The incidents at the Kotel these past few months have dominated the atmosphere where I study. There is an overwhelming sense of support for the Women of the Wall and their efforts to be recognized as legitimate players in the Jewish-religious narrative. Many of my friends have donned their Talitot and Tefilin (some for the first time) and made headlines in the process. I can personally attest to the character and passion of these people and I believe their intentions are sincere.
And yet I struggle.
I struggle because I believe that Jewish history provides us with important lessons for the present. And when I view what is going on at the Kotel plaza it is as if I have been transported to Jerusalem just prior to the destruction of Second Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Both Josephus and the Talmud record a time of great division amongst the Jewish people and both ascribe the ultimate loss of the war with Rome and the destruction of Beit HaMikdash (Temple) to this infighting (Tradition calls it Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) while Josephus explains it along Continue reading →
Don’t count me out.
I’m not young.
In fact, I am rightfully considered to be among the elders of our community.
But I didn’t grow up in yeshivish Judaism, and my knowledge, is how shall we say…
Limited by the circumstances of my origin.
I’m acutely aware of it here, in Jerusalem, at Pardes.
Nonetheless, I am proud of the place I came from: my parents, my grandparents, who taught me to be strong and forthright, to care about other human beings, and to try to make the world a better place.
Do you dare to tell me for one instant that I can’t convey dedication to our shared tradition, Love for G!d, reverence for the power of the calendar, gratitude for existence
to my kahal?
I’ll tell you, “I can”.
I dream of a world united,
A place where hope is realized.
I hear my brothers and sisters singing together.
I think, maybe, maybe, there is an entity that we call G!d, who is happy with my thanks.
I think maybe, maybe,
I can just be, and it is enough
I’m leaving for Israel and my father hands me two bags. “Take these with you. The furrier, Shlomo, your great grandmother’s brother-in-law, left them to me. Find out if it’s meaningful for you.”
The first is black felt, light to the touch, with a golden Magen David embroidered in cord on its front. The Tallit inside is thin, composed of silky white fabric that is shifting towards an aged grey. Blue stripes run along its slender frame while an intricate latticework of linen falls away from the edges only to tangle up with the Tzitzit at the corners. It’s German Reform, classic and beautiful. So light I barely feel its weight when I try it on. So thin and delicate it barely covers my shoulders. It’s not my first Tallit.
The second bag is old and mustard yellow, fine prismatic threading has frayed across its front where it spells out the words “Tefillin” in Hebrew. The Tefillin inside are old with paper caps atop the Shel, each heavy with lacquer. The leather is cracked and aromatic, the black stain no longer present along the edges. The two bags go into my duffel, right next to my other Tallit, but as I put them down one Tefillin fall out of their yellow bag. The paper top tips off and the shin of the Rosh stares up at me like blurred eye still heavy with sleep. I stare back. What do I do with you?
Passing and imprinting on and from the new Pardes Sefer Torah
Today at Pardes, we had the honour and the pleasure of dancing our new sefer Torah, (donated in honour of a recent Bat Mitzvah) around the school. We heard lovely divrei Torah from Pardes student, Dr. Aileen Heinberg and from Rav Landes. There was some mention made of the fact that a Hachnasat Sefer Torah is a brit and like at a brit milah, we stand for the ritual. Later, when we passed the Torah from one person to the next, I was reminded of a brit milah I attended years ago where the baby was passed from one family member to the next as he was brought into the room. Continue reading →
I shared the following words at Pardes, wishing my friend Yevgenia and her family chizuk (encouragement, support) and Hashem’s rachamim (mercy).
She was born with a congenital heart defect, which has always impacted the quality of her life. Last Sunday, a week ago, I was not entirely surprised to learn that she had been hospitalized.
Yevgenia inspires me to believe that we can all achieve more than we may believe possible if only we push ourselves to succeed and live our lives to the fullest. She has certainly done so herself. Continue reading →
Naomi Minsky (Year '13, PEP '15) came to Pardes this year
for the Year Program, and will be returning next year as a
member of the Pardes Educators Program!
Since my teenage years I secretly wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. This is not because I am scientific and enjoy learning about the human anatomy. In fact, I go into panic-mode at the sight of blood. I was attracted to helping others live life to the full. Thankfully I have found an alternative route to achieve my aim.
Unlike medicine Jewish education does not literally save lives. However, it supports people to have meaningful experiences and relationships. It is a way to help others appreciate Judaism and approach it with confidence. My Bat Mitzvah involved facing the community and saying the shema prayer. The whole time I looked directly at my grandparents. They were sitting in the front row saying the words back to me. I am indebted to my Jewish education teaching me that the shema is an affirmation of Jewish identity and love of G-d. I felt the beauty of the experience as I was connected to my family, community and religious tradition simultaneously. Jewish identity today is multifaceted, for some it is Continue reading →
Having only one seder last year, while in Israel, followed by having two this year, has led me to reflect on why this custom is maintained, and how best to perpetuate it as a meaningful one. Like the other holidays that are celebrated one extra day outside of Israel, this practice originated because of a lack of clarity about the calendar. If the new moon was spotted, and the news was rushed to Jerusalem and verified there, there might not be enough time to get that news out to Babylonia (or wherever Jews were in exile). As a cautionary measure, then, those Jews celebrated an extra day to be sure that they did not treat the actual holiday as a normal day, and work on it. While we now have a set Jewish calendar, and I could tell you when Pesach will fall in the year 5973 (2213), the custom has persisted in most of the Jewish community.
While seders specifically are a ritual that requires a lot of preparation, and therefore having an extra can feel cumbersome at times, Continue reading →
Throughout Pesach my mind has been overflowing with questions, thoughts and new insights. As I ponder what to share with you, I recall one tradition which gets my mind thinking every year.
After the birkat hamazon (grace after meals) a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah is poured and we open the door for him.
When I was younger I vividly recall simultaneously believing that Elijah would be in a physical form standing at the door and I remember staring at Elijah’s cup, imagining an immaterial being drinking from it. The forms of his existence as well as these traditions were an enigma to me at the time and continue to draw my attention.
This tradition is fraught with possible meanings, some of which are as follows: Continue reading →
Emly Oren left Israel with her family at the age of four, but in many ways Israel never left her family. At school in Orange County, Emly was the only Israeli student; but her family continued to speak Hebrew at home, and they only watched Israeli television programs. The Orens would travel to Israel every summer to visit all of their relatives, and they would sometimes stop by other locations en route to their main destination.
As a child, Emly drew no distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli. Her traditional, secular family would remain at home together on Friday evenings for Kiddush and Shabbat dinner; and every year they would attend services at Chabad for the High Holy Days, but Emly felt no connection to that environment because it didn’t reflect the rhythm or culture of her family life. When Emly somehow decided to have a bat mitzvah, she chose to hold services at a local public library… and of course, her bat mitzvah party theme was ‘Israel’.
This was a pivotal point in Emly’s childhood, as she soon joined USY, and was exposed to other young Jews for the first time. She came to realize that Continue reading →
“So I was walking down the sidewalk one day, and a bus hit me in the head.” Such are the stories you hear at a lunch table in Israel. But we’ll come back to that.
In more recent news, I just finished celebrating my first day of Pesach in Israel. And let me tell you, the matzah here is amazing. Israelis actually spend a good portion of the pesach seder laughing about the fact that Americans still haven’t discovered the conspiracy that makes American matzah taste like dusty wood chips. They call it “מבצע ביצה” (Operation Egg) in code.
So many meanings at this time of year!
For the first (and only) seder, I went to the house of one of my Pardes teachers. The seder was absolutely wonderful; it was Continue reading →