Friday, March 28, 2014
I want to give you a photographic taste of Jerusalem in spring, which I experienced just last week. The colors, the flowers, the vivacity of the people (especially on Purim) are simply spectacular. Above you see the sunrise over the Mount of Olives (with the Moab mountains of Jordan in the background) that I was privileged to witness, thanks to jet lag, from my room in The Mount Zion Hotel (a shameless plug for this summer's trip, since we will be staying there - space is still available - trip details are here).
See more photos throughout this O-Gram and at the bottom, a sunset from Old Jaffa.
Jerusalem marathon last Friday
This Shabbat morning, our service will be dedicated to TBE's teens. Lots of them will be involved, some reading Torah, some leading discussions, some just hanging out. Noah Zussman and I will be hosting that rollicking Game Show, "Is It Good for The Jews?" and I'll have special treats direct from Israel to incentivize participation (read: shameless bribe). Then, we'll all be enjoying a kiddush lunch, sponsored by the Young family. There are very few opportunities during the year for our teens to touch home base (a perfect metaphor for baseball's opening weekend) here at their synagogue. If you are a teen or a parent of one, please join us tomorrow! I'd love to see you!
I'm also really looking forward to our young family Chocolate Seder this evening. We have a huge crowd already signed up. If you haven't yet, join us!
Even Moses ran in the Jerusalem Marathon
Speaking of Passover, don't forget our Passover Food Drive (details here). For the past several years, we have not had a congregational seder, primarily for logistical reasons as well as lack of demand. Each year, though, we have matched people looking for seders to congregant families with extra space at the table. If you fall into either of those categories, please let me know - and if you have space, let me know how many places and for which night(s), and we'll go from there.
It is customary to sell hametz before the holiday - a legal fiction that essentially means you can store it away in your home without deriving benefit from it. Download the Sale of Hametz Form, And click here to download the complete Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide.Also see my extensive list of Seder guides and passover supplements.
And since Purim is still fresh in our memories, see our complete Purim album here.
Purim on Ben Yehuda St
April Fool's, "Noah" and Nisan: A Case of Cabin Fever
The highly touted film "Noah" is opening this weekend to generally positive reviews, and this coming week we begin the months of Nisan and April on the same day, Tuesday, A.K.A. April Fool's Day. The first of Nisan is also known as the biblical New Year, as it is the month of Passover - and this Shabbat we announce this most important of months with special fanfare (the name of the Sabbath is in fact Shabbat Ha-Hodesh - the Sabbath of THE Month)
I'll bet you did not know that all of these things are connected! Allow me to explain...
The most popular explanation for April Fool's Day involves the revolutionary change in calendars that occurred 500 years ago. Until then, many ancient cultures celebrated New Year's Day in late March to coincide with the arrival of spring. However, March 25 was the Feast of the Annunciation in much of medieval Europe, so the more pagan New Year's celebrations were postponed until April 1.
Then, on Feb. 24, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian calendar, which had a bold change -- the New Year would begin on Jan. 1. In the next few months, a handful of countries signed on to the pope's idea.
This is where the fun supposedly began. One of the countries that adopted the new calendar almost immediately was France. But as you might imagine, word of the change didn't reach all the French people with lightning speed in those days.
As a result, the story goes, some people refused to change, some forgot and some apparently even were tricked into celebrating New Year's Day on April 1 as they always had. Those who had changed made fun of these rubes and reportedly sent them on fool's errands or tried to trick them into believing other things that were not so. Hence, the origin of April Fools' Day.
Here's where Nisan and Noah come in. Some say that April Fools has biblical origins.One theory holds that it stems from the time when Noah sent out a dove on a fruitless search to find dry land, speculating that Noah felt foolish and that the dove came back with a sheepish expression, knowing that she had been sent on a wild goose chase (to mix three animal metaphors in one sentence). According to some traditions, this happened on the first day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with April, Nisan.
In the end, historians say that April Fool's Day probably evolved simply as a result of pent-up energy being unleashed during the spring equinox after a long winter. Those fun-loving Romans, for example, celebrated Hilaria on March 25 to mark the arrival of spring.
Well, when it comes to having cabin fever, no one was more pent up than Noah's gang - until us this past winter. Now we are clamoring for April, the first pitch, the annual removal of the deck chairs, for Nisan, for spring cleaning and Passover and for the time when, as Song of Songs 2:12 proclaims, "The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air."
I brought my car to a car wash yesterday to remove the winter "schmutz" from the outside and the hametz from within. Boy did it feel good! Liberation is around the corner.
It's all coming VERY SOON, and not just to a theater near you.
No foolin' about that!
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in Springtime (a photo essay)
Jaffa Street, now a pedestrian boulevard
Tel Aviv at sunset
Old Jaffa at sunset
Profiles in Luggage
This week, Ha’aretz revealed that a new security system at Ben-Gurion International Airport seems to have suspended the invasive and humiliating security checks that have until now been routine for Palestinian and Israeli Arab travelers.
The article states:
For the past two weeks, these passengers say, they have been treated exactly the same as Jewish passengers, instead of being subjected to interrogations, searches and delays.
The change is due to the installation of a new, automated system for checking passengers’ bags.
“The technological [baggage] check systems have replaced the physical security checks, and their goal is to significantly ease the physical security check process,” Israel Airports Authority spokesman Ofer Lefler said in a written statement to Haaretz.
Since the system went into operation on March 9, the practice of selectively and publicly searching the contents of certain suitcases in the departure hall has ceased. Instead, after the routine security interrogation, all passengers are sent straight to the check-in counter, where their baggage is examined in the automated system.
So in other words, Israel is teaching the world how to profile in a manner that upholds both security and dignity. Bravo! Instead of profiling people, they are profiling their luggage, when the people aren’t there. No wonder I was instructed at the airport last week to leave my luggage unlocked.
Part of me suspects that the automated system has four legs and barks, but even so, I did notice that my check in went much more smoothly last week - for a while. As we neared the final security check, Mara and I were pulled aside and technologically frisked by a sophisticated brush-like instrument, inspected very carefully for residue of ... who knows what ... on our person, our shoes, and in our carry ons. In effect, WE were profiled - after all, how many middle age Conservative rabbis from the US do they see? Verrry suspicious. We were asked lots of questions - thankfully I remembered my Bar Mitzvah date.
Did something on our passports give them pause? I hadn’t been to any places hostile to Israel lately, save for a few college campuses, so maybe they suspected me of being anOpen Hillel advocate from Vassar, where things have getting messy. So I boldly asked the agent why we had been selected. He said it was just a random thing and sent us on our way.
Well, better to inconvenience me than a real terrorist, who might have had lots more items on his duty free shopping list. No matter. He can shop til he drops now. Because behind the scenes his luggage is being profiled by Fido in the back room.
So some nice things happening in Israel right now. (You can read about the unisex bathroom in the Jewish Quarter that also gave me hope.)
Let's hope it continues...
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
I’m just back from a whirlwind week long vacation in Israel – it was great to spend time with my family there, including Dan, who is having a great semester at Hebrew U. You can read one interestgin anecdote that I shared on my Times of Israel blog.
This Thursday at 7:30 PM I’ll be sharing some reactions from my trip, plus reviewing the must-read Israel book of the year, Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. I’m delighted to be joined by co-presenter and TBE member Yaelle Azagoury, whose excellent review of the Shavit book appears in this week’s Jerusalem Report.
Whether or not you have read the book, you should join us on Thursday. You can also download a comprehensive reader’s guide here.
For those who have read the book, it would be very helpful if you could jot down one or two quotes from it that you found most interesting and bring them with you.
Yaelle, who grew up in Morocco, has taught Literature-Humanities at Columbia University, French and English Literature at Barnard and SUNY (Purchase College). Her articles and book reviews have appeared in academic and non-academic magazines such as Lilith, the Jerusalem Report and the Jerusalem Post. She writes about art, literature and culture, primarily French, American and North African.
Friday, March 14, 2014
I'll be bringing this basket of Mishloach Manot (Purim gifts of food),
prepared by our TBE 7th graders, to the Jewish Home in Fairfield today.
Giving the gift of food says at once: "I don't want you to be hungry" and "I want you to really enjoy life." In the face of the grim story of Purim, not only should we note that we're indeed still alive enough to eat - we should revel in it.
Shabbat Shalom, Happy Purim, Happy St Patty's Day and, yes, AT LONG LAST...
This evening I'll be joined by Cantor Mordecai and Beth Styles as we celebrate having survived both the endless winter and all the blows aimed in our direction throughout Jewish history - to this very day, when rockets still rain down on Israel's south. And join us on Shabbat morning, when I'll be focusing on the Jewish concept of revenge, as exemplified by Shabbat Zachor and the prayer Alenu.
But I digress... back to PURIM. Join us for Purim for Adults on Sat. night at 8 (when the teens will be having a simultaneous sleepover) and for the Kids' Megilla and Carnival on Sunday morning. Come in costume (gee, what will the rabbi be wearing?)
At the conclusion of the holiday, Mara and I will be heading to Israel for a week to see Dan, who is enjoying his semester at Hebrew U. Maybe I'll rip myself from endless bowls of Abu Shukri's hummus to send a photo or observation or two via Facebook. So if you haven't friended me yet, by all means, look me up!
Polish Pubs & Purim
See this excerpt from a feature story about our Purim night speaker, Glenn Dynner in this weeks' Tablet magazine.
There's nothing particularly boozy about Jewish economic history or culture, prior to or since this period in Poland. There are no Jewish cocktails and no spirits that are uniquely Jewish. There weren't any major Jewish innovations in the industry, and the Jewish legacy left to the world of booze is essentially nil. Why?
Polish nobles were eager to have Jews run their taverns, largely because of prevalent myths about Jews-chiefly, that they didn't drink. Dynner provides abundant evidence of what he calls the "myth of Jewish sobriety." The 19th-century Polish nobleman Antoni Ostrowski described Jews as "always sober," adding "drunks are rare among Jews." Indeed, Dynner writes, "Polish folk idioms mocked Jews for having so much liquor at their disposal yet being so stupid as not to drink it themselves."
Well, Dynner's talk will be fascinating, especially as we then taste some Scotch and ask how and why that myth about Jews not drinking is no longer even close to valid. We Jews have become quite adept at imbibing.
But is that a good thing?
In my column in this week's N.Y. Jewish Week, I make the claim that the prevailing mythology regarding the obligatory nature of getting drunk on Purim is all wrong - and dangerous:
This year's trending Purim parody topic is the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado. President Obama's recent public admission about getting high will no doubt fan these flames. And when there's fire, there's smoke. There will be, no doubt, lots of non-medicinal smoking going on, in and out of Colorado, this Purim.
One of my colleagues wrote a satiric piece for his synagogue bulletin about a new mile-high synagogue whose motto is, "Let's Get Chai," where Shabbat services begin at a mellow 1 p.m., the hamentaschen are cannabis-infused, where they say "ShaPOT Shalom," the rabbi's name is Moshe Stone and their website proclaims, "WEED love to see you."
OK, I get it. There's a lot of pot-ty humor going around these days, and Purim is a great time to indulge.
In humor, that is.
But something gnaws at me about this preoccupation with getting high and, more to the point - since it is legal everywhere - drinking. I don't want to get caught up in the incessant debate as to which mind-bending substance is the most harmful when consumed in excess. I also do not question the medical benefits of medicinal cannabis. My point is that I don't believe the ancient rabbis really intended for Purim to be a drunken orgy in the first place, and even if they did, that was before Jews drove these large metallic unguided missiles called cars.
Yes, it's true that in the Talmud, Rava (Megilla 7b) states that a person must get so inebriated on Purim as to be rendered unable to distinguish between "Cursed be Haman and "Blessed be Mordechai." But this flies against a strong Jewish aversion to excess, and later authorities tried to water down that quip to the point where it would be impossible to distinguish Rava from the Church Lady.
Maimonides assumes that we should drink just enough to gently fall asleep. Others like Rabbi Menachem Hameiri who, being from Provence, undoubtedly knew his wine, stated, "We are not commanded to get drunk ... for we were not commanded to engage in debauchery and foolishness, but to have heartfelt joy which will lead to the love of God and to gratitude for the miracle that was performed for us."
Purim calls upon us to indulge in satire, but truthfully, getting drunk and stoned is no laughing matter. I'm not trying to be a killjoy here. I just want to make sure that no one actually kills Joy...or Bruce, or Joe, or Dawn, or any of the tens of thousands killed each year by drunk drivers.
See also Vigor Juice Jews and Booze, a fascinating new history of Prohibition-era bootleggers, barmen, rabbis, and cops, which picks up where HBO's Boardwalk Empireleaves off, by Allan Nadler. See a more lighthearded look at Jews and getting drunk on Purim here, a quick historical and halachic survey here, and a detailed, annotated responsum here.
This History of Hamentaschen
According to Prof David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute, there are three customs that are connected to today's custom of eating hamentashen on Purim. When you read this article, you'll come to realize that all this fuss about hamentaschen is just a bunch ofkreplach! Read the complete essay here. And click here for an article about Purim's origins
What is a Purim Spiel?
We'll have a nice home grown Purispiel here on Sunday, produced by our teens. If you want to learn more about the principles behind a Purimspiel, check out this online seminar from the Rabbinical Assembly, utilizing YouTube videos. Also see Purim Articles from the Hartman Institute, The Book of Morman Purim Parody and my personal favorite on the eve of the "Big Dance," The Evil Doers Final Four, created a few years ago by my son Ethan.
Hammerman Likes Ham
Some of my friends received this interesting announcement on Facebook this week:
Yes, my secret is out.
- and check out the Forward's Purim parody with this photo of the latest Wicked Wicked Man learning how to read Torah... and the always funny Jewish "Weak" spoof
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman