Culture, Justice, Religion

Blogging the Omer

Just a warning: I doubt I’ll actually succeed at this. Even just actually getting every night counted isn’t the easiest task, so actually having something to say, is going to be tough. But I’m going to give it a try, especially since there’s no requirement that I actually succeed at doing it every night… like tonight, I’m going to make up for starting late, with days 1, 2 & 3, since I couldn’t very well blog the first day on chag, and the second day was a little complicated with late sunset and all that. So, we’ll start tonight, and hopefully continue.
So: Omer night #1
Week Chesed, day chesed
Since the first day of Omer occurs on the day of a seder, I thought I write about Geraldine Brooks’ new book People of the Book. This is a wonderful book about the history – fictional in detail, although well researched in broad outlines, as she says in the afterword, ” While some of the facts are true to the haggadah’s known history, most of the plot and all of the characters are imaginary.”- of the famous Sarajevo Haggadah.
Towards todays’ omer topic chesed of chesed, the book gazes at the interrelationships – complicated, painful, loving and hating between Jews, Christians and Muslims, and also between parents and children, in all their difficulty and complexity, and acknowledging that sometimes there are no happy endings. Setting aside the fine writing, the well-drawn characters and the plot (who among us could not love a story -a mystery- about a book?) the doubling of the story makes for fine reading, and the ending is hopeful, mirroring the real history of the book, which of course includes the survival of a people, and the bravery of a Muslim librarian in saving the book of a people not his own- well, depending on how you look at it- and perhaps of a Catholic priest who saved it from destruction as well.
Day 2: Gevurah of Chesed

Recent articles have provided responses of various people to the new papal prayer for the Jews.
Both the articles above address the developments in Catholic theology and how the comments from some Jewish respondents have simply ignored those developments in saying that the prayer simply articulates what the Catholic Church has always believed about the Jews. The question is whether this new development is a return to a pre 1960’s theology or whether it is a sort of blip that ought not to have much effect on relations that have developed over the last forty years between Jews and Catholics.
It is not a settled question. According to current Catholic theology, are Jews to be targeted for missionizing, or does the understanding that we have a separate covenant continue. I have some sympathy for the idea that saying that this is the underlying Catholic theology strengthens conservative forces within the church, however, to speak honestly, we (Jews) have to acknowledge a huge difficulty in interfaith relations. It is a given of every major theology that that theology is true and others are not. Even in very expansive religions, the understanding that other faiths have truth, still also means, “but ours is the best path to the future.” This is true of Judaism as much as of Christianity or Islam. When conservatives rage against Islam as not accepting of other religions, all it means it that they don’t understand their own religions very well, either. The goal of interfaith discussions can’t be to have some other religion abandon tenets of its faith, it’s to allow us to live together with differing understandings of truth and to be willing to let other people go toi hell (or whatever) if that’s what they want to do, unburdened by proselytization. It’s a very difficult thing to do in a religion like Christianity, where so much of the faith is about belief.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for -for example- southern baptist clergy whom I have met who deeply struggle to know Jews as human beings and people who are good, while simultaneously accepting their faith’s understanding that if Jews don’t convert they are going to hell. *that* my friends, is a real struggle. They view missionizing as an act of love, and I can’t accept it as one – meeting in the middle is an extraordinary place, and it is not something which we will be able to overcome soon. What we can ask for, though, is to let us make our own decisions, not to proselytize, and to work on the branches of their faith that are tractable, in terms of not demonizing us for not converting, and acting so as to eradicate anti-semitism as a racial underpinning of theology in their faiths.
Day 3: Tiferet of Chesed
The foreign workers of Israel are a subject that doesn’t come up as often as it ought to. Many of them come to Israel for work they couldn’t get elsewhere, but they also serve Israelis in jobs that are thankless, or extremely intimate, and They are often invisible. Their thanks is to have Israel be so suspicious of them that we enact laws to prevent them from marrying Israelis, acquiring citizenship, converting so that they could acquire citizenship, allowing their children to become citizens.
All of this is something that on Pesach, we ouselves should consider as well.
One bright note is this seder held for foreign workers by Beit Daniel, Keren B’Kavod – the social action branch of the Israeli Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center – and the Mesila Aid and Information Center for the Foreign Community, a Tel Aviv municipal organization which provides social services and information to Tel Aviv’s foreign workers.

It’s beautiful because here today, it doesn’t matter if you are African, Latin American or Asian,” she said.
Azari also commented on the diversity of the event.
“I don’t think that you will be able to see a lot of synagogues in Israel hosting non-Jews for the Seder,” he said.
But he added, “For most of them, probably this is the first time that they are sitting and not serving. This is an opportunity for them to feel welcome.”

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