Monday, October 23, 2006

yes, my grammar is....well lets call it awful.

This morning my brother in-law sent me an email saying that I am surely on my way to making aliyah because my grammar is strongly reflecting that of an Israeli. In my own defense, and embarrasment I have ALWAYS sucked at grammar (I'll throw spelling in as well). Just ask Mrs. Kronisch, my high-school English teacher.

In addition to apologizing for my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, grammar; I also want to apologize that my verbal rantings may not sound at all logical to you. But I figure you are all more interested in the photos anyways, so thanks for trudging along. It makes sense up top to me, and i suppose for the time being and because of the limits of my linguistic articulation, it will have to do.

This morning we celebrated our second day of Rosh Chodesh Chesvan. It truly was a day of celebration. There were long silver trumpets blown, songs sung, and bagels eaten. We also celebrated the finalization of the conversion of one of my classmates. He spoke about what the journey has meant to him and how he finally feels like he 'has come home'. All of our connections to our religions differ. It is our individuality that makes us who we are. I will forever be envious of someone who makes such a choice. I am Jewish because I was born Jewish. It is how I define myself, but it is not something I actively choice. I see beauty in it and want to continue to live my life in it, but I will never see it in the same light as one who opts into it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Another weekend has passed. And within it we read the first Torah portion-Bereishit (In the Beginning) restarting the cycle. We are also in the process of celebrating Rosh Chodesh (The new moon cycle). I am in the process of rethinking my own relationship to Judaism from it's beginning, its formalization, and where it stands today.

The air is getting brisker, almost time to pull out the orange puffer! I spent Shabbat with my friend Beth Meshel at Brigette and Jon Raven's home in Nave Daniel. They have 2 beautiful children named Boaz and Moriah. Boaz may be the cutest boy alive--until my new neice/nephew arrives, ofcourse. I thought I would share some photos (for more check out the link to the left of the page!):

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I Take It Back

The lack of quality public leaders who inspire me and make me want to subscribe to their cause is something that has been troubling me ever since my trip to El Salvador this past March. A couple of days ago I blogged about the concepts of Darcei Shalom and how wonderful I thought the Mishnas surrounding those ideas are. I still like the Mishnas, but I am deeply disturbed with the Men that wrote them. Why? Because of comments they made about the 'Am HaAretz', the non-scholarly Jews who were living during the time period. Such vulgar and descriptive stereotypes that I will not waste my time writing. How is it that such Men could also be the authors of our Halachic law, the framework on how we as Jews are suppose to live our lives?? How am I able to subscribe to such a system when I feel so disgusted with their words on relationships with those outside the Talmudic community? They are arrogant, they are pretentious--yes they are Human, I hold leaders to a higher standard. They are setting the example. The Gemara itself event mentions this in different circumstances, so how does it not apply here?? I know I have also writen about contradictory opinions and how great it is that there are a variety of voices. BUT the difference for me is that one is commentary and in this case its law. Just as I frown at the actions of Moshe Katsav, I frown at their words. And just as bad leaders make me lose faith in a system, I am losing faith in the Halachic framework.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sugar High

I left school today feeling pumped. Started the day off with Tractate Gittin, a tractate that deals with issues of divorce within Jewish law. But what is interesting is that in Chapter five the final 2 Mishnas discuss issues of Darcei Shalom, Ways of Peace. We discussed how different social laws were constructed and how they were done so for the sake of Darcei Shalom. Among them, establishing the rule that when we read the Torah there should be a set order for getting an Aliyah, or coming to read. First the Cohen, then Levi, and then any Israelite. Why was it necessary to create such laws? One can assume that such laws were created because there was not Peace and on the contrary there was much fighting going on. I won't get into all the different examples (They are Mishnas Chet and Tet for those of you who want to look it up) but what was interesting is how diverse they were and how it was necessary to create some sort of social status to remove infighting. One more example I will share is that of a wife of a scholar may lend instruments to a woman of the land who has transgressed the laws of the Shmitah year (sabbatical year- every 7 years- to restore a balance between the wealthy and poor as well as the earth) by retaining fruit she was supposed to give up to a communal pot. Although the scholarly wife may know that this other woman will use the tools to further the transgression, if asked she may lend them however she cannot partake in the act itself for the sake of Darcei Shalom. Could you imagine if this became a social standard of today?? Instead of Haredim throwing stones at cars and yelling SHABBOS!! to Chilonim on Shabbat, that if a Chiloni man was to ask a Haredi man for directions while in the front seat of his car the Haredi man will assist him?? Although we have not yet learned it we were told that this chapter is linked with a chapter on Tikun Olam (repairing the world). The interesting question is what are these two chapters: Darcei Shalom and Tikun Olam doing in the middle of a Tractate on divorce law??? Interesting indeed...

The school day ended with the concept of "Agreed Reality" and how we interpret text. Similar to a previous entry, my mind was expanded by this teacher named Daniel Roth. We continued to talk about the idea of Mediative Parshanut and study. That we as student should study the full spectrum of text and commentators. We do not have to pick a side like the Classic commentators do (i.e. Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, etc...). On the contrary, we should open our minds to the idea that multiple and contradictory truths can exist. When there are gaps that remain in a story, thats okay. When we try to fill them in we destroy the ambiguity (sp??) that exists for our minds to wonder. We should be promoting education towards complexity. For there are only 2 kinds of people who say that "x" Pashat (textual words of the Torah) is true: 1. Academics 2. Fundamentalists. If we remove the ambiguity we limit it. I asked him after class if this idea only relates to the Parshanut (the commentators) and the Rabbi's commentary. OR if it can also apply to the text itself. We got into this long conversation (that I look forward to continuing) and it ended with what I will coin as my big questions of the year: WHY MUST THE CONVERSATION END?? WHY ARE WE LIMITED TO THE THOUGHTS AND UNDERSTANDINGS OF A GENERATION NOT OUR OWNN? IS THERE ROOM FOR NEW UNDERSTANDING AND PRACTICE SET ON THE PRECEDENT OF THE PAST BUT APPLICABLE TO THE PRESENT??. I am sick of the answer because that is the way it was always done and we need to uphold it. Time, places, generations, community participants, global environment etc... is always changing and have always changed. So why aren't we?? There was no 'this was how it was done' since 'this' was evolving...

I capped off the day with a trip to the waffle bar with the roomates, Shesh Jabotinsky (i.e. Molly and Jessy ) and Eric. My maple nut butter waffle was AMAZING, but it's sugar high aftermath is why i am writing so much, so late. Lets hope one cup of coffee in the morning is enough...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oy! Moshe Katsav...

Okay, okay it didn't rain on my walk to school this morning. In fact it was quite a lovely start to the morning. I woke up early, packed my lunch, made some breakfast and enjoyed a cup of coffee while surfing various internet news sites. What was the headline on each and every one of them (with the exception of the drudgereport)?? Israeli President Moshe Katsav to be charged with rape. What follows as you read the article? That the defense minister underwent sexual harasment charges, there are embezelment charges in half a dozen departments and that the Prime Minister is linked to numberous cases of nepatism among other things. Way to go Israel! Yes, each country has their own issues. You may ask if Israel should be held to higher standards. My opinion? In the case of our leadership, absolutely.

The first day back went well. It picked up slowly and by the afternoon I was glad to be back. More good conversations about if the halachic conversation is shut and if our generation is limited to the codification of another and what that means about our lifestyle today.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I Miss East Coast Autumns...

A week ago I was sitting on the beach, today we had the first rain in Jerusalem. Yes, its kinda cool that we just switched the words in our prayers from the prayer for dew to the prayer of rain yesterday and it rained today...blah..blah..blah. But I'm cold, and I have to walk to school in the rain. There are no beautiful trees turning red and gold, crunchy maple leaves beneath your feet...just rain. We start classes again in the morning. I am excited to get back into a groove, but could use another week of vacation - with no rain.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sukkot/Hoshana Rabba

Today is the final evening of Sukkot which not only means an end to the holiday, but an end to my vacation as well. The time was well deserved, and well spent. Well rested? I hope to use the next couple of days for that one. I went to Netanya, a coastal town north of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Sea. The beach there is beautiful with soft sand and clear water. You can stand in the waves up to your waist and still sea the tops of your feet! It was good to get away, and it was a good group of people who came as well. In general it takes time to get to know people as more than just people but as friends. For me I think it has taken up until the last couple of weeks to get to that point. It's nice to go into this next leg of the school year with that area of my life being settled. Here are a couple of photos from the trip:

came back to Jerusalem yesterday afternoon with Tasman. We met up with Molly for dinner and then headed to a cultural fair in Bell park. There was celtic music and a drum cirlce--if you know me you know I was beyond excited.

I woke up a bit too early this morning but headed to the shuk instead of falling back asleep. It was amazing that it was so quiet at 8:30am yet only minutes later it was packed and hustling.

Tonight I went to a Hoshana Rabba evening in the Sukkah, a first for me. There was meditation, singing, and a pot luck. I was also invited to speak and so I thought I would share the words with you (these are my rough notes so I apologize if the thoughts seem scattered):

Hoshana Rabba “The Great Salvation”

--a day where the final verdict is made. It is written on RH, sealed on YK but this day is when it is made.

--Day where acc. To the Zohar, “ This is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King. Zohar III, 31b-32a; II, 132a

Water is the element that sustains us. It is what will allow us to survive. For me the entire Holiday of Sukkot is one where we expose ourselves to the vulnerability of life. We create these fragile, temporary dwellings and can be subject to wind, rain, hail, lack of privacy, etc… For me this fragility reminds me of 2 things:

1.First, it’s a traditional tie to our heritage. Avraham Infeld, former president of Hillel International, has a very famous speech. It is in this speech that he asks the question what is the Hebrew word for history?? Historia? Why? Because the Jewish people don’t have a Jewish history, we have a Jewish Memory- L’zocher. In order to know who we are we must know where we came from. It is on this holiday where we remember from where we came. Not just the people, but the physical journey. A people, living tribally, being exposed to the unknown and living a life entirely based on faith. Not knowing what may happen from one day to the next, the people of Israel exposed themselves not only physically but spiritually as well.

The second thing that comes to mind is how we continue to expose ourselves, particularly in the physical sense, on this holiday. We build sukkot, some more sturdy than others, more lavish than others, etc… And each night we invite in a guest of honor. Our Ushpizin. Tonight we invite the last of the Ushpizin, David HaMelech. The greatest king of Israel. He is the last of a long line of prestigious. It is only during one other holiday of year that we call in guests to our tables. On Passover we read aloud “He who is hungry let him come and eat”. Each year you may discuss how genuine this invitation is. Do you open the door and shout it in the streets? Do you make a public declaration? Do you just read it aloud in your Hagaddah? And on this holiday we call out to our guests, in our sukkot with no sealed roofs. Our shouts are most likely overheard by neighbors or passerbys. In our fragile huts… When we are cold and wet, we may be one step closer to understanding the day to day lives of those who do not have the comforts we may take for granted. Heat, a roof, walls, etc…

I think it is food for thought of why we invite the most prestigious guests of our heritage to our table in a situation vulnerability and why we invite those in need when we are celebrating our freedom? Should they be reversed? Is it a balance that should be maintained?

There is also a custom on Hoshana Rabba to greet friends with the Aramaic saying “piska tova”, a good note. The idea is that this day of our judgments being handed down should be good notes.

On the last day of the Holiday of Sukkot I would like you each to take a few moments and think of a couple of good notes. Think about your own lives, this holiday, vulnerability of the physical, and vulnerability of the spiritual. If you could write yourself a ‘piska tova’ for this next year what would it say? If you could write one for another, who comes to mind? What would that say? I would like to take a few moments and ask that if you feel comfortable share these thoughts with the person sitting next to you. What may you wish for them?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Quick Updates

Trip Up North
I spent three days last week with 30 other Pardes students doing volunteer work and a bit of touring in the North. We cleaned bomb shelters and picked up garbage in Kiryat Shimona, saw a bombed out house and some burnt forest. We also visited the Hula valley, Katzrin, went kayaking on the Jordan river, and visited Tsfat. It was good to get out of Jerusalem and gave me an opportunity to get to know some folks better.

Marni's Party
We arrived back to town Thursday evening. A few hours later we were celebrating the birthday of a classmate. The party resulted in an after party at some sketchy Israeli club that left us dancing until 2:30 in the morning. Which then resulted in a Friday morning hangover, good times...

The festival of booths is upon us and I forgot how cool it is to spend it here in Israel. There are sukkot built everywhere. I spent the first evening at a classmate's brother's house who's sukkah was built on the roof. All 15 of us climbed a narrow fire escape, hoisted up the food and ate Bedouin style on carpets and pillows. An experience to say the least. First day lunch I was at a teacher's home with 3 other Pardesniks. AMAZING food, good company and conversation. It is nice to get to know the faculty more outside of the classroom. In the afternoon Tasman and I headed over to Gary's and were hanging out for a bit in the sukkah on the mirpeset (balcony). Lots of sukkah time. I am heading this afternoon for lunch to new friend's Jenny and Max's home. Tomorrow we are off to the beach for a few days before the weather turns cold and we are back in classes.

Apparently no matter where I go I am destined to bump into someone. I saw Aryeh Abramowitz floating down the Jordan river, a shopkeeper from the UMD Israel shuk in Tsfat, Gary and Gail Cantor and the Geller family on the streets of Jerusalem.

Monday, October 02, 2006


About three hours ago Yom Kippur ended. It got me thinking a lot about preparation. For the last month the focus of my studies has been to 'prepare' me for the Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe) Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur. I guess the question I have walking out is did it make a difference? Did all this prep work guide me in some way to have an experience I would not have had otherwise??

I think that in many ways each event we participate in prepares us in some way. Maybe the intent is not to gear us up for something big, but aren't we always preparing for what is next?

(I have included a lot of visuals, because lets be honest they make blog reading much more fun!)

Sure some are more mundane events than others. For example:
Here is Jack 'preparing' the delicious meal he made for us last week, and the Sarah's 'preparing' to pass out after being thoroughly fed well:

Others are more intentional forms of preparation. Here is Bassin sewing some final touches on the Talit (prayer shawl) she made for the High Holidays:

My friend Jeremy also held a milestone party. Marking how far he had come in a specific aspect of his life. In a way that is what the High Holidays are all about, reflection and noting where you are in life. It also makes us take time out to think about where we are going. I was really touched to be there and it made me take a moment to think if I have anything in my life that I am that proud to mark on occasion. Why is it we only leave 'special occasions' to birthdays and for some anniversaries? Maybe we should all find something we are proud of to share with others. Here is a photo of Jeremy and I:

This past weekend friends and I went to witness a preparation ritual specifically for Yom Kippur. Known as Kaparot (or Kaparos) the idea is that you swing a chicken around your head while saying a blessing transferring your sins onto the chicken. The chicken is then killed and donated to a needy family for food. The idea is not that the chicken becomes your 'scapegoat' but that if you were to be written in bad standing with God based on your judgement thus far the chicken's death should be in stead of yours and that you should gain merit by donating it to the poor. (i think...) In any case we went with the intent of participating in the ritual, got up there and after witnessing it all decided not to. Watching the birds get schechted (killed according to Jewish ritual) right in front of us was a bit to much for me. Although it was an experience I will not forget and may never see again. Here are Jay and Daniela preparing to go into Mea Shearim (an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood where the Kaparot were taking place). In order to make it appropriate for Jay to be walking with 3 girls Daniela put on a head scarf to imply they were a married couple:

When we were there I didn't think it was appropriate for me to take a photo. But I tried to find one that best represented what we saw. I couldn't really, but this one comes closest:

As a most appropriate after Kaparot event we headed over to meet friends at Egon hookah bar. Okay, not YK prep but definately needed after the chicken swinging:

Looking back on these events and then Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I do still wonder about how much the preparation did really affect me. Overall I would say that my RH experience highly outweighed my YK experience. The only factors I can attribute to that are environment, weather and health. Its amazing how much a screaming child can ruin your silent prayer/meditation. I think overall though it was helpful to take time out and 'prepare' both intentionally through classes and meditation and unintentionally through everyday actions. I hope that you all had wonderful holidays.

Speaking of preparation, I am off tomorrow for a 3 day volunteer trip up north with MASA and I haven't yet packed... will let you know how it goes!