Thursday, July 28, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
So I was happy to see Donniel Hartman's blog post on the subject, and I totally get where he's coming from. As a small and 'ever dying' people (to use one of the far-too popular perceptions about us), we freak out about numbers and so we try (as Hartman puts it) "something, anything" to boost numbers. And we've been increasingly successful, but at a price.
We have begun to master the art of condensing the Jewish message, so that it is communicable through a narrow bandwidth, short-term experiences, and brief social media exposures. The problem, however, is that the message, even if received, is not significant enough and compelling enough to attract ongoing interest and generate long-term commitment.Herein lays the new Catch-22 of contemporary Jewish life: In order to reach the numbers we need, we have to dumb down our message and water down the experience. A dumbed-down and watered-down Judaism, however, cannot compete in an open marketplace of ideas. Therefore, our successes lay the foundation for our failure. At the same time, when one deepens the message and intensifies the experience, one seemingly loses the numbers game.The Jewish people have, since our inception, been the carriers of ideas. We changed history, not as a result of our economic or military power, nor by the enormity of our numbers. It was by the depth and significance of what we stood for – a way of life permeated by important ideas and values held together and conveyed through powerful and meaningful experiences – which placed Jews and Judaism as a transformational force in human culture.This content is not Twitter-able. The journey of a meaningful Jewish life needs a wide bandwidth. It requires knowledge, time, and commitment. If we want Judaism to have a great future, and not merely a great past, we need to set our sights higher and deeper.
I get a little nervous about his conclusions: what it means to 'demand more' of an individual in the Progressive Jewish world is very different from what it means in the Orthodox world, and I'd have loved for him to have acknowledged that nuance. Indeed, even getting more specific, like 'demanding more study' can mean very different things and lead to very different outcomes depending on the community and that community's Narrative. However, I think the basic premise is a good one. We got them to follow: how do we get them to lead, if not the community, then themselves.
*At some point in the blog post, you should have made some kind of joke about rabbis' sermons and length. You know, like "if you can say it in five minutes (or 140 characters) then why use 20 (or 1400)?" Go ahead. I think it's joke 42, if you're looking it up.
It was a fantastic experience. The staff is amazingly professional (especially considering we're talking about mostly 18-21 year olds). As important is the love they clearly have for their kids and for Judaism, as well as for camp itself.
And that's reflected in the kids themselves. These kids are passionate about their Judaism and their camp experience. No one grumbled, no one felt the programming was a waste of time (even among the 14-year olds!). Whether they started out this way or not, every single kid I talked to was enthusiastic about being Jewish and being part of a Jewish community.
My shiurim went very well--well, the first time it went great, and the second time (I repeated the class) so-so, but considering past years where I was sure kids only signed up because a counselor made them, I'll take so-so. Shabbat was, of course, incredible, with the Machon/CITs leading a pretty amazing service. Of course, I got to embarrass myself talking to a CIT (going into senior year of high school) who I didn't recognize, not realizing he was a Shir Ami kid I had worked with for bar mitzvah four years earlier. Hey, the last time I saw him he hadn't hit puberty!
None of this is to say that camp is perfect: there needs to be more leadership and programming training for the staff, the dining hall remains an issue, and the way Jewish values are taught and expressed don't always line up with day-to-day reality at camp (one small example: the youngest kids did an Alex's Lemonade Stand on Shabbat. Great value in terms of tzedakah, but not exactly shabbesdik). the new director, Aaron, went even further to say that some things need real improvement, but it's getting there, and there's a real sense of vision and mission.
So I'm now home, getting over the camp cruds, sore, lightly sunburned (despite SPF 45), and basically ready to go back. Can't wait 'till next year!
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Monday, July 11, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
“The independence of South Sudan on July 9th marks a truly historic occasion,” said AJWS president Ruth Messinger. “On behalf of American Jewish World Service, I want to welcome the world’s newest nation and express my hope for a future of peace and prosperity.
“At this moment of celebration, we must also remain focused on the abhorrent violence that continues along the border and in Darfur. When aggression and gross violations of basic human rights are routinely tolerated, these actions repeat themselves with grave results. As an international community, we must ensure there are strong consequences and support those who have been displaced by violence and humanitarian need.
“For years, communities across the United States and throughout the world have advocated on behalf of the people of Sudan. As we celebrate we will also recommit ourselves to continuing our work until there is a comprehensive peace.”
Thursday, July 7, 2011
"And, at the very least, contact the rabbi yourself. No rabbi wants to receive an email from a parent with the subject line, 'Will you marry my son?'
Tip to parents: Don't send these."
by Rabbi Alan Cook
Associate Rabbi, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Seattle, WA
The gut reaction of many to the acquittal verdict in the Casey Anthony trial is understandable. We weep for the unrealized promise represented by Caylee Anthony and long for a sense of vengeance, or at least some degree of closure that will enable us to derive some sort of sense from what is an unfathomably horrible crime.
A 2-year-old child is dead. As a parent myself, I cannot imagine any parent reacting so cavalierly to the knowledge that grievous harm has come to their child. Do I think that Casey Anthony was a bad mother? Yes, I do. Do I believe that she had a role in her daughter's death, or at least in the subsequent cover-up? Personally, I do. Do I (in the words of many on Twitter and Facebook and in the media) "know she's guilty"? Absolutely not. I cannot presume to.
Though our legal system may be flawed in some ways, a significant positive feature is the general presumption of innocence it guarantees. The prosecutors in Florida had the task of proving to the jurybeyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony played a role in her daughter's death. Hearsay, circumstantial evidence, and "gut feelings" were all irrelevant. They may serve to convict Casey on Nancy Grace's show and in the court of popular opinion, but they are insufficient in our actual justice system.
And, if we think about it--if we are able for a moment to divorce ourselves of all the emotion we have invested in this case--we wouldn't want it any other way. While I certainly pray that no one reading this would ever dream committing an act as heinous as those of which Casey Anthony is accused, if there were ever circumstances that brought us to stand trial in a criminal case, we would want our attorneys to exhaust every resource at hand to prove our innocence. And in the end, we would hope that judge and jury would mete out justice according to the evidence rather than according to instinct.
While this is what logic would dictate, I certainly appreciate that it runs counter to emotion. Such instances can lead us to question whether justice really exists. According to Midrash, it was a similar case that led Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya into apostasy.
As the story goes, Elisha was walking down the road one day when he spied a boy climbing a tree to retrieve some bird eggs. In accordance with Deuteronomy 22:6-7, the boy shooed away the mother bird before gathering the eggs. Elisha smiled, noting that the boy was fulfilling a mitzvah, and doing so at the urging of his parent, two acts which the Torah connects to long life. He was then horrified to see the boy fall from the tree and die, contravening the Torah's promise. In his shock, Elisha cried out, "Leit din v'leit dayan--there is no justice and there is no Judge!"
This was, as in the case of our responses to Casey Anthony, a gut reaction, and again, perhaps a natural one. Yet what Elisha failed to recognize is that there are many moving parts to divine justice, just as there are many moving parts in our modern court system. We mere mortals are not privy to all the inner workings of either system.
When God prepares to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham enters into a sort of plea-bargain to see whether God is willing to reconsider. In his opening argument, Abraham inquires, "hashofet kol ha-aretz lo ya'aseh mishpat--shall not the Judge of the whole world deal justly?"
So God tries...tries to find fifty worthy men, then forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then finally ten. And finally God must mete out the punishment that has been ordained, for there are not even ten people in the city worthy of redemption. The Judge of the whole world has attempted to deliver justice. And, at least according to some standard, the Judge has failed.
It happens sometimes. It's an imperfect system. We try to maintain faith that, at least in the long run, all balances out. The scofflaws and evildoers get punished, and the good guys get rewarded. Maybe it doesn't work on the individual level, but we pray it does in some cosmic, karmic way.
So, go ahead and weep for the loss of Caylee Anthony, and the apparent injustice of her mother going free.But you're in good company. For in some corner of the cosmos, the Judge of the whole world is silently weeping too.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Gaza flotilla: Some questions for the activists sailing to Gaza. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine
"The little boats cannot make much difference to the welfare of Gaza either way, since the materials being shipped are in such negligible quantity. The chief significance of the enterprise is therefore symbolic. And the symbolism, when examined even cursorily, doesn't seem too adorable. The intended beneficiary of the stunt is a ruling group with close ties to two of the most retrograde dictatorships in the Middle East, each of which has recently been up to its elbows in the blood of its own civilians. The same group also manages to maintain warm relations with, or at the very least to make cordial remarks about, both Hezbollah and al-Qaida. "