From our trip to Poland, we definitely had our share of sad sights. Through the five days of our tour of the country we visited countless ghettos, camps, and graves. The stories about life as a Jew during the Shoah were tragic and horrifying. Other stories, like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, seemed heroic. Seeing Schindler’s factory and hearing from a surviving righteous gentile was reassuring of the kindness and sanity of humanity. Continue reading
Under the night sky, lit only by stars, we return.
None of us have been here before, to this town trapped in time, and yet our presence
here is a return.
We come as a memory of what once was, confronting the sky, the trees, and the
houses with each footstep.
On a footpath in the backyard between two houses, in sight of kitchen and bedroom
windows, a stone slab rises.
Treading through the overgrown grass, hearts beating as dogs bark in the darkness,
Pardes and the rest of Jerusalem educational institutions are closed. The roads in and out of Jerusalem have been closed in anticipation of motorists getting stuck. Emergency vehicles are on standby as are 150 snowplows.
This week’s parsha, Shemot, is the first in the Book of Exodus. It tells of the beginning of Moshe’s life and the story of Passover. In the beginning of the parsha, we hear of Pharoah’s evil decree, in which he commands the midwives to kill all of the male Hebrew babies. The midwives, however, do not follow his orders. When asked why, the midwives tell Pharoah it is כי חיות הנה, because they, the Hebrew mothers, are vigorous. This word, חיות , was very curious to me. My JPS Tanakh translates it as “vigorous,” but at the root of the word is חי, life. What does it mean for the Hebrew mothers to be so full of life that the midwives could not carry out the decree?
As we culminate the book of Genesis, I looked back to see what we had learned. How the stories fit together. What the commonality between the past 50 chapters held. In the women’s commentary to the Torah, Tamara Cohn Eshkanezi writes that Genesis is accounting for the human condition with it’s possibilities and perils.
Rivka Epstein, married to Pardes instructor Rabbi Michael Hattin, wrote the following piece on the occasion of their son, Elchanan's, first jump with the IDF.
I gave birth today. But my belly was steel and my arms, wings. I flew above the sands, precariously positioned myself, and ejected a life. Gracefully, he dropped, gravity his partner.
From afar, one might view the scene with a romantic air. The endless blue, the dancing body suspended by a drifting parachute. The gradual descent tempered by soft winds and a hazy skyline.
That’s one of the most blood-pumping, invigorating moments in one of my very favorite movies, Miracle, about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The miracle in the movie is that the inexperienced, comparatively young U.S. team could beat the seemingly invincible Soviet team.
When we talk about miracles, we often talk about grand, in-the-spotlight events, experiences that defy our expectations and remind us that we can’t always predict the future.
The traditional Chanukah story is no different from that definition. The story goes that the Maccabees defeated the mighty Greeks, a miracle in itself, and then went to the Temple in search of oil. All the oil had been tainted, but they found a vile with enough oil to last one night. The miracle of Chanukah was that the oil lasted for eight whole nights.
I remember the first Chanukah I ever celebrated. It was 2003 and I had been thinking about converting for a little over a year. I was already in the process of meeting with a Rabbi and was beginning to participate in Jewish holidays. I was also living at the time with my non-Jewish boyfriend.
November came around and I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. He was going to want to celebrate Christmas, I needed to move towards the Chanukah direction. This was going to be a problem. In the end, Chanukah won. I lit a menorah and for the most part completely ignored that Christmas existed. Maybe, I thought, if I just ignore it, it will go away.
I moved out of the condo a couple months later. But it didn’t solve my Christmas problem. As I went forward in my journey towards becoming a Jew, the topic kept coming up. Since that hanukah, I had begun to tell friends and family about my decision to convert. This was a big step for me. I was solidifying my decision to become part of the Jewish People, to spiritually and in many ways physically, transform myself. My entire life was about to change.
Everybody knows Hanukkah is about miracles — how that little flask of holy gold was uncovered, how it burned for eight days, just enough time to pick and press more olives into oil.
But before finding that small sealed jar of purity, before reentering the once-glorious Temple, before winning the military battle against their Greek overlords, the Maccabees had to believe that there was something worth the fight, something demanding a journey, something eternal hidden amid the chaos.
Humans are fundamentally tropical animals. When we ventured out from the equator where our species originated, we survived only by bringing the tropics with us. In our schools, cars, and homes we crank up the thermostat well into the 70s (that’s 20s Celsius for the non-Americans.) We must indulge in humidifiers, moisturizers, and lip balm to get through the cold comfortably.
This makes winter a curious, difficult season for us. In the tropics, the yearly tilt of the earth goes unnoticed. Days are always the same length. Outside of earth’s lush waistline, however, we do notice the tilt. And we inhabitants are moved with it, tilting away from the sun’s light and those long summer days, leaning into darkness and cold.