|January 08, 2012||Week 18: True Piety||no comments|
|December 31, 2011||Week 17: Chanuka||no comments|
|December 24, 2011||Week 16: "Emotional Education"||no comments|
|December 20, 2011||Week 15: Exoduses||1 comments|
|December 09, 2011||Week 14: Things I Love About Israel||no comments|
|December 02, 2011||Week 13: Something New and Different||no comments|
|November 25, 2011||Week 12: The Negev Tiyyul||no comments|
|November 21, 2011||MOVEMBER WEEK 3 UPDATE||no comments|
|November 16, 2011||Week 11: Bubbie||no comments|
|November 11, 2011||Week 10: The Other (i.e. Your Brother)||2 comments|
After getting over Hevron, the subject on everyone's minds and lips all last week was the craziness in Beit Shemesh. I was going to write this blog post with a lot of complaints about how more people aren't speaking out against this behavior, but since I could have attended the protest and did not, maybe I'm just as bad. There are few things worse than being a hypocrite, after all.
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I didn't go, since I now realize I had it all wrong before. My epiphany came Sunday morning when I stood at Pardes and read about the protests the night before in the holy Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim where the residents dressed themselves and their children up as Holocaust victims to draw attention to and take a bold stand against the increasing senseless animosity displayed against them, their holy brothers in Beit Shemesh, and their Authentically Torah-True® way of life by the hands the evil Zionist majority of Israel Eretz Yisroel. One quote in particular, by American yeshiva student Salomon Hoberman, hit me like a lightening bolt through the brain, changing my life forever: '“It’s like how it started with the Nazis – very slowly,” [he said] defending the use of the yellow stars. “They’re separating us from the Jewish people because we’re following the way of the Torah. They hate us because we’re going the Jewish way.
“And there’s only one Jewish way.”'
Reading this line as I did while standing in the halls of Pardes, made its truth, its emes, even more obvious. I realized right then and there that the only reason I—with my Western miseducation and the false anti-Torah values it emphasizes—used to think that tact, respect, and decency were part of Judaism is because what I was learning was not Judaism, but something else. In that moment it further became clear how I was wasting my time at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Shondes learning different opinions and calling all of them Judaism even when they so obviously contradict each other when I could instead just cut through all the touchy-feely nonsense and study Authentic Torah at a real yeshiva from real Jews like the type Reb Hoberman learns from and get the correct Torah-True® answer on every issue every time. I'm ashamed of myself now for having spent so much time practicing and learning a false religion, but what else besides touchy-feely nonsense should I have expected from a yeshiva that allows and even (G-d have mercy on us) hires w----n (you know what I mean. As a “healthy” man like the one in the video linked to above, I don't even want to write that word! An arrow in your eye, Satan!) No wonder the real Jews make sure they are kept far out of sight—by force if necessary—while studying holy true words of Torah, which of course we, as the last remaining guardians of the true Torah, do all day every day. Thinking Torah has anything to do with personality and feelings, G-d forgive me, what was I thinking?!
I'm embarrassed to report, however, that I didn't at that moment pack all my bags and run from a place of idolatry to a place of Torah as the Sages command to us do. No, in my weakness, I stayed the rest of the week, but, as Jews say, gam zu l'tova, though something seems “bad” on the outside, this too, is ultimately for the good, since it made me see just how heretical and how anti-Torah Pardes really is. Take the so-called siyum I attended in the “Social Justice” class Tuesday afternoon. It was an outrage! Even worse than their false assumption that Torah and social justice even have anything to do with each other, was their chutzpadik assumption that social justice gives you license to hate the Torah—they went around and spoke about how they think they know better than the Torah and the Sages when it comes to such issues as minority rights, workers' rights, w----n's roles in Judaism, Jewish obligations to the poor, homosexuals the toeva community, and environmental issues. They did this by reviewing texts showing the multiplicity of views in the Jewish Tradition about these issues and spoke of the importance of maintaining an honest dialogue with all the texts, those you are proud of and those you are not, to carry the Jewish tradition of wrestling with these issues into the future. They then blessed each other that they may continue to be Jewishly empowered to treat all people as being made in the Divine Image to continue to live as agents of G-dly change in the world.
I know, I wanted to barf (on them) too. I don't mean to say there aren't any pressing social issues facing the Yidden, of course there are lots of them—the un-male gender getting too much education, the un-male gender dressing immodestly, public busses not being gender-segregated, and anti-Semitic persecution by the Zionist regime, and of course these fakers utterly ignored them to waste their time instead on gays and goys! I wanted to scream “Judaism isn't complicated, stop wasting your time on sinners and gentiles and just do things the one correct Authentic Torah-True® way! If a text seems to contradict that, it's obviously just because you don't understand the Tradition properly and you need to find a rebbe who will be willing to reeducate you." I pity them.
But wait, it gets worse. Wednesday night, Dr. James Kugel came to Pardes to give the first of four lectures in a series called “Has Modern Biblical Scholarship Killed the Bible?” The answer is that maybe for him it has, since as far as I could tell, killing Judaism was his main goal. May your ears be spared the blasphemous lies he spun for the feeble-faithed wannabe Jews about supposed “Biblical authors” that aren't God, and how, he claims, Jewish texts has always been shaped by the time, place and popular beliefs of the people who created him. Worse, he said it all while wearing a black kippa, apparently in an attempt to make the audience think he was an Authentically Torah-True® Jew like us and so represented real Judaism. The audience must have bought into it—after all, how can you judge someone if not by their appearance?— since while he was spewing his Torah-hating nonsense, they all just sat there and listened, then, afterwards, they respectfully asked questions. No one spat on him, beat him up, burned his house down, or took some other bold action for the sake of our holy Torah like a real G-d fearing Yid would have done. But I comfort myself with the knowledge that they are not real Jews and none of them will have any share in the World to Come. Yes, Rabbi Tarfon says in the Torah, “I doubt if there is anyone in this generation who is fit to rebuke others,” but he couldn't have imagined Jews so holy as Reb Hoberman and his rebbes.
The whole thing just makes me sick. Thank God, I finally merited to go to the holy neighborhood of Mea Shearim for the first time Thursday.
I probably made history Thursday as the first person ever to wear a Point Park University hoodie in Mea Shearim. I went to volunteer with Ezrat Avot, a wonderful Israeli meals-on-wheels organization located in the neighborhood after my usual volunteer project was canceled and none of the normal volunteers were able to make it. My first image of the neighborhood was of a group of Chasidic men walking through Kikar Shabbat where the Holocaust protest was five days earlier wearing brown burlap sacks over their kaputas for reasons I hope I never find out. Once we got to Ezrat Avot, my fellow pinch-volunteer and I were greeted by an extremely nice and cheerful woman and a small group of friendly American yeshiva students who were just finishing making a sugar-free carrot kugel. After the yeshiva boys left, the woman and another man helped us and another volunteer fill around 60 bags of food for Israel's elderly. It was a great experience and I would go back in a heartbeat. While I don't know about the man, neither the yeshiva students nor the woman actually lived in Mea Shearim.
Quote of the Week: “If we walk out on [Judaism] now, it means those values win.” - Mira
Hebrew Word of the Week: אפיקורוס (“apikorus”) - Heretic (lit. a Hebraization of “Epicurius,” or one who sees the world only on the external level.)
Menorah at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue
This was actually my second Chanuka in Israel, I was here on Birthright in December 2008. So the menorahs on the streetlights, the Chabad menorahs in every public square, the impossibly delicious-looking sufganiyot* everywhere, and the total lack of anything Christmas-related was not new or shocking to me. Chanuka is not Christmas in Israel--while there are decorations and menorahs out, and while the buses say (in Hebrew) "Happy Chanuka!" on them, its just not a huge deal here, like the High Holidays are.
But the lack of holiday spirit (measured in terms of shopping fatalities) left many of us Americans homesick. While the Pardes Chanuka party, with its latkes (a rarity in Israel), sufganiyot*, amazing classes , and Adam Sandler's "The Chanuka Song" (short digression: I never realized just what a reflection of North American Jewish culture that song is until I heard it played at Pardes--the European students didn't understand what was funny about broadcasting a list of Jews and the whole concept makes no sense in a country where everyone's Jewish) the second night made it feel like Chanuka, but something of that special, secular, commercial spirit of the time we've all grown to love was still missing. Israelis just aren't a jolly people.
Thankfully, Cafe Neshikot (Kisses), the unofficial annual Pardes Christmas cabaret at the Off The Wall Comedy Empire in the Center of Town came to answer our prayers Sunday night. (Reason #102 to come to Pardes: It is the only yeshiva in the world to have a Christmas cabaret, unofficial or otherwise.[Probably. I admit I've never been to the Mir.]) Students on stage strutted their talents performing talents in-between hilariously written and performed emcee segments while students in the audience drank house drinks and homemade eggnog and cheered them on. It was so much fun I never wanted it to end.
But I'm glad it did, because afterward, some friends and I went to my new favorite restaurant, Mike's Place, Heaven on Earth for the homesick American. How so? Picture the atmosphere of Primanti Bros.: Walls lined with TVs tuned to American sports, with every square-inch of remaining wall space dedicated to sports and beer memorabilia. Now make the menu kosher, half the guys in the place wearing kippot, and as soon as you walk in, a Chabad rabbi is lighting a menorah at the bar while all 100 people in the restaurant belt out "Maoz Tzur." I couldn't picture it either, which is why the whole time there, I felt like I was hallucinating, it was too surreal, it just didn't make sense--the menu is in English, everyone speaks English, the waitress is wearing a Santa hat, NBA basketball is on every TV, I'm drinking a Sam Adams draft, my seat is directly facing a 6-Time Super Bowl Champions Terrible Towel (which, in my daze of ecstasy, I kissed. Twice.) so this must be America, yet I'm eating beef nachos in a restaurant, lots of guys are wearing kippot, and my friends and I are making jokes only yeshiva students would get, so this must actually somehow be Israel. It was the best Christmas ever.
The next day, on our Social Justice tiyyul to Shilo, there was no doubting we were still in Israel. Shilo, like Hevron, is a site of almost inestimable Jewish importance in the West Bank, except here, in the village, it is peaceful. According to the Bible, Shilo is where the Mishkan, or portable Tabernacle built in the Wilderness of Sinai, rested from the time the Israelites conquered the Land under Joshua for 369 years until the First Temple in Jerusalem was built by King Solomon. Neither Temple lasted as long as 369 years, yet people forget about Shilo and it is not a holy site the way Jerusalem is. Our guide, Shilo resident and former director of Pardes, Rabbi Dov Berkowitz, described Shilo as being geographically similar to West Virginia or Kentucky, and he was right. Holy or not, Shilo is gorgeous: Quiet, peaceful, serene, free of the chaos, craziness, and all-around ugliness of the Hevron war zone, in an alternate political universe, I could even see myself living there. Rabbi Berkowitz showed us the Mishkan museum where a scaled miniature replica of the portable Tabernacle is built, then showed us the archeological site of Tel Shilo that suggests this is indeed the real Shilo.
The highlight of the trip was seeing the site on which most believe the Mishkan rested for those 369 years--a natural, flat, rectangular plain, maybe about a football field long by twenty or thirty yards wide right on the middle of the steep hillside seemingly tailor-made to the specifications of the Mishkan. But unlike the place where the Temples used to be, this was just a field practically in the middle of nowhere. There was no Wall, no marker, no shrine, no shul, not even a fence--to go on the Temple Mount, I would first need to dunk in a mikva and then spend some time really preparing myself mentally, but this--the first site of the official altar to YHWH--was just a field. I could have taken a nap, had a picnic, or played Ultimate Frisbee on it if I wanted to. It was actually quite refreshing; the world can't handle another Jerusalem. After briefly going up to the lookout point at the top of the Tel, Rabbi Berkowitz warmly invited us into his house for hot tea and coffee, fresh dates, conversation, and questions. It was as lively and unsettling as you would expect.
From Shilo, we went to another settlement near Beit El to meet my new hero, Nahum Pachenik, founder and director of Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace). Nahum, a Breslov Hasid and son of a Holocaust survivor, as one of the first Jewish children born in the West Bank after the Six-Day War, has lived over the "Green Line" his entire life. He said that he was thuggish and bigoted as a youth, supported harassment of Arabs and frequently wore a T-shirt that said "No Arabs No War." His life was changed when he met Rabbi Menachem Froman who told him the shirt would be equally true if it read "No Jews No War." After learning with R. Froman more, he came to realize there are two peoples with legitimate claims to this Land, and neither one is going anywhere, so the only thing to do is learn how to live together in peace. From this epiphany, Eretz Shalom was born. Eretz Shalom is an organization run entirely by Jewish settlers trying to build peace between Jews and Palestinians from the ground-up through organizing events like play-dates between Jewish and Palestinian kids, planting olive trees together, going to pray in a mosque together, and other seemingly little, everyday things that can go a long, long way towards shifting relationships towards the other side, from seeing them as a homogeneous, evil "other" to seeing them as your neighbors and maybe even as fellow humans.
Of all the settlers we've met, I think Nahum is the only one who really means it when he says he doesn't have any plans for what a final peace will or should entail. How can you even begin speaking of peace when both sides so hate each other? He believes we have to learn to live together, to respect each other first, then peace, real peace, will develop organically from there, probably taking a form we can't even imagine now. Eventually. Nahum says that since he used to be an extremist and now he's not, he sees no reason why others wouldn't lose their extremist views too once they actually come to know the other. It is simultaneously the most idealistic and the most reasonable solution I have yet heard. He is scorned by both the far-right and the far-left, so he must be doing something right.
The rest of the week was considerably less exciting more productive but still fun: I spent most of it working on my grad school application and Torah trope by day then hanging-out with friends by night. All-in-all, an illuminating (rim shot) second Chanukah in Israel.
Quote of the Week: "I want to be a rabbi because I want to get paid to be a Jew."
Hebrew Word of the Week: סופגניות ("sufganiyot") - stuffed donuts
Nearly all of Pardes went to Hevron in the West Bank Sunday. It spent the rest of the week needing therapy. I think I faired better than most, however, because I went into it knowing what to expect and I got it in spades: It is by far the worst place I have ever been. If I never go back ever again, it will be too soon. If by some cruel twist of fate I ended up with the worst job in the world, namely, Tourism Minister of Hevron, I think the best slogan possible would be the one Suzi came up with “Hevron: Stay Home.” Second would be the one I thought of “Hevron: Come Experience Religion at its Absolute Worst.” I say that not because I believe religion is used worse in Hevon than it is in, say, Iran, I most certainly do not. Rather, I say it because, 1. unlike in other places, here it is two religions acting badly and worse, 2. in Hevron, one of them is my own.
To be fair, however, it wasn’t all dreary, we just got the most inspiring part out of the way first when we stopped at Pina Chama on the way to Hevron. In 2001, two soldiers from the Gush were killed by terrorists on the road. During the soldiers’ shiva, the idea for a place in the Gush in their memory where soldiers could go for free coffee and cake that would eventually be called Pina Chama (warm corner),was born. Pina Chama is run by the fallen soliders’ families, the Sassons and the Gllises, with help from a small army of volunteers, including Pardes’ Tovah Leah Nachmani who gave us the tour. The food and supples are donated from all over Israel and all over the world. While we were there soldiers drove up in an armored car and partook of coffee and cake. Though nearly every square inch of the small shop is covered in badges, flags, banners, and other military paraphernalia left by soldiers as tokens of appreciation, the smiles on their face and in their eyes and as they sat, ate, and drank something warm said volumes more. Tovah Leah said it best [though this is not an exact quote]: “They say ‘thank you’ to me, and I’m like thank me?? Thank you! This is the least I can do for you!” As depressing as nearly everything that followed was, I’m actually glad I saw Pina Chama first because it reinforced one crucial point: that for all the problems this region has, the soldiers themselves are not one of them. They are ordinary Israelis in their late-teens and early twenties forced into an impossible, dangerous situation not of their own making and deserve nothing but respect for their service. It was an honor to have been able to donate a small cake on my way out. It may not have been spending the best years of my life defending the Jewish people, but it was the least I could do. It was double chocolate.
We were randomly split into 3 groups for meeting our speakers in Hevron. As this was a Pardes trip, we gave each side its due. In my group, we first saw Josh Even-Chen on Tel-Rumeida overlooking the city for an energetic, non-political historical overview of Jewish history in Hevron. Then we went on a tour of Hevron’s biggest claim to fame, the Cave of the Patriarchs and the beautiful Herodian structure built over it, where according to tradition, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, Esau’s head, and, according to some, even Adam and Eve are buried.
We then went to a roundabout on what used to be the central road of H-2 (since 1997 Hevron has been split into H-1 and H-2. H-1 is a Palestinian city under control of the PA, H-2 contains Palestinians and Jews and is under control of the IDF. To be fair, we only saw H-2.) to hear a short presentation from a former soldier stationed in Hevron working for Breaking the Silence, an organization that has former IDF soldiers give public tours and speeches exposing their experiences of the darker side of military occupation. We then got together with the other groups to daven the afternoon service at the Cave,
then eat lunch and hear another former Hevron soldier (who just happened to be the son of our dean) representing Soldiers Speak Out, an organization that sees itself as a counterpoint to Breaking the Silence, touting the great humanitarian care soldiers take when carrying out their missions. For what its worth, our representative said the original plan was to setup a debate between him and our Breaking the Silence representative, but the latter organization refused. After lunch, my group heard a presentation from a Jewish settler in Hevron then a got a tour of the tragically ironically named Jewish neighborhood of Avraham Avinu (Abraham Our Father) from a representative of Jews living in the West Bank from Efrat. Finally, we met back with the other groups and heard presentations from Palestinian peace activists.
If that sounds overwhelming, like a whirlwind, like a lot of voices talking at you at once trying to win your favor, it should, because it was. It wasn’t easy on many of our speakers, either. For example the Breaking the Silence guy must have spent at least 10 minutes of his hour-long presentation apologizing for not having the time to give us all the information he would normally in their standard 5-hour tour. Every speaker had his or her pros and cons, but for me, the most frustrating part about it was that, since they all presented so many facts, they were all right: Yes, Jews should be able to live in peace in a city that’s so historically significant for us—there is archeological evidence of Jewish presence in Hevron going back 3,000 years, not to mention its critical importance in so many Biblical narratives. Yes, military occupation ultimately harms and demeans all parties involved, but yes terrorism is a huge problem and more often than not I’m sure our soldiers act admirably. Yes, it makes sense that Jews should live in Judea, but yes, it is also terribly unfair for other people to have to lose the land their families have been living on for generations because of that. Yes the pogrom of 1929 was horrific, but so was the Baruch Goldstein massacre in 1994. Yes, no one, Jewish or Palestinian, should have to live in fear of getting killed, beaten or spat upon when walking the streets or sitting in their homes, no one should have to put metal cages around all their windows to keep stones and bullets out, and it’s just beyond awful that, even with segregated streets, neither side can live without constantly having to fear that.
The tension in the air is there is palpable: both sides put English signs in their windows meant to antagonize and demonize the other side as much as win the sympathy of guests like us. Everything everyone says is in terms of “us vs. them.” Armed soldiers on walkie-talkies are everywhere and armed guards stand on watch from the tops of buildings. Sorry, you spoiled American G-20 protesters, but this is what a police state looks like.
But the most confounding part is that it wasn’t always this way. Every speaker who lives in the area spoke wistfully about the days when Jews and Arabs coexisted more-or-less peacefully in this area. Before the Second Intifada the abandoned street above was a busy shuk at the center of Hevron. But might have been back in Abraham’s day for all the difference it makes now. I don’t think the sad part is that this street is now off-limits to Palestinians. I think the sad part is that it needs to be.
Personally, I thought the best speaker was the Soldiers Speak Out representative because I feel he gave the most nuanced presentation. He readily acknowledged that mistakes have been and by necessity will continue to be made while still strongly affirming the basic goodness of Israel and the soldiers. The Palestinian peace activist was my second-favorite. While I found his arguments to be a mixed-bag, I can’t help but respect someone who is willing, especially in such a tense environment, to put himself in personal danger by publicly standing and meeting with groups of Jews and saying things that are not anti-Israel, his determination to work for peace for his people through peaceful means even if it makes less charitable people on both sides hate him. I also really want to give credit to the American-born woman from Efrat who gave us the tour of Jewish Hevron. While I disagreed with her about many things, she was nonetheless very good at making me feel uncomfortable about some things I wasn’t prepared to feel uncomfortable about. As diverse as opinions at Pardes are about the trip, from what I have heard, I think we would be pretty close to unanimous in agreeing that the Jewish settler in Hevron came off as the worst. Of him, I will only say that it takes a certain type to leave New Jersey to not only live with, but devote your life to defending, the sort of people who would build a monument at Baruch Goldstein’s grave. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it seems worth pointing out here that—and this fact was confirmed by one of our teachers who lives in the Gush—most of the extreme settlers are not native Israelis, but American expats.
Even more than the historical connections, the biggest reason people get so riled-up about this place is the Cave of the Partriarchs—over control of it and access to it, and I think this is the biggest tragedy of all. Why? Because, the way I see it, there are two ways of viewing the Cave: Either all these inestimably important people are really buried there and this is an inconceivably holy site, or else no one is buried there and the whole thing is built on nothing (for obvious reasons excavations at the site are prohibited so we won’t soon know the true answer). If you believe the first, Abraham is considered a patriarch by the Jews and Muslims and the rest (except Esau) are considered at minimum holy prophets by both faiths. The last scene in the Torah involving Abraham is when his equally beloved (see Rashi on Genesis 22:2) and previously estranged sons Isaac and Ishmael reunite to bury him here (Gen. 25: 8-9). If something of Abraham’s soul rests here, is this how he would want to see his children behaving towards each other? I know that my mom practically cries with joy every time she finds out my sister or I so much as called each other, and we get along! If my mom feels so joyful about her kids getting along, can you even imagine how elated Abraham Our Father, let alone God, Whose children we all are, would be at the very same? And if no one is buried there, then the whole edifice is nothing but a rather apt metaphor for the entire situation in Hevron, and certainly nothing worth living and raising a family in a terrible situation and hurting others for in spite of whatever legitimate historical connections both sides have.
Confusing and frustrating as the day was, it did leave one thing achingly clear: anyone who tells you he or she as “the” answer or “the” solution for the situation is either a blithering idiot or else extremely naive. None of the speakers we saw fall into these categories since none of them would come close to offering any kind of a solution, only facts and grievances. One of my classmates put it best during one of the many processing sessions, both informal and formal, we had during the following week, that the peace process must end in Hevron, it cannot start there. I of course pray for peace (what else can I do??) as much as anyone else, but I must say as the situation exists right now, the future just seems completely—
Tuesday afternoon, we went on a Social Justice tiyyul to the Max Rayne Bilingual School in Jerusalem, where Jewish and Arab students live and learn together in a totally bilingual (trilingual, really, after they begin learning English as a second language in I think 4th grade), multicultural environment. Each classroom has two teachers: one Jewish, the other Palestinian. Right now, the school is roughly 1/3 Jewish 1/3 Arab, and 1/3 other, including a good number of Armenian Christians. Chanukah and Christmas decorations were everywhere. All students learn about the Hebrew Bible, Christian Bible, and Koran.
While I personally have some misgivings about this set-up—is it healthy to expose children to so much cultural relativism so early, don’t you need to learn how to appreciate your own and learn your place and responsibilities within it before you can truly appreciate someone else’s culture? What do you do in high school when they all want to date each other? (The school was founded in 1998 and just graduated its first high school class, but this problem did not arise since all graduates were Arab Muslims.) As a religious Jew, I’m all for my children learning about other traditions on those traditions’ own terms, but that doesn’t mean I want my kids making Christmas decorations. What will happen when the Jewish kids graduate and go to army and have to stop their former classmates at checkpoints—and wouldn’t send my children there because of them, I’m still super-glad this place exists. If the peace process must end in Hevron, then maybe this is where it can start
Quote of the Week: “Can somebody please tell to the Eastern European what is meant by this ‘emotional education?’” -Reka
Hebrew Word of the Week: בלגן (“balagan”) – Mess, a chaotic situation
On Sunday the 11th, the Social Justice Track went on a tiyyul to South Tel-Aviv to explore the situation of refugees and migrant workers in Israel.
Refugees in Israel are mostly asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their native Sudan, Darfur, and Eritrea. While walking through South Tel-Aviv, it is easy to forget you are still in Israel, especially after you've spent so much time in Jerusalem; Eritrean and Sudanese flags are everywhere; the music, food, window signs and of course people are African. We saw a lot on our tour, but two experiences stand out: the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station and the refugees' stories. If the South Tel-Aviv street is more like Africa than Israel, the Central Bus Station is like everywhere else in the world that isn't Israel than Israel. Since every day so many east Asian and central African migrant workers and refugees flock through it daily, it was teeming with flags and calling-card rates for Thailand, the Philippines, and China, bags of shrimp snacks and other foods, and an enormous lighted, musical Christmas gift display., the only reminder that this was indeed still Israel aside from the olive-skinned people staffing the Christmas display were the Hebrew signs over the glatt-trayf food stands. I really wish I had brought my camera, for this is the Zionist dream: other peoples being able come here to make a living while still being who they are in what remains a distinctly, uniquely Jewish country.
The other highlight, and by far the most powerful part of the day, was listening to Ismail and Ali's stories. Both men are Africans who risked their and their families' lives to come to a country they knew nothing about in the hopes of the possibility being able to live there in peace. The journey they and the 1,000's of other refugees make is dangerous beyond belief: They travel almost entirely on foot from central Africa. Along the way, most fall into the hands of the Bedouin in the Sinai who often traffic and abuse them. Most women will get repeatedly raped along the way and sold as sex slaves; Bedouin killing and selling the organs of people who they don't expect to receive much money for is not unheard of.
Those who survive the Bedouins and reach the Negev are usually soon greeted by the IDF. Ismail said once the IDF approached him, in their military gear and tank, and established that he was an asylum seeker, the first thing they did was offer his young son a glass of water. They then took them in and helped them get to Tel-Aviv. Ismail currently runs a small shop and, with his own money, started a free center to teach fellow-refugees Hebrew and computer skills (Ismail has an advanced degree in computer science but hasn't been able to do much with it since the persecution started in Darfur). Ali had a similar story, although his family is still in a refugee camp in Chad. I don't remember how long it has been exactly, but I think he said it had been something like 24 years since he last saw his wife and children.
Hardships aside, both men are "enjoying" life in Israel as much as they could be expected to, given their situations. Both men are making a decent living and have been here over 20 years. Both speak Hebrew fluently, and Ismail said it is his children's first language. Both said they have experienced almost no racism since arriving here and will be eternally grateful for how good Israel has been to them. As Muslims being persecuted by other Muslims, they thank God for Israel at least as much (if not more) than many Jews do or, thankfully, could right now. As Israeli as he and his family are, they are not Jewish, and therefore, can never become citizens. But that does not mean they are in a bad situation: they have a legal status in this country and are entitled to certain rights. Israel has no official policy on refugees yet besides the rights specified in the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 to which it, in the shadow of the Holocaust, was an enthusiastic signatory. Israel of course does not have open borders nor was anyone advocating for them—our tour guide, a Pardes alumnus who currently works for the Jewish Joint-Distribution Committee, had many stories to tell of deporting people who, while in a desperately poor and all but hopeless situation in their home countries, are not in physical danger there and thus not in need of asylum. Most of these people end up staying in Israel anyway illegally, but the point remains.
Walking the South Tel-Aviv streets and hearing the refugees' testimonies, seeing first-hand what a beacon Israel can be to non-Jews, was the most uplifting experience I've yet had on a Social Justice tiyyul. We are a people whose holiest book commands us, more than anything else, to have compassion on the stranger, for we were strangers in Egypt (and Europe, and Arabia, and Ethiopia, ad nauseum). It can sometimes be too easy to be jaded when our Jewish state is not everything we think it ought to be, which made it especially refreshing to see a positive story—these people had no idea what a Jew was until they got here, they only knew that this was a free country where they might be able to make a living. And after making unimaginable sacrifices to get here, they discovered not only financial opportunity, but a welcoming, largely sympathetic people. The sight of non-Jewish asylum seekers speaking Hebrew and blessing themselves by Israel was a source of great pride and nachas for myself and most of the class. Ismail said as a refugee he identifies with the Jewish story and he and Ali seemed genuinely touched that we cared not only to hear but then to ask thoughtful questions about their stories. As I mentioned earlier, this, too, I believe, is a proud fulfillment the Zionist dream.
After listening to Ismail and Ali, we met with a woman from the Hotline for Migrant Workers, for whom the situation is not so positive. Like in America, there are jobs Israelis don't want to do. Since using Arab workers is no longer an option for many reasons, Israel turns to the Far East, mostly Thailand and the Philippines, to get its menial laborers. Like the African refugees, the journey to Israel for these people is difficult—they pay agencies upwards of $10,000, that they usually borrow, just to leave their families to come here. They then must spend their first several years here just working off their debt for the journey before they can begin sending money home. While they do have some standing under Israeli law, there has never been legislation passed concerning them. They frequently work long hours for less than Israeli minimum wage, but this is still oftentimes better than what they could make at home. It's a complicated situation that I don't pretend to know much about, but at least in this problem, Israel is far from unique.
It was a rough day with the many highs and lows I've come to expect from Social Justice tiyyulim. Also like other Social Justice tiyyulim, it left me too grateful for words for my situation in life, and committed to—as a Jew every bit as much as as a human being—never stop using my fortunate situation and education as leverage for stepping up for those less fortunate.
Tuesday night was the first of hopefully many soirees for my Modern Jewish Thought class. Most of my class plus a few guests met at two classmates' apartment to tackle humanity's biggest issues the way great minds have been doing it for centuries—while drinking wine; eating cheese, fruit, and junk food; and reclining on comfortable couches. Our topic for discussion was surrender to God vs. creativity: Does surrendering to God's Will leave any room for creativity? What would/should a balance look like? Is surrendering to God's Will totally desirable to begin with? Does surrender in Judaism mean anything besides obeying the Law? Can Judaism without Law even possible? Can surrender exist without God?, and much, much more. One of the things I love most about Pardes is even though our teacher was too busy to join us, it turns out, we really didn't need him (much as we missed him)—we led and moderated the discussion and stayed on topic (at least in so far as possible in a room full of Jews). Another thing I love about Pardes is that time and again we prove that respectful dialogue with people you disagree with is not only possible, but beneficial to every side. Personally, when people said things I disagreed with (which was often), I found myself not only seeing a lot of myself in their religious struggles even though they have taken different turns than and reached different conclusions than I have, but also respecting them more for their honestly sharing their thoughts, and being open to critique. I like to think I would have been able to accept honest critique too had anyone who disagreed with me actually been able to form a coherent argument (kidding!). Sort-of. All in all, it was a wonderful, energizing night that left me reflecting on my own beliefs and energized about spending the rest of the year learning wrestling with our Tradition alongside these people.
Friday morning, my level bet Chumash class along with level aleph held a siyum to celebrate our finishing studying Parashat Sh'mot, the first 5 chapters of the Book of Exodus. A siyum is a feast usually thrown to celebrate the completion of a tractate of Talmud or some other long, complex, intricate text. So why have one for celebrating finishing the first 5 chapters of Exodus? Because for us, Parashat Sh'mot is a long, difficult, intricate text—we've been learning it 3 mornings a week since coming back from Yom Kippur. If the better part of three months seem like a lot of time to get through 5 chapters of text, you should just know that we aren't just learning what the text is about—how the Israelites multiply and become enslaved in Egypt, Moses is born, Moses grows up and gets into trouble for caring too much, Moses argues with God at the burning bush, Moses gets laughed at by Pharaoh—we're learning what it says, literally doing a word-by-word, sometimes letter-by-letter reading of the original Hebrew text, getting inside its grammar, structure, parallelism, symbolism and allusions, and the varying interpretations and explanations different classical commentators and Midrashim have of all these things and more. It's a lot of work, which is what made the siyum so sweet. Besides eating way too much sugar, we celebrated our accomplishment by singing nigguns, hearing classmates' reflections on the parsha, hearing a d'var Torah from our teacher, Rav Meir, and playing review games. Another thing I love about Pardes is that grown adults actually get competitive playing Bible review games. But one thing I don't love about Pardes is how it's Bible review games are rigged: Our teachers actually expect us to believe both games ended in a 5-way tie, but I'm not stupid. When everyone gets a prize at the end of a competition and nobody is made to feel superior to his peers, nobody really wins. But this is what I get for going to a more liberal yeshiva.
Quote of the Week: “'I want to start a new tradition.' Well, you can't start a new tradition, to say that means you understand no part of that sentence!” -DLK
Hebrew Word of the Week: פליט (“paleet”) - refugee
*People here really look out for you. I know I've written about this at least twice before, but I really can't get over it: Last week, when I went to pay utility bills at the post office, when I finally got to see the teller after at least a half-hour in line, she told me she couldn't process my payment without another part of the bill I didn't bring with me. I sighed as I told her I would run home and get them, anticipating wasting at least another half-hour in line when I got back, when she told me when I had them, i could just go up and see her without waiting in line. So I did: I ran back, got the stuff, cut to the front, she processed the bill payment, and I was on my way without further hassle. The amount of excuses people come up with here for cutting in line used to really annoy me, but now seeing it from the other side, I see its advantages. Having said that, if someone jumps in front of me when I'm next in line at the bank one more time because he missed it when his number came up, he's getting punched in the face.
Later that same morning, as I was walking home carrying mail, I heard someone shouting, "Hello? Hello!" I ignored it and kept walking until it became clear she was yelling at me. When I turned around, she pointed to the mail I dropped.
*I get to hear South Africans say "muffins" on a fairly consistent basis.
*Even after being here for four months already, almost no matter what it's saying, Hebrew graffiti always makes me smile.
*Everyone I've met here who has been there loves Pittsburgh. I met an Israeli guy at a party once who just kept raving about how clean it was, how friendly people are, and on and on and on, but he wasn't the only one. Pittsburgh seems to consistently surprise Jews with its cleanliness and friendliness, and Squirrel Hill (where, for the record, I am not "from", much as I feel at home there) in particular gets rave reviews. People especially appreciate its Jewish diversity and tolerance--when I tell people from other communities about how well the different sects of Jews get along here, or how well all the day schools cooperate, or about the community Tikkun Liel Shavuot at the JCC, or anything about Young People's Synagogue, they are legitimately impressed, as well they should be. Learning about other communities has made me realize how special ours is. And while it might be blasphemous for Jews from all over the world to gather in Jerusalem to sing the praises of Pittsburgh, I nonetheless think it's pretty cool. Yet there are other important similarities between the two cities besides love of Pittsburgh: Jerusalem and Pittsburgh are similar in population and both share a topography and street plan beamed down from Mars; I was taking a walk this morning, and was truly astounded at how much it felt like walking through Pittsburgh sans the patient drivers. Language barrier aside, it is not hard for a Yiddishe Yinzer to feel at home in Yerushalayim.
*Very much unlike in Pittsburgh, I love how the street numbers here actually make sense: The first house on the left side of the street is always 1, the first on the right 2, then 3 is next on the left, then 4 on the right, etc. Now if only these numbers were actually displayed on more than half of the buildings...
*The power bill has Muppets on it:
*You can learn about Jewish history from the street signs. I smile and feel like an insider when I see or hear of a street named for events or people I've heard of. More importantly, however, and this is of course the point of naming streets this way, I am motivated by curiosity to look into street namesakes whose names I don't recognize. Last week's 29 November party was nothing if not a celebration of the pedagogical power of street signs.
*The Jewish holidays are the holidays.
*People eat vegetables here ("vegetable" defined here as something you could not get away with putting in a fruit salad). Yes, Americans eat vegetables, too, but what I mean is that we here in Israel eat them without their being drowned in mayonnaise or used as a decoration for meat. Slices of pepper, cucumber, tomato, and carrots, usually with hummus, white cheese, and/or eggplant as a dip are common features of Israeli breakfasts and snacks. Even better, people eat red peppers and cucumbers here the way we eat apples.
My current 'stache ranks somewhere between my friend Erik's newborn baby daughter Arianna and James Carville (with apologies to the Loeffert family):
Things I love about the end of Movember (In order):
1. I am proud to say the Pardes team, Safam so Good, raised $4,277 for men's health!!!
2. I've never had so many girls tell me how good I look since I shaved my mustache.
THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO DONATED!!
Quote of the Week: "You can still wear pants and love God" - L.S.
Hebrew Word of the Week: אהבה ("ahava") - Love
Americans living in Israel typically celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday night for Shabbat dinner, as the old joke goes, there is second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora. Since the tiyyul made celebrating on Thursday impossible for most of us, my friend Michael (pronounced מיכאל, “Mee-kha-el”) treated us to an authentic Israeli Friday night Thanksgiving Shabbat potluck. He made a giant turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and hot apple cider, and each of the 20 or so guests brought something too making for maybe the biggest meal I've ever eaten, and, thank God, that's saying a lot; all told, there were over 20 dishes, each one more delicious than the last. As amazing and filling as it was, and as good as it was to spend more time with my Israel/Pardes family outside of class, I missed not being with my family for the first time ever on Thanksgiving, but if I couldn't be there, I'm glad it was because I was here.
The next day, 5 of us, including Michael, came back to observe the American Thanksgiving tradition of eating leftovers the next day. We had a ton of them, but, even after trying our best, there was still so much left. Michael lives on 29 November St., named in commemoration of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine that was ratified that day in 1947. As we waddled home from eating both days, I joked that the street should have a block party on 29 November. My friend Sam later joked that it should be a "Pizza and Partition Party."
Sunday was Rosh Hodesh Kislev. Since the first Rosh Hodesh at Pardes was Rosh Hashana, and the second was on Shabbat, this was my first experience of how Pardes does Rosh Hodesh, and here are 5 reasons why it was the rockin'-est Rosh Hodesh celebration I've ever been a part of:
I got to sleep in. Morning services started at 7:30, which is later than such a long service would usually start.
It was a community service with lots of singing and group participation.
We got a big breakfast. Pardes always provides a cereal-and-milk breakfast for students who come to davening in the morning, but this was a feast—we got: bagels, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, two kinds of trail-mix, French cheese, fruit, juice, and possibly other stuff I'm forgetting, all of it free and extremely delicious.
They blew a giant silver horn to inaugurate the month.
Due to all the above, our morning class was cut short. Don't get me wrong, I like my morning class, it was just a nice change of pace.
If the first half of the day was an experience of great unexpected privilege, the Social Justice Track's handicapped tour of Emek Refaim the second half reminded me of just how greatly privileged I am every day. As I've mentioned before, Emek Refaim, the street I live on the end of, is the most commercial, touristy street in my part of town. I walk it several times a week, but this tour was like experiencing it for the first time. A woman from the Israeli non-profit Bema'aglei Tzedek had us break into pairs and gave one person in each pair a wheelchair, blindfold, earplugs and big headphones, or crutches and a leg brace to experience what it is like to be handicapped in public. My partner Anne and I started with me being "deaf." I put "deaf" in quotes here not only because I'm not really deaf, but because I could still kind-of hear even with the thick headphones and earplugs. It wasn't perfect hearing, but I could still cars and Anne's voice when she stood really close and talked loudly enough. It was a disability, sure, but I never felt too disabled. I've had worse auditory awareness of my surroundings while listening to my iPod. Experientially, I feel I learned nothing new about the struggles of the deaf.
Next, Anne was blind. Now this was hard. She was utterly reliant on me to get anywhere or do anything. While actual blind people are more used to it and have canes and dogs, we both came out of it with a greater appreciation for how hard they must work and the real disadvantages they face doing even simple things: finding a bus stop or a curb, handling money and knowing what denomination of bill you are holding, finding doors. Even though I was never blindfolded, it was so obvious that life for the blind, especially for those who once could see, must be like coming to Earth from a whole different planet—spending as you must all your energy trying to survive in a world not built for you.
Next, I tried out a wheelchair. At first I insisted on wheeling myself and appreciated the opportunity to get a rare upper-body workout, but after less than 5 minutes, Anne was pushing me while I kept my hands on the wheels to convince myself I was actually doing something. The hardest part of being handicapped isn't the weight of pushing yourself, however, it's being at the mercy of the terrain—less than a week ago, I was conquering the desert on foot, but now here I was helpless before a dip in the sidewalk.
Jerusalem is fairly handicapped accessible and getting more so every day, but nothing can make it easier to be so reliant on the generosity and care of others and unable to orient yourself to your surroundings. The whole exercise lasted less than two-hours, but that was enough to remind me of how blessed I am to be physically able and what a huge kindness it is to consider the needs and dignity of those not so fortunate.
As you know, one of my greatest physical abilities that of growing facial hair (the one manly thing I could beat Sidney Crosby at). As you also know, this month has been a celebration of that ability for the sake of men's health. Sunday night was a celebration of our celebration at the Men's Rosh Hodesh learning event at Pardes, where some of our favorite rabbis volunteered their time to teach classes on facial hair/men related issues in Judaism. There were two sessions of two classes. The first class I attended was taught by Michael Hattin and explored paradigms of fatherhood in the Bible. Truth be told, there are scant few positive models of fatherhood in the Bible, so few in fact that he had to use the Binding of Isaac as his positive-fathering example. That was my first impression, that he's really going to have to perform somersaults in order to make a father's near-sacrifice of his son look like a positive model for fatherhood, but it's a testament to his skill as a rabbi that he actually pulled it off and made it work (in a nutshell, the key is trust-trust between God and father, father and son, and son and God [go ahead, Christians, eat your hearts out]). The second class I attended was a group discussion led by David Levin-Kruss on facial and body hair and its significance for men and women in cultures ancient and modern around the world. After the classes was a whiskey tisch to prepare us all for Chesthaircember. (This is of course a joke; in truth every month in Israel is Chesthaircember.)
Tuesday we had our 29 November Pizza and Partition party in Michael's apartment on 29 November St. Roughly 13 of us ate pizza, drank hot apple cider, and schmoozed while sitting on chairs scattered all-over Michael's living room to represent the highly impractical nature of the proposed borders. After this, we went out and danced in the street singing "Am Yisrael Chai", then banded together to sing "HaTikvah." (actual video!)
As big of a success as the party was, I must admit I am left with two regrets: First, that I didn't take a picture of us sitting eating pizza in Michael's Partitioned living room, and second, that I stopped recording the video of us singing "HaTikva" before I could capture both us clapping and cheering afterward and the person in the apartment above the street sign coming out to clap for us on his balcony. In the end, though, I think it was the awesomest 29 November party in 29 November St. history, and I'm proud to have helped organize it.
My current 'stache ranks somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Mr. Red.
MOVEMBER FINAL RESULTS:
One day, I'm gonna win this mustache contest...
IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO SUPPORT THE CAUSE!!!
Quote of the Week: "...That's why mohels should not try to be comedians."
Hebrew Words of the Week: חדש ("Khadash") - New, חודש ("Khodesh") - Month, חידוש ("Khidoosh") - Innovation
The tiyyul was about hiking, putting on a backpack and boots, filling up a water bottle, and really living the Land. I've always loved hiking--it's just like walking, maybe the only sport I'm good at, except more extreme. Hiking is extreme walking, and since I chose the hardest hiking option available each day, I got to experience the most extreme, most beautiful, most inspiring, and most challenging (or as our British tour guide called it "technical"*) hikes of my life.
We left early Tuesday morning to hike in and around the oasis of Ein Gedi and Mt. Yishai right next to the Dead Sea.
This is the actual spring of Ein Gedi.
Wednesday, we hiked Nakhal Peres. A nakhal is a wadi, a dried-up canyon bed that today only rarely fills with sudden flash-floods.
Both the above hikes took around 6 hours and went on for 10's of kilometers (however the hell far that is). Thursday's hike only lasted about 2 hours but was at least as dramatic and as "technical"* as the other two, containing as it did a nearly vertical climb up the side of a mountain overlooking Makhtesh Gadol, which we then hiked down into. A makhtesh is a geological formation like a crater except formed by natural processes instead of a meteorite. Makhteshim are unique to the deserts of Israel, which have 3 of them.
The hike going up was so technical that those of us who got to the summit early formed a welcoming committee to cheer people on as they reached the top then congratulated them once they finally summitted.
At the bottom of the makhtesh are colored sands left by mineral deposits unearthed by the ancient river that ran through it.
What I'm left with at the end of all this hiking is a profound sense of gratitude: gratitude for the Land, gratitude for the fact that it's once again ours, gratitude for the opportunity, physical fitness, eyes, ears, and nose to explore it, soul to be radically amazed by my surroundings, and for the amazing people to do it with. While hiking, body and soul become indistinguishable.
Our accommodations were also incredible. We stayed at Shvilim Bamidbar in the middle of the desert, right near the Jordanian border. The resort is like a cross between a sukkah and a luxury hotel--the surroundings were beautiful, the food was abundant and delicious, the showers were hot, there were pool, ping-pong, and Foosball tables, and we had a never-ending supply of Bedouin tea and dates, and the whole facility is designed to be incredibly energy efficient and green (or, in this case, brown). Yet, nearly everything was open-air, allowing you to experience an authentic (meaning freezing) nighttime desert experience tucked together in a heated room or sitting up late into the night talking around gas heaters.
The non-hiking highlight of the tiyyul was the talent show Wednesday night. Students sang, Flamenco, hip-hop, and fire danced (not at the same time), played instruments, did improv, and played instruments while doing improv. It was so much fun not only seeing people perform their talents but also just seeing a different side to your friends than what you normally see. I also participated in the show by showing off my ability to name every US President and his political party in order, thereby securing another term for myself as Chick-Magnet-in-Chief of Makhon Pardes.
This wasn't our only other activity. Tuesday night, Rav Meir Schweiger, Pardes' spiritual guide and longest-tenured teacher, shared his inspiring life story with us, and Thursday morning, we met Boaz Oz, founder of Shivilim Bamidbar, a true man of the desert whose lean, fit body serves as living proof of the good of devoting your life to working and hiking the land.
My current 'stache ranks somewhere between Ned Flanders and President/Chief Justice William Howard Taft (R):
SUPPORT THE CAUSE!!!
*Quote of the Week: "I think 'technical' is British for 'deadly."
Looking down on the most "technical" section of the hike:
From Wednesday's hike of Nakhal Peres
Hebrew Word Biblical Verse of the Week: In Genesis 13, immediately after God promises him land and offspring, He tells him, ".התקום התהלך בארץ, לארכה ולרחבה, כי לך, אתננה" ("Koom heet'halaykh baaretz, l'arka oolrakhba, kee l'kha etnena.") - "Rise, walk the length and width of the Land, for I am giving it to you."
It was not a shock, she had been sick for about a month and seemingly getting worse every day. It felt worse not being able to do anything while she was sick. I wrote her a letter Sunday and mailed it Monday. You could say I sent it too late, but I like to think she has now read it early.
Thank God, the rest of my family is and was there for her. My Bubbie lived in Latrobe right down the street from my aunt, uncle, and cousins who, in sickness as in health and now in death have always been so good to her. My parents were also there when she died, as was her identical twin Aunt Shirley. Knowing this also brings enormous comfort. Right now I want to hug my Mom so bad I can't stand it, but such is life.
The attached pictures are from the last time I saw Bubbie, my last Sunday in America before leaving for Pardes. She was healthy at the time and looked good, but I knew in the back of my mind this could be the last time I would see her. I didn't think it was probable, but I knew it was possible. If it looks like I'm falling over her in these pictures, it's because I am--when I sat down next to her on the couch, she pulled me right over to her side, resulting in our final position seen here.
We saw her maybe four times a year. I love her, but we never had a close relationship. Mom and I would joke about how every time my sister or I called her, she would ask how we were and how school was then ask if our Mom was there so she could talk with her. If we talked more than 2 minutes, it was a long conversation. It wasn't anything personal, she just didn't have anything else to say. I am the same way. I think I got my awkwardness on the phone with anyone but those I'm absolutely closest to from her. One thing she always did tell me was how proud of me she was. One thing she always asked me was whether I was eating enough because I'm too skinny.
She was the bastion of Jewish life in Latrobe. She wasn't religious, but she had my sister and I call her "Bubbie" to prevent confusion with our other Grandma (z'l). She never, ever missed the Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah of any of her 3 sisters' grandchildren. She would also interrupt any conversation around the dinner table with, "I hear s/he's Jewish" or "Do you think s/he's Jewish?" This was invariably met by a groan, eye-roll, and "Who cares?" from the others around the table. I used to laugh at it, too, but thinking about it now, I see it was about something deeper. Bubbie was the daughter of two Eastern European immigrants and grew up in Squirrel Hill. She came to Latrobe after marrying Papa (z'l) and lived there the overwhelming majority of her life. At the time there was a small Jewish community there, but that number has since dwindled to little more than her and my aunt's family. Her obsession with pointing-out other people's Judaism, I think, was a way of her affirming her own Jewishness in a place increasingly devoid of it. She seemed ambivalent at best about my coming here, but I see it as the expression of another trait I inherited from her.
You know who's Jewish, Bubbie? I am. And I thank you for it more than you could ever know. Except now maybe you do.
I first heard the news from my cousins' status updates on Facebook Tuesday shortly after I came home from class. As i said, I wasn't shocked, but I was very sad. Almost as soon as I understood that she had actually died and not just become sicker, my cousin sent me a Skype invitation. She, my parents, and my aunt were on the other end and we talked for awhile. Around the same time I started getting consolations over Facebook (which are still coming), and later in the night, my sister Skyped me. She was in Ireland in 2010 when Grandma died and so likewise couldn't attend her funeral. It would have been great talking to her anyway, but being able to commiserate with her helped so much. So while I didn't leave my room all night, thank God, I never felt alone. I did feel badly in need of a hug, though, which is why it meant so much to me to be able to receive plenty of those, along with eye-to-eye heartfelt consolations, offers of help, and reassurances from those who likewise know what it feels like not to be able to be there when a loved one passes away, today at Pardes from those who got the news. If you're reading this, thanks again.
Maybe the first memory of Bubbie that came to mind once it became clear she really had passed on was from a few years ago at my aunt's house. I don't remember the occasion, but we were all sitting around the dining room table, and Bubbie and Aunt Shirley were talking about something, I can't remember what, when suddenly, they both began convulsing, falling on top of each other, crying with laughter. The sight of them laughing like that set the rest of us off, and they kept going even after the rest of us couldn't laugh anymore. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
Bubbie always, always, always spoke her mind. Thanksgiving will never be the same.
Quotes of the Week:
"I love you all."
-Bubbie's last words
"Heaven just got a whole lot sassier."
-Ashley Kessler, her granddaughter
Hebrew Word of the Week: זיכרונה לברכה ("zikhrohna l'vrakha") - May her memory be for a blessing [literally "her memory for a blessing"]
This was a dark week in Israel. As it happens, the anniversaries of both Yitzhak Rabin's assassination and Kristallnacht fall this week, and at Pardes, we had presentations on both.
Tuesday, during Group Lecture, two of our rabbis discussed the impact the assassination had on them. Rabin's murder is the Israeli equivalent of 9/11--everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the Prime Minister of Israel was murdered by another Jew, when they first learned the window of optimism for peace had slammed shut. In true Pardes fashion, our rabbis were honest in their recollections--one spoke of how, while he supported him at first, he found himself growing weary of Rabin's policies when it happened. The other, who was in a Hesder yeshiva [a yeshiva combining Army service with religious schooling] at the time recalled his reactions like this: "When I first heard the news, I thought, 'Please don't let the assassin be a Jew.' When I found out he was a Jew, I thought, 'Please don't let him be religious.' When I found out he was religious, I thought, 'Please don't let him be a member of a Hesder yeshiva.'" When he found out he was a member of a Hesder yeshiva just like he was, his life became more difficult;in the Army, he had to go out of his way to let his hostile peers know he was not like the assassin.
Following the stories, we split into chevrutas to discuss Jewish sources on peaceful communication techniques.
Wednesday, our Dean, Dr. David Bernstein gave a presentation on American Jewry's response to Kristallnacht, which is to say, their lack of any real response at all. The American Jewish world he described is 180˚ from the fiercely proud and active one I am blessed to know today: In 1938, Jews made up 4% of the US population (compared to between 1-2% today), yet the desire to assimilate and live under the radar cultivated by rampant Antisemitism in America (see, for example, Henry Ford or the grandfather of modern conservative hate speech talk radio Father Coughlin) as much as by memories of European persecution was so strong, that even though it was huge news and American Jews unquestionably knew about it, no large-scale effort to speak up or act in any positive way for the affected Jews was organized. Hard as I try, I still can't quite wrap my mind around how it's possible that this happened less than 100 years ago, that survivors are still alive, as I sit in our Bet Midrash in Jerusalem.
The juxtaposition of these events produces an irony tragic as either: When surrounding nations made violence on Jews, we did little to nothing to stop it. Fifty-seven years later, when a Jew took risks to stop an onslaught of violence against his people, he was murdered by another Jew.
But at Pardes, I know I am part of the solution. Thursday afternoon, my group and I finally started volunteering with the kids at the Ethiopian absorption center. Some of the kids have been in Israel a while, others have only been here as long as I have, but all of them face distinct disadvantages: Unlike many of the Russian immigrants, Ethiopia's culture is very non-Western and many don't have the education and the skill-sets necessary to compete in Israel's high-tech job market, and this in addition to the language barrier makes it tough for the first generation and their young children.
Not every problem in Israel is impossibly complicated. Just by being with the kids--by reading to them, playing games with them, or just goofing around with them--showing them someone cares--makes a world of difference.
They speak Amharic and a little Hebrew, we speak English with varying amounts of Hebrew, but it soon became obvious everyone really speaks the same language. I started reading a book to a little girl hoping she wouldn't be too upset by my hesitant Hebrew and putting the emphases on all the wrong words, but less than a page in she started ignoring me and flipping through the pages to look at the pictures. After we finished that book, she got a few more, and in each of them, read a few lines herself, then just cut to the pictures. Her Hebrew is probably as good as mine.
When we had finished reading, she took my hand and pulled me to a bookcase, and pointing to the top shelf that is about as high as I am, said ’!כדור’ which I know means "ball!" We volleyed it around for a little while before inventing a game where she throws it as high as she can, and I headbutt it back to her. After a long week of classes and studying, I can think of no better way to end the week. None of us can wait to go back, and we have ideas to make it even better in weeks to come, including bringing paper and colored pencils/markers, little soccer and basketballs, collecting traditional stories, and surprising them by ourselves learning an Amharic song then singing with them.
On the Jewish calendar, this Shabbat marks 10 years since my Bar-Mitzvah (and, coincidentally [?] 4 years since I first had cholent). My most vivid memories of that day are nailing the memorization and rote recitation of the second-longest Haftarah of the year and the karaoke afterparty where I did "Bohemian Rhapsody," Dad and Mom did "I Got You Babe," three generations of women in my family did "Respect" and my second-cousins I don't really know did "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy." That, 10 years later, I would be here doing this would have been unthinkable at the time. If the stories of Parashat Vayyera teach us anything it's that you never can tell.
My current 'stache ranks somewhere between the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis and Geraldo Rivera:
SUPPORT THE CAUSE!
Quote Paraphrased Translation of the Week: "How can you be Jewish if you aren't from Africa?" - Ethiopian Jewish child to Pardes volunteer
Hebrew word of the week: לעזור (“l'ezor”) – To help