I’ve been reading an array of obituaries and reflections on Mandela and his legacy since late Thursday night when I heard that he had died. When I had a chance to reflect on the news as I traveled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv last night my thoughts turned to my parents and a shoe museum in Toronto, where I grew up. I also thought about why I came here in the first place.
When I was 13 years old, freshly Bar Mitzvah’d with an older teenaged brother spending weekends looking for fights with neo-Nazis, I first became aware that my mom was (and on some fronts still is) a politically active human being. She was a New York Jew of the baby boom generation, a Woodstock attendee, and she had, in those turbulent years of which I have no first hand knowledge, gotten involved in struggles for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, and toward a feminist future.
Having recently gotten into the Dead, Snoop, and other musical accompaniments for my newly found enchantment with weed (which became the central destination for much of the bounty of my Bar Mitzvah gifts), I would proudly proclaim that my mom had been a “hippy” to my friends. When she was around to defend herself though, she would explain, slightly annoyed, “I was a radical, not a hippy”.
The tagline of this year’s Jewish Feminist Alliance (JOFA) 8th annual gathering on Dec 7-8 has sparked a conversation: “It’s not just for feminists anymore.”
Long time JOFA supporter Jennifer Moran’s Facebook feed blew up when she posted this status: ”Just received an ad for the 8th International JOFA Conference, which proclaims, ‘It’s not just for feminists anymore…’ How I wish that I could convince my fellow women’s rights activists to stop disparaging, diminishing, or distancing themselves from feminism.” Others wondered if JOFA’s mission had changed, if social norms in the Orthodox community had led JOFA to shift its recruitment strategy away from the “radical” notion of feminism.
What’s the motivation behind this tagline and what’s happening at the conference? We spoke with Sarah Blechner, Marketing Chair for the upcoming conference. Blechner was raised in an Orthodox feminist household and has attended JOFA conferences since she was in high school.
Jewschool: What can we expect from this year’s JOFA conference that’s different from previous years?
Sarah Blechner: Whereas many of the past conferences have focused on the Orthodox community writ large, this year, while we will still be tackling those large, community issues, we are also talking in a much more personal way than ever before. We are really looking forward to bringing many of the “big” issues down to an individual level and discussing how many of these issues impact the everyday, the individual, and the quieter moments. More »
Kari Hochwald is 23 years old and from Jacksonville, Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2012 with a degree in English. She spent the past year volunteering in Israel through Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellows program in Rehovot. After a few months back at home, Kari has decided to return to Israel to live and work in Tel Aviv.
Jewschool:Say some things about your Jewish background and your previous experience(s) in Israel.
Kari Hochwald: My Jewish background is.. Conservaform? I guess? ( My family switched from a Conservative to Reform temple when I was 11). I really only stayed involved up through my Bat Mitzvah and a couple of years of volunteering at the temple. I was very uninvolved in high school and didn’t really find a Jewish outlet until the end of my Junior year in college when I went on a Taglit Birthright trip with the University of Florida Hillel, visiting Israel for the first time. Jacksonville doesn’t have a huge thriving Jewish community so I never had that many Jewish friends, and it’s hard to get involved on the college level when you don’t know many people at Hillel/Chabad (it’s a bit clique-y). Now my Judaism is more Israel centered and I would identify more with the “secular” movement. I was very involved with Hillel during my senior year of college, as a Masa intern and Zionist Gators group founder.
My experience in Israel this year was, of course, amazing, and so different from what you think you are seeing on Birthright. I felt a connection to Israel during that brief ten days, but being able to live there for ten months and attempt to understand the language, culture, controversies, and diverse land were things I could never have experienced otherwise. The highlight was partaking in all of the Jewish holidays in Israel, when no one questioned why I was missing class on Yom Kippur, and Chanukah was the main December event. My Hebrew didn’t improve immensely, but from teaching in a middle school I had a much better understanding of English grammar (ever heard of stative verbs?).
Sometimes when I go to Jewish events that I know will include a question and answer session, I make a chart that looks like this:
# of times someone asks a question that is not actually a question ( __ )
# of times speaker is interrupted by someone in the audience ( __ )
# of rants by audience members ( ___ ) *
This chart has come in particularly handy at conferences, but can be applied on a holiday such as Shavuot, if you write. (It also makes an excellent drinking game.)
I spent Shavuot at the JCC in Manhattan, which, if you have not attended a tikkun there before, can be really overwhelming. It’s super crowded, especially in the areas with the cheesecake and water and coffee. The offerings are pretty diverse: yoga, films, art, speakers, and more traditional learning situations with chevrutah. I came because I was in the neighborhood, and also for the 10 pm session with Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (RKE in this piece, for the sake of brevity here), director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, called “Women of the Wall, Pluralism in Israel, and American Jews.”
RKE began by asking the audience about the values that motivate their activism (“I just don’t want someone to say that my voice can’t be heard,” said one woman,) and also about the values that they felt Israel should embody, which were no surprise in a liberal Jewish crowd: equality, democracy, justice, respect, Judaism, co-existence, pluralism. “I am worried by what I see in the news,” said RKE, before giving a brief history of the actions of Women of the Wall, beginning in 1988, when the group gathered at the Kotel for the first time. In 1993, the group attempted to read Torah for the first time at the Wall, resulting in the arrest and detainment of group members. (The Torah reading happened, outside the jail near Jaffa Gate, while members of the group and allies waited for folks to be released.) ”There was a feeling of being vulnerable, and yet so strong,” said RKE. The events continued to escalate after 1993, and American Jewish support for WOW grew. RKE: “Seeing Jewish women being taken away by Israeli police in a Jewish state? How can it be?” More »
Words are pretty cool. Sometimes they stay in one place, and sometimes they cross state lines. Sometimes certain types of words spread like wildfire. I don’t mean gossip; I mean words like “cat” or “bank.” For example, I was born in Connecticut, so I still say “pocketbook.” I brought “pocketbook” all the way down to Virginia, where my “pocketbook” encountered everyone else’s “purses.” It was barely a fight. I haven’t traded my “pocketbook” in for a “purse” yet, and it’s been years.
Still, in other environments, some words enjoy an almost guaranteed takeover. When I was at Drisha over the summer, nothing in the kitchen was free for the taking. Lots of things were hefker, though. “Ownerless.” It seemed that as the summer wore on, more and more things were hefker. And kal vachomer, if we were saying hefker we were definitely saying davka. Davka was thrown around like a baseball at Drisha. Once it showed up in our sugya, and once our gemara teacher started saying it, everyone in our class started saying it. Heikhi, how does this happen? Well, for one thing, our class wasn’t picking up much from Talmud 3 down the hall. Our class was together three and a half hours a day, and words tend to spread that way. I don’t know what the other classes talked about but we, Talmud 1, were learning ben sorer u’moreh, the rebellious son, and that’s where our vocabulary came from.
For that month, our life was the ben sorer u’moreh. Our jokes were ben sorer u’moreh-themed (maybe that was just me). On the last day of class, we bought OU Dairy bacon and grape juice, as an elaborate joke based on the fact that for someone to be a ben sorer u’moreh he must eat meat and drink wine…but only if he stole it from his parents first (both of whom must look and sound the same). We expanded this into a bigger joke, saying that his parents only owned one item, the clock in our own classroom. When the clock went missing one day, we said the ben sorer u’moreh had stolen it.
Drisha just worked like that. Most of the girls had just come from seminary, so it was an opportunity to re-enter an immersive “Torah everything” environment for them. But for people like me, this was a completely new concept. Of course you’re not going to ask if those donuts are free; you’re going to ask if they’re hefker.
I’m reading a book called Becoming Frum by Sarah Bunin Benor. It’s about the language of ba’alei teshuva; when, why, and how certain words or styles are acquired. Not surprisingly, her frumspeak hierarchy is: Periphery, Community, and Yeshiva. As BTs become more involved and invested, she explains, their way of speaking changes accordingly. This isn’t so surprising; after all, if everyone around you is using sav, eventually you will have to decide if sticking with tav is worth making you different. And vice versa. Some BTs enjoy emphasizing their differences from FFBs (she actually opens and closes the book with Matisyahu, naturally). Some want nothing more than to blend in.
It’s easy and linear when someone raised Modern Orthodox is joining a yeshivishe community. It’s a little more interesting to put people from secular, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Chasidishe backgrounds into a non-denominational place like Drisha. More than once did I respond to “Shabbat shalom” with “Good shabbos,” which violates all natural laws of language, seeing as I was raised far less observant than anyone else I knew there, and should have used “Shabbat shalom” like the child of secular Reform intermarriage I was. I didn’t start saying “Shabbat shalom,” but they didn’t have to start saying “Good shabbos,” either. Reading from Tanach was interesting. It didn’t default to Modern Orthodox/Israeli pronunciation as one might expect, but rather a mix. However, the exceptions prove the rule, as far as I’m concerned. Where “Good shabbos” didn’t bring us together, davka did instead.
It’s not limited to words, of course. When I read “the ‘hesitation click‘ is a feature of Orthodox communities,” I knew immediately what Benor meant, and I laughed. She writes that it is a feature of Israeli Hebrew, but as I hadn’t heard it until coming to Drisha, I thought it was just one person’s idiosyncrasy. It spread rapidly, though, and (as I delightfully noted) across denominational lines.
Drisha is one place where language isn’t necessarily correlated with ideological or denominational lines. It’s like its own microcosm.
Tomorrow night is to be the first of many Jewish events unlike anything ever seen before.
The reason: it’s explicitly secular, and therefore explicitly Jewish.
Let me explain.
Tomorrow night is the premier event of Oholiav (oh-HO-lee-AV), a “meeting place” where the secular art and pop worlds come into contact with Jewish values, philosophies and narratives.
That’s abstract. Let me break it down.
Jewish culture and secular Western culture share some basic values: don’t murder people, stand up for what is right, be a good person.
When you look into some of those deeper details though, the wide range of Jewish views on gender roles, on human rights, on politics, on the importance of spirituality, are very likely to differ from that which we have to come to know in the secular world.
So, where are these points of tension, and where are those moments of harmony?
Oholiav examines secular culture through the pop culture—films, YouTube videos, singles, albums, TV shows, Broadway musicals, plays—and the world of art—literature, art galleries, dance. In pinpointing those moments when values are espoused in the secular world, or stories are told or beliefs are “preached” in the secular world, Oholiav compares these moments with their Jewish counterparts.
Does Dinner For Schmucks parallel the Jewish value of hospitality towards guests (hakhnasat orehim) or slam the door on the face of the ideal? Does Francisco Goya’s “The Disasters of War” series serve as a reprimand of oppression, unconsciously echoing Jewish discomfort with militarism? Do these elements perhaps meet somewhere in the middle? Perhaps the twain shall never meet? (Not to mention, the Jewish people rarely hold similarly with only one point of view on anything.)
At 7 PM, in celebration of the art openings, we’ll gather together on the 5th floor of the Kraft Center for special performances by OMG Poetry, Ezra Benus, Lori Leifer and ChEckiT!Dance; followed at 8 PM by a Q&A Talkback with questions from the audience, in conversation with Ellen Alt and with ChEckiT!Dance about both artistic and Jewish elements of their biographies and bodies of work.
Csanad Szegedi was enjoying a fine career as a politician in Hungary’s nationalist Jobbik Party. The 30-year-old Hungarian helped market Hungarian nationalist merchandise online, acted as an EU lawmaker, and did not skimp on the Jew-bashing in his public speeches.
Csanad Szegedi, your new favourite Jewish anti-Semite
Indie Rocker and Jewish Day School Alumna Regina Spektor
As those of you who have been following this season’s America’s Got Talent and/or have read my previous post know, one of the most promising contenders in the show is a religious Jew who is a singer. Not only that, but he is an incoming freshman at the Jewish high school I attended. Curious if any ICJA alumni before have ever enjoyed success and fame as popular musicians, I did some searching but could not find anything. To my knowledge, the only music icon to have graduated from ICJA was Disturbed front man David Draiman (who first spent some time at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, WITS, and Torah Valley High in California).
I then expanded my search to include alumni rockers from any major Jewish day school in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. (Incidentally, this search revealed volumes about the institutional identities of the individual schools. While some schools mention Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars among their graduates, others mention only male ‘notable alumni,’ and some only rabbis, major Jewish community leaders, and mega-machers. And some even mention convicted murderers. I’m looking at you, Charles E Smith Jewish Day School.) Interestingly, the rock star Jew-school grads hail disproportionately from Orthodox day schools. Care to interpret?
Anyway, on to the challenge (answers after the ‘more,’ but no peeking!):
which of these famous musicians attended which of these Jewish Day Schools? Hint: two or more may have attended the same school
Lest there be any doubt in your minds, Skokie, IL is the bastion of cool these days. Jewschool’s very own Adam Davis just moved there, I grew up there, and…oh yeah, the likely winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent hails from there too.
AGT Contestant and Skokie native Edon Pinchot, 14
Singing sensation AGT finalist Edon Pinchot is 14 years old and about to start high school at Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy this coming fall. He and his family live just blocks from my parents (who are long-time friends of his grandparents), and his parents are pillars of the orthodox Jewish community there. I remember his mother, Laurie—an exquisitely refined, thoughtful woman, from the Skokie Women’s Tefilla Group which I regularly attended in my pre-adolescent years. The rest of the family are also substantial folks who excel at what they do. More »
If you have not done so already, please read the lasttwo posts from Jewschool, and then come back here.
[Waiting for you to finish reading...]
Thanks for coming back.
The subject of both of the posts I just asked you to read are intended to be eye-catching and possibly even intentionally offensive. However, the Ms. Holocaust Survivor event, was titled provocatively while the content of the event was empowering and kind. As we look at the buy-us-dinner fundraising idea from the self-proclaimed voice of the Jewish blogosphere you don’t quite get over that initial bad taste in your mouth.
Taking a deep dive into the Jewlicious fundraising ideas, and the lackluster apology/excuses of its editor, we all feel just a bit dirty.
Clearly, as was pointed out in the comments of the Jewlicious post by the same editor making the excuses, we at Jewschool love to drive traffic by talking in-side baseball. However, I am an avid fan of the sport and dabble just a bit in media criticism. And the shameful attempt to pass the buck on this sexist, misogynistic and other “big-boy words” project, could be called a two down, bottom of the 9th kind of moment. More »
In this month’s Commentary magazine, Jack Wertheimer once again takes on all the terrors of (assume a creaky old gramps voice here) those young people today. Except that it isn’t actually those young people today who are best characterized by his complaints.
Here are his complaints in order (This is just the outline, for the full effect, you’ll need to go see the actual essay):
I. I am the Lord your God, Who took you out of Egypt to ‘repair the world.’
II. You shall not be judgmental.
III. You shall be pluralistic.
IV. You shall personalize your Judaism.
V. Meaning, meaning shall you pursue.
VI. You shall create caring communities.
VII. You shall encourage the airing of all views.
VIII. You shall not be tribal.
IX. You shall celebrate your Jewishness.
X. You shall hold the Jewish conversation in public.
Just to get them out of the way, I’m just going to skim over my major wuts in is piece:
I’m kind of mystified by number 5. Is he saying that Jewish survival, should it have, for example, no Torah at the center, and no community, is worthwhile for its own sake? Why? Number ten, OTOH is classic Wertheimerian krechtzing. He just doesn’t actually get that there is no non-public square anymore. I know the guy is basically a grump (and sexist, though that doesn’t come out so much here) who spends his editorial time complaining about “the kids these days,” but does he really want to advertise the fact that he has no idea what year it is and is unaware of the use of new technologies and how people – not just Jews- actually live?
Still, even a stopped analog clock is right twice a day: More »
I’m a secret fan of Food Network’s Chopped, and recently between episodes discovered a weird sister show focused on dessert called Sweet Genius. Its eponymous, singular judge and host is a weird and kooky cross between Willy Wonka and Dr. Evil. Get it- Evil Genius, Sweet Genius? Yeah well the show is filled with the same odd humor… Its pretty ridiculous, but I admit its better than watching Cupcake Boss, whose name doesn’t even have a pun… The show has its fans and deriders, but mostly I think it has addicts to its quirkiness.
There was always something odd about the Sweet Genius himself. His flamboyant style hinted at his being gay, but unless you knew his name is Ron Ben Israel, his Austrian accent never would have outed him as a Tel Aviv born-Jew. Of course, his Viennese mother might have something to do with that, as well as giving him knowledge of delicate European style confections, which appeared in Martha Stewart, Vogue and many food pron books before the New York Times named him “the Manolo Blahnik of cakes.”
In 1999 he opened Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York’s SoHo neighborhood with one oven and one mixer. As people fled downtown New York after the 9/11 tragedy, he was able to capitalize on lower rents and expand his operation.
Coming from a secular Israeli upbringing, Ben-Israel wasn’t ideologically interested in making his shop kosher, but for a caterer for some of New York City’s biggest hotels, it was a prudent business decision.
He chose OK Laboratories, the Chabad-affiliated kashrut organization headquartered in Brooklyn, which now certifies his shop’s pareve cakes.
After serving in the IDF in the 70′s , he studied dance and pursued a Ballet career that eventually brought him to NYC, where while working odd jobs to make rent he discovered baking.
It’s a called List of Cognitive Biases, and besides showing what a nerd I am, it basically maps out all the ways in which our brain, on a daily basis, screws up how we perceive the world. These aren’t vague ideas, or suggestions – for the most part, they’re laboratory-tested, easily repeatable things that all of our brains do wrong. Some of them are familiar: the Gambler’s Fallacy (“If I just got three heads in a row, the next flip MUST be tails!”); Hindsight Bias (“Oh, yeah, I KNEW she was going to do that.”); and, getting into sinister territory, the Just-World Hypothesis (“Wow, look at that prisoner. He must’ve done something AWFUL! Fuck him.”).
There are well over a hundred of these biases, just listed on the one Wikipedia page; and, as amazing as it is to go through that page and just “click!” “Oh, I do that!” “click!” “Oh my God, that too!” it’s still a tiny amount. We’re juuuuuust starting to understand ourselves. Philosophers posited the atom in India and Greece in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, and the physical world has been studied for as long as we’ve been a species, if not longer. But the social survey didn’t exist until around the 1000′s; many people consider the 14th-century Arab Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun as the first sociologist; and the term sociology wasn’t even defined until 1780, in an unpublished manuscript by French essayist Emmanuel-Joseph Saiyes.
Our very own Sigismund Schlomo Freud didn’t start hypothesizing about what makes individual human beings tick until the late 1800s, and the first social psychology experiment, fusing the social with the psychological, wasn’t published until 1898, when Nathan Triplett wrote down his findings of Social Facilitation, the idea that people do better on simple tasks with other people around. The machine gun, the telephone, the automobile and aspirin are all older than the scientific field of social psychology. More »
I hope the kid (I guess he’s barely a kid, at 17, although the story reads as though he’s younger) doesn’t keep hiding his Jewishness. Go, young, Jewish, black, Irish-dancer, use the force! Or whatever.
meet Drew Lovejoy, a 17-year-old from rural Ohio. His background could not be more American. His father is black and Baptist from Georgia and his mother is white and Jewish from Iowa. But his fame is international after winning the all-Ireland dancing championship in Dublin for a third straight year.
This is a guest post from Pork Memoirs, a story project about pork and identity by friend-of-the-blog and food journalist Jeffrey Yoskowitz. His project seeks to “explore the struggles and celebrations of our often complicated relationship to the ‘other white meat.’” This Purim-themed memoir introduces Ari, a disaffected secular Israeli whose anti-religiousness manifested itself in baking pork-themed hamantaschen.
Ari Miller • Tel Aviv, Israel
Hamantaschen were an annual feature of my American-Jewish childhood. I made them with my mom and siblings. They were filled with poppy seeds because dad liked them, cherries because we all liked them and prunes because Jews will purchase any pie filling if put on sale.
When I became a baker in Tel Aviv it seemed only natural that I would make oznei haman, as the cookies are called locally. (It became hard to explain hash-entaschen in Hebrew, but that’s another story.) I have no religious leanings, mind you, it’s just that there are professional expectations of a baker. More »
Just over a week ago, the world Yiddish community lost the greatest Yiddish songstress of our time, Adrienne Khane Cooper, who died on December 25, 2011 at the age of 65. Adrienne was a person of enormous passion and talent who, as both a performer and teacher, molded a whole generation of young Yiddishists and klezmorim.
In her short 65 years on this earth, Adrienne zigzagged the map, both domestically (living in Oakland, Chicago, and New York), and internationally, touring and studying far and wide, bringing with her a love of Yiddish that was contagious as it was deep. A scholar, a writer, a performer, and an innovator, Adrienne was a trailblazer in demonstrating to the world that the adventure of Yiddish has only begun. Adrienne’s profound love and respect for language, combined with her progressive politics made her the ideal figure for spearheading the contemporary Yiddish renaissance.
After working at the YIVO Language, Literature, and Culture summer program in New York City, Adrienne envisioned an intensified Yiddish cultural experience, and so, along with Henry Sapoznik, she created KlezKamp, the renowned annual Klezmer and Yiddish culture gathering in the Catskills, now nearing its 30th year. These two programs, both of which Adrienne had a significant hand in shaping, are responsible for the outpouring of new Yiddish cultural expression—fueled largely by the enthusiasm of their young participants—that has emerged in recent years.
Among the countless Yiddish scholars and artists whom Adrienne mentored are such prominent figures in the Yiddish world as Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler, acclaimed Yiddish singer Lorin Sklamberg, and outstanding Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals. The assembled crowd at the New York memorial service for Ms. Cooper (which packed Ansche Chesed’s main sanctuary on Sunday, January 1st) was a veritable ‘who’s who’ in the Yiddish world, and each person in attendance seemed to have at least one story of how Adrienne had changed her/his life. Each of the twelve speakers who eulogised Adrienne at this memorial service shared thoughts regarding the varied and far-reaching aspects of Adrienne’s life and legacy. Upon exiting Ansche Chesed after the memorial service, I overheard an older man ask his friend, “Did you work with Adrienne?” his friend replied, “Of course. Who didn’t??”
As one who delights in all things Yiddish and also sees in it a larger social mission, it warmed my heart when I heard dramatist and political activist Jenny Romaine read an excerpt from the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker award, which was presented to Adrienne by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in 2010: “For all of this, and for never working from a place of chosen-ness or nostalgia but from a place of justice, empathy, and complex Yiddish polyphony, JFREJ is deeply honored to present the 2010 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award to Adrienne Cooper. ” Indeed, for Adrienne, Yiddish language and culture was not a quaint novelty trapped in a glass box in a museum, but rather a living, breathing, and evolving hands-on process which could help create a better world.
Perhaps my favourite memory of Adrienne was a Yiddish song workshop she facilitated at the 2008 YIVO summer program, where both myself and Adrienne’s daughter, Sarah Gordon, who is a talented and innovative Yiddish songstress in her own right, were students. At the aforementioned workshop, I witnessed the special beauty of the bond between Adrienne and Sarah, a bond, spanning the generations, of shared dedication and love, both for Yiddish language and culture and for each other. This special bond was best summarised by the final eulogy delivered at the memorial service last Sunday by Sarah, who stated simply, but most eloquently, “She was my mother.” All too often, when we speak of great figures, we forget the unique and personal relationships that are truly the defining aspects of life—the relationships that make us who we are. After hearing eleven people speak beautifully of Adrienne as a legend, Sarah reminded us that she was also a “Yidishe Mame.”
Because of her dedication to helping create a better world, Adrienne served on the Board of Directors of JFREJ, and the family requests that donations in her memory be made to them: www.jfrej.org/. Koved ir ondenk.
Scholars of religion have a term for the common practice of adherents to a religious tradition that do not always perfectly fit into the doctrinal teachings of that religion — folk religion. This is in contrast to the normative doctrinal teachings of a religion often dubbed “state religion.” This is most often noted in Jewish history as the drive by the ancient Jewish monarchy of the 6th century BCE to centralize worship in Jerusalem with an organized Temple worship and priesthood. The ‘folk religion’ of the time, however, preferred a sort of blending of local pagan customs and the normative priestly cult. If people were not worshiping idols or eating non-kosher food there would have been no need for the Torah to repeatedly warn against worshiping idols or eating non-kosher food. It’s as the old adage goes, society does not develop laws people are already following.
Since becoming an ordained rabbi, I have rarely been faced with needing to fulfill the role of mar d’atra (Aramaic for, literally, “master of the place”). In that role a rabbi acts as a posek (Hebrew for, literally, “arbiter”) and makes halakhic decisions for her or his community. However there is one topic about which I have been asked repeatedly by numerous people in my congregation — Mourners’ Kaddish. To contextualize this, let me say a few words about my congregation.
The average age in my community is probably around 65-70. I have regular attendees who are in their 90s and older. Needless to say, it is an aging congregation. To give you an idea, I recently buried three people in one week. My congregation is made up of many transplants — people who moved to this community from somewhere else. However, many of my congregants are 4th or 5th generation in this community. That being the case, almost everybody who is actually born and raised in this community is related to everybody else even if just as distant cousins. Even though halakhah dictates that people only say Kaddish for one one of the seven relatives whom they must mourn for — parents, children, siblings and spouses — people in my community will often come to shul to say Kaddish for their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Kaddish has become so important in this community that during daily prayer services the names of those who left the world that day throughout the 120+ year history of the synagogue are read aloud and if someone knows who the person was and their story, that story is shared. On Shabbat, the names of those for the entire coming week are read aloud. Most days, although we try, we do not make a minyan — unless someone is observing a yahrzeit. Kaddish is truly the ‘folk religion’ of this little community. More »