It’s not uncommon that I’m the only FFB at the table. It’s also not uncommon when I try and explain that Bay Area Judaism is unlike that of anywhere else. The orthodoxy is not mainstream by most anyone’s standards and I’ve been exposed to things I’ve never seen until I moved here, below is a short list of some of the strange practices of orthodox Jews in the Bay Area.
The Gender Neutral Bencher: I’m a dude who grew up with mostly dudes, so I’ve never even noticed that benchers were geared toward dudes until I started seeing the liberal version of the NCSY bencher everywhere I ate for shabbos meals. The Harvard Bencher as it’s known in some circles is gender neutral, so God is neither a man nor woman. I wonder at what point God gets to be told of his or her gender, of if it’s like those parents who never tell their children. This bencher has no He or Him or His, although I’ve found some screw ups where they refer to God in the masculine they don’t refer to God in the feminine even once.
Orthodox Women making hamotzi: Generally, in mainstream orthodoxy, women don’t do much in terms of ritual. They go to the mikvah, pop out children and make challah, but round these parts where the women are a bit freer they make hamotzi, havdallah and sometimes even Kiddush. No joke, it’s almost strange to hear a man say hamotzi in a modern orthodox home.
Kosher weddings with treife wine: I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if I would be the kosher supervisor at a wedding if they were going to be having non-kosher wine. It appears that the entire masechta of avodah zarah was skipped over by people who think that kosher supervision will somehow lesson the sins of drinking non-kosher wine. Just so happens to be that it may even be worse, halachically to drink treife wine than to eat treife food. I have been in my fare share of “kosher” homes where there was treife wine as well, kudos to those people who have warned me upon inviting me to their homes as to what their standards were.
Seats for self identified women: If you asked me two years ago what exactly a self identified woman was, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Sounds like one of those gender issues to me, but I would never have imagined to see such writing on a chair in a shul or a bathroom.
Solar powered sinks in a shul: You may say that those Conservative Jews know nothing, but I still found it a little shocking that a shul would have electric sinks that would specifically cause many people to be mechalel shabbos, at least they’re being green about it by using the solar energy generated by the lights in the bathroom to power those faucets. I guess I expected that a conservative shul would be a little more private about the whole shabbos breaking thing. Mipharhesya’s a bitch!
Chabadnicks who compost: One of my first Bay Area experiences was when I was yelled at by someone in the chabad of Berkeley for not composting my apple core and banana peel. Sure they must have been joking, but her scowl was not and I was told that it could never happen again. Since when did frum yidden care about the environment.
Frum people who say “I ate at”: Until 2 years ago I had no idea that “ate by” was weird. Only recently, through contact with people who didn’t grow up frum did I realize that it sounds very weird. I remember people asking me to write about the usage of the term “By” and having no idea why it made a difference. I now know the truth and notice every time I use the word by, like “I stayed by so and so” makes no sense, yet I know no other way.
Frummies not being racist: I know it’s strange, but I’m so used to frummies being racist and using the N-word in regular talk that I find it kind of weird when they aren’t, yet I’ve never heard one black hat person in the entire Bay Area (there are about 20 of them not including chabad) ever use the N-word. Sure they use shvartze, but that’s fairly PC compared to the N-word. In fact, I sometimes miss the non-political correctness of the east coast.
Women saying Kaddish: Women generally don’t say kaddish, it’s not prohibited, but from what I understand it’s a time related mitzvah and therefore those ladies don’t have to do it. Here in the Bay Area, women say kaddish, no matter what level of frumness your shul is – you can find a woman saying kaddish there.
Milchigs on shabbos: I actually like milchigs on shabbos, unfortunately, most of those having milchigs have fake milchigs are rarely bust out the cheesy goodness of shavuos. They usually just have quiche and fish, rather than lasagna or eggplant parm. Still, you will find regular frum folks having non-fleishig shabbos meals which rarely happens on the east coast.
Orthodox couples living together before they marry: I’ve met quite a few couples who are frum and lived together before marrying. Sure, most of them weren’t that frum at the time, but usually frum people don’t talk so frank about such things.
Frum folks not having two beds: I have noticed that many orthodox folks in the Bay Area have one bed in their bedrooms, I know that sleeping in a separate bed is another Niddah chumra, but I’ve always thought that it’s a generally accepted practice to have two beds, at least to pretend you’re keeping taharas hamishpacha.
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