Thursday, August 11, 2022

In This Moment: Lessons of Kansas; A Dog Hero; The 97 Percent Solution; The Sh'ma and the Sandman; The Jewish Valentine's Day


In This Moment

The brief flareup of violence last week was a strategic win for Israel, with minimal civilian casualties among Palestinians (understanding that even one is too many) and significant damage inflicted upon Islamic Jihad leadership. Hamas stayed out of it, and, with Iron Dome achieving an unbelievable 97 percent success rate, not one Israeli civilian died from the hundreds of rockets fired. PM Lapid's gamble of a preemptive strike against terrorist leaders poised for an attack seems to have paid off. For now. The Hebrew headline below states, "Until the Next Round."
There was one Israeli casualty of recent anti-terror operations, a 'true four-legged warrior': an elite unit dog killed in a West Bank raid (The Times of Israel). The canine hero was featured on the front pages the week. The headline here says, "A Hero on Four (legs)" and features a photo of Zili, who belonged to the elite Yamam counterterrorism police unit and was killed by Palestinian terrorists, as he was laid to rest at the unit’s dog cemetery. The nine-year-old Belgian Malinois, was killed during a gun battle in the West Bank city of Nablus. Three Palestinians also died in the battle, including Ibrahim Nabulsi, a wanted Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades member and two other gunmen. Zili was truly a hero, who bravely participated in hundreds of dangerous missions, including capturing a Palestinian man who later pleaded guilty to the murder and rape of Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher in Jerusalem in 2019. As we mourn Zili, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that human beings died, even though they were hardly innocent. Meanwhile, Zili was more innocent than the rest of us. He risked his life willingly and often, but never understood why people can be so mean. National Dog Day is coming up at the end of this month. Zilli's sacrifice is a reminder of how much we owe our four legged friends.
Shabbat Shalom.

This Friday night, with the weather forecast looking ideal, we will at long last have services outdoors, at 6 PM. The plan is to be outdoors next week too, for Barechu and Barbecue, but why put off until tomorrow what you can do today! Come look for us by the sanctuary windows, on the side of the Sukkah. Take some deep breaths and enjoy Kabbalat Shabbat the way it was meant to be. On Shabbat morning, Shabbat Nachamu (the Shabbat of Comfort), Hank Silverstein will give the d'var Torah.

I'm proud to announce that I am a a finalist for the 2022 RNA (Religion News Association) Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence, in the category of religion commentary. See all the finalists here. I was first prize winner in this category in 2019. 

These three columns, all published and distributed via the Religion News Service, were submitted:

Winners will be revealed in October in a hybrid ceremony hosted by the Scripps Howard Program in Religion Journalism and the Spiritual Life at Columbia Journalism School.

What we learned from Kansas
The shocking margin of victory for those favoring maintaining abortion rights in the Kansas constitution has been endlessly analyzed by the pundits. Clearly this "bright red" state is not as conservative as previously thought. But if you look at the color coded map above, that should not surprise us. Every state veers not toward the extremes, but toward the middle. Every state is a shade of purple. This is what America looks like: infinite shades of purple. Many who are conservative on some issues are progressive on others. People slide back and forth, especially on issues as complex as this one, seen by all sides as a matter of life and death. The overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court was a radical shift, eliminating freedoms long taken for granted, and trampling upon the rights of women and religious minorities. What the Supreme Court did requires a concerted response, and I am glad that the response is taking the form of a mass movement. Nothing less will suffice to undo the damage of this ruling. I again share this resource from the NCJW explaining why for Jews supporting abortion rights is a consensus issueeven though there are differences of degree. There is no reason why these positions can't resonate anywhere in the country. They certainly do in Kansas.

Good News - Bad News on Pluralism

Tonight and tomorrow, many Jews will celebrate Tu B’Av, a day that has become known, especially in Israel, as the Jewish day of love. At first glance, Tu B’Av seems a lot like Valentine’s Day — many couples exchange gifts or flowers and celebrate with a romantic dinner or a night out. However, unlike Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av is an ancient Jewish holiday that dates back to Second Temple times. According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:8), this was an annual matchmaking day when unmarried women would dress in white and dance in the vineyards outside the walls of Jerusalem. See How Tu B’Av, the ancient Jewish holiday of love, was revived (Forward)See also: Tu B’Av, the Jewish Day of Love (MJL) And What's Love Got to Do With It? Guided Learning for Tu B'Av (Sefaria)And Click here (or on the poem above) for some poems of love and oneness, honoring Tu B'Av and this week's portion, which includes the Sh'ma, and a primer on Tu B'Av.

Recommended Reading
  • This week is "Super Shabbat," Shabbat Nachamu. The portion of Va'etchanan includes both the Ten Commandments AND the Sh'ma!

  • What happened on the 10th of Av? Judaism was rebooted (R.N.S) - The rabbis at Yavneh were the midwives of a paradigm shift. No more altar in Jerusalem? OK. They would relocate Judaism from the Temple to the home — more precisely, to the table. That would become their new sacrificial altar. Can’t sacrifice lambs anymore at the Temple for Pesach? OK. We move the whole thing to the table in the home. We institute the Passover Seder. We start working on the Haggadah. Can’t offer sacrifices anymore? We cope. We create a new religious language — of prayer, Torah study and mitzvot. While they were at it, the sages in Yavneh decided what books would be included in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), and which would be left on God’s cutting room floor. They reestablished the Sanhedrin, the legal system of ancient Judaism. They formulated the Amidah, the classic statement of Jewish prayer. That whole scene where Yochanan leapt out of the coffin? That is a fantasy of resurrection. For that is exactly what the sages did. In Yavneh, the sages resurrected — we might say rebooted — Judaism.

  • Facebook bans hate speech but still makes money from white supremacists (WaPo) A new report from the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit tech watchdog, found 119 Facebook pages and 20 Facebook groups associated with white supremacy organizations. Of 226 groups identified as white-supremacist organizations by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a leaked version of Facebook’s dangerous organizations and individuals list, more than a third have a presence on the platform, according to the study.
[Facebook says it will now block white-nationalist, white-separatist posts] Released Wednesday and obtained exclusively by The Washington Post, the report found that Facebook continues to serve ads against searches for white-supremacist content, such as the phrases Ku Klux Klan and American Defense Skinheads, a longtime criticism of civil rights groups, who argue that the company prioritizes profits over the dangerous impact of such content.
The findings illustrate the ease with which bigoted groups can evade Facebook’s detection systems, despite the company’s years-long ban against posts that attack people on the basis of their race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics.
Activists have charged that by allowing hate speech to proliferate across its networks, Facebook opens the door for extremist groups to organize deadly attacks on marginalized groups. In the wake of several high-profile incidents in which alleged mass shooters shared prejudiced beliefs on social media, the findings add to the pressure on Facebook to curb such content.

  • In Defense of the Synagogue: RABBA YAFFA EPSTEIN & RABBI DAVID WOLPE (Sapir) The erosion of synagogue life is at the heart of the dilemma of Jewish continuity.There are many things synagogues do not do well. As the product of a shul, a day school, and a Jewish summer camp, I think the third was the most effective in my own Jewish development. But the synagogue remains home base. First, let’s remember the depth of the synagogue’s place in Jewish tradition. It is the modern instantiation of the Temple, and Jewish law obligates every community to build a synagogue (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 150:1).

  • Is Yeshivish a New Jewish Language? (Mosaic) - Where are you holding?” asked the email I received from an English-language editor at a Jerusalem publishing house with which I was working on a project. Although English was the editor’s native language, she did not phrase her question in normal English. I recognized it as “Yeshivish,” a form of English, peppered with rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic, and with Yiddish calque expressions, that is spoken today in the world of yeshiva students, their families, and parts of the Jewish Orthodox community. The Yiddish verb haltn has the primary meaning of “to hold,” and the editor’s question was a literal translation of vu halt ir, whose idiomatic sense, often regarding someone’s progress in a talmudic or rabbinic text, is “Where are you up to?” or “How far have you gotten?” Yet while the editor was writing in Yeshivish, what struck me was that she did not seem to realize she was doing so. Generally, Yeshivish speakers use it only within their own community. There is not much point, after all, in saying things like “I’m not dealing with the question gufa” (in itself), or “Let me put it to you poshut” (simply), if you know your interlocutor is not going to understand you. Theoretically, the same should have been true for “Where are you holding?” But although the editor had no reason to believe that I knew or spoke Yeshivish, she apparently used this phrase anyway because she was under the impression that it was ordinary English, or at least, ordinary Jewish English.

  • Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem turns 100! Mahane Yehuda websiteVideo Below: Zooming In on the history of Jerusalem's iconic Machane Yehuda market.
Zooming In on the history of Jerusalem's iconic Machane Yehuda market
  • Olivia Newton-John, ‘Grease’ star and granddaughter of Jewish Nobel laureate, dies at 73. See also The secret Jewish history of Olivia Newton-John (Forward) In a recent celebrity memoir, the author writes, “In 1933, my Jewish grandfather fled from Germany with his wife, Hedwig, to escape Hitler’s regime. He was not only a brilliant mind but also a humanitarian who helped Jews escape Germany. I’m extremely proud of my peace-loving grandfather.” The grandfather was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, one of the founders of quantum mechanics and a longtime friend of Albert Einstein. The granddaughter, which might come as a surprise to some, is Olivia Newton-John. In fact, the English-born Australian singer/actress has plenty of yikhes to spread around. Her maternal great-grandfather was prominent German-Jewish jurist Victor Ehrenberg; her father was a British intelligence officer who took Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess into custody during World War II; and she also traces her ancestry back to Protestant theologian Martin Luther....Newton-John apparently did have some serious Jewish mystical concepts in mind when she recorded her 2006 album “Grace and Gratitude.” The new-agey confection is rife with instrumental interludes with titles including “Yesod,” “Hod,” “Nezah,” “Tiferet,” “Hesud-Gevurah,” “Binah,” “Hochmah” and “Keter” – names corresponding with the divine sefirot, or vessels of divine energy, in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Although she doesn’t discuss this in her memoir, she does write about her friendship with fellow pop star/actress Madonna, a self-professed adept of Kabbalah.
The Sh'ma, featured in his week's Torah portion, also appears in a scene of the Netflix series, The Sandman, that dropped this week. I'm not a big Sandman fan but I found this clip quite genuine and moving. Read more about the show here. And for something completely different, click here to see a video of Mandy Patinkin singing the Sh'ma to his dog. Be like Mandy! Make the Sh'ma part of your day!
Netflix's The Sandman - Exclusive "Death" Clip (2022) Tom Sturridge, Kirby Howell-Baptiste
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