Tag Archives: Israel

Shavuot: reminding me of who I need to be

It is hard for me to personalize Shavuot, though I know there is great spiritual meaning to be found within it.

Shavuot is one of the three major holidays named in the Bible.  As such, there is special designation as one of the Shalosh Regalim (literally three legs–meaning pilgrimage festivals). Then, it was a time of a huge in-gathering of the Jewish people who trekked to Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest. In later rabbinic times, Shavuot was designated as the time of the giving of the Torah.

Important, right?

But, embedded within the two other holidays, Passover and Sukkot, there are tools that help me imagine as if I was truly there. In the Haggadah, phrasing like “Avadim Hayinu” (we were slaves) helps me get back to that time of bitter slavery. The salt water, the charoset, the naming of the plagues…all those are brilliant memory instigators that tend to stick. The sukkah that my husband builds and we eat in during Sukkot is a substantial trigger of transport, to what it was like being in the desert and living out in the fields. The lulav and etrog are physical reminisces of the harvest.

Those are palpable reminders that help me take a journey back into my imagination, to a different time, and allows me to think of myself as part of a larger picture. Shavuot has no such tools for me.

“What about the Omer you say? Isn’t that tangible?” Right, yes, the counting of the Omer, sefirat haOmer, is a concrete way for me to bridge Pesach and Shavuot (the counting begins on the second night of the Seder until day 50, Shavuot), and offers me a spiritual time of introspection and momentum-building.

But yet, I am searching for a ritual that has some heft to it, and not the kind you get from eating cheesecake and dairy foods.

Shavuot is a much harder holiday to grab onto, and there are no built in ‘bells and whistles’ to easily awaken us to the grandeur of the experience. Shavuot demands something much more difficult and in some ways, more subtle.

We commonly refer to the chag as commemorating an event, the giving of the Torah, but we are discouraged from thinking of it as a one-time event. Instead, it is what we try to commemorate everyday as a constant unfolding of the Torah’s principles and teachings within our lives, as we commit to live by it everyday. Truly, it is an overwhelmingly awesome holiday.

In opposite ways, the desert and the fields during harvest were times of intensity, and brought us together as a people in distinctive ways that we get to revisit every Passover and Sukkot. But I need a way to bring me back to the time when I was part of that nation standing before Sinai….a nation, a people. A people united in spirit. With a message to offer that emanated from the charge to live life in an elevated way. To be holy. To strive to be something better. I need to experience that.

As a people, we face the experience of the Torah alone, but together. Each person is a witness of themselves, and what they know to be a higher standard of behavior.  But we are also responsible for one another. In these times, simply regarding our own journeys does not serve us as a people, and today, that might seem more challenging than ever.

We can not only ask “How do I measure up?” but “how do we measure up as a people?”

I need to regard myself as part of a people on a regular basis. I need to speak up when we are not living our highest ideals, even when it is difficult to do so; to put myself and my opinions ‘out there’. I need to be a participant and not a spectator.

Perhaps this Shavuot we will inch a little closer to the realization that Am Yisrael Echad, the people of Israel are one.

May you experience the blessings that Shavuot offers us.

 

 


Antisemitism, BDS, and the fight for justice

This new non-profit organization hopes to bring these issues to the forefront. Please read an excerpt from its website below:

jaccuse

“Antisemitism is on the rise, from all sides of the political spectrum.

In some cases, bigots are straightforward in their disdain for Jews, likening them to termites or mowing them down in a house of prayer.

In others, they mask their own discrimination, cynically claiming the banner of human rights. They use exaggerated criticism of Israel as an excuse to bully, ostracize, and silence both Jews and their nation state. Lacking adequate counterweight, the world increasingly views Israel through a morally relativist or plainly antagonistic lens…read more here


The one summer I chose Israel

 

At different times in my life, Jewish educators would often prompt seminar audiences to describe and prioritize their Jewish identity. The technique used was to ask “Are you an American Jew or a Jewish American”? Responses from the group almost always guaranteed an energetic discussion. I was never able to make up my mind.

Plus, I have to admit that depending on my mood, sometimes my first thought was Really? What will this answer possibly tell me about myself? How is this question even relevant to my life? Why would I ever have to choose?

Well, years ago on a summer trip to Israel, I did choose and though it happened over a decade ago, I somehow forgot about the circumstances of that decision. I put it out of my mind until recently when, in honor of Israel’s upcoming 70th birthday, a workshop leader prompted us to think of stories when our relationship to Israel might have changed–and I remembered.

The year was 2006 and I traveled with other Jewish educators on a 10 day trip that culminated a year and half of study. We knew before we went that this time of year might be somewhat dangerous, because there were flare-ups of aggression in the weeks before our departure. Knowing this in advance did not discourage us, and only one person stayed back.

During our travels, our guides were in contact almost hour by hour with Israel’s security office, making sure that our destinations would be shielded from any conflict. It was a little disconcerting though, as one day we couldn’t go to the North, then we were not able to go to the South. Katushya rockets were landing in Israel on a regular basis. You could feel that things were heating up.

Sure enough, towards the end of our trip, the security office informed our guides that they needed to abort the trip. Israel was at war with Lebanon. Within what seemed like an instant, people began calling family in the United States to tell them they would be making arrangements to come home, and calling relatives in Israel to let them know that they wouldn’t be visiting. There was a flurry of activity. I needed to be alone to gather my thoughts.

I distanced myself from the others to gain some quiet space to think heavily about what I should do and what I felt I had to do. A rational voice inside said “You have a husband at home and two children at home” I shot back, “Yes, but they’re over the age of 18…”. Back and forth the voices went. In the end, I could not leave and decided that I had to stay. I didn’t have a rational reason for what I would say to my husband. All I knew is that I needed to be in Israel and not desert the country I loved.

My father, an immigrant, barely in the United States for two years, enlisted in the army and fought for this country in WWII–but he loved the emergent state of Israel. He would understand.

I braced myself knowing that all at once it seemed egotistical to stay (really, what would staying here accomplish?), but pulled by the feeling that I did not want to leave…just in case I could be of help somewhere, somehow.

When I called home, my husband rightly challenged me with questions that I could not answer. How will you be a help to Israel if you stay? What will you do? Fly a fighter jet? Become a nurse? Go to the battlefield?

I had no answers. When he had no more questions I said “because I have to. I need to.” I stayed for three more weeks until the Lebanon War was over, and then I came back to my second home.

A few years later, after graduating from an ivy league university with high honors, my son told my husband and I that he decided to enlist in the Israeli Army, and would try out for special forces. We were speechless and held each other while listening to him describe his reasons for his decision. I cried on that phone call for his bravery, loyalty, and from a place of total fear. And I cried several times in the weeks that followed. But I understood.


Not sure it’s Israel bias?

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

“It should be remembered that any group that is willing to treat Israel and the Jewish people differently from any other and to deny it rights they wouldn’t deny anyone else is demonstrating prejudice.” Jonathan Tobin, “What Jewish Students Really Need”
http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/07/10/what-jewish-students-really-need-hillel-anti-semitism/


Dealing with Anti-Semitism on the College Campus: What Jewish Teens Think

An event taking place on many college campuses

An event taking place on many college campuses

The post title refers to Anti-Semitism, while the poster above references anti-Israel propaganda.

There are plenty of debates back and forth about which is which, including examples of Anti-Zionism in the mix.

This purpose of this post is to enlighten us about how Jewish teens react to a scenario they might encounter on the college campus. We know that the college campus, usually a place that is open to the marketplace of ideas, does not always live up to that reputation. An annual review of Anti-Israel activity on college campuses around the United States, produced by the ADL will educate you.

The situation below was given to Jewish high school students by the Anti-Defamation League recently, and they discussed options in small groups and recorded their responses on large poster paper pasted around the room.   

“Josh is a friend of yours from high school and a Jewish student activist on his college campus. He encounters a professor in one of his Middle East courses, who has a very strong opinion regarding what he describes as the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. Josh has his own opinion of the situation and finds that he is the only person outwardly disagreeing with the professor. Josh’s term paper, worth 30% of his grade, is due next week.  Josh is afraid to represent his opposing ideologies in his paper and possibly risk his grade. He asks for your opinion and advice. What do you tell him? 

How do you think the teens you know will answer?

Assertively? Passively? Defiantly?

Here’s one response that I’d definitely place on the unassertive continuum, as it really skirts the issue entirely:

“If the professor grades Josh harshly because of his opinions, then the professor is being unprofessional.”

How would you evaluate the comment above?      What would your recommendation be to this student?

If you’re curious as to how others responded, read on: 

“Agree with the professor, but keep your own beliefs to yourself because you need to pass the class.”

“Do not be afraid of your own beliefs. Speak to your department head if it’s that big of an issue.”

“Notify the dean of students. See what they (would) grade you and what the professor (would) grades (sic) you. If it is worse due to the opposing side/idea, tell the head of the department.”

“Write your own beliefs and see what the professor does and take it up with someone higher.”

“Don’t do the paper if you don’t believe in it.”

The good news, is that some students were very comfortable asserting their rights–outside of class.

Inside class, is another story entirely…and according to what I’ve read about college campus behavior, these student responses mimics what actually does happen when students encounter professors with differences of opinion. The stakes are high for these students beginning in high school and continuing on to college. Openly disagreeing with a professor’s opinions is really tough to do.

I clearly remember one student who felt such a sense of accomplishment after being able to argue successfully with his history teacher, that he called it a ‘life-changing’ experience. Yet another student told us how she wished she paid better attention in her Israel class so that she could debate more effectively with students at her campus who were members of Students for Justice in Palestine.

We can use our time with our students to prepare them a bit more to talk through these situations and help them decide the right course for them, depending upon their priorities. 

Denying that they will encounter either Anti-Semitism or Anti-Zionism does not serve them well.


Jewish Teens Should Know: Artists Get Flack for Performing in Israel

Alicia Keys is getting pressure to cancel her performance in Tel-Aviv Israel. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters announced this past March that he would not be performing in Israel, as originally scheduled.  He wrote Alicia Keys a letter stating

Please, Alicia, do not lend your name to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid, occupation of the homelands of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Others may try to persuade you that by playing in Israel you may magically effect some change; we know that this is not true, appeasement didn’t work with South Africa and it has not worked in Israel. ” 

I’ve decided not to go into all the reasons here why it is so obvious that Israel is not an apartheid state. Please refer to the many, many articles available on the web about that.

However, just based on all of the activity centered around boycotting, I was curious what would come up when googling this topic. When searching for “Boycotts of Israel” it produced “about 26,800,000 results in 0.32 seconds that were headed by a wikipedia listing.  Say what you will about wikipedia, it’s an influential gauge of cultural information.  This is from that page:

“Boycotts of Israel are economic and political cultural campaigns or actions that seek a selective or total cutting of ties with the State of Israel, Israelis or Israeli corporations.”

So, in fairness to wikipedia and the intelligence of the international community, (and of course Roger Waters), I decided to search for another country, one that would be ‘worthy’ of boycotting due to horrible, despicable acts.

Acts such as murder (even of children and women), decapitation, dismemberment, rape, fetal killings, etc. I tried searching “Boycotts of Syria”.

There was no wikipedia page listed on the first page of results, nor is there a listing at all. This is the response I received:

The page “Boycotts of Syria” does not exist. You can ask for it to be created, but consider checking the search results below to see whether the topic is already covered. For search help, please visit Help:Searching.

When I went back to Google, there were articles connecting the word boycott to Syria. Here’s what one of the several on that page were about:  “Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group says it will not take part in the upcoming US-Russian-sponsored conference aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”

This came to my Inbox, via the Israeli Consulate, and I thought it might prompt some action on the part of Jewish teens, and others who want to applaud Alicia’s decision:

“I want to let you know what YOU can do to help support Alicia Keys’ visit to Israel. While Alicia Keys has made it clear that she is not going to give in to the BDS propaganda and will perform in Israel, we think it’s important to show her just how enthusiastic we all are about her trip to Israel.

Comment on her posts on her Facebook page, Facebook.com/aliciakeys, tell her what her music and visit mean to the Israeli people

Tweet @aliciakeys 

This isn’t about polls or petitions alone, but about sending a message that shows Alicia that her fans in Israel love her music as much as anyone else, and that no artist should be bullied out of  performing in front of their fans.” 


These Questions Weren’t Answered in Hebrew School

Jew street

Will Jewish Teens Find Answers Here?

Hebrew School may answer questions like “what do I need to know for my Bar/Bat Mitvah” but there are many questions Jewish pre-teens have about Judaism that most schools just don’t have the opportunity to answer.

I was teaching a class to eighth graders called “What Makes Me Jewish?” and for an opening ice breaker, I asked them (95% of whom ‘graduated’  a typical Hebrew school, 100%  had become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah) to respond to  “A question I have about Judaism is…..” with one of their most pressing questions.

This exercise is interesting on two levels. One, it lets us know what students of this age wonder about. On another level, it demonstrates quite candidly, though from a very small sample, what Hebrew School can and can’t accomplish.  It does help make the case for continued Jewish education.

The questions ranged from the very general to the very specific.  Some are humorous, some reflective, some painfully poignant.

All are worth noting.

I have not left any question out. Here are their questions:

What does Judaism think about Heaven and Hell?

What is mysticism?

Why are tattoos bad (sic) in Judaism?

Why do we bow to the ark/G-d, if we aren’t supposed to worship idols?

How does the Jewish calendar work? When is the leap year and why?

Why are the jews (sic) always the scapegoat?

If we believe in G-d, why does the beginning of B’reisheet (Genesis) use the plural form of G-d? (this questioner clearly has done some studying of the Bible to ask this question)

What are the different values or points of view between the different types (sic) of Judaism?

Why do we have kashrut rules?  (yes, this student wrote ‘kashrut’ instead of kosher!)

What is it like to be a teen in Israel?    (interesting, this student’s question was not exactly about Judaism, but an inference made about Israeli teens).

How do we know that everything in the Torah is true? (notice that the questioner doesn’t write “if everything” but “that everything”)

How many religious Jews are there in Israel?

How many rules of the 613 do we actually follow these days? (immense credit is given for knowing the number of mitzvot –   commandments!).

Why are we looked down upon as Jews?

What do kosher Jews (sic) think about Jews who don’t keep kosher?

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What do you think of these questions?  As an adult, how similar or different are the questions you have? Did you have these questions as a teenager?

Photo Credit: Flickr JP

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