Saturday, April 25, 2015

Whose Hope?

Last night we talked about Hatikvah, The Hope, the anthem of the Jewish State, sung repeatedly this week at Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Most of us know the lyrics by heart. But an interesting debate is taking place in Israel. For us, it will always be a Jewish State, as it should be, but we also want it to be a democratic state. And a democratic state protects its minorities. Indeed, it embraces them and welcomes them into civic life.

Increasingly, Israelis are aware of this. An Israeli Arab participated in the official Yom Ha'atzmaut observance. Arab victims of terror were recognized. Druze and Arab soldiers who died protecting the state were remembered. Israelis take pride in the fact that Arabs serve in Knesset, in the Supreme Court, in civic life at every level. And yet, these citizens of Israel can't Sig their national anthem, which doesn't include their dream, their longing.

Hatikvah originated as a poem, Our Hope, written by Naftali Imber, a 19th century Zionist. Originally nine stanzas long, the settlers of the Yishuv adapted the first stanza and refrain and set it to music. But as has been pointed out, the original poem would actually be more inclusive.

So last night, we explored what it would mean to create an Israeli anthem, not only a Jewish one. We talked about how going back to Imber's language actually strengthens the Jewishness of Israel, by allowing the state to live an important value, that of being truly welcoming. And we sang Hatikvah with the changes suggested.

As Jews, we've rejoiced at the opportunities provided to us living in a democracy. It has allowed our Judaism to flourish. Surely we and Jewish Israel owes it to their minorities to create space for them to flourish. It doesn't threaten Israel's Jewish identity; it strengthens it.

So, what do you think? What would it mean to go back to Imber's original language? Should Israel change Hatikvah? Can Israel make it truly all of our hope?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Yom HaShoah: Consider

You who live secureIn your warm housesWho return at evening to findHot food and friendly faces: 
Consider whether this is a man,Who labours in the mudWho knows no peaceWho fights for a crust of breadWho dies at a yes or a no.Consider whether this is a woman,Without hair or nameWith no more strength to rememberEyes empty and womb coldAs a frog in winter. 
Consider that this has been:I commend these words to you.Engrave them on your heartsWhen you are in your house, when you walk on your way,When you go to bed, when you rise.Repeat them to your children.Or may your house crumble,Disease render you powerless,Your offspring avert their faces from you.--Shema, Primo Levi

Tonight begins Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, or "The Day of Catastrophe"). It is a day filled with meaning for Jews. For some, it is a painful reminder of what it means to be a people always chosen (as if the most recent antisemitism on American campuses and in Europe don't accentuate that idea). For too many, it is their primary mode of Jewish identification. For non-Jews as well, as if they are more comfortable with us as victims rather than active, joyful, principled partners in God's efforts of creation. And for some, it has become an excuse to be dismissive of identity, or a cudgel wielded to stifle dissent, or at least feared as such.

Nevertheless, it is there. It is present in the life of the modern Jew, even one removed by three generations from the Holocaust. It is present, and it demands something of us, not only as a community, but as individuals as well.

Tonight, the Hebrew School students will gather in our Holocaust garden at 5pm to light candles and say prayers and reflect. Tomorrow, our community (Jewish and non-Jewish) will gather at the Carvel State building in downtown Wilmington to learn and share and remember. All are welcome to both. And, as you sit in your homes, secure and warm, consider that this has been. Consider what these men and women, and their memories, demand of us.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Shemini: how do we correct?

Last week, before Pesach, I got a letter in the mail at the office. Well, not exactly a letter; it was my Orbit article (and blog post) about Israel and AIPAC that had been torn out of the newsletter, with grammar corrections in RED INK with the words "GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT!" scrawled in the margin.  Thankfully there were only a few errors! Whew!

As a former English Major I totally agree, and was glad for some constructive feedback (though Red Ink dude?), but was surprised that I found no further note, nor even a return address on the envelope. Now, it may be that my mysterious grader simply forgot to include his or her contact information, or deemed it unnecessary. But I fear that, in this era when people hide behind anonymity on the internet to harass and demean others, to "correct" people in anger and self righteousness rather than love, this may have been an exercise in venting of spleen rather than loving kindness.

The text demands different behavior. Toward the end of Chapter 9 of Leviticus, Aaron, now nearly completely ordained raises his hands and blesses the people, then steps back into the Tent of Meeting with Moses. Then they both emerge, bless the people again, and God's Presence descends, consumes the offerings in fire (thus indicating the acceptance of the ritual and the newly-minted kohanim).

Why the repetition? It could be that one was the priestly benediction, found in Numbers, and the other was from Psalms, as the rabbis suggest. But there is an additional teaching, one perpetuated by my teacher Janet Marder: that Aaron, in his first time out as Priest, was unsure of himself, and didn't quite do it right. So Moses took him back into the Tent of Meeting, gave him a pep talk, showed him how to do it, and then came back out and did it with him.

Note what does not happen: Moses doesn't castigate his brother for doing it wrong. Nor does he let him just die on stage, as it were. He corrects, and also supports. And he acts in a way publicly to show his support, without undermining Aaron as the new High Priest.

So, kudos to the mystery grammarian for writing me in private! And constructive criticism is always a good thing. But, what would have happened if he or she had spoken to me (privately and personally)? What if we had had a conversation?  Frankly, what would happen if we all did that, rather than keeping score passive-aggressively or going for the jugular?

None of this is life-or-death and I don't want to make the point that I was offended; actually, I wasn't. But I'm taken with the idea that, instead of silently seething or correcting people anonymously--which only leads to suspicion of motive--we reached out to one another in a brotherly way?

After the second time, God's presence emerges and accepts the offering. Is it because Aaron got it right this time, or because Moses acted as teacher rather than judge? I'll let you explore that for yourself.