Pitch an ide a
An Unorthodox Wedding issue six
minyans of the people
the rise of lay-led congregations Seemingly Secular
exploring israelâ€™s secular-religious divide fall
new avenues for todayâ€™s missionaries
Culinary Zionism an ingathering of the edibles
editor and publisher Ariel Beery managing editor Deborah Fishman
arts & culture editor Allison Sheren
new pathways to jewish texts
society editor Ariella Saperstein
ideas & innovation editor Matthew Ackerman features editor Monica Rozenfeld around the world editor Eric Ackland israel editor Flo Low
can social activism and rabbinic study go hand in hand?
arts & culture Josh Gottesman, Rachel Krauser
society Chanel Dubofsky, Phil Getz, Elizabeth Zektick ideas & innovation Jordan Hirsch, Matthew Tzuker, Josh Wein features Amital Isaac, Natasha Rosenstock, Ronit Scheyer, Evin Simon, Libbie Snyder copy editors Miriam Bader, Rachel Berger, Laura Chizzali, Maya Norton, Ruth Schachter, Sarah Sechan, Katie Devorah Wampler, Ariel Zellman
assistant art director Hillel Smith photography director Brian Goldfarb photographers Scott Arnold, Rebecca Alperstein, Joshua Bousel, Joshua Cogan, Shai Davis, Mike Diamond, Shanee Fleischer, Adi Friedman, Mark Furman, Brian Goldfarb, Taylor Lewis Guthrie, John Ho, Joshua Keyak, Daniel Lebor, Rachel Nishimura, Silvia Ros, Todd Schechter, Shelley Shafran, Hillel Smith, Carmi Wisemon, Rebecca Zimmerman advertising and circulation director Simi Hinden
An Unorthodox Wedding
seeking alternatives in tying the knot jerrin k. zumberg
contents features + masthead
art director Lina Tuv
Minyans of the People the rise of lay-led congregations alieza salzberg
On the Derech
journey to the center of judaism jason arenstein
business intern Daniel Ferman This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. CC
creative commons: we think the creative commons approach to content is smart because it gives creators flexibility in their licensing choices and it allows for seamless sharing of content. at presentense, our exclusive rights to content expire after no more than 120 days. at that time, we encourage our authors and photographers to adopt a cc license for their work. www.presentense.org PresenTense is an international grassroots effort to inspire and enable sociallyminded pioneering amongst the Jewish People, and this Magazine is made possible by a network of volunteers around the world. Special thanks for help on this issue goes to: Benita Lebow, Itzhak Beery and Bleecker and Sullivan Advertising, the American Zionist Movement, the AviChai Fellowship Program and the board and steering community of the PresenTense Group. PresenTense Magazine is an all volunteer effort with 501(c)3 nonprofit status thanks to the fiscal sponsorship of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and supports itself by selling advertising and group subscriptions. If you would like to reach a young Jewish audience through our pages, subscribe to our publication, or purchase a bulk order for your organization or event, please contact Simi Hinden at simi@ presentense.org. If you would like to support PresenTense in its mission to enrich Jewish life, please make checks payable to the Foundation for Jewish Culture, noting “PresenTense” in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to: Foundation for Jewish Culture, Attn: PresenTense, PO Box 489, New York, NY 10011 PresenTense accepts submissions, pitches and letters to the editor by email: email@example.com ISSN 1939-294X
Photo by to Rebecca Zimmerman. Cover art by Hillel Smith.
issue six 2008
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letters contributors editorial
HERE & NOW 8 Woman to Watch tanya zion waldoks > deborah laks 9 Man with a Plan yehuda sarna > carly van orman 10 Rules of Engagement ties that bind > josh whisler
IDEAS & INNOVATION 12 Pitch an Idea the yitro award > maurice harris 13 Do it. Done it. profiles of 2008 PT institute fellows > laura chizzali 15 Kosher Music to Bricksand-Clicks new religious initiatives > raeefa shams and laura a. baum 17 Text’s Message new pathways to jewish texts > rebecca zimmerman 18 Ruth Wisse Has an Idea jews and power > matthew ackerman
AROUND THE WORLD
SOCIETY 26 Not Bringing Home the Bacon jews, food, and guilt > rachel lieff axelbank 28 Losing Their Religion? young orthodox grow into college > judith heistein 29 Moving People organizing for a change > david russell 31 Kosher Action can social activism and rabbinic study go hand in hand? > jessica sacks POETRY 32 Two Psalms > anita susan brenner
FEATURES 33 Seemingly Secular exploring israel’s secularreligious divide > deborah plum 34 Wrestling with God in Bethlehem seventy-one faces > becca linden 34 An Unorthodox Wedding seeking alternatives in tying the knot > jerrin k. zumberg 36 Subway Evangelism new avenues for today’s missionaries > laura berger
20 Hello, Mada rebuilding jewish life at camp > erin beser
38 Crispee Contest winners of the hebrew university photo contest
21 America’s Tel Aviv israelis invade miami > terence cantarella
40 Minyans of the People the rise of lay-led congregations > alieza salzberg
23 Eastern Encounters finding faith in thailand > sari nossbaum
42 Elective Exile? israeli-american dialogue on jewish identity > avi herring
24 Take That, Borat the search for jewish life in kazakhstan > perry teicher issue six 2008
43 Under Cover changing trends in women’s customs > hadassah levy
PARADIGM SHIFT 44 On the Derech journey to the center of judaism > jason arenstein PHOTOESSAY 46 Aliyah Now? jewish boundaries in a land of starvation > joshua cogan and dallas liIlich
ARTS 52 Found through Translation chinese seek jewish food for thought > erin kopelow 54 Lines in the Sand a conversation with michael oren > noa levanon 55 Portrait of an Artist god’s his DJ > monica rozenfeld 56 I Want to Hear My Own Voice hebrew melodies of the romantic era > emily isaacson 57 Cost of Living seeking fate in the land > shuki taylor 58 Art of Zion ideologies and icons for a zionist era > shana carp 59 You are Batman lessons from an ordinary superhero > arieh s. rosenblum 60 Jewish Batman? > mayer waxman 61 Sensitive Spirituality an excerpt > alisa ungar-sargon 62 Culinary Zionism an ingathering of the edibles > eythan-david volcot-freeman 63 Food Comic hot chili shakshooka > peter orosz 64 Backpage judaism by the numbers > PT staff presentense.org/magazine contents
both the young American Jewish third-generation reality…and Israel’s reality as very much first generation. (And as an American Israeli, I am dancing somewhere in between.) In some of the articles, I glimpsed the possible bridge you might be building between these realities and wanted to say that that’s a goal worth reaching for. Carry on, my friend!
To The editor:
Kayla Zecher Pittsburgh
Kenneth Bob President, Ameinu Member, WZO Zionist Executive
After spending some late night shifts reading your magazine that you gave me, I thought I’d send a quick response. The articles reminded me of a favorite quote by John Adams who said, “I must study war and politics so that my children will study navigation and agriculture so that their children may study literature and art.” This seemed to capture letters presentense.org/magazine
The Case Against the Case Against Israel Advocacy I could not agree more that direct engagement with Israeli society is a worthy goal for the American Jewish community and should be avidly pursued. Organizations like StandWithUs Campus
and the ADL’s campus programs, however, came about due to increasing anti-Semitism and antiIsrael activity on campuses all over the United States, not because this was seen as the ideal way to build bridges between American youth and Israeli youth—but because our students were left stuttering in the breeze when confronted with fervent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment walking to class on US campuses, and many times in the classroom itself (I have a copy of one that was put on my windshield at UC Boulder about “Jewish plans for world domination” and other vituperative accusations of every ilk.)
as Birthright has taught us, as well as increasing the touchpoints between American Jews and Israelis through, as you say, music, art, academia, food, etc ... . The bottom line is we need to be on top of our game in all respects, be “cognizant of maps” while we increase our cultural literacy of Israeli society and become more aware of her diverse voices, actively embrace Jewish Unity worldwide, and help Israel deal with the complex issues she faces, including “the voices shouting against her.” Yeah, big job, but we are up for it. Am Israel Chai! Laura Chizzali Zichron Yaakov, Israel
My name is Yehuda Aslan Ben Rahamim and I am a Sephardi Jewish inmate. I am currently housed at the Fremont Correctional Facility (F.C.F.); Canon City, CO. I decided to write to you because I just finished reading Issues 4 and 5 of your wonderful magazine (PresenTense). Both were very informative and I couldn’t put them down. They were very well written and user-friendly, which is very important. It is very refreshing to read wonderful stories in this harsh environment. I’m reading your publications and thinking: Heh! This is how I think. As a Sephardi Jew, I practice Judaism in what I call Au Natural. I don’t like terms like Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc. We are all “ONE” people (Klal Yisrael) and there is no need to set ourselves apart from each other.
issue six 2008
letters to the editor
When I am getting on an airplane I always grab a pile of magazines to plow through during the flight. Last week my pile included both PresenTense and other “mainstream” Jewish communal publications. Reading them one after another, the contrast was pretty startling. Past and present (and future) of the Jewish community and the Zionist movement ... that simple. Wow. there was a lot of food for thought in PresenTense. Usually I toss the magazines or at least rip out the pieces I need for future action, but I brought home the whole issue. Outstanding!
I disagree that “young Jews will never develop deep and lasting relationships with Israel if these relationships are predicated on entering a type of public debate.” Perhaps this is an ideal starting point for many people. I became too curious about what I felt I had to constantly defend. I had to see it with my own eyes, live it. I became very connected; I live in Israel now. We were not asked for our political views or measured for our contributions to society throughout the pogroms in Russia and Morocco, nor when we were all expelled from Spain in 1492, nor during the Holocaust. We were either forced to leave, maimed and persecuted, or killed, one and all. Like it or not, we are viewed, reviled and treated as a group. Giving these students, regardless of their views on Israel or Jewish life, some help through data shows them their community cares about them, and gives them a small amount of power in the face of adversity. Admittedly you have a great idea, how about someone (maybe you?) apply for a Fellowship next year to PICZ to flush out your great idea of the “American-Israeli online café” so that Americans can start talking to actual Israelis. In the meanwhile, we should all be very supportive of the efforts to give assistance to our students to defend themselves and the only Jewish homeland in the world when they are confronted with children holding signs proclaiming Jews to be organ thieves and other highly sensationalized non-contextualized pictorial montages of dead infants that would cause a corpse to feel bad. Rather than divert resources from this essential activity, the case can be made to increase resource allocation for fostering and cultivating connections between people,
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hat role does religion play in your life? Whether you interpret it as your connection to a higher Being, the traditions of your family, that thing you “don’t do,” or a sense of connection to your fellow coreligionist, religion in one form or another has been at the very core of the Jewish people for thousands of years. And religion continues to link us to each other to this day.
Our generation’s religious paradigm differs from that of generations past. We seek to meet religion on its own terms—to find meaning in ways that suit our passions, lifestyles, and individualities, and to celebrate the perpetuation of the Jewish tradition and values with our own unique voices. At the same time, we struggle in our own ways to come to terms with those elements of religion that challenge us, both those that our forefathers have grappled with for centuries, as well as new challenges that result from the ever-changing realities of life in the here and now. In this issue of PresenTense Magazine, we set out to capture a diversity of perspectives of young Jews today—what about Judaism excites us, frustrates us, and motivates us to work ever harder to perfect ourselves and the Jewish people. While in Israel young Jews navigate the borders of the religious-secular divide (see “Seemingly Secular,” p. 33, “An Unorthodox Wedding” p. 34), our challenges in America include juggling the plurality of religious standpoints to find what is authentic to us (see “Losing Their Religion?” p. 28, “Sensitive Spirituality,” p. 49, “Subway Evangelism,” p. 36). In the face of these challenges, members of our generation find their way to meaning. Whether you find yourself in what you eat (see “Culinary Zionism” p. 50), are a member of an independent minyan (see “Minyans of the People,” p. 40), or have found faith in Thailand (see “Eastern Encounters” p. 23), you may have found your special, personal style of honoring your affinity to your people. And, if you are still searching, never fear—perhaps you will find something that speaks to you in these pages. As a trans-denominational, transnational magazine, PresenTense is poised in an unparalleled position to examine the meaning of religion to young Jews today and to explore the issues that affect us all in the here and now. With an ever-expanding, all-volunteer network of upwards of seventy young Jews working on this issue alone, we reach, connect, and broadcast a forum of views that could be all the way from Kazakhstan (see “Take That, Borat,” p. 24), or from your neighbor next door (who you could then finally meet through in-person events in the PresenTense Network). In doing so, we are inspiring and enabling young Jewish creativity to realize the collective potential of the Jewish People. Through sharing our visions and inspiring one another, we can strengthen our faith—both by finding the space for our own individual voices to flourish, and also by the power of aggregating our collective experience to solve the pressing Jewish issues that face our generation. If we do it, it is no dream.
issue six 2008
woman to watch tanya zion waldoks
> > deborah laks
Here & Now
ou take action for what you really care about. This is where change can really happen,” states Tanya Zion
Waldoks. Zion Waldoks learned this lesson from her experience as one of the founders of Kehilat Tzedek. The fouryear-old center, based on a need for social activism, gives Jewish communities in Israel the necessary tools to create active social programs. Kehilat Tzedek guides them in identifying needs within their neighborhoods, and then enables them to realize their chosen projects through education on social justice and building leadership skills. “The movement was created to build a stronger sense of social responsibility and stronger communities. Issues such as social injustice are dealt with on levels where people feel they can make a difference,” Zion Waldoks explains. “A strong community is also one which cares about other communities.” Since graduating from Hebrew University in 2004, Zion Waldoks has been a strong activist for social justice, fighting to promote changes in the Israeli mindset and her field. For instance, Zion Waldoks took the initiative to create a national campaign based on the documentary Trembling Before God, featuring facilitated conversations on being gay and Orthodox within the Israeli religious school system. To illustrate the documentary’s influence, Zion Waldoks points to an example: “There was a kid who was about to be kicked out of school three months before graduation because he ‘came out.’ After seeing the film and taking part in the discussions, the staff changed its mind and allowed him to stay in the institution,” she relates. In her project, Zion Waldoks worked with two target groups, therapists working with youth at risk and the religious school system, and, for the first time in Israel, created conferences on this subject hosted by the Ministry of Education.
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She also has played a major advocacy role for women in the Orthodox community, encouraging them to sign Photo by Mark Furman. prenuptial agreements to protect them from becoming agunot, women unable Woman to Watch to remarry because their Tanya Zion Waldoks husbands will not grant them divorces. To help promote women’s rights Home in this way, Zion Waldoks Jerusalem, Israel explains, one has to be aware of both the principles of halakha (Jewish law) and the Profession reality of Israeli rabbinical Founding member of the Kehilat Tzedek courts today. “Surprisingly, Movement and a strong supporter of I found that when you social justice and women’s rights want to make radical change, the main players are often Orthodox people Watch her because themselves, like me, who are She fights social injustices, champions fighting from within.” Even though Zion gender issues, and promotes social activism. Waldoks has encountered many barriers along the way, she continues to fight for a more compassionate Judaism. “While it is important to create a identity is politicized within an Orthodox change in the public opinion and empower monopoly.” Nevertheless, she is positive people to make a difference, you have to that there is a stronger tendency against be sensitive and not always say everything giving up Jewish identity or letting you think. When changing the system Judaism be defined by a political party. from within, you must be much more “There is a revival of Judaism and an patient, because the system has its own urgent need to reclaim one’s identity as rules and language.” an Israeli Jew. Not just in the sense of Zion Waldoks perceives trends in performing rituals, but also to extract Israeli society towards less solidarity the meaning behind the tradition and try and more isolation—which is why she to make Jewish experiences meaningful believes her work with communities is so rather than just reject, ignore, or run important. “There is an increasing sense away from it,” she comments. “More of individualism, and a need for strong community-based social action projects communities that will generate a good are being created as part of people’s Jewish value system,” she says. identity, and that means Judaism will be She also mentions that in Israel the kept alive.” feeling of Jewish identity is diminishing because of the inadequate school system Deborah Laks is a freelance writer currently and because “many feel their Jewish residing in Tel Aviv. presentense.org/magazine here & now
man with a plan yehuda sarna
> > carly van orman
Photo by Daniel Lebor.
ehuda Sarna’s gears are turning. He parallels the performing arts and practice of Judaism, details the responsibilities of rabbis towards activism, and discusses American Jewry’s future—generating enough ideas to fill a book and enthusiasm to launch a movement within 30 minutes of conversation. Sarna is known for his openness and affability on New York University’s campus, where he serves as university chaplain and educator with the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life. “Although he himself is Orthodox, he is exceedingly welcoming to the wide variety of religious levels at NYU,” says recent NYU graduate Laura Berger. “Even with three young children in a New York City apartment, he invites hundreds of NYU students for Shabbat lunch, havdallah, and individual conversations.” Sarna and his wife Michelle provide valuable services to the NYU Orthodox community—one of the largest at any secular campus in the country—including as Torah Educators of the Jewish Learning Fellowship, a cooperative effort of the Orthodox Union, Hillel, and Torah Mitzion. In addition to meeting needs of Orthodox students, Sarna works to here & now presentense.org/magazine
Exploration of the Religious Experience. He is currently working with photographer Zion Ozeri on a book on the subject, and he also teaches a course on it. “I try to have students explore moving away from a scientific understanding of Judaism based on objectivity and rules to an artistic understanding of Judaism based on subjectivity, sincerity, and creativity,” he explains. Sarna relates the practice man with a plan of Judaism to training in the performing arts. Both enliven the Rabbi Yehuda Sarna individual through heightened attention to the details of everyday Home life, commitment to finding “truth,” and mindfulness of Greenwich Village, NYC, USA greater purpose. In the theatre, a performer will break the rules of Profession conventional behavior to reveal a Rabbi; University Chaplain member deeper meaning. Similarly, Sarna notes, Judaism provides a “script” in halakha (Jewish law) and Watch hIm because traditional texts. Like an artist, an Sarna is a rabbi for our generation. observant Jew brings meaning to the material through her actions. On the NYU campus, where many students train in the performing arts, Sarna and the expose new audiences to the Jewish Bronfman Center support development of learning tradition. Jewish arts through maintenance of a gallery “Rabbi Sarna cares about each and every and exhibition space and through programs like one of his students to the point where he can tell Artists’ Shabbat Dinners and Seder, the New you detailed stories about each one—who they York Jewish Student Film Festival, the a capella are and what they’re into,” says recent graduate group Ani V’Ata, and the Sabbath-observantRob Schlissel. “He does things. He’s not just friendly student theatre group S.H.M.U.T.Z. holed away in an office, writing or planning. Beyond NYU, Sarna has also consulted He’s out—connecting with people and for several art exhibits, including “Modern making things happen. The Jewish community Orthodox” at the gallery Eyebeam and the at NYU has flourished since he joined us.” show “Retzuot” at the Jewish Museum. Sarna’s get-up-and-go attitude was Younger people, Sarna recognizes, are largely shaped through working with the not always motivated by external forces to Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s activist Rabbi embrace Judaism. “Our parents could rely Avi Weiss. Immediately after the tragedy on international events to give them a sense of 9/11, Sarna was at Ground Zero with of Jewish identity,” Sarna says, citing the Weiss, dispensing hugs and handshakes to Holocaust, Israel’s establishment, and the police and firefighters. Sarna was struck by Soviet Jewry movement. While young Jews the impact their presence created and was feel less connected to their parents’ brand of chagrined that no other rabbis were present. Judaism, Sarna is an embodiment of what In Sarna’s brand of activism, most they can find in Judaism that is exciting and important, paraphrasing Woody Allen, is inspiring. Sarna actively seeks to empower the “just showing up” to let a community know current generation to take ownership of their that others care. Rabbis in particular, Sarna Judaism, inviting others to share in his journey suggests, have a special responsibility to to create new pathways to Jewish life. comfort and heal. Another area of focus for Sarna Carly Van Orman recently left a law job to spend is the intersection between Judaism a year traveling, studying, and volunteering in and the arts. In college, he co-founded Israel and India. If one more person asks her if Mimaamak1im: Journal of Artistic she’s read Eat, Pray, Love, she will scream. issue six 2008
rules of engagement ties that bind
> > josh whisler
Aaron Finkelstein What inspired you to become a rabbi? As I embraced my role as a Jewish leader in college, I thought about how to best utilize my own personal skills and talents for others around me. I wanted “to make a difference.” I decided that becoming a rabbi is the best way I can positively affect people, bring meaning and significance into my life as well as others, while doing these things through a distinctly Jewish perspective. Do you see the roles of the rabbinate shifting in any way from rabbis in previous generations? For the most part, many of the functions of the rabbinate remain constant; people continue to need teachers, counselors, halakhic advisers and support in times of need. However, the modus operandi of the rabbi is in a state of flux. In previous generations, there was a significant distance between “the rabbi” and his or her congregants. Many of these factors are dissipating in the face of greater access to both Jewish education and the autonomy borne out of the Internet. While Jews will continue to need Jewish leaders, people are increasingly comfortable going to Wikipedia to answer a question. With this reality, many of the traditional barriers associated with the rabbinate will begin to erode, ultimately giving way to a much less hierarchical relationship. Do you feel the role of a rabbi today is more challenging than in the past? No. As challenging as the rabbinate will surely be, rabbis occupy fewer roles today than they once did. In some cases, a rabbi will work in a day school while also having a pulpit—but I don’t think many of them are also slaughtering kosher meat for their community or listening to every court case.
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Chovevei Torah Should rabbis use their pulpit as a means to discuss politics? I really don’t think so. I see little gain, spiritual or otherwise, for intermingling religion and politics. If anything, the potential risk of politicizing religion (any more than it already is, some might say) is far too great. What can be done to further unify Jews of all backgrounds? I believe that the Jewish community can become a strong, unified voice, representing a unique religious and moral vision. I hate to say it, but I think focusing on issues beyond the Jewish community is the best way to avoid the internecine conflict that often plagues us. Within the Jewish community, we will always disagree; however, that shouldn’t preclude us from coming together for others. Young Jews today feel more unaffiliated than ever—what can be done to stem the tide? Despite the widespread anxiety over indifference and unaffiliation, I am very optimistic about the emerging generation of Jewish leaders. There has been such an amazing proliferation of fantastic programs that encourage Jewish teenagers to grapple with their identity and their place within the Jewish community. As a community, we are just beginning to reap the benefits of this investment. I am thrilled to see this next generation take the mantle of Jewish leadership.
Will you be using Web 2.0 to connect with your congregants/students? The myriad of opportunities for initial connection on the Internet are powerful and compelling. These modes of connection, however, will never supplant an honest and genuine faceto-face conversation.
Photo by Taylor Lewis Guthrie.
Do you think young Jews need to be more traditionally observant, culturally affiliated, connected to Israel, etc? I think young Jews need to view Judaism as relevant to their lives. For some, this might mean an increase in communal affiliation or observance, but I don’t think this works for everyone. There is no substitute for a strong, dynamic Jewish community; yet that can and will take many forms, especially for young Jews.
presentense.org/magazine here & now
awyers, Doctors, Accountants, Engineers; careers a Jewish mother kvells over should their progeny decide to join the ranks of these prestigious professions. Yet a select few, exceptional young Jews are taking another path. They have decided to dedicate their lives to help guide the community toward a more
What inspired you to become a rabbi? Many people and moments inspired me, but one story stands out. Two years into a job at Microsoft, I found myself listening to a Shabbos lecture by Rabbi Chaim SeidlerFeller. The lecture resonated deeply within me despite my having thought I’d lost my faith in God a few years earlier. “There’s something else you’re meant to be doing,” I kept thinking. I left, found myself alone in Beth Shalom’s small chapel, spread my arms out on the bimah, and started talking to God. It went on for a while.
Photo provided by Andrew Ash.
Do you see the roles of the rabbinate shifting in any way from rabbis in previous generations? Yes. rabbis have always been responsible for their communities, but now they’re
here & now presentense.org/magazine
sustainable and vibrant Jewish future by being in the pulpit-holding, question-answering, Torahinterpreting, bar-mitzvah-tutoring role of rabbi. PT sat down with two current rabbinical students to hear about what inspired them to take on such needed roles within the community and what their plans are for the future.
also being called to create community for people who don’t have it, or who don’t have it in a Jewish flavor. That’s a very different job. Rabbis will change to be creators of community where they find Jewish young people—in a “third place” like the coffee shop they frequent, or with people who share some passion of theirs (parenting, indie rock, hiking, etc.). Do you feel the role of a rabbi today is more challenging than in the past? The role is different. We’re already seeing unaffiliated Jews and intermarried couples challenging rabbis to think very differently about who they welcome and accept. Holding our tradition in this reality will challenge rabbis to change in significant ways. Should rabbis use their pulpit as a means to discuss politics? Should Martin Luther King Jr. have stayed out of politics? He used the language and teachings of religion to try to impact systems of unjust laws. The rabbis sit at a nexus point in our community and listen to the needs of many people in a way few others can. They’re aggregators. If the greatest need is one that requires political change, they have two choices: either (a) counsel people in how to accept their present circumstance and be happy in spite of it, or (b) they can lead their community in advocating for change. The role of rabbis is to do both, though they need to be very careful that their political action reflects the needs of their “constituents” and not a private agenda. What can be done to further unify Jews of all backgrounds? We face a great and very old challenge if the small 12 million of us are to remain one nation: love our fellow Jew as ourselves, and
dialogue with them about change rather than putting our energies towards smashing what we perceive as idolatrous in the other. Young Jews today feel more unaffiliated than ever—what can be done to stem the tide? Surely they’re not unaffiliated from everything. Have they (a) discovered what they’re passionate about, (b) are they still searching, or (c) are they like the child at the Passover Seder “who does not know how to ask”? Can you blame young Jews for not being interested in Judaism after having missed out on a Jewish education growing up? But, wow, have I met a lot of young Jews that are interested when we offer them the right opportunity. We can also fix this for the next few generations by teaching what’s beautiful about Judaism to entire families, and in some depth. Will you be using Web 2.0 to connect with your congregants/students? I remember talking with a fellow Microsoftie who said, “I looked at Jewish websites and you know they’re really primitive, there’s much more we could be doing.” In the next five years, I’d like to connect a group of young people who identify as that “we” who have the tech skills to “do it.” Do you think young Jews need to be more traditionally observant, culturally affiliated, connected to Israel, etc? None of the above? All of the above? We just need to let young Jews be and tell them we love them. Let’s offer a bunch of opportunities in each of these areas and see where people go. Where they go, we put more money and people, and three years down the road you have more Jews who love Israel and love tradition. Voila! There’s a great quote—“you can only teach someone the lesson they’re ready to receive.” Josh Whisler is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC, and is the author of The Iranian Track blog (www.iraniantrack.blogspot.com).
issue six 2008
pitch an idea the yitro award
> > maurice harris
ideas & innovation
ur 400-family congregation recently moved to a new building. The move was long overdue, but the community isn’t wealthy, and it took us over a decade to raise the money. Now we’re exploring our new, spacious home which reflects our core values: intimacy, unpretentiousness, environmentalism, and joyful, pluralistic Judaism. The chair of our capital campaign steering committee put in hundreds of hours rallying our community, holding meetings, negotiating conflicts, giving speeches, and making reports. Without him, we could not have built the building. He is not Jewish, and only one of many non-Jews who routinely contribute time, money, wisdom, and love to our shul. A few years ago some friends and I developed the term “fellow travelers” to describe non-Jews who, because of ties of love and family, are part of the Jewish community but are not necessarily en route to converting. Rather, they seek to accompany the Jewish community on its journey without becoming Jews themselves. For Jews in America, intermarriage likely is here to stay, and for the foreseeable future, intermarried families will probably make up a significant percentage of Jewish congregations. While recognizing that there are costs to intermarriage, there might also be benefits. Smart congregations will issue six 2008
explore how to maximize those benefits so that their intermarried families help drive growth and meaningful living within our communities. One of the ways that synagogues can do this is by celebrating and publicly appreciating the contributions of these fellow travelers. Toward that goal, I propose congregations offer an annual award to a fellow traveler in their community whose gifts of time, love, money, or wisdom have strengthened the Jewish people: the Yitro Award. In the Torah, Yitro was Moses’ fatherin-law. He was also a Midianite priest who sheltered Moses when he was a fugitive from Pharaoh and designed a system of courts adopted by Moses. Although rabbis later presented Yitro as a convert to Judaism, the Torah never states that Yitro stopped being a Midianite priest. Yitro, then, can provide us with a model from Jewish tradition of a loving non-Jewish leader within the Jewish community, someone who cares deeply about our people’s welfare, admires our spiritual journey, and makes a difference. Many synagogues have fellow travelers providing Yitro-like support. One could even argue that, by becoming more open to active and supportive nonJewish participation in Jewish life, our communities are beginning to look a
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bit like biblical Israel: a society centered around Jewish life but tolerant and in some ways inclusive of non-Jewish citizens. The Jewish tradition’s interpretation of events, known as midrash, explains away Yitro by saying he converted to Judaism later in life. But if we are to focus on his previous acts and re-read the Torah’s telling as an expression of fellow-traveling good will, Yitro becomes an example of a loving non-Jew who gave the Jewish people indispensable help. Through this fresh midrashic reading, Yitro offers our congregations a guide to how to appreciate and publicly acknowledge the help of fellow travelers to our communities’ success and growth. Through this, we can strengthen ourselves and our synagogues. Maurice Harris, a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), has served as Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon since 2003.
The Yitro Award Cost per year
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Do it. Done it. profiles of 2008 PT institute fellows
> > laura chizzali
Photos by Shai Davis and Todd Schechter.
he PresenTense Institute (PTI), a six-week intensive social entrepreneurial bootcamp in Jerusalem, brought together 16 socially-minded young Jews this summer. Operating under the motto “If you do it, it is no dream,” they pursued projects embodying their visions of how to impact and inspire the Jewish people worldwide. The individuals’ projects highlighted here are each connected to religion in a different way.
generation to experience the wholesome yet edgy wit that underlies the Jewish ability to overcome adversity. Pere’s Hey Yiddle Diddle Productions will develop a series of children’s books that bring this legacy to today’s kids while integrating core Jewish values. Pere intends to captivate the cool, young reader with her modern delights and buzzy, fun artwork, already exhibited in her calendar “A Yearly Shpritz of Jewish Bits.”
www.charipere.com Chari Pere, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, is the manifestation of light out of darkness. Valedictorian at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and a graduate of the Yeshiva of Flatbush, she takes her foundation in Jewish values, merges it with her intuitive ability to transform murky gloom, and overlays her art to create inspiring, witty cartoons and comics that convey some meaningful messages. “Judaism gives me a sense of security and appreciation that permeates my daily life,” says Pere. She is comfortable with her spiritual path and seeks to achieve unity and respect among Jews. One of the objectives of her work is to bridge denominations and generations. Her art has a universal appeal for Jews; we can appreciate it regardless of whether we go to synagogue. The experience of losing her beloved survivor grandfather recently has not shaken her resolute belief that “moments of immense pain are an opportunity for bringing brightness to the world.” Pere credits her comedic father for shaping her resilient nature, as well as “bringing fun to everyday Jewish living.” She wants the next ideas & innovation presentense.org/magazine
The last time he had an idea, Waldman moved across the world, tackled a new language, learned to analyze and debate Torah, and studied ancient Persian art. The impetus came from hearing the story of Megillat Esther from a traditional Jewish perspective. The result of merging his “religion of comics” with this foundational Jewish text was his Megillat Esther, published by JPS. Waldman wants to “bottle this type of experience for others to drink.” Tagged Tanakh is the Web 2.0 engine of YAVNET that can enable this vision. Similar in design to Del.icio.us, tags enable users to mark, store, retrieve, share, and link information that they find online. This use of tagging has the potential to create an organically-grown, personalized, relational database. Waldman believes this innovation has great potential. “However we choose to interpret our millennia of Jewish thought, or whatever we individually observe as Jews, it all points to the Torah, our common reference point, the core asset of our people.” He also notes that “the more we engage in it collectively, the more we build our connections and unity.”
JT Waldman www.yavnet.com JT Waldman is like a super-focused electrical storm. An intraprenuer, one who reorganizes an organization from within, he is challenged with improving business for the Jewish Publication Society, a successful, century-old publishing house. Waldman is creating YAVNET, a metadata tagged Tanakh platform for the Torah, in an attempt to present thousands of years of Jewish perspective in an interactive, connectable way.
Rafi Gabbay Odeka Rafi Gabbay’s Hassidic maternal grandfather cut his payess and moved to Israel to be a Zionist, thus escaping the Holocaust that claimed the lives of the rest of his family in Poland. In Israel, he met issue six 2008
By Chari Pere. July page from Jewish humor calendar.
and married a woman who was actually from his same hometown in Poland. Gabbay's paternal grandparents fled persecution in Iraq to arrive on the shores of New York. Later in life, his father became observant and relocated to Israel, where he and his siblings were raised. Just as he is the synthesis of worldwide cultures, Gabbay aims to “synthesize his loves” of Jewish living and industrial design. Inspired by Jewish theology and philosophy, he sees himself as a spiritual person who understands we live on a material plane. He works to maximize those experiences as an industrial designer. His project, Odeka, designs products that facilitate everyday Jewish life using the optimal materials and cutting-edge aesthetics. Gabbay “connects with machines,” yet acknowledges their limitations. “I cannot change someone through objects. I can enhance their experience and make it more profound, but someone will not connect the first time to Jewish observance through an object.” Gabbay strives to design innovative products, and it works: people gravitate to his designs. When viewing one of his products at the PTI, a guy standing next to me asked Gabbay right away, “I want one. When can I get it?” The “it” was a tefilin bag with a retro-techno feel that provides padding and temperature protection for the sacred item inside, yet is priced competitively with the typical tefilin bag.
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By JT Waldman. JPS presents: The Tagged Tanakh.
By Rafi Gabbay. Lighting the Shabbos Table.
Answers for the Wondering Jew
By Shai Davis. Oorim: Answers for the Wondering Jew
www.oorim.com Award-winning filmmaker Shai Davis is passionate about Jewish education, and is expressing his passion through Oorim. com. “People are empowered in their Judaism not through inculcation, but by taking ownership. The most effective pedagogical method is enabling the learner to be the teacher by providing a forum for them to ask questions, provide answers, and enter dialogue in neutral territory. Today’s Jews are not looking for a stamp of approval for their Judaism, but rather meaningful engagement.” Oorim.com provides the forum and knowledge base for participants to reference the vast array of information housed in leading Jewish institutions. “[It will] enable the behemoths to talk to the everyday Jew that they are always trying to reach by equalizing the voices and providing peer-to-peer interaction,” says Davis. Bringing pluralism to life, anyone
can post a question, and everyone can post their answers. Envision a freeze frame on Oorim.com: “A soccer mom in Teaneck is discussing the science of religion with a college student in Berkley, also giving her a great recipe for charoset, while a fifth-grader in North London is answering the marketing question of a foundation executive in Jerusalem, who is considering a grant proposal for a project to educate elementary school children in the Diaspora about Israel.” So what did Shai get most out of being with other fellows at PTI? “Being with people passionate about Jewish community, people who want to enable it, empower it and grow it to be the light unto the nations it can be.” Laura Chizzali is a management consultant and writer living life in 3D in Israel: Jewish Unity Rocks!
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kosher music to Bricks-and-Clicks new religious initiatives
> > raeefa shams and laura a. baum and educating the world, a Jewish imperative to begin with?” ATARA has responded to a need to be able to create art within an observant religious framework. Participant Leah Sigal from Monsey, NY, knows firsthand how imperative it is: “As a singer/composer, I view my role as an instrument in God’s hand ... Composing allows me the freedom to express my innermost sentiments via lyrics or music, in a way that is uplifting and conducive to feeling closeness to God and to my people.” Participants and ATARA developers include Garbose, who also runs Kol Neshama, a musical theatre camp for girls in Los Angeles; dance instructors Yocheved Polonsky from Photo by Carmi Wisemon. Jerusalem fifth graders participating in Sviva Israel’s Eco Connection. Cleveland, Ohio and Kari Isaacson and Rivka Lomiansky from Toronto; and former Broadway actress Judy Winegard from Los Angeles. These women will be coming together to build a social community based on the shared values of Torah observance and “If every Jew realized that what they have professional artistic expression. inside them has the potential to be more valuable than what they see around them, our Further information about ATARA can be found at world and community would be the richer for the unique www.artsandtorah.org and conference registration is and profound contributions that each person will offer.” now open at http://atara2008.eventbrite.com. – Miriam Droz, Founder of ATARA
As an organization that supports Torah-observant creative and performing artists, ATARA, the Arts and Torah Association, offers settings in which artists can express themselves and still preserve a halakhic context. Such milieus might include a shomer Shabbat or women-only venue, exemplified by the second annual womenonly conference ATARA will be holding for the creative and performing arts throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn November 7-10, 2008. The conference will include workshops on various art mediums, visual art displays and film screenings, music and dance performances, and a keynote address by Hollywood film director Robin Garbose. “The arts are ways to communicate, so there is nothing wrong with them—only what is being communicated,” explains Miriam Droz, the founder of ATARA. “What would the world look like if we truly harnessed our creative potential into beautifying, uplifting, ideas & innovation presentense.org/magazine
“From Jerusalem needs to come forth the message of Judaism and the environment. The world is waiting to hear what Judaism’s approach is to today’s environmental concerns… What Carmi Wisemon started as a neighborhood project has quickly become an international project with participants not only from Israel, but also the US and England, and I congratulate him on this achievement.” – Uri Lupolianski, Mayor of Jerusalem Yedidei Sviva—Sviva Israel is an organization promoting environmental and civic responsibility in Israeli society through the education and training of today’s Jewish youth. issue six 2008
Through combining the study of traditional Jewish texts with hands-on service learning, Sviva Israel’s educational and community programs explore the connection between Judaism and the environment in order to facilitate understanding among Israel’s fragmented society. This is demonstrated in Sviva Israel’s annual conference on “The Environment in Jewish Thought and Law.” The 2008 conference, held on July 9, brought together such diverse participants as the Israeli Minister of the Environment, Gidon Ezra; Israel Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger; Mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski; as well as Haredi rabbis and environmental academics and activists. Sviva Israel’s international and web-based projects connect young Israelis with each other and with their global peers through programming that contributes to their dedication to environmental protection, to their Jewish identities, and to their pride in Israel. It nurtures connections that will ensure Israel’s future as an environmentally sustainable home for the Jewish people. This was further emphasized by Minister Gidon Ezra in his address to the conference: “It is thanks to this kind of programming that the religious public has become a full partner in the efforts to bring environmental protection to Israel.” Carmi Wisemon, the executive director of Sviva Israel, proclaimed at the conference: “We are delighted that we have been able to bring together in a public forum the highest levels of rabbinical leaders in Israel with environmental professionals, activists, academics, and educators—religious and non-religious. In understanding Judaism’s approach to the environment, it is incumbent upon us to first learn about the environmental issues that we face today.” More information on Sviva Israel can be found at http://www.svivaisrael.org/
“The online congregation will provide many of the same services of a brick-and-mortar congregation, such as access to rabbis, sermons, educational materials, social networking, discussions, and more. The benefits of the online congregation are many: It is not restricted to geographic boundaries. It provides a place for people who may not have a progressive synagogue in their local community to which they feel connected.” - OurJewishCommunity.org When a recent newcomer discovered OurJewishCommunity. org, an online synagogue, she was puzzled by the concept. “I understand the words ‘online’ and ‘congregation,’” she remarked, “but I have no idea what the phrase ‘online congregation’ means.” With only 44 percent of American Jews claiming synagogue affiliation and with most Jewish websites functioning only as resources and discussion boards, Our Jewish Community Online (www.OurJewishCommunity.org) seeks to surpass the existing models of Internet and of congregation, and create a hybrid “bricksand-clicks” synagogue online. The model enjoys great appeal with young Jews who are increasingly mobile and searching for a strong
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congregation and rabbinical leadership regardless of location. Amidst the larger phenomenon of social networking sites, the time for an online synagogue is ripe. OurJewishCommunity.org was started by Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati, Ohio (www.bethadam.org). Beth Adam has drawn on Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanist intellectuals to create a model for progressive Judaism. The Internet allows the congregation to share its passion for
We have survived as Jews largely because of our willingness to evolve. Our world is changing constantly, and innovative ways must be imagined to make Judaism compelling to modern Jews. intellectual inquiry, religious diversity, and spiritual discovery outside of Cincinnati. Indeed, OurJewishCommunity.org has begun providing educational materials for adults and children, podcasts, modern midrashim, and innovative discussion forums encouraging community connection. One feature that makes OurJewishCommunity.org unique is that members have access to Beth Adam’s rabbis. While the rabbis may not be present for lifecyle events of their online congregants, they offer liturgy, support, and planning. Beth Adam’s rabbinical staff is particularly concerned with ensuring that intermarried Jews—an ever-increasing phenomenon—have access to Jewish resources for their life cycle services, from weddings to births. OurJewishCommunity.org will soon feature live webcast services and educational programs, ensuring that the website becomes a true community and not simply a resource. OurJewishCommunity.org is an evolving process that will be influenced by congregants’ feedback. Healthy congregations are built over time by meeting the needs of an involved membership. We have survived as Jews largely because of our willingness to evolve. Our world is changing constantly, and innovative ways must be imagined to make Judaism compelling to modern Jews. Access resources at www.OurJewishCommunity.org and via the toll free number 866-918-2326, or read more at www.presentense.org/magazine. Raeefa Shams is a recent graduate of Wellesley College. Currently doing an ulpan at Hebrew University, she will sadly be returning to the US to find gainful employment and fill out graduate school applications. Laura A. Baum was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008. She is the Director of Online Congregation at Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland, Ohio, working along with Rabbi Robert B. Barr, the congregation’s founding rabbi.
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Text’s Message new pathways to jewish texts
t the Secular Yeshiva in Israel, students work through a Talmudic debate about what type of gateway and doors should be built at the entrance of a courtyard. For these students, most from nonreligious backgrounds, the debate has real world significance: their South Tel Aviv yeshiva has been broken into several times. The debate highlights the tension at the school between the need to protect oneself and the importance of reaching out to the community. Should they install an alarm system? Double locks? A security code? They want to protect themselves from future breakins, but still want to create a community center they feel is open, concerns very close to those debated in the Talmud, the primary compendium of Jewish traditional texts. Around the world, as a new generation of Jewish adults embraces Judaism on its own terms, new learning institutions—be they evening classes or full-time programs—are introducing students from less religious backgrounds to Jewish text study. The trend began decades ago but is picking up momentum today as more study centers are attracting a wider pool of students using texts that focus on personal growth, morality, and “social justice.” Beyond gaining skills in interpreting texts from Judaism’s religious canon, students say they also get a better understanding of their Jewish identities through conversations with their classmates.
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> > rebecca zimmerman “This is a generation that wants things that are authentic— full-dose, first-hand confrontation,” says Rabbi Daniel Landes of the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, which caters mainly to Americans. “They don’t want it to be dumbed down. At the same time, they will do it in their own fashion—they decide how they will accept Torah. People will construct their own identity.” Institutions such as Pardes, a full-time center based in Israel, and the Florence Melton Adult School, an evening-based program with ‘mini-schools’ worldwide, set the path for crossdenominational learning in the ‘70s and ‘80s. While yeshivot, seminaries, and graduate programs abounded in the United States and Israel, few nondenominational organizations offered such opportunities to Jews without backgrounds in religious studies. Today, such nondenominational institutions such as Yeshivat Hadar and the DC Beit Midrash have cropped up across the States. They attract many seminarians and students with a religious education, but also those on a "Jewish journey" searching for a better understanding of Judaism. Others come for a warm community committed to Torah study. Providing a place for Jews of all backgrounds to learn together promotes understanding and helps build community, says Dr. Betsy Dolgin Katz, Melton’s North American Director. “The
Photo by Rebecca Zimmerman. Students from the Pardes Institute hiking in the Arava during one of their tiyyulim.
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traditional and contemporary texts studied are our shared heritage. The knowledge and insights gained from text allows us to hear voices that have influenced Jewish life through the centuries and that shape multiple Jewish perspectives today.” Many Israeli-oriented institutions are trying to foster a more pluralistic society in Israel. Avoiding what they see as Zionism’s rejection of the traditional Judaism of the Diaspora, they seek to reclaim religious texts for Jewish secular identity and incorporate Jewish ethical values and Jewish heritage into Israeli identity. One of the boldest initiatives to reinvent the secular Jewish identity has been the creation of the Secular Yeshiva, an outgrowth of The Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture. Bina’s Program and Development Director Noga Samia says that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin prompted intellectuals and educators from the kibbutz movement to form Bina as a place to reclaim Jewishness and Judaism from what she feels has been ceded from the time of Ben Gurion to the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. “They were making the statement: ‘This was also ours, we want to
make this our own, we’re going to make it relevant to our lives today and make it relevant to Israeli society today.’” Noga also sees the concept of tikkun olam as Judaism for secular Jews, and so promotes “social justice” as a way to attract students to its center, making it essential to the Secular Yeshiva program. Students live and study in the neighborhood where they volunteer, an economically depressed neighborhood with a high concentration of foreign workers, refugees, and immigrants. “What we’re saying is that social action is a Jewish value as much as it is a humanitarian or human rights issue,” Samia says. It is this set of values that is brought to bear on their discussion about the gate. In the end, the students at the Secular Yeshiva in South Tel Aviv change from a lock and key to a modern security system. And Talmudic debate fueled their decision. Rebecca Zimmerman worked in marketing and public relations in Washington, DC and made aliyah to Israel this summer. Before aliyah, Rebecca and her husband spent the year studying at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.
Ruth Wisse Has An Idea jews and power
uth Wisse is a professor of Yiddish literature, born in Eastern Europe and raised in Canada. Her latest book, Jews and Power (reviewed in Issue Four of these pages), has granted her and her ideas a new attention in the Jewish world, attention that was emphasized by a “festival of ideas” around the book held in New York in May. In her work on Jews and Ruth Wisse’s Jews and Power. (Schocken, 2007, 256 pp). their particular relationship to power, Wisse claims that Jewish politics are marked by the embrace by most Jews of a liberalism “native to their region” in the way that wine is native to France. The central tenet of this political faith is a commitment to the idea that all conflicts are amenable to reasoned negotiation. As she writes, “The pure liberal spirit precludes the possibility of intractable hatred or intransigent political will.” Connected with this, Wisse contends that liberal Jews have shown to be willing to abandon Jewish causes like Zionism before they will abandon their commitment to the idea that there is no such thing as unjustified claims. She is at her most original, and probably upsetting to most, when she connects the liberal belief in reasoned negotiation
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> > matthew ackerman to what she sees as the Jewish commitment to a “politics of accommodation.” She argues that the Jews’ relationship to other societies during their long Diaspora continues to shape Jewish politics today, such that during the Diaspora, the Jews attained political autonomy through cooperation with the politically powerful by making themselves of use to them. Jewish liberalism, it follows, is the result of the Jewish desire to accommodate oneself to the modern world by declaring one’s political goals to be completely benign. In placing the root of Jewish politics in the need to survive the rigors of the Diaspora, Wisse
Israel’s popularity, then, has decreased for many Jews in recent years precisely because the enmity directed against the Jewish state has risen argues that Jews aren’t liberal because of the ethical traditions of their ancestors’ faith; they are liberal as a result of their broader relationship to society. As such, the emergence and continued reality of political antisemitism induces Jews to advertise everpresentense.org/magazine ideas & innovation
greater examples of their goodness in the hopes of disproving the antisemite’s charges, thereby saving themselves from his anger. Israel’s popularity, then, has decreased for many Jews in recent years precisely because the enmity directed against the Jewish state has risen. The content of the critique is largely immaterial. As Wisse said in a recent conversation, Diaspora Jews who “can’t stand the
The Jews’ relationship to other societies during their long Diaspora continues to shape Jewish politics today. aggression directed against them” abandon Israel in an attempt to be free of that aggression. The more non-Jews pursue an anti-Israel agenda, and “the more violent and distorting the instruments of their aggression, the more desperately the liberal imagination tries to blame the Jews for incurring Arab displeasure,” Wisse contends. It is easy to see how similar ways of thinking may have adapted themselves to the way Jews today behave religiously. The perennial claim against the Jewish religion made for hundreds of years is that it is insular and chauvinistic. “When Scripture, in exhorting the Hebrews to obey the Law, says that God has chosen them for himself above all other nations,” Baruch Spinoza wrote 340 years ago, “it is speaking merely according to the
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understanding of those who knew not true blessedness.” Jews, the critique goes, at best misunderstand the true nature of the divine by limiting their religion to a particular people rather than promoting it to all people. As Alexander Schindler—original architect of the “outreach” policy to the intermarried of Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in America today—has written, “My dream was to see our Judaism unleashed as a resource for a world in need, not as the exclusive inheritance of the few, but as a renewable resource for the many.” Wisse wants Jews to alter their behavior. In her eyes, the transformation promised by the Zionist movement remains incomplete, and Jews’ lingering attachment to conciliation became writ large even in the Jewish State. Expressing an extraordinary pain that she and her husband have raised their children as they have—in their own image — because of the burden such ideas place on them, it is not a question for Wisse whether or not the battle is worth fighting. Historical circumstance has once again turned the Jews into the “fighting front line” of the ideals of tolerance, human rights, and democracy that are the modern West’s foundation, and there is not much use in complaining about it. To fulfill these obligations, our need to transform our political behavior and take up our particular role remains paramount: only in spurning the temptation to make a virtue of powerlessness can we assert our legitimate rights as a people. Matthew Ackerman is Ideas & Innovations editor of PresenTense. He lives in New York City.
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Photo by Mike Diamond. Building a Human Sukkah at Szarvas.
Hello, Mada rebuilding jewish life at camp
around the world
> > erin beser
ith pink streaks in her spiky black hair, flip-flops, and spaghetti strap tank top, Sonja Vilicic, 25, looks more like a rock star than a Jewish educator. But when she takes the microphone and leads the campers in morning prayers at the Lauder/JDC International Jewish Summer Camp in Szarvas, Hungary, nobody disputes her authority. Vilicic, along with Sasha Friedman, 26, and Zsusza Fritz, 42, make up a team of directors that run their camp with the love and diligence of a mother running her household. The Ronald Lauder Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee founded the camp in 1990 to address the needs of a growing population that wanted to return to its Jewish roots after the fall of Communism. Today, in four consecutive sessions every summer, Szarvas opens its gates to more than 2,000 Jewish campers ages 8-18, representing 22 different countries from Hungary and Russia to the United States and India. Long-time camp director Yitzchak ‘Yitzko’ Roth, who joined the staff after the first summer, enthused on the camp’s creative and experiential approach to education, “The giving of the Ten Commandments—it happened here! We didn’t just learn about them, we actually saw Moses giving them on top of the Kupola [domed gymnasium] with fire and smoke and everyone gathered around together.” This method of education enchanted the first generation of Szarvas campers who arrived knowing little to nothing about the traditions, heritage and history of Judaism. Roth recalled, “I was wearing a tallit for the first Shabbat prayer services, and all the children were pulling at my fringes and asking me, ‘Yitzko, what is it that you are wearing?’ They had never seen one before.” Barbi Szendy attended Szarvas’s inaugural 1990 session as a camper and has returned every summer since. She now leads the youngest Hungarian Unit and also works during the year at the issue six 2008
Balint JCC in Budapest. She said, “Szarvas was different from school or the synagogue. It collected Jewish children from lots of different places and just allowed us to be Jewish in a way that was forbidden under Communism. We sang together, danced together, but most importantly, we talked and understood that we were all Jewish and had something important in common.” Over the past eighteen years, the ideal of one large global Jewish community shielded the camp from the realities of the outside world. Wars, politics, and anti-Semitism seemed to permeate every aspect of campers’ lives during the year, but never penetrated the gates of Szarvas. “During the years of the Yugoslavian war, camp was a safe haven for the children from those countries,” explained Fritz, the
“Here I get to wear a kippah and I can't do that at home. It feels really good.” Educational Director of Szarvas and Director of the Balint JCC. “Here was the only place during the entire year where they could meet their friends. Here it was possible to forget about the problems of the outside world, as if they didn’t exist at all.” Even today in camp, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Yugoslavia (now Slovenia, Serbia, BosniaHerzegovina, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Kosovo) are each still their own units, as if the countries had never split. Still the campers of these two former nations sing the same birthday songs, chant the same unit cheers, play on the same sports teams and share presentense.org/magazine around the world
identities that seem unbroken by the realities and tensions of their individual countries. Both groups still declare they have more in common as Jews than they ever had as countrymen. “I’ll never forget the year they decided that Czechoslovakia was going to split,” Fritz recalled, “We had a talent show in the camp and the unit got up in front of everyone and said that all they were going to do was sing the national anthem together for the last time.” Now that the political situation in Europe seems to have stabilized, the Jews of these communities face a harsh daily reality of anti-Semitism. Despite the fact that this generation is the first to attend Szarvas without any memories of Communism, the realities of life in small, isolated Jewish communities among sometimes hostile neighbors reinforce the continued relevance of the camp. One of the counselors for the Slovakian group this summer, who did not wish to give her name, said that Szarvas is the only place she feels comfortable enough to wear her Jewish star and she saves it all year for those two weeks. “I’m afraid to wear my star around Bratislava because then everyone will know I am a Jew and make trouble for me. Usually I wear something else like a hamsa, because no one knows what that is and it’s a symbol only for me.”
Fourteen-year-old Mark Slominsky from Latvia agreed, “Here I get to wear a kippah and I can’t do that at home. It feels really good.” Ennis Hulli, age 17, from Izmir, Turkey, returned to camp for his third summer. He said, “I love coming to Szarvas because at home in Izmir, the Jewish population is small. But here, you really feel a part of one big Jewish community, and it gives you the courage to be who you are.” For Vilicic too, this place is much more than a day at the office. When she and her brother were evacuated to Budapest from Serbia during the bombings, it was friends from Szarvas who met them at the JCC, soothed their fears, and made them feel at home. From that moment on, she realized she was a part of something bigger than just an average summer camp. “I have the best job in the world,” said Vilicic, as she shuffles campers to the dining hall after morning prayers, “I don’t care about business; it couldn’t make me this happy. The people here came and took care of me when I needed them. They inspired me to become who I am. This place is my home and this is my family!” Erin Beser is a freelance writer and Jewish educator currently based in Izmir, Turkey.
america’s tel aviv israelis invade miami
> > terence cantarella
Photos by Silvia Ros.
around the world presentense.org/magazine
hen 35-year-old hairstylist Gil Adulami arrived in Miami for the first time back in 1998, he wasn’t very excited about visiting. “I’m not a beach person, and Miami wasn’t the kind of place that really crossed my mind very much. I flew in from New York to visit my aunt, but I ended up really liking it.” With Zohan-like flair, he adds, “I thought it would be a bunch of old people down here, but it’s more like a 24-hour party.” Ten years later, Gil is still here. He wasn’t the first Israeli— and certainly not the first Jew—to be seduced by South Florida. Economic opportunity, balmy breezes, and wide open spaces lured many Jews to Miami after World War II, and the community has remained visible and vibrant ever since. Miami, and its tri-county region, currently has the second-largest number of Jews (563,000) and the thirdlargest Israeli population (estimated at 30,000 to 50,000) in the United States. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find the Jewry of yore in Miami’s South Beach neighborhood, a former Jewish epicenter once known as the ‘Shtetl by the Sea.’ Rocking chairs have been replaced by roller blades, and ‘fo’ shizzle my nizzle’ is about the closest thing you’ll hear to Yiddish. The decline was due mostly to elderly Jews dying or getting priced out after the city’s Art Deco revival, and also to migration to Broward and Palm Beach counties as Greater Miami became more Hispanic. But it is not only the community’s location that has changed; its demography is changing, too. issue six 2008
The word on the street is that a considerable number of foreign Jews are choosing Miami over Israel as a place to live and, especially, to raise families. The reasons: Israel’s cost of living, perceived security threats, military draft, political tension, and the necessity for immigrants to learn Hebrew and adapt to Israeli culture. “Among Miami-Dade County’s adult Jewish population,” according to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s most recent study, “31 percent are foreign-born, a number higher than any other Jewish community in the nation.” This multiculturalism mirrors Tel Aviv’s Jewish population, where 32 percent is foreign-born. Notably, Miami and Tel Aviv share a similar aesthetic, boomtown history, temperament, regional significance, club scene, Mediterranean architecture, and lifestyle. “Tel Aviv and Miami are very progressive, very vital places,” says Shirley Kahn, a retiree and tour guide at the Jewish Museum of Florida. “People are constantly moving and they’re outdoors a lot.” The vibe of Miami’s popular Ocean Drive or Lincoln Road can be felt on Tel Aviv’s Shenkin or Dizengoff streets, where outdoor cafés and bountiful shop attract a wide crosssection of society. South American Jewish immigrants find it easy to integrate into the city’s Latin-flavored culture. European Jews, recently including a large number of French nationals fleeing renewed anti-Semitism in their country, find Miami attractive for the same reasons—it’s America with a foreign posture, a café culture, and a tropical aesthetic. Speedos, topless beaches, and an absence of motorbike helmet laws are likely to evoke memories of home, too. “And the euro is so strong now against the dollar that they can afford to buy
real estate, especially with the current housing slump,” says Marilyn Levingston, another museum guide and retiree from New York. As for the Israeli immigrants, Levingston isn’t entirely enamored of them. “They’re too aggressive,” she says. “I tend to stay away.” Shirley Kahn agrees, “I think it’s the way they grow up. They learn to be combative.” Avoidance can be rather tricky, though,
Miami and Tel Aviv share a similar aesthetic, boomtown history, temperament, regional significance, club scene, Mediterranean architecture, and lifestyle especially in neighborhoods like Weston, North Miami Beach, and Hollywood, where Israeli-owned restaurants, markets, and retail stores occupy much of the commercial space. Ohad Soberano, a 40-something Israeli bed & breakfast owner who relocated from New York to Ft. Lauderdale three years ago, says, “Life for Jews in South Florida is very comfortable. For Israelis, it gives us the same feeling of the ocean that we enjoy in Tel Aviv, or Haifa, or Tiberias. It’s not only the same weather, but there’s also a similarity of lifestyle.” In fact, with its tiled roof, lush gardens, and Mediterranean restaurant, Ohad’s 13-room B&B is reminiscent of some of Israel’s cozier guesthouses. On a negative note, Soberano says, “Lately, though, I’m more afraid in America than in Israel. America now is exactly like Israel in the sixties. Israelis are experienced when it comes to security, but Americans aren’t used to the threat of terrorism, so it makes life uncomfortable sometimes.” The idea of yerida, of abandoning Israel, is not something that plagues Soberano or many of his Israeli friends. “What America offers is benefits, and then most Israelis leave and go back to live in Israel,” he says. “Right now, I’m here, but Israel is my home and I’ll definitely go there to retire.” But a vital, multicultural Jewish community within US borders still holds more appeal for some Jews than does the equivalent within Israel. The benefits of America—warm weather, safety, and no military draft—make Miami a viable choice for both Latin American and European Jews alike. “Not only is the Jewish community here big, it’s getting bigger and bigger,” says Soberano. “I see a lot of people still planning to come and wanting to come. I see tons of them.” At the end of the day, if the craving for a little milk and honey should arise, El Al has three direct flights per week from Miami to Tel Aviv. The ‘Gateway to the Americas,’ it seems, is also the ‘Gateway to the Holy Land.’ Terence Cantarella spent most of his early years outside of the US, living and attending schools in Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, India, Israel, Canada, and Egypt, before eventually moving back to the United States. He is now based in Miami, Florida, where he freelances for various publications.
presentense.org/magazine around the world
Eastern Encounters finding faith in thailand
> > sari nossbaum
Photos by Shanee Fleischer. The mountains in the Annapurna Region in Nepal.
ravel to exotic locations in the East has almost become a rite of passage for Israelis who have completed their IDF service. Whether it’s India, Thailand, or Nepal, many Israeli backpackers spend months on end exploring these countries on their well-deserved vacations. In an ironic but not uncommon phenomenon, many of these Israelis and other young vagabonding Jews “find themselves” in this region and reconnect with their Jewish roots. While the connotation of “finding oneself” is, by definition, intrinsically unique, the common thread seems to entail a religious experience on some level. This can range from rediscovering (or discovering) God to recognizing one’s purpose in life and determining how Judaism and religious observance fit into the picture. “I have many stories of chiloni (secular Israeli) backpackers who come here to holiday and end up returning to Israel and attending yeshiva there,” explained Rabbi Yosef Wexlshtein, 26, head rabbi of the Chabad Center in Koh Samui,Thailand. Originally from Kfar Chabad in Israel, Wexlshtein has been on shlichut in Thailand with his wife and two children for almost four years. His Chabad House includes a restaurant, synagogue, Internet facility, and daily shiurim (classes). The propensity towards connection with religion could lie in the breathtaking nature of the region. Many travelers to the East embark on treks in secluded mountain areas, where they absorb some of the most spectacular backdrops they have ever encountered. Shanee Fleischer, 27, a physical therapist born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, trekked through the Annapurna Region in Nepal as part of a year of travel in Europe, the UK, and Southeast Asia. She recalled reaching the summit of one mountain top at about 16,000 feet. She took a few moments to sit on the edge of the rock, literally above the clouds, and digested the panorama of the surrounding peaks. Such splendor often evokes a sense of awe, asserting or reinforcing awareness of a Creator, while making the subject feel insignificant within the grand scale of things. But for Fleischer, and for many other travelers, it’s about more than just the scenery. “You’re up in the mountains, away from everyday distractions like phone, TV, and e-mail, and you don’t have to think about any of the day-to-day stresses,” said Fleischer, “For me, this is what caused such a deep impact.” Being in such a remote location, with the company of just a handful of people and ample time alone, often lends itself to deep introspection and self evaluation. The direct influence of becoming acquainted with Eastern philosophy, religion, and culture is another major, and perhaps most around the world presentense.org/magazine
paradoxical, contributing factor. Inevitably, spending time in countries that are so devoted to religious practice will influence a traveler. While studying Eastern philosophies may potentially entice young Jewish travelers away from their roots, on the other hand it can also be beneficial for Jewish travelers to relate and contrast the ideas in Eastern philosophy to Judaism. “Sometimes, after travelers explore the cultures here, they realize that what they know about other religions is far more than what they know about their own religion,” explained Wexlshtein, “And that’s when they become interested in learning more about Judaism.” What’s more, many young Jews who become more affiliated to Judaism in the East are often those that have responded to Eastern Philosophy. They sometimes come to recognize that the characteristics that they enjoy about Buddhism or other Eastern religions also exist in Judaism, and thus they reinvigorate their own religious practice. “You can view donning tefilin as a sort of meditation or saying Tehilim as a sort of mantra,” said Amichai Grossberg, 25, who became fascinated with Buddhism while traveling through the Eastern region for a year after his IDF service. Grossberg, who hails from Ramat Gan, Israel, is currently exploring New York City and getting a taste of Western culture before commencing his university studies in Israel. Even for those that do not ‘connect’ to Eastern philosophy, simply being among a deeply religious society other than their own can have an effect. For Israelis wandering outside of Israel, it becomes more apparent that simply “living” isn’t a sufficient expression of ‘Jewishness,’ and they grasp the idea that Judaism involves doing specific things which externalize their beliefs and identity. Indeed, sometimes it is necessary to venture outside of one’s comfort zone and to explore ideas from a different religious perspective in order to appreciate their significance in Judaism; and sometimes it is necessary to journey halfway across the world in order to discover what was in your backyard all along. Sari Nossbaum is a writer who is originally from Melbourne, Australia. She trekked through Mount Chiang Dao in the north of Thailand last summer, generating her own ‘Eastern encounter.'
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Take That, Borat the search for jewish life in kazakhstan
> > perry teicher 2007. Once there, I sought out the Jewish community, starting with only a phone number, a web address, and poor Russian skills. Despite the community’s pride in diversity, the center of the Jewish community, a Jewish Joint Distribution Committee-sponsored Hesed and Jewish Culture Center, does not actively publicize itself. The apartment where the center is located is unmarked except for a mezuzah. After a month in the country, I found the community Hanukkah dinner, which was held in a café owned by Ya’akov, a man in his early 40s and the most (and perhaps only) observant Jew in Aktobe, who was co-sponsoring the event with the Hesed. The attendees, who ranged in age from 40 to 80 years old, all seemed interested in an American being there. Still, I felt out of place. I expected to sing Hanukkah songs, eat latkas, and light a chanukiah. Instead, we sang Beatles songs, ate nondescript, but tasty, salads,
The audience watched as raptly and cheered as loudly for Havah Negilah as for any traditional Kazakh song
Photo provided by Perry Teicher. Jewish community in Almaty.
ewish world tours rarely include Kazakhstan. Like the country itself, the Jewish community often gets misplaced. Kazakhstan’s Jewish community has shrunk to an estimated 30,000 people out of 15 million Kazakhstanis spread across 2,717,300 square kilometers. The Jewish communities of most former Soviet Republics are often thought of as being fatigued, inadequately Jewishly-educated, and as places where Judaism is rarely openly discussed due to years of Soviet repression. This may have once been true, but is no longer entirely accurate. I arrived in Aktobe, the capital city of the Aktobe Province in northwestern Kazakhstan, as a Peace Corps volunteer in November
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and watched the chanukiah on the counter sit candle-less and unlit. I thought at the time that this dinner was representative of the Jewish community in Aktobe. I stayed in touch with Ya’akov, and yet it was months before I discovered the larger and more diverse Jewish community. Ya’akov and I began to hold regular Shabbat dinners every few weeks in the back of his store. I especially liked the kosher plouf, a traditional Uzbek dish with rice and meat, likely one of the only kosher plouf in all of Kazakhstan. I hoped my being an American Jew would stir interest. I quickly found, though, that an American Jew holds novel value when people are already assembled, but is a feeble pull as a tool of assembly. In early February, Ya’akov and I began to organize a Passover Seder with the Hesed. We expected around 25 people. The night arrived and just 10 people filtered in. The city had held a multicultural celebration of diversity that same day which had lasted all day long, and the younger Jews finished attending the festival too late and thus were too tired to celebrate the religious part of Judaism. At the festival, 25 young Jews had danced the horah in front of a crowd unlikely to assemble elsewhere: Kazakhs, Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Koreans, Armenians, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Protestants, and Jews. The audience watched as raptly presentense.org/magazine around the world
and cheered as loudly for Havah Negilah as for any traditional Kazakh song. That the youth chose to celebrate a multicultural festival and not the Seder led me to realize that different definitions of “Jewish” are in play. The Soviet classification system of nationalities is key to understanding Jewish identity in Kazakhstan: during the Soviet Union through today, to be a Jew is to be considered a part of the Jewish nation noted on one’s passport. In Kazakhstan, “Jewish” is not necessarily a religious classification. Although religion and ethnicity are uniquely intertwined in Judaism, in Kazakhstan’s atmosphere of multicultural pride,
Instead, we sang Beatles songs, ate nondescript, but tasty, salads, and watched the chanukiah on the counter sit candle-less and unlit the cultural aspect has more resonance than religious appeals. The country’s majority is Muslim, and there is a sizeable Russian Orthodox Christian minority. When people talk about divisions, it is rarely on religious grounds; the focus is on nationalities. Surrounded by neighbors that have a record of
extreme nationalism and lack of respect for minority rights, most Kazakhstanis proudly point to the over 100 nationalities that live within the country’s borders. The Soviet-era delineations and the Kazakhstani multicultural drive have certainly led to greater assimilation. Friendships across national groups are the norm. Young people are exposed to a world larger than the city and, when possible, they travel, but they retain national identity. Young Jews strive to have a basic knowledge about Judaism, and often gain this from their families or from Jewish education programs, run by Jewish cultural centers, the Jewish Agency, and in a few cities, Chabad. When a Jew is asked about his or her nationality, there is usually no hesitation to say, “I am Jewish.” This means of identification might change. Across Kazakhstan, Heseds are growing and young people are slowly reconnecting with Judaism, although connecting with university students and young adults continues to be challenging. A number of Jewish organizations and individuals are influential nationally and locally. A few times a year, the national organizations organize large nationwide celebrations, staff training and development, and religious education. While growth may be slow in some cities across this huge country, the development of the Jewish community in the big cities is energetic, and the future of the Jewish community in Kazakhstan looks bright. Perry Teicher is serving a two-year tour as a Peace Corps Volunteer, based in Aktobe, Kazakhstan.
The views expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not represent Peace Corps or the United States government.
Not Bringing Home the Bacon
arlier this spring, I did a bad, bad, bad thing: I let a container of my grandma’s matzah ball soup spoil. Let me back up: following our family’s second Seder, my grandma sent me back to Boston with a goodie bag of frozen homemade pesadich delicacies. The chocolate-dipped matzah and the cookies, I ate. The mushroom kugel, I traded to my brother for pogs. And the soup, I put in the fridge to defrost. I didn’t forget about it, per se; rather, I looked at it once in awhile and each time, seeing its gloriously cloudy, matzah ball soup-y appearance, illogically concluded that it must still be thawing. Mid-May, I decided it was time for a taste, and I discovered that my thawing theory was way, way off-base. We’ll leave it at that. Now, my grandma’s matzah ball soup is no ordinary thing; indeed, I hear it was something of a marriage incentive for both of my cousins’ husbands. The point is, I felt truly horrible. Yes, Jews are credited with having invented virtual reality, local anesthesia and crippling guilt; yes, my grandmother’s matzah ball soup is like scrumptious ships of unleavened rapture floating on a sea of liquid gold, more precious than the rarest jewels. Still, I hardly experienced the same soul-destroying shame about “forgetting” to return my mother’s padparadscha sapphire earrings after Cousin Rebecca’s bat mitzvah. All this is to say, yes, as with guilt, Jews have a Thing with food. And yes, there’s the obvious intersection of the Food Thing and the Guilt Thing—oh, and also the Eons of Persecution Thing—that
issue six 2008
> > rachel lieff axelbank
inspires in most contemporary Jews an incapacitating aversion to letting food go to waste. Nevertheless, I contend that this particular scenario runs deeper than that: I felt far worse than I would have about, say, a pound of Nova, and I attribute the discrepancy to the religious significance of matzah ball soup. By letting that golden culinary masterpiece turn to rancid yellow muck, I let down not only my grandma but also each of the ancestors who defied Pharaoh, crossed the Red Sea and made it into the Land of Milk and Honey. They rejoiced
Her: “Have you eaten breakfast? I brought you some fruit from the dining hall.” Me (witheringly): “Um, HELLO?? I can’t—it’s Yom Kippur.” (She looks mortified for her cultural insensitivity; I look utterly unrepentant for my transgression.) “Say, I’m going to be late for class—can you help me on with my new boots? They’re a little snug, but calfskin usually stretches a bit.” Okay, so that never actually happened, but the point is still upheld: even trundling off in my leather shoes
Yes, my grandmother’s matzah ball soup is like scrumptious ships of unleavened rapture floating on a sea of liquid gold, more precious than the rarest jewels in the manna, and ate it up fresh from heaven; they didn’t leave it to spoil in a Tupperware knock-off beside their exboyfriend’s vermouth. Nearly every one of our holidays is bound up in what must be eaten when, or in the abstention from food, or both; indeed, for many, a given holiday’s ritual has been reduced to that which pertains to food and nothing else. For example, I have continued into my adulthood to refer to any consumption of apples-with-honey on days other than the first or second of Tishrei as “playing Rosh Hashanah.” For another example, imagine the following scene unfolding between my freshman year roommate and me.
to think about microeconomics, I felt I was keeping Yom Kippur because of, you know, the Food Thing. There’s even picking and choosing—and the corollary pious relativism—within the comestible sphere: every Passover, I’ll have at least one interaction in which I snub a lessobservant-than-I friend when she consumes something or other, perhaps that titan of treif finger foods, the pig in a blanket. “Oh…you’re not keeping Pesach?” I’ll inquire loftily, emphasizing the Hebrew and making noises to suggest I’d be more forgiving if I weren’t busy channeling the hardship of 40 years spent wandering the desert. Then I’ll pick apart eight or nine of the blankets and pop the naked pigs, one
Photo by Rachel Nishimura.
jews, food, and guilt
by one, into my mouth. And as I turn away, still chewing, a disapproving look from a more-observant-than-I friend will make me want to run back through time and past the fresh manna to let the Red Sea swallow up me and my shame. This shaming hierarchy is all too easy: to Jews, food is not just a marker of holiday—it’s also a point of honor, a yardstick of religiosity along which we can place ourselves and others, a gauge for just how Chosen we are choosing to be. Consider the spectrum of the kosher lifestyle: at one end lie those for whom keeping kosher means picking off the pepperoni; at the other end, we find the set who scrutinize every label, rejecting all but the most renowned hechshers as practically tantamount to bacon-wrapped.
watch them PresenTensemagazine.org
Very recently, I myself have come to “keep kosher,” though only by default, because (as befits what is most accurately described as my dietary restriction of the week) I’m presently a vegan. But I’m not always a vegan (just as I’m not always allergic to peanuts, or always consecotaleophobic), and although I’m therefore not always kosher, you can bet your blintzes that my JDate profile presently says “I keep Kosher: At home and outside.” Sorry, all you guys who “Go to synagogue: On High Holidays”—you’ll have to marry some other, less observant woman’s grandma’s soup. Rachel Lieff Axelbank is a freelance writer, public health researcher and culinary antagonist. She lives and works in Boston.
All this is to say, yes, as with guilt, Jews have a Thing with food. And yes, there’s the obvious intersection of the Food Thing and the Guilt Thing that inspires in most contemporary Jews an incapacitating aversion to letting food go to waste.
issue six 2008
Losing Their Religion? young orthodox grow into college
> > judith heistein
here is something inherently jarring about the college experience—moving from your parents’ house to a frat house, from living with family to spending the majority of your time Photos provided by Rebecca Crystal. with peers. This newJewish students practice bottle dancing. found independence allows students to try and do things never allowed under their parents’ roofs. For many students, college creates the opportunity to physically and intellectually separate from those who had informed many, if not all, of their choices. Religion and religious beliefs are no exception. For some religious students, college exposes them to other ways of practicing and experiencing religions, which can lead students to reassess, revaluate and rethink the way they have lived their lives. In a study entitled “How Corrosive is College to Religious Faith and Practice?” Mark D. Regnerus and Jeremy E. Uecker found that “64 percent of those [who attended services previously]….have curbed their attendance habits,” conveying a significant decrease in religious practices as they are generally understood. Josh Stone, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, grew up in what he calls a “bubble.” But college allowed him to see outside the walls of his house, his school, and his previous views of religion. “The way I was raised was the only way I really knew, and the people who answered my questions, the books in which I sought answers independently, all came from a single frame of mind and point of reference. They all shared similar theologies and world views,” Stone said. In the four years he was at Penn, Stone “reformatted” the entire way he practiced—or, rather, didn’t practice—his Judaism. “This is not to say that I was pulled in numerous directions once I got to college, or that I was confused,” said Stone, “it just showed me that there was more to Judaism than rules, that Judaism can be something you ‘feel’ rather than something you ‘do.’” Sara Kent comes from a similar background to Stone’s. “I came to college from a pretty monolithic environment. I had always gone to Jewish schools, went to Israel for the year and considered myself pretty Modern Orthodox,” Kent says. Like Stone, Kent found religious life in college to be vastly different than what she had been taught. “Only while at university was I able to see the world from a larger and deeper perspective, greatly affecting the life choices I was making,” she said. For Kent, this new exposure led her to shift from
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her definition of Judaism as Orthodox practice to one of communal engagement. Her days were filled with meetings for a plethora of Jewish causes and activities not necessarily centered around the synagogue or religious practice. A large factor in these shifts has to do with the practical realities practicing Jews face while on campuses. The day schools many students come from ensure that religion is scheduled into the day—prayer time is allotted and kosher food is served. On campus, however, praying, eating kosher, and even keeping Shabbat can become a juggling act. Kevin Stein from Brandeis said, “I have a busy schedule and Jewish classes, davening, learning, and practice are not scheduled parts of it like it was in high school or [at yeshiva in] Israel. I have to prioritize and think about what it important to me to do at this moment and what I have time for. I have to make that extra effort to do all of those things which were before taken for granted.” The need to “schedule in” religion coupled with the pressure of class and extra-curricular activities presents hurdles some students choose to avoid. The college campus presents intellectual challenges as well. Martha Greenberg from Brandeis was constantly challenged in one of her classes. “All of the books on the syllabus were … hypercritical of the rabbis in the Gemara. Students in the class would frequently make comments about how the Gemara was chauvinistic and outdated,” Greenberg recalled. Coming from a day school where she learned Gemara six times a week and lived a life governed by its laws, Greenberg had a very different view of what the rabbis of the Gemara were saying and the role which women play in
For some religious students, college exposes them to other ways of practicing and experiencing religions, which can lead students to reassess, revaluate and rethink the way they have lived their lives
Orthodox life. “I would definitely speak up quite frequently … I felt like I needed to defend the various halakhot discussed regarding women and some of the reasons behind them,” Greenberg said. “I was definitely the only one in the classroom who felt this way.” She found it frustrating to keep having to defend her religious beliefs in a forum intended for absorbing new information. This is not to say that college life does not allow students to maintain their religious practices or that an Orthodox lifestyle runs counter to the college experience. Still, the college life—in the classroom and out of the classroom—creates both practical and philosophical religious challenges for many students, which can, and often does, lead to some shift, change, or adjustment to their religious ideals and practices. Judith Heistein graduated from Barnard College in 2007, where she managed not to lose her religion. She currently works as an International Affairs Analyst at the ADL.
Moving People organizing for a change
> > david russell
Photos by Brian Goldfarb. Kids load boxes of food onto a truck to be distributed to Jerusalem’s poor.
hat’s why people become involved in organizing —because they think they’ll get something out of it. Once I found an issue people cared about, I could take them into action. With enough actions, I could start to build power.” That’s how Barack Obama, in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, recounts his experience learning from Jerry Kellman, his first boss and organizing mentor in Chicago. Kellman, a Jew working to mobilize the black communities in Altgeld, one of the poorest neighborhoods in America, had himself been taught how to build such power by Saul Alinsky, the founder of modern-day community organizing, Alinksy was born in 1909 to Russian-Jewish immigrants and brought up in the slums of Chicago’s Jewish South Side. His father was a tailor, and the family lived in the back of his store. As the only son, Alinsky had a particularly strong bond with his mother, who was just 17 when he was born. “She taught him that ... individuals [must] be responsible for other individuals and that you can’t just walk away when you see something that’s not right,” Alinsky’s son David reminisced. society presentense.org/magazine
Just a few months before his death in 1972, Alinsky recalled in Playboy Magazine the story of a revenge attack he led on a group of Polish boys for beating up a Jewish friend. He was arrested and bailed out by his mother who took him straight from the police station to the local rabbi. “The rabbi just looked at me for a minute and then said very quietly, ‘You think you’re a man because you do what everybody does. But I want to tell you something the great Rabbi Hillel said: ‘Where there are no men, be thou a man.’ I want you to remember it.’ I’ve never forgotten it.” He was then just ten years old, but Alinsky quickly became the man. He graduated from the University of Chicago, majoring in criminology, and through a project studying juvenile delinquency he was drawn to the Back of the Yards neighborhood, made famous by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. It was there that he witnessed firsthand poverty even more extreme than that in which he himself had grown up. It was to become a test bed for his theory of change, that any area, however dire, could be revitalized through organizing. His success in the Back of the Yards led the way for Alinsky to found the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) to train organizers and organize communities nationwide, in other industrial areas. issue six 2008
Principles of Organizing >
Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have.
Ridicule is your most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
> A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If
your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”
> The price of a successful attack is a constructive
alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.
From Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals
Amongst those who Alinsky inspired were leaders of all colors, from Cesar Chavez to Hillary Clinton, as well as dozens of organizing networks—from The Gamaliel Foundation to the Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (PICO). These organizing networks are communities or congregations that unite in membership to act together to deliver social change. Rather than one leader imposing a set of goals on the group, membership dues are paid to fund an organizer to help identify common concerns and the decision-makers who can improve the lives of the constituency represented. It is classic Alinksy methodology, uniting and empowering people to act together in a common self-interest and secure a shared goal. Though organizing existed in America before Alinsky, he developed a new focus on the process of change. Social change was important to him, but the empowerment of disadvantaged communities to deliver that change was just as critical.
Jewish Organizing Today Though organizing has Jewish roots, it is only very recently that the Jewish community has formally engaged in Alinsky-style organizing. Synagogues across the country are joining organizing networks—from 20 in 2000 to nearly 100 in 2007—supported by Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ), the organization at the forefront of promoting community organizing in the Jewish community. Ben Ross, Director of Organizing at JFSJ, explains that more synagogues and temples are organizing because it: “is a means of addressing social inequities while simultaneously transforming communities and synagogue life ... synagogue members share their
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stories, deepen relationships with one another, discover issues of common concern, and act to improve the lives of members of their communities, cities and states.” The role that JFSJ plays is one of facilitator, providing matching grants to congregations to enable them to join organizing networks for the first time; providing resources and training to promote organizing; provoking discussion on organizing through its blog jspot.org; convening national conferences to share knowledge of organizing across the Jewish community; and inaugurating a leadership program at seminaries to train rabbinical and cantorial students and placing them with organizers to develop real-world experience. This latter initiative is most innovative, giving future religious leaders a better understanding of organizing to introduce to their congregations. Mike Schultz, a final-year student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, helped establish the course at the school as part of the JFSJ Jewish Clergy Task Force. Schultz first became involved in organizing during his undergraduate years at Harvard. He believes organizing to be an excellent technique to realize his mission as a rabbi: “to use the guidance of the Torah to empower our communities to do the work for which we were given life—li’ovdah ulishomrah, to develop and care for the world.” But there are obstacles, both theologically and sociologically, to the involvement of Jews in organizing. “Many Jews, particularly those from comfortable families, are uneasy speaking openly about their issues, particularly if problems, to those outside their community.” As well, there is “a degree of suspicion of the appeal to self-interest that is integral to organizing, which many feel is wrong in hesed or social justice programs.” Alinsky admittedly has his critics. The left questioned exactly this belief in working within the system, whether in fact overhauling the system—capitalism—was in fact needed. Many did not agree with his antagonistic and confrontational tactics to deliver change; “the action is in the reaction” was a favorite Alinsky
Social change was important to him, but the empowerment of disadvantaged communities to deliver that change was just as critical saying. Nevertheless, organizing looks set to spread further as it continues to deliver what it sets out to do: drive social change. And with an organizer on the cusp of the presidency, and a nation to mobilize, the contribution that Jews are making may herald a new dawn for our own community and the community-at-large. David Russell is from the East End, where he volunteered as a community organizer. He relocated to the Lower East Side to study the lessons that British organizers can learn from their American counterparts, and will return to London next year to continue that work.
Kosher Action can social activism and rabbinic study go hand in hand?
> > jessica sacks
ustice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:10); the Law demands it, the prophets wax lyrical about it, the Writings make incisive comments about it. Yet the religious world seems remarkably hesitant to do it. The religious community in Israel supports thousands of charitiable funds. It is overrepresented in the higher ranks of the army, still managing to inculcate its youth with a sense of idealism and self-sacrifice that passed out of most of the world with bellbottomed trousers. Hospitals and schools are filled with religious girls devoting endless dedication to National Service. But few of these people will be seen at a human rights protest, in a lobby group, or indeed taking any active interest in the forces that make the rich richer and that keep the poor poor. The suspicion dividing religious Jews from social change initiatives is not new. The Communist Revolution, promising freedom and equality for all, did not deal kindly with Soviet Jewry. Activism, altogether, tastes a little too “goyish” for certain palates. Perhaps there is a temperamental contradiction between the fiery furnaces of politics and the prayerful conservatism of faith. The growing religious-secular divide in Israel, however, has prompted a new initiative to challenge this. “The Beit Midrash [or Jewish study center] for Social Justice was born in the Gaza Strip on the eve of the Disengagement,” explains its founder and co-head, Rabbi Benny Lau. “We sat around a table in Neveh Dekalim, a group of rabbis from the religious Zionist movement, and discussed the situation. I realized that if we did not do something, the rift between our sector and the State would become unbridgeable. Supporting the project are Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, an academic center for advanced Jewish studies and leadership development dedicated to conveying the relevance of Jewish tradition society presentense.org/magazine
to contemporary society, and Bema’aglei Tzedek, a vibrant, young, religious social activism organization. It was a bid to bridge the religious-civil abyss by bridging another gap—the “language barrier” separating the Jewish legal discourse of obligations with a contemporary social discourse of rights. This is no simple undertaking. The religious world has developed relationships with physics, technology and up-tothe-minute advances in medicine. There are detailed works on the “Jewish laws of” everything from the IDF to IVF. Yet Orthodoxy and the social sciences remain virtual strangers. Jewish law has had little to say about pension rights and environmental ethics, state education and globalization. Few rabbis have the language even to discuss these issues. The Institute began as a gathering of scholars keen to learn something about the workings of a welfare state, to discuss it in Jewish terms, and to return to their own institutions with the fruits of their discourse. This year’s group was different; a large proportion of the thirty fellows are still rabbis and educators, but the doors of the Beit Midrash have been opened to women, to grassroots workers, and to the non-Orthodox. There is definitely a change in the air—both within the Institute and in the way it is perceived outside. “Until this year the fellows would hurry home at eight and as far as they were concerned that was it,” observed Efrat Degani-Topperof, educational coordinator of Bema’aglei Tzedek. Now, six weeks after this year’s closing meeting, the fellows’ email list is as passionately argumentative as ever, still in terms of “How should we react to…?” “Since joining the program I hear the news differently,” remarked Rabbi Moti Goodman, who makes the fortnightly journey to Beit Morasha from his yeshiva in the Jordan Valley. For a very “kosher” institution, the group represents a remarkable variety issue six 2008
of views. Rinat Weigler is deputy legal adviser to the Welfare Minister, while Ariel Yosef Israel herds goats in a West Bank settlement. Yoav Rubin edits a socialist journal from his urban kibbutz, while Rabbi Avi Deutsch combines leadership of a Conservative synagogue with social work in one of Jerusalem’s poorest neighborhoods. Topics researched by the fellows have included conversion, epilepsy, attitudes to sexual abuse, accumulation of wealth, Fair Trade, refugees, aging, access, adoption, advertising—and the list goes on. Reaching consensus in such a group is neither likely nor a particular aspiration. And predictably enough, one of the longest standing debates is over the aims of the Institute itself. Some argue that the Jewish legal system covers every aspect of life, and that the religious world must therefore theorize society in its own terms and decide upon normative modes of Jewish policymaking. Others, such as Rabbi Eliezer Weil, insist that “Jewish law only states a
minimum.” It would be disingenuous to litigate social justice, which falls under the category of “do[ing] what is upright and good” (Deuteronomy 6: 8) and should be left to the individual conscience. Some insist that the Beit Midrash should act primarily within its own community, raising social justice concerns on religious agenda. Others are eager to produce position papers to influence Israeli policymakers. In effect, the fellows act both within and beyond “the Community,” producing educational resources, creating a social justice section in the popular religious website Kipa.co.il, engaging in social projects, and developing collaborative responses to the burning issues in the news. There are moments when bridging the gap between the religious world and that of social involvement seems impossible. But religion has unique contributions to offer social debate. The Jewish library provides access to millennia of human experience, inspiration, and thought.
two psalms Anita Susan Brenner A song for Shabbat (Psalm 92) I want a god I can daven with A god who doesn’t mind ducking under the tallis now and then to discuss the issues. A god like you, Adonai I want a god who sits down to dinner with me and my husband drinks wine tells a joke or two spends the night the hours soak us like oil the children are asleep we whisper the songs: the wild ox at midnight. I want a god like you, Adonai who drinks whiskey with the minyan who prays back at us holds the candle high at havdalah then peeks out the window into the green night of the world.
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And inside that library, students are trained for a different and valuable mode of action. The fellows’ yeshiva training is evident both in the almost aggressive urgency of their arguments—as if their lives depended upon getting their points across—and in the sometimes incongruous gentleness that always allows them to listen to another view, wherever it comes from. There is something necessary in this beit midrash approach to activism; something involving patience and urgency, humility, and a capacity to accept complexity while remaining unshakably convinced of one’s truth. The challenge is to cultivate that energy and channel it towards effective cooperation with the secular world. Jessica Sacks was born in England and made aliyah four years ago. She is a fellow at the Beit Midrash for Social Justice, Beit Morasha (www.kipa.co.il/society), works as a translator and studies for a never-ending Master's degree in Rabbinic Literature at the Hebrew University.
The agriculture of evil (Psalm 1) The psalmist knew the scents of ancient grasses, the wild flower on a sudden leaf. The psalmist saw the harvest baskets, saw the chaff return to seed. Dark, dark was our religion, a faith tossed high into the air, then falling towards the earth, where it spilled out into the first song. He carved his song from forgotten husks, with words found in a harvest basket. Sturdy words like happy, meaning The Lord. Fragile words like insolent, meaning The Evil. For grammar, he used the women’s bodies, tawny limbs and eyes the colors of musk He sang of separation, not of people but in nature, happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked ... he is like a tree planted beside streams of water. Anita Susan Brenner’s poems have appeared in Puerto del Sol, Slipstream, Potato Eyes, and other literary journals. She is currently working on interpretations of the Psalms.
Seemingly Secular exploring israel’s secular-religious divide
> > deborah plum
Deborah Plum graduated from Columbia University in May 2007, where she majored in Middle Eastern Languages and Culture. Deborah moved to Israel in August 2007 and spent her first year teaching at Yad B'Yad, a co-existence school in Jerusalem. Deborah currently works as the Director of Development for a new arts-education non-profit called Omanoot.
distance themselves from organized religious practice, they are finding greater value in the ideals that Jewish traditions espouse. Ma’ayan Freedman is 21 years old and has lived in Tel Aviv her entire life. She too grew up in a secular home with little exposure to religion besides her Tanakh lessons in school, which are a part of Israeli public school education. However, Ma’ayan openly respects and admires the dati leumi religious practice and community. She asserts, “The secular community would benefit from losing aspects of the liberalism they pride themselves on so much and learning from the tradition, the foundation that religion and tradition offer. Having this can make decisions and finding yourself easier so long as there aren't too many laws and restrictions to drive you crazy.” While dating a religious boy, Ma’ayan began specifically connecting to the tradition of Shabbat meals on Friday night. “It was a time where the family could be together; no one was rushing to go anywhere else. If I were to add a religious value into my life, it would be family values.” She continued, “They [the dati leumi] are good people and good to others. I would want to have a community with the type of family values and the love these people promote. I can’t really explain—there is something that believing people have.” Young secular Israelis are clearly developing their own personal dialogues with God, or a means of connecting to the dati community and religious traditions. The question now is what type of community (if any) will develop from these individual paths and how Israel as a nation will react.
Photo by Hillel Smith.
eligious and spiritual curiosity is contagious these days in Israel, particularly amongst young secular Israelis. While Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) remain distant and otherworldly in the eyes of most nonpracticing Israelis, the dati leumi (more liberal or modern religious) community is growing in acceptance and even admiration in the eyes of the general public. Adva Littwitz, a 22-year-old secular woman from the Galilee who is open about her disbelief in God or even a higher power, still emphasized the significance of Jewish tradition and culture and expressed a desire to see religion presented to the secular community in a more open and inviting way, particularly in schools. She believes an important connection exists between herself and the dati leumi community and spoke of their community with admiration and respect, saying, “If only every religious person were dati leumi.” Despite the irrefutable division which remains between the secular community and the extreme religious right (be it a result of political or religious differences), the dati leumi community is having a noteworthy and positive impact on the lives of secular Israelis. This community is growing rapidly and, as a result, a tradition and spiritual path that once seemed uniformly closed and unwelcoming to the secular population has become intriguing—perhaps even appealing. The dati leumi are not only growing but are also constantly evolving. In previous generations, ultra-religious practice was the singularly correct way to be a religious Jew. Even secular Israelis, though not adhering to it, agreed with this standard. Today, however, there has been a shift, and increasing alternative practices and approaches toward tradition have begun impacting the way secular Israelis relate to religion. Many young, non-religious Israelis are open about their recent dabbles with religion and spirituality. Despite their admitted confusion and innate tendancy to
Wrestling with God in Bethlehem seventy-one faces
> > becca linden
he rabbis of the Talmud write, “There are seventy faces to the Torah: Turn it around and around, for everything is in it” (Bamidbar Rabba 13:15). In theory, this message of coexistence at the core of our religious beliefs is helpful when living in fractioned Israel/Palestine, a zone with infinite truths, and often conflicting narratives: all are true, and none are complete. In practice, seeing many truths and holding all of them is difficult to say the least. “It is almost inconceivable to hold within yourself at the same time the possibility hesed and hate. What does God want from us?” says Yael Krieger, 26, who was supposed to have been in Bethlehem on a listening project with a group of 50 rabbinical students and Jewish educators the day of the shooting at Mercaz haRav. Trying to accept the 70 faces is paralyzing—like watching 70 televisions simultaneously. Despite the rabbis’ universalistic tone, their comment allows for boundaries. “There are 70 faces of Torah—but not 71” says Rabbi David Levin-Kruss, an Israeli citizen originally from South Africa, and a teacher at Pardes Institute of Jewish studies in Jerusalem. 70, and not 71—many, but not infinite ways to serve God. Taking a different approach to the quote by focusing on the second half—the turning not the faces—is Encounter, an organization that exposes American Jews from across the religious
Infinite truths, and often conflicting narratives: all are true, and none are complete and political spectrum to Muslims, Christians and Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At its core, Encounter is not about clarifying the boundary between face 70 and 71, or finding the Solution to the peace conflict. Rather, Encounter emphasizes the truth of a method. Their process is based on a foundation of deep listening, openness, and the creation of a safe space in which one can hear narratives of the Other, and integrate their stories with one’s own. This method allows one to see many truths about God, history, politics, religion, hold all of them at the same time, and turn them around and around and around. As the rabbis say, the turning is enough in and of itself, for everything is in it. Becca Linden was a 2008 Fellow at the PresenTense Institute, where she worked to model a new philanthropic structure families can use to encourage a tzedekah consciousness, the Rivkah and Yaacov Lifchitz Philanthropy.
An Unorthodox Wedding seeking alternatives in tying the knot
> > jerrin k. zumberg
Photos provided by the Masorti Movement.
he beauty of separation of religion and state was never clearer to me than when an Orthodox rabbi told my fiancé that he required a learning session on marital sexual relations before any of his couples got married. As a twenty-
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something secular woman who was raised in the American tradition where the girls were equal to the boys—in the classroom, at home, and on the baseball diamond—it was frustrating to learn after moving to Israel that for one of the most significant events of my life, I would have no choice but to yield to Orthodox customs. Tying the knot in the Holy Land requires far more than a brief trip to city hall with only a driver’s license in hand, but rather meeting a series of stringent conditions laid down by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The process, sometimes lasting as long as three months, includes proving the woman is single, in some cases that she went to a
mikvah (ritual bath) and attended bridal counseling (courses that instruct brides on building a Jewish home and on marital relations), and that both partners are Jewish according to Orthodox-interpreted Jewish law. The couple must also hire an Orthodox rabbi approved by the Rabbinate and use the centuries-old Orthodox ketuba (marriage contract) text that seals the deal with a promise of gold coin “zuzim” and is written in the now nearly obsolete Aramaic script. This state of affairs has led a growing number of Israelis to seek another way to get married in their country. About 47,000 Israelis, or 12 percent of those who married presentense.org/magazine features
between 2000 and 2005, secured their union abroad, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel reported that in recent years about 20 percent are opting out annually. “There are two types of couples. Those that have no choice and those that don’t want an Orthodox ceremony,” said Zamira Segev, executive director of the Council for Freedom of Religion in Israel. About half fall in the no-choice category because they are marrying a non-Jew or cannot prove that they themselves are Jewish and therefore must arrange a civil marriage abroad. Especially upset are those Israelis who follow a more progressive tradition. “It’s not what Judaism intended,” said Tal Evron-Carmel, a secular Israeli woman married in a Reform ceremony eight years ago. “The Rabbinate has no real function or meaning in our life and we think they control in an aggressive and incorrect way, so we did something nice and beautiful of our own.” To legalize her wedding, EvronCarmel’s legal union took place in Cyprus a few weeks after her wedding in Israel, since the State will only recognize Orthodox weddings within its borders, or a foreign marriage license that is presented to Israel’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.
But not all non-Orthodox Israelis oppose the established conventions. Even with the enormous lifestyle gap between the secular and Orthodox in Israel, the secular often hold onto the notion that “Jewish” means keeping with the most traditional customs, even if they themselves do not keep them, said Segev. Following the Orthodox tradition is a “matter of preservation of Judaism,” she said. In other words, to marry Orthodox is perceived by average Israelis as “normal.” “It was important to me to get married in a Jewish ceremony in Israel in my own country. I’m not religious but I like tradition and I didn’t mind following what I should be doing,” said Taryn Shani, a secular Israeli woman married through the Rabbinate four years ago. She said her family never identified with a specific stream of Judaism, so getting married in the Orthodox way was simply a traditional thing to do. Among older Israelis, an Orthodox wedding is expected, said Evron-Carmel. Her mother-in-law had a very hard time comprehending “that a Reform wedding is a Jewish wedding in every way.” The lack of exposure nationwide to alternative Jewish movements outside Orthodoxy encourages the status quo. The majority of people are unaware of the
options that more progressive forms of Judaism have to offer. And so the Masorti and Reform Movements are trying to change this tendency by making evading the Orthodox establishment not only more common, but easier. This summer, the Masorti Movement launched a nationwide promotional campaign making marrying Conservative the hip option for young Israelis, complete with radio advertisements, a telephone hotline, and an interactive website where visitors can build a mock virtual wedding while learning about a Conservative wedding ceremony. The campaign’s key slogan is “Go for a Conservative chuppah, that’s how Israelis get married.” If the campaign succeeds, Israelis may be able to marry in a way that reflects their values. As for us, our decision to be married in an un-Orthodox way—that of the Conservative Movement —has put us among the minority of Israelis who are unable to cope with the Orthodox requirement and unwilling to cooperate. Jerrin K. Zumberg is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist and editor. An avid traveler, athlete, and flamenco dancer, she made aliyah from the United States two years ago.
Subway Evangelism new avenues for today’s missionaries
> > laura berger
Photos by Rebecca Alperstein. A group of Mennonites proselytizing in New York’s Times Square subway stop.
is appearance is haggard. Hair overgrown and tangled, clothing torn, and with two front teeth missing. He shouts at the commuters who rush by without glancing as he stands at the subway turnstiles. But he isn’t angry. Vincent King’s shouting about Jesus, and inviting people to come and talk to him about Christ’s love. He hands me a pamphlet that says he works for the King James Bible Baptist Church on 42nd Street. But he is a messenger of God, he tells me. “I’m staying here until Jesus rises again.” Seeing a man like King in New York City is by no means a rare experience. Evangelists are a regular fixture in the subways. Whether they represent Scientology, Jews for Jesus, or “hellfire” Christian evangelicals, the number of people seeking converts in the subway seems to have risen. For the last several summers, groups of young “Jewish believers” have traveled to New York City for the Jews for Jesus Summer Witnessing Campaign. The six week campaign specifically targets the two million Jews living in the tri-state area. During their New York City summer campaign of 2007, Jews for Jesus handed out 462,900 tracts to “both Jews and Gentiles,” or so says their website. But are these groups finding converts? Over the course of the summer campaign, about 500 people gave Jews for Jesus volunteers their contact information. That does not seem like a lot in comparison with almost 500,000 leaflets dispersed, especially since it’s unknown how many of the 500 converted. Some probably hoped to do no more than continue an argument with the missionary they met. As I did with Karol Joseph. Joseph is the Branch Director of Jews for Jesus in Brooklyn, raised Conservative Jewish and refers to Jesus as Yeshua. She celebrates Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but doesn’t consider them binding in that if she doesn’t observe them, she’s kicked out of heaven. Some Jews for Jesus keep kosher and the Sabbath too, but Joseph does not. Unlike critics of her organization,
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she differentiates between Jews for Jesus and Christians. She feels attached to Jewish history and culture. She contacted me after I asked a few questions of a Jews for Jesus missionary in the Atlantic Avenue subway station. I left my email for further contact, hoping to spark a debate. As missionaries go, Joseph is the opposite of King. She is professionally dressed, petite, has short blond hair and carries not a Bible but a PDA with several translations of the Old Testament that she can call to the screen in a flash. Her purpose is to proselytize, and she’s well prepared. After a brief conversation about her own personal religious history, Joseph starts throwing out quotes from the “Old Testament” that prove Jesus was the messiah. The favored targets of Jews for Jesus are those who believe in God but lack the textual background to refute her points. She cites Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and even Sanhedrin
Every Jew in New York knows their name, even if many react with instinctive recoil 43a from the Talmud to make the case that Jesus figures in Jewish texts prominently. She displays the text in full on her PDA to make it more believable. The texts read slightly differently in Hebrew, but when looked at through her eyes, they are very convincing. It’s clear that Joseph is a firm believer, and her determination is to save people. “You can’t evaluate success by numbers,” she says. “We’re successful in helping Jewish people know that there are Jews who believe the Messiah has come.” If the goal is to raise awareness, then Jews for Jesus has met success. Every Jew in New York knows their name, even if many react with instinctive recoil. presentense.org/magazine features
Missionaries in New York and nationwide run the gamut from disheveled street-dwellers like King to brisk and professional women like Joseph. When I mention that I’m Jewish, they light up. Jews are a preferred target, especially young ones. As leaders of both the Taglit- Birthright Israel program and the year-long post high-school programs in Israel know, young adulthood is a time of change. High-school, college, and post-college-aged young adults are more likely to change religiously, and according to the Pew Institute, they are also likely to be unaffiliated with any particular religion. That doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God, however. It is this population segment of unaffiliated but spiritual people who modern missionaries are seeking out. The Messianic Jews, Mormons, and other Evangelicals patrolling New York have faith in themselves and their beliefs and feel that they know their place and mission in the world. This faith leads them down paths others would think were crazy. “I gave up my apartment, I gave up everything to follow the Lord,” King told me. “I’ve been dead for three years now. I’m crucified with Christ. I don’t even know who I am.” But apparently, this is okay with him. When people focus on themselves, they can’t worship God, he says. “I’d rather dedicate myself fully to God than turn in on myself.” In contrast to the generation of Jews who published derisive pamphlets and conducted campaigns to fight the influence of missionaries, I don’t fear them. The automatic tension between traditional Jews and Messianic Jews is still there, but the saturation
of Jews for Jesus in New York counteracts that. Younger Jews, who are more likely to try to find their own religious paths, don’t find it strange to engage in conversation with missionaries, even if we don’t agree with them. Our religious choices are in our own hands, and we are less worried about being swayed or sucked in by other groups. Missionaries are aware of this as well. Instead of arguing her points, Joseph handed me “evidence” and urged me to contact her again if I had any questions. When I met with Mormons, they simply requested that I pray, confident that my path to Mormonism would open that way. The disputations our parents published hardly apply in the face of this lack of confrontation. All that’s left in our arsenal against conversion is the conviction that our choice is our own, guided by a healthy sense of skepticism. Laura Berger grew up in Minnesota, attended university in New York and Argentina, and is currently studying in Jerusalem at Pardes.
features crispee contest
Winners of the Hebrew University Photo Contest
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Rafael Bernard, Emerson College. People at the Kotel.
PresenTensemagazine.org watch them
he Hebrew University Office of Academic Affairs is proud to announce the second annual exhibit winners for the CRISPEE Contest: Rothberg International School Photo Exhibit Extravaganza, an annual photo contest and year-long exhibit for students who studied abroad during the previous academic year. The focus of the contest was “What most typifies your experience at the Hebrew University and/or in Israel to you?” The competition was judged by the Rothberg International School’s Office of Academic Affairs and PresenTense Magazine.
Joel Estes, Cedarville University. Brushing Pottery in Israelite House.
This exhibit is sponsored by RIS’s Office of Academic Affairs, PresenTense Magazine, Isram Travel, and Talk’n’Save. To see the full exhibit, please visit http://overseas.huji.ac.il/photo.
Adam Salberg, Fordham University. Untitled.
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Minyans of the People the rise of lay-led congregations
> > alieza salzberg
Photos by Shelley Shafran.
t a recent meeting of the Minyan Shivyoni of Baka, located in Jerusalem, a sandy-haired man of 35 shifted uncomfortably in his seat, readying his response to the statement that a majority of his community wants to expand egalitarian practice in services at the minyan. “I believe in feminism,” he said, “but I don’t know what I will tell my sons when they visit their friends’ shul. Will I be able to tell them that we are also Orthodox?” This meeting, like all others at the minyan, does not include a rabbinical authority. The congregation makes its own decisions, based on its own pulse and its own understanding of halakhic Judaism. The Shivyoni—which literally means egalitarian in Hebrew—is just one in a trend of prayer groups that have placed decision-making in the hands of laypeople. These independent minyans define the way they pray: the atmosphere, the liturgy, gender roles, and the method of decision-making. Communal consensus determines decisions through democratic votes, elected boards of laypeople, and volunteer ‘leadership teams.’ While independent minyans vary in their practices and motivations, all
If the community changes, so should the minyan have accepted the challenge of creating direction and community cohesion without traditional top-down leadership. “In [the last synagogue from which we broke], there were so many rules and regulations for implementing change that it was impossible,” said Yair Furstenburg, one of the Shivyoni’s founding members.
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“Most important is that the minyan actually serves the needs of the community and that it is flexible enough to change accordingly.” As the Minyan Shivyoni navigates the process of becoming more egalitarian, each decision begins with open communal learning on the topic of discussion. From that point, there is an e-mail follow-up, disseminating the traditional sources discussed, which lead to more ideological and value-driven missives. Then, there is a vote. “There is a shared culture and atmosphere, even though there are great gaps between the different people in the minyan,” Furstenburg said. “People give different weight to different elements—values, custom, traditional legal texts, atmosphere.” The Shivyoni is not alone in its wrestling with consensus building. The collection of independent minyans across the world run the gamut of the religious spectrum—as one might expect, no two look exactly alike. For congregations originating in the Orthodox community, many sought an independent outlet precisely because of the question of egalitarianism. Other minyans have sprung up from communities that take an egalitarian construct as given, but were in search of a warmer atmosphere, more song, and a more flexible leadership style. For example, Shira Chadasha, a popular Jerusalem minyan, sprouted from a need to bring egalitarianism into the Orthodox world-view. However, the minyan sees its mission to create a community of hospitality and song as vital to its success—just as important as opening Torah reading to women while simultaneously allowing Orthodox Jews to feel comfortable halakhically. Other minyans, such as Kol Zimrah, based in New York, have sought to reinvigorate Conservative and Reform prayers with full liturgy and music. But their purpose is equally to create an individualized service—official prayerbooks, “please rise” directions, and denominational affiliation have all been taken out of the equation. presentense.org/magazine features
While independent minyans vary in their practices and motivations, all have accepted the challenge of creating direction and community cohesion without traditional top-down leadership The changes made by these communities represent a fundamental disaffection from the major streams of Judaism. Traditionally, key changes in congregational worship originate from the most respected scholars and official rabbinical councils who make legal decisions for hundreds of communities, though they have little contact with them, if any. In contrast, independent minyans are localized and democratic. For communities rooted in a halakhic background, the validity granted by traditional sources is still highly important, but the rabbinical stamp of authority is readily swapped for the stamp of a professor of Talmud. Leadership is often much younger and participatory. As Hadar, a traditional egalitarian minyan in New York, states on its website: “Hadar believes that excitement, not guilt, is the most effective method of motivating a volunteer community.” If any hierarchy can be discerned, perhaps it is that, de facto, power is given to those with initiative—Talmud
professors and students, gabbais who ensure that the needs of the service are met, those congregants with the musical ability to carry a service to fruition, and the most engaged members of the community. Without a clear hierarchy, these minyans have to creatively deal with change and communal need. Alyssa Frank, a past board member of Kol Zimrah, feels strongly that a community’s flexibility is vital to decision-making in the independent minyan, even though board turnover and disparate visions for a minyan’s core goals pose challenges to the community. Frank served Kol Zimrah for two years, but no longer regularly attends services. “In the features presentense.org/magazine
institutionalized Jewish world, there are too many organizations that exist just for the sake of perpetuating themselves. I don’t want Kol Zimrah to become frozen,” Frank explained in a recent conversation. “If the community changes, so should the minyan.” Accordingly, the new Kol Zimrah board placed social justice programming at the center of the minyan’s mission, focusing less on meaningful, musical, and smooth prayer services, which demand recruiting and training new prayer leaders. As such, the team, in many minyans, has taken on the role of temporary leader. Hadar has a life cycle committee, through which you can make contact with a rabbi, many of whom are members themselves. Many independent minyans enjoy a different community member’s sermon each week, often drawing wisdom from many corners of lay people’s knowledge: a social worker with a psychological perspective on the weekly parsha, a lawyer with legal insight, and so on. Tova Hartman, founder of Shira Chadasha and a professor of Educational Psychology, believes a psychological void has been created by the lack of central leadership. “People need a central figure for transference,” Hartman said. She is referring to Freudian transference, a process by which a figure of authority serves as a surrogate through which people work through their emotions about past relationships. “If the rabbi reminds you of your father, today you love him or maybe hate him. The congregants rally together around the cause of loving or hating the rabbi and it actually builds community,” Hartman said. Sometimes, she has noticed Shira Chadasha members relating to its founding board with such transference. But, she says, that is because there isn’t one leader and the job is not an official salaried position—no one person takes on the role in a regular manner. In the Shivyoni’s latest decision, 75 percent of the community voted for change. After heated debate and intense deliberation, not one regular member left the minyan. The group who voted against expanding egalitarian practice accepted the psak, or legal decision, of the democratic process—just as, in the past, many people relied on the rabbi’s decision, with which they may not have thoroughly agreed, but nevertheless deferred to. Asked about the outcome of the process, Yair Furstenburg seemed pleased. “It’s like a recipe that each person assembles differently, but the end result looks the same.” Alieza Salzberg recently completed Matan’s Advanced Talmudic Institute and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Talmud at Bar Ilan University. She teaches and writes from Jerusalem.
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Elective Exile? Israeli-American dialogue on Jewish identity
> > Avi Herring
Provided by Camp Ramah Wisconsin. Americans and Israelis at Camp Ramah join together in a musical tribute to Gilad Shalit.
he tension in the room was palpable as 15 Israeli and American staff members at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin gathered to discuss their Jewish identities. Up for discussion this time: Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua’s controversial 2006 comment that if “in 100 years Israel will exist, and I will come to the Diaspora [and] there will not be ... [any] Jews, I would say it’s normal. I will not cry for it.” Addie Gellman Chomsky, 18, an American Jew from Ohio, could barely hide her disgust. “Being an American Jew is a huge part of my identity. My dad is a cantor in a conservative synagogue, and I love it,” she passionately explained to her Israeli counterparts. Despite Addie’s best efforts, some of the Israelis could not understand her point. “It’s weird to me that you have both your loyalty to America and to Israel,” said Rama Shifron, 21, a first-year Israeli staff member who recently finished her national service. “If I was a non-Jew who saw your loyalty to Israel, I would think you were a traitor.” There was an awkward pause. “If you love Israel, why don’t you come here?” echoed Inbal BenMenachem, 20, a first-year Israeli staff member set to join the IDF in several months’ time. These types of exchanges reccurred over the eight weeks during which I conducted dialogue groups at Camp Ramah’s summer camp. In spite of the goal of generating a shared understanding that would reveal a common mission to Israeli and American Jews, many discussions left participants hurt and even more skeptical of the other side than when they entered the room. This was not, of course, the first time frustration has been born of the debate over Israel’s centrality and the Diaspora’s relevance. Tension has plagued the relationship between American and
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Israeli Jews since the establishment of the State of Israel. At the 1951 World Zionist Congress, a mere three years after the State’s founding, an impassioned Golda Meir told the delegates, “Why are we not allowed to say that after the emergence of the State a Zionist is only he who packs his bags and comes to Israel? One must not acquiesce in the idea that the Diaspora will be permanent.” An angry Hadassah president, Rose Halpern, retorted, “The concept of golah [exile] connotes coercion. It does not apply to us [American Jews] and we refuse to accept it.” Sixty years later, the debate still haunts the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. It continues to linger, suggests Gidon Shimoni of Hebrew University, because it goes to the core of our respective Jewish identities. “One pole asserts the primacy of Jewish life in the State of Israel over Jewish life anywhere else,” he writes. “The opposite pole asserts the intrinsically equal value of Jewish life in Israel and Jewish life in the Diaspora, particularly in the United States.” If the unrepresentative sample of Jews at Camp Ramah is any indication, the pull of the polls may be weakening. Despite the frustration, and for all of the polemics about the centrality of Israel and viability of the Diaspora, there were an almost equal number of more nuanced and respectful exchanges. For a good number of the Americans, Israel was indeed at the center of their Jewish identity. This vocal group, of which many had spent significant time in Israel, valued integrating the complex issues of Israeli society into their lives as Jews. Of the Israelis, a vocal minority didn’t see the Israel-Diaspora divide in such black and white terms, and more began to allow for shades of gray as the groups progressed. For example, at the presentense.org/magazine features
beginning of the sessions, Yaakov Levi demanded that every Jew make aliyah to Israel. During the second session, one of the Americans turned to him and said, “What if you were constantly told to leave for a place where you have a special connection. Would you leave your family and your previous life behind?” After spending a moment deep in thought, he shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t make aliyah.” Several of the Israelis even found American Jewish life superior to Jewish life in Israel. Merav Binyamin, 22, candidly told her group that “in many ways, American Jews are much more ‘Jewish’ than Israeli Jews. There’s a level of tolerance and openness and
acceptance that Israeli Judaism just doesn’t have.” It seems that we have embarked on the project of building a united Am Yisrael that will use the values of Torah to enlighten our own people and the peoples of the world. For thousands of years, this project has been our calling. We must not allow polemics like Yehoshua’s to distract us from our mission. Avi Herring is a Junior at the joint program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he is majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Modern Jewish Studies. He is also managing editor of The Current, Columbia University’s undergraduate journal of politics, culture and Jewish affairs.
Under Cover changing trends in women’s customs
> > Hadassah Levy
t a parent-teacher conference at my daughter’s Religious Zionist school, most of the women cover their hair. Some are wearing scarves—tied to cover all of their hair or to reveal most of it. Some of the women are in hats—with bangs or without. The unifying factor is that all of these women are committed to the Jewish law requiring married women to cover their hair. The practice of hair covering amongst Jewish women has its source in the Mishnah. M. Ketubot 7:6 lists going out with unbound hair as one of the ways in which a woman forfeits her divorce settlement. The Talmud (B. Ketubot 72a-b) understood the source of this custom to be even more ancient. In the Bible (Numbers 5:18), a woman suspected of infidelity has her hair exposed as part of her punishment. This biblical passage seems to imply that as a matter of course a Jewish woman kept her hair covered. Many women in the previous two generations chose not to cover their hair when they got married, but today, the trend is reversing itself. When Yedida Lubin, 30, got married, she debated whether or not to cover her hair. Lubin believes that the purpose of the law requiring women to cover their hair is as a symbol that she is a married woman rather than as an expression of modesty. On this basis, she chose to wear a hat or kerchief, leaving her long hair exposed. According to Lubin, her decision also had a features presentense.org/magazine
social aspect: “I think many women make halakhic decisions based not only on their own learning and knowledge, but also upon societal norms. I think this is particularly true in halakhic decisions which result in very public displays—like hair covering. In these cases, the woman’s decision doesn’t only convey her halakhic opinion, but is a testament to her association with a particular group.” Lubin exemplifies the transitional period in which we live. On the one hand, peer pressure and societal norms still play a part in women’s decisions on religious matters. On the other hand, Lubin is part of a growing group of women who are highly educated in Torah and make halakhic decisions based on this knowledge. Women’s Torah study has expanded greatly over the last 30 years, following the trend of men’s study. Women who have studied at one of the many women’s institutions of advanced Torah study do not have to rely on rabbinical guidance or social norms in order to make decisions about Jewish law. They know how to find the books, understand them, and analyze them. They come to conclusions which suit their lifestyles and opinions. Yardena Cope-Joseph, director of Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute, guides her students to make halakhic judgments and to share them with other women. “I tell my graduating students that with knowledge comes responsibility, and whatever title you
hold, and wherever you teach in the future, be prepared—you’ll be asked.” Halakhah is made up of the differing opinions of many authorities, based on how they understood previous generations’ rulings. By focusing more on certain opinions or interpreting them in a specific way, more than one halakhic conclusion can be drawn. According to the Talmud, the amount of hair a married woman can expose is a tefach; however, there are many definitions to the word, and thus many interpretations of how to cover one’s hair. As more women study Torah, we can expect to see more diversity in women’s customs, not just in hair covering but across
“The woman’s decision doesn’t only convey her halakhic opinion, but is a testament to her association with a particular group” the board. Torah knowledge empowers women to make their own halakhic decisions—and mass Torah study will lead to a more democratic, and therefore more diverse, community. Hadassah Levy is content director for The Center for Online Judaic Studies (http://cojs.org) and i-point web design (http://i-pointwebdesign.com). She lives in Eli, Israel, with her husband and four children.
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On the Derech journey to the center of judaism
> > jason arenstein
features paradigm shift
n the fourth century BCE, Ezra the scribe led thousands of Israelites back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon to reconstitute and revitalize the Jewish people. The result of this epochal pilgrimage is Judaism as we know it today. As our own generation works in various ways to revitalize the Jewish community, we would do well to follow Ezra’s example, and make our own reckoning with our common roots—to return to and revitalize the role of pilgrimage in our tradition, to reclaim it as a central and formative experience in our individual and our communal identities, and to use pilgrimage as a means for solving some of our contemporary problems. Jewish thought has tended to dwell on exiles and diasporas, and in the 21st century, many young Jews have developed a fascination with the exotic pilgrimage cultures of other traditions, tendencies that often obscure our own itinerant origins. Although “Ivri” (the Hebrew word for “Hebrew”) means “from the other side,” “halakha” (Jewish law) means “the way to go,” and “derech” (the Jewish “path”) means “the way,” as in, the road itself, too often today when we think of Jews on the road, we think of expulsion and flight, not deliberation and destination. David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson, authors of Pilgrimage and the Jews, term the Jewish people a “pilgrim people, with a rich and varied pilgrimage culture from biblical times right up to the present.” These pilgrimages include the journeys to Jerusalem beginning with Abraham and continuing through the Shalosh Regalim (the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) during both Temple periods; to Canaan from Egypt; to the tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs; and to the tombs of various teachers and prophets in Israel and the Diaspora. Lately, our list of pilgrimage sites has grown: we go on March of the Living to visit the sites of the Holocaust and with issue six 2008
Taglit-Birthright Israel to the modern State, and we even have a sort of global class of pilgrims—the Chabad rabbis who may be found in cities and towns across the globe. Yet despite this rich and continuing history of Jewish pilgrimage—what we might think of as the “nomadics of Judaism”—we lack an integrated, holistic understanding of how contemporary pilgrims fit into the tradition and of how pilgrimage is poised to meet some of the pressing needs of contemporary Judaism. With Israel a fact, the steady growth of heritage missions to Eastern Europe, the ever-more traditional American post-high school year in Israel and Israeli postarmy year abroad, and the rise of several organizations (check out TorahTrek, Hazon, the Jewish Outdoors Club, and the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center) that seek to reconcile Judaism with tangible and sensory engagement with the physical world, the time is ripe for us to return pilgrimage to the center of contemporary Judaism. In doing so, we will rearticulate for our own times the progression of original Jewish history from Adam and Eve (expulsion) to Abraham (destination) and thereby, as on our holidays, not just commemorate those times but also re-experience them and make them anew—and by rearticulating
Photo by Brian Goldfarb. Aron Wolgel stops walking in the Negev to pray.
see ourselves as a house divided—left and right, secular and religious, Labor and Kadima and Likud, doves and hawks, Tel Aviv and the territories, Democrats and Republicans, Haredim and religious Zionists, and so on. Revitalizing the
Jewish thought has tended to dwell on exiles and diasporas ... our origins, our identity, and our strength, spark a renaissance. Contemporary Judaism is plagued by numerous “crises”—the intermarriage crisis, the assimilation crisis, the shidduch (matchmaking) crisis, the ethical kashrut crisis and the healthy kashrut crisis, the ongoing crisis of physical-martial strength, and above all the unity crisis. We too often
tradition of Jewish pilgrimage can help us address these crises—all of which are, ultimately, crises of alienation, of natural and human community. In the Temple era, pilgrimages brought together Jews from around the ancient world to renew old connections, arrange marriages, exchange customs, and reaffirm national unity and communal identity and ultimately, to presentense.org/magazine features
... and in the 21st century, many young Jews have developed a fascination with the exotic pilgrimage cultures of other traditions, tendencies that often obscure our own itinerant origins
strengthen the nation through pluralism. A renewed and deliberate culture of pilgrimage can reproduce these benefits for contemporary Judaism. Imagine a new kind of Birthright— one more substantive, rewarding, and productive—young people sojourning in Jewish communities around the world, learning and serving and connecting, a year punctuated by travel to Israel for each of the three pilgrimage festivals, for festivals and conferences that would serve as opportunities to reinforce old bonds and make new ones, and as incubators for new ideas and programs of all kinds. Pilgrimage concepts could also be infused into the popular post-high school year in Israel; service, a major component of emerging Jewish programming (as Seth Garz pointed out last year in these pages) could be intertwined with pilgrimage; pilgrimage could be brought into the bar and bat mitzvah preparation period, thereby exposing young people to Judaism beyond the confines of their local synagogue; similarly, pilgrimage would be a natural element of the ba’al teshuvah (return to observance) movement.
There are challenges to building this culture of pilgrimage—one of the most daunting perhaps being the very notion of a culture, as opposed to the disconnected pilgrimages that exist today. When Ezra led the exiles home, he did so to serve a larger cultural objective; the many forms of contemporary pilgrimage are not insufficient, but they are insufficiently envisioned as part of an overarching cultural project. They are fertile soil within which to plant this larger project, but they are not the project itself. As we address this challenge, we will surely find others, for these thoughts are just forays and first steps; but as we begin to weave together our ideas and resources and opportunities, constructing a coherent project of pilgrimage in 21st-century Judaism, we will begin to accomplish a growing unity, cohesion, and communitas in and between our communities. If we make our way together, we will come together, by the way. Jason Arenstein lives, learns, teaches, and writes in New York City. He welcomes hearing from anyone interested in connecting Judaism and pilgrimage, organics, martial arts ... .
Aliyah Now? jewish boundaries in a land of starvation
> > joshua cogan and dallas lillich
Today, once again Ethiopia is gripped by famine. Those who make a successful claim of Jewish ancestry as members of the Falash Mura, or Christians whose parents or grandparents converted from Judaism, can receive citizenship in Israel, and an escape. Now, with Jewish aid groups leaving the country and the Israeli government having formally ended Ethiopian immigration, determining exactly who merits aliyah is more fraught than ever. Today, there are estimated to be over 20,000 Falash Mura in Ethiopia, many living in
displacement camps such as the one pictured here in Gondar. Ethiopian Jewry likely emerged as a distinct social entity between the 14th and 16th centuries. Denied the ability to inherit land by a Christian dynasty, the Beta Israel (as they prefer to be called) turned to other sources of income, like blacksmithing and weaving, which were viewed with suspicion by the majority of Christian Ethiopians. Though they occasionally rose to positions of prominence, these Jews remained outsiders struggling on the margins.
In 1976, after decades of education in normative Judaism, the Israeli rabbinate recognized the Beta Israel as fully Jewish, setting the stage for the ensuing mass emigration. The famine of 1984 was a galvanizing force for their aliyah, most famously in the Israeli government’s rescue mission Operation Moses. The Ethiopians pictured here have come to the camps to petition for Israeli citizenship under Israel’s Law of Entry, a humanitarian law that allows for the immigration of close, non-Jewish relatives. Some have formally converted to Judaism; others, having lived in the camps for many years, have practiced Judaism since childhood, though they are not formally recognized as Jews. About 75 percent of Ethiopian families in Israel live below the poverty line, and Israel spends $100,000 to absorb each Ethiopian immigrant. Many in Israel, including the newly-elected Ethiopian MK Shlomo Mula, want to focus on the lingering problem of integration faced by Ethiopian Jews already in the Jewish state. The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) today continues its relief efforts in Gondar, attracting more Ethiopian petitioners to its representatives, as funding from United Jewish Communities (UJC) officially ends. Israel says that only a few hundred of those who continue to wait meet government criteria. Periodically, the question of “who is a Jew?” has been raised to great controversy in the Jewish world, often in relation to the conversion to Judaism of Westerners by means deemed insufficient by Orthodox Israeli authorities. But Ethiopia today is probably the only place where the answer to that question can be the difference between life and death. issue six 2008
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Joshua Cogan is a photographer and anthropologist based in Washington, DC. He has recently completed projects for the Pulitzer Center for Crisis reporting and the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More of his editorial and commercial work can be found at www.joshuacogan.com. Dallas Lillich is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. He recently spent a year in Ethiopia studying African History.
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Found through Translation chinese seek jewish food for thought
> > erin kopelow
isiting his native China, Professor Zhang Ping, 45, of Tel Aviv University sought out his Chinese translation of the mishnah tractate Derech Eretz Zuta in Beijing’s largest bookstore. Instead, he found a pirated version that “took my book and added a lot of things to teach people how to do business.” The book was located in the “Jewish Wisdom” section, otherwise known as: how to get rich. The Chinese perception that Jews are adept at business, coupled with Israel’s rising economic presence, has resulted in a niche market within the Chinese “self-help” genre devoted to the secrets behind Jewish entrepreneurial success. A 2007 Washington Post article reported that Chinese bookstores are packed with works titled, The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of the Jewish, Legend of Jewish Wealth, and Jewish People and Business: The Bible of How to Live Their Lives. Although the plethora of sophistic publications are reminiscent of hateful trends of the past, it is noteworthy that communist China
Photo by Mark Furman. Professor Ping.
similar, a conclusion he reached 15 years ago after setting out to translate his first rabbinic work into Chinese.
“Steinsaltz wanted to give a document to the Chinese that explained ‘This is who I am.’ We didn’t know anything about them; they didn’t know anything about us”
appears to be permitting foreign religious sources, especially ones relating to the attainment of personal wealth. China was geographically isolated for much of its history, unlike the Jews, who, since the destruction of the Second Temple, have lived only amidst foreigners. This could lead one to assume the Chinese and Jews hold strikingly different philosophies concerning the fabric of society and governance. Yet, according to Ping, the societies’ philosophies are remarkably issue six 2008
To complete his Master’s degree in Oriental Literature at Beijing University, Ping was required to learn an additional foreign language. “So,” he explained, “I went to the language department and the secretaries were talking about a new language program, a Hebrew program. It was the first Hebrew program in a Chinese university.” When asked why his university had decided to open such a program, Ping speculated, “Well, it was around 1985, and I think China was
preparing to start diplomatic relations with Israel.” (Official relations were established in ’92.) Realizing he would be one of the only people in China to know the language, a concept he admits gave him “a really good feeling,” Ping decided to pursue Hebrew. After graduating, Ping came to Tel Aviv University to further hone his linguistic skills. It was here that Ping was approached by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a figure dedicated to Talmudic translations. He wanted to translate the mishnah tractate Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) into Chinese and approached Ping to see if he knew anyone who would be interested. Thomas Nisell, 57, who works for Rabbi Steinsaltz’s foundation and was involved in this project, remembers, “Steinsaltz wanted to give a document to the Chinese that explained ‘This is who I am.’ We didn’t know anything about them; they didn’t know anything about us. He wanted to make a small bridge between two peoples.” Ping eventually agreed to do the project himself and devoted an entire summer to the translation. “It’s not a big book but it’s a very difficult book. And when I translated, I always thought one thing: How to make Chinese understand this book? This is something totally new to them and there were no other references [to this material] in Chinese literature. Everything had to be within this book.” Confucianism became Ping’s Rosetta Stone. Its philosophy and principles are deeply embedded within Chinese culture, Ping explained. Everyone is aware of them even if they do not identify as religious per se. For example, there is no actual word for God in Chinese. “It is not that the Chinese do not have a conception of God,” Ping clairified. “It’s just that we don’t talk about him.” Nisell further remembered, “We decided to use the Chinese word for heaven instead of God because on one hand we wanted the Chinese to [linguistically] understand what the text says, but we also wanted to make it clear what our text said presentense.org/magazine arts
“It made Chinese people feel, ‘Oh yes, I can understand this from my own culture’” [metaphorically]. We decided on heaven because it’s something you can see but you can’t touch, it’s abstract and tangible at the same time.” Ping added, “It made Chinese people feel, ‘Oh yes, I can understand this from my own culture.’”
Ping admits the book contained “a lot of footnotes” with explanations and further comparisons between the two philosophies, additions that further confirmed their similarities. For example, both rabbinic Judaism and Confucianism focus on the individual’s life rather than the World-to-Come (known in Chinese as “the Perfect Society”). Both also value education and believe that an individual should always study within a master/ disciple framework. In short, as Nisell explains, “Confucianism is not a religion but a way of living. Because of this, it has been able to survive for so long.” The same can be said for rabbinic Judaism. After completing the translation for Rabbi Steinsaltz, Ping decided to stay at
Tel Aviv University and pursue a PhD in Comparative Philosophy between Rabbinic Judaism and Confucianism. He currently teaches in the East Asian Studies department and is embarking upon a translation of the Mishnah in its entirety, an effort he admits is designed to help “establish a textual dialogue between Chinese tradition and the Jewish tradition.” He explains, “I think a more solid foundation can be built [between the Chinese and Jewish people] only by improving the cultural understanding between the two peoples.” Erin Kopelow currently lives in Israel and works for the Sofaer International Business School at Tel Aviv University.
Lines in the Sand a conversation with michael oren
> > noa levanon
Photo by Scott Arnold.
hen Michael Oren was asked by his editor, “What book about the Middle East has yet to be written but needs to be?” he reached for the story he felt had yet to be told—one particularly salient in the context of Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq. Given the decisions facing the United States, Oren, a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, felt that it was important to explore that comprehensive history of America's involvement in the Middle East, in order to present a more complete context to judge US policies. He discovered that a protracted, complex, and intense relationship has existed for centuries, much longer than the one commonly perceived by most Americans. Naturally, long-term trends—for example, the ongoing debate on force vs. diplomacy—should and do impact American behavior today. But beyond this chronology, Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present contains a sub-issue—the evolution of American norms vis-à-vis Zionism, a discussion particularly relevant to American Israelis. During repeated references to both Arab and Jewish nationalism in the region, Oren details a rising American ambivalence towards Zionism, caused by a gradual recalibration of previously aligned values. Support of Jewish nationalism first manifested itself in the US via the concept of restorationism, the belief prevalent among many American Christians, that
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sovereignty in the land of Israel needed to be returned to the Jews. In the 1800s, many Christians acted upon these values by becoming missionaries in the Middle East. Finding themselves in an environment hostile to proselytizing, they resorted to teaching civil, instead of religious, values; Oren says they went from “teaching the gospel to teaching what they referred to as the gospel of Americanism: civic virtues of democracy and patriotism.” At the end of World War I, however, civic values manifested themselves
spiritual views over time has created a divide between traditional ideological support for Israel and a more modern belief in secular multiculturalism in America today. While Oren maintains he “[does not] see a substantive change in US policy towards Israel in the near future,” the abovementioned divergence nonetheless evokes a few conundrums in terms of identity for American Zionists and Israeli-Americans. For those who embrace multiculturalism as the mainstay of their Americanism, for example, it seems that American and Israeli identities would compete for primacy. Even worse, for those who view American identity by other standards, the implicit suggestion still seems to be that pro-Israeli support relies to some degree on traditional missionary zeal of American Christians. With all due respect to Oren’s predictions of strategic consistency, the motivations behind pro-Israel policies are growing increasingly complicated and it can be argued that these are more important than the actual policies in evidence. Oren, who self-identifies as both Israeli and American, seemed to have no crisis of identity. He said he approached the book with “absolutely no preconceptions”
What book about the Middle East has yet to be written but needs to be? differently, given the changing political environment in the Middle East. With the Ottoman Empire replaced by the colonial powers of the United Kingdom and France, restorationism —which in practice was translated into support of Zionism—came into conflict with Arab nationalism. The Jewish national movement was now perceived as being in competition with other regional movements for self-determination; America’s long-held ideological support for restorationism no longer easily coexisted with overarching ideological support for nationalism among colonial populations. Consequently, Oren notes, “Today there are two Americas: what began in Puritan times as a twosided vision has become a deeply polarized vision—one a vision of multiculturalism and secularism and one a faith-guided view, which is very much engaged with Eretz Israel and imbued with religious fervor.” In other words, the evolution of civic and
as to the nature of the final product. Methodologically, he stayed consistent to historical documents, and refrained from use of loaded terminology that could be affiliated with one particular side of the debate. However, it can be argued that Oren mitigated overt personal conflicts of identity by framing the book around a purely American perspective and shying away from the ramifications of US policy towards Israel. Interesting to read would be a follow-up analysis which features the Israeli angle with greater prominence. Until then, Power, Faith and Fantasy has many merits as a well-researched, multi-faceted and thoroughly engaging work. Noa Levanon made aliyah almost five years ago. She completed service as an officer in the IDF’s Liaison and Foreign Relations Division, and is now studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations and Conflict Research at Hebrew University.
Portrait of an Artist god’s his DJ
> > monica rozenfeld
ouse music—a mix of electronic dance, disco, funk, soul, jazz, psychedelic rock—may not be the first thing we think to turn to when searching for truth. But DJ Eric Rosen has taken house music, his turntable, and Torah along for his eleven-year journey of self-discovery. Born to a musical family, Eric was raised on Israeli folk music, beating drums with his brother and playing guitar with his dad. As Eric became more passionate about guitar, he gravitated towards metal. Soon he adopted the long-haired rocker look and started hanging out backstage at Pantera concerts, sometimes even moshing up a crowd. But at 15, finding himself with a house mix made by a friend, he discovered the musical genre that would serve as his inspiration. It was a style that he, at first, hated. But it changed his life. Eric realized that metal was “angry music,” something he didn’t want to be associated with anymore. House was its antithesis. He traded in the moshing and got himself a job at a record store where he experimented with turntables. It was around this time that, thanks to a Birthright trip, he discovered Israel. With the inspiration he received from Israel, his true music emerged. “Torah showed me what we are here to do, and what the seriously heavy implications of music really are. The Jewish people have a mission to unify the world, and when this became something that I learned about, the music became a reflection of this.” Today, and eleven years of mixes later, Eric is producing a soundtrack that represents his Jewish development, from metalhead, to Buddhist, to wandering Jew. He DJs all over the LA area, in some of the city’s most popular venues. And he constantly finds himself running into Jews on the dance floor. “We are drawn to the tribal rhythms of today the same way we have always been,” he says. “It is a translation of the Jewish journey into music. We are constantly seeking unity through music in a way that can best be felt on a sweaty dance floor where background, arts presentense.org/magazine
occupation, religious affiliation matters not, because the music is what unifies us.” That’s why Eric is so glad that the Jewlicious Festival—a Jewish music festival held annually in Long Beach, California— found him. At Jewlicious, he now not only DJs, but is also the Festival’s director of marketing and branding, having helped make it the sold-out success that it is today. Eric’s next project is working on a fusion of classic niggunim (songs without lyrics) and traditional Jewish melodies mixed with house and hip-hop music. “There are definite parallels between niggunim and some house tracks. The melodies of instruments, the clapping of rhythm and beats allows us to interpret music in our own way, the way niggunim opens up the soul to hear music on a level that lyrics can never reach.” With all his sounds, Eric finds his inspiration for a new mix by learning a piece of Torah or reading a spiritual text and bringing that into the music. “Always bring God into the picture,” Eric says. “The reality is Him anyway, even the music and the turntables, and the records and the guitars. Even your hands, feet, creativity, and the air you breathe to sustain life during the creative process.”
“The reality is Him anyway, even the music and the turntables, and the records and the guitars” And when the material is down and the mix is burned, the secret then is to create a chavruta—a one-on-one experience with the crowd. “You have to read the crowd and play tracks that fit the vibe of the moment,”
Photo provided by J-Connect and Jonah Light Photography.
Eric says, “and that will take everyone to the next level, wherever and whatever that might be. The Jewish journey is about finding the middle ground for oneself. In finding one’s one truth amongst a multitude of truths where institutional agendas bend and pull at all of us to see ‘their way.’” To hear DJ Eric’s tracks, visit his site http://waxdj.com/djs/17/ Monica Rozenfeld is a freelance writer living in NYC. You can catch more of her interviews with Jewish musicians, activists and entrepreneurs on her blog The Jew Spot at www.TheJewSpot.org.
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I want to hear my own voice hebrew melodies of the romantic era
s our world becomes increasingly globalized, many yearn for unadulterated glimpses into traditional cultures. With the opportunity to eat McDonalds in Jerusalem or have a Starbucks in the Forbidden City, it is often through music that we find a community’s authentic voice. Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland sought the sounds of South Africa and propelled the group Ladysmith Black
and integrate it with Western compositional techniques. Through such composers, these musical traditions have found a way into the musical canon. Yet despite the heightened interest in expanding the sound world and numerous successful Jewish composers and musicians, rarely have we heard classical CDs that celebrate Jewish songs. Hebrew Melodies of the Romantic Era presents the rarely played but rich tradition of Eastern European Jewish music. Isabelle Durin and
Isabelle Durin and Michaël Ertzcheid seek to preserve the voice of the Jewish shtetl and compile compositions from across Europe and Russia
Mambazo and other native African artists into international fame. One hundred years earlier, classical composers had a similar longing to expand the traditional realm of Western classical music through the exploration of their own heritage. Aaron Copland turned to American folk songs, Béla Bartók incorporated Hungarian peasant music, and Igor Stravinsky wove his Russian upbringing into his compositions. Whether motivated by a desire to preserve musical customs, assert the legitimacy of a culture, or simply reminisce about childhood songs, these artists sought to capture the genuine sound of their heritage issue six 2008
Michaël Ertzcheid seek to preserve the voice of the Jewish shtetl and compile compositions from across Europe and Russia in this CD. Yiddish songs, liturgical music and Hassidic dance tunes are integrated with Western composition traditions. The result of this collection is music that is as intense and heart-wrenching as the Jewish experience itself. The CD opens with George Perlman’s aching “Hebraïsch (Ghetto Sketches, num. 1).” The violinist plays as if in dialogue with God, pleading for understanding and sympathy. At moments, God and the violinist seem to be in conversation, while at others, the violin yells
> > emily isaacson
out for attention. The mood changes at track four with George Perlman’s “Dance of the Rebbitzen (Suite Hébraïque, num. 2).” The violin and piano engage in a dance that is familiar to anyone who has participated in Israeli dancing. The jaunty rhythms and bouncing melody are reminiscent of a hora. As the piano and violin melodies circle around one another, however, the mood becomes increasingly dark, first laughing with black humor and then grieving. At the end of the piece, the dance theme returns and pulls us out of our sorrow. Although a few pieces on this CD provide interludes of energy and brightness, overall Durin and Ertzscheid have chosen to portray a dark and mournful picture of Jewish life. While they effectively depict the hardship and frustration of the Jewish experience in Europe and Russia at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Durin and Ertzscheid fail to portray the Jewish people’s ability to maintain faith, humor, and a love of life in these dark times. Furthermore, Durin and Ertzscheid’s focus on 19th
century Romantic music from Eastern Europe does not take into account the stories from Israel, the United States, and the Americas that have also been recorded. To be sure, the modern young Jew is curious about the shtetl as, for many, it is the experience of their great-grandparents. And yet, in focusing this CD merely on this time period, Durin and Ertzscheid render this album more an artifact than a work of art. As musicians, Durin and Ertzscheid convey a powerful and evocative message. They play with a firm understanding of the traditions for which they speak, incorporating bent notes and quarter tones characteristic of Eastern European music. As producers, however, they paint an incomplete image. If Durin and Ertzscheid’s desire is to include an authentic Jewish voice in the classical Western canon, they fall short of their goal. While they convincingly and beautifully capture the voice of suffering and tragedy that so frequently is the tale of the Jews, they do not offer us the voice of laughter, hope, and perseverance that is also our song. Emily Isaacson is a Master’s student in Choral Conducting at the University of Oregon. She has done research on music in Cuba, Sweden, and Estonia, and is interested in the role of music in society.
Cost of Living seeking fate in the land
Photo by Adi Friedman. A young couple look out over Schem.
her on a journey around Israel. It is on this journey that they bridge the twenty-year gap of their friendship, and endeavor to escape not only from the besora, but from the entire matzav (situation). Most of all, Ora wants to escape her greatest fear, what she describes as the “nationalization” of her family—that Israel is coming to claim her son’s life. Ofer was hers for twenty years, and now Ora must pay her dues. Israel is a country that almost dictates the nationalization of private emotions. It is a country where the culture of remembrance unifies and takes ownership over the dead. We mourn the loss of “our” fallen, and say kaddish for “our” sons. Society becomes a grieving “family,” known in Hebrew as mishpachat hashchol. Publicly expressed grief becomes the language of the masses and the soundtrack of the nation. Very few books in Israeli literature have so bravely dealt with the looming fear of death that surrounds Israeli society. Grossman does this so vehemently that it is hard to separate his bravery as an author from his bravery as a father who lost a son in the
Very few books in Israeli literature have so bravely dealt with the looming fear of death that surrounds Israeli society Second Lebanon War while writing this book. His message is unequivocal: the cost of living in Israel is that society is slowly losing its sense of normality. Grossman spared no detail or emotion when he wrote this book. He did not leave one wound untouched or one fear forgotten. He evokes sadness in the reader, because the novel forces one to realize, at times, how abnormal life can be in Israel. He evokes hatred for his hero, Ora. She is controlling and paranoid. She makes every food that her son could dream of upon his return from the army, and her
Shuki Taylor works for Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future, in Israel. He enjoys buying
avid Grossman’s new book, Isha Borachat M’besora, translates literally as “A Woman Escaping From a Message.” In Israel, the connotation of the word besora (message) acutely depicts the nightmare that the book’s protagonist, Ora, is trying to escape: soldiers knocking at her door at 3 a.m. with the besora that her son has been killed in war. Ora, Ilan, and Avram first meet as teens during the Six Day War. Ora has a relationship with both, but marries Ilan after Avram is taken captive during the Yom Kippur War. Upon Avram’s return from the Egyptian prison, Ora and Ilan help him recover from his brutal injuries. During this period of time, Ora and Ilan’s first son, Adam, is born. After she gives birth to a second son, Ofer, Avram disconnects himself from the family. Now, twenty years later, Ilan and Ora are separated. Ofer is recruited to the army after a war breaks out. Ora, paranoid and helpless, runs away from the looming possibility of his death. She takes Avram, whom she has not seen for years, with
son hates her for that. She paces furiously, drives like a maniac, and panics at restaurants. She is every Israeli who goes to extremes to hold on to normality, and forgets what normality is. When Ofer assuredly tells his mother that it is his responsibility as a soldier to die so that others won’t, Ora’s horror is difficult to internalize. While Israelis know, and for the large part accept, that they are required to sacrifice their lives for their country, to a nonIsraeli reader, this is a difficult concept to comprehend. It is abnormal to die for the land. It is abnormal to have an Arab taxi driver, a dear friend of Ora’s, to drive her and Ofer to a meeting point where a war is being fought between their peoples. It is abnormal to calculate which seat on the bus is safest. It is abnormal to fear a 3-a.m. knock at the door. And it is abnormal to go through border controls when visiting family in Gush Etzion. Necessary? Absolutely. This is the price that we are destined to pay. Normal? No. I admit: Living in Israel can be exhausting. Many times I ask myself : why do I put myself through this? I want to get up and leave, but can’t. I am not sure where this inability comes from. A burning ideology? A fear of the unknown? Or a mere resignation—what is meant to be will be. Rarely can a book change lives in the way that Grossman’s book has. It is part of the price that he paid, with his son’s death, and it is a gift that he has given us, so that we remember the cost of living, at least as much as we remember the cost of dying.
books. His wife thinks that he buys too many of them, but she reads them nonetheless.
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Art of Zion ideologies and icons for a zionist era
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the clash that arises is not one that is particularly new. It is instead a very old one, one of exactly where to put fulcrums of l’art pour art and avant-gardism, and when to defend the tenuous balances we’ve chosen for our cultural standard bearers. Trained in the Western tradition of painting, Kaufman’s art echoes the surrealism of the likes of Dali and Miró, bringing out their emotional ghosts. His works are planted in the technical worlds of Chaim Soutine, De Kooning, and Picasso, the great modernists of the 20th century. However, he refuses to stay in that world. These artists have been claimed by international schools of thought, such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and
Photos by John Ho. Rights to the photos belong to Alan Kaufman. Alan Kaufman.
lan Kaufman’s Zionist artwork, Visionary Expressionism, is testament to the thin-as-hair wire of a balance—between the avant-garde nature of arts as a leading the way in politics and culture and art’s flights of fancy as an expression of humanity—being frayed in the postmodern era. Zionism is a philosophy currently unpopular with those who make our culture across the globe. When culturemakers, such as the Zionist Five—Alan Kaufman, Polly Zavadivker, Thane Rosenbaum, David Rosenberg, and David Twersky, so dubbed as authors of an exhibit catalogue on Zionist art—come into collision with modernist and postmodernist philosophies,
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> > shana carp
Flight of the Enemies of Israel, 2007, 48x60, mixed media on canvas.
Surrealism. Deriving their art from famous art critics at universities and magazines, their modernism was among the great achievements of the 20th century. In order to create their art, they took what was natively around them, and painted them in ways to escape the particulars of the world. They instead made art and art’s politics into universal characters, rooted in the general experiences of humanity. Kaufman’s work is attached to the modern cannon much like leaves are attached to branches of trees: tenuously. Like leaves slowly descending in the fall, his works, grounded in the technical tradition of the modern cannon, have stopped asking questions about the individual’s relationship with the entire world. Instead, they ask a focused question: “What does it mean to be Jewish and Zionist?” By doing so, he hopes to create an aesthetic that does not belong to the craftspersonartist of Betzalel School, nor the
“martyr-suicide of the Modernist Diaspora painter who has to sublimate his Jewishness,” as Kaufman would say. Instead, it is a fully-formed Jewish aesthetic through Zionism, an experiment based off the cathartic experience of ridding oneself the psychological pain of the collective years in the Diaspora. He is slowly developing symbols that he can use to rediscover the pain that the Jewish people bore from a long Diaspora and the slow ingathering of the exiles. His haunted faces are the face of the universal style, yet they are of a specific circumstance. They exclusively reflect the world around him, and his people, and no other. The surreal ghosts of memory that echo through his paintings are not derived from his unconscious, or from the collective unconscious of Jung, but instead only from the Jewish soul, as expressed through Zionism. This is why they lack the kitsch of traditional “Jewish” art. They are merely forms to explore the meaning of the New presentense.org/magazine arts
Jew behind the Zionist self— which is why the art world acts in revulsion to them. The idea that the symbols of the vanguard can be culturally-specific are
are not of old men, but of the non-strangers that walk on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv every day. Zionist art is trying to reclaim the Jewish soul.
Expressionism starts the development of what could be a refreshing change in a world of art consumed by trying to reach sublimity or beauty
It is a fully-formed Jewish aesthetic through Zionism, an experiment based off the cathartic experience of ridding oneself the psychological pain of the collective years in the Diaspora contrary to what everyone has done before. The power of his art lies in the sheer fact that some of us will understand more parts of it than others. An exploration of what makes us different kinds of people: The “New Jew” expressed in Zionism, which is why his portraits of our forefathers
The development of a Zionist Aesthetic is like any other story in art: someone starts the process of creating a new aesthetic, a new movement, and he is shut out by the art world. It remains to be seen if others will follow Alan Kaufman. But Visionary
via statement alone. He is joined by Polly Zavadivker in facilitating this change. Their goal is to create a community of artists who can grow from each other by fostering artwork under a new Avant-Garde Print for Zionism, Miriam Books (www.miriambooks.org). Its
philosophy is to have the word “Zionist” as a less politically contentious word through the arts. This Fall, Miriam Books will be publishing the first-run catalogue as a book to be distributed on the web and in stores and have plans to assemble an anthology of contemporary Zionist art as the next book. What Alan saw in the faces of the Zionists and inside his paintings will spread into Miriam Books like a wellspring of water, and it will inspire a new generation of artists to succeed. Shana Carp is a student at the University of Chicago majoring in Visual Arts. She lives currently in San Francisco, but is a native of Woodmere, New York. She has a tendency to cook too much food for Shabbat.
You are Batman lessons from an ordinary superhero
n 1992, the New York Times published an article highlighting the possibly antiSemitic undertones of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Specifically referencing the character of The Penguin, played by Danny De Vito, Rebecca Roiphe and Daniel Cooper wrote that he “... is a Jew, down to his hooked nose, pale face and lust for herring ... he is one of the oldest clichés: the Jew who is bitter, bent over and out for revenge, the Jew who is unathletic and seemingly unthreatening but who, in fact, wants to murder
every first-born child of the gentile community.” This interpretation caused quite a tempest at the time, but as there was no evidence of malign intent in Burton’s life or work, no drunken screeds at “Jewish” police officers, a la Mel Gibson, the issue faded. During the intervening decade and a half, Hollywood has seen a dramatic increase in the number of comic book and graphic novel transitions to film. These are no longer presented in the manner of relatively black and white moral frameworks wrapped around some action and issue six 2008
Batman © 2008 DC Comics.
arieh s. rosenblum
jewish batman? B atman is not Jewish; don’t let that whole rich-white-guy-who-wears-a-black-hat thing fool you. Nonetheless, the batman ethos is richly engrained with Jewish life lessons and ideals. Thus posits Rabbi Cary A. Friedman in Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life. And considering that Batman creator Bob Kane was Jewish, as were many comic book writers through the years, who knows, many of these Jewish themes may just have been intentional. By subject alone, the book’s chapters point to many heroic traits to which the Batman aspires which have sturdy roots in Jewish ideals including:
“The Value of Inspiring Others”—think “light unto the nations.”
“The Value of Anticipating Consequences,”—Reference Talmud Bavli 32a, “Who is wise? One who recognizes outcomes.”
“Don’t Talk Too Much”—think Ethics of the Fathers 1:15, “Say little and do much,” or 17, “All my days I have been raised among the Sages and I found nothing better for oneself than silence…one who talks excessively brings on sin.”
“Recognizing the Extent of Human Potential”—think Genesis 9:6, “For in the image of God He made man,” (and Ethics 3:18).
“The Value of Strong Principles”
“The Value of Study”—think Torah! For a more in-depth look at (Jewish?) life-lessons from the Batman, read the book—or the full review at www.presentense.org/magazine. Mayer Waxman is a New York-based rabbi, social worker, and humorist. He is the associate director of the Orthodox Union’s Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities.
special effects. With the advent of Computer Generated Imagery effects in movies, catastrophic attacks or events became more easily adaptable to film. Events in the real world sometimes outpace art, and along with their human tragedy and drama, they bring our moral dilemmas as well. Even before the world-wrenching experience of September 11, 2001, these films began to ask difficult moral questions while painting their protagonists as less than perfect superheroes making decisions in a violent world which sometimes had unintended consequences (1995’s Judge Dredd, for example). Graphic novelists like Alan Moore, whose V for Vendetta raised the difficult
issue six 2008
question of when terrorism is justified, and Frank Miller, whose Sin City and 300 have explored the true meaning of heroism and loss, are paving the way for a new paradigm for superheroes in film. Given this background, and the existential questions about good and evil many have asked since 9/11, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight does not emerge from a vacuum. His Batman is tortured by the fact that every decision he has to make is a choice which will leave someone dead or damaged. He comes to recognize that constantly making these choices has damaged him as well, leaving him incapable of carrying the mantle of a true “knight.” And yet ... Batman does
recognize that the world—his Gotham—needs him even if he is less than perfect. It needs him because there are Jokers out there, motivated by any number of things—greed, fear, religion, lust, hate, or sheer madness, as in this case—who simply need to be stopped and destroyed, so that the rest of us may live in peace. This is a powerful message for our time. He doesn’t render moral judgement on Joker, like the public does, like the police do. No, Batman recognizes that while his own morality is strong, his actions can be or seem cruel, costly, or brutal. When the perpetrator of these actions within the context of a struggle for the greater good can recognize his or its imperfection, there is hope.
Hope that such battles can be won, hope that out of such battles clearer moral choices will present themselves, hope that an inspired populace will make the right choices. There are some things, though, which are beyond hope, and about which Nolan may be telling us we need to be more realistic. There is no hope that our generational struggle against ideological and religious fascists can succeed without casualties, without tragedy, and without loss. There is no hope that we can convince our adversaries to mend their ways. They got on their train long ago, and whether driven by faith or madness, they aren’t getting off. Nolan’s movie is titled using the sobriquet of “knight,” and this is no coincidence. In the medieval Grail romances that gave us our concept of knighthood, it is interesting to note that the strongest, most skilled knight of all was Lancelot, a good but fundamentally flawed and damaged character. Yet he is not the one among all of the knights to succeed in the quest of the Grail. That success is left to Sir Galahad, who is young and morally pure. It is telling indeed that the Grail stories also inform us that Galahad’s father was none other than Lancelot. As the great literary critic Northrop Frye wrote in his seminal book The Secular Scripture, we can’t escape these repeated themes in our literature. Neither, it seems, can we escape them in our superhero movies. Arieh S. Rosenblum is a Torontobased consultant and writer, who speaks frequently through the Hasbara Fellowships and ICC speakers bureau on contemporary issues, including Israel, Zionism, anti-Semitism, and culture.
Sensitive Spirituality an excerpt
> > alisa ungar-sargon
o you need help with that?” Yael looked up from the large suitcase lying upside-down at her feet towards a boy slightly shorter than she. His yeshivish, yarmulke-imprinted haircut was the only indication that he, too, might be coming from a year in Israel. Yael, realizing that she might have found him quite attractive last summer, was pleasantly surprised to
Take my number
Read on at www.presentense.org/magazine Alisa Ungar-Sargon is a junior at Stern College for Women. A supporter of style and wit, she is confident that her indoor voice will eventually make an appearance.
discover that the sight of his sweatshirt and jeans automatically turned off the sensation now exclusively reserved for white shirts and black pants. “No, thank you,” she said coolly. “I’ve got it.” She yanked the suitcase into an upright position and started walking to the door. “Where are you headed?” he asked, matching her step. “West Rogers Park,” she replied shortly. “Oh, great, uh—My name is Ben Levine, I’m from New York. I’m, uh, surprising my cousins by coming in a day early for Pesach, so I was hoping to catch a ride, if that’s alright.” She paused, annoyed that after a nightlong journey she would have to deal with this situation. “Who are your cousins?” “The Levines.” “Which Levines?” “Dina and Howard. Their kids are Asher and Rachel—you know them?” “Yeah.” An understatement, considering Yael’s sister Ilana had had a passionate crush on Asher Levine since grade school. “Cool … What’s your name?” “Yael Weinstein.” A Honda jeep drove up a number of uncomfortable minutes later, coming rather violently to a
standstill. After an ecstatic reunion, Yael introduced Ben. The conversation during the trip was kept playfully light—Ilana asking about Yael’s post-high school seminary year thus far, Yael asking about Ilana’s new cartilage piercing—until Ilana turned her attention to the backseat. “So Ben, you’re also learning in Israel?” “Yeah, second year.” “Nice. Where?” He named a middle-of-the-road yeshiva, the type where they allow ‘freedom of thought’ and have no dictated hashkafa (philosophy). “So college is next?” “Hopefully,” he replied with a quirky smile. “Is that what you’re doing?” “Yup. I’m in my sophomore year. I didn’t bother with seminary.” “Cool. So… that makes us the same age?” “I guess. Yael’s my baby sister.” “One year doesn’t make me a baby,” Yael contradicted. “Listen, Ben,” Ilana addressed him once they arrived at the Levines’. “Take my number. If you get bored, call me and I’ll pick you up.” “Ilana, I really don’t think he needs your number,” Yael said quietly. Ignoring her, Ilana wrote her cell number on the back of an old receipt. Ben thanked her before lugging his suitcase up to the Levines’ front door. Once he was out of sight, Ilana pulled away.
“Let’s just get one thing straight,” she said calmly. “If you have any preaching to do at me, any kind of moralistic righteousness, that you might have acquired during your butterflies-andsunshine year of spiritual rejuvenation, you can flush it right now. If I want to give Asher Levine’s cousin my number, that is my business.” “Oh, cut it out, Ilana, that wasn’t me trying to encroach on your moral beliefs.” “I’m putting a stop to this before your kiruv training starts kicking in.” “Could you not put down my efforts to make the most of a year you didn’t even bother trying to experience?” “Maybe that would actually be a possibility if you didn’t put me down for making the choice not to experience it, instead of following some society-approved life plan that has nothing to do with my own personal needs!” “Of course. You’re just being true to yourself.” Ilana opened her mouth to say something and abruptly closed it again, exacting her comeback by turning on the radio and increasing the volume until the pop music was impossible to ignore.
issue six 2008
decade ago, when one would enter Rue des Rosiers, the main Jewish street in Paris, a new world would unfold. One’s senses would be treated to a panoply of classically Jewish stimuli, from Hebrew shop signs to familiar Yiddish expressions. The sweet scent of freshly baked European pastries— strudels, blintzes, latkes—would waft through the air. One had only walk onto the adjacent streets to catch a whiff of spicy Levantine couscous and dafina, a Moroccan Shabbat stew similar to the more Eastern European cholent. Today, however, one detects little of the street’s earlier sensual diversity. The complexity of the French Jewish community has given way to a more uniform Israeli cultural experience. A street that once brimmed with culinary symbols of Jewish diversity now showcases only falafel and shawarma. Some see the street’s evolution as a representation of the IsraelDiaspora relationship, itself a oneway street. While Israel has come to see the Diaspora as a source of unconditional political and economic support, they argue, it balks at Diaspora Jewish culture. Similarly, Israeli food flows into France, but Israelis seem uninterested in French-Jewish cuisine and in the rich heritage it represents. Yet Israel may not be entirely to blame. When asked to define “Israeli food,” Diaspora Jews invariably point to hummus, falafel, and shawarma. The reality of the Israeli culinary experience is far more complex, however. Presented with the same
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> > eythan-david volcot-freeman
query, a sabra (native-born Israeli) would likely describe a typical Israeli meal featuring Middle Eastern hummus as a starter, a Central European turkey schnitzel as an entrée with Turkish eggplant salad on the side, and a fresh native fruit for dessert. Israeli cuisine has not always been so diverse. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, had a massive influence on the formation of Israel and its culture, an influence that extended from politics and into Israeli kitchens. Early on, Ben Gurion embarked on a campaign of Hebraization, forcing civil servants to adopt Hebrew names and reviving original Hebrew place-names throughout the country. Behind his obsession with making everything ‘Hebrew’ there lay an adamant rejection of the Jews’ European past, which he felt represented centuries of suffering and humiliation. The early halutzim (settlers) found inspiration in their Arab neighbors, whose lifestyle recalled that of the biblical Hebrews. Shawarma, falafel and hummus soon became “sabra” foods. But Theodor Herzl, the cosmopolitan founder of the Zionist movement, also had a hand in constructing Israel’s cultural identity. Herzl felt that the Jewish state’s identity ought to be created from a mix of existing Jewish cultures, forging, in Herzlian terms, a “mosaic.” Today, Israeli food closely approximates Herzl’s vision, a model that is similar to the American melting pot: a cuisine in which blending of culture is taking place. Israel’s food scene is eclectic and highly international, with cuisines that interact and blend with one another—like that of the Tel Aviv
Asian-Latin fusion restaurant Kyoto Salsa: the name says it all. Yet Diaspora Jews still see Israeli food through Ben Gurion’s lens. And that is precisely the problem. Rather than representing Israel’s view of the Diaspora, what we call “Israeli food” speaks to Diaspora’s view to Israel. Diaspora views Israel through romantic lenses. Israelis have found themselves faced with a dilemma: either ignore the Diaspora or accept it as a full cultural partner. They have made a clear choice and have both embraced and, to a large extent, adopted Diaspora culture as their own. The Diaspora is now confronted with the same question. Rather than conceptualizing Israel as an abstract ideal, we must start seeing it in more realistic terms—a modern society confronted with many of the same problems as other societies around the world. Recognizing the challenges of such a paradigm shift, I choose to highlight a recipe that could be easily prepared. Shakshooka, an onomatopoeic word brought to Israel from North Africa, means “all mixed up” and thus appropriately represents the new Herzlian model. In its classic form, the dish contains only three mandatory components—tomatoes, hot sauce, and eggs—but this version has a Mexican twist. Melding East and West, the Middle East with Latin America, this hybrid shakshooka represents the new Israel, and I hope its savory tones help you see that Israel in a new light. Eythan-David Volcot-Freeman is currently studying at the Hebrew University and at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
Photo by Joshua Bousel.
an ingathering of the edibles
issue six 2008
happy new year by the numbers
> > presentense staff
his seventh issue marks the second birthday of PresenTense Magazine. But the cover says issue six, you say. Well, don’t let your (mother’s) dreams of accounting die just yet. Jews are obsessed with numbers. We at PresenTense love numbers so much we started our mag with issue 0—in your face, Saint Bede! In the spirit of “Who Knows One?” here are some numbers.
osh Hashanah is a holiday of rich symbolism with foods to match. Here are some other things you may be interested in eating for the best possible new year.
Everybody says “One is our God in heaven and Earth”—or, at least, everybody who hasn’t passed out by the end of the Passover Seder does—but the truth is, God is zero. “God doesn’t exist,” my religion professor in college was fond of saying. “Your desk exists. Your parents exist. There’s no opposite of God, there’s no point before God existing, there’s no point after God ... your desk, meanwhile, will one day become firewood for some zero on the street in the middle of winter.” Before there were unions and labor laws, pinko socialists and minimum wage, there was the divinely mandated six-day workweek. Sundown Friday means it’s time to give your ass—and your ox—a well-deserved break. The first six days are days of creation, making and unmaking the world each day. And Day Seven is when we step back and admire the view. Jewish Saturday traditions include schmoozing, over-analysis, eating, drinking, over-analysis of eating and drinking, and napping. Good thing God only rested for one day, though. Two-day Shabbat? [Shiver.]
Fourteen represents the stage of life that follows one’s becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. In many ways, it is this period—not the bar/bat mitzvah year—that is the true test of one’s commitment to Jewish life. Does the youth stick to (fill in the blank: day school / Hebrew school / confirmation class), or does he/she move on to other things? Do the responsibilities bestowed in a flurry of loud relatives, $36 checks, and luau-themed centerpieces stick, or don’t they? Per Lenny Bruce, does the child make “Jewish” choices or “goyish” ones? Is it pumpernickel or white bread? Fruit salad or lime Jell-O? “Observe” or “celebrate”? It is at this age that the child first encounters the seminal questions of the Jewish experience. Fourteen is, in many ways, the Golden Age of one’s Judaic development.
The number of Jewish concepts linked to the infinite is—it would seem—infinite. The Passover Seder is but one example. Who amongst us has not experienced the infinite Seder? The number of one’s married or betrothed friends—particularly if one resides in the Upper West Side and is, oneself, single—is, again, infinite. Infinite is the length of the showy hazzan (cantor)’s Shabbat service. Infinite is the number of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) consumed during Hanukkah (and infinite is the number of calories contained therein). Infinite is the number of hours in a fast day. Infinite, it would seem, is anything kvetch-worthy. And infinite, then, is practically anything Jewish.
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Hershey’s Hugs™ for a year of government officials with appropriate behavior.
Toast for a year of not as much global warming.
Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt™ energy drink for a solution to the energy crisis. presentense.org/magazine arts
PresenTense 6 explores religion in the lives of young Jews today