My Tikvah Center Application for Jewish Study

February 15, 2014 is known to the world as the day after Valentine’s Day. To me it was the deadline to apply to study at the Tikvah Institute. This past Saturday, I compiled my application into one PDF file that included my CV, a personal statement, an essay on the 20th century figure whom I admire, and my thoughts on a significant challenge faced by the Jewish people. I logged into the Tikvah website, attached my supporting documents, swallowed and pressed send.

According to the Tikvah Fund website, “The Tikvah Fund is a philanthropic foundation and ideas institution committed to supporting the intellectual, religious, and political leaders of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.” The Tikvah Center for study is based in New York City, in midtown Manhattan. I discovered this learning treasure trove a little over two years ago, when I googled for ‘Jewish learning’. At the time, I had just started writing this blog and was relocating to Hong Kong, so I thought I would wait before I applied. Now, more than two years later, I feel more than ready to tackle New York City and the intellectual rigor and challenge of this program.

I applied for three Spring Advanced Institutes. My first choice is the Jewish Idea of God, followed by The Future of the Family and War and Human Nature. Three incredibly interesting topics in my opinion. I also plan to apply for the summer semester as well. Topics like Is Judaism a Religion?, Jews, Power, and the Bible, Reason, Revelation, and Jewish Thought, Zionist Statesmanship: Ben-Gurion and Begin, Divine Justice and Human Creativity  in Jewish Literature, and The Rabbinic Mind and Divine Law. There, I just listed all of them! :D

Will keep you guys updated on my progress!

Keep fingers crossed for me that I will be accepted!
love,
Xiaoming

Merry Christmas to Christian friends worldwide

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On this Christmas Day, December 25, 2013, I would like to reflect on the power of one man’s birthday. Jesus was a great Jew who brought together many people to the one true G-d.

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A Jewish New York to Remember

New York City, otherwise known as the “Big Apple”, is an amazing city. I’m enjoying myself a lot here staying in the TriBeCa area.

My first encounter with it was the last semester of University of Texas at Austin. I was evaluating two first job offers, one based in Dallas and the other in New York City. New York City to me at the time was an intimidating monster–full of rude, aggressive, and competitive people looking out for their own best interests to make and keep money. It wasn’t a city that I saw myself in, living or traveling to. I was simply too ignorant of what the massive metropolis had to offer on the brighter side.

Fast forward to 2013, walking around New York City seems like second nature to me. I am staying here for five days to explore some Jewish history, meet some new people, and try a Shul or two.

Wednesday night I met Elke Reva Sudin, a Jewish contemporary artist from Brooklyn. We had a fantastic vegetarian dinner at Cafe Blossom in Upper West Side talking various things Jewish and Chinese. She is the founder of Jewish Art Now, a “central portal for the convergence of Judaism and contemporary art with a fresh and innovative perspective”. Check out her art.

Thursday I met with Jeff Orlick, founder of Wox and Lox. Wox and Lox is the first and only Jewish and Chinese Christmas dinner in New York City. This year’s dinner is on December 28. If you are in the New York City area at that time, give it a try.

Tomorrow and Saturday I will be touring the historical Jewish Lower East Side. I will make a stop at the Tenement Museum to tour the food of Jewish LES. Friday night will be at the OZ Synagogue for Shabbat and Saturday I am contemplating a trip to Williamsburg to visit the Hasidic community.

Will post pics soon,

Xiaoming

Aside

Met Rabbi Wein and Memorizing the 613 Commandments

Hi Everyone,

Shabbat Shalom! It has been exactly two years since the inception of my journey into Judaism. Time flies when you are learning lots!

This week I want to write about two topics. Rabbi Berel Wein and the 613 Commandments.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Rabbi Berel Wein
[Source: http://www.rabbiwein.com

Last night for Friday night services, I made my way to Ohel Leah Synagogue in Mid-Levels Hong Kong.  The special guest of the week was Rabbi Berel Wein and his wife from Jerusalem Israel. Rabbi Wein, known in the Jewish world as “The Voice of Jewish History”, is an expert in all things history for Jews. His many videos, books, and lectures has made it to millions of Jewish and non-Jewish homes teaching and educating. For Shul, as in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, I sat upstairs at Ohel Leah with the women and the children while the men sat downstairs. After Shul, everyone made their way to the Shabbat dinner held at the Jewish Community Center next door. Rabbi Wein was to speak during dinner and I wanted to be front and center to hear from the expert himself. After the Rabbi and his wife sat down at the reserved table, I moved there too as I noticed it was not full. In addition to Rabbi Wein, our table consisted of the Assistant Rabbi Ariel and his wife Ayelet with their children, Cantor Mohel and his wife from Israel, and me.  Hebrew was the language they all shared – Rabbi Wein finally said we should speak in English, realizing I couldn’t understand Hebrew. I chatted with Rabbi Wein’s wife about my upcoming trip to Israel, plans to convert to Judaism, and hopes to speak Hebrew in the future.  She seems pleased of my research into Jewish culture and history. We moved topics to traveling and I offered her some sightseeing recommendations in Hong Kong.

After much chatter, some food, it was time for Rabbi Wein to speak.  The theme of his speech was the resilience of the Jewish people. Throughout history, Jews have been persecuted everywhere. The Jewish resilience should be applauded and respected.  With over a billion Christians, over a billion Muslims, and over a billion Hindus, Jews are a lonely group in number in comparison. The Rabbi reaffirmed that though the Jewish numbers are small, that’s what makes the Jewish people special.  Each and everyone count no matter how you look at it. It is the Jewish responsibility to model a higher moral ground for others. The country of Israel can be used as a model for other countries of the world.

The dinner came to a close and finished with dessert and song. I said my farewells to Rabbi Wein and his wife.  Afterwards, I started talking to Assistant Rabbi Ariel about conversion at Ohel Leah. Rabbi Asher, currently out-of-town, told me that I need to live within walking distance from Ohel Leah Synagogue. I inquired with Rabbi Ariel about that remark as I didn’t completely understand what it had meant. Rabbi Ariel explained that once I am serious with conversion, I will not be able to take public transportation during Shabbat. Not living within walking distance of the synagogue would be an issue.  See, I’m still learning as I didn’t even know of that rule. I was told to look into the seven Noahide Laws instead of a complete conversion. :-/

Meanwhile, been researching the 613 commandments or Mitzvahs and set a goal to memorize and practice all of it in the next month. The Chabad website has a great article on the 613 Mitzvahs. The 613 Mitzvahs are required of all Jews. Righteous gentiles are only required to follow the seven Noahide Laws that I stated earlier. Some are fairly basic while others are incredibly specific in nature. Some comes naturally to me while others will take some conscious effort to do. I committed to this exercise and will report back to you in one month’s time my progress.

Wish me luck.

Until next time! xoxo

Back in Hong Kong and Nice to meet you Rabbi Gilad Kariv!

Hi friends of my little humble blog!

I’m officially back in Hong Kong now. It has been raining non-stop but I am not complaining since it helps keep the temperature moderate and humidity checked. I had a wonderful trip back to the States. I visited San Francisco (my former home) and Dallas (my family’s home).  I was able to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones.

In San Francisco I visited Temple Emanu-el twice. First time was on a Sunday after Shabbat where I was able to take lots of photos of the Temple from the outside.  Second time was for a special Shabbat service honoring the Temple’s Chief Rabbi.  I was able to view the inside of the Temple.  It is a beautiful structure through and through.  With extremely high ceilings and ornate stained-glass windows, I felt transported into an ancient Jewish world.  I have uploaded some pics for you all via my Flickr. Enjoy! ;)

So I am back in Hong Kong now.  Recovered from my awful experience flying back transpacific.  My flight was delayed and upon missing my connection to Hong Kong, I was diverted to spend a night in Osaka, Japan.  United Airlines (A favorite) selected to put us into a low-level motel and I could not sleep at all. It was horrible. Anyways, I am all better now in Hong Kong.

The United Jewish Congregation in Hong Kong often hosts guest speakers and this week was not an exception.  Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israeli Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism visited Hong Kong and gave a breakfast talk on Reform Judaism and Israeli Politics. He was about mid to late thirties, handsome, with a quiet intelligence.  As in typical Israeli style, he was direct and forthcoming in communication style (I love this style BTW). I told him that I was currently researching various Jewish sects for a future conversion, he quickly provided his recommendation for Reform. :) He offered his card and if I am in Israel in the future to visit his congregation for Shabbat. I will definitely take him up on his offer when I am in Israel.

Until next time my dear followers! :)

Rabbi Gilad Kariv giving a talk in Hong Kong

Rabbi Gilad Kariv giving a talk in Hong Kong

Let Us Not Forget: The Reconstructionists!

Hello from Dallas Texas! My childhood home state in the US of A.

My summer trip back to my adopted homeland is almost over.  I shall be returning to Hong Kong soon.

I almost forgot about the Reconstructionist Movement within Judaism.  Barely heard about this sect so research took me a bit longer.

What exactly is Reconstructionist Judaism?

According to Wikipedia, Reconstructionist Judaism started within the Conservative Judaism movement.  It is a fairly recent movement, started by Mordecai Kaplan, a former Modern Orthodox Rabbi.  The Jewish Reconstructionist Movement defines it as “…a progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life which integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life.” It is the smallest mainstream  Jewish sect with just over 100 congregations worldwide.

How will being Reconstructionist Jewish Change me?

  1. Diet Changes – This one will parallel Conservative I believe, not as strict as Modern Orthodox.
  2. Schedule Changes – “where Reform Judaism emphasizes individual autonomy, Reconstructionism emphasizes the importance of religious community in shaping individual patterns of observance. Belonging to a community leads us to take the patterns of observance within that community seriously; our choices do not exist independently, but are made in response to our community as part of our participating in it.”
  3. Belief Changes – This, as is with Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform I will believe in the G-d of Israel.
  4. Life Changes – I think the biggest challenge of being Reconstructionist Jewish would be finding an appropriate congregation at home and when I travel abroad.  For example, Hong Kong only has Modern Orthodox and Reform because they are the most popular.

I close with a Jewish book that I plan to read on the flight back to Hong Kong from San Francisco. Have you heard of this before?

Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin's To Be a Jew

Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin’s To Be a Jew

Until next time! xoxo

Reform Jewish: Because that’s what most American Jews are

Hi Guys! I just returned from a wonderful trip to Japan.  I saw lots of Tokyo, some of Kyoto, and bits and pieces of Nara and Osaka. It was just lovely and I can’t wait to return. Tokyo is also home to the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Center of Japan.

This week, I will profile the other main sect of Judaism called Reform.

What exactly is Reform Judaism?

Just as its name suggests, Reform or Progressive Judaism reforms traditional orthodox Judaism. According to the Union for Reform Judaism, some key beliefs are:

  1. “Judaism frozen in time is an heirloom, not a living fountain” – Reformists welcome innovation into Judaism from outside cultures and influences.
  2. Reform Jews are committed to the principles of inclusion, not exclusion. Reform Jews reaches out to Jews-by-Choice and interfaith families
  3. Reform Jews are committed to the absolute equality of women in all areas of Jewish life.

How will being Reform Jewish Change me?

  1. Diet Changes – Most if not all Reform Jews do not believe in keeping kosher.  Their rationale ranges from corruption of the kosher industry, the kosher industry not accepting the reform sect of Judaism, and the boring old it is an out-of-date tradition.
  2. Schedule Changes – Most of the Jews I know are reform and they definitely do NOT attend Shabbat services every week. What I do see are Jewish young professionals attending Shabbat once in a while, if there is a cool speaker of some sort.
  3. Belief Changes – This, as is with Orthodox and Conservative, I will believe in the G-d of Israel.
  4. Life Changes – With reform, I will have more flexibility. Downside is that I won’t be recognized by the country of Israel.  Israel only recognizes Orthodox Jews, so what chances do I have if I want credibility and legitimacy as a Jew-by-Choice?

Again, much of this analysis is personal preferences.  I am in San Francisco this week and next.  Looking forward to visiting various Synagogues and Interfaith Organizations over my short visit.

See you next time!

xoxo

Me Conservative? Just Maybe! (Judaism that is…)

What exactly is Conservative Judaism?

In a nutshell, Conservative Judaism was founded in order to “conserve” Jewish traditions.  An American Jewish movement known outside the USA as Masorti, they were not in the business to reform Judaism like the progressives but not as strict as the Orthodox.  Conservative, the peace-keeping middle child of the Jewish movement family, boasts a strong 35% of the total American Jewish population.  It strives to balance modernity with traditional observance. Conservative Jews are not as strict in regards to Kashrut, or keeping kosher as Orthodox Jews. (yay maybe?!!) :-)

 

How will being Conservative Jewish Change me?

  1. Diet Changes – As a Conservative Jew, I would try to keep kosher but my observance would not be as strict.  So that means, I will still go out once in a while and eat to my heart’s content? (I hope Rabbis are not reading this…..)
  2. Schedule Changes – Similar to Orthodox, I may go to services but not as strict around schedule.  I will deter from using technology during Shabbat of course and have kosher meals during this downtime.  I will also be observing Jewish holidays.  There are too many of them to count!!
  3. Belief Changes – This is an obvious one.  I am agnostic for now, I believe in a higher being that unites all the universe-which the Jews refer to as G-d.  (Same as Orthodox, but Conservative Jews are open to integrate outside influences into Judaism and they allow scientific questioning of the religion)
  4. Life Changes – When I am officially Jewish, I will be one with the Jewish people.  Their suffering will be on me too. Their discrimination I will feel too. As a friend of mine said, I will be throwing my lot in with the Jews.  I wonder if I will still get to be Chinese? Would I have to drown out one of my identity for the other? I hope not! I love celebrating diversity of the human experience!

This movement sounds like a good fit for me so far.

xoxo

How Will I Change? The Orthodox Way of Modern Judaism

What exactly is Orthodox Judaism?

In one sentence, Orthodox Judaism keeps to its roots.  Men and women worship and sit separately in Synagogue.  The language used is Hebrew and traditional observances prescribed by the Torah.  Orthodox Jews believe G-d gave Moses all of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  10% of American Jews identified themselves as Orthodox in a 2000 National Jewish Population Survey.  One must keep Kosher, meaning, my lifestyle will change dramatically (!!!) The Jewish Bible considers the consumption of food and drink as one of life’s great joys.  As such, one must respect and take care of how food is prepared and served.  Over the centuries Rabbinic Judaism, the rabbis of the time, laid out elaborate rules for how to slaughter animals. Sounds really specific and bloody to me!

How will being Orthodox Jewish Change me?

  1. Diet Changes – If I become Orthodox Jewish, I will have to observe and keep to these dietary laws. Can I do it?  I like to eat too much…. Must consider this a bit more and deeply. >_< On the other hand, I have had kosher food at Chabad and Ohel Leah, it tastes well if prepared and cooked well.  There is also an upside to this change!
  2. Schedule Changes – I guess I won’t be going out Friday nights anymore. As least not during Shabbat.  I will be at Synagogue and attending services and eating kosher dinner.  This will extend through Saturday early evening as well. Well, its only one weekend night. I still have my Saturday nights.  I will have to pray on a schedule too I believe.
  3. Belief Changes – This is an obvious one.  I am agnostic for now, I believe in a higher being that unites all the universe-which the Jews refer to as G-d.
  4. Life Changes – If I am an Orthodox Jew, I can only marry an Orthodox Jew right? I haven’t given this too much thought yet….(?) I’m not particularly attracted to the long-bearded ultra-orthodox type of Jewish men. They kind of remind of me of Mormons. (no offense to neither groups!)

I’m sure there are some things that I’m missing but I got to finish my Literature Review for my class so I can graduate.

Information Sources:

http://www.ijs.org.au/Variants-within-Judaism/default.aspx

http://www.jewfaq.org/movement.htm

http://www.jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=43744

 

Help! Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform? (Reconstructionist)

Dear friends,

Thank you for reading!

This is an open letter to ask for some feedback.

Its been almost two years since my journey into Judaism.  I have experienced almost all the major movements in Judaism. Modern Orthodox at Ohel Leah Hong Kong, Reform/Progressive at United Congregation of Hong Kong, and Chabad at Shanghai.  Have not experienced the Conservative sect but heard it is somewhere in between Orthodox and Reform. If anyone knows of a Conservative Temple in Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York City, and/or Dallas – do pass the word.

Am asking because am at a point of deciding which one works for me and sticking to it for the long-term. At this point in time, I feel that Modern Orthodox is the best fit for me, I feel more connected to Ohel Leah in Hong Kong.

Would like to get some feedback on which sect your are with, why you choose it, and any suggestions. I’ll write more about how I feel about each and make a final decision by mid-summer.

I’m open to all types so don’t feel shy if you are not Modern Orthodox. Any feedback is welcomed.

Talk soon!

xoxo

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