Sunday, August 27, 2006

Islam, where have you taken my friend?

So the release of the two fox "journalists" by militants after being kidnapped in Gaza two weeks ago gives me hope. Are militants realizing that maybe their efforts in kidnapping are absolutely futile? That, you know, maybe there are more civil, logical ways of dealing with demands and frustrations?

Evidently the two men were "converted" to Islam before being released. After their release, they said it was not a "real" conversion. I mean, if all they wanted to do was convert a few shmos who work for Fox, they could have set up a little stand outside the Fox office hocking the Koran. No need to kidnap, really. Look at the Christians; they're doing wonders converting folks, and they're not kidnapping anyone.

On a similar note, I found that a friend of mine who took up Islam has disappeared, in a way. That is, he went on some trip, to someplace, and even some of his closest friends don't know where he is. His exploration of Islam I first took as a wonderful thing. He'd been an athiest and we got along well without talking religion. But the few times after he took up his studies that we spoke (after moving out of the dorms, there was a lull in conversation after two years of spending time every day together), his resolve was mighty. Islam was the one true religion, the one religion that never treaded on any people, let alone did anything out of peace-loving character in the history of its existence. I opened my mouth to respond and he dismissed himself for his prayers -- this was before he and another friend were to attend shul services with me, out of curiosity. He said, after services, that he could understand a lot of the Hebrew, because there were similarities between the Arabic and the Hebrew. It was the only connection he and I had in the awkward last year and a half of college. I saw him at a party once, he had on the cap that I see many Muslim men wearing. My friend, with pale skin, freckles and blazing orange hair who I spent so many nights up late with, and I had nothing to say.

It's strange because I forced myself into his life freshman year. Those wipe-off marker boards that people attach to their doors for passersby to write obscene things on, became the welcome mat for me into his life. He was quiet, in his big, oversized red shoes. I started writing notes on his door and once he came to my room, asking to look at my calendar -- he didn't have one of his own, he said. We talked, awkwardly, and the next year he and one of my closest friends lived together. I spent every waking moment not at the newspaper or in class in their room. He had little crabs and at one point, a mouse. Before moving out that year, he brought his puppy to his dorm room. I visited him a few times that first year outside the dorms, but he started to change. I started to change. We changed simultaneously, but I embraced this truth and questioning philosophy of my religion, my faith. To me, he seemed to embrace an isolationist, definite quality to everything.

Last year I asked someone how he was. I saw him once in a blue moon and I heard he was "taking inventory" of his friends. Ridding himself of some, growing closer to others. He was throwing out the people he didn't think were necessary anymore. I don't know where or if I fit into that. So the last time I saw him was at that party. My final semester of college. He jumped up out of the chair he was idling in and greeted me so warmly. We exchanged "how're yous" and then other people walked up, started talking. The conversation moved into the kitchen and we kept looking at each other, smiling, this old sense of familiarity, but nothing. Others carried the conversation and when I decided to leave, I sort of half new it would be the last time I saw him. Maybe for now, maybe le olam. I remember walking back to my car, feeling distressed that I couldn't connect to him. But there was this automatic divide, and maybe he didn't notice it. Maybe it was our religion, our cultural adaptation to different ways of life. It's sad, though, because if two converts within two embattled faiths can't hold a conversation comfortably, how can we expect a born-Jew and born-Muslim to be warm with each other? Or maybe it's easier. I don't know.

I think often about him. I worry about him, and I worry what he'll become and what he may do. It's the fear of radicalism that scares me. The devoutness that consumes you into blindness. When I hear Bob Marley or ska music I think of him dancing around his room. Vegan delicacise make me think of the mush he'd sometimes eat in his room when the cafeteria failed him. There's so much about him I loved so dearly, I wonder if it's still there. But I can't bring myself to find him and ask, and I don't know why.

Friday, August 25, 2006

"A teshuvah-wind was blowing" -- Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn

One: A break.
A meme I stole from Tikkun Ger (though not tagged, I felt the need ...):
    1. Grab the nearest book.
    2. Open the book to page 123.
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
The text: "Israel is surrounded by enemies. Nations conspire and take counsel together to destroy her. Yet, He Who sits in the heavens laughs; ... " from The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel, which I am reading with a friend (or will be reading, anyhow).

Tagging: Andrew, Christy, You know who you Are, Melanie, Beth

Two: Some Elul thoughts, or A month of the rabbis on Elul
From (probably my MOST favorite site):
"It is like a king who, before he enters the city, the people of the city go out to greet him in the field. There, everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him; he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all. And when he goes to the city, they follow him there. Later, however, after he enters his royal palace, none can enter into his presence except by appointment, and only special people and select individuals. So, too, by analogy, the month of Elul is when we meet G-d in the field..." (Likkutei Torah, Re'ei 32b; see also Likkutei Sichot, vol II p. 632 ff.)
Further: "In Elul, teshuvah is no longer a matter of cataclysmic “moments of truth” or something to be extracted from the depths of the prayerbook. It is as plentiful and accessible as air: we need only breath deeply to draw it into our lungs and send it coursing through our veins. And with Elul comes the realization that, like air, teshuvah is our most crucial resource, our very breath of spiritual life."

Three: Parsha Shoftim
Shabbat Shalom. This week, Moses instructs the appointment of those who will pursue and enforce justice. In every generation, according to Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task of interpreting and applying the laws of the Torah. This parsha has quite the place in modern Judaism, and an article I read last night in Tikkun really makes this hit home. The article discussed the modernization of Judaism, the evolvement from priests to rabbis to lay people. The latter, of course, being the modern application of those entrusted with leading services and minchas.

It wasn't rare at my shul back home to have a lay person lead services, delivering the sermon and bringing the Torah out. It was strange, to me, though it also was relaxing, as I could paint myself in that picture up on the bima. At the same time, I worry about the future of the rabbi in modern Judaism. Orthodox and Hasidism seem to have a pretty tight rein on the idea of the rabbi -- they are, as Moses foresaw, those entrusted with "interpreting and applying" laws of Torah. The article stressed the importance of an academic Jewry that could serve as lay leadership, interpreting and applying the laws. Analyzing them to bits for blogs and sermons on Saturday mornings. Is this the next step of the teacher evolution?

There's nothing wrong with lay-led services, but the rabbi's purpose is ever so important. Rabbis (those trained, anyhow) serve as encyclopedias of every cubit (har har) of Judaism, from Rashi to Maimonides to the Baal Shem Tov to Moses. Rabbis I've encountered may not know everything, but their passion for exploring and teaching and interpreting the laws of Torah are astounding. Lay leaders are often very involved in shul activities, serving on trustees boards and donating large sums to the local Yeshiva or Birthright foundations. They often have a deep-seeded need to participate in the community, Torah studies and shul choirs. But lay leaders also tend to be businessmen/women, journalists, artists, computer scientists, engineers, doctors, etc. Rabbis have the chance to home their skills and focus on one thing -- Torah, Judaism, halakah. Lay leaders already have so much on their plate without tossing responsibilities of rabbinic duties on top.

Maybe it is preemptive, but the article made me wonder. Is this the evolution of our sages, scholars and teachers in modern Judaism? Are rabbis an endangered species, not from a lack of interest but because lay leaders are taking the reins?

Who's to say. Anyhow, I'll think on the role "those entrusted" on this Shabbat, as I also reflect on Elul and my kavannah. Shabbat shalom, friends.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

You know you're edging on the High Holy Days when ...

So a Jew walks into a CVS around 2 in the morning looking for some eggs (No, it isn't a joke). This Jewess was craving eggs and in addition to some eggs picked up a few Rosh HaShanah cards. Why? Because I actually have people to send them to this year. I've had the month of Elul on my mind all week, but this really smacked me into gear. That, and the insert in the Sept/Oct. issue of Tikkun that will likely serve as a supplement to my routine for Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and all the other minor holidays filled with goodies that swamp the next few months.
Elul begins at sundown and also begins a month of, well, reflection and planning. It is a month where, for the first time, I will read Psalm 27 each morning when I wake in addition to my other morning prayers. Elul is a month where I will think of the phrase Ani l'dodi v'dodi li from the Shir HaShirim -- the roshei tivot (first letters) which spell out ELUL. The phrase translates as, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." This is the essence of what Elul is. Elul turns G-d toward us and us toward G-d, reminding us of the love, strength and support we plead for. Elul also is a time to think of Moshe and his ascent for Adonai to re-inscribe the tablets, which happened on Rosh Chodesh Elul in 2448. Moshe was on the mount for 40 days (Yom Kippur) at which time he gained G-d's forgiveness for the people. How amazing to think that more than 3,000 years ago on this very date Moshe was climbing the mount ... and Moshe managed to achieve Divine mercy and forgiveness. It's a startling, and almost unreal thought.

One rabbi suggested that Elul and teshuvah are meant to return us to the beginning, to allow us to dwell in the place G-d intended for us, to restore us to our original character. In some places, each morning of Elul the shofar will be blown, and Jews will listen with kavannah, or intention. This is what Elul also is about, kavannah -- what is my intention? What is Elul for me?

Sh'ma adonai, qoli eq'ra v'chaneni v'a'aneni. --
Hear Adonai, as I cry with my voice; be gracious and answer me
(Psalm 27: 7, my transliteration/translation).

The thought of not hearing Clarissa blow the shofar this year -- because she is at B'nai Jeshurun in Lincoln and I am here -- is a sobering thought. For two years I got to listen to her mystify the twice-a-year Jews with her talents. But when I think back to listening to Clarissa and the shofar and the bearded man from the balcony with the voice of a young tenor shout each of the shofar calls, I don't think I had kavannah. To be sure, my attention was had, but was I within myself in the place I needed to be?
I read an article in Tikkun about a guy who was at a bookstore in Tennessee when he ran into a college-age kid who was browsing the small Judaica section in a Border's books. He observed that the kid would pick up a book, flip through it and put it back as if he wasn't really looking. The guy walked over to the collegian and they got to talking about what this kid was looking for -- G-d. The collegian said that G-d was missing from so many books. That G-d is almost devoid of meaning in modern Judaism -- in nearly all followings therein. It got me thinking. The one thing I always detested about "religion" was that it lacked rhyme or reason. Things were done because "that's just what we do." You go to church on Sunday because that's what a good Christian does. You daven three times a day, because that's what a good Jew does. You go to confession, becuase, well, that's what a good Catholic does. The WHY gets lost in translation. That's also what drew me so much to Judaism ... the idea of rabbis across centuries arguing things down to the accidental ink blot on a specific Talmudic trachtate. It is, enlightening and brilliant the amount of discussion and argument that goes into Jewish thought. But it feels like we're missing something. G-d?

When rabbinic and Talmudic Judaism was born, G-d almost disappeared from the Jewish map. It makes you wonder of Adonai is sitting idly by, waiting for Jews everywhere to realize that when they left for Summer Vacation, they left good ole' Adonai sitting on the front porch stoop. Many, many years later, there Adonai sits. Waiting. And what are we doing? Well, I'm not sure.

I know what I'm doing. I'm making a concerted effort to "rekindle the flame" as a popular phrase within the Jewish literary circles quips. I carry G-d with me more than I ever did when I was wrestling with organized religion or my fear of life after death. It's almost an unconcious hum in my head, always keeping me at ease. It's the moments when I'm ill at ease that I seem to cry out, truly and deeply, for strength, reciting the words in the Siddur (page 75) that my rabbi and I discussed so often (cannot rebuild a bridge, but can mend a broken heart). I don't want to be a Jew-by-habit, I'm a Jew-by-Choice, who chooses to create a holy bubble where G-d is more than just four letters in the holy books.
So each morning when I rise, I'll rebuild the figure near the bimah and the shofar, the sound it makes calling us to repentence, to focus on heshbon ha'nefesh -- taking stock of oneself, the soul, reflecting and asking for Divine forgiveness. I'll recite the Psalm, calling Adonai to hear my cries, and I will think of Moshe, ascending the mount for the third time on this day in 2448. I will find my kavannah, and I will keep my beloved close, as my beloved keeps me close.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ha Ohelim.

I am out of sorts. And these are the words I sing.
Sh'ma Elohim rinati, haqshivah, t'philati.
Miqtseh ha'aretz, elecha eqrah -- va'atoph livi.
V'tsuryorum mimeni tanheni ki hayitah mahsetli migdal otz mipenoyev.
Agura v'ahalkah, umalim; echeseh ve'seter chenaphecha. Selah.
It is my own transliteration of Psalm 61:2-5. A prayer that says,
Hear my cry, O G-d, attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to a rock that is too high for me.
For you have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy.
I will dwell in your tent forever, I will take refuge in the cover of your wings. Selah.
Selah? A word that can't seem to be translated, found in many of the psalms. Or as Merriam-Webster says: "a term of uncertain meaning found in the Hebrew text of the Psalms and Habakkuk carried over untranslated into some English versions." Some say it is purely for the musical nature of the psalms. It represents a pause in the text. Others say that it serves as a reminder of the significance and importance of the prior words. I suppose it doesn't help that even ancient biblical commentators didn't mention the word or its meaning.

There is something unimaginable, special about reading the Hebrew and knowing the translation, feeling the words as they present themselves. One semester of biblical Hebrew and several years at shul have given me a vocabulary necessary for completing phrases and speaking the prayers in the morning and evening and being able to whisper them as I move through dark hallways and along tree-lit paths.


I went out tonight and got some ice cream. I was feeling lonely, despondent. I went over to Glover Park (also the name of my neighborhood) where there often are baseball games being played. I sat down on the top step, four steps above a kid in a baseball cap clapping furiously for two teams of men he didn't know. I watched two teams lob balls into the outfield, scoring a few runs and eventually some home runs. The team in full black had a double header, so I went inside to the Whole Foods and bought a drink for the second game. The team in all black was having its way with the other teams, and I was at peace, for a bit.

It reminded me of my entire childhood, until we moved to Nebraska. The first 12 1/2 years of my life, or what I remember of them, I was on the baseball field more or less every summer. First it was dad playing with his work team and then it was my older brother playing tee-ball and then baseball and up into high school. I spent a lot of time hating the time on the field, and a lot of time loving it. My best friend's dad practically ran the league in Joplin, Missouri. We'd pick up trash in exchange for a free Chick-O-Stick or full pickle from the concession folks. If we picked up a foul ball, we'd get a free small soda. We spent most of our time with the other kids our age behind the brick building that housed the bathrooms. There were piles of wood that we would never sit on, but we'd play our own games and talk. When my little brother was born my friends and I got kicks out of watching him interact with a little girl a few days older than him named Chloe. We pretended they were destined to be together becuase not only were they born in the same hospital days apart, but their big brothers played in the same league. I was a child and on that field I was free. Until midnight or later we'd dance around with the fireflies until the last crack of the ball against a bat. Families would pour out of the parking lot on the rocks and dirt and the crunching is a sound I'll never forget. Dust rolling up from behind the train of cars is an image that sits with me every summer. Sometimes I'd stay at my friend's house and sometimes she'd stay at mine. Summertime was ours. Occasional we'd go to Country Kitchen with the winning team and eat chicken fingers or mozzarella sticks.

The dust, the chalky dirt the color of earth, pickles, chick-o-sticks, large black plastic bags, bottles of water, yellow-colored brick structures, lights with a haze of bugs and dirt below -- this was my summer as a child.
Sh'ma Elohim rinati, haqshivah, t'philati. Attend unto my prayer, Adonai.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d."

Steven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer recently wrote an article for Commentary magazine called "Whatever Happened to the Jewish People." I printed out a copy a few weeks ago and neglected to read it. I misplaced it, and it got lost. So for my trip to California, I reprinted the article and read it on the plane by an overhead light, much to the dismay of my row partners. But the article asks a lot of poignant questions that I often ask myself. Namely: Is a loss of ethnic neighborhoods, or clustering according to culture/race/religion, a bad thing?

Most people would say "no!" because of the idea of a melting pot of people -- everyone, no matter skin color, religion, creed, etc., should live together in order to learn to accept all peoples. The melting pot or salad bowl or whatever you want to call it is the true goal of a free, democratic society. Or is it? I've always been fascinated by assimilation and acculturation. Assimilation isn't the completely scary part, it's the acculturation. When cultures absolve themselves of all defining factors to become quintessentially liberal and secular. Is it a good thing? I say no. It's a very, very bad thing. But why? I imagine the preservation of culture and history can be well kept in museums, but it's the living culture that is truly wonderful.

Philosopher Martin Buber once said,
Israel is a people like no other, for it is the only people in the world which, from its earliest beginning, has been both a nation and a religious community.
Within this is the dimension of peoplehood. Religious, cultural, racial, national. When looking at Naomi, who adopted first the peoplehood and then the faith of Abraham, there is an interesting concept of the community. The Jewish people had a connected history, religion, customs and practices and as the authors say "a common fate." It only made sense for Jews to convene in similar neighborhoods and areas because it was a necessary means of growing and sustaining the people. Isolationism with a cohesive end in a societal, cultural, national and political sphere began to dominate all societies. The idea of "world-wide allegiance" began to erode. And what was a people, spread to every corner of the world, to do? Assimilate? Acculturate? Fight the erosion?

I think that for some time there was a successful erosion. I also think that in the past 10 years, this has changed -- drastically -- but only in a few ways. Israel, with the creation of the Birthright trip, has led to a more connected and embracing generation of Jews who see Israel as more than just a "homeland." But still, we're taught that congregating in neighborhoods stinks of ghettos and the life of the dhimmi. It is interesting to watch the immigration of different peoples to the U.S. and the concentration of those people in neighborhoods together. Lincoln, Neb., was an interesting example -- the Sudanese lived near one another and opened shops there, the Middle Eastern refugees would settle and open insurance agencies, restaurants and other shops; the same with the Vietnamese community. And I was jealous of that connection, that community. I could also get into intermarriage, but that's another battle on a different day.

Why can a community not be a community in a larger community? Why is it not OK? What is so wrong with wanting to be around the comfort of people who live and believe as you do? Not every group of people takes on a racist, isolationist attitude. But is that what it's really about? Do we lose the thriving culture of peoples because we fear ignorance?

Then again, life in the U.S. is different than in most other countries with large Jewish populations. I attribute this largely to patriotism and nationalism -- the desire to achieve the American Dream. To become someone who is not different than anyone else, to be a part of a bigger, unrecognizable race of people. Thus everyone becomes, well, nothing. There is no peoplehood any longer. But what is there in this? What is psychologically appealing about this? As the authors say, "... contemporary American society seems less hospitable to the perpetuation of strong bonds of peoplehood."

We're victims of the erosion of peoplehood. And
To retreat from peoplehood is to repudiate what has been at the core. Even from the point of view of the individual, the loss of this core can be devastating To see oneself as part of a larger collective entity is to situate oneself in a history of 3,200 years and more, imparting a sense of transcendent connection, purpose, and destiny. It buttresses faith, enhances religious activity, lends significance to communal affiliation.
Even more, as Eugene B. Borowitz, a Reform theolgian, wrote in 1965:
Jewish peoplehood is an indispensable part of Jewish religious thought and Jewish religious practice. A specifically Jewish religious life ... means, therefore, life in and with the Jewish people, the Covenant community. ... When at least ten Jews congregate to pray, they ... represent all Israel, past and present, here and everywhere.
Thus, I suppose no matter what there is a a peoplehood. But how can a people sustain itself when there is an erosion of the idea of peoplehood, when there is a lack of self respect for the nation itself. I guess, I feel like the idea of a community of people is not a bad thing. I look at Hasidic communities and I find myself wishing I could be a part of the closeness, having everything there. It's much like the communities of early America -- you have your religious house, your market, your butcher shop, your bakery, your dairy. It's all there. It's logical and convenient.

Community. Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. I feel like perhaps I rambled a bit. I'm finding it harder and harder to organize my thoughts. There's too much that sweeps through after reading a simple 4-page article.

But the thought of a lost GLOBAL COMMUNITY of Jews, being replaced with an individual existence of individual Jews ... is unnatural for us, it is unnatural and fear instilling. Evolution and redefining is essential. But what are we without our core?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

There are some things you don't expect.

Thanks to this blogger, I happ'd upon something I knew nothing about. Of course, there's plenty I know nothing about, but when I come across Jewish history bits that I don't know about, it's especially exciting. Sort of like the time I came across General Grant's expulsion of the Jews or when I discovered some fellow was literally buying Jews to save them from persecution. So what is it this time, you ask? Well, it's the Jewish Autonomous (Oblast) Region in Russia.

Yes, we have a homeland in Russia (with Siberian weather) most of us neither knew or know about. The capital is Birobidzhan and the oblast has about 200,000 people living in about 13,800 square miles. It's in far east Russia in the Khabarovsk Territory. It was formed in 1928 to give Soviet Jews a "home territory" and to increase settlement along vulneratble borders of the Soviet Far East. Additionally, it was an "ideological alternative" to the Zionist's idea for a Jewish state in the historic "homeland." The area became autonomous in 1934. The Jewish population peaked in 1948 at about 30,000, or 1/4 of the total population. If you want to read about the history, please click here. There's also a movie about the area and its history, called "L'Chayim, Comrad Stalin." And a evidently a Washington Post reporter ventured to Russia and blogged about it late last year.

But a little summary for you: Between the late 1920s and early 1930s, 41,000 Soviet Jews relocated here. Some were fleeing persecution and famine in western Russia and Ukraine, and others were drawn by promises of free rail travel and 600 rubles per "settler" (sounds like the great land movement in the U.S., no?). But many of them left almost as soon as they got there -- by 1938, 28,000 had fled the region’s harsh conditions. In the late 1930s the "program" of the oblast was ceased, and Jewish leaders were thrown into jail and executed. Yiddish schools were closed and it was general death of the culture. At the end of the war, though, many of the programs were restarted and the Jewish population existed as such.

There is an official Web site for the autonomous region found here. Part of me wonders how the Orthodox community would feel about the flag of the JAR. It is, as you can see, a beautiful flag of many colors. It almost looks like, well, a PRIDE flag. Today, the JAR is an independent subject, with its own governing body, etc. Despite some still-alive Yiddish influences (including a Yiddish newspaper), Jewish cultural activity is pretty much nil (since Stalin's anticosmopolitanism campaigns and the mass liberalizatoin of Jewish emigration in the 1970s). Jews now make up less than 2 percent of the region's population. But check out their gorgeous shul (with an Israeli rabbi, even) and there is a Jewish school there with 600 students. According to the Washington Post reporter, there's been an upswing in Jewish participation in recent years.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that Jews are literally in EVERY corner of the world. Argentina, the U.S., Siberian landscapes of Russia, Japan ... what about Iceland? I wonder if there are Jews in Iceland. Where have we not touched with our prayers and morning rising?

I love discovering these tiny bits of history. Small places we've been hidden or have hidden ourselves. It gives me pride and comfort.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Next year in Jerusalem.

1) Leon Wieseltier, the editor of the New Republic whom I had a chance to meet while at university, once said "A bi-national state is not the alternative for Israel. It is an alternative to Israel."

2) Amos Oz, Israeli author and an advocate for peace whom I heard speak while at university, said
"There are no sweet compromises. Every compromise entails renouncing certain dreams and longings, limiting some appetites, giving up the fulfillment of certain aspirations, but only a fanatic finds compromise more bitter than death. This is why uncompromising fanaticism always and everywhere exudes the stench of death. Whereas compromise is in the essence of life itself.
The Torah says:
'Thou shalt opt for life.'
Let us opt for life."

Two brilliant men with a depth of knowledge on Israel, the history, the constant crisis. Two very, very brilliant points. I'm currently reading "The Case for Peace" by the author of "The Case for Israel," Alan Dershowitz. This book is inspiring, hopeful, positive, full of history as it needs to be told.

It's frustrating to recollect all the chances. The many, many chances that the Grand Muffti and Yasser Arafat turned down because -- as Palestinians seeking peace know -- they cared more about decimating Israel than about building a state for their people. The two-state solution at first favored Arabs, and ever since, the area has gotten smaller, and smaller. As Dershowitz points out, had the Palestinians agreed to the initial plan, they'd be sitting pretty.

But of course, the real question is Jerusalem. Should it be an international space? Should it be split as it already is, with jurisdiction going to the proper nation state? And what about the kotel? Is it POSSIBLE for two Monotheistic religions to set aside their claim for RIGHTS (which Dershowitz also does a great job dissecting) for the sake of opting for life?

If Mahmoud Abbas can set aside the demand of rights of history, and people can stop throwing in "Muhammad wasn't even ON the temple mount when they say he was!" and "Solomon's temple wasn't even IN Jerusalem" ... maybe something can be compromised. Either way, it's clear that a bi-national state is a suicidal compromise and opting for life is the only path of logic.

Why is a bi-national state suicidal? A bi-national state would rid the world of the Jewish people slowly, but surely. The nation would become quickly Muslim and Syria/Iran would quickly do away with the Jewish nation. While I feel firmly that the Jewish people is a people of prevailing all circumstances (Shoah, Inquisition, expulsions, wandering, antiSemitism), I also don't truly worry about a bi-national state ever being truly considered by Israel. It's the most illogical proposition ever. Luckily, only crazy, blindly antiSemitic folks and Noam Chomsky even discuss it anymore.

I feel confident in a 2-state nation. But Jerusalem. What DO we do about Jerusalem?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

He's Bubba, and I'm Sis.

Well, I'm staying in Washington, D.C. It is now where I will lay my head, at least until December. Starstruck within myself, I just discovered this: Search & E-mail me from the Washington Post web site.

And now you know. In the pursuit of the perfect job solution, I called my 14-year-old brother. He's the 8 or 9 year later child, and the family member who best understands me and cares about me. He and I are pretty, well, we're pretty special, we are. I love that kid, and he knows it. So I called and Joseph is wise beyond his years. He always has been. He's absolutely brilliant, and his friends should be proud to know him. He plodded along with me through my conversion, asking questions -- always asking questions -- and was excited for me when I "officially" converted. He knows me, well. So I called him. I told him I needed answers, and he asked about what, and I told him about my job situation. (Text isn't word for word, but it's what was said, to the best of my recollection.)

He asked, "Is there one paper you're leaning toward?"
I answered yes, and he asked why that one, so I explained at length the ups and downs, the ins and outs. I explained that I wouldn't have Shabbat off, but that I can go in the morning, that I can probably make it work, if I really want it to.
"What's so bad about the other paper?" he asked.
I explained about the place, the smallness, the California, the everything. But then I explained about Shabbat and its importance and how California was offering me my Shabbat -- and then some.
"What do I do, Joseph?" I asked him.
He then told me that he understands religion is very important to me, but that if I have to sacrifice everything else (happiness, a city I like, feeling comfort), then what's the point? He sounded so smart, so sure, so comforting. He talked me down and concluded with,
"You can make it work if you want, sis, just like you said. If you want it to work, it will."

I could have kissed him square on the cheek. Or bought him an immediate ticket to come see me. I miss the kid, who is really a teenager. It's funny how for granted I took him being so close. We used to go out and get lunch. He put up with me taking pictures of him for photography class. He also put up with the summer of Kevin -- in high school Joseph and I went bowling many times a week and then to Taco Inn for lunch with my boyfriend, Kevin. Now Joseph is going into high school. He'll have dates, girlfriends, trips, real experiences. And I'll have him on the phone for a half-hour while I traverse downtown and Dupont looking for my car at midnight. I hope I don't miss his big moments by being so far away.

After I got off the phone with Joseph I knew. Somehow he managed to regurgitate and organize how I was really feeling and make it make sense to me. This kid is ... brilliant. I thanked him, told him I loved him, and hung up, and the decision was made.

I just hope that the next time I need to make a decision, he'll be the same little brother I've always had. He'll offer the sound, wise advice of someone much younger than me, but all the same sure and confident. To be honest, I don't know that I'd know what to do without him.

Thanks, bubba. I can make it work.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A rant, or don't read if you don't want to hear me complain about nonJewish things.

I've always said that this is a Judaism blog, and it is, but right now, I need to talk about work. But briefly, and only because I'm sort of having a miniature meltdown. I am, for a lack of a better phrase, unravelling as I write. I did most of the unravelling earlier today near Baggage Claim No.s 11 and 12 and while standing near the America West exit, waiting for the Economy Lot shuttlebus. Why? I'll tell you why.

The trip was fantastic. The weather was perfect (upper 70s/lower 80s and cool at night) and I was fascinated by the palm trees. I was shmoozed, taken out for lunch and dinner, given muffins and breakfast foods for my flight, talked to by everyone (but the editor in chief, interestingly) and treated like royalty. They love me, they really love me (note: that isn't the real Sally Field quote). I had moments of "this is the place for me" and moments of "this paper needs so much work, inside and out." Then there was lunch at In-N-Out with a man initialed R. He made me laugh and I felt like I'd found Jerry incarnate. But it was quickly over and I was back in the newsroom taking tests (which I love; that is, copy editing tests I love). I passed with swimming colors (save the geography, which I suck at. Mt. Everest, anyone?). They offered me a position, a very good, stable, insurace-filled and Sabbath-off filled position. And they gave me less than 48 hours to decide if I want it. And I was feeling good.

But I didn't sleep much. In fact, I haven't slept but maybe 20 hours in the past week. And here I am, sitting at the blog, tapping away. For what? I don't know. I need to sound off. I've sounded off to BVK and to Jerry (thank G-d for him, my knight in shining armor). And it seems to come down to certain things. But first, I've been up since 2:30 a.m. I sat at the airport for ages. I spent all day on the plane watching Robin Williams in "RV" while eating cheese and fruit from a plastic aiport-chic container. I got off the plane, glad to be home, and my luggage was missing. My luggage WAS MISSING. So I cried. All my work clothes in that black piece of crap. My makeup. My clips -- all of my clips. My cellphone charger. All the things I really need. Several hundred dollars worth of stuff in that little black piece of shit. And where is it? I don't know. Expensive bras (that fit!), underwear, a blazer, some tanktops, capris -- all the things I bought NOT on sale. The expensive, nice things. Gone in an airport cart somewhere. So I cried. I cried all the way to work, where I worked till 1:30 a.m. Nearly 24 hours of nonstop shit. I glazed over at work and ordered Greek food and fucked up some stories and felt like crawling into a hole.

My boss wasn't there. I had to harrass her while she was caring for an ailing father, just to find out what my incentive for staying put is. But I did, because I NEED to know if I can have my Shabbat if I stay at the Post. Rather, it's the only way I'll stay at the Post.

But I came to find out, thanks to Bremerton Boy in the shuttlebus at 3 a.m. telling me, that Palm Trees really aren't native to California. Well, that's half true. A certain type is, but they're not the type you see everywhere. They are NOT the quintessential California palm tree that I have imagined in my mind. That disappoints. And who wants to drive to the mountains for snow? I want it right there, in front of me. I want sweaters and scarves, damnit. And the town is the size of Lincoln. It was like ... Lincoln a la Hawaiian theme. I love Lincoln, but if I want Lincoln, I'll live in Lincoln. There's a Temple, but it's pretty big and it's reform. I really want to start going to a Conservative shul. Why? Because I'm searching for something.

So I have till 5 p.m. California time to figure myself out. That gives me a few hours to sleep and a few hours to clear my mind and create a clear, coherent train of thought that hopefully won't result in me being worse off. Though the JMan tells me it's impossible to have a bad choice here. I just have to weigh what I want. One is a full-time gig with benefits and a moving package and the other is just an extension with no medical and uncertainty. I prefer to work outside the box, but when it comes to these kinds of things, I don't know. This is real life. I got my loan bill schedule in the mail. Insurance is a big thing. I may not get sick much, but damn if I'm giving up the b.c.

I think I've answered my own question, but I wonder what my motives REALLY are. I'm half-assing my intensity for the business anymore, and I don't want to mislead anyone. I either need to be reminded of why I love this, or I need to run for the hills. Either way, I will get Shabbat, and I think that's a good starting point.

Shalom Aleichem. Lilah Tov.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

It's hard, figuring out why we do what we do.

Well, I'm getting up at 7 a.m. I have things to do. Places to go. Copies to make. You know the drill. Or maybe you don't. I'm looking at an apartment tomorrow. It's a basement studio up in University Park. Sort of far away, but it looks perfect. Then, I'm working 12ish to 7ish and then hopping a plane from National to Riverside, Calif. I'll be there through Thursday, at which time I return to D.C. and go straight to work. Luckily, I have lots of free time at night in Riverside. Time to read, to lounge, to be someplace that isn't here. To feel temporary, and for it to be OK.

You know, that feeling like it's fine to feel out of sorts for a few. But then, then I have to figure out my life by Friday. Round about Friday. That's what I want, anyhow.

So for the flight and more I've printed out some essays. Things I want to read, things I want to reread. They are as follows
  • Theodor Herzl's "The Jewish State" -- It's the introduction, and that's where I'm starting. I remember reading the whole piece my sophomore or junior year and being enraged at Herzl, the mastermind of the Zionist ideal. We'll see if I can remember why I was so angry.
  • "The Laws Concerning Mashiach" by Maimonides himself, from Hilchos Melachim (it's chapters 11 and 12).
  • Eric Cohen's "Why Have Children" from Commentary magazine.
  • "Whatever Happened to the Jewish People" by Steven M. Cohen & Jack Wertheimer
  • And last, but not least, an e-mail from a gal at work about how she handled a work offer extension ... mostly because I want to read it repeatedly so I don't forget it.
Anyhow, I should have a lot to say upon my return. And hopefully, an immediate-future plan. Until then ...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

911 Cover Up

I can't not share this video. I don't know how much I prescribe to conspiracies, but damnit, this video screams and makes me angry. It's long, but worth the watch. The questions it asks are good. Take the time to watch it sometime.

It makes me angry. Real angry.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Peace be unto you.

Tomorrow is Shabbat, and I'm already thinking about it. Thinking about shamor and zachor, and how I wish I could taste the wine and sing kiddush. Instead, I'll be sitting in a freezing cold office, floor No. 5, amid cubicles where probably great journalist Bob Woodward walked by once or twice. Maybe Dustin Hoffman stood where I sit. Who knows. Either way, I know that the sweet scent of Sabbath isn't mine. Not yet. Shomer Shabbos is something that, for me, is a pillar that supports my Judaism, my person, my mind and my body. Summertime, when things become hectic and my mind doesn't sleep and I have a schedule that resembles nothing normal, is when I need my Shabbat. Instead I sit up late erading blogs and eating cereal and watching horrible late night television. And all that I can think about is is shamor and zachor, the smell of the Shabbat candles I want to light, but can't, not yet.

I've managed to figure out Olam: Part II. And it's short and sweet, mostly because no one has written about it, or rather, no one on the Interweb seems to have anything substantial to say about it. Tikkun Olam is translated literally everywhere as "repair of the world." So how did we go from (accepted from Part I) "obscure" or "really long time" or "undefined amount of time" to "world"?

It would be easy to say that we use the term "world" to describe the nebulous nature of what we understand as existence. But that's just to juvenile for me. I think it limits what we should really understand as tikkun olam, it makes for a very basic approach to what it is that we do. It makes us say "recycle! give to the poor! clean up after your dog when he poops!"

So I say the best way to approach this, perhaps, is to look at the (accepted from Part I) definition of olamim: "ages." It's almost like someone decided to take the backroad in when deciding what the modern construct of olam should be. In this case, in going from the plural (olamim: ages) to the singular (olam: age) we get "world" as a quaint translation. World is to age in the sense that an age is the time in which we live, in which we can grasp that there will be an end (we know that people tend to not live beyond 120 years of age). Thus, we "repair" the "world" in our time as best we can.

But doesn't this hurt the future "world"? Shouldn't we be considering tikkun olam as "changing the course of life" ... all life, not just the present. Tikkun olam is more than giving, acting, doing ... it's using all we have to create a future that, perhaps, is eternal.

Pretty basic, yes? And there we are. Someday maybe I'll work more on it. When I'm back into my biblical Hebrew, maybe I'll watch as the word evolves and see where in texts it began to mean "world." It's interesting how even within the Tanakh the word began to evolve from the early writings to the later prophets. Words, how funny they are.

Shalom Aleichem, friends.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

World's longest blog entry: See Fourth Paragraph for the Meat

THE JUNK: Well, hrm. There's too much going on in this cranium of mine, but it's my own fault. It isn't just job stuff (I'm flying to Riverside, Calif., on Monday to interview for a gig) or housing uncertainty or this cloud of general "what are you doing?" It's that I spent the past two days reading a lot.

I read an entire book, a fiction work called "Raymond + Hannah" by Stephen Marche. It was his first work and Heather gave it to me eons ago. I started reading it many moons ago, but didn't get but 30 pages in before putting it down. So I started over at the beginning and read the whole thing this evening at SoHo. All in all, I spent about 7 hours at SoHo today. Ridiculous? Perhaps. I enjoyed some blueberry and then some peach iced tea and I'm pretty sure the guy behind the counter thought I was crazy. I spent some time on Hebrew, going over some of the grammar rules. I also picked up the modern Hebrew CDs I had on reserve at the library (one of those "learn modern Hebrew in 8 easy lessons!" kind of things. We'll see how it goes.).

But then, then there was the reading on the meaning of olam and olamim in the Tanakh, not to mention reading up in Shaye J.D. Cohen's "The Beginnings of Jewishness" on when the whole idea of "conversion" was a normal thing. But one thing at a time, here. Here's the MEAT:

Olam: Part I
So I started off on the premise of irritation that the word olam once meant "eternity" and now means merely "world" as is popularized in the phrase tikkun olam, or "repair of the world." A friend presented me with the argument that there was never a point at which olam meant "eternity" and only that. Thus, I set off to learn a bit beyond what I learned in biblical Hebrew, which was that olam translated as "eternity" and that was that.

I read several documents, but focused mostly on a series of papers or chapters found here. I'll start by saying that my understanding of olam (I'm going to stop italicizing it because it's irritating) has changed, but has subsequently raised a lot of questions. However, I'm still without an answer on how the word came to represent "world" in our modern construct. I can't seem to find any explanation for how it, in my opinion, devolved into such a limited word.

First, we must acknowledge as fact that the word "eternal" means without end or beginning, as in, infite and always existing without placement of creation or finalization.
Second, we must acknowledge as fact that the word olam's root is "alam," which means "to hide" or "to obscure." It also can mean "to keep secret."
Thirdly, we must acknowledge as fact (for those of you who ascribe to Judaism/Christianity/Islam/Etc.) that the only eternal being/thing/person/etc. is G-d.
Fourthly, we must acknowledge that there are 448 instances of olam and its plural olamim in the Torah (or Old Testament) and that the meaning of the words are never explained in detail and all analysis come from contextual understanding and comparing passages that have similar attributes. One instance stands out from all others, and that is the instance of Jonah 2:6, which describes Jonah's time in the whale as "olam," though the writer also says it was three days. Thus, it can be assumed that olam must maintain a definition of obscurity.

Now, the first instance of olam in Torah is in Genesis 3:22, which talks of eating of the tree of life and living "le-olam." Now, this can't possibly mean "eternally" or "for eternity, mostly because it has a beginning -- we know that once you eat from the tree, something happens, thus there is a beginning with no defined end. The passage and common appearance of "le-olam" often is translated in instances like this as "for ever" ... but logic will note that "for ever" isn't really possible. The idea of forever is nice, but in reality, "le-olam" most likely would translate as "a really long time." Additionally, after the flood, it is said that there was now a "berit olam," or eternal convenant, as translations go. This also can't possibly mean eternal, as it has a beginning and just lacks a definite end.

But a question: In Gen. 13:15, G-d says "For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed" le-olam ( translation). Now, this also is not eternal and the translation actually says "to thy seed for ever." But as we've already discussed, there is a beginning and thus, "for ever" or "eternally" just don't cut it. But if we assume that the meaning of olam is that of an undetermined end with a defined beginning, then how do we know when we (Jews, the "seeded" as it were) are done having the land? Of course scholars assume it is at the end of days, but what if it isn't? Hrm? Really this passage says G-d is giving Avram and his seed the land for a "really, really long undeterminable amount of time." What if the land IS no longer ours? Is this radical? Sure, of course it is.

But olam -- for all practical, researched purposes -- doesn't mean forever, it doesn't mean for all time, it means "a hidden, obscure, undeterminable amount of time." Also for practical purposes, becuase the singular means so nebulous and undeterminable, olamim can best be understood as "ages" ... becuase "eternities" would be ridiculous and "forevers" also is ridiculous. "Ages" in this instance would best work as ... an example such as "It took her ages to try on the boots."

Now, as I'm writing this ... I'm reminded of something. Freshman year of college I saw the movie "Stigmata" and the two people I saw it with absolutely hated it, and I loved it. It was suggested by some random guy in the movie store who was there with his wife. He just walked up to me and said "you should really watch this" and I did. The main thing I got out of the movie was that G-d is in all things. Hashem is, in essence, everpresent in all things we do and see. I remember it changed my perspective of the type of G-d I believed in, and now that I think about this, I wonder ... if there is so much "le-olam" in Torah, what IF when it says that we "shall dwell in the land le-olam" it means very much that we shall dwell in the land of the eternal, who is eternal, thus it is for all eternity. Such that, we have always dwelled in the land, in a metaphysical sense, I guess.

To be more clear: HaShem is within everything, and the eternal nature of HaShem means that all is eternal. Ooo. Crazy, radical and needing more thought. That also would raise the question, though ... if that is so, and all is without beginning or end, then the whole creation story would be pretty bunk. I've got to think on this.

Thus, stay tuned for Olam: Part II, which hopefully will address WHY it is that we translate "olam" as such a tangible term as "world" that, while I understand can be more nebulous and all-encompassing than I give people credit for, often is used to mean "let's clean up the forest and solve starvation!" If I were to translate "tikkun olam" ... I would translate it as "changing the course of life" as we know it. I don't know that it's so much repairing as it is "changing." But that also would have more to do with the meaning of "tikkun." Oooo .. so much!

But that's just me. Lilah tov!

Monday, August 7, 2006

I've been tagged! (the book meme)

Tagged by RubyBeth.

1. One book that changed your life?

"A Problem from Hell" by Samantha Power. I talk about it all the time, but I really can't express how much the book changed me and gave me a new perspective on so much.

2. One book you have read more than once?

"The Catcher in the Rye." I read it probably three or four times in high school, the first time on my own and subsequent rereads were for class assignments and in-depth analyses of Mr. Salinger and Holden Caulfield.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

The Talmud. Then again, it's more a "collection" of books these days. I'd say Torah, but if I had the Talmud, hell, I could read forever.

4. One book that made you laugh?

"Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut. Then again, all his books made me laugh ... except "Player Piano," which sort of made me tilt my head and say "hrm?"

5. One book that made you cry?

Okay, I know I'm going to get some funny looks here, but "The Five People you Meet in Heaven." The reasons are multiple and include the fact that my friend Sunny gave it to me after we'd spent a summer doing NSE together and had become quite close. Though my concept of Heaven is still "in the works" and is rather nebulous and ill defined ... the book resonated in a lot of ways. And thus, I sat at the Coffee House crying on a few occassions.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Wait. This question makes no sense. Unless I'm supposed to make up a book. Like ... I wish there had been a book called "You Can't Take Shadows to Bed With You" all about not getting involved with people who you can never have? Most book topics I'm interested in have been written. And the books that haven't been written? I'll write them someday.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." Is it blasphemy? Well, if it is than whoever you are, you are a pretentious jerk. This book was recommended to me by an ex and quite frankly, I wanted to spoon my eyeballs out about a 1/2 the way through it. So I stopped reading it. Talk about self-gratifying crap.

8. One book you are currently reading?

There's several I've started reading, and yet, have stopped for lack of interest. So I'm taking some books to the used book store tomorrow because I need them not! Thus, I can't really say I'm currently reading anything ... I am, however, reading about 7 chapters of a book on eternity and time in the Torah ... more specifically, chapters on the meaning of "olam" and "olamim." Never fear -- they'll be an entry on this very, very soon.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

"The Ascent of Eli Israel and Other Stories" ... ever since I saw the review in the Post's Book World ... I've wanted to read it.

10. Tag five people.
Christy, Andrew, BVK, JCo, Patty McPatPat

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Barcelona, 1263

"When the lion invites the mouse to a disputation, your majesty, the mouse, however fond he may be of arguing, would do well to avoid the disputation if he can; for the poor mouse does not know which to fear most: losing the argument or winning it." -- Rabbi Moses ben Nachman

I can't go through the day without bringing attention to an historic event on this day that is key to the history of the Jews in Spain. The event? The Disputation of Barcelona in 1263. The disputation was called by order of King James I of Aragon and involved Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman) and a Jewish convert to Christianity, Pablo Christiani. The disputation sort of "set the stage" for future disputations, though perhaps the most well known disputation was that of Paris in 1240 that involved the Talmud and resulted in the burning of the Talmud.

The dispute included some absolutely astounding moments and is well recorded and even appears in a movie starting Christopher Lee (which I've seen). The rabbi ended up winning the argument (this is the widespread belief, though some Latin texts refute this) with Pablo Christiani, and because of this, was exiled to the country. The funny thing about it is that the King actually had the utmost respect for Nachmanides and didn't really want to exile him, but because of his religion and pressure from the church, he had to. Nachmanides settled and built a shul and died in 1270.

Christiani inspired the debate by going to the King to complain about having problems getting Jews to convert to Christianity. In the debate the Rabbi radically suggested that the difference between Judaism and Christianity was about more than the Messiah. The two detailed discussions were about the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 and whether it describes Jesus and whether in Talmud there's a difference between the messiah being born and the messiah arriving. Christiani was fond of saying the Rabbi was being blasphemous, and the fate of the Jewish people was at hand ... putting a lot of pressure on the rabbi.

I have a paper on this somewhere. I discussed the detailed discussion. Perhaps I'll dig it up later and see what kind of damage I can do. It really was an amazingly intense debate. I have to give a hand to the Rabbi because he did an astounding job and made some suprisingly forward points.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Kosher Deli? Not quite.

Whatever you do, don't click here and read the article. Yes, it's by some idiot blogger who thinks he knows what he's talking about. But by the time I got to "Jews are slow to anger. They were too slow in Germany in the 1930's. Having learned their lesson, they react to atrocities a bit faster in the present decade" I was about ready to lose it. The guy suggests, boldly, that had the Jews been a people more quick to anger, maybe they wouldn't have let themselves be gassed and thrown in the ovens. Brilliant, man. Just brilliant. This coming from a guy who wants to "clear up" things for the world about what Jews are and what they aren't. My day was going so well until this guy came along. Sigh.

[EDIT:] OK, after posting this I had to say something else. It wasn't about Jews being slow to anger during the 30s and 40s. What did they have to be angry about initially? Nothing. New leaders come and go. Anti-Jewishness isn't new. When they started moving Jews into ghettos and shipping them off to camps, perhaps they had a reason to worry, but to be angry? I don't know. When Jews were being gassed and burned in ovens, Jews did get angry. There were uprisings. There were escape plans. There were fighters. There was resistance. But pure anger is not what was the driving force, was it? Was it not the desire to life? A thirst for life? And even still, had the Jews been furiously enraged in the 30s when forced to wear armbands, what would it have done? The world ignored the Jews when they were being gassed, who's to say they would have been ignored when expressing anger at their sufferings? This man is a moron. And I am frustrated. I'll stop now.

I went to shul this morning. It was the first time I've been in about a month, and though it was difficult to haul my arse out of bed this morning, I'm incredibly glad I did. I met up with four other women from a GLBT group at Temple Micah on Wisconsin (though we didn't meet up until after the services) and interestingly the sermon was about GLBT rights. The Torah service made me long for B'nai Jeshurun back home, Elaine's voice and Rabbi Emanuel's ridiculous connections to Star Trek and other Sci Fi treasures. I missed Oneg and little Ben and meeting up with my friends at shul. But I also felt calm and at ease. After Tisha B'av on Thursday and thinking over how the Temple continued to burn well into the 10th of Av, I needed lightness. How perfect a Torah service than reading the section that gives us the Sh'ma -- the words I recite every morning and evening when rising up and laying down. It's the first thing I intend on teaching my children someday. Singing it to them as they fall asleep. It talks of G-d's oneness, and it echoes in my mind all day. The light coming in the windows and listening to the chanting this morning did me well. Very well.

After shul the Jewbians and I went to a deli up on Wisconsin that used to be called "K's New York Deli" and then changed its name and now it's Krupin's Deli (a guy named Morty runs it). It was a busy place and they put pickles on the table in this little tin bowls. The decor is tacky and it feels like you're in Skokie or New York. I passed up cold cuts for a turkey burger and slaw and we all ordered dessert, three of us having poppy seed hamantaschen. Do you know how weird it is to have hamantaschen not on Purim? Very. But it made me think of Alex and his wildly original hamantaschen. This place had knishes, matzo ball soup, Kosher hot dogs, macaroons, kugel ... and ... BLTs. Weird. I definitely plan on going back.

So my resolve now is to do some more shul shopping. I think I may take up a seat in some of the conservative shuls in the area and see what happens. It was interesting to hear the women -- all raised conservative -- talk about Reform services. I'd always had my sentiments about Reform services, but I think in Lincoln we had a good balance and lots of dedicated folks. Right now, though, my concern rests in having a place to go for high holy days ... especially since this is a "reserve a ticket" kind of town -- something very, very foreign to the girl whose shul had problems filling all the seats.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

What's it really about, then?

Speak now, or forever hold your matzo balls.

I can't not say something. After fasting for a little more than 24 hours and reading Eicha and listening to it be chanted via the vast tubes of the Interweb, how can I not say something about Guy Oren's column on Ynetnews? His approach to Tisha B'av for secular Jews is frustrating and makes me wonder why he's so adament on creating two ways to celebrate -- one for observant Jews and one for secular Jews. But not only that, but his ignorance and narrow-mindedness are astounding.

Oren argues that the day of mourning and the weeks leading up to it mean nothing to the modern secular Jew and that it should be held in the esteem of a day where we celebrate -- not mourn -- the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Oren says that the destruction was a sign of the end of priestly dominance and opression of the Jewish people and the birth of forward-thinking Judaism. But wait! With the end of priestly Judaism was the birth of rabbinic Judaism, and we can be smiles and hugs all we want about the righteousness of our rabbis, but was there not rabbinic dominance in Judaism? Rabbis became the final say on topics and in some places their power was disgustingly oppresive. No religious authority is perfect, though.

Oren says, "The 2,000-year hope to spend next year in rebuilt Jerusalem has been realized. Almost any Jew can exercise his right to live in Jerusalem." Who is this guy kidding? If every Jew in the world were to pack up and head to Jerusalem and set up shop ... boy ... all hell would break loose, no? We live in a time when "Who is a Jew?" dominates Jewish society in Israel and abroad, not to mention the occupation of Hezbollah and Hamas in Jerusalem and all of Israel. Jerusalem is not rebuilt, the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt and Oren is naive.

Furthermore, he suggests that we need to
"free ourselves from the skewed, perverted vision of restoring the temple." Perverted vision? Excuse me? I understand Oren is secular, and I understand that perhaps the role of the Temple in Oren's life is little less than an archaic vision of animal sacrifices and a close-minded people in control by the kohenim. But his vision of the Temple is awfully screwed up.

Perhaps the most inflammatory remark Oren makes is that "
The messages of Tisha B'av are irrelevant for secular Jews." There are Jews. Jews are Jews. Secular or not, you are a Jew. I'm a Jew, Jesus was a Jew, David was a Jew, Woody Allen is a Jew, Kirk Douglas is a Jew, Jon Stewart is a Jew. Oren says, "Secular Jews must not ignore this message and leave Judaism to the religious." But Jewish holidays should be relevent for all Jews, no matter how religious or secular you are. Tisha B'av is a day to mark all events that have caused a major blow to the Jewish people's livelihood and threatened our existence -- the declaration of the Crusades, the destructions of the Temples, the destruction of the Talmud in a public space, the First World War, expulsions. It isn't just about religion, it's about the people and the history and the furthering of the existence of Jewishness.

I can't help -- when secular Jews and ultra-orthodox jews claim that they are more or less righteous or religious than everyone else -- but think that when they come for us, they come for us. They don't come for Secular Jew or Reform Jew or Orthodox Jew or Reconstructionist Jew or Jew turned Christian ... they come for the Jews. It's haunting, but it's true. And it is a truth for all peoples. So damnit, quit trying to create a divide when there is already so much already.

Thus, my conclusion on the finality of Tisha B'av 5766? I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and tikkun olam in my bones. Wouldn't the world be an entirely better place if all peoples spent one day fasting and reflecting on the destruction and desolation of the oppressed? There's so much, and it's easy to ignore it as we go about the daily grind. But if everyone stopped for 24 hours and reflected on the death, hunger, oppression, abuse ... I think it would be startling and changing.

But what do I know? I'm a Jew from Nebraska who grew up in the Ozarks and went to a Midwestern liberal arts school for a journalism degree that I don't necessarily want anymore. I'm jealous of my friends in far-away countries who are gritting their teeth every day and bathing in nothing but blistering heat. I can edit the copy and clean it up all I want, but can't I argue grammar while doing something that will effect tikkun olam?

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Anything is possible.

8:18 begins Tisha B'av, a fast, mourning and this amid a new ground force in Lebanon. Because of this, I've chosen not to watch CNN or MSNBC. There can only be so much, and I'll mourn for it all, but I'd prefer not to see the strikes and the same dark, cloudy footage over and over again. The thing is, while reading the paper today, I focused more on Mr. Gibson. I focused on the reaction of Jewish leaders to his "second" apology and desire to speak with Jewish community leaders. Many obliged and said that after he finishes rehab, they'll speak with him. And I?

I say Mel Gibson is and has been an anti-Semite and will remain so. There's no need to forgive or not to forgive, it's who he is, and if he wants to sound off about the Jews -- drunk or not -- then people need to understand him for what he is. People also need to understand that him saying "I meant none of the things I said" is bullshit. And that, is that.

I realized that I'm in the middle of a bounty of books right now. Among those are:
  • The Bone Woman
  • Born to Kvetch
  • The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
And now ... I've also started "Yes, but is it good for the Jews?" by Jonny Geller. Why? Well, I went to this used bookstore next to SoHo today that I hadn't realized was there. At this bookstore I procured the aforementioned book, a Tae Bo video and a book on learning Modern Hebrew. Why? Because I have a problem. An addiction. To books. I can't help it. It happens. The best thing about the "Yes, but ..." book is that it's an advance reading copy, which means errors are possible. The best one? In a section about the National Spelling Bee, "spelling" is spelled wrong. Delightful. I'm also excited that I can say a few things in Modern Hebrew (the basic: yes, no, how are you, thank you, are you ...?").

In other news: I've got three papers on the burner, and can't quite decide what to do and where to go with them. It'd be so easy to just stay where I am. I don't really WANT to live in California or in a small town with less than 10,000 people. But ...

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

How far have we come?

I can't help but borrow from McSweeney's. This is vastly interesting. I need to think on it for a while, but surely I'll have something to offer. Interesting, isn't it? The left, of course, is Beirut in shambles. The right is the movie poster for a true story about a musician who survived the Holocaust by hiding away and eventually hiding in the shambles of the Warsaw Ghetto. It's grossly haunting.