or two other people present.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grassroots God

I've been finding myself in a series of dialogues about the nature of God with a friend of mine. This worldly, intelligent, downright real older man told me that he believes in a God that works from the bottom up, instead of from the top down.

A grassroots God.

A God who works with us where we are, and who we are, and with the world. Not one who created everything and everyone and then walked away, leaving us to our own devices.

While we definitely have some theological differences, I can definitely dig a grassroots God. While we have free will and have been left in charge of the world, God works with our choices and decisions - if we seek Him. If we don't, then He will leave us alone. So to me, it comes down to a choice of whether or not we're going to reach out to God and let Him into our lives.

I am not sure if this is exactly what my friend had in mind, but to me, what I have described here does not require belief in a God of a particular religion necessarily. Rather, it is a comment as to the nature of God as we seek Him, regardless of our faith.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Activism Through Child Sponsorship

I've been a child sponsor through Compassion Canada for almost four years. My first child is a boy in Bangladesh, His name is Joy, and he is now 11.

My decision to become a sponsor was driven by several reasons. As someone who has no children of her own, I felt this was a way of directly impacting a child's life while being able to have a personal relationship with the child. As someone who believes in Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), giving to charitable organizations is important, and through sponsoring a child I can directly see how my resources are being used. Finally, as an activist, sponsoring a child is direct actions towards fighting poverty, providing an education, and taking care of a young person spiritually.

My passion concerning child sponsorship has led me to sponsor a second child. Her name is Katerin, and she is 9 and lives in Bolivia. I have an interest in that part of the world as it is close to Argentina (a place dear to me as an activist and musician - gracias León Gieco y Mercedes Sosa), it is where Che was assassinated, and Spanish is the language spoken there. I hope to some day be able to write letters in Spanish to Katerin.

I encourage everyone, regardless of faith, to consider sponsoring a child. Yes, while we have to work towards eradicating the root causes of institutionalized poverty and oppression, we can also help those individuals affected directly by rampant capitalism and globalization.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Call to Worship - And Germs

I returned to the worship team this morning. It was the first time in over a month I had attended services, let alone took part in leadership. Honestly, I have been praying about my role, and was looking forward to it. I feel very called to lead God's people into His presence through musical worship. I took joy in tuning my guitar, in practising, and finally doing the actual leading in front of the congregation (which was reduced in numbers due to the pastor's absence).

The last time I felt this was was in late December, when I ended up getting very sick after being exposed to an illness going around the congregation. Another member of the worship team kept turning around and coughing in my direction, all the while insisting that she, "refused to be sick." I was sick most of January, and so was my mother who came very close to developing pneumonia as a result. My father also got sick, but fortunately not as badly.

Today, something similar happened. The child of one of the leaders, a toddler, was coughing and sneezing repeatedly, while sitting on the lap of another member of the worship team - pointed straight at me. I am now praying for my health, and for my elderly parents. I don't know if this is some sort of attack, or if the Lord is trying to send me a message that perhaps, while I am called to music, this may no longer be the place for me. I know that if I speak to the pastor about this it will not be taken seriously, as the people in question were relations of his.

I want to worship. I need to worship. But I cannot repeatedly risk my health and that of my family, nor do I think that is what God intends. I would appreciate prayer for direction, health, and wisdom in this matter.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lent, Passover, and Fermented Beverages

I'm Jewish, but I enjoy delving into the traditions of other faiths, in particular various sects of Christianity. I think Judaism and Christianity have far more in common than not, and if we could get over some of the historical stumbling blocks many of us could have a lot to learn from each other.

This year, I decided to observe Lent. Lent is the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter, where a Believer prepares for the season through prayer and self-denial. We often hear a lot about the denial part, and that is the main area in which I partook. I gave up drinking alcohol. Not that drinking is a huge part of my life, but health reasons and other circumstances led me to that decision. However, had I not decided to forsake of the booze for Lent, I probably would have had a few drinks here and there.

Other parts of Lent include prayer, repentance, and the giving of alms. Prayer should be a regular part of every Believer's life, and repentance is part of prayer - confessing and asking for forgiveness of transgressions against G-d and others. The giving of alms is also another part of both Christianity and Judaism, through tithes, offerings, and giving to the poor - the latter of which we should all be doing regardless of the season.

On Passover, which this year comes out very close to Easter, I will return to my regularly scheduled drinking. My modern-day interpretation of Passover, which is rooted in Exodus, is about freedom. Nothing makes me feel more free than four glasses of wine, two nights in a row. Seriously, I think the fact that wine is such a part of Jewish ritual made me have a healthy respect for alcohol in the first place.

Ridiculous as it may seem at this stage of my life, I am still the youngest in my family and as a result I sing the four questions (four glasses of wine/four questions - there must be some sort of symbolic relationship here). Here is a video of my folk interpretation of the song, along with subtitles added by a YouTube fan.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cross Canada Day of Action

I helped organize Edmonton's contribution to the Cross Canada Day of Action that took place this past Saturday, April 4. The event coincided with the NATO summit on the organization's 60th anniversary. For once, we had good weather. The crowd was smaller than we had hoped, but with little time to get things together and several competing events (as usual), I am happy with the turnout. And it is always a pleasure to play outside when the sun is shining and it isn't too cold. I could even take my coat off. Here is a look at some of the action.

Cross Canada Day of Action
Canada Out of Afghanistan
Say No to NATO
April 4, 2009
Churchill Square

Pics (34 images):

Intro (Doug & Me) (1:23)
I Sing "Walls" (3:59)
I Sing "I Only Ask of God" (4:28)
Safana Makhdoom (3:17)
Peggy Morton/ECAWAR (9:37)
People's Poets (10:25)
Sean Currie/Edmonton Peace Council (10:56)
Harlan/Friends of the Athabasca (3:20)
Dr. Tony Simmons (12:42)
I Sing "Butterflies and Rainbows" (3:20)