by William Friedman
“This was the sin of your sister Sodom . . .”
If you’re familiar with the way the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used in America nowadays, you’d probably complete this sentence by saying “homosexuality.” But the story, which we read this week in Parashat Vayera(Genesis 18:16-19:38), never clearly spells this out. Last week, when we read about Lot’s decision to live in Sedom (Hebrew for Sodom), the story was foreshadowed: “The people of Sedom did evil things and sinned greatly against the LORD” (Gen. 13:13). And this week we read: “The scream of Sedom and Amorah [Hebrew for Gomorrah] was great, and their sin extremely severe” (Gen. 18:20). But the Torah is pretty sparing with the details of their evil and the severity about their sins. More »
Last night, guest blogger Ben Greenfield posted a provocative piece on memory and ritual and how we can and do relate to 9/11 and Tisha B’Av. This is not the first time the blog has addressed that connection. For Throwback Thursday today, we’re re-running zt‘s short post from around Tisha B’Av five years ago, highlighting Irwin Kula’s reading in Eikha (Lamentations) trope of last phone messages from 9/11 victims. Revisit it here. You can read Rabbi Kula’s own explanation of the recording here, including a better link to his actual recorded chanting.
By Ben Greenfield, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City.
Its my second 9/11 in two months. Today its the Towers – last month, our Temples. Today, an utter hate explodes into senseless loss – in August, it was “senseless hate” bringing out utter catastrophe. The ninth month’s eleventh day, 9/11, becomes Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the eleventh Hebrew month. Maybe its just an exile Jewish thing. We have two days of everything.
The dark similarities run deep and tragic. Consider how both holidays are constructed around architecture. Yes, the loss is truly about the lives destroyed and political trauma inspired, but in our imagery and imagination, its about two buildings razed to the earth. Beautiful buildings; buildings conceived as a “world center”; buildings whose wreckage casts a shadow over the entire calamity. Indeed, shadows which stretch farther and more permanent, now that the buildings are gone forever.
There was a First Temple and a Second Temple; a Tower 1 and a Tower 2. And now, there are only memories. More »
Calling all Jews with horns (and their allies)–
You are hereby welcomed to take part in a historical mass shofar-blowing gathering this coming Sunday in Prospect Park. The event will consist of a shofar-blowing workshop, a series of collective blasts, and a vegetarian potluck picnic.
At 5:30pm, we will meet at the corner of 15th St. and Prospect Park West and proceed to enter the park. Please arrive on-time so everyone can find each other.
If you own a shofar and/or a phone which can film, please bring it with you, as well as something for the potluck, if you can stay after.
Our rain location is the Park Slope Jewish Center (1320 8th Ave, located at the SW corner of 14th St and 8th Av).
This event is free, open to the public, family-friendly, and intended for experienced and novice shofar-blowers alike, so please do come and invite friends. We hope you can join us as we herald in the new year with great fanfare.
It will be…a blast
We hope you can join us tomorrow night (Tuesday, July 15) at 7:30pm for a special break-the-fast communal gathering in Harlem at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque (Malcolm X’s mosque, located near the corner of W 116th St and Lenox Ave.). Especially in light of the tragic violence besetting the Middle East, we want to come together as a community in the spirit of peace and unity.
This event is part of the broader בוחרים בחיים – اختيار الحياة – Choose Life Ramadan-17 b’Tammuz fast to support a message of peace and coexistence.
Everyone is welcome to join in for prayer, food, and reflection. We hope you can join us for what we know will be a meaningful conversation.
If you can make it, please BYOS (bring your own siddur) and bring some nosh along to share.
Tzom Qal and let us pray for peace.
Nearly all of the issues I raised in my 2011 post, “The Price of Jew$chool,” which lamented the state of Jewish Day School tuition and the weaknesses of its alternatives in formal Jewish education, unfortunately remain quite relevant today. Then again, statements such as the 25-year-old Greek Chief-Rabbi elect‘s recent reflection that the internet was his Jewish education, stand as sobering reminders that beyond the U.S. and Israel, Jewish education, even in its most modest forms, is a scare resource. According the 2013 Pew Report Forum findings on Jewish life in America, 23% of Jews report having attended Jewish Day School or yeshiva in their youth, and nearly 60% have attended some other form of (non-Day School) formal Jewish education. What does the future hold? How can we respond to this continuing crisis?
The Price of Jew$school
Before you panic, rest assured: we’re not about to start charging you when you read more than 20 posts per month. No, we’re talking about the ever-skyrocketing expense of sending children to Jewish day school in the U.S.
With $7,000 you might be able to fly back and forth to Israel six times, but for the same price you could stay put in Overland Park KS and learn at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy for one year. One thousand dollars more will buy you—show them what they’ve won—one year of 1-8th grade education at the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School. If you want to send your child to the Solomon Schechter of Atlanta, be prepared to shell out upwards of $17,000 per year starting with first grade. $26,650 might be a fine price for a Toyota RAV4 Sport, but did you know that for the same price, you can ‘kaneh likha rav’—or maybe even four—and enroll for one year of high school at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA? $29, 955 would be a steal for a small, foreclosed apartment in a depressed real estate market, but it could also buy you one year’s education at Milken community high school in LA. These numbers don’t even include the usual “give and get” $1,000+ minimums typically imposed upon day school families on a yearly basis. More »
Wishing you and yours a most joyous Shushan Purim from New York!
The following Purim schtick video is brought to you by some of your favourite Jews from the Jewish Theological Seminary:
The Cast of Handle With Care
When I first skimmed the press release for Handle With Care, a play currently running off-Broadway in the theater that used to house Old Jews Telling Jokes, I thought I had the whole thing figured out in advance: a non-Jewish playwright married an Israeli actress and wrote a show for her. Simple, I thought. It must be a comedy exploring the hilarity of intermarriage, like an Abie’s Irish Rose for the Pew Report generation. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For although playwright Jason Odell Williams has written a play about love bridging disparate lives, it’s about a burgeoning love affair between an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances: their “meet cute” occurs when a delivery man loses the box containing the remains of Ayelet’s recently deceased grandmother, which he was supposed to be bringing to the airport for return to Israel. Josh, Ayelet’s love interest, is the delivery man’s only Jewish friend, so naturally he gets the call to help translate the situation to the distressed Israeli who speaks very little English.
The result is a charming romantic comedy that would be right at home on JCC stages anywhere in the country. That the play was written by someone who’s not himself Jewish (although he is part of a Jewish family) is surprising, so I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with both Williams and his wife (and star of the show) Charlotte Cohn about that play, their marriage, and working with one’s spouse. More »
A couple of weeks ago, an email came over the Jewschool contributors’ listserv asking if anyone wanted to cover a SermonSlam taking place in my neighborhood. As someone who has enjoyed other kinds of slams in the past (poetry, story, and grand – IHOP, not baseball), I jumped at the opportunity. I’m still something of a Brooklyn newbie, having lived here for less than a year. So I want to fully own that my preconceived notions of what a SermonSlam might be were entirely colored by an outsider’s stereotype of Brooklyn hipster culture. Now, to be fair, I have lived here almost a year—it will be a year this Shabbat—and so I have been around long enough to know that most of the stereotypes about Brooklyn hipster culture are true. And I should have been tipped off by the fact that the event was being held at Congregation Beth Elohim (known in the neighborhood as CBE), a very large Reform synagogue that often plays host to community events, many of which I have enjoyed this year.
You see what I’m getting at, right? What I had pictured as a cool, vaguely underground event, perhaps in a dark room with a stage and a bar, turning words of Torah into performance art, was in fact more like a youth group program for young adults, held in a large, well-lit synagogue social hall, with the performers relying a little more heavily on the “sermon” than the “slam.” The only drinks were of the cola variety, and the evening was padded with games straight from my synagogue youth director playbook like Jewish Geography 2.0, affably executed by hosts Ben Greenfield and Samantha Kuperberg, who themselves seemed to have arrived straight from a summer on the staff of Camp Ramah.
BUT! And this is a big BUT! (I like big BUTs and I cannot lie…) I’m pretty sure if you went in to the event with fewer or different preconceived notions, you would have been thrilled. More »
Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish debuted in 2005 and has been a perennial bar mitzvah gift ever since. The book, which features interviews by Abigail Pogrebin with about five dozen celebrities about their Jewish identities, is now an off-Broadway musical. Pogrebin is no stranger to the musical stage; she chronicled her experience as an original cast member of the infamous Stephen Sondheim flop Merrily We Roll Along in her 2011 Kindle Single Showstopper. This morning I chatted with her about the experience of writing Stars of David, both book and musical, and how her evolving Jewish identity has shaped the project.
In the introduction to the book, she discusses that part of the impetus for the project was that Jewish identity had crept up on her. She was married to a Jewish man, had two children approaching the ages when they might want to know something about what being Jewish meant, and she realized that she didn’t have an answer to that question. “I wasn’t necessarily honest with myself about why I started the book in the sense that I didn’t know how at sea I was, in terms of my own Jewish identity, when I approached famous people,” Pogrebin said. “I think sometimes stories are generated by some subconscious impulse to understand something for yourself. And I don’t want to over-analyze my motivations in starting the book, but I would say that having these frank conversations with some of our highest achievers made me look much more candidly at myself, and I realized I hadn’t answered a lot of the questions I was asking, personally.”
Book Review: What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon
What do you buy the children of the terrorist who tried to kill your wife?
This is not a question that many of us have ever asked, or even thought about thinking about figuring out how to ask. Or why, or whether, or how such a question could even exist. But this is what David Harris-Gershon found himself asking in a Toys-R-Us in Jerusalem one Friday afternoon, as it was preparing to close. This is the question that encapsulates the absurdity, desperation, and emotional daring in his mission to meet the jailed terrorist who planted the bomb at Hebrew University that killed nine people, including his friends Marla and Ben, and injured 100, including his wife, Jamie, who was eating lunch with them when the bomb detonated.
Harris-Gershon, a schoolteacher, dad, columnist for Tikkun and the Daily Kos, Moth Grandslam Storytelling champion, first-time author, and lover of words and dictionaries, learns a few things along the way, starting with language: More »
Good progressive yidn of NYC! Just wanted to let you know that applications are officially open for the AVODAH Fellowship, a selective new program for Jewish early-career professionals currently working to address the causes and effects of poverty in New York City.
The AVODAH Fellowship is a high-impact learning and community-building experience that will enable participants to sharpen their skills and analysis while expanding their personal and professional networks. Based on a curriculum grounded in Jewish thought and learning, the Fellowship will provide training and support to emerging Jewish professionals engaged in the antipoverty field.
Participants in the AVODAH Fellowship will gain from AVODAH’s 15 years of expertise in antipoverty leadership development through:
-A Community of Mentors and Colleagues: Join an intentional Jewish community of experienced social justice leaders who will help you develop your skills, and build a support system that will nourish you personally, professionally, and spiritually.
-Innovative Learning: Participate in regular seminars drawn from AVODAH’s cutting-edge curriculum, and engage in critical analysis about domestic poverty while viewing your work through a Jewish lens.
-Connected for Life: As a member of the Fellowship, you’ll be welcomed into the AVODAH alumni community, a network of hundreds of social justice leaders who will provide community and support throughout your career.
Ideal Applicants for the Fellowship:
-are 1-3 years into a career in antipoverty work, and spend at least part of their time working directly with individuals living in poverty.
-have a demonstrated interest in exploring the intersections of Jewish life and identity and antipoverty work.
-have a commitment to personal growth and an active interest in building community and developing the power of a network.
-have a desire to be part of a group learning environment and intentional network during and after the Fellowship.
Applications will be open until November 12th, so please go to avodah.net/fellowship today for more information or to apply.
Shavuot starts tomorrow night (Tuesday, May 14th) ! Here’s a list of what’s happening where. Did we miss anything? List it in the comments.
(obligatory picture of cheesecake)
Austin’s Annual Jewish Community Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Community Tikkun at the JCC of the East Bay (Includes family programming a supervised space for children to sleep over.)
Larger list of Bay Area stuff
Brookline Community Tikkun Leil Shavuot at Congregation Kehilath Israel. (Sessions and teachers here)
Isabella Freedman- Shavuot: This Year’s Revelation and Hazon: Torah of Food
Accessible from NYC
Mishkan Chicago: Sha.voo.ote: Revelations in Creativity, Politics, Spirituality & Torah
5773 Lakeview Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Upper 16th St Tikkun (Fabrangen, Ohev Sholom, Segulah, Shirat HaNefesh, Tifereth Israel)
Shtibl Minyan retreat at Brandeis Bardin campus of the AJU
Community Tikkun at Temple Beth Am
Montgomery County, Maryland
Tikkun Leil Shavuot with Moishe House MoCo and Congregation Beth El Montgomery County
5th Annual Shavuot Tikkun Leil: A Joint Torah Venture among Beth Israel, Gates of Prayer, Shir Chadash
Shavuot Across Brooklyn
Tikkun Leyl Shavuot at the JCC Manhattan (Upper West Side)
Yiddish Farm (New Hampton, NY)
Community Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Tikkun Leyl Shavuot at Penn
Santa Rosa, CA
Congregation Beth Ami
Downtown Tikkun Leil Shavuot
This summer, the Jewish Theological Seminary’s List College is introducing an exciting new pre-college summer program focusing on service learning. Inspired by the success of its undergraduate program in social and entrepreneurial initiatives, List College wants to extend its resources to a wider audience of rising junior and senior high school students from across the country looking for a hands-on combination of Jewish traditional text study and internships in social change agencies in New York City.
Participants will have the opportunity to choose from a wide array of internship sites, including government NGOs, sustainability and environmental non-profits, interfaith groups, and education and youth organisations. Before beginning the internships, which will include direct mentorship, students will participate in an orientation, in which they will be trained to work as service professionals in social change agencies. Throughout the program, participants will reconvene together regularly to engage in facilitated Jewish text study, focusing on the theological and historical underpinnings of social action. Additionally, participants will enjoy a guest lecture series and a college prep workshop series offered by Barnard College.
According to Aliyah Vinikoor, assistant Dean of List College and director of their Fellowship for Jewish Social Entrepreneurship, JustCity hopes to empower pre-college students to engage in direct service while also building Jewish community across denominational lines. The program also aspires to reach out to other faith-based groups to help build a multi-faith social change network.
The program dates this summer are from June 30-July 28; participants have the option of living on JTS’ campus. Partial need-based scholarships available. Registration is currently open and applications are due May 1. You can learn more about Just City here. You can also email JustCity at firstname.lastname@example.org
Crossposted from InterfaithFamily’s Network Blog.
“I am worried that our present policy is internally conflicted and thus strategically self-defeating,” the rabbi said. “The idea of refusing to be present for the wedding and then expecting the couple to feel warmly embraced by the Jewish people strikes me as a policy constructed by someone who doesn’t know the mind of a young couple…. I am not exactly clear on the message the Conservative movement is sending out into the world, and I am not sure if it is a viable policy in the long term.”
Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of NYC's Park Avenue Synagogue
This quote is from Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue, a Conservative shul in NYC. He’s not talking about a policy shift within his synagogue or the Conservative movement, but sharing his thoughts on conversion and intermarriage, as reported in the New York Jewish Week
(Time To Rethink Conversion Policy
He likened [the current approach] to joining a gym, noting that a potential gym member is not told first to exercise, get in good shape and then join. Rather, if the person is willing to join, he or she signs up and then the work begins. Moreover, the rabbi added, this logic is not just one of good consumer policy but is consistent with traditional Jewish teaching.
In one of the most famous Talmud stories, the man who wants to learn all of the Torah while standing on one foot is shooed away by Shammai, who has no patience for him, but welcomed by Hillel.
“First, Hillel converts, and then Hillel teaches,” Rabbi Cosgrove said. “First you join and then, once you are a vested member, you figure out what it’s all about.”
In that way, the rabbi suggested that it might be more effective for Conservative rabbis to first accept converts and then teach them.
This would be a huge shift! Compare it to the usual course of action someone follows if converting within Conservative Judaism: a year of study followed by formal conversion (going to the mikveh, and brit milah or brit hadam if the convert is a male).
Imagine if, when an interfaith couple approached a Conservative rabbi to officiate their wedding, the response wasn’t “I can’t officiate, but consider conversion!” or “I can’t officiate, but you’re still welcome to come to synagogue!” but instead was “Welcome! Let’s bring you into the community, celebrate your wedding, and then, as you and your partner establish this next phase of your lives together, let’s make sure Jewish learning is included!”
“My priority is to create Jewish homes, and everything I do is toward that goal,” he said. When a congregant’s adult child comes to him with a non-Jewish partner and wants to get married, he now describes the yearlong conversion program requirement that is a prerequisite to the wedding. Many of them, he says, never come back, choosing a justice of the peace or other [Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal] clergy to marry them.
As Rabbi Cosgrove points out, “love trumps religious affiliation, with the result being that few families are immune from the situation of a child coming home with a non-Jewish partner and wanting to be married in a Jewish ceremony.” So the question becomes: how do rabbis keep up? Do you think Rabbi Cosgrove’s idea to convert the partner who isn’t Jewish so that Conservative rabbis can officiate their weddings and then bring them to study would work? Do you have other ideas?
The National Havurah Committee is proud to co-sponsor the Academy for Jewish Religion’s upcoming conference, Pluralism 2.0: Decision Making on Pluralism’s Boundaries. The event is being held Sunday, March 10th from 2-5:30 pm in New York City at Town and Village Synagogue. The conference is free and open to the public. Speakers include AJR’s dean, Dr. Ora Horn Prouser, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of Clal, and UPenn Hillel’s Rabbi Mike Uram. More information on the conference can be found here. More information on the Academy for Jewish Religion can be found at www.ajrsem.org.
I know what you’re thinking – you want to refer to the 4 worlds in your Tu Bishvat seder but they’re confusing and…oh, if there were only a song that allowed you to sing through the four worlds (like we sing the order of the Passover seder) so folks could remember the order of the Tu Bishvat seder.
NOW YOU CAN. Check out track #3 here from Taya Shere. If you love it, it’s yours for 99 cents!
Last year Shir Yaakov Feit & I would sing the whole song, then sing up to the ‘world’ we are at throughout the seder.
Click here for many great free resources available for YOUR seder from our friends at Hazon.
My suggestion? Add-on a seder to your Shabbat dinner or lunch. Then if you are in NYC, head out for The Best Tu Bishvat Party in NYC.
Prefer to sit home and dream of summer? Enjoy this music video from our friends Stereo Sinai.
I Am Planting [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO] from Stereo Sinai on Vimeo.
“I grew up thinking Jews should work in social change,
but only investment bankers can afford a Jewish life.”
-Jewish Women Watching
I was at the Blue Ribbon food store on Ave. J in Brooklyn the night before Rosh Hashana.
“Store closing! Store closing!”
I wandered around, people rushing past me. Yogurt? Should I buy yogurt? Cheese? Tuna fish? There were no prices on anything. I had been putting off food shopping until the last minute, and I was paying for it. Blue Ribbon was the last place open that late erev Rosh Hashana.
I had to think pretty quickly. This particular year, I was going to have three days to fill with food. Imagine coming up with a 3-day menu for one on a budget…when there are no prices on anything. And I had to buy something.
I hastily went over to my safe zone–the challah rack–and picked up a round challah and a pack of six rolls, deciding which would be a better buy. Could the round one really be cut into six equally substantial pieces? People were pushing up against me while the “Store closing!” character kept bellowing somewhere in the depths of the store.
I picked the rolls. They’d last me about two days. A $4 choice, cash only.
The fact that there were no prices said to me that I was the only one worrying about the cost of things. Figuratively, though, everything has a price tag. Who knew that Jewish living could have so many material trappings?
On Yom Kippur, I heard enough pledges to the shul in the amount of $613 (or “eighteen times three,” very clever, guys) to last me a lifetime.
And Sukkos made completely transparent what had been perhaps inadvertently hidden. My street was lined with people selling esrogim and tinsel and bird cages. There was a sukkah store competing with another sukkah store across the street. And of course Eichler’s was right there, too. You got the sense that if you wanted to participate, really participate, in Jewish life, you had to be ready to shell out a whole lot of money for the requisite commodities.
The 2001 NJPS study shows that the median income of Jewish families was about $54,000 (compared to the $42,000 national average), with over one-third of households having an income of over $75,000. I can’t be certain, but I think my own family’s income growing up probably hovered around $25,000. The basic line is that “the Jewish working class has all but disappeared,” but that’s not true. Unfortunately, the Jewish community seems to be set up as if it is. Of course there is aid available; yeshiva stipends and gemachs and the like. But being the recipient of such aid, just like in secular society, puts you in the periphery of Jewish life. In other words, if you’re constantly eating in someone else’s sukkah, you’ll never have a sukkah to call your own!
Most of the discussion has centered around the costs of synagogue membership and day school. Indeed, the required costs of day school etc. for a family with children is estimated to be about $30,000 a year. But the costs go well beyond this into everyday life–particularly where it can. You can wear a hair covering or you can wear a $2,000 sheitel. You can buy your clothes at department stores or you can buy them at the special fancy $30-per-one shell store. I’m sure there is community pressure, at least I sensed it by living off Avenue J and trying to walk down to the subway with my ripped denim skirt from Goodwill when everyone else got their nice new clothes from Tznius Princess or who knows where.
Same with food: I could buy it at Blue Ribbon aka No Listed Prices R Us, or I could go all the way down to the secular store in Union Square instead. Oftentimes, a regular, national brand would be missing from the kosher store in favor of its more expensive Israeli counterpart. I can’t afford a $16 lasagna just because it has a special hechsher from Israel. I can’t afford to be selective with hechshers! If that’s not some kind of community pressure I don’t know what is.
But I knew if I had wanted to participate, really participate, I’d be buying those Israeli brands, not going to Union Square.
So how much does it cost to be Jewish?* Here’s an answer:
Another dimension to be measured is the cost of Jewish living as a percentage of total income. The members of the Orthodox Jewish community, which comprises about 10 percent of the total Jewish population, have on average accumulated less wealth and earn less money than other Jews. Nevertheless, they remain steadfast in their commitment to day school education, trips to Israel far beyond the frequency of other Jews, and, to a lesser extent, Jewish camping experiences. At the same time, they have more children per household than other Jews, keep kosher with its concomitant higher costs, buy special clothing free of shatnes, and, for the Ultra-Orthodox, purchase wigs for women’s hair covering. Given all these additional expenses, the Orthodox or traditional practitioners spend 25 to 35 percent of their available income for Jewish living, often at a sacrifice of more adequate housing, a more comfortable lifestyle, and the acquisition of savings.
-”The Costs of Jewish Living,” 2008
The community sets the standards.
American Sociological Association: United Jewish Communities. 2003. National Jewish Population Survey, 2000-01. New York, NY: United Jewish Communities [producer]. Storrs, CT: North American Jewish Data Bank [distributor].
Bayme, Steven. Bubis, Gerald B. The Costs of Jewish Living: Revisiting Jewish Involvement and Barriers. American Jewish Committee (AJC). 2008: www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=322
*I know, “How Much Does It Cost to be Orthodox” is more accurate, but it doesn’t sound as good.