Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Drinking the Magic Potion in Parashat Naso

This week’s Torah portion contains one of the most troubling stories. In it, the Torah recounts the procedures a jealous husband who suspects his wife of having committed adultery may bring her before the priests to submit to a trial by ordeal—a procedure for judging an individual’s innocence or guilt by subjecting her to a physical test. In this trial, the accused woman is forced to drink a potion made from sacred water, dirt from the Tabernacle floor, and the written curses containing God’s name (which are dissolved in the water itself).  It’s a strange portion to read during this season of weddings and romance, but this takes us right to the heart of a troubled marriage. Here we have a furious husband who suspects his wife of adultery, and a public ordeal designed to bring light to the truth. The suspect, (of course, it’s the woman) drinks the “bitter waters”.
In theory, her guilt is established if her belly distends and her thighs sag “but if the woman has not defiled herself and is pure, she shall be unharmed and able to retain seed.” Wow!
Do you wonder why her paranoid husband isn’t forced to take such a test? Why is it the woman is the only one who must endure the humiliation and public trauma of this ridiculous ritual?  What of the men involved: her husband and the possibility of another lover? No, it’s only the woman!
The Rabbis explain that the reason a woman is put through a process as difficult as the Sotah ritual is to restore trust in the marriage. Since the husband suspects his wife, there is no longer trust between them, and a marriage without trust cannot stand. To prove this assertion, The Rabbis point out that if the husband dies before the woman drinks the bitter waters, she no longer has to go through the process! That shows, according to them, that the Sotah ordeal has less to do with determining her guilt or lack of guilt, and more to do with restoring the trust and peace between the husband and wife. So, if the wife died through the ordeal, the witness saw the gravity of breaking the bond between husband and wife. And if the wife survived the bitter waters, the witness likewise saw the seriousness with which the Torah treats an adulteress, even a suspected one.
Still, many of us cannot overcome a sense of unfairness concerning which partner in the marriage undergoes the ordeal: The woman, already under stress from her husband's jealousy, is subjected to the test. But, apparently, in its time, it provided a sacred and orderly structure to resolve this type of crisis, and help manage the explosive emotions that were evoked when marital trust was tested.
So, maybe reading about it during the wedding season really does make sense.

Though grateful that the bitter waters are no longer drunk, and women no longer subjected to the “sotah”, just reading about it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Summer Camp and The Lanyard

Yes, it’s almost here. I can almost smell it.
S’mores, Campfires, those secrets with our sisters….archery, canoe races, Color War, playing air guitar with a tennis racquet.

Summer Camp…what  a wonderful gift

Those silly camp songs….talent shows…rainy day activities

The traditional lanyard…my favorite

How many friendship bracelets can you fit on your wrist?…. and how this 
simple accessory links us to those we love most in our now grown-up worlds. How we recall rainbow piles of plastic string and hours spent making keychains with our bunkmates…such memories

Did You Know That It's Not Just About The Sales ?

Here we are…Another Memorial Day. It always brings back memories, of those parades, and the itchy wool Marching Band uniforms. Of course, it was always brutally hot that morning. Those Memorial Day parades were celebrations. 

Actually, the original Memorial Day observance has long since disappeared. In the beginning, it was a one-day national tribute every May 30, an outgrowth of observances in the North and the South to memorialize the roughly 700,000 who died in the slaughter of the Civil War. 

An act of Congress in 1968 standardizing federal holidays decreed that Memorial Day be held the last Monday in May as part of a three-day weekend holiday, which, as time passed, became a made-to-order signal for a pre-summer shopping spree.
I’ve got nothing against shopping. And I can press “Complete Order” faster than most, but isn’t this supposed to be a day of honor?
We’re unlikely ever again to see Memorial Day observances like those of the past. But, hopefully, in between the sales, we can all take the time to say “thank you” to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us and for our country. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Forget Your Cholesterol, And Have A Blintze

On Hanukkah, we light the Menorah and eat latkes. On Purim, we eat Hamentashen. On Pesach, we retell the story and eat Matzah. But, on Shavuot the ritual is to remember the Giving of the Torah, and every day we have a ritual of Torah.

 But now for the menu: Milk. Basic, pure, the nourishment of life, very simple. It reminds us that the day of the Giving of the Torah is the day to eat with modesty and reflect on what sustains us.

There’s also the practical explanation, that it took some time for the Israelites to learn and observe the Kosher laws, so they continued to eat dairy until they learned how to properly slaughter and prepare their meat.
Whichever reason, the Torah describes the Promised Land as “land flowing with milk

and honey”…all the more reason to eat dairy on the holiday honoring the gift of Torah.  Enjoy

your Cheesecake!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Women of the Wall

Three members of the “Women of the Wall” were detained by police yesterday for wearing Tallitot, prayer-shawls at the Western Wall Plaza. 
For those of you that have been there, its easy to see that the men’s side is quite a bit

larger than the women’s side. Women usually have to push their way through. Women 

have to wait and push to get close to the wall while on the men’s side, they could 


and immediately walk up to the wall. The time has come for this situation to change! 

When is this ever going to change!

And, by the way…according to Jewish law, there is nothing wrong with a woman 

wearing a Tallit. So, what’s the problem?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Would Biblical Ruth Be Able To Cross The Border Today?

On Shavuot, we read the Biblical story of Ruth.
Ruth was a Moabite woman who married a Judean immigrant named Mahlon. Upon his death she became a childless widow who chose to accompany her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Judah. Naomi protested the decision, but Ruth persevered. She pledged her loyalty to Naomi, her people, and her god. So, Ruth, the Moabite, the foreigner, gleaned in the fields, and ended up in the field of Boaz, who was a distant relative.  He allowed Ruth to glean in his field and arranged for her safety. Boaz made sure that Ruth, the foreigner, had a decent job at decent pay.

It is impossible to read this book now and not imagine what might have happened if Ruth came to the United States? Arizona? Would she be admitted at the border? Or would she be arrested because she was, after all, a Moabite, and a refugee coming  for economic reasons. She couldn’t even have claimed family reunification; Naomi wasn’t a blood relation. Could she have found work as a farm worker if she didn’t have a green card? Would she be pulled over by a police officer because she looked Moabite and spoke with an accent? It was easier in Biblical times than now. Ruth's right to glean didn't depend upon her immigration status. It was the law.

Today in America, some are outcasts like Ruth, and some are wealth landowners, like Boaz. Everyone is entitled to decent work for decent pay. Everyone—even immigrants from other nations. In Biblical times, it didn’t depend upon Boaz’s generosity. It was the law.
 The story reminds us that we need laws to protect the powerless. But the story reminds us of something more: law itself is not enough. We need to go beyond the letter of the law. We need compassion, we need kindness. It was the law that enabled her to glean, but it was Boaz’s willingness to go beyond the letter of the law that gave Ruth not only a job, but respect and a safe working environment.
 There is the beauty of the simple narrative of the Book of Ruth, the power of a story about a strong relationship between women, a love story between an older man and younger woman. There are the personal and spiritual questions the book raises about choices we make at the crossroads of our lives. And there is the political challenge.
We read this book on Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of law, to remind us that law by itself is not enough. And, perhaps the law can be wrong. We read the Book of Ruth to remind us that at each step on the journey of our lives, we should choose Chesed- kindness- -  if we want to bring healing in the world. And we read the book now, at this season of counting, to teach us that each one of us that each one of us is accountable to each other and that kindness is what really counts. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Parashat Bemidbar

At the beginning of Parashat Bemidbar, God asks Moses to “take a census of the whole Israelite community”. Those that are being counted are “every male…from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” So, it's only those adult males who can serve in the army. Everyone else, just doesn’t count?

Hello?? I was there! I left Egypt! And the person next to me… that might not be able to fight in battle, they left Egypt too! And what about the children, and the teenagers, and how about the elderly, and how about those that have disabilities? They dreamed about living to see the Land of Israel, too !
Can you imagine the disappointment that some felt when some were counted, and others were pushed aside?

Yes, Bemidbar is about Counting. But it is also about making each one of us count, and accountable. This is our time for taking stock of our lives—each one of us. We each have a place. Our ancestors might have left some of us out of the census, but they can’t leave us out anymore!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Munich Olympics 40 years later

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympics is a celebration showcasing the best of the Host Nation. It features a parade of all competing nations and the highly anticipated entrance of the Olympic Flame,which ignites the Cauldron and signals the start of the Games.
The eyes of the world will be on London this summer for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic games.

The London Games will have a security force of 23,700, according to the British government's most recent report. With a security budget of at least $1.6 billion, the London Games are the largest peacetime security operation in Britain's history. The budget has grown dramatically in the past 40 years, especially since the tragic events at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
It was another time, but in many ways the summer of 1972 was a time much like today. A global recession and fears of inflation dampened worldwide economies. The Cold War was near its height, making Americans uneasy about the future. The United States was winding down a costly, controversial war on the other side of the world.

These had been advertised as the “Friendly Olympics”.

Coming less than 30 years after World War II ended, the choice of Munich as a venue had been controversial from the outset.More than most German cities, Munich had been closely associated with the rise of the Nazi Party. The first concentration camp, Dachau, was located on Munich’s outskirts, and the Israeli team had visited the site just before the opening ceremony.
It was the first time Germany had hosted the Summer Games since 1936 Olympics in Berlin, which were presided over by a confident,  Adolf Hitler. Hoping for forgiveness, the Germans had promoted a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.Now, the image of Jewish athletes with their lives at risk threatened to destroy all that.

Eight Palestinian gunmen from the Black September organization had broken into the Olympic Village. There they seized11 Israeli athletes, coaches and officials in their apartments.
Two of the hostages were slain in the first moments. By the end of the day, the nine other Israeli hostages and all but three of the gunmen would be dead. The stain of that terrible day would remain for decades — on the city of Munich, on German officials and on the Olympic movement’s leadership, which tried to downplay the tragedy.

Forty years later, as we near the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the memory of the Munich Massacre remains etched in our collective memory. Even those who weren’t alive in 1972 can see the legacy of Munich in the fortress of security built around the London Olympics. More than $2 billion will go to trying to make sure such an incident will not, cannot, happen in London. But the legacy cuts much deeper than that. What transpired on that September morning was a loss of innocence and a realization that even a sports event isn’t immune to the reality of the outside world.

The 1972 Summer Games will always be remembered as “the Munich Massacre.”
The image we remember from Munich is the masked gunman, leaning over the apartment balcony, stamping a seal of terror on an event so universally beloved.
“It’s the place we were told there are no wars, no hostilities, people living in the Olympic Village together with no boundaries,” said Efraim Zinger, head of the Olympic Committee of Israel. “It was a breaking of a kind of a dream. One morning we woke up, it was kind of a nightmare.”

So in London this summer, more than 10,000  of the world’s greatest athletes will congregate. And, there’s a chance they will bring with them the world’s worst problems. Yet the athletes will still come, and so will millions of spectators.
The events of 1972, were a jarring reminder that, despite the dreams of its founders, the Olympics cannot be separated from global politics.
Four decades later, security has become as integral a part of the games as the athletes, spectators and media. The British expect to spend more than $1.6 billion to protect this summer’s games. In the 4 decades since the 1972 Olympic Games, the families of the slain Israeli Olympians have repeatedly requested a moment of silence in memory of the massacre. Hopefully, this year, their request will be honored.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

Parashat Behar begins with the laws of Shemitah, which is the Sabbatical – 7thyear, the year where the Jewish people are commanded not to plant their fields or work on them.  Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee Year, where the agricultural activity is also prohibited.

Parashat Behar describes 2 unusual Sabbaths—not the day of rest that we observe every week, but year-long Sabbaths. During the Shemitah, the land must not be planted, but rather, people must live off the growth of the earth while the land rests, and all debts must be canceled. In addition, the Shemitah relieves ownership of the land. As we rest on the 7th day, the land of Israel rests on the 7th year. All people have unrestricted access to the land, and individual owners must abandon their claims. Now, during the 50th year, things get a little interesting. Every 50 years, we celebrate the Jubilee Year, or the Yovel.
During the Yovel, Jewish slaves must be freed, and all purchased farmland must be returned to the family that originally owned it. The message is that the earth and all its inhabitants belongs to God.
Interestingly, the Jubilee year begins on Yom Kippur, which is a time when we undergo a moral assessment of ourselves. Its not about property during Yom Kippur, its about the Self.

We continue with Parashat Bechukotai, where we continue with the many blessings we will receive for keeping the commandments of the Torah. It also informs us of the punishments we will face if we do not follow. The blessings that they will receive will include: peace, prosperity, safety from wild beasts, fertility, and victory over their enemies. But, the punishments are more detailed, and they show that God is attempting to influence the people to return to the right path. With each punishment, God hopes that Israel will have learned its lesson.

With this double portion, we conclude the Book of Leviticus. We learn that the earth doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to God (we’re just borrowing it, and we’re expected to take care of it).  What we do DOES matter, and our actions reflect who we are. If we ignore God’s will, we risk losing everything in the future. May we always realize our obligation of tending the land and nurturing our relationships in order to make this world a better place.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marriage Equality - Out of the Closet

President Obama has evolved

Today’s announcement is a major turning point in the history of American Civil Rights.
President Obama reaffirmed the fundamental equality of LGBT Americans.

In the Jewish Community, we learn that all people are created b'tselem Elohim, in the Divine image,  (Gen. 1:27), and should be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, including civil marriage, because we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel empathy for those who are victimized, deprived of opportunities, and discriminated against because of who they are.

Today is a testament to President Obama’s convictions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In Memory of Maurice Sendak

"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Parashat Emor

“These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal One, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions” (Leviticus 23:1)

We’re constantly counting time. We have our watches and electronic calendars, computers, cellphones, IPads, Smartphones. We always want to know what time it is (or really how much time we have until we have to be somewhere else).

This week’s Parasha does something different to our calendars. Let’s try to imagine God’s calendar. We see there’s an entry for Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. And there’s a list of instructions how we should observe each of these occasions. By making the celebration of each of these special days sacred, we add meaning to our lives.
Through the years, in Rabbinic Times, other Jewish holy days were added to the calendar. For example, on Tisha B’Av, we mourn and we experience loss. On Chanukah, we make light and we remember.

We move beyond the ordinary when we make it a point to mark time as sacred.  These holy days suggest something unique: that all of our experiences, from loss to celebration, from low points to high, from sickness to health, all have their place not only in an individual’s lifecycle, but also in the fabric of our “community calendar”. Celebrating significant dates on our Jewish calendar allows us to connect not only with our Jewish community, but with God, as well. They have been embedded in the cycle of our years since ancient times. Our tradition tells us: No matter what life brings you, you remain embedded in the fabric of Jewish time, and in the pattern of Jewish life.

Parasha Emor reminds us that whether we face joy or sorrow, illness or loss, pain or healing, certainty or despair, or life or death, we remain a part of the sacredness of our peoples' life.
So, now it’s up to us. Make the time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

It's Cinco de Mayo - It's time for the DREAM Act to be passed

It's Cinco de Mayo. Isn't it time to pass the "Dream Act" ?

"There's still plenty of unfinished business, including fixing our broken immigration system. It's long past the time that we unleash the promise of all our young people and make the DREAM Act a reality."  (President Obama)

We can ALL win when we dream. We all lose when we demonize each other instead of accepting reality as it is and moving from there to find common ground and good solutions.
And, sometimes, the right thing to do runs counter to our accepted wisdom. The question we should be asking is this: What is our shared vision for America?
How do we want to feel, as individuals and as a larger community? Let’s put our venom and polarizing politics away and move forward, using a set of common needs and desires and find out what makes the most sense.
The DREAM Act is an opportunity to step up and talk to each other with mutual respect. No matter your position, there is more to be gained by listening.
No one has ever failed by dreaming.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lag B'Omer:This year on May 10, 2012

 In just a few days we celebrate Lag B'Omer. As the Torah says in Leviticus, we are to count the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, the amount of time that passed between the Jews’ physical redemption from Egypt and the spiritual liberation of receiving Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai.  This is known as The Counting of the Omer.  The 1st 32 days are considered a period of mourning.  In fact, Jewish weddings Jewish weddings are usually not celebrated during this time. Why? As the story goes, the great Rabbi Akiva was known to have brilliant students, however they let their ego’s get out of hand and did not show each other proper respect. As a result, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students were killed by a heaven sent plague.   Each year, we observe a period of mourning in remembrance.  Jews celebrate on the 33rd day of the Omer because that is the day the plague ended. Because on Lag B’Omer, it is the 1st opportunity in a month to wed, many couples take advantage of the happy and spiritual nature of the day by choosing it as their wedding day.  Families enjoy having picnics & bonfires together, enjoying the beautiful weather and celebrating the light of the Torah.

"FIRST HAIRCUT & PEYOT SHAPING" ceremonies for 3 year old boys are the highlight of Lag b'Omer for many families, as everyone gathers to help snip.  Actually, everywhere in the world, Jewish boys born between Pesach and Lag b’Omer receive their first haircut and peyot on Lag b’Omer. Upon reaching the age of 3 (i.e., completing three years and beginning the "holy fourth"-see Lev. 19:23-25), a Jewish child begins to receive his or her official training in mitzvot. 

 The first mitzvah for a 3 year old boy is (Lev. 19:27) "Do not cut off the hair on the side of your head."  Four centuries ago, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the great Kabbalist, camped at Meron with his family in order to "make peyot" for his son on Lag b'Omer "in the presence of" Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.  Since then, especially in modern-day Israel, it has been a strong custom to administer the "first sheering" (comparable to the mitzvah of the First Fleece Offering-see Deut. 18:4) at Meron, and ideally on Lag b'Omer - birthdate and custom permitting.

Teaching children about the slings and arrows of life... playing with bows and arrows is another Lag b’Omer tradition, symbolizing the Torah learning by the students of Rabbi Akiva in the forests of Israel. A lookout would watch for Roman soldiers who were searching for the renegade scholars; when any would approach, the students would pretend to be hunting with bows and arrows among the trees for food.

However you celebrate, have a great time! Chag Sameach! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May is Jewish American Heritage Month

In 2006, President George W. Bush officially established May as Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM). The U.S. House of Representative’s resolution was introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl) in 2005, and the Senate resolution was introduced by former Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa), 2 months later.
On April 30th, President Obama celebrated the “shared struggle” of Jewish identity in proclaiming Jewish Heritage Month for the month of May. In the proclamation issued on Tuesday, the president discussed the perseverance of Jewish Americans in overcoming adversity and hostility in order to reach success in America.
“Even here, Jewish Americans bore the pains of hardship and hostility yet, through every obstacle, generations carried with them the deep conviction that a better future was within their reach,” Obama said.
“In adversity and in success, they turned to one another, renewing the tradition of community, moral purpose, and shared struggled so integral to their identity.”

The proclamation highlighted the achievements of Jewish Americans such as Aaron Copland, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, physicist Albert Einstein, writer and art collector Gertrude Stein. Their achievements have forever changed our lives.

Don't forget to read the new book (and my personal recommendation) When General Grant Expelled The Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna