Friday, December 5, 2014

Big Tents and Red Tents - Shabbat-O-Gram

Shabbat Shalom and mazal tov to the Trell family, sponsors of this week’s Shabbat-O-Gram, and a special mazal tov to Max Trell, who has deep TBE roots on both sides of his family (6th generation on his dad Jeff’s side) and becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.  And happy December 5, a date that has a very unusual connection to Jewish liturgy.  It’s when we praying for rain in an agricultural blessing in the middle of the daily Amida.  Why Dec 5?  All I’ll say is that it is complicated and has to do with the date growing season in ancient Iraq.  Curious?  Read the whole story here.

Also, join us for Comedy Night on Sat. night if you haven’t already made reservations.  And we’re proud to note that Cantor Fishman will be featured at some concerts in the tri-state region this weekend, including this one produced by the National Yiddish Theater.

Big Tents and Red Tents

Today’s Shabbat-O-Gram revolves around the theme of Big Tents and Red Tents.  That fits in nicely with tonight’s “This American Jewish Life” presentation by Beth Styles at our 7:30 Kabbalat Shabbat service.  Beth will talk about her life journey and the rediscovery of her birth parents (who will be here).

Earlier this week, I was proud to have participated in Stamford’s 17th Annual World AIDS Day Interfaith Service, always one of the most important events on this community's interfaith calendar.  The Advocate immortalized me on the next day’s front page (see photo below), even though I was the least colorfully adorned clergy there.  It was an honor to be sitting next to my friend, Imam Kareem  Adeeb, the only Muslim leader to be president of an interfaith council in this country.  Stamford’s interfaith community is indeed a big tent.

“The Red Tent” on Lifetime

In 1997, Anita Diamant’s biblically based novel, “The Red Tent,” became a word-of-mouth hit, sold three  million copies and has been translated into more than two dozen languages. This Sunday it will be featured on Lifetime as a miniseries.  See “The Red Tent” home page on Lifetime, along with this Lifetime study guide.  It can’t be a coincidence (or can it?) that this Shabbat we read the story of Dinah, the subject of the novel.  Dinah’s was Jacob’s 13th child and only daughter. Dinah never founded a tribe, unlike all of her siblings (and Joseph got two), but hey, she got a best seller and Lifetime miniseries, which is more than I can say for Naftali and Manasseh. 

The “Rape of Dinah” as it’s so often called, is one biblical tale that they did not teach us in Hebrew School.  The novel (and the steamy miniseries) and some contemporary commentaries tend to see Dinah’s controversial relationship as more consensual, which makes this a very appropriate time to discuss a whole variety of hot button issues not necessarily covered in the novel, including date rape, campus party culture, the silence of the victim, intermarriage and ethnic “purity,” and whether collective punishment is ever justified.  Dinah’s story deserves a novel, and she deserves a voice. See some contemporary feminist material on Dinah that I’ve collected from various sources.  Also see this ”Women of Faith” conversation guide on “The Red Tent.”

I haven’t previewed the series, but I’ll be DVR-ing it this Sunday (hey, it’s up against “Homeland,” “The Newsroom” and last but not least, Patriots-Chargers; incidentally, “Homeland” fans will notice that Brody’s wife has morphed into the matriarch Rachel in “The Red Tent.”)

Israel’s Big Tent

…Big Tent as in Big Top, because Israel’s political system has turned into a circus.  The government is dissolving after less than two years in office and new elections will be held in March.  Apparently, the Jewish Nation/ State basic law that was approved by the cabinet last week but will likely not be voted on by the departing Knesset, was a device used by the Prime Minister to hasten his government’s collapse so that he can go back to the polls, in his hopes of cobbling together a more right wing coalition that could then pass the same bill.  One of the largest organs of American Jewish journalism, the LA Jewish Journal, has made it clear that the proposed bill could well be the “red line,” the final straw that ruptures ties between American Jewry and Israel.  If you read through some of the articles I’ve collected on the topic, you’ll have a better idea as to why. 

In fact, the proposed law is legally unnecessary and symbolically redundant.  The Declaration of Independence serves well in defining Israel’s character as both Jewish and democratic, assuring the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”  One response to the proposed bill has been to make that Declaration of Independence, signed by Israel’s founders, the preamble to an as yet nonexistent Constitution.   That’s a great idea, except that some believe, not without justification, that were Israel’s Declaration of Independence to be voted on by the current Knesset, it might not pass!

So, aside from creating a tempest to blow up the government, there seems to be a more fundamental, underlying goal of this Nation-State Bill, and that is to pave the way for a “one state solution,” annexing a good deal of the West Bank (Naftali Bennett wants to immediately annex 60 percent, “Area C” as it’s called) where a potential Jewish minority would assured preferential legal status.  There is a word for that - the dreaded “A” word.  In other words, this bill would be the greatest gift Israel could ever give to the B.D.S movement, an early Hanukkah present for Jimmy Carter and, as the LA Jewish Journal correctly states, the red line that American Jews simply will not cross.  We Jews have gained too much from living in a democracy to abandon democratic values now – especially since such blatant discrimination flies against the very Jewish values a truly Jewish state is supposed to promote.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “It’s Iran, Stupid.” While the Israeli government should be doing everything it can right now to keep the world’s eye on the single most pressing existential danger to Israel and the region, they are fiddling with something totally unnecessary.  Additionally, if the Prime Minister truly believed in a two state solution, as he has claimed, or at least if he wants to strengthen Israel’s diplomatic hand at a precarious time, he should not be the one shoveling dirt on diplomacy’s grave.  At a time when hatred is spilling over in the country, including an alarming increase in lone-wolf terror attacks and the despicable arson attack at the only Jewish – Arab cooperative school in Jerusalem, a responsible government would be calming the fires rather than fanning the flames.  When the brother of a Druze policeman killed in the line of duty during the horrific terror attack at a Jerusalem synagogue last month heard about the Jewish state bill, he said the Druze equivalent of “What are we, chopped liver?” and suggested that these incredibly loyal Israeli citizens would bristle at the prospect of second class status.  To this, a Likud Knesset member proposed an amendment to the bill granting special status to Druze who serve in the military.   That proposal only confirms how ludicrous the bill was in the first place.  If you need to devise a plan for affirmative action even before the law takes effect, there is something rotten about the whole idea.

If Israel is to fulfill its vision of being the Big Tent that its founders promised, both for Jews and for other groups, the Jewish State bill is a red line it dare not cross. On the other hand, were Israelis and Jews throughout the world to come together and affirm the basic values espoused in that visionary document, signed on a day in 1948 when the nascent state was being existentially threatened by armies attacking from all sides, this red line could be transformed to glorious hues of blue and white.

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