Wednesday, October 8, 2008

G'mar Chatimah Tovah

As Yom Kippur draws closer, a week of reflection, soul searching, and evaluation comes to a close for me. The high holidays this year took on a deeper meaning for me, as I grew in my understanding of the period and also reflected on my growth in the last year.

This past year has been filled many high points that I cherish. What I cherish more, however, are the struggles in which I've engaged in the last year. I grew so much this year, in my understand of where my life is going and what Hashem has in store for me.

My sense of gratitude for my life has grown exponentially in the past year, and that includes appreciating on a deeper level all the wonderful people in my life. Thank you to everyone reading this who has supported and loved me.

For anyone reading this whom I hurt or wronged, I do apologize sincerely.

May you all have a meaningful fast.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jews and power


Over the summer, I took some time off from blogging. After my wonderful Bar Mitzvah experience, I needed a breather to focus on some other things over the summer. It is good to be back.

(The following is a collection of reflections that I had during Shabbat services yesterday).

I recently finished reading the book, Jews and Power. It explores the positions of power Jews have held throughout history, and our often tenuous relationship with power, whether through oppressions, conspiracy theories inflating the power we hold, and how Jews generally view power and its responsibilities.

I was thinking about this book yesterday in shul, when I met Sen. Joe Lieberman. I noticed hum davening in the crowd, apparently in town for a family wedding. When our eyes caught as we passed each other, I extended my hand and wished the Senator a Good Shabbos.

Upon reflecting on this moment, I began to think about my access to people in power ever since I became Jewish. Instantly, an uncomfortable feeling crept in, when I realized I have met more people in power since I joined the Jewish community, than before in my previous communities. With this thought, was I being besieged by the myth of how powerful Jews were, and reinforcing that within my head? What does power mean to me, and what does it meant to have access to it?

The small size of the Jewish community means that, mathematicaly, I will come into contact with various folks who are in powerful positions, just like I will meet average people. What does it mean, though, when our community has a disproportionate amount of people in power, relative to our size? Are "they" correct about the Jews greedy need for power?

Not exactly. Judaism, with all its flaws, incarnations, and diverse expressions, hold the practice of education, study, and debate as strongholds of the culture. It also says community is the pillar through which we all thrive. What occurs in the Jewish community is what happens when you invest energy and time into your family and community. Judaism is a model to other communities to show how they can thrive if they hold similar values, and many communities that do succeed as much as the Jews do.

Sen. Lieberman's presence at shul yesterday was not an example of the Jews having too much power, but instead a representation of the kind of people a strong community that values education and ethical self-realization can produce. While many are (rightfully, IMHO) angry with the Senator right now, no one can say he is not brilliant, a wonderful public servant, and someone who stands on his own two feet. This is exactly the kind of person Judaism strives to produce.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Love it!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

D'Var Torah

It's been so long since my last post; I've failed to mention that my Bar Mitzvah is coming up in two weeks. Woot! Below is a draft of my D'Var Torah; I would love to hear viewpoints from my (few) faithful readers.

Please forgive spelling and grammer; such edits have yet to be made.


This week’s Torah potion tells the story of 12 spies going into Canaan, the Promised Land, and reporting their findings to the Israelite people. 10 spies tell stories of a nation with a strong military and believe that the Jews will be grasshoppers in a land of giants. The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, believe their people will be victorious in taking over the land.

The typical interpretation of this story is that the 10 spies told false, cowardly tales, in order to dissuade any movement into Canaan. Joshua and Caleb are telling the truth and are eventually seen as the heroes once the Israelites reach the Promised Land. The end result of the story frames these two sets of leaders into two camps: those that were right and those that were wrong.

But, what if these other spies were not wrong? As the story progresses, the community falls into panic, questioning the leadership of Moses, and Hashem banishes them to the desert. What if they were simply testing the Israelites with these fearful tales and the community just was not ready to move on? Perhaps Joshua and Caleb were the youthful, war mongers, so ready for a fight and a challenge, that they were ready to put their community in harms way to reach the Promised Land?
This story makes me wonder, how does history declare a winner and a loser? I was always taught that history is written by the winners. If this is true, then how will current events be viewed in 20 or 30 years?

If Iraq is a burgeoning Democracy, akin to Turkey and Israel, will the 2003 U.S.-led invasion be seen as a victorious first step to freedom and peace? What happens to the dissenting viewpoints expressed by leaders opposed to this invasion? Are they seen in the same lens as the 10 spies, as simply frightened people who make up stories to keep us from victory? Or are they raising real concerns of the moment that are washed away when we finally “win,” whatever winning defined by?

In my role a community leader, I find that I constantly need to be aware of why I come to certain decisions and look internally for how my past experiences shape these viewpoints. I often need to push myself to see beyond my limited thinking and put myself in a new, uncomfortable direction. Perhaps this was happening with the spies who spun these tall tales because their community has been so traumatized by both slavery and liberation; perhaps they themselves were traumatized and could not envision a time that the Israelites would not only have freedom, but complete dominion over the Holy Land.

Instead of viewing the 10 spies as wrong, perhaps they were embracing the complexity of the current situation. Perhaps the youthfulness of Caleb and Joshua kept them from understanding this complexity. I believe there is such value and wisdom to embracing current complexity and questioning a decision; unfortunately, the images drawn in our histories do not involve explaining the real doubts that community leaders struggle with.

In craving a sense of comfort and security, we create black and white labels and finality. It is so easy to define who was right and who was wrong; who won and who lost. For me, the most valuable lesson in this Torah portion is this: our historical interpretations often do not embrace the complexities of situations that community leaders face. Instead, it focuses on the victories and the heroes that helped usher them in, and paints those who hesitate as cowards without merit. Perhaps those that are thoughtful and not quick to act would have offered in a more victorious outcome, much like the quiet child in the classroom who offers wise words when she does choose to speak. Perhaps our history and stories would be richer if the lesson was that both support and dissent for a historical decision are necessary for eventual victory.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Is Israel Finished?



While the cover is unnecessarily provocative, the Atlantic Monthly has a good article exploring the issues facing Israel and she turns 60.

You can read the article here.

I (heart) Sfat



Upon returning from my recent trip to Israel, the most common question asked of me was, "What was your favorite place you visited?" It appears the most typical answer to give is Jerusalem. While I loved the belly button of the universe, I found it a great struggle to exist in that intense space. I wasn't prepared for its intensity and it completely threw me off. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience, in the sense of pleasure.

Instead, the most pleasurable point on the trip was our visit to Sfat, the birthplace of Jewish mysticism. From the moment I got off the bus, I knew I was in a special place, unique from the rest. The hidden pathways through the town were amazing and the stories of a synagogue appearing after men fasted and prayed for three days and nights were inspiring. Imagine the hope and optimism a person feels if they truly believe a beautiful synagogue can appear from praying and fasting. Amazing, if you ask me...

Sfat was hit hard during the 2006 Lebanon war. The citizens have rallied, however, and are continuing to rebuild their community, putting the pieces together one day at a time.

The air is different in Sfat, as it is one of the highest points in Israel. A mystical presence fills the air there, and it changed a part of me that I cannot yet explain. I was also fortunate to find a beautiful tallis from a shop there, that I will wear for the first time at my Bar Mitzvah in June.

The 60 Bloggers project is co-production of Jewlicious.com and the Let My People Sing Festival. It is published daily for 60 days to celebrate Israel’s 60 birthday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

60 Bloggers Project

My friend, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, is working with some folks on a blogging project for Israel's upcoming birthday. 60 bloggers will be spending 60 days to celebrate the 60th birthday of the State of Israel.

I am excited to have been selected as one of the bloggers. I'll be posting next week, but folks should check the blog every day.

Check it out here

The 60 Bloggers project is part of the Let My People Sing Festival, published daily for 60 days to celebrate Israel's 60 Birthday.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More Israel Blogging - The Security Fence



After a computer meltdown shortly after we returned home, we have a new computer and I am ready to get back to blogging.

One of the most intense experiences of the trip was being in Jerusalem. I felt the fervor, history, culture clashes, and conflict in the air and in my bones. It was an amazing experience; one in which I felt both incredibly uncomfortably and incredibly alive.

We spent a good deal of the trip discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also had a good view of the security fence from our hotel room, shown in the picture here.

I fully support the fence being erected, but couldn't help feeling a sense of grief, seeing Jerusalem being divided. Words can't describe the emotions I felt about why the wall had to exist and what it represented for both the Israelis and Palestinians. Our tour guide, a native from Jerusalem, compassionately said the fence is a symbol of the traumas experienced by both the Israelis and Palestinians.

This is just one of many examples demonstrating the complexity of the conflict, and the lack of simple, black-and-white answers available to solve it. This lack of resolution can be felt throughout Jerusalem and this is what the fence represents to me.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Israel trip blogging

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I had every intention of doing a regular blog entry during my travels in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the experience was so intense and the trip to structured, not much energy was left for blogging. I needed to simply experience the trip, digest it, and reflect on on it once I returned home.

Instead of going chronological through the trip, I am going through pictures that resonate with me right now and telling those stories.

The above picture is of me laying tefillin at the Temple wall. This picture was taken on our second day in Jerusalem. I had yet to get over my jet lag, we had delved into some deep, philosophical discussions that day, and I was becoming overhwelmed with the intensity of Jerusalem. I was feeling the energy, fervor, history, culture clashes, and conflicts that exist there. I found it very unsettling and didn't know what to do with it. I, frankly, still don't.

However, laying tefillin at the wall was an incredible experience. To participate in an ancient ritual at the holiest of holy sites is indescribable. The Rabbi who helped me was quite nice and impressed with how much I knew how to do.

This experience of praying at the wall settled me a bit, and I was better able to take in Jerusalem after that moment. I felt more connected to the people, the land, and myself after that. I still found everything overwhelming, but was better able to take it all in. It is difficult to describe.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Israel-bound

I am off to Israel tomorrow for 10 days, and then to Jordan and Egypt. I am excited nervous, and mostly in awe of where I am going to be the next few weeks.

I do not know what to expect from the experience, but I expect it will be like nothing I have ever done before.

I hope to check in here during my trip, as internet access is plentiful there.

Until then....

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Israelity Tour in Seattle





The Israelity tour begins in Seattle next week. This should be an awesome show, showcasing some top notch acts from Israel. Some information from the promoter is below:

Our tour will feature performances by Subliminal, Israel's #1 selling rap artist, and members of the T.A.C.T. Family (kind of like Subliminal's Wu-Tang Clan), as well as reggae-funk band Coolooloosh and singer-songwriter Michelle Citrin, a.k.a. Rosh Hashanah Girl or "the lil' grrl with a big sound," as she's known. The shows are hosted by comic Mo Mandel, a Bay Area resident and Birthright alumnus who was recently seen on Comedy Central's "Open Mic Fight."

The big concert kicks off at the Nectar Lounge on Thursday, February 7th. Doors open at 8 p.m., must be at least 18 to enter. Tickets are $20 at the door, or you can pay $15 by sending an RSVP here. See you there!

To read more about this show, see the following links:

Israelity Tour Blog
Israelity Tour Web Site