Hanukkah is coming. It’s time to tell stories about armed resistance against oppression. Children will read about the five brave Maccabee sons in picture books. Hebrew school students will enact dramatic battles in seasonal plays. Feminists and art lovers will view graphic paintings of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes. Musicians will sing about the wars won by God and human beings. We’ll experience a cathartic cycle of fear, excitement, anxiety, relief and joy.
On Thanksgiving morning when I entered a large grocery store in Wicker Park, Chicago, I was transported back to a long ago uncomfortable memory. At that time, while living across Lake Michigan from Chicago, I shopped at a branch of this supermarket chain. I told a friend I was abandoning the large supermarket in Benton Harbor, having found a new, smaller market that was more easily navigable. The large store was crowded, aisles jammed with displays and bumper-car-like navigation, ending in long checkout lines.
Last night I participated in my town of Westborough’s Interfaith Thanksgiving. Our program was entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, recalling that part of the Thanksgiving narrative is a story of those who arrived by boat on these shores, seeking freedom to worship in their own way. Woven between the choral pieces were accounts from a Jew who arrived from Russia this year, a Christian who had lived in town for 50 years after surviving oppression under both the Nazi regime in Germany and the Communist regime in East Germany, a Muslim who recalled growing up in Toronto before coming to the United States, and a Sikh who shared a core Sikh text about the transformative power of welcoming the stranger. We heard Hebrew mantra chant, Sikh devotional chant, and Christian hymns.
“One great rock show can change the world.” – School of Rock
Do you want to feel like your life has meaning? Do you want to be connected to other individuals like yourself? Do you yearn for a connection to a higher power or divine source?
We read in Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Sages: “Who is happy?” The answer: “The one who is satisfied with one’s lot.” But what happens when one’s lot comes to be measured by a lot… of stuff? I recently helped an older woman empty her very large (and stuffed) home as she prepared to move to assisted living. The sheer mass of her collection of material possessions made my head spin. Her home was replete with closets and storage spaces, shelves and unused rooms, all of which were packed. Yards of fabric, disused decorations, books and magazine clippings, three sewing machines and everything else you can imagine — enough to fill a 40-foot dumpster — and that was after the estate sale and the huge Free-Cycle giveaway, at both of which, deal-seekers lined up over a two hours before the doors opened. It gave me shivers to see people plying through every crack and crevice of the house seeking the item they imagined would garner an untold fortune on the “Antiques Road Show.”
I recently began studying a new book with my chevruta (study partner), Musar HaTorah v’aYahadut, written by Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Tamaret. A late 19th-early 20th century rabbi in Lithuania, Tamaret is little known, but has a pretty fascinating biography.
We moved into Shabbat last week with the news of the attacks in Paris on our minds. The multiple coordinated slayings — in restaurants, in a concert venue, outside a soccer stadium — which resulted in over 120 killings, was shocking. I was sick to my stomach following the news, reacting with a mix of disbelief, horror and sadness as each new detail emerged. Now we see the reaction and investigation unfold as the perpetrators are identified and responses planned.
It’s over a month now since the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College announced that it would consider intermarried candidates for admission to the seminary. Other rabbinical and cantorial seminaries require students, if they are married, to be married to Jews (the students themselves must be Jewish, of course). One of the arguments I saw in favor of this policy is that over 50 percent of Jews in the U.S. are married to non-Jews, so if rabbis can be married to non-Jews too, they provide a model of how to be a committed Jew in an intermarriage. The counterargument to this is that rabbis aren’t like their congregants, the Jews in the pews. Rather, this argument goes, rabbis should be held to a higher standard.