Friday, January 29, 2010
THE TOP TEN SONGS IN JEWISH HISTORY (Where would you put Adon Olam? Hatikva? The Sh'ma? "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof? See my list here
THE SONG OF THE SEA:
What do the spaces between the words symbolize? See the full list of 14 here. Selected interpretations are below:
1) Talmud: Shabbat 103b – “like a brick wall” – recalling the bricks of slaves.
2) This implies that the connection between our nation and God is stable and strong, like the wall of a building.
3) Each phrase stands by itself / its own unique meaning, yet connected to the whole.
5) Until now, the mysteries of God’s miracles were “closed” and out of reach – now they are open and clear for all to see.
6) Shabbat is the pause, the space, that gives music to our lives. The silence shouts out eloquently.
7) Kotzker Rebbe: “This is my God and I will declare His perfection.” (ZEH AYLEE V’ANVAYHU). How? I will make a dwelling place for God within me. Those spaces are the places that we have carved out for God in our lives.
8) Psalm 81: “I answered you in the secret place of thunder (a thundering silence). God speaks to us in silence.
9) MEDITATE ON THE VISUAL TEXT OF THE SONG / STARE AT IT FOR A MINUTE – WHAT DO YOU SEE?
- Rows of Soldiers?
- Waves of the Sea?
- Do you see the form of a giant Alef? (which is a silent letter)
10) Without getting too graphic, can this space between the words be Israel’s “birth canal?”
11) Or could this be a “Battle of the Sexes?” Moses is up top, Miriam is mentioned below. Or maybe the separation of the sexes. Midrash Mechilta Shira 10 cites this song as justification for separation of men and women. Could it be seen as a sign of the need to unify?
Some recent scholarship suggests that this song was written by women (it is called the Song of Miriam in some ancient manuscripts). In rabbinic literature, Moses and Miriam often appear in parallel, with Miriam given equal status.
12) The song describes a mythological battle between Israel’s God and the Ugaritic Sea god Yamm. There is no mention here at all (in the song) of the historical context of Egyptian slavery. It’s God vs. Yamm. Sacred vs Profane. Hebrew letters vs. Empty spaces. May the best deity win!
13) The white space symbolizes winter. The dark is beginning to encroach as Spring approaches. Tu B’Shevat is here!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
See this fascinating new discussion of the meaning of those species, and the orange: The Seven Species and the Orange: Nostalgia and Jewish Identity, by Dr. Michal Oren of the Schechter Institute.
Nostalgia for an event or a place - real or imagined - serves as an aid for personal and collective identity building. However, it can also be a comfortable snare, for building an identity that empowers and motivates can, at the same time, provide an excuse for psychologically sinking into a sleepy passivity from which it is hard to rise. In national terms this is referred to by the twin concepts of 'diaspora exile' and 'national rebirth.'
The ideas of 'rootedness' and 'exile' (rootlessness) surface over and over again in Jewish history. The Land of Israel for the People of Israel in the Diaspora was an object of yearning not experienced firsthand, but imagined. The dialectic of rooted and rootless encouraged nostalgic rituals intended to strengthen identity and rootedness.
It is not surprising that trees, and chiefly tree planting, are used to symbolize rootedness, in contrast to the Wandering Jew motif. The tree, compared to man in various cultures and used metaphorically to denote the life cycle (birth, survival, death), also serves as a symbol for national interests. Specific tree types, whether common or rare, in any region, are chosen as symbols of consciousness formation along with associated ritual activity, such as partaking of the indigenous fruits of Israel on Tu B'shvat.
Eating fruits of the Land, as a metaphor for rootedness, has traced the strings of recollection from the present to an imagined glorified past and shaped the collective memory of Israel in exile. This worked two ways: on the one hand, fostering a sense of belonging and an eternal longing for the Land that promoted passivity; and prompting an awakening to ‘return' and national rebirth on the other.
In view of this, it is interesting to see if the ritual of ‘partaking of fruits of the Land' differed between ‘in the Land' and ‘in the Diaspora,' and to see which fruits were chosen to help shape memory and strengthen the collective, in exile and later in the Land.
Click here for the rest of the article
President Shimon Peres delivered a historic speech to members of the German parliament in Berlin on Wednesday afternoon to mark the occasion. According to this report on Y-net, the German parliament heard a translation of the speech, which was carried out in Hebrew. Peres said the Kaddish prayer in honor of the Holocaust victims, which include his grandparents, who were burned alive in their town's synagogue.
"In the State of Israel and across the world, Holocaust survivors are slowly retiring from the world of the living. Their number is reduced every day. At the same time, those who were involved in the most despicable work on earth – genocide – are still living on German soil. Please do all you can to bring them to justice," Peres said.
Peres went on to direct his words at Iran. "We are now left with the crucial lesson: Never again. No more racist doctrine, no more feelings of superiority, no more so-called divine authority to incite, murder, break the law, deny God and the Shoah."
Peres added, "The threats to destroy a people and a state are being made on the backdrop of a development of mass destruction weapons by unreasonable hands, with an insane mind, without speaking the truth."
The president stressed that "in order to prevent another Holocaust we must have peaceful relations with other nations and have respect for the particular culture and universal values, in order to reprint the Ten Commandments once and again."
Here is the full text of Peres' stirring, historic speech. Also here - some more excerpts:
"I stand here before you, as the President of the State of Israel, the home of the Jewish People."
"I can see in my mind's eye, at this very moment, the imposing image of my deeply respected grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Melzer...in the town where I was born, Vishniev in Belarus."
"When the Nazis came to Vishniev, they ordered all the members of the community to congregate in the synagogue. My grandfather marched in front, together with his family, wrapped in the same prayer shawl in which I enveloped myself as a child. The doors were locked from the outside and the wooden structure was torched. And the only remains of the whole community were embers. There were no survivors."
"If we, the Jews, constituted a terrible threat in the eyes of Hitler's regime, this was not a military threat, but rather a moral threat that stood opposite their desire that denied our faith that every man is born in the image of God, that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that all men are equal."
"As a Jew, I always carry the pain of the Holocaust endured by my brothers and sisters. As an Israeli, I regret the tragic delay in the establishment of the Jewish state that left my people with no safe harbor. As a grandfather, I cannot come to terms with the loss of one-and-a-half million children - the greatest human and creative potential that could have changed Israel's destiny."
See also the text of the address by Prime Minister Netanyahu at Auschwitz (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Here is the JPost account: Netanyahu at Auschwitz: Never again.
Our opening topic is 120 Minutes of Medieval Jewish History and it covers the history, society, and culture of medieval Sephardic Jewry
Get started with Part 1A: "Introduction to Sephardic Jews: When the Jews Arrived in the Iberian Peninsula"
The site has partnered with the Municipality of Jerusalem as the primary Internet source for city-sponsored events. The aim is to further Jerusalem culture among the English-speaking lovers of the city, and native Israelis, be they long-time residents, one-night tourists, or even if they've never been there but still feel a connection.
Sarah Aroeste and her band are known for their dynamic fusion of Spanish, Mediterranean and American musical traditions. Inspired by her family's cultural heritage--with Sephardic family roots orginally from Spain and later settling in Salonika, Greece-- the Aroeste sound combines and updates aspects from her unique family background.
Most influenced by the music and language of her Spanish roots, Aroeste grounds her music in Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, the language originated by Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. This medieval dialect of Spanish was carried by Spanish Jews to the various points where they later settled, primarily along the Mediterranean coast and North Africa. In time, Ladino came to absorb bits and pieces of languages all along the Mediterranean coast, including some Greek, Turkish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Hebrew, and more.
This exotic pan-Mediterranean language has, unfortunately, been fading away and is rarely spoken anymore. But the musical legacy of Spanish Jews highlights the strength of an oral tradition that spans many centuries and crosses many geographic boundaries. Until WWII the vibrant Spanish Jewish communities, particularly throughout the Mediterranean, had been able to perpetuate a significant Hispanic influence throughout the region.
Since the Sarah Aroeste Band was launched, Aroeste has amassed a large and loyal following across the nation and abroad, and has been featured in both national and international press. To date, the Sarah Aroeste Band has released two recordings, A la Una: In the Beginning (2003) and Puertas (2007), and has performed in major music venues throughout New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and more, as well as overseas (throught Europe, Israel and Cuba). In 2006, Aroeste was nominated in the category of Best Singer/Songwriter for the Jewish Music Awards (USA), alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. The Sarah Aroeste Band has gotten notable attention both for the band’s musical talent as well as for Aroeste’s innovation in working to make Ladino music more accessible and exciting to new and larger audiences.
Check her website here. Or go take a listen for yourself -- or watch the video below!
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Just before the December vacation, I challenged my class of seventh graders to keep count of how often the expression “OMG!” appears in text messages, Facebook postings, tweets, e-mails or other communications that they send and receive. When they returned in January, I was amazed — but not surprised — and what they reported: nearly 250 OMG!s were recorded among the dozen or so who participated. That’s over 20 OMG!s per person, or about two a day over the span of the vacation.
I told the kids that they are one devout group, and each OMG! is a prayer.
For those Neanderthals still living in the 20th century, OMG is texting shorthand for “Oh my God!” Just as with telegrams a century before, texts and tweets require users to economize on what they write, so an entire dictionary of shorthand expressions has evolved, including acronyms like OMG. Rules of proper usage have also sprung up; for instance, it is not proper “netiquette” to use capitals unless you wish to convey that you are shouting. OMG is not always shouted, but it often is.
Of the thousand or so abbreviations now found in web dictionaries, OMG is probably the most widely known, along with BFF (best friends forever), LOL (laugh out loud) and, a favorite among rabbis, IMHO (in my humble opinion). OMG also has derivations, including OMGYG2BK, “Oh my God, you got to be kidding.” There are also, BTW (by the way), a number of acronyms designed to confound parents looking over their kids’ shoulders at what they are texting. If you see P911 on your teen’s screen, know that he has just alerted a friend that you have come into the room.
So this new age of instant text communications has developed its own language. But rather than bemoan the loss of good ol’ fashioned English, we need to reach out to the kids where they are and recognize that God-talk comes in all shapes and sizes. Take a look at the Kaddish, written primarily in Aramaic, using expressions for God not seen in the Bible. For centuries, rabbis have tried to reach the average Jew on the street through the use of the vernacular, be it Aramaic, Greek, Ladino, Yiddish or English. Each language’s expression for God lends insight to the values of the Jews living at that time. Ladino, for instance, the language of Jews from Spain, uses the expression “El Dio,” for God, eschewing the Spanish ‘Dios” because it ends in an “s.” Ladino-speaking Jews, undoubtedly influenced by the strict monotheistic inclinations of philosophers like Maimonides, did not want anyone to assume that God can be expressed in the plural. In Yiddish, the German “Gott” is often used, but what might sound harsh in German sounds more like a cry in Yiddish. “Oy Gotenyue!” is an untranslatable cry out to God from the depths of despair, part of the repertoire of every poet and cantor of the old country. “Oy Gotenyue” is most definitely a prayer.
So why not OMG?
OMG is an expression of fearful and fascinating mystery. Unlike old-school words like “Lord,” OMG is not a noun but an exclamation, a statement of radical awareness of life’s wonders. I subscribe to “OMGfacts” on Twitter, providing me with a steady stream of seemingly pointless but amazing trivia all day long. Did you know it takes about 20 seconds for a red blood cell to circle the whole body? That vultures can fly for six hours without flapping their wings? The point of it all is to be amazed, to connect with the rhythms of the universe in deeper ways, and to sum it up with a loud “OMG,” again and again.
Whoever says we have a problem with God language isn’t speaking the right language. There is no such problem with OMG, though there may well be one with the now passé term “God.” That word has been laid to rest, the victim of countless sleepy responsive readings in rote-infested congregations. While Buber said that “God cannot be expressed, only addressed,” OMG rarely addresses the Eternal One directly, but testifies emphatically to the daily miracles of life, ascribing those miracles, ultimately, to God — or, more precisely, to “G.” OMG is spontaneous prayer at its best.
I wanted to show my students how the theology of OMG can be found in our set prayers as well. So I took the liberty of translating the entire Friday evening service into the language of OMG (without using other Internet acronyms). What you see below are some examples from the first crude effort at such a translation —I’m sure the first of many. And it may have come out more Valley Girl than OMG. I felt like the third-century BCE scribes of Alexandria who first translated the Bible into Greek, making it accessible to the entire Mediterranean world, including many Jews. My OMG translation may not rank up there with the Septuagint, but I tried it out on the kids last week and they loved it:
The Shema: OMG! God is ONE! That means everyone (and everything) is connected!
Lecha Dodi: OMG! Shabbat is as beautiful as a wedding! And the bride’s entering the room right now!
Ma’ariv Aravim: OMG! The orderly cycles of nature: day and night, winter to spring — it’s all sooooo AWESOME!
Mi Chamocha: OMG! We got out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea! That was a CLOSE one! I’m so happy!
Hashkiveynu: OMG! PLEEZE God, protect my loved ones! I care about them! And Israel too!
Now that I’ve completed this project, maybe I’ll turn next to the High Holy Days Machzor, or perhaps the Bible itself!
IMHO, it can be done.
Critics complain that Israel should not be sending medical assistance to such a faraway place as Haiti. Instead it should be sending it to nearby Gaza. They fail to note the difference between Haiti and Gaza. Haiti is not at war with Israel. Haiti has not pledged itself to Israel's destruction. Haiti has not fired 8,000 rockets at Israeli civilians. Gaza, on the other hand, has a popularly elected government that has done and continues to do all of the above.
Moreover, there is no comparison between the tens of thousands of Haitians who have died from a natural disaster, and the people of Gaza who suffer far less from what is, essentially, a self-inflicted wound.
Nor do the perennial enemies of Israel emphasize the comparison between tiny and resource-poor Israel, and the resource-rich Arab and Muslim nations. While Israel digs deeply into its treasury and manpower to send medical assistance a quarter of the way around the world, Arab and Muslim nations are generally missing when it comes to relief efforts. Israel is sending more aid per capita than any country in the world.
Israel will be extremely generous to the people of Gaza if and when they stop supporting attacks on Israeli civilians, stop making martyrs of their suicide murderers, and stop encouraging their children to don suicide vests. The peace dividend the Palestinian people will reap from making peace with Israel is incalculable.
A well-known Israeli religious intellectual explains how removing his head covering symbolizes his idea of a Judaism infused with the spirit of secular Zionism. (Continue reading part 2 and part 3 of this series.)
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Sunday, January 24, 2010
Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University whose book "Religious Literacy" describes problems that stem from ignorance of other faiths, said the incident points to a broader problem.
"It's a basic case of religious illiteracy, grounding a plane by religious ignorance," he said, adding that the crew should have been able to ask someone on the ground about the practice.
"We should have a world religions course in the public schools. If the flight attendant and the pilot had had a basic course on world religions in the 10th or 11th grade, they would have known about tefillin." more
Of course, when it comes to tefillin, most Jews are also religiously less-than-literate.
(see Joel Chasnoff’s comedy routine, Rabbi Jason Miller's ode to Dr Seuss, Oh! The Plane's Gonna' Blow!, also Boy Dares To Pray On Airplane! Oh! The Horror! (And the Stupidity!) from the Huffington Post).
Fortunately, we Jews have no rituals involving filling our underpants with explosive material, or we’d really be in trouble. But we do have a sword shaped wand-like object that we wave menacingly on Sukkot while holding this grenade-like lemony thing, although we’re very careful not to pull the pin. And then there's that ram's horn, capable of knocking down the fortifications of entire cities (but only if blown by some dude named Joshua Fit-da-battle). Then there's our secret weapon: matzah. Guaranteed to plug up any digestive system for weeks on end, and, if consumed by enough people, it will bring down any plane simply by the sheer increase of the payload. Turn that matzah into those cannon balls that my grandmother used to put into the soup and you've truly got a lethal weapon on your hands. And for those in need of gastronomic Drano, you need to wait a full eleven months after Passover for the prune hamentashen to appear back on the shelves. So if I were a homeland security agent, I’d be on the lookout for a wide variety of suspicious Jewish ritual objects.
Here's a tutorial I was sent, showing how to put on tefillin while on a plane without scaring the other passengers. Keep in mind that if you're on El Al, all bets are off. Half the passengers can't stand you before you've left the ground, while the other half want you to join their minyan in the back.
To learn more about tefillin, come to our World Wide Wrap seminar this coming Sunday morning at 9 AM.
So there was this hero who was saved from certain death as an infant, only to be sent away by his parents. He’s adopted by total strangers and grows up to be a big hero who saves his nation. Who am I talking about? Moses … or Superman? Batman was also orphaned, as was Luke Skywalker. It seems like one thing that connects all these heroes is that they become wanderers at a young age and they discover themselves in these wanderings. It’s no surprise that Superman and Batman were dreamed up by Jewish writers.
Superman’s original name was not Clark Kent, it actually sounds like a Jewish name, Kal-El, a name that includes the name of God – a Kol is a voice in Hebrew and El is God’s name, so Superman speaks in the voice of God. Moses was God’s spokesman as well.
For every hero there is an arch enemy: Our portion has two: Pharaoh, at the beginning and Amalek at the end. It was Amalek’s army that attacked the Israelites from behind in the wilderness.
The Egyptians are much like the Empire in Star Wars. At the end of Episode 6, everyone is partying with the Ewoks when the Empire was thought to be destroyed. They cheered too soon. When the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the angels were also partying, according to legend, but God warned them not to. How could they celebrate, when God’s creatures were dying?
Come to think of it, in Star Wars, Obiwan is much like God, because he instructs Luke in the ways of the Force much as God instructs Moses at the Burning Bush. God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and Obiwan says, “Got to the Dagobah System,” which is where Luke finds Yoda and and begins his Jedi training.
Yoda is much like a rabbi, and did you ever wonder if there might be a connection between the word Jedi and the word Yehudi – which is Hebrew for Jew?
Another comparison is that while the villains are very bad, they aren’t totally bad and the good guys aren’t totally good. Although Moses does is job correctly here, he later shows his frustration when he hits the rock that God had instructed him to talk to. Because of that, he was punished by not being allowed into the Promised Land. The most recent Batman movie was very dark – and Batman himself was far from perfect.
There’s one other important message that comes from the Torah and the comics and that is that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Regular people can be heroes – like the guy who according legend, was the first one to step into the Red Sea. It would only split when someone had the courage to do that, and this volunteer, named Nachshon, was an unknown before he took that fateful step. Kind of reminds me of Chewbacca, just a regular Wookie – an old one at that – about 200, who became a hero while serving in the Clone Wars.
And then there’s the important role of women, people like Miriam in the Torah, who rescued baby Moses and led the Israelites in song after crossing the sea. She was the Princess Leia (which is also a Hebrew name) of her time, the Lois Lane or Wonder Woman.
In the end, all the heroics are nice, but what matters most is to make this a better world. So the children of Israel headed right to Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments, whose goal is to promote “truth, justice and the American way.” But meanwhile, in my portion, what’s most important is not lose hope, even when things look bad. As they say in the most recent Batman movie, “The night is always darkest just before the dawn.”
One way to bring light to people in dark times is through performing mitzvot. For my mitzvah project, I did a memory walk for Alzheimer's and raised over $1,000.
The entire corpus of Jewish literature may soon find its way into the comics. No topic is taboo - even the Holocaust has been tackled by the groundbreaking Maus series, in which Art Spiegelman depicts Nazis as cats and Jews as mice.
“It’s a cartoonist’s equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. It’s awesome. Crumb has done a real artist’s turn here—he’s challenged himself and defied all expectation. ... I’ve read Genesis before. But never have I found it so compelling. By placing it squarely in the Middle East—and populating it with distinctively Semitic-looking people—Crumb makes it come alive brilliantly.” — Susan Jane Gilman, Morning Edition, NPR
Friday, January 22, 2010
Haiti is a non-literate culture. 80% or more of the people neither read nor write. Consequently, wisdom is oral. There are no detailed philosophical systems in Haiti. People hand down their knowledge and express it in proverbs. In the rural areas hardly 5 or 6 sentences can pass in any serious conversation without someone throwing in a proverb as defense of some idea. There are hundreds of proverbs. One very famous one is:
Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.
Little by little the bird builds its nest
God is good.
(This is a proverb of optimism and fatalism. Whatever happens is what God does, and what God does is for the best. There is another similar proverb that translates as: The pencil of God has no eraser).
Dye mon, gen mon
Beyond the mountain is another mountain (A proverb of both patience and the recognition of how difficult life in Haiti is.)
Here is this week's Wordle for the portion Bo, along with the G-dcast. Click on the Wordle to expand - as you may be able to detect, this portion features heavily words for God, Pharaoh, Moses and Israel. See what other words you might be able to detect.
Parshat Bo from G-dcast.com
More Torah cartoons at http://www.g-dcast.com/
Photo credit: Paul Jeffrey, ACT alliance
The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, represents hardship, distress, oppression, a narrow place or straits etc. (see here for more on this). This week and next week, we read in the Torah of the Israelites' emergence from these narrow places, from the fear and from the danger - and amazingly they emerge from it in song.
The woman above, Anna Zizi,
was rescued on Tuesday from the wreckage of a priest's residence at the main Roman Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. When she emerged, she was singing.
On Wednesday, Laurie Bickel, one of the administrators of God’s Littlest Angels Orphanage, updated the Today show on the more than 100 orphans in her care:
“You get to the playground areas and the kids are just playing. They’re enjoying today; they’re enjoying that moment, and that’s how the Haitian people are,” Bickel said. “In the face of all of this, they’ve been singing and just praising God that they survived, and they are here and they will get through this.”
And see this incredible story, first reported on NBC Nightly News. Another woman emerges, singing:
Now, when we read of Moses and Miriam's song following that excruciating passage through the birth canal known as the Red Sea, we can imagine these Haitians and their escape from the bloody doorposts of their collapsed homes/tombs, evading miraculously the clutches of the angel of death. There was no passing over their homes last week, but there were narrow straits, there were enclosed places aplenty. And when they came out of it, all they could do was sing.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. But imagine the terror of the person who sees those enormous walls of water on both sides, whose only hind-sight is the rampaging Egyptians in the rear view mirror. And then she looks ahead and sees only barren desert.
When barren desert is the best case scenario - and you've neglected to pack the water bottles - death seems all but a certainty.
That's what it is like for so many in Haiti these days - those who escaped the collapsing walls, and those still underneath. Narrow places.
We were in Mitzrayim too. And that is precisely why the Jewish community worldwide, here and especially in Israel, have rushed to the side of the victims. We are all too familiar with their plight.
And their song.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The website is based on Dr. Milgrom's archive of art images collected over a lifetime of teaching and pioneering the field of art as Biblical commentary. (The Jerusalem Post recently interviewed Dr. Jo Milgrom on the launching of Visual Midrash).
560 works of art are now accessible on the Visual Midrash Web site, with essays in English and Hebrew on twenty themes, including Creation, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Hagar and Sarah, Jacob and his Dreams, and Moses: the giving of Torah and his journey in the desert. Altogether, Milgrom has donated 3,000 slides from her personal collection to this project. The development of the website was made possible by Howard and Carole Tanenbaum; Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation; and David Klein.
The site’s rich data base on each art image includes referenced biblical sources, artistic medium, date and short description of the work, as well as biographies of the artists. Topical hypertext essays examine the range of Visual Midrash expressed in a selection of images from each of the twenty themes presently in the TALI database; they include links to related texts from Jewish Midrash and Commentary as well as from Christian and Muslim writings on biblical subjects. The collection is searchable by artist, subject, medium and/or biblical source. Additional funding is being sought to enable all 3,000 art images to be processed and included on the site.
THE EVIDENCE IS POURING IN THAT ISRAEL'S RESPONSE TO THE HAITIAN DISASTER HAS BEEN FAR MORE THAN SIMPLY BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY. THEY ARE SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD:
2) See this VIDEO - Harvard doctor in Haiti: "No one except the Israeli hospital has taken any of our patients" www.cnn.com CNN's Elizabeth Cohen visits a Haiti hospital where patients are desperate for better medical care.
6) Read this by Peggy Shapiro, from the American Thinker:
In the midst of the tragedy and chaos in the Haitian capital, Israeli doctors, part of IsraAID -F.I.R.S.T. (the Israel Forum for International Aid), delivered a healthy baby boy in an IDF field hospital. When the baby's grateful mother, Gubilande Jean Michel saw her newborn son, alive and well, she named him Israel in gratitude to the people and nation who brought her this blessing.
Little Israel is one of the hundreds who have been saved by Israeli doctors or rescue teams. A search and rescue team from the ZAKA Israel's International Rescue Unit pulled eight Haitian college students from a collapsed eight-story university building. Despite its small size, Israel sent a large contingent of highly-trained aid workers to quake-stricken Haiti. Two jumbo jets carrying more than 220 doctors, nurses, civil engineers, and other Israeli army personnel, including a rescue team and field hospital, were among the first rescue teams to arrive in Haiti. In fact, they were the first foreign backup team to set up medical treatment at the partially collapsed main hospital in Port-au-Prince. Yigal Palmor, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "It's a large delegation and we're prepared to send more."
The international agencies that condemn Israel for its "disproportionate response" when it is attacked are not mentioning Israel's disproportionate response to human suffering. The U.S. has pledged 100 million and sent supplies and personnel. The U.K. pledged $10 million and sent 64 firemen and 8 volunteers.China, a country with a population of 1,325,639,982 compared to Israel's 7.5 million sent 50 rescuers and seven journalists. The 25 Arab League nations sent nothing. Read more
This site gets beyond the basics, which are covered well by such portals as the Jewish Virtual Library and My Jewish Learning. Like the stimulating Tablet and more edgy Zeek, both of which have more original content, Jewish Ideas Daily combs the Internet for essays that revolve around specific themes covering the gamut of Jewish life. But unlike those other sites, this one doesn't always aim to be topical, and the source material spans the entirety of Jewish history. So a section on the popularity of Kashrut includes an article from last week's New York Times alongside a chapter of Maimonides' 12th century classic, "Guide to the Perplexed," which can also now be found online.
Interested in the history of Hava Nagila? Well search no more! It's all here, including links to Iranian, German and Texas style renditions.
Want to see a variety of contemporary sources discussing Jewish prayer? Here's a list they collected:
How We Pray Amy Scheinerman, Louis Rieser, NuViewTalmud. The Song at the Sea: litany, repetition, antiphonal chanting, or individual prayer?
The Sacks Siddur Elli Fischer, Seforim. An elegant and handsome challenge to the regnant bilingual prayer book in the Orthodox world.
The Siddur Reconfigured Andrew Sacks, Masorti Matters. A new Hebrew prayer book,
proudly introduced by a leader of the movement that sponsored it.
Taking Prayer into Their Own Hands Steve Lipman, Jewish Week. Several new siddurim are
taking shape through the Internet; is this good for the Jews?
Jewish Soul Music Basmat Hazan Arnoff, Zeek. Medieval piyyut finds surprising new audiences.
Check out this site - and sign up for their daily dose of Jewish ideas.
Friday, January 15, 2010
this remembrance of that special relationship and historic march, written by Heschel's daughter, Susannah Heschel. She mentions that the famous photo of the two spiritual giants marching together has become an icon of American Jewish life.
Heschel often spoke of the need for prayer to be “subversive." As he wrote in an essay entitled "On Prayer," found on pp. 257-267, of a superb collection of his essays entitled, "Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity,” "The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God. . . . Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision."
I've always been moved and motivated by that passage. And so I ask often, as we all must, is our prayer subversive? Does it overturn pyramids and move mountains? This question is especially appropriate this week as we read the Exodus story in the Torah. Does it move us to tears? This is also appropriate in light of the horrible suffering of the people of Haiti. Does our prayer move us to help them, to feel their pain?
These past few weeks we've watched in horror at the mistreatment of the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. Ironically, they are fighting some of the same battles fought by Heschel and King - including the requirement that women ride in the back of the bus in Jerusalem. But their prime fight has been to reclaim the Kotel for all Jews. As Anat Hoffman, a leader of the Women of the Wall, wrote in this week's Forward,
One recent afternoon, while I was riding on a gender-segregated bus in Jerusalem, an Orthodox woman told me she didn’t mind sitting in back and out of sight, because it helped the men “keep cleanliness of the eyes.” Her reasoning was familiar to me; it followed a logic similar to the rationale behind a men-only path at the Western Wall that was cleared just two years ago so that men would not have to look upon women as they make their way to the Kotel to pray. It’s no coincidence that Jerusalem’s first gender-segregated buses were for routes going to and from the Wall.
If you want a quick lesson on the growing gender segregation and discrimination in Israel, I suggest taking a look at the policies in place at the Western Wall, which are being constantly revised to deny women equal access at this sacred space.
The Conservative movement this week issued a joint statement of condemnation of that mistreatment and support for the women:
Conservative Jewish Leadership
On Supporting Freedom of Religious Practice in Israel
NEW YORK, NY - The recent detention and fingerprinting of Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, civil and consumer rights advocate, founding member of Women of the Wall and past member of the Jerusalem City Council, for her role in advocating a woman’s right to pray at the Kotel opens a new and troubling chapter in intra-Jewish relations in Israel.
The many groups of Conservative Judaism listed below, affirm that Hoffman’s detention, following the recent arrest at the Kotel of Nofrat Frankel for wearing a tallit and carrying a Sefer Torah during worship services on Rosh Hodesh, drives a wedge between our communities at a time when working for unity within Israel and enhancing the connection between Diaspora Jewish communities and Israel should be a primary concern. We urge the municipality of Jerusalem, the State of Israel and its ambassador to the United States to realize the gravity of this issue and take immediate steps to promote religious pluralism, provide equitable treatment to non-Orthodox streams of Jewish life and end the harassment of women seeking to pray with dignity at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy place.
We urge members of our congregations and all members of Conservative Judaism to write a letter to Ambassador Michael Oren expressing the above sentiments. Further, as Conservative Jews, we hope for a pluralistic Israeli society that welcomes all Jews who share a commitment to Jewish continuity, peoplehood and Zionism. When the government limits access at the Kotel, changes the status quo of “who is a Jew,” and refuses to grant Masorti rabbis equal rights in Israel, many in the Diaspora community, whose support of Israel is crucial if Israel is to continue to flourish, instead feel alienated.
By standing with the Women of the Wall, we affirm our unity as a single world-wide Jewish community. We affirm our connection with our sisters and brothers in the Land of Israel and we affirm the abiding holiness of the city of Jerusalem in our lives.
The following groups of Conservative Judaism support this statement:
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs
Jewish Educators Assembly
Jewish Theological Seminary
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Download a Sample Letter to Ambassador Oren: http://rabbinicalassembly.org/living/social_action.html
Letters should be sent to:
Dr. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Dr. N.W.
Washington DC 20008
You can read more backround on WOW here.
A few years ago, on its web site, the Women of the Wall justified its difficult undertaking in challenging the Israeli rabbinic authorities, in this audacious manner:
Jewish women who have created new rituals for themselves, like wearing women’s prayer shawls and donning teffilin, acts permitted by some of the greatest Jewish lawgivers, deserve the same benefit of the doubt as to their sincerity. In general, one cannot help but wonder at the fat-cat arrogance and lack of respect shown by these men, party functionaries in saintly guise, in the name of our holy Torah. After all, people with the extreme delicacy to cover the challah bread so as not to shame it when we bless the wine first, show a shocking disregard for the feelings not only of Women of the Wall, but of Jewish women in general.
Because I have a hot flash for you, fellows. The rules have changed. When you mock women for daring to have their own opinions, or trying to enrich their religious experience in ways that they find meaningful, look behind you: you’re not leading anyone in the Jewish world but men like yourselves. Certainly no one from the modern Orthodox world. In fact, we can’t even tell if your own wives agree with you, voicelessness being a quality nurtured in your women from early childhood through old age.
I understand you better than you realize, Rabbi Porush and Rabbi Gafni: it’s not the prayer shawls, or even the teffillin. It’s those women’s voices rising out of obscurity; those women’s voices speaking to Hashem without your permission.
The audacious voice of Heschel lives on. May it continue to resound in our prayers!
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The tragic earthquake that struck Haiti just two days ago has captured our attentions and left us aching for the ability to help. As the scope of the devastation becomes more clear, so does the urgent need for funds.
With our colleagues in the aid community and partners from the Jewish world, we have identified a number of legitimate, top-quality organizations that can take donations and ensure that they are put to the best possible use. These include:
Partners in Health, with a long history of working to provide medical services in Haiti
American Jewish World Service, provides grants and on-the-ground service around the world to alleviate hunger, poverty and disease
American Joint Distribution Committee, nearly 100 years of experience in emergency relief, both in the Jewish community and beyond
Yele Haiti, working on the ground before the latest tragedy to build capacity and raise awareness about Haiti
In addition, the Conservative movement has established dedicated funds to support the relief efforts.
At this stage, for most of us, donating money is the best way to help. That said, Partners in Health and the State Department have both said that there is an urgent need for skilled medical personnel, particularly surgeons, ER doctors and nurses, and full surgical teams. Please take a moment to think of those in your community who might have those vital skills, and pass the request along to them.
For the rest of us, please give - and if you're interested to hear about ways to volunteer when it becomes appropriate, please sign up to be contacted as those opportunities emerge.
The next days and weeks will be challenging for so many people. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers
By Holly Lebowitz Rossi, Current Events
May the earth that crumbled beneath feet and homes and schools once again become solid ground for walking and loving and learning.
May worried families and friends discover their loved ones safely spared waiting for them on solid ground.
May those who are trapped amid the rubble feel the solid power of love and healing that the world is sending their way.
May we who are so far away from the devastation find a way to share some of the solid ground of our full lives with those who have lost so much.
May the solid ground of this simple prayer become a foundation on which Haiti can rebuild.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I've created a Wordle for part of this week's portion, Va-Era. Exodus, chapter 8. The portion covers many of the ten plagues. Once you click on it to enlarge, you'll be able to see the key words clearly and beautifully displayed. God's name is in the lower left and Moses' up top. Pharaoh is in light brown and Egypt (Mitzrayim) diagonally down and to the right. But the word that appears most in the portion, the largest one of all here, is neither God nor Moses nor Pharaoh. It's Vayomer - "And he said." The negotiations may have broken down - often! - but they never stopped talking. Let that be a lesson to all of us. BTW, frogs (Tzefard'im) are in light blue, just over God's name.
If you look at other Wordles in the gallery, you'll agree with me that the Hebrew language far outshines English in its graphic beauty. If you want to make a Hebrew Wordle of your own, go to http://www.wordle.net/create and paste in a chapter of the Bible, which you can find at http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0.htm. When you've created a Wordle, save it to the gallery and let me know where to find it, so we can share it with the congregation. What a great thing to do with your Bar Mitzvah portion! Enjoy!
Meanwhile you can also learn about this portion with our weekly G-dcast. A rousing "Let my people go" kicks of weeks of frogs and hail and boils, but Rabbi Katie Mizrahi explains that those weren't even the REAL plagues.
Parshat Va'eira from G-dcast.com
More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com
We're just not sure which one.
Either we are dealing with:
1) the legacy of the Osirak reactor bombing of 1981 and the attack on the reactor in Syria two years ago - the principle that Israel must do anything and everything to prevent an aggressive neighbor from obtaining nuclear weapons capacity.
2) Or, Begin's famous (or infamous) quote following the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre, "Goyim kill goyim and the Jews get blamed." In the case of Lebanon, there was some responsibility on Israel's part, since it controlled the area where the camps were situated. In this case, however, what is quite possible is that the Iranian government saw a chance to knock off an prime opponent and blame Israel for the killing. Given what we now know about the victim, this is the far more likely scenario.
According to this PBS Frontline report, Masoud Ali-Mohammadi was apparently not involved with Iran's nuclear program at all. But he was very involved in supporting the Iranian opposition. So this would seem to be an open and shut case. Why would Mossad expend its resources on someone so peripheral to the nuclear effort? Israel has been linked to other assassinations, including Ardeshir Hassanpour, a prominent and award-winning figure in Iran's nuclear program, who was murdered on January 15, 2007.
So why, then are the Israelis being tight lipped about it. It's one thing to refuse comment on all such matters, but this would not be a proper time for that knowing wink. Israel is not on the front burner of Iranian reformists, and it would be best not to antagonize them at such a sensitive time.
The question arises: If Ali-Mohammadi had been central to the weaponization effort, would such a killing have been ethical? See the blog posting "Ethics and Assassinations" regarding Israel's campaign of killing terror leaders. Any responsible government has the right, indeed the duty, to protect its citizens. The question is whether an Iranian nuclear scientist qualifies as a terrorist, and what distinguishes him from, say, a doctor who performs late-term abortions, in the eyes of the militant pro-lifer.
This is a growing field of ethical study, highlighted by such recent films as "Munich," and books like Elie Wiesel's "Dawn." My own feeling is that if the West can delay Iran's nuclear quest, which poses an existential threat to several nations and puts millions of lives at risk, targeted assassination is justified.
But Ali-Mohammadi was not the right target.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
See an interview with her at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmAa2eN7wFY
Yes, six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, but who knows how many more people might have lost their lives if not for the bravery and selflessness of people like Miep? Even though Miep recieved praise and many honors for her work during the war, she once said, "I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more - during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness." So, today, let's not honor Miep Gies for giving Anne Frank's diary to the world. Let's honor for her for having been Miep Gies.
The evening she was to give her speech, a thousand people filled the temple sanctuary to more than overflowing. Before the speech, Nita took her daughters, me and my daughter, Mariah, who was eleven at the time, to meet Miep Gies.
Miep Gies sat in an armchair wearing a dark skirt and cardigan and a white silk blouse with a grandmotherly scalloped collar. Her large eyeglasses were thin-framed and brown. She asked Mariah in accented English, if she knew about Anne Frank. Mariah said yes. She told Mariah that with her large, dark eyes, Mariah looked just like Anne Frank.
She said that children Mariah's age would be the last generation to meet people who had lived through the Holocaust, people who had witnessed it first-hand. That is why she had wanted to speak to the children, she said. She worried that people might someday say that the Holocaust had never happened. She said if someone told that to Mariah, Mariah was to say, "These things did happen. I know it. I talked to a woman who was there." She made Mariah promise, which Mariah did. Then Miep Gies shook Mariah's hand and as we walked on, I saw her talking to another child.