Along with the heart-felt tributes to Arik Einstein, there has been a fascinating undercurrent of emotional hoarding on the part of some Israelis. Assuming that no one outside of Israel has ever heard of Arik Einstein or any of his songs, they then make a further assumption that it is their job to explain what he and his music meant. Yet after this double-assumption, everything closes down. Writes Israeli-born Liel Leibovitz: “I have nothing to say to you about Arik Einstein. I’m sorry to sound like a prick, but you wouldn’t get it.” It’s an extreme comment, but sums up a prevailing sentiment. Those non-Israelis, they won’t get it.
There is something rather beautiful and also sad about this kind of response. The character and the music of Arik Einstein made its impact in the way the best of art should: Through our hearts. His music touched millions, each of whom received it as if created for them alone. This is the paradoxical magic of art. As a result, when feeling his loss, it is a personal emotional loss that – when we are sad – we sometimes fight to “own”. “You wouldn’t get it,” is a perfect way to maintain the purity and unique authenticity of my pain. To Full Post
So while I always get confused about whether we light the Chanukiah from the right or from the left, I never get confused about the cumulative effect. First night is only one candle, second night is two candles, and the final night is the whole dark-banishing lot.
This morning, trying to get my head round the Iran Breakthrough/Deal/Compromise/Capitulation, I was reminded of the old argument about which order we should light the Chanukiah.
Bet Shammai, concerned for the correct and truthful representation of things, insisted that on the first night of Chanukah we should light all of the candles, reducing the number every night until the final night only one candle should be lit. This is in correct and proper representation of the amount of light in the day, which in December diminishes every day. Just as light is falling in the world, so should it decline in the house.
Bet Hillel just could not accept this reasoning. However rational and true, the Shammai ruling was just too depressing. I often like to think that Hillel appreciated the aesthetic side of things: Increasing the light daily is just prettier and lifts the soul. Bringing light to banish the darkness gives us hope.
So here we are on the cusp of Chanukah, with the results of the Geneva talks gradually being assessed and judged. Not being a nuclear physicist nor an international statesman myself, I find myself switching between columnists like one might switch between Shammai and Hillel. Sometimes I see clearly we are heading towards darkness. Sometimes towards the light.
And maybe this Chanukah, as we light ourselves a symbol of increasing optimism in defiance of the reality outside, I might also pray for a miracle.
For two years at the turn of the millennium, I would ask this same question at every school I visited in Israel.
Studying Jewish Educational Leadership with the Mandel School, we would go out on field trips throughout Israel. Dialogical alternative schools, Shas schools, Haredi schools, different shades of Orthodox schools, Jewish/Arab schools, teaching colleges – the lot. And at every school I would ask only one question, the answer to which would tell me all I needed to know about the school.
“What does your school do on Rabin Day?” To Full Post
I’ve been doing a lot of HaDag Nahash recently. As part of my work for Makom I’ve been translating the latest album at the band’s request, and preparing translation projections for their show at the opening of London’s new JW3 building. Lots of bilingualising and cutting and pasting.
Then a couple of nights ago I took my daughter to see a gig of theirs, at the outdoor amphitheater in Binyamina. Standing there, bopping and singing with my thirteen year-old as I had done some 11 years ago with my then-fourteen year old son at Limmud UK, I was struck by three thoughts.
HaDag Nahash have been going a long time, they keep getting better, and their work has helped me live and thrive in this strange and wonderful country. To Full Post
They say you should never try to translate a joke, but I just can’t resist. These memes flying around the cracking facebook page best translated as “Tweeted Statuses” should not be kept from the non-Hebrew reading world. The interplay between modern Hebrew and liturgical Hebrew is a great deal of fun…
There are the ones that just play on the word slicha – סליחה. It means “sorry”, and also “forgiveness”, but sometimes “excuse me” – hence our opening cutey that initially looks like a standard facebook request for forgiveness.
The small print asks “What is the time?” So the re-read of the meme would be “Excuse me, what’s the time?” Tee hee… To Full Post
As we approach the Days of Awe, the process leading from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, I often find myself engaged in questions of forgiveness. From whom I should ask forgiveness, to whom should I grant it, and how prayer and penitence might clear my spiritual slate for the following year. All this busying with my own personal spiritual reckoning sometimes feels like an avoidance of the more scary issue: the Ten Days of Penitence are also played out in the shadow of a looming divine judgment. Forget forgiveness – how shall I be judged?
These days the situation in Syria seems to have focussed the entire world on sin, judgment, and punishment. Governments and nations are asking themselves what is the nature of sin – in what way is the use of chemical weapons more of a sin than the deliberate bombing of civilians? Who has the right or obligation to judge the use of such weapons? And what punishment should be dealt, and by whom?
Sometimes it feels to me that we are so used to referring to our judicial systems, and in so doing banishing the word “judgmental” to the dungeons of poor taste, that we just don’t know what to do when there seems to be no functioning international court of the world.
Such overwhelming questions follow me into synagogue on the High Holidays, as Congress prepares to take on the responsibility that Barack Obama has chosen to share. This year more than many other years, the blowing of the shofar leads me beyond thoughts of personal and communal redemption, and into the darker sphere of judgment, sin, and Syrian agony.
A possible script.
At synagogues throughout the world.
Yom Kippur 2013.
*delete where appropriate:
[The Cantor clears his/her throat, and announces:]
“Just before we/I sing Unetaneh Tokef, I wonder what associations arise when we think about Yom Kippur? I know that we have often/rarely/never talked about this before: For some of us, we think about a cleansing of sins. Some of us contemplate the previous year, some of us think of our relationship with God, and some of us just think about food! But today, I would say that about one out of every two Jews in the world is also thinking about the horrors of war.
Because on Yom Kippur exactly 40 years ago a war broke out in Israel, and it has never been forgotten.
Now I am aware that we rarely/often talk about Israel in synagogue, and that Israel is a controversial/significant part of our community. But I would venture to say that most of our activities to do with Israel happen outside the prayer service. To Full Post
This is a follow-up article to the conversation that can be found here. First appeared in The Jewish Week.
Can Jewish religious life be full and fulfilling with no connection to Israel? Must a connection to a concrete Israel live separate from synagogue worship? Should our religious rituals ignore Israel in any way other than the metaphorical, or should it accept that the establishment of the State of Israel affected not just Jews but also Judaism itself? To Full Post
First appeared in The Jewish Week.
I went to a wonderfully inspiring religious service on Friday night at Romemu congregation on the Upper West Side. Beautiful singing – much of it in Hebrew -, an inspiring sermon, a warm and welcoming community atmosphere. In some ways, it was a snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.
A snap shot of all that is dynamic and valuable about North American Jewry. And at the same time a snap shot of how sustainable Israel engagement is in real trouble.
There is a terribly ugly phrase here that is used whenever someone (usually Ashkenazi) doesn’t want someone (usually Mizrachi) to talk about anti-Mizrachi racism in Israel. The whistle-blower, the moaner, the inciter is accused of “letting the ethnic genie out of the bottle”. That is the literary translation, though a more literal translation would refer to the escape of the ethnic “demon”. To Full Post