I don’t know if I can adequately explain how much I love summer in the Midwest. You’d think, coming from California, that I wouldn’t be so enthralled by sunshine. You’d think I’d be used to it. I suspect there are two reasons why I still feel so elated when summertime rolls around each year.
The first is that summer is qualitatively different in the Midwest. In California, rain comes in the winter, and the summer is dry and hot. Summer means sunshine, but it also means a brown, dead landscape. But in the Midwest, the summer months are peppered with powerful thunderstorms, so when I throw open the kitchen door to let in the sunshine, I see this:
The whole world is green.
And then, of course, there’s the sheer contrast. In California, we have two seasons: warm and sunny, and grey and rainy. It’s mild and pleasant, and one never needs a down coat, but I never truly appreciated the sensation of sunshine on my skin until I moved to the Midwest and experienced winter.
Rhubarb is another Midwest summer standby I never knew about growing up. It looks like red celery, but it tastes perfectly tangy and it bakes up into the most beautiful pies. Rhubarb has a short season, so make this soon, if you’re so inclined, and content yourself with the knowledge that, though rhubarb season will be ending soon, it’s not yet midsummer, and there are many more adventures to be had.
Gimme the recipe!
At the beginning of this summer, I set one goal for myself: to spend time enjoying simple pleasures. I have succeeded magnificently.
I have picnicked and barbecued. I have seen a craft project through to completion. I spent a delightful evening with new friends repurposing old books into luminaries for a wedding centerpiece. I have baked many pies and eaten them. I danced with my friend at her beautiful wedding, and the joy, pure and so palpable, has stuck with me all week.
Summer is an easy time to revel in simplicity, especially when it comes to food. All my favorite things are in season – tomatoes, apricots, rhubarb, basil, and, above all else, avocado, which is the one produce item I’ll buy year-round, no matter how out-of-season it is, no matter how many miles it traveled on a truck to reach me. I just can’t help myself.
Mmm, avocado. >>
As Shavuos came and went, I realized with a jolt that I have a wedding to attend – a wedding which is now this week.
That makes it sound rather like a punishment, doesn’t it? In fact, I am thrilled for my dear friend and I can’t wait to celebrate with her. But weddings mean gifts and in order to give a gift you must first have it in your possession, which means you must go to a store and buy a gift, or order one online, or make one.
My hermit-like tendencies overpowered me. I ordered half my gift online and made the other half with things I had at hand, rather than, you know, going outside.
Lest you think, Internet, that on the occasion of my friend’s wedding I’ll be giving her macaroni art, let me explain myself. This is a story of what happens when, as I so often do, I plan beyond my abilities. Tell me more!
I’m house-sitting right now, which means a different route to church. This week, I managed to arrive at my destination without using any of my usual streets, save the one on which my congregation meets. It was a delightful drive. It’s Pentecost, 50 days after Easter by the Christian calendar. The holiday is rooted in the tradition of Lizard’s Shavuos, 50 days after Passover, which the apostles were celebrating when the Holy Spirit descended on them, an experience described in Acts as having the sound of a violent wind and the appearance of tongues of fire which rested on the apostles.
In the car, public radio was featuring a BBC piece about the rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America, citing its dynamic practice and immediacy of personal involvement as strong draws for Catholics frustrated by bureaucracy, hierarchy, and liturgy. Pentecostal worshippers pay special attention to this anointing, emphasizing the believer’s direct experience of the presence of God through the power of the holy spirit. The idea is that faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking.
I agree that faith should be dynamically lived out, not merely professed by mouth, or considered in theological debates. But I must admit that I struggle with what this looks like. To be more specific. . .
Summer has descended upon my corner of the Midwest. How can I tell? A few ways:
Juicy, fresh, non-imported summer fruits are appearing in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
Last summer, we picked our own peaches. Not all of them made it home.
I bought this impossibly summery dress to wear to my friend’s June wedding.
I already let out the hem; now begins the epic battle to combine shells and shrugs and still look like a normal human.
And, of course, Shavuos is just around the corner. As in, tonight. I have quiche and cake and challah to make, but I thought I’d share this humble little thought with you, Internet, an amalgamation of several divrei Torah I’ve heard recently:
Of all the chagim, I’ve always had the hardest time connecting to Shavuos. I know it’s not just me.
I’m kidding, of course, but only halfway. This past Sukkos, a family from another shul in town invited myself and three of my friends to a meal at their home. We were making small talk and getting to know each other, and for this family, like for most frum folks, that meant trying to figure out who we have in common, as opposed to what we have in common. One of these friends happens to have a complicated family situation, involving conversion and relatives hostile to her religious choices. Not wanting to reveal her private life to these complete strangers, she dodged the interrogation with aplomb, but it got me thinking: if there’s a mitzvah to avoid reminding a ger of his past, and a mitzvah to avoid embarrassing others, then playing Jewish Geography with someone you’ve just met is probably not a great idea. Why’s that, you ask?
Over at her fantastic blog, Chaviva Galatz is running The Tzniut Project, which is really worth a read. The responses she’s gotten from different women regarding their perspectives on and experiences with tznius are completely fascinating.
Reading the survey responses, one point kept popping up again and again, and it really struck a chord with me. Several women mentioned that within the observant community, people often use standards of tsnius to categorize a woman’s entire observance. I’m definitely guilty of this. I’ve often assumed things like: “She doesn’t keep hilchos tznius at all, so she’s probably not fasting for Asara b’Teves today.”
Obviously, this is ridiculous for a whole bunch of reasons. First and foremost, how is that any of my business? Second, in my community many people are somewhat incongruous in their spiritual life, and that’s one of the things I love about my shul: if you’re totally frum when it comes to Shabbos and kashrus, but you’re still working on giving tzdaka or not speaking lashon hara – that’s okay. I know one guy who keeps chalav yisrael and eats only bais yosef but doesn’t wear a kippah. What I’m trying to get at is that different mitzvos speak to different people. We should strive to be doing our best in each area, but I think it’s perfectly wonderful to go above and beyond in that one mitzvah that’s especially meaningful to you.
But this leads us to an interesting problem: the intersection of tznius and kashrus, that murky area where, perhaps, the way you choose to dress does become my business. Here’s why.