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.
Thursday, August 31, 2023
In This Moment: Soul Searching in Elul; Sarah Sherman...Rabbi? Standing Up for Kaddish; Railing About the Tel Aviv Light Rail
In This Moment
Though much is happening in the world around us, as we turn the corner to Labor Day, with the new year just two weeks away, it's time to turn inward. So I've collected some classic resources for doing just that, and we'll continue this focus right up until the new year.
As we dive into Labor Day Weekend and the beginning of fall, we think about the important role of labor in our tradition. It’s important to note that the Hebrew expression for work, avoda, also means worship.
As Rabbi Michael Strassfeld puts it, "Avodah connotes service. (It is also the word for slavery, which is involuntary service.) Work is not only a necessary part of life, it is a form of service to the world, to the rest of humanity, and to God. We are meant to be of service, to be partners with God in the ongoing creation of the world. Yet even as we serve God, we also serve our fellow human beings."
I’ve written, regarding my own profession:
"It is no coincidence that the Hebrew word for work, avodah, is also the word for worship. Our work is nothing less than our supreme offering to God, whether we are a rabbi, doctor or welder. Each of us must try to discern the cry of the times, perceive this mission and act on it. I see my task as being analogous to that of the ancient biblical prophet, of whom Heschel wrote, 'He is neither a singing saint nor a moralizing poet. His images must not shine, they must burn.'"
Here are some packets to help us as we proceed with our Elul and Labor Day reflections:
See below Goldie Milgrom's guidance on soul searching from her book,Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice
Accounting of the Soul:
Equanimity. Ability to live in balance.
Tolerance. Growing pains lead to knowing gains.
Orderliness. Allocating time for living life fully with integrity.
Decisiveness. Acting promptly when your reasoning is sure.
Cleanliness. Modeling dignity in your ways and space.
Humility. Know you will always have much to learn and more opinions than answers.
Righteousness. Conducting your life such that you are trusted and respected.
Economic Stability. Safe guarding enough resources for yourself to live without debt.
Zeal. Living with gusto focused on purpose and care.
Silence. Listening and reflecting before speaking.
Calmness. Giving your needs and thoughts gently while being respectful and clear.
Truth. Speaking only what is fully confirmed in fact.
Separation. Focus on each strand in its own time, avoid multi-tasking.
Temperance. Eating and drinking for good health, not dangerous excess.
Deliberation. Pausing before acting, consider consequences, integrate heart and mind wisely.
Modest Ways. Eschewing crude, lewd and boastful mannerisms and practices.
Trust. Living in the spirit of knowing there is abundance in the universe and you are in the flow.
Generosity. Finding satisfaction in making much possible for others.
First take any one of these qualities and reflect on its degree of presence and activity in your life.
Now, go into yourself and notice where in your body this quality resonates. The mind/body connection creates a short-cut to knowing. Is it lodged somewhere? Rather than thinking about the quality, listen to it, discover what your body knows about it. Then, take the information and gently set it before you and return to see if there is more, something new about this quality you can learn inside yourself.
What is your desire with regard to this quality? Sit quietly with this question until a clear image forms, til you imagine a real probability. Invite strength and support for this intention from the great dynamic flow of all possibilities in creation.
Standing During Mourners Kaddish at TBE (1993 Bulletin Article)
One of the major changes of my first year at TBE was to encourage mourners to stand for the Kaddish, but not direct the rest of the congregation to do so. People could if they wished to, but for reasons cited below, I felt that this more traditional approach would be more in line with normative practice in Conservative shuls. i also felt it was more sound psychologically and for fostering community, for reasons cited below. The article is excerpted from Joseph Telushkin's Jewish Literacy, with some insertions by the 1993 version of me.
Tel Aviv's New Light Rail - Should it Run on Shabbat?
Tel Avivians can be justifiably proud of their new light rail line, the first stage of which has just opened - it's the red line above, You can see a clearer, bi-lingual version of this map and more maps at https://ckonovalov.com/nta). But this being Israel, there is controversy, and as so often is the case, it comes down to religion. In a Jewish state, and in the world's first all-Jewish city (originally, not now), should the trains run on Shabbat? In Israel's most secular city, where parking is always at a premium, how could they not? Just last week, a "compromise" was reached, allowing the light railto run for an extra hour after Shabbat, but not on the day of rest at all. The decision came after a large public outcry after the light rail service commenced its operations at 9:30 p.m. during the preceding week. ceasing operations within a narrow two-hour window. 9:30 PM is barely mid-day in the city that never sleeps.
At the time of the state's creation, David Ben Gurion established a status quo agreement with regard to religion, enabling mixed Arab-Jewish cities like Haifa to maintain bus service on Shabbat, but to eliminate public Shabbat transport in most of the rest of the country. And there is something to be said for not having excess bus traffic on the roads on Shabbat....except that having no public transportation actually increases traffic on the roads, especially in Tel Aviv, where Shabbat is a prime beach day.
If you could create your own Jewish state - a state with a 20 percent non-Jewish minority population and a mix of secular and observant Jews, what would you do? How about running it like alternate side parking in NYC? Bus service on the first and third Shabbat of the month, no service on the second and fourth. Too confusing? How about no buses but yes for metro trains, which don't clog the roads and make relatively little noise?
But what will not work at all is to have the Haredi authorities impose their narrow and extreme interpretations of Judaism on the entire population and tell their secular cousins and non-Jewish citizens to stuff it. That is basically what has happened here (along with a host of other affronts, including enshrining the principal that Torah study is equivalent to national service in the IDF.
In Israel, the culture wars have gone off the rails.
No one seems to be in the mood to compromise, especially when an open rail system on Shabbat would be just the thing to help get protesters into the city to rail at the government every Saturday night. Whether or not to be on on Shabbat is one thing. But closing down quickly on Saturday night, after Shabbat is over, is a direct provocation. No status quo covers that.
The plan is environmentally wise and a great example of urban planning at its best. But the reality on the ground - and underground - is something else entirely.
In preparation for the High Holidays this year, we'll be using this study guide from Pardes to discuss the nature of Teshuvah (repentance). Download it for your own study and bring it to services on the next two Shabbat mornings.
The Story behind Israel’s Diplomatic Overture to Libya (TOI) - Last week, the Libyan foreign minister Najla Mangoush met with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Italy. But after Israeli officials announced that the meeting had taken place, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh first insisted it was a chance encounter, then fired Mangoush and claimed that she orchestrated the meeting of her own accord—which she denies. Protests subsequently broke out in Tripoli and a few other cities, leading Mangoush to flee the country. Complicating the situation is the fact that Dbeibeh only governs the western part of Libya, and is locked in a civil war with the Russia-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar, as well as various jihadist groups.