Friday, June 20, 2008

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Ok I admit it. I have seen Adam Sandler's new movie "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." It was a great laugh. There was no great message, no insightful sermon material, except it is good to laugh out loud. Part of what was so funny is that the premise is absurd--all Israelis and Palestinians have to do to make peace is move to Amerika, cut and style hair, fight corporate greed, fall in love and make love--a lot. It reminded me of the outrageous short film, West Bank Story. Nonetheless it is healthy to laugh out loud and not take yourself too seriously all the time--at least in a darkened movie theatre.
I also enjoyed how much Israeli music was featured in the film. I am a big fan of Israeli hip hop, especially the popular group HaDag Nahash (Snake Fish). I thought you would enjoy the YouTube video of the song "Hene Ani Ba " (Here I Come) featured in the movie. Also be sure to check out the group's classic song, "Shirat HaStiker " (The Sticker Song). My love for Israel extends well beyond "Jerusalem of Gold."
And by the way I really love hummus!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Counting Our Blessings

Hadassah Magazine June/July 2008
Commentary: Counting Our Blessings
The Talmud teaches that a person who enjoys the pleasures of this world without reciting a blessing is like a thief who steals from God (Berakhot 35a). So the rabbis composed blessings for every imaginable event. Some are familiar, such as Ha-motzi on bread or the Sheheheyanu we recite on momentous occasions. Others are less familiar: on seeing a rainbow or the ocean or hearing thunder. We can even express gratitude for the fragrance of a rose....
I followed the rabbis’ counsel at Sam’s bar mitzva. An autistic boy with significant special needs, Sam fidgeted about the bima, picking at his talis, which agitated him at times. In lieu of a sermon, he read brief explanations of drawings of the Torah portion. Still, he touched the tzitzit to the exact place in the Torah and then recited the aliya blessing from memory. The congregation sang “Siman Tov,” but it did not seem appropriate to wish him the threefold hope of Jewish success: Torah, huppa and ma’asim tovim (good deeds). Instead, I recited the blessing: “Barukh Ata…meshaneh ha-beriyot, Blessed are You… Who makes the creations different” (Berakhot 58b). I did not know what else to say. Perhaps I should just have cried along with his parents.
But these ancient words seemed most appropriate to the occasion. They insist that we be grateful, that we thank God for what we have. Curiously, I stumbled over the words of the blessing. In Hebrew, a direct object is often separated from the verb by the untranslatable word et. This blessing lacks that. My sense of Hebrew grammar wanted to add the word, but the tradition codified the blessing without it. So I stammered. Then the blessing’s true import occurred to me: Perhaps the blessing is intentionally broken. Let those who are so at ease with the words of Hebrew blessings stumble.
Perhaps the purpose of this blessing is not to make me whole and force me to think of the perfect God and the extraordinary variety of His creation, but instead to make me broken and realize my imperfection. In that moment, Sam was not broken. In that moment of brokenness, I was the student and the young boy the teacher.
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Masters of Our Own Fate

Hadassah Magazine May 2008
Commentary:Masters of Our Own Fate

This month, the State of Israel is celebrating its 60th birthday, and most Jews have grown accustomed to the nation’s existence. One day when I was teaching the kin­dergartners in my synagogue school, I asked them, “How old do you think Israel is?” “A thousand years.” “Oh, no,” I said. “Five thousand years?” They kept shouting out higher numbers. When I finally told them the correct answer, they stared at me in disbelief. I explained how the history of Israel is ancient, but the state is very young. I told them that some of their great-grandparents fought to make Israel an independent nation. Do we take Israel for granted? I hope not, since only in Israel can our freedom be wed to our ancient land. Only in Israel do Jewish rights and history come first and foremost....
Last summer, on one erev Shabbat, I strolled down the trendy Emek Refaim Street in Je­ru­salem. The day was winding down. There was very little traffic. People were carrying bou­quets of flowers for their Shabbat ta­bles and last-minute purchases of food and wine. I wandered into the rebuilt Cafe Hillel for an espresso and thought about the homicide bombing that had de­stroyed this restaurant on September 9, 2003. I thought of the lives that were shattered. But when I looked around, all I saw were smiles and all I could hear was laughing. Jerusalem is happiness built on ruins.
My weeks of study in Israel were framed by the minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, marking the day the Ro­mans besieged this city, and three weeks later by the full fast day of Tisha B’Av, when Israel’s enemies de­stroyed the First and Second Tem­ples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E.
Tisha B’Av is a day of mourn­ing, when Jere­miah’s Book of Lamen­ta­tions is chant­­­ed. In past years, I had gone to the Kotel on Tisha B’Av, the closest place to the ancient Temple’s site. This year, instead, I went to the Haas Promenade, which overlooks the village of Abu Tor and, in the distance, the southern side of the Old City, where members of a lo­cal Con­servative synagogue gathered. Unlike the scene at the Wall, where the mood is mournful, this crowd of 400 recited ancient prayers and also modern songs, including Han­nah Senesh’s impassioned “Eli, Eli.”
One would think that this holiday, too, would color the city’s mood, but the walls of the Old City were aglow. There may well be untold ruins be­neath our feet, but despite ancient grief and ancient exiles, there is no ruin in the air. I revel in the songs of thousands of Jews. I rejoice that we have returned to this city. Israel writes Jewish history each and every day. Indeed, 60 years after its modern rebirth, Israel waves a finger at fate.
The complete article can also be found by following the link on the Blog's sidebar.