I am what you might call an alternative peace activist. The return to the biblical heartland of Israel — Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) — where Abraham spoke with God and where King David ruled, is a value that animates my being. This modern-day miracle is the fulfillment of the dreams of our forefathers. But I also hear the echoes of the biblical prophets in my ear, crying out for righteousness and justice for all. I cannot abide the lack of rights and the loss of dignity that the Palestinians suffer daily. I witness it directly and hear about it in the first person, and it tears me up inside.
Tami was 35 when she died. Cancer. Ovarian. She started chemo in December, I officiated at her wedding in March and in September she died. She was my friend. My best friend from college. She was the kind of friend I could talk to every day or not for months and it didn’t matter. She was the family I chose. And when she was gone, I was bereft.
When I was growing up the common wisdom was, if possible, to avoid conversations of religion and politics around the dinner table. The thinking went that those two topics were precisely the ones that would cause the most amount of divisiveness, contention and friction within the group. They are topics that do not allow always for easy resolutions and quick solutions to dilemmas and debates. Why open up that kind of Pandora’s box unnecessarily? What should you talk about instead? Anything! The weather would be a great topic to choose. Everyone can equally complain about the heat or cold or rain or humidity.
In the last weeks’ Torah readings (Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tissa), our sacred myth has amplified the problem of human longing for — je ne sais quoi — we don’t quite know what — longing to be filled or fulfilled, to feel complete. Just as we are wont to do, the People of Israel looked to the tangible to fill their emptiness, melting down the ornaments they had brought out of Egypt in the hope that these signs of richness would, indeed, enrich them, now, re-forming them into a single golden mass to dance around and set as a solid center occupying their communal heart.
A few years ago I was a first-time guest on a news radio show on Detroit’s National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate. Following the show, the host asked me if I’d like to be invited back for other topics that might concern me. I told him I enjoyed the discussion and would be interested. Not long after that, I received a call to return as a guest. When I asked what the program would be about, I was surprised that I had been invited. The topic for the full hour of the radio broadcast would be a review of the year in religion, but the focus would be on the new pope. Uh oh, I thought to myself, I better go read up on Catholicism in general and Pope Francis in particular.
How Jewish is Bernie Sanders? This question rose to the surface after Sanders’ historic victory in the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential primary, the first time any Jew had won a Presidential primary election.
I’m a city girl from North America, used to big city Judaism. I have grown up and worked in cities with a substantial Jewish community: many synagogues representing diverse denominations, multiple choices for educating Jewish children, assorted summer camps nearby, a Jewish Community Center or two with strong arts and athletic programs, kosher residential eldercare options, and a strong Federation helping everyone fundraise together as they negotiate community politics.
Travel in your mind to the top of our atmosphere, where Earth’s envelope of life-giving oxygen and nitrogen blends into the cold vacuum of space. Looking down from that heady height, as astronauts have done since 1961, the Earth below seems borderless and pastoral, gently still except for flashes of lightning and polar aurorae dancing across the globe.
At the end of last week, Ha’aretz published an important article by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, highlighting a number of enterprising and innovative “customized” Jewish experiences that are popping up, largely in urban centers, as millennials seek to curate more of their own Jewish experiences. Examples such as pop-up festival gatherings, Shabbat picnics, and independent minyanim demonstrate that Jews continue to find ways to come together in the new spaces and contexts of their lives. Nussbaum Cohen highlights some of the best examples of what is out there, but I think her headline may cover over some of the deeper learning we can glean from the phenomena that she shares.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; Genius will not; Education will not; Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”