This year’s Mensch Madness Baaaaaa-sketball Tournament opens with a play-in game between the #8 seed, One Little Goat from the famous Passover song Chad Gadya, and the #9 seed, the Ram from the Akeidah.
Which of these two feisty beasts will make it to the next round?
Hardcore fans will recall the Ram from the story of the Binding of Isaac, back in Genesis 22. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then an Angel swooped in to stop the slaughter at the last moment. As Abraham looked up in gratitude, his eyes “fell upon the Ram caught in the thicket.” Now this Ram is almost a sure winner. After all, when they were walking up Mount Moriah Abraham said to Isaac, “God will see to the sheep for the offering.” We never doubted this Ram would come through, and we think he will perform similarly today!
On the other team we see the underdog, the main character from the Passover song, the One Little Goat that My Father Bought for Two Zuzim, also known as Chad Gadya. This is one small goat, folks. He got beaten up by a cat – A CAT, Y’ALL – and his size is still a big concern today!
We now go live to the game:
The Ram won the jump ball and has taken off down the court. Unfortunately, this is one clumsy Ram. Remember how he got his horns tangled up in that thicket? That’s how Abraham spotted him in the first place. Well, now the Ram is tripping all over himself again and the Chad Gadya quickly moved in to take the ball away.
Now here comes that One Little Goat down the court, and oh no! The stick appears out of nowhere to beat the dog who bit the cat who ate the goat my father bought for two zuzim. Sheesh, Little Goat can’t catch a break!
And that’s the halftime buzzer. One thing you really have to appreciate about both these players is their symbolic value. Abraham offered this Ram as a sign of his gratitude when God spared his son, Isaac. God’s acceptance of this offering really put an end to child sacrifice. The Goat from Chad Gadya also carries deep meaning; he represents the paschal offering, the reminder of how God freed our ancestors from Egypt. Both these beasts carry weighty symbolic burdens.
And we’re back! Now as the Ram takes the ball down the court. The aforementioned Angel of God appears to set a pick, and the Ram shoots from the 3-point line and scores. What a play! Chad Gadya has divine beings on his team, too, and as he takes the ball the Angel of Death who killed the butcher who slaughtered the ox who drank the water that put out the fire that burned the stick that hit the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat that my father bought for two zuzim has appeared on the court to come to the Goat’s assistance.
Angel of God! Angel of Death! Holy… basketball!
This has been a tough game, but when the final shofar blows, it’s the Ram from the Akeidah walks away with the victory. You just can’t escape the fact that this Ram has divine sanction on his side. Abraham saw this Ram caught in a thicket, and made him the symbol of God’s mercy. As Yehuda Amichai wrote, “The real hero of the Isaac story was the Ram,” and it’s tough to beat that.
In the next round, the Ram will face off against the Golden Calf! See you there, sports fans.
 Yehuda Amichai, “The Real Hero.” Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Translation by Chana Bloch & Stephen Mitchel. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
You know that song that’s been playing on the radio? That one with the really catchy tune that you just can’t get out of your head? We all have one.
For Vikki Goldstein of B’nai Israel Congregation in Pensacola, Florida, that song was Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” This song is so catchy that Vikki wanted a Sukkot version to teach the students at B’nai Israel. So she called me, since I’m her Education Fellow, wanting to know if I had any ideas for lyrics or ways to use the song.
Along with my fellow Fellows, and Rabbi Matt Dreffin, we went a step beyond lyrics. Vikki’s call led to this fun video… which now, we’re sharing not only with Vikki’s Pensacola students, but also with everyone who wants to get in on the #ShakeLulav fun:
Sukkot is a time for welcoming guests and celebrating nature. Part of the celebration includes shaking the lulav (palm fronds, myrtle leaves, and willow branches) together with an etrog (citrus fruit) to encourage rain and prosperity in the next growing season.
It’s all celebratory, and the perfect excuse to sing and dance along to this peppy tune. Enjoy the video, which includes dancing, a dinosaur, mad music making, costumes… and would any Southern & Jewish Sukkot video without a dancing Elvis impersonator? No way! So we got one—and our Elvis is pretty fun.
Chag sameach – a happy holiday!
Throughout the high holiday season, we think a lot about judgment. It’s a heavy word, and also a word that brings to mind lots of possibilities. In the month of Elul, God is judging us to see what we have done in the past year and what will happen to us in the future. Knowing this we reflect and pass judgment on ourselves and, often, others.
I am going to borrow a phrase from Rachel Stern’s #BlogElul post and say: life is about perspective. She used this phrase to encourage people to see things as blessings. Here, I’d like to remind everyone that our judgments are also a matter of perspective.
When I tell people I work for a Jewish organization in Mississippi I occasionally get a response like, “there can’t be a lot of Jews there!”… and it’s true that there are not as many Jews here as there are in New York or Los Angeles. But I am sad when people say things like “It’s great that you are helping those Jews, they must really need it.”
I think this statement reflects a judgment, intentional or not, lacking in firsthand knowledge. It also reflects a judgment about what a Jewish community should look like, that it should look one certain way, when in fact there are lots of different ways to build a Jewish community. The Jewish communities that I visit have rich Jewish lives, they just might not look like the life we know in New York or Los Angeles.
“Those Jews” don’t need judgment. None of us do—but we can all use support.
I also have to be careful of my own judgments. I am a visitor in the communities I serve as an ISJL Education Fellow, and it is my job to empower educators. It is not my place to judge what a community’s priorities should be, how they should spend their resources, or which values they should hold most dear. And it is also not fair for me to judge them against any other community, Northern or Southern. Each congregation is its own special place.
Throughout this month of Elul, as I begin my fall visits and my second year as a Fellow unfolds, I will have to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the communities with which I work, so that I can help them plan for a successful year. As I do this I am being extra careful to evaluate, but not to judge. I want to help each community be the very best versions of themselves, whatever that might be; evaluating their needs will help guide me to what support will be most helpful.
So, too, as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, should we strive not to judge, but rather to evaluate. To take a personal inventory of what worked for us and against us in the past year, and how we can—and what support we need.
Each congregation I work with deserves respect, evaluation, and support—not judgment; each of us deserves the same. We are all “those Jews” who “really need” that!