Iran and Chanukah

November 26, 2013 by

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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.


5 things we learned during the Jewish “Assemblies” week

November 13, 2013 by

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Jerusalem has been a-popping with assemblies and conferences. The Assembly of the Jewish Agency for Israel overlapped with the General Assembly of Jewish Federations (GA), which fed into the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency… A real party!

Makom was highly involved in all these gatherings, and as well as working like dogs, we also learned a few fascinating lessons…

1. We were surprised that non-Israelis were surprised that Israelis are engaged on meaningful journeys of Jewish Identity.

556848_10152036206459797_1568094564_nYes, that’s right – a double surprise. At the session we ran at the GA on the Jewish identity of Israelis, we decided to take multi-vocality to its ultimate conclusion. Instead of having a panel of a few Israelis, we invited over 27 Israelis involved in all sorts of different Jewish identity questions, and sat them around small discussion tables. That way everyone would hear at least three different stories. From the head of a Secular Yeshiva, to the leader of a group of Orthodox gay men, to the orthodox woman working for the New Israel Fund. People from the far North, deep South, trendy center. People born in Israel and born elsewhere. All of them engaged and committed to expanding their own and other Israelis’ Jewish horizons.  To Full Post

Assassination and Education

October 8, 2013 by

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This year it will be the 16th Memorial Day of the Assassination of Rabin. Every event that repeats itself year on year presents an educational challenge, but unlike traditional Jewish holy days, the shape of this Memorial Day is being formed in the here and now. And I ask myself what will make this Memorial Day into something different from other value-laden days like May Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Columbus Day? Is there anything to be learned from a political assassination? Did the world learn anything from Kennedy’s assassination? Martin Luther King’s? To Full Post

The Paradox that was R. Ovadia Yosef z”l

October 7, 2013 by

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What was the secret of the charm of Rav Ovadiah Yosef?

On the one hand there were his fans and followers through fire and water who related to every word of his as holy; yet on the other, a whole swathe of Jews who saw him as a leader whose statements were hurtful and communally insensitive?

How is it possible that there can be those who saw him as a great leader who established the tent of the Torah, and others who saw him a leader of a crowd of primitives?

How can it be that a man of phenomenal intellect and superlative expertise in all areas of Judaism, failed again and again by shaming and slandering other leaders? To Full Post

“What does your school do on Rabin Day?”

October 6, 2013 by

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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

Celebrating HaDag Nahash – a retrospective

September 25, 2013 by

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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

Funny Yom Kippur Memes

September 12, 2013 by

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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

Women of the Wall.

September 3, 2013 by

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Recently a young college student produced a film about her questions about the Women of the Wall. The film portrays her inner conflict regarding innovation versus tradition in the Jewish religion in general and the   Women of the Wall in particular. We’ve added subtitles to the  movie subtitles and asked the Makom team what they think about the film.

YouTube Preview Image

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Judgment and Punishment

September 3, 2013 by

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צילום מסך יוטיוב אובמהAs 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 different way to approach Yom Kippur

August 1, 2013 by

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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

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