Friday, May 25, 2007

Holidays by the sea

I went away for Shavuot. What a fascinating experience. Our family was invited by friends from the DC area to Bethany Beach, Delaware. Apparently, this is a tradition amongst people from the DC/Silver Spring area that has been around for over 20 years. Who knew? Obviously, wanting to be sure that I would be able to observe the holiday on which we celebrate receiving the Torah, I wanted to know "will there be a minyan? Will there be a Torah? The reply from our friend was "not only is there a minyan, but there is a break - away as well. For the un-initiated, in many communities, for political and/or religious reasons, synagogues find it necessary to break away from their founding institutions. Hence, the term "break - away." This phenomena is usually much more prevalent among orthodox congregations, but in recent years, the trend seems to have spread. In my community, I am aware of at least one conservative and one reform congregation that have had this happen. In any event, Bethany's break away is not exactly that. It seems that there is a small congregation in the town, but far away from the beach resorts that people go to for the holiday. In order to ensure that people had a place to go, apparently the Chabad of Wilmington rents out space in a nearby hotel, and people who come for the holiday self -organize the services and the very elaborate kiddush that follows it. It is an amazing thing. 200 people show up at a resort community for the holiday. No Rabbi. No Gabbai. (officially, anyway) But it all happens. There is a large minyan. A fairly large group of people stayed up all night on the first night of Shavuot to learn, as is the custom. The people who come to this shore community are a modern orthodox group, but very laid back by normative standards. No suits or ties. The men wore sandals, no socks.
One of the thing that I thought was amazing, was that the the megillah of Ruth, traditionally read in synagogues on Shavuot, has been read the last few years by different women in the congregation. A beautiful custom that I have never had the opportunity to have because of my participation in traditional orthodox services. I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the women who have done it in the past did not come this year, and yours truly was "forced" to read Ruth for everyone there.
I guess I will have to go back next year.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A little bit of holiness... even on a rainy weekend

David, from life on the far side, (see link on the right) talked about spending Shabbat in Saratoga Springs. For him, it was a different kind of Shabbat. One where he did not get to do all the things he usually does. It was a Shabbat that was somewhat devoid of the spirituality he has come to expect. I can relate, but my experience was the exact opposite. This Shabbat, our synagogue sponsored Rav Avi Weiss, one of the most inspiring, spiritual men I have had the privilege of meeting. For the most part, I am a cynic. I have struggled to find the spirituality in religion for the last 20 years. I have had a measure of success in finding it. And it is because of Rav Avi, and others like him, that I have been able to capture some of these feelings. For those of you who don't know Rav Avi, (as he likes to be called) his touchy -feely ways can be off putting for the cynics among us.Until you watch him. Until you see him. Until you experience him. Until you get hugged by him. For you see, Rav Avi is a Shlomo Carlebach emulator. What I mean is that like Reb Shlomo, Rav Avi wears his heart on his sleeve. But he wears it sincerely. Every time I see him, I am greeted by a wide smile, and a hug. And it feels good. I used to wonder, "is it real?" I know Rav Avi for more than 30 years. It is real. It has withstood the test of time. Rav Avi took the "bayit" which began as just that... a small house in Riverdale, NY, and transformed it to a synagogue with 850 families. Innovative, modern, pushing the limits of modern orthodoxy, Rav Avi has created a community that strives to find the Holy. He has created an environment that teaches love, respect, and learning above all. He has created a Yeshiva as well, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah the open modern Orthodox Yeshiva, that tries to create Rabbis like Rav Avi, who are passionate and care about Judaism and our people.
Most people came this Shabbat to hear Rav Avi speak. I got so much more out of watching him. When few others were. Rav Avi led the Kabbalat Shabbat last night. Before he started, very quietly, he walked over to one of the adolescent boys in shul, who is developmentally delayed. He rubbed his cheek and spent a few moments talking to him. While he was leading the prayers and he broke into song, he invited the boy to join him at the pulpit, where he remained, standing next to Rav Avi, singing and ultimately dancing in the Shabbat. What a beautiful sight that he cared to involved this boy, who is usually ignored by those around him.
And this morning, when no one was looking, he walked over to the one homeless man who is a regular in our synagogue. I heard Rav Avi ask him, "did you eat something?" Then Rav Avi said to him, reb "ya'akov, what is going to be with you?" He really cared and wanted to know. These were the things that were done when no one was watching. These were the things that were done when no one was listening. And these are the things that are done that bring holiness to our congregation, to our community, to our world. Even when it is raining outside. And when it does enter, the rain outside is unseen due to the light shining in the Synagogue.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poof, you are not Jewish anymore

A judge in an Israeli court ruled yesterday that a woman who had converted 15 years ago was not Jewish due to her lack of observance of Jewish law and custom. In an article by Rivka Lubitch, who is head of the Haifa office of The Center for Women's Justice, wrote that not only was the woman declared not Jewish, but her marriage was considered invalid, the couple did not need a get, and get this......... THE CHILDREN ARE NOT JEWISH!!!!!!! (link here)
C'mon, give me a break!!! This means that every person who converts who does not observe Judaism to the level that the particular court they are in determines is appropriate, will no longer be considered Jews, be able to get married in an orthodox ceremony, or be buried in a Jewish cemetary. This would apply to their kids as well. I wonder if the court has considered how many thousands of Jews they turned into non-Jews yesterday?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yom Yerushalayim and Violence in Israel

Today we celebrate Yom Yersushalayim, the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the six day war. It should be a joyous day, Here is a picture from the Jerusalem Post showing this morning's celebration:

This celebration comes on the heels of the launching of 30 Kassam Rockets into S'derot and other towns in the last 36 hours. I have not often discussed any political ideologies here, but today, I feel both elated and sad. It won't be hard to figure out where my political stance is, but I hope to share mostly facts. 18 people were wounded in these latest attacks, with one woman from S'derot being injured moderately. I wrote once before in one of my earliest posts (here) about how hard it is to feel the pain of those who are lost in Iraq, despite the fact that we have over 3300 Americans who have been killed. For a real close up, difficult to read article, read about Darrel Ray Griffin, Jr. in the current issue of US News and World Report. It is an article written by an infantry commander who was shot and killed by a sniper in Baghdad about two weeks after he was interviewed by the reporter. There are emails to his wife talking about life as a soldier in Iraq. And why do I bring this up? Because as we celebrate the wonders of having a united Jerusalem, the ynet and others reported that the Israeli Air Force has retaliated against Hamas killing 4 terrorists and injuring 20 more. I say it is about time. How long should we suffer this degrading, erosive kassam barrage and violence. I think it has gone on long enough.
On this, the 40th anniversary of a United Jerusalem,I hope and pray that the IDF and the IAF will not have to continue their defense of our Holy Land, since it will have become unnecessary.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I was right..... Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah - JOFA and The Milgraum story

Got another email from JOFA today. Turns out I was right about Michael Milgraum and the plight of his sister - in- law Sima Milgraum.When I got the first email from them telling us to boycott Michael Milgraum, I was upset at what I thought seemed a pre-mature, unexplained boycott of Mr. Milgraum, and I said so. Below is the email I received today. I think it speaks for itself.

Update on Sima Milgraum

JOFA was recently in contact with Michael Milgraum, the brother-in-law of agunah Sima Milgraum. He shared with us his efforts to help his sister-in-law receive her Get and his desire to see this issue resolved. He has assured us that he will continue to make every attempt possible to facilitate a solution to this matter.

At this point, we are no longer calling for our members to contact either Dr. Milgraum or the newspaper "What, Where, When." We believe such communication will detract from potential progress in this case.

520 8th Avenue, Fourth Floor, New York, NY ● 888-550-JOFA
Forward email

The threat is over - Except to the state of Israel

I find blogging interesting. People come by for all sorts of reasons, but unless you write about sex, few people others than those who are regulars, or those who stumble upon you accidentally, read what you have written. I guess, to paraphrase what someone said recently in a different context, blogging is very self - indulgent. It is about you. Some may find that interesting. Most, I imagine, don't really care. There are, however, some exceptions.
Some of you have seen the JIB Awards voting that is going on right now. It give you an opportunity to see some of the really good blogs out there. One of my favorites is Treppenwitz, my old friend Dave, who is in the running for a few awards. Log into the JIB website and vote for Dave's site by going to "best all around finalists" (here) and clicking on the link for large blogs, and find and vote for Treppenwitz. There are other categories that Dave is running in so look around and enjoy. You will also see links to others in the Jblogoshpehere who are great. Dave has had some great posts. One of my favorites was the one he wrote a while back called the rental cello. Go read it, it is very heartwarming. That post is about what makes what I am going to point out so awful. It seems that there are organizations, most notably Hillel that are "having a problem" displaying the Israeli flag. (See article here ) I don't know what your take is, but I think it is awful that we have to have open discussions at flying the Israeli flag at our college and universities because of what it represents? The article leads off with how Brown University students gave the new Hillel director a hard time when she wanted to know why there was no Israeli flag in the building. I am very supportive of Hillel. I am now having second thoughts. The fact that this has become something open to debate, boggles my mind.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The threat comes true - part two

There are several transformative experiences that I have had that have not only impacted my spiritual development, but have changed the way I view and live Judaism. After a fairly long career in civil service in metropolitan Philadelphia, I took a job at a Jewish agency in a relatively nearby shore community. My boss hired me because, as an "orthodox" Jew, I could provide the "Jewish face" or point of view to the community and the agency. Of course, as a yarmulke wearing Jew, you are always open to those who either feel threatened or embarrassed, and my boss, whom I adore, was no exception. We would walk daily on the boardwalk, which we were fortunate to have only two blocks from the office. Often, these talks would take on a question and answer session about religion. My boss, being a secular cynic, would always playfully (sort of) accuse me of inflexibility and being locked into archaic ways of doing things. I would of course respond defensively, explaining that without observant Jews, there would be no real Judaism, and other "party line" responses that I learned over the years. Internally, I would question myself, and did not have any real good answers. One of the most interesting dialogues I had with my boss was to come several years later, and i will discuss that in a later post.
One of the duties of my job at that time was to speak at synagogues to promote the agency. My first such engagement was at the local Reform Temple. Since it was early on in my enlightenment, if you will, I had some pretty strong feelings about the matter. I went about preparing a d'var torah, and said to myself, "it will be the only Torah that this congregation will learn, so I better do something good for them." It was the dead of winter, so I figured that no one would be there anyway, so who really cared. It was a 2 and a half mile walk from where i was staying to the Temple, so I started out in the freezing cold, and cursed my job. About 45 mins - hour later i arrived at the Temple. There were people bustling around, wearing talitot, and wishing everyone a "shabbat shalom." I could not believe it. People in shul on a Friday night, and they actually wanted to be there. They looked happy. Not like in my shul on Friday night where everyone looks bored and tired, and wants to get home as soon as possible. Granted, this was a late service, and they had all eaten already, whereas in my shul we pray before dinner.
They invited me up to the Bimah to occupy a chair of honor, and the Rabbi got up to deliver his remarks. To my shock and dismay, he gave MY D"VAR TORAH, which of course set up the whole rest of my speech for the night. I had no idea what I was going to do. In the end, I spoke pretty well, was well received, and roundly applauded by the congregation. I could have lived without the organ and the selling of Shop - Rite scrip for the ladies auxiliary after services, but in the end, i walked away and said to myself...... You have 75 people who came to service on a Friday night because they WANTED to, not because they had to. They were enjoying themselves, and finding spiritual meaning in what they were doing. How can this be bad????


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The threat comes true - part one

Once upon a time, ok, maybe more than once, I threatened to write a bit about the things that influenced my thoughts about Judaism. A post today by DJ Singer (life on the far side... link here and on the side) got me thinking that maybe it was time to do just that. On his blog, he talks about the people that pass his way (in the blogosphere) and who they were and did he know them. I don't know him, but got to thinking that his blog has influenced some of my recent thinking about yiddishkeit (positively) and I got to thinking about others who have influenced me. (or not) The other day, I posted a link to an interview of Marc Shapiro. If you did not read that interview, you should do it. It really defines, in my way of thinking, someone whose ideas are right on the mark. In the article, Professor Shapiro explains that in "modern Orthodoxy" many of the things that were once done in our communities are no longer acceptable, and he laments these changes within contemporary Orthodox Judaism. This is why I enjoy reading Singer's blog. You see, it is written by a reform rabbinical student, someone with whom once upon a time, I would have had nothing to do. Having been raised in an orthodox home, with a small orthodox group of acquaintances, I lived a pretty sheltered life. Not only was it sheltered, but I felt it was the only lifestyle in Judaism that had meaning. True meaning. Imagine my surprise when I began working in the Jewish Communal field and found that there were other forms of Judaism that worked for many people and maybe even had some legitimacy. Imagine my greater surprise when I learned that these people, conservative, reform, reconstructionist actually KNEW SOMETHING. Now please don't misunderstand me. I mean no disrespect, nor is this how I feel today. I am merely trying to explain my spiritual travels. They began in a place of judgement. A place that says there is only one right way, and it is my way. And as many of you know, that thought process continues today for many people. It is, what I call, the Frummometer. Anyone to the right is a fanatic, anyone to the left, is a heretic. Frum is a yiddish term that means observant of the mitzvot. Of course in my world, my level of Frumkeit was always right. Today, I realize that the Singers and Shapiros of the world might actually have it right, at least for themselves and for those who share similar thoughts. I have evolved a position in life that Judaism has many legitimate "faces" (from the expression shiv'im panim l'torah - the Torah has seventy faces - meaning there are numerous way to look at it) and while I practice, observe, or believe in one way, it does not mean that other ways have no merit. They are just not for me, but they deserve respect.


Sfirah smile.

I admit it. Even, my friend Dovid yelled at me. I got lazy. Truth is, that I have been very busy, and have not been "inspired" the last few days, so I have not posted. In the interest of new content, I am posting a fun picture. It is my intention to get back here later and put up a quality post. By the way, we submitted some of the photos from my trip to the Fairchild to their photo contest. Wish me luck!!!!

In the meantime, here is a little picture from a friend that should make you smile.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Things once taken for granted, are now unnaceptable

The title of a great article in the Jewish Press that will make for good Shabbat discussion, by Prefessor Marc Shapiro.

Photo Friday

With apology to my friend Dave Bogner, (treppenwitz) who inspired me to start writing this blog, I have stolen, at least for today, his Photo Friday feature (that I have missed) that he stopped doing for some reason. (Why'd jadoit, Dave?) Read his recent post on the incident with his son and his bike. It was terrific!! So here, as promised, are some, what I think are amazing pictures from the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Fairchild Botanical Tropical Gardens in Miami, and one or two others.
This is one of the Main buildings with a signature Chihuli piece that is breathtaking:

This is a shot of one of the many beautiful tropical plants growing on the grounds.

Note how the pieces blend in to the background!

And finally, the woodpeckers on the trees in the tropical gardens are way bigger than those up North!!!

And Lastly, this was the most amazing sand castle I have ever seen. It was on the Beach in Miami Beach at 39th street.

The Fairchild Botanical gardens is in the Coral Gables section of Miami, and worth the trip. The cost is high, but make sure you ask for the AAA discount! You save a whole dollar!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Agunah Issue....continued

It was my intention today to post some amazing pictures from my little trip to Miami. I went to the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, an ethereal place with plants and flowers that make you remember vividly that there is a G-d. I will leave that for tomorrow.
Today, I want to turn for the final time, I hope, to the post I wrote a few days ago about the Agunah issue, specifically as it related to Sima Milgraum, and Sandy Milgraum. I posted an email that I received from a relative stating numerous things, that are apparently causing the family on both sides continued aggravation, anger, and alleged continued hurt. Without judgement, and being new to the blogging game, I have decided to remove the email portion of that post. I do it out of a sense of fairness to the writer, that it might not have been her intention to publicly say the things she did in the email. I also do it in respect to the son of one of the couple, who asked me to remove it since it was hurting him. He also asked that I apologize. That I won't do. It was my intention to look at the actions of JOFA, who, without telling me why, in an email I was sent, instructed me, (and by extension everyone who received that blast email) to boycott a RELATIVE of the alleged recalcitrant husband. At best, it was an unfair request without enough information, and at worst, it was an awful misuse of the trust that I place in JOFA.
So I will remove the email, but leave the rest of the post, which will be incomplete and jumbled. I want to make some statements/observations about the Agunah issue that have NOTHING TO DO with the case above. I have said before, and I repeat, the agunah issue is an ugly business. Men should not have the right to withhold a get. My wife and I argue about this, but in the end, I have to agree with her in most cases. When we married, we used the RCA's prenuptial agreement which forces the husband to give a woman a get in circumstances where the marriage breaks down. It is something that I believe every woman who gets married should have. I have to admit, I had my own issues to signing it, and even made some handwritten changes, but once you realize that the playing field is not level without it, you have no real smart option but to use it. I believe if every woman insisted on its use, we'd have far fewer agunot. My wife feels that in EVERY case, the man should deliver a get to the woman in a reasonable amount of time. I guess I can imagine legitimate reasons for not doing that, but many might disagree, including my wife, so I won't bother to put them forward.
This issue is one that has to remain at the front of our consciousness since it is something that has to be changed, or that we need to find an halachically acceptable way of dealing with.