Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, October 15, 2021
In This Moment: The Lie-Star State, First Kohen in Space, Not-So Bitter Heshvan, Children of Abraham Discuss Abraham
In This Moment
Some satisfied sushi eaters!
Photo by Aviva Maller Photography, from our Sushi in the Sukkah event.
We are now a week into the month of Marheshvan (or Heshvan). The "Mar" supposedly stands for "bitter," because there are no holidays this month (as if we need more holidays, after last month's bounty). But in fact there are important commemorations, like Sigd,a major festival for Ethiopian Jews, held 50 days after Yom Kippur. It's a half day of fasting and a half day of feasting and dancing. Granted, the Beta Yisrael community was lost to the Jewish world for many centuries, but we were lost to them too, so it is highly biased to say that Heshvan is a "bitter" month and ignore this ancient feast. Maybe we can use it as a way of honoring Jews of Color, much as Columbus Day has become a time to honor indigenous peoples.
And speaking of which, this week 235 new Olim from the Bnei Menashe community landed in Israel. Hailing from Manipur in northeast India, they have preserved the Jewish tradition across generations. The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh, claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. They continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel. So let's honor Jews of color in not-so Mar Heshvan.
Meanwhile, let's honor the geezers too. I am informed by Mindy Rogoff that William Shatner became not only the first nonagenarian in space this week, he also became the first Kohen. Leonard Nimoy was also a Kohen, so the Enterprise had quite a priestly crew.
And the Shatner journey is perfect for this week when we read the portion of Lech Lecha, which describes the command to Abraham and Sarah to go forth from their homeland to a distant and unknown place, to their destiny - in other words, "to boldly go where no one has gone before."
This month is bitter in some ways. My mother's yahrzeit is this coming week, and on a much grander scale, so are the yahrzeits of the Tree of Life victims in Pittsburgh (read about a new book on the impact of the massacre on the Pittsburgh Jewish community) and of Prime Minister Rabin, on the 12th of Heshvan, which falls this Monday. Listen below to Rabin's final speech (with subtitles), delivered at the rally where he was shot in 1995. Rabin was a victim of domestic terrorism, and as this article, written just a day after it happened, shows, "The shots targeted the very essence of the sovereign Jewish state; the blood on the pavement was the blood of democracy itself." Following the events of January 6 and after, and with the Charlottesville neo-Nazi trialfinally set to begin in just days, this is a stark reminder to us of the fragility of democracy in the face of domestic terror.
Heshvan is indeed a month filled with meaning, celebration and resolve.
Children of Abraham Discuss Abraham
A number of people had trouble accessing last night's statewide interfaith discussion, "Children of Abraham," featuring Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. You can watch the archived video by clicking on the photo above. The theme of the program was on how we can build bridges to help open up eyes to the needs of the Other. It is something we do here in our community routinely, but we should never take it for granted. That's why I'm so delighted at the current work of our TBE Immigration Committee, featured in an email to the congregation yesterday.
For me there were two moments that were most special last night: One, when a Palestinian named Muhammad talked about learning to bake hallah - and taking one home to Gaza to show the folks (who smiled).
And the other was at the very end when the host asked each of us to talk about what we admire most in Abraham (who, as mentioned above, is the central figure of this week's portion). A Muslim colleague talked about his absolute faith in God, even when asked to sacrifice his son. I retorted that I preferred Abraham's demonstration of chutzpah in calling on the judge of the world to do justice by sparing the people of Sodom and Gomorrah if there are only a few righteous among them.
But i found my Christian colleague's perspective most interesting. He talked about Abraham's patience. I've never thought about Abraham as a particularly patient guy, but I hadn't noticed before what must be a fairly popular theme in Christian commentaries. Abraham has, in the current email vernacular, "constant contact" with God at the beginning of the portion. But at one point that contact stops for a long period of time. Imagine what it must have been like to be told to leave your home, uproot the family, discover the new place to be filled with famine and strife - hardly the paradise it was built up to be - and then God disables the "send" button. Abraham and Sarah are left to their own devices, so to speak, with no IT help coming from on high. Not even Apple Care can offer assistance when God is silent.
This important lesson found expression in the poetry and music of the Holocaust. And it is a reminder that our neighbors have so much to teach us - about ourselves.
The Lie-Star State: Holocaust and Critical Race Theory
I'm embarrassed and almost too disgusted to even mention this, but when news broke that a Texas school board was considering introducing Holocaust denial into their curriculum as a means of presenting "opposing views" to the classic children's book, "Number the Stars," about the rescue of Danish Jewry, it was impossible to ignore. Fortunately, I've heard that some saner minds in Texas have tried to walk this back. But it's not easy to walk this one back, especially if the letter of the law still seems to embrace Holocaust denial - or at the very least, moral relativism with regard to the worst and most proven crime ever committed. There are no "two sides" here. The issue is not "complex."
There are no legitimate opposing views on the historicity of the Holocaust. Period.
But neither should there be about slavery in the US. It happened and it was bad. Period.