Politics and the White House Hanukkah Party

I’m feeling conflicted about the lighting of the White House hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) by two students from Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school. I think the school is wonderful, and I’m so glad it’s getting attention from the President of the U.S. His comments were beautiful, and giving publicity and support to such groundbreaking organizations is good for Israel and the Jews.

But I also feel like there’s a time and place to make political statements about Israel – which is unarguably the effect when you have students from an Israeli Jewish-Arab school light the President’s Hanukkah candles (including one student who is not Jewish), with a hanukkiah made by Jewish and Arab Israeli students.

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Jews Affirm That #BlackLivesMatter at #ChanukahAction in Brookline, MA

Editor’s Note: This post is the eighth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
#BlackLivesMatter #ChanukahActionI spent the first night of Chanukah this year at Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA. This was the Boston-area location for the multi-city #ChanukahAction: A Jewish Day of Action to End Police Violence event. I had a number of anxieties in advance, but it proved to be a powerful evening with moments of hope and inspiration.

My concerns began with a Facebook event wall littered with infighting that I feared would travel offline to the actual event. Could we focus on one issue, and keep the focus away from ourselves? Could we raise awareness in our own community without silencing and ignoring those who have already been marginalized? I had been to a protest organized by Black Lives Matter Boston in November, organized and led by people of color. I recognized why Jews needed to rally around the cause, but it was unclear how. Frankly, could we do this without damaging the larger movement?

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“Walk Like an Egyptian” Re-Tooled as a Chanukah Song by its Very Jewish Singer

Experiencing your annual frustration that all Chanukah songs suck?  Well, here’s a sweet surprise.  Check out Susanna Hoffs, pop star and former member of The Bangles, re-tool their 1985 mega-hit “Walk Like an Egyptian“, to “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” , a song all about Chanukah, here in performance with the great Aimee Mann* and Ted Leo. It’s not just that Hoffs is Jewish, by the way; she has yichus. She is the granddaughter of the late Rabbi Ralph Simon, who served Congregation Rodfei Zedek, in Chicago’s South Side Hyde Park neighborhood from 1943-87, was President of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), and was a leading founder of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and, therefore, the entire Ramah camping movement. He was a larger-than-life community rabbi for his historical moment of big house Judaism, and inspired countless people. See him here, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoffs’s uncle and cousin, Rabbis Matthew and Joshua Simon, were also prominent rabbisMore »

December Without Drama

Happy Challadays cardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.”  More »

Fearless Judaism: on affirmative Jewish unity

In response to Naomi Adland’s incisive piece Fear, Fearlessness, and Forward Movement, we have started a series in which different writers articulate their visions for affirmative Judaisms.  We very much welcome your voice to the mix and invite you to submit entries to editor@jewschool.com

Fear. It’s what stops us from imagining and building a better world.  The deficit model of Judaism can no longer sustain itself.  Too long we have been comfortable articulating what we seek to avoid and escape, but the time has come to embrace a Judaism with the vision and audacity to be about something worth believing and embodying.

As we know all too well from the devastating events of last week in Ferguson, fear fuels a viciously unjust legal system which perpetuates the subjugation and silencing of countless Americans.  The subject of Ferguson merits its own treatment, and I look forward to hearing more progressive Jewish voices speak out against the systemic injustice and inequality.

Especially in light of the current news, part of me feels like writing about a fearless Judaism right now veers uncomfortably to the parochial. But upon further reflection, I am realizing that refining our own self-definition and collective visions will enable us both to grow internally and also to help others break from the shackles of their own limiting, stultifying, and potentially dangerous fears. For me, an affirmative Judaism has the drive and confidence to be proud and rooted in its particularism while also embracing vibrant difference and growth.

I was at the GA which Naomi describes in her post.  One talk which felt a bit different than the others was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ keynote plenary address. In it, Rabbi Sacks emphasized the imperative of Jewish unity and accountability for each other. What struck me about his language was the refreshing optimism and opportunity for forward movement which he offered.  I was especially excited because much of the  vision of Jewish unity he advocated resonated deeply with what I wrote for the Yom Kippur sermon I delivered at Anshei Chesed of Cape Cod this past season. Below, I will share an excerpt from my sermon:
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Monday – waiting for the Ferguson decision

Editor’s Note: With this post, Jewschool begins a series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

This is a guest post by Janaki Kuruppu, a practicing physician in Baltimore, MD. She and her husband are raising two boys, who were born in Ethiopia, and who joined their family 5 years ago. They are active members of Tikvat Israel, a Conservative congregation in Rockville, MD.

Last Monday morning, like most mornings, my commute was in the company of NPR, which, like all the news outlets, was describing the preparations in Ferguson, MO, anticipating the announcement of the Grand Jury decision.

My last patient of the day was a man I have taken care of for some time, but this appointment would be his last visit, as the infection we’d been treating for so long, was finally resolved. After giving him the good news, we got to talking, as we always have done, about current affairs. He is a well-educated black man, retired from a middle-management career. He described, laughingly, being mistaken for an underling, and asked on job sites to be taken to his supervisor, when he was actually the boss on the site. He would play along, and go get one of his staff, always a white employee, who the client had expected to be in charge. My patient seemed to delight in the subsequent discomfort of the client on being shown the error of his assumption. More »

Sodomy on the Loose in Florida

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 »

The Terror and Joy of *Feeling*: Channah’s Legacy for our Spiritual Activism

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 »

Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, and Repairing their Unresolved Brokenness

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 »

Mid-decade update

(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.

Being Judged as Newborns — a Rosh HaShanah Intention

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?

My Sukkot Wish for our Queer Jewish Community

Suzie and I are hosting the big Keshet and JP Shabbat Sukkot potluck again this year! (You should come!)

Boston is a great place to be queer and Jewish, so I really just have one wish for our fabulous local LGBTQ Jewish community this year: flirting.

Why bother having separate LGBTQ community events when many Jewish institutions have become more and more inclusive of LGBTQ Jews?

Because flirting.

Imagine you are a young queer Jew looking for a date. You’re bored with OkCupid and JDate, so you try going to a singles night sponsored by your local synagogue. You get all gussied up, maybe you drag along a friend as a wingman, and you head in to the venue. What do you see? A whole bunch of straight people. (Regardless of how inclusive the shul is, this is a numbers game. There are more straight people than gay people.)

Okay, so let’s say you’re not instantly discouraged by the fact that most of the people in the room are a) not what you’re looking for and b) not looking for you. Let’s say you don’t feel super weird about either feeling invisible or feeling like you stand out in the wrong ways. You’re resilient! You can do this! So you look around the room for other LGBTQ people. Hey there’s one! But that person is not a gender you’re interested in. Oh, there’s someone who might be the right gender for you! But that person seems significantly too old/young for you. Or perhaps you just don’t find them attractive. HEY! Over there! There’s someone cute, of an appropriate gender, the right age–and they turn out to be your ex. And now you’ve exhausted your supply of LGBTQ people in the room. Dang.

This is where the LGBTQ Jewish community comes in! After feeling like there is a dearth of romantic options available for you in your shul, wouldn’t it be nice to go to an event where everyone is Jewish and LGBTQ? So many more possibilities! You could date EVERYBODY! (Okay, well, at least a significant portion of attendees.) It’s like Jewish summer camp! Yayyyy!

This is why you should come to my house if you happen to be LGBTQ and in the Boston area on October 10th. (If you’re old and married like me, you should still come, because you’ll help introduce the single people to each other. It’ll make things less awkward, and we’ll all have a good time.)

This is why you should host an event like this if you’re LGBTQ and not in the Boston area on October 10th.

This is why Jewish LGBTQ organizations should still care about hosting local events for members once in a while.

This is why Jewish institutions who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ members should continue to help support Jewish LGBTQ organizations do their own things sometimes.

Because flirting.

#TBT: On 9/11 and Tisha B’Av

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.

 

Echad Asar b’September, OR A 9/11 of the Jews

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 »

In Brooklyn Next Sunday? Come Make Shofar-blowing History

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

Ready for Withering Flowers: A Ritual for Elul

I’m familiar with your story
This gratitude you cultivate helps ground you
And yet, do you really deserve to ask for more?
The answer to this question will give you the balance you seek

Sometimes you need a reminder that we already said farewell to the month of Av
As it is written in Job: “Man born of woman is short of days, and fed with trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers, and vanishes, like a shadow.” (Job 14:1–2)
In Elul, you are instructed to enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the flowers without worry of their withering
Since t’shuva/repentance is the name of the game, instead of fearing change we welcome it in

Every morning the shofar calls you to t’shuva/repentance
Are you listening?
How might you be more awake in order to hear its sound?
Allow these blossoms a chance to bring you to the presence you desire.

Step 1 – gather flower petals into a large bowl- ideally four colors and four different species. Bowl is ideally wood but can also be glass or metal.
In New England this is a great time of year to find a diversity of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, chicory and aster.
Step 2 – fill your bowl with water covering the petals – ideally spring water but tap water is also fine. The chance to visit a river, lake or small spring will only add to the ritual
Step 3 – ASK FOR SOMETHING. This is for real. If you’re going to open up enough to do real t’shuvah/repentance this year, you have to acknowledge that you are not yet whole – that there is something about yourself you want to change, or at least cultivate. A useful formula is “May I be…” or “Let me be…”
Step 4 – Pour the entire bowl of petals and water over your head.
Step 5 – Proclaim out loud: “Horeini Ya Darkecha – הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ – reveal to me your path” – Ps. 27:11. This is both the sealing of our request and also a letting go of wanting only one thing.

Re-posted by the author from Ma’yan Tikvah’s Divrei Earth: Spiritual wisdom from Earth and Torah.

Tonight at Grand Army Plaza: “If Not Now” group observes Tisha B’Av

If Not Now Observes Tisha b’Av: Mourning Destruction in Israel & Palestine
Monday, August 4 at 8:00 pm – 9:30 pm EST
Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY
RSVP on Facebook 

On the Ninth of the Jewish month of Av every year, we lament the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition, and innumerable other severe brutalities committed against the Jewish people on this date in years past.

Jewish liberation is bound up with the liberation of the Palestinian people. So as we mourn the dehumanizing oppression our people has suffered, tonight we also mourn the dehumanizing oppression we are currently enabling and inflicting upon Palestinians.

May the destruction and occupation in Palestine cease. May redemption be born out of the ashes. Freedom and dignity for all.

PROGRAM

  • Explanation of Tisha b’Av & Reflections in English on violence and suffering in Israel and Palestine
  • Maariv (traditional evening service)
  • Chanting of Eicha (the Book of Lamentations): partly in Hebrew, partly in English, and partly personal contemporary lamentations
  • Name-reading of Israelis and Palestinians who have perished in the current violence
  • Mourner’s Kaddish
  • Close
  • Post-event Small Group Discussions: Being Jewish & Mourning Israel-Palestine Today

QUESTIONS & PRESS:
Contact Simone Zimmerman (simonerzim@gmail.com) & Max Cohen (maxacohen@gmail.com)

Why I Fast and Mourn on Tisha B’Av, the Day of Homelessness and Displacement

As we are less than two days from Tisha B’Av, the major day of communal mourning in the Jewish year, marking the destruction of both Temples and sovereign Jewish life in Israel, and numerous other calamities in our memory.   In progressive, Jewish  circles, I often hear a version of the following:  I don’t want sacrifices to be restored or the Temple rebuiltand I much prefer Jewish life without the Temple to Jewish life with the Temple, so why should I fast, mourn, and observe this day?  The following is my response, why I think that that question is beside the point and why I think it is important to observe Tisha B’Av fully even (especially?) for those who think that post-Temple Judaism reflects progress over the Temple cult:

Tisha B’Av is a day of collective focus on Jewish particular angles on the universal ills of homelessness, displacement, vulnerability, alienation, and desperation. Though we no longer actively seek out the forms of worship that animated Temple life, we do not serve ourselves or humanity well by dissociating from the trauma and loss that we experienced through its destruction.  I find it telling that in Eikha (Lamentations) itself, little of the focus is on the Temple cult itself. It’s about personal degradation, poverty, and fear, and communal shock, homelessness, shame, anger, and alienation from God. Moreover, the Sages, of blessed memory, already, within a couple of hundred years after the 2nd destruction, showed awareness of the possibility of precious growth, creativity, and progress emerging from the ashes of destruction, while not dissociating from the trauma of the loss in the first place (eg, Pesikta deRav Kahana 20:5 (Roni Akarah), where R. Aha in the name of R. Yohanan unpacks Yesh’ayahu 54:1 to mean that Israel “produced many more righteous people in its destruction than when it was built up”).

Additionally, throughout Jewish history, collective wisdom has associated with Tisha B’Av those aspects of communal trauma that are about sudden, dislodging and traumatic rupture:  the burning of 24 cartloads of texts of the Talmud in 13th century Paris; the Spanish expulsion; the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, etc. In a world where displacement and homelessness are everyday occurrences, often right before our eyes in our own cities, when the whole world is faced with a refugee crisis, including one caused (justifiably or not) by Israel in our name, and in a moment when we Jews are mercifully very minimally represented in the pool of the dispossessed and homeless, it is at our peril that we disregard opportunities for carnal and emotional empathy, such as this day allows.  When we experience a taste of starvation, when we refrain from greeting people, acting as though there’s no one we can trust, no one who can support us, when we sit on the floor, barefoot and unbathed, we push ourselves to stop averting the eye from the millions near and far for whom every day is Tisha B’Av.

 

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