I believe the technical term for this is #sorrynotsorry
“’Everything I wrote was entirely reasonable, but they didn’t report that,’ he said of the JTA report.” Guess why they didn’t report that it was entirely reasonable, Mr. Pruzansky? Because they didn’t think that it was.
Of late, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has been roundly and justly criticized by the Jewish media. Within the last few weeks, the rabbi of the 800-member-family Teaneck, NJ, Bnai Jeshurun Orthodox synagogue has been written about in prominent Jewish newspapers; first, he stepped down from heading a Beit Din for conversions in protest of the Rabbinical Council of America’s reevaluation of its conversion standards. In a post on his blog where he announced the resignation, he claimed that if new standards for oversight were to be established by the RCA’s new mixed-gender committee, he had “no interest in living as a suspect,” and lamented that “we are living in a toxic environment for rabbis…The distrust is embarrassing and unbecoming.” This change from the RCA was in response to the Rabbi Barry Freundel mikvah voyeurism scandal; Pruzansky’s deliberate and offensive blindness to the circumstances that allowed Freundel to act as he did and the appropriateness and necessity of the RCA’s response were reported on by the New York Jewish Week, and not favorably.
This could have been the end of the rabbi/blogger’s interaction with that newspaper, had he not been angered by their coverage. Taking to his blog again, he compared the paper to Nazi propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer, a move which garnered a scorching response in the Jewish Week’s editorial pages. More »
Note: This is next in our series of posts on visions of fearless Jewish future, inspired by Naomi Adland’s dispatch from the GA, which we ran last week. We’ll be running one every week, and we want to hear from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at email@example.com with “Guest post” in the subject line.
Just now (it’s 6 am in Brooklyn), I woke abruptly from a dream that my MFA program was requiring us all to take a workshop in which we read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. As soon as one of the workshop members started reading from the novel, the faces of everyone in the room became ghoulish, sharp toothed, black eyed. Terrified, I ran out the door of the building and into the street, but as I ran, I thought, you’ll go back, you have to go back. And I did. I turned around and went back into the building, which I think was a church, and as it turned out, there was a small group of people gathered in the lobby who had also decided they could not be in the room with the vampires.
I have a history of anxiety dreams, and of solving problems, literary ones of my own making, in my sleep. I might have been worrying about writing this piece for this series when I dreamt about the vampires, because in the awake version of myself, it’s obvious what the dream was about. It’s so obvious, it’s laughable: You are afraid, but you’ll go back. The vampires (self hate inflicted anti-Semitic imagery or result of watching too many horror movie trailers?) might be in the same building, but we can be in another room. They can’t have the whole structure. There are more of us than of them. We’ll get it all in the end. Maybe.
Here is where my painfully obvious dream parallels end. Judaism, particularly the observant part of it, and I are not on the best of terms right now, we have not been for a while. I could not build an organizational strategic plan based on my vision of a fearless Jewish community, but I am one hundred percent on the fact that it includes an active ingathering of those who scare us. Those who pose those questions that we can’t and/or don’t want to answer, they get a big space at whatever the table of the future is. Let everyone in, without a political or religious litmus test, if we say we want to be there, even if we’re not sure where exactly “there” is, even if we’re not sure if we can figure it out together, but that’s fine. Certainty is not a need any longer.
The future table isn’t convened by Islamophobia, or racism, capitalism, homophobia, misogyny, or people who have spent all their time sharpening one relentlessly narrow vision of a Jew. Men who claim to have beautiful politics but can neither listen nor hear simply don’t get space anymore, because it turns out, we don’t owe it to them. In the fearless future, that shit is over, because we are calling people out, and we don’t have to worry about what that calling out will do to our livelihood. Risk, intellectual and political, will be a value, but maybe even more important than risk will be accountability and challenge and, maybe here’s the center of it all : not running away, and not becoming a room or an organization or a building or a country full of panicked ghouls, powered by fear.
Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week!
This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY.
Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.
In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.
I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.
Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”
Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.
Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.
Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?
This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah. In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians. In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.
No woman who has spent time in Orthodox circles is a stranger to the sting of hearing from the other side of the mechitza, “We need one more person for a minyan!” As a student at an Orthodox high school, I made many a snarky comment to rabbis as they patrolled the hallways before mincha, approaching my male peers and saying, “Come on! We need one more person!” With a grin and a wave, I would say “Hi! Person over here!” The response I got was never more than a sigh or an “oh, you again” smile and an eye roll, but at the very least I had expressed my frustration with their choice of words.
In a recent article on the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals blog, Alan Krinsky laments the prevalence of this and similar language, asking “What is the cumulative effect on girls and women of receiving such messages time and time again, day after day, week after week, year after year?” Krinsky is right to be concerned about the consequence of this language on girls and women, and also shares justified concern about “the impact it has on men, and especially young boys. They likewise receive, over and over again, the message that only males are truly people and truly Jews.” This message should, of course, be deeply concerning to anyone who cares about both Judaism and women’s wellbeing. But language really isn’t the root of the problem.
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 »
Editor’s Note: Following yesterday’s post by Sarra Alpert, here is another piece about the Rosh HaShana Torah readings, re-visited as we read those passages again this coming Shabbat. This piece was given by Mary Otts as a derasha at the Mishkan Chicago community. –aryehbernstein
by Mary Otts
As a child, I spent lots of time on my knees, glass rosary beads floating over my fingertips, staring at paintings of saints on the walls of holy buildings. Prayer smelled like the incense wafting through the cathedral and sounded like the reverberation of the kneelers being dropped onto the tile floor. While my mouth moved—still moves—effortlessly around the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” this Mary was distracted by a clumsy inadequacy around what it was I was really supposed to be doing in these moments.
Many years later, I’ve found G!d in the hum of the Bet Midrash, in the gentle correction of my chevruta, in the letters of the Gemara, in every single time someone who thought they couldn’t learn Talmud is empowered into finding their place in our Tradition. I find joy in P’sukei d’Zimra, community when we stand together during the Amidah, and revelation in the melody of Eitz Chayim Hi, but prayer—that magical thing that is supposed to happen in between the lines of liturgy—prayer is hard for me still. And, yet, particularly this past summer, I have needed to pray. More »
Editor’s Note: This Shabbat we will read VaYera, including the birth of Isaac, expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, and binding of Isaac. These are also the readings from Rosh HaShana and provide us an opportunity to revisit ideas that might have inspired, goaded, soothed, or chastised us during the holiday, now, a month later, when we are just back into our regular routine and may need those ideas the most. Here is a piece for Rosh HaShana submitted for this purpose by Jewschool friend Sarra Alpert, shared originally with the Kolot Chayeinu community in Brooklyn. –aryehbernstein
by Sarra Alpert
In approaching Rosh Hashanah this year, I have found myself particularly aware of its unique type of split personality. On the one hand, this is a celebratory holiday — a happy-birthday party for the world, days whose customs mirror those of all of our joyful holidays, only with added sweetness. On the other hand, these are supposed to be days that open a particularly solemn chapter as we enter the Ten Days of Repentance. In our prayers today, we ask to be written in the Book of Life for a year of health, peace and blessing. We recite the tragedies that may befall us this year, asking to whom they will occur. And we are urged to reverse the potentially harsh judgments awaiting us by turning to prayer, repentance and justice, with the idea hanging there that our fates will be sealed in ten days, on Yom Kippur. These are difficult ideas for a modern person to relate to, and particularly odd ones to couple with a birthday party and honey-dipped apples. More »
This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Last year, in the aftermath of his death, and in the midst of a media storm including wildly varying assessments of his life, I posted this piece, “On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia“. It got a lot of traction, receiving, we think, the most social media shares in Jewschool history (subsequently eclipsed by Rabbi Oren Hayon’s guest post about BDS campus campaigns). The challenge of fully acknowledging a person’s misdeeds and merits is as relevant a year later. Specifically, in the Rabbinic realm, the past couple weeks’ revelations of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s outrageous violations of privacy and abuse of power at the D.C mikveh have likely been confusing for D.C. Jews who have ever been inspired by Torah taught by Freundel or helped by his pastoral counsel. How can we square the corruption with the inspiration? For this, we bring you this week’s Throwback Thursday, to last year’s post about Rav Ovadia.
(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
Now that we’re into Cheshvan, it’s time for a mid-decade update!
Four years ago, we noted that for the entire decade of the 2010s, there are only two patterns of Hebrew years: Rosh Hashanah on Monday and on Thursday. This means that most or all of the fall holidays are on weekdays for the entire decade, and 4 of the last 5 years have included a string of 3 “3-day yom tovs” for the 2-day yom tov folks.
We made the following prediction: This decade, and especially this half-decade, will see lots of 2-day-yom tov people switching over to 1 day.
Now that the 2010s are half over (in regard to major Jewish holidays), it’s time to assess whether this prediction has been accurate so far.
I’m not claiming that this is scientific data collection methodology, but I’m calling for anecdata.
In the last 5 years, did you switch from 2-day yom tov to 1-day? If so, post in the comments.
And to be fair (and to assess, again unscientifically, whether there has been a real shift or just a dynamic equilibrium) we’ll ask the opposite question too: In the last 5 years, did you switch from 1-day yom tov to 2-day?
A few guidelines:
If you don’t want to out yourself and post under your real name, that’s fine, but then please use a pseudonym (not just “Anonymous”) so that we can count unique individuals.
- Switches to or from 0 days of yom tov don’t count (that’s measuring something different).
- We’re asking about what you do when you’re outside of Israel.
- We’re not asking about Rosh Hashanah.
- We realize that people aren’t always completely consistent, and that practices can vary based on the situation. Answer based on which practice you primarily identify with.
Thanks for your cooperation! I’ll ask the same questions in 5 years, if blogs are still around.
Throwback Thursday has been dark here for a while, with holidays falling on Thursdays, but with the holidays over, we’re back. Today, we recall legendary rock and roll poetic grouch, Lou Reed, front man of the Velvet Underground and prolific soloist, who died last Oct. 27, after which I wrote this piece, cross-posted in Heeb and on our blog, reflecting as a Jew on Reed’s cultural significance.
x-posted at Justice in the City
“Creativity” is the latest buzzword in education. The most watched TED talk ever is a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 called “How schools kill creativity.” It has had almost twenty million views.
Sir Ken’s main point (which is later joined by his second main point) is that creativity is as important in education as literacy and should be given the same status. His second main point is that children are not taught creativity, rather they are educated out of creativity. This means that all children are naturally creative and the educational system beats that creativity out of them, scaring them with the ideas that there are some things that are right and others that are wrong, and that it is important to know the difference between them.
This reflects every interfaith family’s cultural exchanges over Jewish foods. Shana tova from Jewschool!
This is a guestpost by Liya Rechtman.
My family’s Passover Seder this year marked two firsts for my boyfriend: his first time meeting my dad and his first time eating homemade gefilte fish. As we read the haggadah around the table, I felt myself tensing up: ‘oh no, what if he gets that passage about Hillel and Shamai and he can’t pronounce the weird Hebrew town names?’ and ‘Worse! What if he winds up with “Tell me morano, my brother” and he has no idea what it’s about?’ When a reading did finally fall on him, and my boyfriend started on with “I am a Jew because…” I sort of giggled, loudly. My mom, tactful as always, told him that perhaps they would let someone else read the passage and come back to him. The first minor, awkward, interfaith hurdle had been managed gracefully by all parties involved.
The Seder moved on that night, and for several months to come the disparity between my Jewish tradition and his ex-Muslim atheism were significant parts of our identity, but not prohibitively so in the context of our relationship. Our faith/non-faith perspectives consistently yielded to thoughtful, extended discussion and debate about God, materialism, and meaning, among other things. That is, until three boys were declared dead in Israel and I stayed up all night crying. More »
The dominant Rabbinic tradition is that Rosh HaShanah marks the creation of the world, as our liturgy reflects: “This is the day, the beginning of Your creation, a memorial of the first day” — “זה היום תחילת מעשיך, זכרון ליום ראשון” (introduction to Zikhronot in Musaf); “Today is the conception of the world” — “היום הרת עולם” (Shofar service). Our Day of Judgment, our accountability, zeroes in not on reception of the Torah, but on our very creation as fragile human beings with clean slates.
On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, we read the Haftarah of Hannah’s suffering over her barrenness, her prayer for a child, and the birth of her son Shmuel, the prophet — on Rosh HaShanah, according to the Rabbis. Hannah, the outcast, is scorned by the religious establishment, which mistakes her sincere, vulnerable prayer for drunken blathering in violation of Temple decorum and public decency. But the Rabbis in the Talmud (Berakhot 31 a-b), stylize her prayer as the legal paradigm. To pray according to halakhah, we must bring out into the open our inner Hannah — our vulnerable, heartbroken, and rejected self, despite the fear.
On the second day of Rosh HaShanah, we read Jeremiah’s promise that exiled and broken Israel will see new life. The current agony of exile is poetically personified as Mother Rachel, bitterly weeping for her lost children. Rachel, like Hannah, suffered for years through barrenness, so the pathos of her wailing over her lost children rings especially intense. There, too, the Rabbis see something else in the Matriarch’s emptiness. She is not עקרה (barren, uprooted, maimed, hamstrung), but עיקרה, the essence, the chief, the core of her household (Bereishit Rabbah 71:2).
This Rosh HaShanah, let us create safe spaces for dangerous prayer, to be present as though our prayer is the most important thing for us to do at that moment, because healing the world requires perceptive and audacious consciousness, rooted in vulnerability, and believing in our ability, and each other’s, to be better than we have been. The consciousness of our continual rebirth requires preparation, inclusivity, and support as we draw out the pain, regret, and joy of our inner Hannahs and Rachels. Some scholars have suggested that “היום הרת עולם” should be translated not, “today is the conception of the world”, but, “Today is pregnant with eternity”. God sees us as newborns, with infinite potential. Dare we see ourselves that way?
I’m a young woman who visibly wears tzitzit. The public nature of my observance of this mitzvah means that when I leave my home, I become public property to many; in the same way that people feel free to comment on the bodies of or even touch pregnant women, people with noticeable tattoos or piercings, and, as has been written about extensively, black women’s hair, when I wear tzitzit in public, my deviant body — at least for those who recognize my fringes — suspends normal expectations of courtesy and privacy. I’m often approached in inappropriate contexts, and even have had my tzitzit grabbed.
Is there any context in which it is ever appropriate for an older man to approach a young woman and inquire about what she’s wearing under her shirt? (Let’s put aside, for the moment, that male teachers and administrators at Orthodox day schools DO police girls’ clothing, as has most recently been brought to light by a senior at the Yeshivah of Flatbush.) Yes, my fringes are visible, but the violation of my privacy I face on a regular basis about my tallit katan is appalling. The typical interaction of “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” followed by an awkward fidgeting and mumble about my tzitzit as the asker realizes that they hadn’t actually formulated a question is always unpleasant for me as an introvert, and irritating in its assumption that my unusual garment means I am open for conversation in otherwise rude contexts. (See: the Israeli police officer who interrupted a date to ask.) Curious women are one thing; while I’m often disturbed to be questioned by strangers in public, part of the reason I wear my tzitzit visible is so that the image of a woman in tzitzit will become normalized — when I first began to consider tzitzit, the one image of a woman I’d seen in tzitzit at a partnership minyan flashed again and again in my brain and strengthened my resolve. Even when strange women approach me and ask if I’m wearing standard “boy tzitzit” or a garment made specifically for women, I’ll answer; this question about what is in some ways my underwear gives me a chance to share my views on the mitzvah with more women, and to share with them the resource that is Netzitzot. More »
This is a guest post by Rabbi Josh Bolton, the Senior Jewish Educator for the Jewish Renaissance Project at UPenn Hillel. You can reach him at email@example.com.
I say the Kiddush.
I don’t say the Grace after Meals.
I study the Torah.
I don’t own two sets of dishes.
I wrap tefillin, occasionally.
I don’t ever attend minyan.
I long for the Land of Israel.
I don’t have mezuzot on all my doorframes.
I read the Jewish periodicals.
I don’t mind kindling a flame on the Sabbath.
I give charity to the poor person.
I don’t fast on the 9th of Av.
I like klezmer music.
I don’t prioritize kosher over organic.
I leave my son’s hair uncut to three years old.
I don’t live within walking distance of the shul.
I circumcised my son on the eighth day.
I don’t know, I may get more tattoos one day.
I have a social circle comprised mostly of Jews.
I don’t really care if the Torah was written by Man or God.
I have a prominent bookshelf full of traditional texts.
I don’t always behave nicely with orthodox educators.
I weep in Yad Vashem.
I don’t mind listening to salacious gossip.
I wear a kippah.
I don’t make Havdallah.
I speak Hebrew like a child – but I do speak.
I don’t regard the voices of the ancient rabbis to be more sacred than our own voices.
I hang a picture of Jerusalem in my living room.
I don’t believe continuity for continuity’s sake is a compelling reason for Jewish life.
I prayed at the grave of Menachem Schneerson — at twilight with my brother.
I don’t know how to perform the ritual of Hoshannah Rabba.
I take every opportunity to submerge in the mikveh of Isaac Luria.
I don’t think spirituality demands wearing long skirts or a yarmulke.
I have memorized large swaths of the liturgy.
I don’t believe the Va’ad Kashrut serves the interests of the Jewish community.
I am a devoted student of the Hasidic masters.
I don’t really clean my kitchen for Pesach.