Cons for Frummies

     I'm an Orthodox Jew (a "frummie" to some, although I reserve
that term for the "ultra-Orthodox" Jews who wear dark clothes and
big black hats and live in selected parts of Brooklyn and Israel.) 
For an Orthodox Jew, religion is more than a system of beliefs or
where a person might go to worship.  It's a way of life that
governs, among other things, what I eat, what I wear, how I speak
and how I organize my week, which revolves around Saturday, the
Jewish Sabbath.  The Jewish laws governing the Sabbath play an
enormous role in my life.  I'm also a science fiction fan.  My
husband Jonathan and I attend a number of conventions every year,
and we've served on several committees.  In fact, we met at a
science fiction convention called Philcon.  There are other
Orthodox Jewish science fiction fans, and there are Jewish science
fiction fans who do not call themselves Orthodox but who observe
the same laws to some degree or another - which is the case in the
real world as well.  I'll just use the term observant Jews.

     The spectrum of observance is very large.  It ranges from
people who only observe part of the dietary laws (they might avoid
all pork or all shellfish, for example) and occasionally go to
synagogue Friday nights to people who not only observe the laws,
but do so in the strictest possible way, even to the point of
creating customs that go way beyond the law itself.  Personally,
I'm sort of right of center in terms of my observance.  That means
that I do observe the laws but I do so maybe one or two steps more
than the most lenient permitted.  I've noticed that most Orthodox
Jewish fen fall more or less into this category.  Non-Orthodox
observant Jews overlap this category as well, although many do have
practices that Orthodox Jews would consider in violation.    

     The difference between Orthodox and Observant has to do with
their interpretations of Jewish law *and* what type of synagogue
they attend.  It tends to be Orthodox vs Conservative, where
Orthodox have a stricter and more traditional interpretation and
Conservative have a looser and more modern interpretation of the
same laws.  Reform Jews may be observant as well, but they make
their own interpretations.  As an Orthodox Jew, I believe that the
Written Torah (the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch)
was given by God to Moses, and along with that was given an Oral
Torah that fills in the cracks of the Written.  Conservative and
Reform Jews may or may not believe all or any of that and that is
what leads to differences in interpretations.  Again, I'm lumping
them all together as observant Jews, but, as I'm Orthodox, I'll be
mostly speaking from that point of view.

     Going to conventions presents challenges for Observant Jews. 
One of the biggest is Shabbat because there are so many things we
can't do, and so many other things we have to do, and conventions
and Shabbat can really get in each other's way.  There is a feeling
that I get on Shabbat that I can't describe, and somehow the
convention drowns that out.  It is certainly not forbidden to go to
them, but we often miss the peace we get elsewhere.  And since I
often provide kosher food at these in the con suites, I feel like
I'm doing a mitzvah - performing a commandment.

     I'll start by describing what my husband Jonathan and I do to
prepare for conventions, and what we do when we get there, with
breaks for the reasons.  I'll set those off with {brackets}

     First thing I do is call the hotel as soon as feasible, to
ensure we get a room on the floor we want.  As this is one of many
special requests, I do not mail my reservations.  I request
specific floors because, among other things, most Observant Jews
avoid elevators on Shabbat.  We do that so that we don't violate
the Shabbat by "working."  We do other things as well to avoid

     {"Working" is an incorrect term.  It's a poor translation of
the word "malacha", which is closer in meaning to "creative labor." 
There are thirty-nine malachot - broad categories of activities
that cannot be performed on the Sabbath.  We got them from the
Bible itself - there is a detailed discussion of what work was
involved in building the Tabernacle in the wilderness, followed
immediately by an injunction to obey the Sabbath.  This tells us
that 1. the Sabbath takes precedence over building the Tabernacle
and 2. the activities used to build the Tabernacle are forbidden on
Shabbat.  Among these categories are cooking, using fire, weaving,
writing and building.}

     {Elevators are forbidden because they run on electricity. 
Electricity is a puzzle because, as is well known, it wasn't used
for anything at the time the Tabernacle was built.  We're not even
actually certain it is forbidden, but we still don't use it in case
it is.  The rabbis have proposed several categories where it might
be included.  One is fire, as it shares some attributes and uses. 
Another is cooking, because the metal is heated and reformed.  This
makes sense if you understand that forging metal is also under the
category of cooking - and incandescent lamps do indeed "cook" the
filament.  A third is building, which includes completing something
such as a circuit.  Every time you actively use an electrical
device, you immediately cause a circuit to open or close.}

     {In the case of elevators, you must signal the elevator to
come to you.  This entails pushing a button, which causes an incan-
descent lamp to glow.  It also might cause the elevator to move, or
the doors to open.  Once inside, you have to push the button for
the floor you want - and another lamp glows.  If you are going
down, more power is used to keep from falling so fast because of
your additional weight.  All of these are forbidden.  On Shabbat,
most Observant Jews prefer to use stairs.}

     I try to request a room on a floor close to the main con
activities so that I minimize time on the stairs.  This means I
have to know the hotel well.  If I don't, it's usually a safe bet
to request a low-numbered floor.  I may or may not tell the
reservations person why I want this floor.  Once, when I did tell
them this, it backfired.  We were going to Phrolicon, which is a
very small convention in a very large hotel, so they normally share
space with other groups.  This particular year, this hotel was the
overflow space for a J-hovah's Witness convention.  They stuck us
with the other religious folks - on the 9th floor.  We arrived too
late to change our room, so we learned to love the stairwells.

     {There *are* other solutions to this problem if you absolutely
need to use the elevators.  One is to keep a non-Jewish friend with
you at all times.  The friend must be non-Jewish because you can't
get any physical benefit or profit from the sin of a Jew, even if
the Jew doesn't see it as sinning.  You also can't lead a Jew to
sin, even if the Jew doesn't see it as sinning - for an Observant
Jew, it is a sin for themselves.  Anyway, the non-Jewish friend is
with you at all times, so he is going where you are going. 
Therefore, he needs to press the buttons and ride the elevator
himself.  You just go along with him.  Note that he is doing this
action for himself, not for you.  This is important.}

     {If you don't have a pet non-Jew, and most folks don't, it is
possible to enter at the lobby with a bunch of other people and
hope that someone presses a button close to where you are going. 
Get out there and take the stairs the rest of the way up (or down.) 
Some cons, such as Philcon, have their con suites on the top 
floor.  I often work in that con suite - one year, I was the
official assistant.  To get there, I get in at the lobby with the
knowledge that it will go to the top floor no matter what.  My
presence makes no difference.  Also, it's a common destination.}

     {But the best solution is to make taking the stairs as easy as
possible.  So, if I'm going to Lunacon, I ask for the third or
fourth floor.  If I'm going to Philcon, I ask for a low floor.  If
I'm going to Arisia, I want five or six, although seven will do. 
If I'm going to Phrolicon, I take the third or fourth, which is
where all the con activity is.  And if I'm running a con suite, I
either sleep in the room itself or take an adjacent one.}

     As I make the reservation, I make one additional special
request - I ask for a refrigerator.  {This is because, like most
Observant Jews, I keep the Jewish dietary laws.  That is, I keep
kosher and follow the laws of kashrut.  In a nutshell, I avoid all
animals that do not both have cloven hooves and chew their cud, all
fish that lack both fins and scales (shellfish, shark and catfish -
 some groups permit swordfish, mine does not), all animal meat that
has not been slaughtered in the correct ritual fashion, all animal
meat that has not been salted and soaked or broiled to remove all
possible blood and all combinations of milk and meat.  All my
processed foods and cheeses must bear proof that their manufacture
was under proper rabbinical supervision so I can be sure there are
no non-kosher ingredients.  I also avoid all foods that were cooked
in utensils used to cook non-kosher foods.  In my home, I keep all
meat and dairy utensils strictly separate.  Most kosher restaurants
are either meat or dairy, and I do not eat cooked food at non-
kosher restaurants.}

     {Kosher restaurants are not common outside of heavily Jewish
areas, and anyway none of them are open on Shabbat, so I have to
bring my own food.  This means I need a refrigerator to keep it
fresh.  So I ask for one.  Some hotels charge, some do not.  Some
run out of fridges and I have to make do with coolers.  Once we
removed all the contents of the minibar and used that as our
fridge.  Since we ate none of their stuff, they couldn't charge us
for it, but we did leave an extra tip for the chambermaid who had
to repack it.}

     Special requests done, I preregister for the convention.  This
usually means that I can be done with registration faster -
especially in cons I attend frequently, where they expedite me. 
This is because they know I can't write on Shabbat.

     {Writing is another malacha.  It's a broad category, and it
includes business and money - you can't do business without
writing, and money *is* business.  So I make sure as much paperwork
is done in advance as possible to get through a crowded Friday
afternoon.  One friend of mine, who is habitually late and often
arrives at the last minute, has been known to toss credit cards at
reg or even the hotel desk and straighten things out after Shabbat
is over.  I don't know how this is managed.}

     The day before the convention, assuming I'm only attending
instead of working, I'll get whatever food I'll need, and cook it
if necessary.  That night or the next morning, I'll pack my
suitcase.  Because Shabbat is such an important day, I'll make sure
to have at least one nice dress and Jonathan will take a coat and
tie.  He has a Space Shuttle tie that gets complements.  We will
also take a timer for a lamp, prayerbooks, Bibles and our "Shabbos
kit."  This holds two tea candles, two decorative holders for the
candles, a sheet of foil, matches, a silver cup, a small box of
sweet spices and a small multiwick candle.  I've forgotten soaps
and shampoos.  I've not forgotten this.  I'll describe the uses as
I go along.  We also take a roll of duct tape.

     Among the food supplies will be a bag of twisted rolls and at
least one bottle of grape juice.  These are also important for the
Sabbath, and will be described in due course.

     I arrive at the hotel as early as possible.  Often, I arrive
there without my husband, although I might have another passenger. 
My husband usually works until the last minute.  At hotel
registration, I confirm the floor and the fridge and everything
goes to the room.  Once I get things stowed away, I register for
the two of us.  I'm always in a rush because Shabbat is looming. 
Somewhere along the way, Jonathan and whoever we're rooming with
show up.  We also hook up with as many of the other Observant Jews
as we can (shouts of "what's your room number" fill the air.)

     Then the prep for Shabbat begins.  We take our turns at the
shower.  The men who shave, shave.  We dress.  We prepare the room. 
Since we can't turn lights on if they're off or off if they are on
*during* Shabbat, I use a timer and set it *before* Shabbat.  We
try to pick the lamp that will give the most useful light without
being annoying if we want to sleep before it goes off.  We are
filkers, so we keep late nights (although as we age, we find late
nights are getting earlier.)  I guess at when we will return so
that the light goes off shortly afterwards.  It doesn't really
matter, as we can sleep with it on and the bathroom light will
provide enough light if it's off.  We tape that last one on with
the duct tape.  If we don't, someone will turn it off, if only the
chambermaid the next day.  And that means going to the bathroom in
the dark as well as losing what light it provides.

     We store away the "muktza."  {Muktza are items that cannot be
moved on Shabbat - either because they are directly forbidden, such
as pens and plows or because their normal use is forbidden on
Shabbat, such as a hammer or a video tape.  If you can come up with
an alternative use for category two muktza (nutcracker, paper-
weight), then they can be moved.  We usually designate a drawer for
it, and take it out of whatever bags we might be carrying around
with us during the convention, or take what we need and can use out
of bags we will store in that drawer - like if I keep a book in my
knitting bag.  Knitting is weaving - a malacha.}
     Then we prepare the door.  {One of the most annoying things
about conventions is that the upscale hotels we need almost always
have electronic door locks.  These locks require you to slide in a
magnetic striped key, which causes a little green LED light to glow
and the door unlocks.  You guessed it - it's electric and it's
forbidden to use.   Well, it's probably forbidden.  Most observant
Jews have ways of keeping the door unlocked.  I'd rather not go
into them because I don't like advertising how or who.  *We* don't
take many valuables to conventions, but others do.  Some take
instruments (muktza on Shabbat since we don't play music - we do
sing, though), others laptops or fancy sound equipment.  And there
are costumers and gamers and members of the SCA, all of whom have
more than a couple of filk books to lose.  Since these things can
be quite a financial loss (and the hotel had no liability if you
leave your door unlocked) the very fact that electricity is
questionable and that the light is LED, not incandescent (so no
filament is being cooked) means that some may be permitted to use
the doorlocks.  Of course, if an Observant Jew doesn't believe that
electricity is forbidden, as some non-Orthodox do, it isn't a
problem at all.  It's also possible to have that pet non-Jew.}

     Okay.  Everything's ready and just in time because the sun
will set in 18 minutes.  Our always late roommate speeds through
the door for his shower.  He has eighteen minutes; I don't because
it's traditional for women to light the Sabbath candles at this
point.  Men only light candles if there are no women or girls
present.  I've set up my Shabbos candles on the foil on a table
away from a smoke alarm.  With the foil, the glass containers and
the metal holders for the little candles, there is no danger.  I
light them and make the blessing, and for me it is Shabbat and I
can no longer do any malachot.  My husband, though, has a few more
minutes to do last minute stuff if he needs to do them.  If I
didn't have the candles or was afraid to light them, I'd make the
blessing over the lamp on the timer.  The purpose of the candles is
to provide light, you see.  It's also a symbolic last malacha.

     At this point, all the observant Jews gather in one room. 
This has been prearranged and word has been passed.  Some
conventions will even provide a conference room for us to meet, but
there usually isn't enough of us for that to be necessary.  The men
and those women who wish to begin to pray the afternoon and, as the
sun disappears, the evening service.  At this point, it becomes
Shabbat for everyone.

     {At the last three Lunacons we've been given conference room
space.  We've also managed to get a minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish
males over the age of thirteen.  Non-Orthodox Jews permit minyans
of men and women.  Some prayers, such as the mourner's prayers
(thank God we rarely have mourners) must be said with a minyan, and
someone will lead the services.  Also, Orthodox services require
men and women to sit separately, preferably with a partition of
some sort between them.  This year, we had such a partition at
Lunacon.  It consisted of poles, bases, wire and a couple of shower
curtains and it fits in my car trunk.  Again, normally we don't
have space, we don't have a minyan and we don't have a partition.
My husband led the services that night.}

     Then we went to the room where we'd be eating Shabbat dinner. 
Normally, of course, we'd already be there.  If there is a
sufficient crowd, we will have a potluck with everyone bringing a
dish or two, or disposable table ware (plates, flatware, napkins,
cups) or soda or the required rolls and grape juice.  This will be
organized ahead of time, but strangers are welcome.  The food will,
of course, be served buffet style.

     {One year at a small convention, there were only four
Observant folk, and three of us were in one room.  Knowing that, I
went to a local kosher deli that day and bought a "Shabbos special"
- a couple of chickens, some side dishes and a fish dish.  Of
course, the deli closed before Shabbat but I arrived in plenty of
time.  Even so, the chickens were still warm when we ate them in
our hotel room.  And I was able to set a proper table and serve the
meal family style.  It felt like family, too, since the other
people were my husband and two friends of ours who happen to live
in our own neighborhood and are thus frequent Shabbos guests -
sometimes even at the same time.  It was *nice.*}

     {All Shabbat meals, at home or away, begin the same way.  We
may or may not sing two songs of blessing beforehand, but kiddush
never changes.  This is when the head of the household makes a
special blessing over a cup full of wine or grape juice (that's
what the silver cup is for.)  At home, it's usually the lease or
homeowner.  At a convention, it may be the oldest married man
present; it may be a natural leader; it may simply be the guy who's
renting the room.  It may even be the man with the best voice.  It
is usually a man, but women can and do make kiddush.  The blessing
is sung and all partake of the wine.  Then there is a ritual of
handwashing.}  This can be funny because it takes a long time for
fifteen people, some of whom need coaching, to ritually wash their
hands if there is only one bathroom - and one is not permitted to
talk between the handwashing and breaking the bread.  There is
always some guy who washes last and chats with everyone.  Some
folks play (or use) sign language or gestures, and someone else
will start humming a tune.  This being a convention, it just might
be a filk tune.  Humming is permitted.  In fact, that last guy to
wash will probably come out humming - he's the type who can't be
quiet so he finds some way to make noise.  Then the leader takes
two loaves of bread and makes the blessing, and breaks it. 
Everyone gets a bite and we can all talk again.  Some people who
have panels will cut out early, and some people will only show up
for the kiddush and the bread and leave.  The rest of us will not
dawdle because there is a convention out there.  We eat and clean
up and say the final long blessing after any meal with bread, with
the Shabbat additions and then we disperse.

     The rest of that evening won't be all that different from
anyone else's - we will stop in at the con suite, go to various
room parties, (taking care to eat only foods that meet our
religious requirements - most sodas, certain brands of candies and
chips, all beer) meet up with friends in the hall, go to a late
panel or the dance or the concert.  If there is a dealer's row, we
might browse there.  A dealer's row is a row of sleeping rooms that
the hotel permits to be used as selling space.  Each dealer had his
or her own room.  This can be tricky since I don't have money and
can't do business.  It's cruel to get someone's hopes up, so if I
don't know the dealer I'll tell them I don't have money at present. 
If I know the dealer, I'll just chat because they all know.  

     {Of course, we don't use elevators if we can't avoid them. 
But, there are other uses of electricity around that we have to
consider.  For example, microphones.  There are some big name fans
among the Observant.  We even have our very own almost-award
winning writer.  They will be called upon to do panels - or even
moderate them.  And there may be a microphone on the table.  Many
Observant are filkers, too, and someone always has a recorder going
at a filksing.  Using a microphone causes circuit changes in it and
in a speaker.  Some will refuse to use them (but they can't be
pushed away, being muktza in and of themselves), but most will just
ignore them since they didn't put them there, they don't care if
the microphones go away, and they have no intentions of using
     {Another item, and a truly minor one, are the films and video
tapes they always show at conventions.  Or, perhaps someone turned
on the tv in the con suite or the staff den.  The best answer to
that is not to worry about it.  The tapes, films and tv were not
put on for us and if we leave they will still run - even if we are
the only ones in the room.  Someone else will wander by.  I
remember one morning when I was running the Lunacon staff den. 
Four religious Jews sat there eating cereal and watching Saturday
morning television.   Why not?  They didn't turn it on or choose
the channel, or would they turn it off.}

     {For my husband and me, it would not be a convention without
filking.  Singing qua singing is not a problem.  However, musical
instruments are, as they are forbidden on Shabbat.  Most Observant
filkers are content to let others bring their own instruments and
listen to them play - although Jonathan would prefer it if they
didn't accompany him.  That's not just for Shabbat - it throws him
off.  There are other Observant fen who *are* bothered by the sight
of musical instruments on Shabbat.  One, who actually ran the
filking for Lunacon, tried to institute an a cappella, instrument
free filk room.  No one came.}  

     {The other Shabbat/filking conflict is creativity.  It can be
immensely frustrating to get the idea for a great instafilk and not
be able to write it down.  One filker I know will collaborate with
a non-Jew so that isn't a problem.}

     {The only other problem I can think of is Philcon and its
architecture.  The convention area of the Adam's Mark hotel is kept
strictly separate from the rest of the building.  One exits one
bank of elevators, walks across the lobby to another set of
elevators and goes down a couple of stories.  There are all the
conference and ball rooms.  The hotel often has a dance or
something on Friday night, but they usually manage to avoid
conflicts of space.  There are stairs in the main building and
stairs to the convention center, but, for reasons of, I assume,
fire safety, the stairs in the main building do not open onto the
lobby but outside the building entirely.}  

     {Observant Jews, at least on the more Orthodox side, do not
carry anything in their hands or pockets from a private domain to
public domain or vice verse.  Carrying is a malacha.  Most people
observe this by not carrying anything at all in a public domain but
carrying whatever they want (that isn't muktza) in a private one. 
Wearing, by the way, is not carrying and it is permitted to wear
jewelry as well as clothing.  Housekeys are gilded and made into
special broaches or tieclasps, or left plain and made part of belts
so they can be worn.  As you can see, type and weight of object is
not a factor in this.}

     {Domains are determined by physical boundaries.  If a piece of
property does not have a physical boundary, either natural or man
made, such as a fence, it is considered either public property or
questionable.  Questionable is useful and covers a large range. 
It's useful because one can put a fence around a questionable area
- a fence being defined as a post and lintel, which can be two
sticks with a wire strung at the top.  It's possible for an entire
town to be a questionable area, and for people to string such a
fence - or use existing pole and power lines as the fence.  This
means a mother can take her stroller age children out on Shabbat
instead of them being stuck in the house or yard (provided yard has
a fence.)  It's even possible to do this for a city neighborhood,
and it has in fact been done in my own.  While I don't have
children, it's nice to see them in synagogue.}

     {The property around the Adam's Mark hotel does not have a
fence.  Jonathan needs to have his filk songbooks with him at a
filksing, but if he has to go through a public domain he can't take
them to the filkroom.  However, I took a course on the subject last
summer and described the area between the stairway and the lobby
doors to the rabbi teaching it.  He said the system of overhangs
and walls and the size of the gaps between them (fences and walls
can have small gaps) means that that little area is still in a
private domain, so that problem was solved for us.}

     {This is a bigger problem at Worldcons, since there are
usually a number of hotels and/or a convention center involved. 
First and foremost, we must take care to be in a hotel as close as
possible to the con activity, as we cannot use shuttle buses or any
other form of transportation on Shabbat (other than walking, I
mean.)  All modern forms of transportation involve either
electricity or the internal combustion engine.  The latter is fire
without question or doubt and therefore forbidden to most Observant
Jews.  Conservative Jews have permission to drive to the nearest
Conservative synagogue if they have no other way of getting there
and that is the extent of their religious involvement.  Orthodox
Jews would simply not go to synagogue at all.  No one has
permission to drive anywhere else.  There is at least one
convention, I-Con, in the New York area which is difficult, if not
impossible, for Observant fen to attend because the hotel is not in
walking distance to the convention.}

     {But, even if the con is in walking distance, we cannot carry
between hotels, so if we are going to something in a different
hotel, we must leave everything behind.  I didn't go to LaCon, but
some of my Observant friends did.  They chose to stay in a hotel
that used standard keys instead electronic ones.  Since this hotel
had no con activities in it at all, they had to make sure that
whatever they might need in the main hotel on Shabbat was already
there, stashed in a friend's room or something.}

     However, at the convention I'm attending in this article,
everything is enclosed so there is no problem about carrying
anything.  This is good - like any normal fan, I'm uncomfortable
unless I know I have a book in reach.  Reading is absolutely
permitted on Shabbat.

     Sometime before dawn, we find our way back to our hotel room. 
I've probably miscalculated, or we had a better time at the filk
then we expected, so the timer has gone off and the room would be
dark, except that we have the bathroom light on.  The candles that
I lit have long since burned out.  We have just enough light to get
ready for bed and to find our stuffed animals.  Our roommate is not
back yet - he's playing Magic or Scrabble or still filking.  We
settle down in the too-small bed and go to sleep because we have to
wake up far too early the next morning.  We have to say our
prayers, you see.

     {There are three Jewish prayer services, each of which has a
window of time in which it must be said for full credit.  The
morning prayer can be said between dawn and the middle of the
morning; the afternoon prayer can be said from a half hour after
midday until sunset; the evening prayer can be said from sunset
until the next dawn but best before the night is half done.  As a
woman, I'm not required to say all these prayers but if I do, I
should say them at the right times.  On Shabbat, the prayer
services are longer with extra psalms and hymns added and there is
an additional service after the morning one.  The prayers are said
whether or not we are in synagogue.  It's better there because
there are Torah scrolls so we can read the weekly portion and
because we consider it better to pray in public, but there is
nothing wrong with praying where ever you are - synagogue is not a

     So, we stagger awake and say our prayers, quietly so as not to
wake our roommate.  He stumbled in around dawn so he's already said
his prayers before going to sleep.  Since we are praying privately
and there is no Torah service, the prayers last about an hour or
so.  Then we should go back to sleep but we don't.  Jonathan pours
a cup of grape juice and we make kiddush once again.  Maybe we also
break bread, or maybe we settle for a poptart for breakfast and
arrange to eat lunch together later.  If I'm working in the con
suite, Jonathan will bring me the grape juice and a couple of
rolls.  I can make kiddush for myself but he's much better at it.

     {Back to Lunacon this year.  I mentioned we had a space with
a partition to separate the sexes- well, actually, the partition
was collapsible so we could put it up and take it down.  As it was
a temporary thing, we could do so on Shabbat, which was good since
that space was also a function room.  We also had a Torah
scroll.   These are handwritten on leather parchment and are
extremely valuable - tens of thousands of US dollars.  A friend of
ours, Zev, who is also a member of our synagogue borrowed it (with
permission) from the synagogue and transported it to the hotel,
wrapped in a prayer shawl (a ritual garment worn by Jewish men and
some women during the morning prayers) in the trunk of his car.  A
Torah scroll has its own covering, but you want two layers of

     {To the surprise and consternation of the convention com-
mittee, we kept the Torah scroll, well wrapped, in the Ops room. 
After all, there is always someone there, 24 hours a day.  However,
most of the Lunacon committee is composed of non-Observant Jews. 
This means that they are aware of both the value and the religious
significance of the scroll.  At least one person felt strange
counting money in front of it on the Sabbath, and several were
wondering if they should wear a yarmulke, a traditional
headcovering that men wear as a form of respect - some only when
praying or in a synagogue, others at all times.  This is pretty
much true across the board in Judaism.}

     {That Shabbat morning, we all met bleary and early in the
assigned room and set up the partition.  We did not have ten men at
that point, but we knew that at least one man was willing to be
wakened if we needed him and there were other Jewish men wandering
the halls who might be willing to at least step in.  Meanwhile, the
early part of the services did not require a quorum, so we got
started.  By the time we needed one, we had it (although we did
have to wake that man.)  There were some amusing bits.  I mentioned
the prayer shawl.  Well, in Orthodox circles, it's traditional for
only *married* men to wear them.  Therefore, we had exactly as many
prayer shawls as we had Orthodox married men, plus one for the
Torah.  That would have been okay, except that it's also
traditional for anyone who gets an honor (leading a service, making
a blessing over a seventh of the reading, reading the Torah scroll,
lifting and displaying it, dressing in its cover, and reading the
additional prophetic material for that week) to wear one.  My
husband's prayer shawl was passed around to almost everyone, and at
one point, Zev, who read the scroll and who isn't married, was
wearing Jonathan's, so Jonathan had to wear someone else's. 
Reading from a Torah scroll is a skill because each word is sung to
a precise tune, which must be memorized as the Hebrew in the scroll
contains neither vowels or punctuation.  Zev, who also reads at our
synagogue, is very good at this.}

     {That wasn't the only familiar element for us.  Jonathan, who
has a nice, warm baritone, often leads the services at our
synagogue.  Jewish services are always sung, you see.  So I saw two
familiar men performing familiar roles.  There wasn't much of a
choice, since it happened that few of even the Orthodox men present
were skilled in those areas.  Zev ended up also leading the
additional service and Jonathan read the portion from the Prophets
- badly, as he hadn't practiced.  This isn't as difficult as
reading from a Torah scroll since it's read from a printed book
with all notes, punctuation and vowels clearly marked, but it's
still not great to do it cold.}

     {It's traditional in many synagogues to perform the morning
kiddush right there, usually sponsored by a member in honor of some
occasion.  In this case, it was a day or so before our wedding
anniversary, so we provided grape juice and cookies and even had it
announced as it would be in a real synagogue.  Which this was, at
least for the time the services were conducted.  Then we folded the
partition up, returned the scroll to Ops and went back to my room
for lunch.)

     In this convention, though, Zev is still sleeping in our room
as we attend some morning panels, and, once they're open, wander
through the con suite, the art show and the dealer's room.  I'll
talk shop with the con suite person, Jonathan will browse the
artwork for something to buy for our house or his office - he just
has to take care that it's something we can display.  In other
words, no nudes and no depictions of non-Jewish religious
practices.  This can be rather frustrating at times, but we do have
a small collection of SF artwork.  He'll make his bids Sunday
morning.  As for the dealer's room - well, they're used to browsers
and I can chat with friends stuck there.

     Eventually, we will wander back to our room and have a more or
less formal lunch (the second of the three required meals.) 
Sometimes we'll have a group join us, and we'll sing religious
songs and maybe even have a discussion on the portion of the week. 
That's what happened that Lunacon, which honestly felt more like a
religious retreat then a convention.  Often, though, we'll just be
by ourselves.  

     The rest of the afternoon will progress the same for us as for
anyone else.  We'll attend panels, hang out in the con suite, meet
with friends, perhaps volunteer for such work as we can do.  We
will make time to say the afternoon prayers, but those were private
even at that Lunacon, and they don't take much time.  And, if we're
smart, we'll take a nap.  It doesn't feel like Shabbat to me unless
I do take a nap.

     When the sun is down and we can see three stars in the heavens
(or when our calendar tells us it's time), we'll gather in
someone's room and say the service that separates the sacred from
the profane.  Many men make a point of saying the evening prayer at
this point, but it's not necessary.  The service involves a cup of
wine, a box of sweet spices and a multiwicked candle.  The candle
says that we can use fire again; the spices fortify us for the
coming week; and many prayers are said over wine (or grape juice.) 

     It is then a weekday.  We can lock our doors, buy things (just
in time for the dealer's room to close), turn on and off lights and
ride elevators.  I'll take the timer off the light.  I still can't
eat anything but what I and my friends have brought, unless there
is a kosher restaurant in the area that's open on Saturday night. 
If there is, we might organize a dinner mission.  Otherwise, there
are plenty of leftovers, and we basically spend another con evening
between the con suite, parties, panels and the filk room.  Maybe we
go to a concert or the masquerade - just like everyone else.  If
there is a dealer's row, maybe we buy something.

     Sunday morning we catch up on business - we get stuff from the
dealer's room, Jonathan makes his art bids and we take care of
whatever money is owed us or we owe for food and rooms - usually
things balance.  We donate whatever food is leftover to the con
suite or the staff den and pack our car and then we just enjoy the
convention until its time to go home.

     This is a typical convention, but no con is typical.  I might
be working in the con suite or staff den.  Then I don't really have
time for leisurely meals, and have to balance what needs to be done
with what can be done, and who can do it.  Since food prep, so long
as it doesn't involve actually cooking - defined here as heating
food beyond a certain temperature - is always permitted, I rarely
have problems.  That is, unless I'm running it and I've forgotten
stuff.  Then I have to figure something out - or have a reliable
assistant.  I haven't had one yet, though.  

     For example, I had an assistant for the Lunacon staff den a
few years ago.  She was to bring part of the appliances and half
the food - and since she was experienced in running staff dens, I
could trust her management on Shabbat.  However, she canceled on me
the Monday before.  I managed.  I had the help of my husband and
various gophers and I sent people shopping and cooked two enormous
pots of food - one meat chili, one veggie bean soup, and took my
own appliances.  This wasn't great because I don't have many.  I
have a small kitchen, the laws of kashrut mean that some items must
be identified as either meat or dairy and I just prefer a knife and
a stove burner to a food processor or a coffee maker.  But I
managed, and I managed to come in just slightly over budget, which
is pretty good.

     I can work conventions because I do food service, most of
which is doable on the Sabbath.  There are a few restrictions - I
can't heat anything beyond 120 degrees F (about the temperature of
a coffee urn), I can't grind or chop finely and I have to mix thick
mixtures in a different manner than usual - but these can be worked
around easily enough.  I've also volunteered to work the pre-
registration table at conventions.  This, too, is possible since I
never have to handle money and people can pick up their own pens to
sign their names and can staple their badges into their badge
holders themselves.  

     It's entirely possible for an observant Jew to be on the
convention committee in any capacity that can be done before the
convention, but there are things that Shabbat observance might make
difficult or impossible during the convention.  For example, the
treasurer has to be able to handle money, which an Observant Jew
cannot do and which cannot be readily assigned to an assistant. 
The same goes for whoever runs at the door registration.  

     This past Lunacon showed the limitations very clearly.  The
person in charge of programming was caught in a double bind.  First
and foremost, she had never held such a position before and had
very little idea as to how to go about it.  (To defend her, she had
actually asked to *assist* the programming person as a sort of
apprenticeship.)  She is also Orthodox, and her level of observance
is such that she refuses to do any "weekday" type activities on the
Sabbath.  This means that she didn't make decisions, check on
changes or perform any of the other duties she *could* have done
without actually violating the Sabbath.  This plus her inexperience
meant that programming was not done very well.  She'd also assigned
an equally inexperienced and equally religious woman to run the
filk programming.  However, Judith was willing to do as much of her
job as she could on the Sabbath.  She looked in on all of her
panels, she made certain people knew where to go, she made certain
there was adequate water supplies and she did a decent job.  She
also kept things as simple as possible because of her inexperience.

     I have seen a religious man all but run a convention, and I
believe he or his wife will be the con chairs at a future one. 
However, he knows how to delegate responsibility, he knows how to
make decisions and to handle crises and how to handle Shabbat so he
could do it.  I'd rather feed people.

     There are also a number of Jewish holidays throughout the year
that can complicate con going.  Major Jewish holidays have more or
less the same restrictions as the Sabbath and they last two days. 
We take the easy route and avoid conventions that come too close.
Others have managed, but usually by living close or taking extra
days at the hotel and lots of extra food.  

     By and large, it's entirely possible for an Observant Jew to
enjoy a convention without sacrificing his or her enjoyment of the
Sabbath.  He or she can even play an active role in the convention
with sufficient care and organization.   It only takes minimal
planning and some flexibility.

copyright 1997 NightRoads Associates

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