In This Moment
"Faith is taking the first step when you don't see the whole staircase."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
This week we focus our thoughts on the legacy of Martin Luther King, and how his ideas are echoed in Jewish sources. Click here or on the photo to see King's "Talmud," several passages that link his prophetic vision with the wisdom of Jewish sages. Aside from our Friday night musical tribute, the community will have events going on all weekend dedicated to King's legacy. I'll be participating in the citywide celebration on Sunday at 3 PM at UConn.
Click here for Sunday reservations.
The new year is barely a few days old and already we are forced to confront a Friday the 13th. This year we’ll have two (October is the other) so conventional wisdom might suggest that 2023 is especially unlucky. Or is it? Why must we treat this confluence of day and date as our worst nightmare? For Jews, nothing could be more promising than the combination of a Friday and the number 13.
Just look at the “Friday the 13th” movies and how many Jewish values they espouse. Everyone goes to camp and sits around the campfire. The hockey mask is a nice touch for Purim. OK, so there’s a little blood, but I was at a bris recently, so I can take it. Blood happens.
For Jews, no day brings a greater sense of anticipation than Shabbat, which begins each Friday just before sunset. And 13 is a very lucky number – ask any Bar or Bat Mitzvah student (some girls become Bat Mitzvah at 12, but 13 is the magical number most associated with this coming of age spectacle).
Several years ago, a now defunct website of an Israeli flower distributor presented a list of reasons why 13 is so lucky. No doubt Friday the 13th it is a lucky day for flower shops because Israelis buy lots of flowers every Friday - and presumably even more on a Friday that, for some, augurs bad karma.
Here is my list, which incorporates that list along with other sources, including another list at Jewish Unpacked.
FOR THE REST OF THIS COLUMN, VISIT MY SUBSTACK PAGE
Popular Parasha Packets for Shemot
This week's Torah portion, perfectly positioned for MLK weekend, brings us to the book of Exodus and the saga of Israel's journey from slavery to freedom
Moses and the Midwives: Birth of a Legend and Legends of Birth
Moses birth as seen through the prism of ancient hero stories and the scholarship of Joseph Campbell, with a special focus on those heroric midwives who saved Hebrew boys.
The title of the portion, Shemot, means names. It begins with a list of the names of the Israelites who went down to Egypt with Jacob, but also includes other important names - including God. This packet explores the significance of names.
We Were Slaves: Jewish Sources on Slavery and Torture
Estimates are that there are 27 million slaves around the world today, This portion sees the Israelites become slaves in Egypt, a traumatic experience that has informed Jewish ethics ever since.
Moses was not the Messiah, but his savior status brings to mind this age-old Jewish concept. This packet features a collection of Jewish sources from a wide variety of perspectives, on Messiah and Messianism
More on Abraham Joshua Heschel
Above: NBC interview in 1972, taped just weeks before Heschel's death.
See also the video "Spiritual Audacity", which aired on PBS.
33:46: "I'd say to young people a number of things: Remember, there is a meaning beyond absurdity, let be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, that we can do everyone our share to redeem the world. (...) Remember the importance of self-discipline, study the great sources of wisdom, don't read the best-sellers. (...) Remember life is a celebration. There's much of entertainment in our life (...) but what is really important is life as celebration. The most important thing is to teach man how to celebrate life."
- (1963) RABBI ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL, “RELIGION AND RACE” - On January 14, 1963, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave the speech “Religion and Race,” at a conference of the same name that assembled in Chicago, Illinois. There he met Dr. Martin Luther King and the two became friends. Rabbi Heschel marched with Dr. King at Selma, Alabama in 1965. The speech Rabbi Heschel gave at the 1963 conference appears here.
- The Return of a 60-Year-Old Dispute between Two of American Jewry’s Leading Theologians, and Why It Matters (Tradition) In 1964, Eliezer Berkovits of the Orthodox Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois and Abraham Joshua Heschel of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan were two of the leading lights of rabbinic thought in America. Both men were born and educated in Eastern Europe (Berkovits in Hungary, Heschel in Warsaw) in the early 20th century, both attended the University of Berlin, and both were committed Zionists. That year, Berkovits wrote an essay in Tradition—then as now the flagship journal of Modern Orthodox thought in America, closely associated with Yeshiva University—sharply criticizing Heschel’s theology, and in particular his idea that God suffers in ways only humans can fix. To Berkovits, this approach came far to close to the Christian doctrine of Jesus suffering on the cross. Todd Berman, writing in Tradition, recently wrote an essay in in the same journal defending Heschel against Berkovits’s attack.
More Recommended Reading
Two Landmark Surveys
ADL Antisemitism Report
The topline results, presented in this report, show several trends that are cause for concern:
- Widespread belief in anti-Jewish tropes, at rates unseen for decades
Over three-quarters of Americans (85 percent) believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, as opposed to 61 percent found in 2019. Twenty percent of Americans believe six or more tropes, which is significantly more than the 11 percent that ADL found in 2019 and is the highest level measured in decades.
- Substantial rates of Israel-focused antisemitism
Many Americans believe in Israel-oriented antisemitic positions – from 40 percent who at least slightly believe that Israel treats Palestinians like Nazis treated the Jews, to 18 percent who are uncomfortable spending time with a person who supports Israel.
- Trope-focused and Israel-focused antisemitism appear to overlap significantly
There is a nearly 40 percent correlation between belief in anti-Jewish tropes and anti-Israel belief, meaning that a substantial number of people who believe anti-Jewish tropes also have negative attitudes toward Israel.
- Young adults have more anti-Israel sentiment than older generations, and only marginally less belief in anti-Jewish tropes
While young adults (between the ages of 18 and 30) show less belief in anti-Jewish tropes (18 percent believe six or more tropes) than older adults (20 percent believe six or more tropes), the difference is substantially less than measured in previous studies. Additionally, young adults hold significantly more anti-Israel sentiment than older adults, with 21 percent and 11 percent agreeing with five or more anti-Israel statements, respectively.
Religious Attendance and the Pandemic
An interesting survey of the impact of the pandemic on religion came out this week. The numbers are worst for younger and more progressive demographics. See the full survey.
More Americans stay away from church as pandemic nears year three (RNS) See also Church Attendance Dropped Among Young People, Singles, Liberals (Christianity Today) Many Americans already had dropped out of church life before the pandemic. COVID-19 gave them a reason to let go completely, according to a new survey. Religious attendance was significantly lower in spring 2022 than it was pre-pandemic. In spring 2022, 33 percent of Americans reported that they never attend religious services, compared to one in four (25 percent) who reported this before the pandemic. There was less change among the most religiously engaged Americans. Self-identifying Jews represented just one percent of those surveyed. Their numbers remained essentially unchanged, but with the sample size so low, we need to look at some of the other categories to better understand the trends. See the chart below. Interestingly, a Pew survey in early 2021 - two years ago - indicated that many Americans believed that Covid-19 has strengthened religious faith. It is worth noting that in early 2021 most houses of worship were still functioning primarily remotely, and Covid fatigue had not yet set in to the degree it has now.
Take a look at Wednesday's front page of Ha'aretz (above - click on the photo for pdf), troubling on so many levels, including that white car that plowed onto a sidewalk where students were protesting. Just like Charlottesville. The driver shouted, "Anarchists! Leftists!"
If you can read Hebrew, here is the list, made public last night, of five main proposals for the gutting of the judiciary. Here's a summary in English.
Below you can find several essays responding to the question of how Jews (American Jews especially) should react to the radical and dangerous policies being proposed by the new Israeli government. The current situation is making for some strange bedfellows (eg Alan Dershowitz is suddenly standing up against Netanyahu's judicial reforms). Now is not the time for hot-headed impetuousness, but neither can we afford to just sit back and "wait and see," particularly in light of the draconian judicial reforms which a re signaling a dangerous slide toward authoritarianism. Other issues, including pressing matters like women's, minority and LGBTQ rights and religious pluralism, should not be ignored but might need to wait their turn in light of this current crisis. But whatever we choose to act upon, act we must; not against Israel, but against abhorrent policies of a particular government. We know how to do that. We must act out of love for Israel, just as we've protested American policies in the past out of our love for America.
I've long felt that diaspora Jewry should have the chance to participate in Israeli democracy, much as US / Israeli citizens living in Israel can vote in US elections. While most diaspora Jews do not have the vote in Israel, what we have right now is even more powerful - we vote in American elections. Because of that, and because American legislators are seeing how troubled American Jews are by these anti-democratic proposals (which are being compared to the notorious 1933 Enabling Act), we have a real say in Israel's future direction. To put it bluntly, we can save Israel; we can make or break this drive to quash democratic safeguards and criminalize the political opposition (yes, see that Ha'aretz front page - arresting opposition leaders is precisely what is being proposed right now).
We can't disengage. For we can make a difference, and this government will not last forever.
Happy Friday the 13th!
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