this year in jerusalem

passover, which is coming up very soon, is one of my favorite Jewish holiday. it’s got it all. food, family, and great content … it’s the ultimate jewish social justice holiday.

in fact, many things that i know about life, i learned from passover:
  • all who are hungry should enter and eat.
  • every person should see themselves, and then be seen by others, as if he (or she - in my version of the haggadah) had personally come out of egypt.
  • it’s important to ask questions. four is never enough.
  • in business, diversification is key. bonus points if it’s good for the jews. why else would a coffee company, maxwell house, continuously publish haggadot since 1933?
  • one goat is worth two zuzim (very useful for talmud …)
  • there are multiple types of slavery. including, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
  • slavery still exists in our world today.
  • my grandma makes the best matzah ball soup. you could argue with me, but then you’d be wrong.
  • rabbi josé lived in the galilee (at least according to how his name is spelled in the maxwell house haggadah).
  • don’t celebrate the downfall of your enemies.
  • there are way too many products made with high fructose corn syrup.
  • remember to be thankful, dayenu.
  • pay attention to springtime and the cycles of nature.
  • manischewitz is not real wine.
  • you may really like the social justice passover supplements, from tikkun magazine, but your family may not.
  • my father was a wandering aramean.
  • kitniyot. no one’s really sure what they are, and why they’re prohibited, but ashkenazi jews make sure not to eat them (except in israel, where it’s apparently ok).
  • the number of dishes that you can make with matzah meal, matzah farfel and matzah cake meal is only limited by your imagination.
  • ometimes it’s important to taste the bitterness of oppression.
  • matzah pizza is surprisingly not that bad…. my dad often enjoys his with pepperoni…
  • playing games is fun – you’re never too old to search for the afikomen.
  • remember to hope. a better world is always possible.
  • god is on the side of freedom, not oppression.
  • there are thirteen attributes of god, twelve tribes, eleven stars, ten commandments, nine months of pregnancy, eight days until the bris, seven days of the week, six books of mishnah, five books of torah, four mothers, three fathers, two tablets, and one god.
  • it’s never to late in the seder to open the door for elijah.
  • and for some of us, it’s finally going to be … this year in jerusalem.


the first freedom seder

the shalom center just posted a youtube clip from the freedom seder in 1969, one of the first "alternative" passover seders, explicitly connecting passover to contemporary social justice issues. enjoy... and then take some action.


purim day 1

here in jerusalem, we have two days of purim... day 1, today, is for the rest of the country, and day 2, is shushan purim, purim a day later for all walled-cities, including jerusalem.

while i'm taking the day easy, and finishing up a paper so i can celebrate later, aileen's off to the big purim parade near tel aviv. (click on the link, and then play the video in the center of the page). this year's theme is the environment, and will feature floats of both noah's ark and barak obama.


music boxes, victrolas, and hurdy-gurdies

we've just finished a whirlwind-around-the-country-tour with my family, who have now made it back to the states. one of the stops was the antique music box museum in the artist colony of ein hod.

there are lots of photos of the museum online, including youtube videos of nisan cohen, the quirky owner, in action (see below).

Also, take a look at this blog posting, from someone else's trip there:
Clad in shorts, sandals and a French beret, our guide and the museum founder, Nisan Cohen, welcomed us with good humor and warmth as he opened our eyes…and ears… to the musical aspect of a unique period in Western history – the industrial revolution. He took us back in time as we gathered around a 140yr old box anticipating the opening of its handcrafted wood top as if it were a treasure. We were not far off. Nisan explained that when he first came across these amazing inventions over 40 years ago, he knew right away this was something he wanted to collect. During his travels as a documentary film maker for CBS and NBC based in New York, he was able to find scores of these musical gems dating as far back as 1863. When he lifted the silky smooth cover of the first item on the tour, we saw inside a creation so inspired, so unique that it changed the path of music forever. Nisan explained how the nubs on the moving spool pluck at the tiny piano-like prongs to create the delicate sounds of Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven etc. This magical mechanical music box meant that for the first time in the history of the planet one could listen to music without being within hearing range of a live singer or musician.
the first recording of hatikvah, with the original lyrics of the poem written by naftali herz imber:

an antique music box:

playing the hurdy-gurdy barrel organ:

another old music box (which we didn't see):


green kibbutzim

a recent posting in the nytimes highlights the innovative solar power plans at kibbutz keturah in the arava. i visited there a few weeks ago on a pardes trip.
Spurred by government incentives, ample sunshine and investments from energy companies eager to turn a profit, a growing number of south-Israel kibbutzim — those communal-living enterprises that have traditionally emphasized ideals like collective labor, egalitarianism and natural living — are turning to state-of-the-art energy projects.

The aim: to position their region as the Silicon Valley of renewable energy.

Nudging that effort along this week, Israel’s National Infrastructures Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, signed the country’s first two solar power licenses.

The first was given to E.D.I.G. Construction Management, Ltd., which has built a thermosolar energy site with a capacity of up to 100 kilowatts at Kibbutz Samar in the Arava Valley. The second licensee, the Arava Power Company, plans to build a photovoltaic facility with a capacity of up to 4.9 megawatts at nearby Kibbutz Ketura.

For its part, Kibbutz Ketura owns a forty percent stake in Arava Power, while the remaining 60 percent of the company is owned by American investors led by former multimedia executive and current president of Arava Power Company, Yosef Abramowitz. Arava Power has also signed a deal with 16 other kibbutzim in the area that is expected to give the company enough land assets to build capacity for another 500 megawatts of solar electricity, at a cost of $2.5 billion — or around $5 dollars a watt.

Last week, Mr. Ben-Eliezer also pledged that by 2020 between 10 to 20 percent of Israel’s energy production would come from solar and other renewable sources. As part of the agreement, the Negev and Arava regions of southern Israel were designated as renewable energy zones by the economic cabinet of the Israeli government.

Other area kibbutzim with a committment to green energy include Kibbutz Neot Smadar and Kibbutz Yotvata, which recently built a 50-kilowatt solar panel rooftop installation. Kibbutz Lotan, meanwhile, maintains a bird reserve, a center for creative ecology and a green apprenticeship program.

One Lotan resident, Noam Ilan, who directs renewable energy efforts for the Eilat-Eilot region of the country and last month helped organize an international renewable energy conference in Eilat, is optimistic about the coupling of renewable energy and kibbutzim.

“We see renewable energy as a catalyst for the region’s development and we have all the natural conditions to implement this new energy here,” Mr. Ilan said in a telephone interview from Israel. “The kibbutzim are the main entities. We hope it will be a new income source for them because these communities only live on agriculture and tourism. This is the biggest opportunity for their future growth.”


an experiment of learning in the judean hills

recently, i went on a morning field-trip to morasha ein prat, a fascinating israeli yeshiva, that combines jewish and secular studies. their students are an intentional mix of religious and secular israelis, who decide to take a "gap year" between high school and beginning army service, or after they complete their 2-3 years in the army.
ONE OF THEM is gestating in the Judean desert, down the road plunging from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. A mile or so off that road, I recently drove along a winding track from the village of Alon to a cluster of caravanim. In the semi-permanent prefabs, housing a dining room and kitchen, a study hall and separate sleeping/living quarters for men and women, about 25 young Israelis were spending five months in exquisite isolation at the Midrasha.

They came from secular kibbutzim where children don't know what a Shabbat kiddush is or ever go to synagogue or see a mezuza on doorways; from Orthodox Zionist families; from Israel's Reform and Conservative movements. Ages 20-29, most of them had completed at least two years of army or national service and were taking a breath - not to space out on Goa beaches, but to build their inner selves before heading to university. Some were officers from elite IDF units.

Strangely devoid of self-consciousness or cynicism, these young men and women, some of whom had already experienced social and military responsibilities beyond their years, spoke about holes in their learning, about what they might contribute to society, and about wanting to know more about the meaning of being Jews and Israelis.
the head of the program, micah goodman, has compared the student body at ein prat with the student body at pardes (one of the places where i study in jerusalem). in both places, the students tend to be in an "in-between" moment of their lives, interested in growing spiritually and jewishly, in a non-coercive environment, and often aren't sure what they want to be doing next.

goodman is especially intrigued about the possibilities about bringing these two groups of students - the israelis at ein prat and the mostly americans at pardes - together in some type of sustained way.

in some ways, morasha ein prat, where secular israelis engage in jewish learning in a non-coercive way, is an example of the same phenomenon that produced bina's secular yeshiva (hayeshiva hachilonit) and alma in tel aviv.

although in this case, there is a stronger sense of community - the students live together and have to figure out communal norms (such as how to respect everyone's differing shabbat practices). keep in mind, though, that the framework of religiousity, is an orthodox one, and some aspects of jewish creativity seem to be outside the box.
At the beginning of the year, the students set the rules for themselves, and every week gather for a plenary session lasting into the night in order to discuss their lives, at the program and in general, and to make new decisions. Because this is a group that includes religious and secular students, they have to set the rules for themselves in this area as well. The status quo dictates that there will be no violation of Shabbat and that kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws) will be observed in public places (the dining room, the classrooms, et al), while in the rooms, which are also shared by religious and nonreligious students (but not by men and women), everyone will do as he wishes. It turns out that when things are not imposed by force, there is maximum consideration of the religious students on the part of the secular ones, even in their private rooms.
there's one other important issue. the yeshiva is located in a west bank settlement, in allon. This settlement, is located near kfar adumim, on the road from jerusalem to the dead sea. unfortunately, most israelis, and the students who i spoke to at ein prat, don't really consider this to be a settlement. for them, a settlement is defined relatively, as a bunch of trailers on top of hill, with crazy right wing, long-bearded immigrants from brooklyn, near nablus of hebron. not by the 1948 armistice lines. these "settlements" are really just suburbs of jerusalem. they'll be ceded to israel as part of a land swap in any future peace deal, so why all the concern?

but, if you ask the palestinians about the ma'ale adumim corridor, they'll tell you a much different story.

in addition to the learning and discussions, we also did some hiking (which in israel usually involves climbing up or down some really steep cliff face with questionable footing).

in this case, we climbed down into the wadi prat, which once was part of the biblical border between the israelite tribes of judah and benjamin. we also saw the maboa spring:
an artesian fountain, or karstic fountain, emanating from a cave into a roundish concrete pool. until the six day war, the water was pumped and streamed from ein el-farha to jerusalem, but today it is no longer being used. ein Mabu'a supplies its water today into a concrete aqueduct that was built on the face of an existing aqueduct from the time of the second Temple and had brought water to the city of kipris. the round pool water's height is changed constantly (like heartbeat) due to a subterranean movement of water that fills an inner room until it is full and then the water would be let outside en masse into the external pool.


voting for satan, and a february surprise?

first, i wake up this morning to find out that olmert, livni and barak might just be able to pull off a february surprise before tuesday's elections.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that "supreme efforts" are being made to secure Shalit's release in the near future.

Last night, Israel's "troika" - composed of Prime Minister Olmert, Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - held an unusual meeting at the Defense Ministry to discuss the negotiations for a cease-fire deal in the Gaza Strip, along the lines proposed by Egypt
and then, good old ovadia yosef of shas, has confirmed my suspicions, that avigdor lieberman, is not just a demagogue-like politician, but is in fact the devil.
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef once again lashed out at voters who plan on casting their ballots Tuesday for Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu faction. "Whoever votes for Lieberman gives strength to Satan," Yosef said in his weekly sermon late Saturday.

"Whoever sits inside his home and does nothing [will] suffer a huge punishment," Yosef said. In an address that was televised and beamed via satellite to hundreds of Sephardic yeshiva students, he said: "You should know that this is your hour, the time to do for God, they have violated your Torah, go from house to house."
will this be more effective than robocalls for get-out-the-vote efforts? only time will tell ...


more israeli election ads ... in english!

here's links to some more israeli election ads, subtitled into english:
  • shas - sephardi, religious - advocating welfare payments to the poor - using obama's "yes we can" slogan
  • israel beiteinu (israel is our home) - party led by avigdor lieberman - advocating stripping israeli citizenship from "disloyal" arab members of knesset, and transfering arab areas of israel (and their inhabitants) to the palestinians in exchange for settlements in the west bank
  • da'am - socialist workers' arab-jewish party - probably won't get enough votes to make it into the knesset
  • likud - center-right party led by benjamin "bibi" netanyahu
  • avodah (labor) - center-left party led by ehud barak
for an explanation of how israel's political system works, check out this article in today's nytimes.


my predictions for the israeli elections

jewschool has a cliffs notes style run-down, with descriptions of the various israeli parties. you can enter their february madness pool, guessing what the knesset results might look like on tuesday evening.

here's my very scientific guesstimate at the results:

balad - 1
gil - 1
green/meimad - 2
habayit hayehudi - 2
hadash - 2
holocaust/green leaf - 1
kadima - 28
labor - 16
likud - 29
meretz - 4
national union - 2
shas - 8
united arab list - 2
united torah judaism - 2
yisrael beiteinu - 20

see where you stand, and figure out which political party may represent your views, by filling out this cool interactive poll...



does "oh oh oh oh ... ai yi yi yi" = a political slogan?

apparently it does. see the commercial below for הבית היהודי‎ - ha bayit hayehudi (the jewish home) a new israeli right-wing religious political party competing in the upcoming elections.

if nothing else, you have to admit that the tune is a bit catchy. plus, now it's clear that army boots and teva sandals are just as much jewish israeli symbols, as shabbat candles and jewish stars ...


if you thought that election ads were only in the states ... think again...

this article from the jerusalem post gives a sampling of some of the many election advertisements that have been springing up everywhere, as we get closer and closer to israel's prime minister and knesset elections on february 10.

below is one interesting commercial from meretz, advocating for a broad, pluralistic israeli society. the ad alludes to the famous "first they came for the commmunists..." holocaust-themed poem by pastor martin niemöller.

its translation, courtesy of jewschool.org, is:
without loyalty, no citizenship
without judaism, no citizenship
without zionism, no citizenship
without [army] service, no citizenship

without arabs
without druze
without gays
without the supreme court
without leftists

unless you pay attention
lieberman will get you too

lieberman must be stopped
only a vote for the new movement / meretz
is a net vote
for a coalition that will not sit
with bibi and lieberman

don’t compromise. vote.


never again = legalize it?

what happens when aging holocaust survivors and young whipper-snapper marijuana activists get together? they form a new political party, what else?

welcome to the crazy world of israeli election season.


our jerusalem obama party made the colbert report

check it out:

the two second clip is sandwiched right between the kenyans and the palestinians...

too bad the event was actually sponsored by democrats abroad, and only had americans there, and few, if any israelis.


if you're jewish... hey, that's not so newish...

rev lowery was my favorite speaker at the inaugeration. in addition to emulating his inspiring biography, maybe i can someday write a sermon like his one day. his benediction:
We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.
beyond rhyming, was actually an allusion to a well-known blues song during the civil rights movement by big bill broonzy about america's jim crow system:
This little song that I'm singin' about,
people you know it's true
If you're black and gotta work for a living,
this is what they will say to you,
they says, "If you was white, should be all right,
if you was brown, stick around,
but as you's black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back"

I was in a place one night
They was all having fun
They was all buyin' beer and wine,
but they would not sell me none
They said, "If you was white, should be all right,
if you was brown, stick around,
but if you black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back"

Me and a man was workin' side by side
This is what it meant
They was paying him a dollar an hour,
and they was paying me fifty cent
They said, "If you was white, 't should be all right,
if you was brown, could stick around,
but as you black, hmm boy, get back, get back, get back"

I went to an employment office,
got a number 'n' I got in line
They called everybody's number,
but they never did call mine
They said, "If you was white, should be all right,
if you was brown, could stick around,
but as you black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back"

I hope when sweet victory,
with my plough and hoe
Now I want you to tell me brother,
what you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?
Now if you was white, should be all right,
if you was brown, could stick around,
but if you black, whoa brother, get back, get back, get back


ברק אובמה בירושלים

yes we can... כן אנחנו יכולים ... here's some articles on the jerusalem obama festivities that we went to last night here at zolli's pub in jerusalem. there were some camera crews at the pub, too, but i haven't found any footage online yet.


that crazy king herod...

in times of political transition, we can think of other political leaders who also had their "issues". in the dec 2008 national geographic, there's a great article on king herod, including descriptions of his tomb, recently discovered at herodium, near bethlehem.

the saying "it was better to be herod's pig than his son" alludes to this quasi-jewish roman leader's desire to keep kosher and be accepted by his jewish subjects, but who repeatedly killed off his wives and offspring because he was afraid they would be a threat to his rule.

on the national geographic site, you can test your knowledge of king herod, by taking their eight question quiz, or by playing the herod's lost tomb game! (obviously i have too much free time on my hands...)


the countdown begins ...

only 1 more day!


l'hitraot to mike's place

it's a good thing i figured out how to order fox sports on our cable system yesterday, or otherwise, we might have had some problems trying to watch the game.

apparently mike's place in jerusalem is now closed:
With tears in their beer, some 200 loyal revelers packed Mike's Place on Sunday to bid adieu to the legendary downtown Jerusalem watering hole.

Though the Nahalat Shiva bar had 36 months remaining on its eight-year lease, last fall the landlord Darinel Business Inc. invoked a demolition clause in that agreement to force the bar out. The nondescript 19th-century building, which was originally put up by the Ottoman banker Chaim Aharon Valero, will be demolished shortly as part of an eight-story office tower and commercial complex stretching along Jaffa Road to Kikar Zion.
i wonder which bar will now pick up the "anglo" slack?


life in ashkelon and gaza

anita steiner, a reconstructionist rabbi living in ashkelon, has been living with the effects of constant rocket fire. two of her recent email updates have been posted on the jrf website, here and here. searching online, i also found some sites that provide links for similar-type blogs coming out of gaza.


depressed by the news and paralyzed by the complexities

this posting, by marty kaplan at huffington post, captures some of what i've been feeling lately:
First I saw a young protester telling a CNN reporter in Trafalgar Square, "Every single day, as soon as we turn on the TV, we see children there die in the hospitals, adults dying, children dying on the floor. Why, why, why? Why do children have to die? Why do innocent children have to die on the floor? Why?"

And I thought, She's right, those children in Gaza are innocent, every human life is precious, civilians aren't combatants. Doesn't everyone deserve basic human rights like food and water and life itself?

But then I thought, Where was she when 80 or 90 Hamas rockets a day were raining down on Israel? Where were all the television cameras when innocent children in Ashkelon and Sderot were being maimed and killed?

But then I saw pictures of massive devastation in Gaza on the front pages of the newspapers, and I thought, What good does it do if Israel appears to act like its enemies?

But then I heard Shimon Peres tell George Stephanopoulos that Hamas "did things which are unprecedented in the history even of terror. They made mosques into headquarters. They put bombs in the kindergartens, in their own homes. They are hiding in hospitals." Where were all the people of Gaza rising up in outrage when Hamas used them as human shields?

Then I heard Palestinian negotiator Hannan Ashwari say that Gaza was a secondary issue, that the real imperative was to reach a lasting political agreement, not a temporary military outcome, and I thought, She's right, there will be no peace and security for Israel unless a viable two-state solution is reached.

But then I read a blog by Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg recounting his interview with Nizzar Rayyan, the Hamas leader who was killed by Israeli bombs last week. "This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: 'The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.' There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. 'Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God... You [Jews] are murderers of the prophets and you have closed your ears to the Messenger of Allah.... Jews tried to kill the Prophet, peace be unto him. All throughout history, you have stood in opposition to the word of God.'"

And I thought, How can you negotiate with people who reject your nation's right to exist, and whose version of religion calls you a murderous race? If someone claimed that the best way for America to deal with Bin Laden is to reach a political agreement with al-Qaeda, I'd say that they're nuts, that there can be no negotiation or accommodation with people lusting for a final battle to rid your people from the earth.

But then I heard an Arab diplomat railing against Israel's continuing tolerance of illegal settlements, and I thought, As long as Knesset coalition governments are dependent on ultra-Orthodox parties who have no respect for the law, how can anyone expect Arab moderates to gain enough political power for Israel to negotiate with them, when Israeli moderates can't muster that clout either?

Then I reminded myself that the people of Gaza overwhelmingly voted for Hamas in a democratic election, and I thought, What good is democracy, if it can put terrorists in charge of governments?

But then I read that tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs in the Israeli town of Sakhnin had rallied against Israel's Gaza offensive, and I thought, What Middle East nation except Israel would ensure that anti-government protesters had the right to hold such a demonstration?

And then I remembered reading that former Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon warned Israelis not to delude themselves about Israel's Arab population, that Israeli Arabs - a fifth of Israel - constitute a potential fifth column.

Then I saw a Teleseker Institute poll saying that 95 percent of Israeli Jews support Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. But then I saw a Rasmussen poll saying that while 44 percent of Americans think Israel should have taken military action against the Palestinians, 41% say it should have tried to find a diplomatic solution - essentially a tie, within the poll's margin of error. And I wondered, How long does diplomacy have to keep failing, how many bombs have to keep dropping, before self-defense finally trumps talk?

I wish I didn't believe that the events now unfolding in the Middle East are too complicated for unalloyed outrage. I wish the arguments of only one side rang wholly true to me. I am the first to accuse myself of paralyzing moral generosity -- the fatal empathy that terrorists prey on. But ambivalence is not the same as moral equivalence, and holy war, no matter who is waging it, makes my flesh crawl.

In Milton's poem Samson Agonistes, Samson - blinded, in chains -- cries out, "Promise was that I / Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver; / Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him / Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves." But when Samson shows the strength to shun Delilah, God restores his power, enabling him to pull down the temple and kill the Philistines, though along with himself.

What makes Samson Agonistes a tragedy is the self-destruction that victory entails. I passionately assert Israel's right to exist in peace with its neighbors and within secure borders. But I can't help fearing that its military success in Gaza, should it come, will also entail a tragic cost.
i'm tired of the news. i'm tired of reading email accounts from a rabbi i know who lives in ashkelon, of bomb shelters, safe rooms and panic attacks in the grocery store. i'm tired of reading similar accounts on the internet from residents of gaza. I'm tired of being worried, after meeting families whose childen are currently serving in the israeli army. i'm tired of the coverage in haaretz. i'm tired of the coverage in the new york times. i'm tired of wondering why i'm living in israel, and yet have no real connections with my palestinian neighbors in the west bank and gaza. I'm tired of feeling powerless. i'm tired of feeling angry. i'm tired of inaction. i'm tired of going about my daily life while others can't. i'm tired of war.

tomorrow, i hopefully begin a shavua tov - i go back to school, studying talmud in a beit midrash in southern jerusalem. afterwards, instead of watching cnn and channel 10's account of the war in gaza, i'll immerse myself in escapism, watching coverage of a epic battle closer to home - that of the eagles of philadelphia against those pesky giants of new york. fly eagles fly.



pluralism in the galilee

during this semester, i've taken part in an intra-faith multilogue (dialogue is for only two voices - far too limiting...) program for rabbinical students studying in jerusalem this year, run by the organization, ta shma. they do a great job of:
providing Hebrew and English-speaking Jews of all ages with educational programming that conveys the excitement and relevance of Jewish texts and tradition.

Recognizing that diversity is one of the Jewish community's greatest assets, Ta Shma offers a model of multi-voiced Jewish learning that emphasizes the importance of constructive disagreement.
participants included reform, orthodox, conservative, trans-denominational and reconstructionist rabbinical students.

one of the reform students has a blog entry up on the huc website about our recent shabbaton in the galilee, and shares some memorable moments.

plus, bonus points if you can find me in the picture below.


if it were only that easy here...

why can't things be this easy in the middle east?

below is a uplifting article in the philly daily news about a amazing reconstructionist rabbi and teacher of mine:
LINDA HOLTZMAN was appalled when she saw the homemade sign at last Tuesday afternoon's rush-hour Center City rally protesting Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Carried by a foreign-born man in his 20s, the poster depicted both a Star of David and a swastika. Beneath them was printed, "What's the difference."

"It was very upsetting to see, because it didn't capture at all the spirit of the rally," said Holtzman.

"The sign was hateful; the others weren't."

Although attended mostly by Arab-Americans, there were also non-Muslims taking part in the passionate, but peaceful, rally at the Israeli Consulate, at 19th and JFK, including Holtzman, senior rabbi of the
Mishkan Shalom Reconstructionist congregation in Manayunk, and other Jews distraught by the violence being inflicted in response to attacks by Hamas on southern Israel.

"As a Jew, it was a slap in the face to see that sign, when we were there to provide moral support," said Holtzman. "It was offensive."

A few Jews in the crowd warily approached the young man, to tell him that his sign was uncalled for. They weren't sure how he'd respond, but an animated discussion followed, which they relayed to Holtzman, who'd watched from afar.

"They said he was actually a friendly guy," said Holtzman. "His English wasn't very good, but he was talking with them the best he could."

So Holtzman approached him, too....
click here to read the rest of the story. i promise, it's worth it.


the torah on gaza ...

i often hope that jewish tradition will provide us with useful means with which to understand and interpret our world. today, into my inbox, came this week's d'var tzedek from ajws:
Over the course of the book of Genesis, we witness Jacob’s two different responses to the unjust massacre committed by Simon and Levi against the people of Shechem. After their sister Dinah is raped by the prince of Shechem, the brothers murder and pillage the entire town. While the rape of Dinah is indeed horrific, it does not justify the act of collective punishment her brothers pursue.

When Jacob learns of Simon and Levi’s action, he bemoans:

    You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perrizites; my men are few in number, so that if they unite against me and attack me, I and my house will be destroyed. [Genesis 34:30]
In Parshat Vayechi, Jacob, on his deathbed, gathers his sons around him to hear his last words. When he reflects again on Simon and Levi, he admonishes them:

    Simon and Levi, the brothers---
    weapons of outrage their trade. […]
    For in their fury they slaughtered men,
    At their pleasure they tore down ramparts.
    Cursed be their fury so fierce,
    And their wrath so remorseless! […]
    [Genesis 49:5-7]
Jacob’s initial response to this injustice is personal. His concern with the deeds of Simon and Levi is that there will be repercussions for him and his community. Only later does he express anger that they have acted wrongly by killing innocent people.

Just as Jacob’s two responses to the same issue are motivated by very different concerns, our activism on social justice issues can also be motivated by different factors. We can take action on these issues because we are personally affected, or we can act because we feel morally compelled.
how should we choose how we should act? when should we act, and when should we refrain from action?

the d'var goes on to wrestle with collective action in community organizing contexts, and regarding darfur.

i'm, of course, thinking of israel and gaza.

the situation here is undeniably complex. no one should have to live under the threat of attack. everyone should be able to go to sleep at night safe and secure in their homes.

i question whether it's appropriate to compare relative amounts of suffering - e.g., is my suffering worse than yours?

i'm also not sure about separating innocent victims from the global-political realities at play.

when is there a difference between a civilian and a soldier? what about between a policeman and a terrorist?

should i be watching al jazeera to see the bodies that aren't being shown on cnn? why is it ok for me to go about my daily business, when others can not? am i a hypocrite for taking advantage of a wall that i feel is unjust? what's my role supposed to be here anyhow?



today, as part of the social justice class that i'm taking at pardes, we visited the max rayne יד ביד - hand in hand jerusalem school. it's an intential bi-lingual, (hebrew and arabic) and bi-cultural (jewish and arabic/palestinian christian/muslim). there's over 600 students enrolled from grades k-10. all classes are team-taught in hebrew and arabic.

it's the equivalent of a public charter school in the states, funded like all schools by the israeli government (but also supplemented by the governments of germany, switzerland, and lichtenstein). watch the above video. it's a lot better than what's on cnn right now.


the oldest hebrew writing ever ?

apparently, just down the road from jerusalem, is khirbet qeiyafa, a new archaeological site being uncovered, which appears to be a fortified forward city from the early iron age (i.e, time of David and Solomon), designed to protect jerusalem from attack. among the discoveries was a potsherd, with some proto-hebrew grafiti.

if looks like the site might end up being a counterpoint, across the valley of elah, from the philistine city of gath (birthplace of goliath, where i dug this summer). the director of the gath dig, aren meir, is quoted in the nyt and jpost articles.

on the other hand, the financing of the khirbet qeiyafa dig may be coming from questionable sources, and i'm not sure what to do with that dichotomy. i really hope that the dig doesn't get wrapped up in problematic politics, the same way as the city of david in the east jerusalem neighborhood of silwan.


everyone loves a parade?

who knew that the feast of tabernacles, known to me as the jewish holiday of sukkot, was the perfect time for evangelical christians from all over the world to have solidarity missions to israel, and parade down the street, waving flags, singing, and shouting that "...for the sake of jerusalem, i will not be silenced"?

well, apparently it was.

the parade is the brainchild of the international christian embassy jerusalem,
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded in 1980 as an evangelical Christian response to the need to comfort Zion according to the command of scripture found in Isaiah 40:1-2: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem..."
besides the parade, the organization also organizes a whole slewload of other events throughout sukkot.

i personally missed the parade, which traveled down the street right outside our apartment building, but a certain someone took pictures for me, which you can see here. (also take a look at the crazy picture over here).

as far as i could tell, the whole thing seemed pretty benign, but don't tell that to the orthodox folks protesting against it. it seems that christian missionizing is bad, while jewish mitzvah mobiles are sanctioned by God. who knew? go figure...


shake, shake your lulav... shake it all the time

you may have noticed the beautiful lulav and etrog that i bought for sukkot

and then wondered, how did he acquire such a set? well, right before sukkot, a special market opens up near the machaneh yehudah shuk, called the shuk arbah minim, the market of the four species. the four species being the etrog, and the palm, willow and myrtle branches that make up the lulav.

it's especially busy the day before sukkot

some of the etrogim were on display, but some stayed in boxes. we just finished the shmitah year, in which the land is supposed to lay fallow, and therefore no profit is supposed to be made from agriculture in israel. there's some complicated loop-holes, but the bottom line for etrog purchases, is that some folks say that you weren't allowed to choose your etrog, and had to buy them from a closed box...

but for the lulav, you're supposed to check it out beforehand, before finalizing the purchase

it's gotta have just the right thickness on top, and don't forget the "shake" factor

to find the perfect set ....


olive picking, and a donkey...

yes, that's me, on a donkey. it was the culmination of a morning of olive picking in the west bank with rabbis for human rights. this effort is intended to help palestinian farmers gather their olives without the need for them to hire additional laborers, and make sure that nearby settlers stay on their best behavior.

more olive-picking pictures are online...


although the holiday of sukkot is now offically over, my blogging on it has just begun!

take a look at my beautiful lulav and etrog:

in leviticus 23:42-43, the torah says that we should ...
live in sukkot seven days; all citizens in israel shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of egypt, I the Lord your God
therefore, where better to see lots of sukkot everywhere than in the land of israel, itself?

at home:

at hotels:

and at restaurants:

and even one made out of recycled plastic bags:

lots more sukkot photos are online, enjoy!


funky fruit

dragon fruit, officially known as pitaya have just started to hit the israeli marketplace with abandon. unfortunately they're kind of bland, but very funny-looking.

and also star fruit, yum!


dr seuss on sukkot

now that i'm about to head back to the holy land, after high holidays in upstate new york, and making the great schlep to cleveland, it's time to start thinking about where to find the best etrog in jerusalem. meanwhile, i was just forwarded this email ... enjoy!
Rules of the Sukkah
by Rabbi Arthur E. Gould

You can build it very small 1
You can build it very tall 2

You can build it very large 3
You can build it on a barge

You can build it on a ship 4
Or on a roof but please don’t slip 5

You can build it in an alley 6
You shouldn’t build it in a valley 7

You can build it on a wagon 8
You can build it on a dragon 9

You can make the skakh of wood 10
Woud you, could you, yes you should

Make the skakh from leaves of tree
You shouldn’t bend it at the knee 11

Build your Sukkah tall or short
No Sukkah is built in the Temple Court

You can build it somewhat soon
You cannot build it in the month of June 12

If your Sukkah is well made
You’ll have the right amount of shade 13

You can build it very wide
You can not build it on its side

Build if your name is Jim
Or Bob or Sam or even Tim

Build it if your name is Sue 14
Do you build it, yes you do!

From the Sukkah you can roam
But you should treat it as your home 15

You can invite some special guests
Don’t stay in it if there are pests

You can sleep upon some rugs
Don’t you build it where there’s bugs

In the Sukkah you should sit
And eat and drink but never…

If in the Sukkah it should rain
To stay there would be such a pain 16

And if it should be very cold
Stay there only if you’re bold

So build a Sukkah one and all
Make it large or make it small

Sukkah rules are short and snappy
Enjoy Sukkot, rejoice be happy.
1 Maimonides (RMBM) Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sukkah, Chapter 4, Section 1. The minimum height of a Sukkah is 10 tepachim. A tepach is a measure of the width of the four fingers of one’s hand. My hand is 3 1/4 inches wide for a minimum Sukkah height of 32 1/2 inches. The minimum allowable width is 7 tepachim by 7 tepachim. This would result in a Sukkah of 22 3/4 inches by 22 3/4 inches.

2The maximum height is 20 Amot. An Amah is the length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. My Amah is 15 1/2 inches for a maximum height of 25 feet. Others say that 30 feet is the maximum.

3 According to RMBM the Sukkah can be built to a width of several miles. Shulchan Aruch also says there is no limit on the size of the width.

4 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6.

5 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 11. RMBM states that one may construct a Sukkah by wedging poles in the four corners of the roof and suspending scakh from the poles. The walls of the building underneath are considered to reach upward to the edge of the scakh.

6 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 8-10 discusses the ins and outs of building your Sukkah in an alley or passageway.

7 There is a location referred to in the Talmud called Ashtarot Karnayim. According to the discussion there are two hills, with a valley in between where the Sun does not reach. Therefore it is impossible to sit in the shade of the roof of the Sukkah. I can’t find the reference…hopefully next year.

8 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6. You can go into a Sukkah built on a wagon or a ship even on Yom Tov.

9RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6. OK, RMBM says a camel but dragon rhymes with wagon a lot better, don’t you agree. Anyway, RMBM says you can build your Sukkah on a wagon or in the crown of a tree, but you can’t go into it on Yom Tov. There is a general rule against riding a beast or ascending into the crown of a tree on Yom Tov.

10 Chapter 5 deals with the rules for the scakh. Basically, you can use that which has grown from the ground, and is completely detached from the ground. So, for example, you cannot bend the branches of a tree over the Sukkah to form the scakh. But you can cut the branches from a tree and use them as scakh.

11This would be a violation of the rule cited in the prior footnote.

12 Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Sukkah, Perek 636, Section 1 The Sukkah should not be built sooner than 30 days before the Hag. However, if the structure is built prior to 30 days, as long as something new is added within the 30 days, the Sukkah is kosher.

13 Of course it’s a well known rule that you must sit in the shade from the roof of the Sukkah and not in the shade that may be cast by the walls. It seems that this might affect the height of the walls, depending on the longitude of the location where you are building your Sukkah.

14 Traditionally, women, servants and minors are patur from the Mitzvah of Sukkah. In our day we hope we know better than to read out half the Jewish people from the observance of Mitzvot. Of course, that’s just a personal opinion of the author.

15 RMBM ibid Chapter 6, Section 6 explains that you should eat, drink and live in the Sukkah for the 7 days as you live in your own home. One should not even take a nap outside of the Sukkah.

16 RMBM ibid, Section 10 If it rains one should go into the house. How does one know if it is raining hard enough? If sufficient raindrops fall through the scakh and into the food so that the food is spoiled—go inside!

© Rabbi Arthur E. Gould, Sukkot 1999 - 2001.


the great schlep

while "the great schlep" might be referring to my recent 11 hour flight, but now that i'm briefly back in the states, the "great schlep" instead, is sarah silverman's idea of how to rock the bubbe vote.


pre-sunrise selichot

today turned into an early morning. instead of waking up at 4:30 am to catch the end of a late-night football game, we were up at 4am to check out 5am selichot services at the ades synagogue - בית הכנסת עדס in jerusalem's nachlaot neighborhood.

the synagogue was built 100 years ago by a community of jews from aleppo, syria. this jewish community had been the guardians of the aleppo codex, the 1000-year old biblical manuscript that is now in the israel museum. the synagogue is sephardic/mizrachi, so selichot services take place during the entire month of elul, not just the last week or so, as is the ashkenazi practice.

you can listen to a melody used at the synagogue here. (click on the "play button" in the upper-left part of the page, and then a pop-up window will start playing the piyut).

there's also an interesting article on ynet news (in english) about early morning selichot services in nachlaot, including a video (in hebrew). the first synagogue featured in the video is ades, the one we visited.

afterwards, following some much-needed caffeinated beverages at aroma, we were off to the nearby shuk. mmmh... shopping for fresh pita and veggies goes so well with repentance ...


obama's rabbis

though i wasn't yet able to be part of it, yesterday obama convened a conference call with over 900 rabbis, from across the denominational spectrum. it was live-blogged by rabbi danya. כן אנו יכולים !


tasty teshuvah

last night we took a break from talmud, sleep, and high holiday prep, and went to the taste of jerusalem - food festival, on the heals of the jerusalem beer festival held in late august. i had a really good kosher chicken burrito.

maybe tomorrow i'll head into the old city for a late night selichot service and get in some good old-fashioned repenting, along with a cacophony of shofar tekiah-ing, before the big day...

but, i guess if that doesn't excite, there's always the evening laser light show to bring on the (shock and) awe. what better way is there to say "teshuvah", than writing it with lasers on the darkened white stone walls of jerusalem?


soulful davening in a bomb shelter

last night we attended services and had a delicious shabbat dinner in the captivating neighborhood of nachalot:
referred to by some as “jerusalem's soho” area, nachlaot it is home to a diverse population, which includes the jerusalem hareidi-religious population, followers of the late rabbi shlomo carlebach, members of the national religious community and many non-sabbath observant residents. There are members of both the ashkenazi and sephardic communities.

it is one of the city’s older and more colorful neighborhoods, retaining much of its original 19th century architecture, narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets. the neighborhood was planned to accommodate the yemenite, kurdish, jerusalem sephardi (including the famous banai family), greek, and galician Jews. the communities had their own synagogues (many still exist today) and were each housed within a walled compound, built around a common courtyard and a water cistern in the center.

the residents of the community serve as an example to am yisrael (the jewish people), living side-by-side in harmony, including sabbath observant and non-sabbath observant families and singles. “tolerance and good vibes” would well describe life in this increasingly popular area of the capital.

located in the heart of jerusalem, opposite the well-known machane yehuda outdoor marketplace, nachlaot is situated in the heart of downtown jerusalem, serving as a gateway to the government complex and sacher park, as well as being situated in easy walking distance to major downtown hotels, the city center, and neighborhoods including Rechavia and shaare chesed.

there are many synagogues, including kol rina, an orthodox synagogue which offers prayer services modeled after the tunes and spirit of the late rabbi carlebach, with spiritual leader rabbi aaron leibowitz, who is bilingual, making a concerted effort to make his house of worship a comfort zone for all those who visit and worship regularly.
nachalot was the neighborhood where the movie ushpizin was filmed, which in itself was an attempt to bridge some of the secular-religious divide in the city and israeli society. there are apparently free mp3 walking tours of the neighborhood available at jerusalemp3.com.

we attended services at kol rina, the carlebach-style shul mentioned above, which meets in the neighborhood bomb shelter. the diversity of the minyan attendees matched the neighborhood - with folks wearing rainbow kippot happily sitting next to shtreimls, their voices all joining together in the many yi-di-di-di and yi-bi-bi-bum refrains.

however, with the mechitzah that created a women's section behind that of the men's, i felt like the women were relegated to praying in the "back of the bus" (even though i know that other folks might disagree with me).

i guess i have the year to continue to reflect on what it means to have male privilege here in jerusalem, and to have access to prayer spaces from which others are excluded.


jazzing it up on emek

on monday night, a friend told me about the opening/rededication of a new progressive community center, called מרכז תרבות העמים , in the emek refaim neighborhood of jerusalem. the center aims to create a pluralistic environment for cultural and social activities for all of the diverse residents of the "garden neighborhoods" of jerusalem.

the event featured:
Marsh Dondurma - The street band is known to change a humdrum day of wandering up and down Ben Yehuda street into a festival when they wip out their drums (as well as percussion instruments.) To avoid being accused of favoritism, the Marsh Dondurma plays gypsy traditional, Jewish klezmer, Latin beats, Middle Eastern tunes, and more. They've also played at art festivals all over Israel and the Serbian Guca Trumpet Festival. The group covers much ground at this festival first playing on Emek Refaim (the street itself) and then at 20:30 inside the new center.
  • 19:30-Reception
  • 20:00-Fixing of Mezuzah
  • 20:30-Marsh Dondurma at the new center
  • Special guests: Rabbi Benny Lau, Professor Ariel Hirschfeld, and poets Haim Gouri, Almog Behar, and Benyamin Shvili
let me just tell you that the group, מארש דונדורמה, is awsome. imagine a 8-10 piece new orleans-klezmer-funk brass band, complete with trombones and a tuba, imported to israel. i'm now a big fan. music clips are available on their webpage, and on their myspace page, and via the youtube clips below:


the best way to reach the western wall is through the shopping mall

yep - that's the case. in the ten years since i last was in the old city of jerusalem, the mamilla promenade leading from west jerusalem into jaffa gate has become a shopping mall, touted by some as jerusalem's rodeo drive. it is being built using aged-looking jerusalem stone, giving it an old-looking facade.

previously, mamilla was part of the no-man's land between jordan and israel between 1948 and 1967, and then home to jewish immigrants from mostly arab countries, until they were evicted to make way for the new development.

i'm not sure why this particular mall bugs me so much. in some ways it's just a modern version of the arab shuk (market) that you have to pass through to get to the various historic and religious sites in the old city.

but instead of spices, cheap t-shirts and menorahs, in this new mall we can drink gourmet cappucinos, buy nautica shirts and castro jeans. maybe it's because it reminds me too much of the gift shops that you're forced to walk through after exiting the rides at disney world.

i also discovered that the historic hurva synagogue, which was destroyed in 1948, and then only rebuilt as one symbolic arch after 1967, is nearing complete reconstruction.

i guess the old city is where the old becomes new and the new becomes old all over and over again.

prayers for new orleans

as the mother of all storms now approaches new orleans, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of louisiana and the gulf coast.

now that i'm here, i wonder if praying in jerusalem works any better than philadelphia? (interestingly, the "kotel cam" below only shows the men's side, so maybe it only works better if you have a y chromosome?)

how can we connect to the power that makes for salvation, especially in times of potential crisis, and when we're so far away? right now, hopefully it'll be found guiding everyone's efforts, ensuring a successful evacuation ...


jerusalem beer, בירושלים הבירה

last night was the jerusalem beer festival, held at the old train station. what could be better way to celebrate the move from tel aviv to jerusalem (and the arrival of a special someone) than homemade oatmeal beer and beer tasting contests?!


mmmh... בירה ...

beer on the roof = good times


bauhaus architecture in tel aviv

on friday, i went on a walking tour of north tel aviv, looking at the many buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s in the bauhaus style. in 2003, unesco declared tel aviv's white city a world cultural heritage site:
the white city (hebrew: העיר הלבנה, ha-ir ha-levana) refers to a collection of 4,000 bauhaus or international style buildings built in tel aviv from the 1920s by german jewish architects who immigrated to pre-state Israel after the rise of the nazis. tel aviv has the largest number of buildings in this style of any city in the world. in 2003, unesco proclaimed tel aviv's white city a world cultural heritage site, as "an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century." the citation recognized the unique adaptation of modern international architectural trends to the cultural, climatic, and local traditions of the city

click here to view a slideshow of my photos. many of the buildings reminded me of fallingwater and other works designed by frank lloyd wright, who preceded and was contemporaneous with this movement.