Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Haimish Line - NYTimes.com

Interesting article by David Brooks on what is 'Haimish" and what do we lose when Haimish goes away (or to use his metaphor, when we're on the wrong side of the 'Haimish' line). What does that word mean to you?

The Haimish Line - NYTimes.com:

I know only one word to describe what the simpler camps had and the more luxurious camps lacked: haimish. It’s a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.

It occurred to me that when we moved from a simple camp to a more luxurious camp, we crossed an invisible Haimish Line. The simpler camps had it, the more comfortable ones did not.

This is a generalized phenomenon, which applies to other aspects of life. Often, as we spend more on something, what we gain in privacy and elegance we lose in spontaneous sociability.

Strenger than Fiction-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source.

Strenger than Fiction-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source.

Given that the diplomatic defeat is unavoidable, the question is, was there any alternative? The Netanyahu government took it as an unquestioned dogma that UN recognition of a Palestinian state is a catastrophe for Israel. But this is neither the position of the security establishment, nor of the whole diplomatic corps. Veteran diplomat and former head of the Foreign Ministry Alon Liel has explicitly argued that that it could be favorable to Israel.

Israel’s potential gains from engaging with the Palestinian UN bid would be tangible. UN recognition of a Palestinian state alongside that of Israel could finally put the fears of many Israelis that the country’s existence is not internationally accepted to rest.

This would have required Israel to engage with the Palestinian UN bid and to support it under condition that the resolution explicitly states that the Palestinian state will exist alongside Israel, thus reaffirming Israel’s legitimacy.

Such an Israeli request to reformulate UN recognition would probably have garnered wide support in the international community, and it would have forced Palestinians to make a choice: either a fully recognized Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with agreed land-swaps, or no UN recognition.
An interesting idea and a thought about the kind of 'soft' power Israel could exert, even at the UN, a body that doesn't play nice with Israel very often...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Coexistence Training « jerusalempeaceseeker

Coexistence Training « jerusalempeaceseeker: " I’m by no means impervious to fear, just willing to put it aside in order to push the boundaries a little. "

'via Blog this'

Wife of my teacher Michael Marmur, on experiments with public transit in Jerusalem.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Looks like we're in for Nasty Weather.

Stay safe folks!

Modern Orthodoxy's Human Pillar – Forward.com

It's probably ironic (at least in the Alanis Morresette sense of the term) that Joseph Soloveitchik (himself no fan of Reform) is one of my favorite theologians. This article, describing a collection of papers delivered on the centenary of his birth is worth a read. In a time when the need for an interrogative faith (to quote David Aaron), Soloveitchik's religious approach--rooted theologically but with an openness that might surprise those unfamiliar with his work--is one that resonates strongly for me, as the following clip makes clear.
It makes clear how, for Soloveitchik, maintaining an Orthodoxy both firmly rooted in the tradition and open to the outside world could be accomplished not according to predetermined formulas, but rather through balancing complex competing values. Add to this the ad hoc pronouncements he felt compelled to register to cope with practical problems as they arose, and it is no wonder that his record seems hardly consistent.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/141791/#ixzz1W5kwzIdO

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A few more songs for Earthquake Apocalypse

Thanks Aaron Nathans!

Why I went with J-Street this afternoon

So this afternoon, in addition to being shaken up by a little earthquake, I joined the crew from J-Street Delaware to deliver a few hundred postcards and have a conversation about supporting a strong, secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel. I know J-Street has gotten a bad rap, which makes me sad. I think too often there's a sense that if you deviate from a set script on Israel--whether you're a rabbi, a politician, or just a member of the Jewish community--you're branded as an antisemite, an Israel-hater, at best naive, or something similar. And I get where that anxiety comes from--Israel's in a rough neighborhood, surrounded by nations (even those at peace with her) who'd like to see the country go away, and her allies (with the exception of the US) are often not terrific (c.f. Turkey, the UK, France, etc.). So, J-Street (which advocates for a Two-State Solution to the peace process and supports a secure, democratic Jewish state alongside a secure Palestinian one) gets painted with that brush as well, and I would argue, unfairly.

Certainly, there were people in that room who would use terms like 'occupation' when relating to the West Bank. But then there were others--like myself and Rabbi Michael Beals, who joined us for this visit--who see terms like that for what they are: divisive and unhelpful. As Rabbi Beals said to me: no peace, no dialogue can come if you use the terminology of blame. But what's most important is creating a new kind of conversation about Israel, one that expresses support in serious terms, including support for really difficult, challenging work, work that Israel's Palestinian neighbors are not especially good at, and that many Israelis are despairing of whether it can actually happen, the work for peace.

And for those of you who are looking for a musical interlude to celebrate our earthquake:

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Special Place in Hell-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source.

There is no such thing as moral equivalency when a sovereign nation seeks to defend itself against terrorist attacks. This is not about who is stronger or weaker, nor is it a fight between two equals targeting each others' military capabilities: this is about one side's willingness to kill civilians and another side's desire for security. HOWEVER, hatred of one's attackers (and responding appropriately) does not justify hatred of an entire people.

A Special Place in Hell-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source.:

Here's one reason: You can bet that terrible things are about to happen, with Gaza being the imminent target of Israeli retaliation. The next step will be a ritual bifurcation of sympathy, either exclusively for Israeli victims of the Thursday attacks, or exclusively for the Gazans to follow.

There will even be scorn for those who suggest that innocent victims are innocent victims no matter who they are – an observation which will quickly be written off by some (at the bottom of this article) as mendacious moral equivalence, or willful ignorance of the obvious malice and evildoing of one side – take your pick – toward the other...

It seems to me that people who justly fight racism have a responsibility not to practice it. It is all too natural a matter, especially in this part of the world, for anger over hated policies to boil over into racism against an entire people.

We've seen what that does. We've seen what that enables. We're about to see it again. By the time these words see print, more innocent people are going to die. They are not the enemy, faceless, merciless, heartless and monstrous.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This I Believe

As many of you know, our theme for this Summer Speakers' Series has been "This I Believe" based on the NPR program of the same name. I had asked Jan Goodman, our new congregational president, to speak on community and personal service, as she's quite passionate about that subject. Below you'll find her sermon. I leave it without commentary, except to say this--I love it when the president of the congregation sounds as rabbinic (or more rabbinic) than the rabbi! It's a wonderful thing.


I went to a wonderful liberal arts college in rural Central Pennsylvania – Dickinson College. For a small school Dickinson had some pretty incredible offerings, academic as well as extra-curricular. I chose Dickinson because of the rigorous International Studies curriculum and particularly the focus on studying abroad, as I hoped to one day to live and work overseas. The school’s foreign language program was and still is very well-respected, which definitely appealed to me. I was especially excited about the chance to join the Swimming team. And there were so many club activities that interested me that I really didn’t know where to begin. One offering that I had never seriously considered, however, was a program called ROTC – the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Soon after I arrived at Dickinson and was pouring through the course selection guide with my roommate, she convinced me to try this elective called ROTC. Margaret had Swiss citizenship, her brothers served in the Swiss Army, and she thought it would be fun to see what the military was all about – but she didn’t want to take the class alone. I agreed to join her because ROTC seemed like a great elective – lots of hiking, skiing, camping, canoeing, climbing and other adventures, a perfect complement to all the studying I was anticipating. I’m pretty sure the course description – at least that first year – pretty much glossed over the military service component of the class. Well, to make a long story short, Margaret lasted only one semester in ROTC, and I was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant soon after I graduated four years later.

Since that time, so many people have asked me – sometimes with total shock on their faces – why a nice Jewish girl would choose this path. My quick answer to this question is always the same: “To meet a nice Jewish boy, of course!”, for as many of you know, it was during my active duty years that Rob and I first met.

The honest reason, however, is more complex. I was raised by a family, a community, and a faith that believes in service and I was taught from a very young age that service – however you define this – was an obligation, perhaps even a requirement for being a citizen in this world. To me, military service was as much about good citizenship and representing our nation positively overseas as it was about our tactical mission. Although my unit’s role was to defend a border in Germany that doesn’t even exist anymore, I’m hopeful that the way in which I represented my country, and even more importantly my country’s ideals and values, made a positive impression on people in far-away places.

Judaism teaches us quite simply that being part of the community means working to better the community. We are taught to question injustice and act to eliminate it. Our most important mission is Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and we are commanded to pursue Tzedakah (justice) and G’milut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness). Performing these mitzvot is fundamental to who we are, as individuals and as a people. Not only does this give us a stake in improving our environment, but it allows us to play a role in reducing injustice and evil in our world. Helping those in need in some capacity, no matter where they are or what they need, is crucial and, in my opinion at least, perhaps even sacred work.

So clearly one of the most fundamental Jewish commandments – if not the most critical one – is to be of service to others, in our own communities, in our cities, in our nation, and globally. But what exactly does service really mean… that everyone should join the Army as I did? Probably not, although I have some pretty strong opinions about the value of mandatory national service that we can discuss some other time. I think everyone needs to define service in a way that has meaning in their life. I understand service as freely sharing some combination of time, money and personal talents with the intention of helping others.

This is what Judaism has taught me and I’m proud that our synagogue incorporates these mitzvot into much of what we do. A key part of our recently-developed Vision statement reads: “Beth Emeth aspires to be a welcoming congregational family that supports and celebrates each other as we, among other things, lead and inspire the greater community through Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.

Beth Emeth’s teachers incorporate these values into almost every class; we’re active participants in our community’s Mitzvah Day; we help to support a synagogue in Russia; we collect and serve food for our community’s hungry; and so, so much more. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we now have a volunteer coordinator at Beth Emeth – please let Van Olmstead know if you’re looking for service opportunities in our synagogue and I’m sure he’ll be happy to help you! Through all of these activities we’re teaching our community about caring and service here at Beth Emeth, and this is a very good thing.

But even more than teaching these obligations, it is important that we – each of us individually as well as communally – continue to “live” this message. For me, it has been the example of those I respect most that has inspired me to make the choices I’ve made. I can’t truthfully remember my parents ever lecturing me about the importance of volunteering. Instead, I’ve learned from how they live their lives. My father’s 30 years of military service, his commitment to improving the quality of life in my home town, and his involvement with programs such as Big Brothers. My mother’s community activism, advocacy for children in the foster care system, and other volunteer commitments too numerous to share. And especially the very humble example of my grandmother. When she passed away years ago, I saw the following words on her refrigerator:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

You see, serving others was how Gram chose to live her life. Even as the aging process took its toll, helping others is what inspired her to wake up and look forward to each day.

So let’s return now to my original question – what led a “nice Jewish girl down the path to military service”, and expanding on this, why do I continue to search for ways to serve others?

I take very seriously the fact that in our tradition, it is imperative to act out of concern for the greater good and do our part to make the world a better place. Helping others, locally and sometimes on a much more global scale, gives our lives value and meaning and, hopefully, inspires others to do the same. Each of us needs to define for ourselves how and where to make a difference – in our family, our community, for our country, our world – but serving others and making a piece of this world a better place is our obligation. And teaching this commitment to service through our example to the next generation is one of the most important things we can do.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Not Sure about Tisha Be'av?

I've only ever fasted once for Tisha B'av: in Israel, when I was 16 on a NFTY trip. Probably not the healthiest thing in the world, as we were planting trees that day, but I wanted to experience it, get a sense of what it would mean to fast for a destroyed Israel and Jerusalem while literally standing in a reborn and renewed Israel and Jerusalem.

The second time I experienced Tisha B'av in a meaningful way was again in Israel, my first year of rabbinic school. Hearing the chanting of Eicha done by fellow students (it's still my favorite trope) and going down to the kotel to witness throngs of people, cheek-to-jowl, weeping real tears at midnight for a destroyed city that we were now, in that moment, standing within, was powerful. (Hilariously, we also ran into some EIE high school exchange students who wanted to check it out and had broken curfew as a result.).

Since then, I've moved away from the practice, and have rarely been in communities that observed the day. I'd like to think it was because, as Reform Jews, many decided that it no longer made sense. Sadly, I'm pretty sure it's mostly because it's in the summer, there's no food, and no fun family activity to go with it.

Truth be told, it's not that I'm against the holiday, but rather that I'm ambivalent. I think there's a lot of important teaching to be done at Tisha B'av that directly relates to our lives today. The rabbis teach that Jerusalem fell because of sinat chinam, or senseless hatred, between fellow Jews. Well, one doesn't have to look too far to see sinat chinam. We look to Washington DC and the political chasm that grows ever wider and more treacherous. We look in Israel and see young Israelis rallying for their financial future, hostility upon hostility heaped upon anyone who dares challenge the hegemony of the Orthodox, or for Women's rights, or equal rights for all citizens under the law (and who speaks of peace now, without being called a traitor?), and cynical politicians who have forgotten what it means for Am Yisrael to chai, all this happening while we fear for Israel's continued safety and security, and while we anticipate Gilad Shalit's 25th birthday.

So Menachem Creditor's post Not Sure about Tisha Be'av? Hit home for me (yes, even the parts relevant only to his congregation--having been part of a campaign for a synagogue's financial survival, I know how that goes). There is a lot that's wrong in the world, in the Jewish world, in Israel. We have seen the State of Israel rise miraculously, but have watched Am Yisrael deteriorate. And yet, and yet, as Menachem points out, there is laughter and joy. I'm gearing up for a wedding and a baby naming and a slew of b'nai mitzvah. I'm working on an Israel trip for the congregation. I see Jews in this community gather regularly--regardless of affiliation--to support each other, the community (however you define that word) and Israel, as well as the world. I get to make Shabbat with my family every week, and watch my son's face as Silly Joe (the JCC camp songleader) plays Hinei Mah Tov on the guitar (it does help that he does an Elmo impersonation as he sings it, but hey).

The last words of Eicha say: Chadeish Yameinu Mikedem--renew our days as of old (they're also the last words of the Torah Service). That word renew has a great deal of power and potential (there's a reason Arthur Waskow etc. co-opted the term), and I believe there's a reason we end the chanting of Lamentations with it (it was a later emendation, according to some scholars). Because we can't end with sadness, with mourning. We have to have hope, a nechemta, a word of comfort. We have to believe that there is a future, a better world, a better me and a better you, that we can celebrate together. So we move from Lamentation to comfort, literally in the haftarah for this week (nachamu, nachamu, comfort O comfort ye, says Adonai), and spiritually as we pivot from the this day and move toward Rosh Hashanah, the ultimate renewal.

I don't know what you're doing for Tisha B'av--perhaps nothing. But I hope you'll use it as a time for reflection and introspection, and to begin the process of renewal. Chadeish Yameinu Mikedem...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Op-Ed: Judaism is always ‘tikkun olam’—and more | JTA - Jewish & Israel News


While written as an op-ed, this piece by Rabbi Eric Yoffie (outgoing head of the URJ) ends up being one of the best high holiday sermons ever. I've quoted the whole thing below, but put my own italics on the parts that are just made of TRUTH.

I have no patience for survival Judaism. Whenever I hear someone talk about what Jews must do in order to “survive,” I head for the door.

Joel Alperson has joined the long list of Jewish communal leaders offering a formula for Jewish survival. Along the way, he informs us that Modern Orthodoxy has all the answers and Reform and Conservative Judaism are on the road to extinction -- a point with which I strongly disagree but that I will not argue here. What does need to be said, however, is that he shows a total misunderstanding of what Judaism is about and fails to comprehend that a Judaism obsessed with survival is a Judaism that will not survive.

Anyone who has urged college students to care about Jewish survival knows that they will respond with indifference, incomprehension and contempt. They are not interested in being Jewish so that we can survive. They need to hear the opposite message: Jews do not observe Torah in order to survive; they survive in order to observe Torah. And -- this is the key for such students, and for most North American Jews -- observing Torah means much more than worrying only about our own souls.

Observing Torah involves fulfilling a grander purpose. It means taking to heart the words of R. Hayyim of Brisk, the greatest Talmudist of the late 19th century, who defined the rabbi’s task as follows: “To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor.”

Social justice, in short, is required by our religious texts and is inseparable from our religious mission. There is no such thing as a morality that is selectively indignant -- that looks within but fails to look without. And Judaism without ethics, both personal and societal, is a contradiction in terms.

Do we need to study Torah, embrace Jewish ritual and observe Shabbat? Absolutely, although Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews will interpret these obligations differently. The work of social justice, absent text study and ritual practice as a foundation, is inauthentic and will not sustain itself. Indeed, I have found that the work of "tikkun olam," for all its rewards, is lonely and discouraging work, and only by absorbing the light of the Shabbat candles and by studying and worshiping with a strong, dynamic Jewish community can I immunize myself against the cynicism and alienation that surround me.

But the point that Mr. Alperson misses is that social justice is not, as he claims, a secular pursuit meant to compensate for the absence of “God-based” Jewish experience. Social justice is God-mandated in precisely the same way that Shabbat observance and Torah study are God-mandated. In the book of Jeremiah (9:24), we find these words: “I am the Eternal, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” Serious Jews know that in the Jewish tradition, healing the sick, clothing the naked, helping the poor, pursuing peace, loving my people and my neighbors -- these are the attributes of God, and we testify to God’s existence by emulating God behavior.

And in fact, Mr. Alperson can’t seem to decide if Jewish education and Jewish practice are “God-based” or are instruments of survival. Ultimately he appears to choose the latter, referring to them as “the water pumps and sandbags employed by the Orthodox movement against the rising tides of assimilation.” Orthodox leaders can speak for themselves on this point, but I will share with you the reaction of my daughter Adina, who is a social activist, belongs to an Orthodox congregation and was incensed by this article.

“We don’t observe Shabbat because it is a sandbag against assimilation," she said, "but because it is part of the eternal covenant between God and the Jews that evokes the miracle of Creation and the Exodus from Egypt and links me to Jews throughout the centuries.” Exactly so.

The essence of Mr. Alperson’s argument, and the height of his folly, is that “we can’t have it both ways”; we cannot, he says, both insist that tikkun olam and social justice are central and also embrace serious Jewish education and Jewish practice. But we can, and in fact, we must. To do one without the other is to retreat from the world and distort Judaism’s very essence.

Op-Ed: Judaism is always ‘tikkun olam’—and more | JTA - Jewish & Israel News