Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Mezuzah Spotting

“Look… a Jewish home!”

MezuzahAs a small child, I found mezuzah spotting to be a very exciting game. We were the only Jewish family where I grew up, and anytime I spotted a mezuzah on a door frame (on the door frame of another resident’s apartment at my Bubbe’s retirement building over in Toledo, Ohio, for example) I was thrilled. It was like a little clue, a code for those in the know.

Spot a mezuzah, find a family like yours.

Especially when families “like yours” are few and far between, there’s something special about finding each other. From a very young age, I understood that Jewish families could look very different, but that there were still certain things we shared—and for me, the mezuzah was one of the most tangible of ritual items, alerting us to one another.

I haven’t lived in a truly rural area since I was 17 years old. But as an adult, I’ve still mostly lived in smaller cities where houses with mezzuzot were still few and far between. When I traveled as an Education Fellow, or went to a friend’s home in Mississippi for a Shabbat dinner, I always paused to smile and sometimes even kiss that little marker on the door that signified I was at another Jewish home. In a small town, it matters even more.

There’s something powerful and welcoming for me about the mezuzah, something that serves as a physical reminder of some of the most important elements of our culture. The tilting-inward, inviting guests into your space; the words within, “the watchwords of the faith,” from the beginning of the Shema. While many aspects of my personal Jewish life and observance have shifted, I have always had this symbol upon my door.

Recently, my husband and I moved to a new place. As we began unpacking and getting set up, my husband—who was not raised in a Jewish home, incidentally—said: “Hey, where’s the mezuzah?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “One of these boxes. We’ll find it eventually.”

“We have to find it now!” He insisted. “Otherwise people won’t know it’s a Jewish home!”

In the sea of boxes surrounding us, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But we found the mezuzah, and mounted it. He was right—the other boxes could wait; we needed to get that little guy in place. Because now, anyone else who might be mezuzah spotting could see our door frame, and perhaps feel that same flutter of excitement and connection.

Spot a mezuzah, find a family like yours.

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Posted on July 22, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Divestment? Not in New Orleans!

Rev. Frampton and Rabbi Cohn

Rev. Frampton and Rabbi Cohn

In our corner of the world, Temple Sinai of New Orleans and The St. Charles Ave. Presbyterian Church have been friends for many years now.  The friendship between our communities is deep. Our congregations, led respectively by Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn and Reverend Donald Frampton, joined on an interfaith trip a few years ago to Israel. When the church had heating problems one Christmas, they celebrated their Christmas services in our sanctuary.

So when word came down about the Presbyterian General Assembly’s decision about divesting from Israel, the very first thing that Rev. Frampton did was to pick up the telephone and call Rabbi Cohn.

The New Orleans reverend wanted to assure his friend, the New Orleans rabbi, that their local church disagreed with divestment; that they supported Israel, and also their local Jewish neighbors. They wanted to continue the conversation and include their communities, so they immediately arranged for this joint congregational dinner.

A great turnout from both communities.

A great turnout from both communities.

The two congregations came together at Temple Sinai for a pot luck supper and discussion. Our lay leaders, staffs, clergy and congregants were all overjoyed at the turnout and the table talk during dinner.  After dinner Rev. Frampton took the podium.

“As Senior Pastor of St. Charles Presbyterian Church,” Rev. Frampton said, “I wanted the opportunity to assure you, our valued and trusted friends of Temple Sinai, of our ongoing friendship and partnership in ministry regardless of what happened in Detroit!”

We were also joined by some members of the Lakeview Presbyterian Church, and their Elder, Sue Burge, presented our congregation with a beautiful olive tree to be planted on our grounds. Their community also had an olive tree planted in the State of Israel as a symbol of peace and hope for the future for all of God’s children.

Cantor Joel Colman spoke next, more closely detailing the map of Israel and the current warning times  of 15 seconds to 3 minutes depending on how far a city is from Gaza missile launches.  Joel’s son, Josh, is currently serving in the IDF… very near the 15 second warning area. “This is a terrible situation for everyone in Israel and most especially the children forced to deal with bombs on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.”

Rabbi Cohn shared his support for Israel and explained that like any country, including our beloved USA, there is history that is not pretty, and he does not agree with every single decision that Israel has made. However, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.  Israel is the only country in the Middle East, whose Christian population has doubled and redoubled in the last 10 years. Divesting from Israel, he explained, is most often a thinly veiled cover for anti-Semitism.

food

(And of course, great food!)

The rabbi and the reverend agreed on that point, and on the “big idea” of the evening: No matter what, these congregations will remain united faith communities in the Crescent City of New Orleans, forever friends.

Our missions are both to do good works here and abroad, to support our congregants spiritually, to cultivate community and to continue to make our world a better place! Here in New Orleans, even when times are tough, our bonds are strong.

Thank you to our Presbyterian friends and neighbors here at home for showing their support.

Posted on July 16, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

My Friends in Israel Are Not All Israeli

conversationWith the recent violence and escalation in the Middle East, my mind is on Israel. With every report of a rocket falling or a siren blaring, my heart skips a beat. It’s so close to home.

I spent last year studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, while living in Jerusalem. I have close friends and family in Israel right now, and feel a deep sense of sadness and worry for what they are living through.

And my friends are not all Israeli.

While in Israel, I volunteered with organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Encounter. These experiences led me to make meaningful connections with young Palestinians living in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. I want to tell you about one of my friends. I want to share her story, because I believe that it’s important to make room for voices to be heard.

Haya and I met about six months ago, when I participated in an Encounter trip to the West Bank. She was speaking on a panel, and talked about the politics of being a young woman living in Hebron. We chatted for a while after the panel, a little about politics but mostly about college and Miley Cyrus. Haya is currently studying English literature at the University of Hebron.

I visited Haya a few times after we met. She showed me around Hebron, and her University. I met her friends and she took me to her favorite shops in town. When I heard news that the IDF was looking for the men that abducted and killed three young yeshiva students in and around Hebron, I reached out to her. I heard several reports of house demolitions, road blocks, curfews, and so on, but I wasn’t really certain what was happening on the ground.

She lives in a suburb of Hebron, so I didn’t really think anything would be bad in her immediate proximity. Her family is middle-class, and they are all peace activists. Her parents came to the same discussion I met Haya at, and stayed for dinner after. Her father, a small and joyful man, asked me if I had any Palestinian friends in Jerusalem. I told him no. Immediately, brimming with excitement, he responded, “Now you have one!”

So as this latest escalation of tensions began, I texted Haya: “Are you okay?”

All she responded, after moments of typing back was, “Not really.”

I pushed her: “What’s going on?”

“There are settlers and soldiers everywhere. They closed all the entrances and exits.” She was confined to her house. Then after moments of silence, she added, “It’s going to be a tough night.”

She continued to tell me about how the soldiers searched her neighbor’s house, that they were searching all the houses in the neighborhood, that hers was probably next. That she was afraid. Then the tear gas came and she described the smell to me, and how even though she was inside the smell was so strong. She said, “I hate it.”

I tried to imagine smelling tear gas in my own home. I cringed. I couldn’t really imagine it.

Haya and I are a similar age, have the same taste in music, watch the same TV shows, have friends in common. Yet we are worlds apart. I listened as she told me about the soldiers that would forcefully enter her house and ransack it. I tried to imagine what that would feel like. As we work towards a better future, one filled with peace and lovingkindness, we must reach out to those unknown to us and listen to their stories attentively. We must share our own in return. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Could a greater miracle take place than or us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?”

This notion is a Jewish one, too. Pirkei Avot 6:5 teaches us “Torah is acquired by means of 48 qualities [including] attentive listening, articulate speech, intuitive understanding…deliberation… asking and answering, listening, and contributing to the discussion.” As we continue to pray for the safety of friends and family in Israel, it’s important to remain open to hearing personal narratives. These stories are what help make the events “real,” and allow us to see the real life people impacted by conflict on a daily basis.

Let us listen to these narratives, value these friendships, and pray for peace for everyone. Everyone.

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Posted on July 11, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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