Archive | November, 2006

Live from Israel: DAVID IS FURTHER FEATURED ON FAITHHACKER

The authoress of the blog which I mentioned earlier today has begun to publish a series of surveys about religion from a wide variety of Jews. My survey became the first to be posted today. You can read it here. She has anonymized me through the name Adam, but I’m not afraid to tell you folks that it is in fact me.

I shall also recount it in the section that follows this.


Survey #1: “I have a near-unbridled hatred for mysticism”

Do you believe in “G-d?” If so, what does that word mean?

I do believe in God. The meaning of the word is a useless point. It’s an English word that we generically apply to any deity of any religion, simply capitalizing the first letter when we are speaking about our God. I think perhaps you meant what the concept means.

I have had a lot of different beliefs about God over time. Many of them were quite poetic, though I’m certain I never actually believed any of them. In their stead and in the stead of any actual thoughts about whom and what God is, I’ll say this: God is whatever we make God. To me God is. To some other people God is not. To still others God comes and goes. To a person with a developed theology, God is a developed concept. To a person who believes that God’s chief attribute is the power to creator, God is The Creator. You see where I’m going with this.

Does this question make you feel uncomfortable at all, and if so, can you
explain those feelings a bit?

The question troubles me, but it does not make me uncomfortable. I am troubled only because I hate not having a solid answer for a religious question and this question is of course the religious question.

Do you believe in an afterlife of any kind? If so, can you tell us
something about it?

No. No afterlife, no resurrection. When you die, you are dead. There is not eternal soul, no means of living beyond your years. People ask me if I think this is rather depressing. Perhaps, but it gives everything I do during my time on Earth infinitely added significance.

Do you pray? If so… How? When? Why? Try to be as specific as you can…
bearing in mind that prayer means many things to many people.

I pray whenever my community does. At home, my Temple has three services a week and I regularly attend all of them. Here in Israel, the folks on my program tend to organize a service every day to every other day and I pray at those times.

It is part of my Jewish target to eventually pray three times a day. At this point in my life, I have neither the time nor the patience for that. Some day I hope to, and then I’ll pray three times a day.

I really cannot say why I pray. I do not know the answer. I can say that I enjoy it. I can say that I think I am getting something out of it. Beyond that, I do not know.

I only pray from Reform or Progressive sidurim, mostly Mishkan T’filah and Ha’avodah Shebalev. I’ll also pray from a weird indie sidur if there is one around.

Can you tell us something about how prayer makes you feel? Is there an
effect on you?

Prayer calms me. Unless it is badly led or the liturgy is hokey (Gates of Prayer, anyone?), in which case it does not calm me and instead it just pisses me off. Prayer, like all rituals, is to me secondary. I chose to do rituals only when they enhance my ability to carry out ethical commandments. Prayer happens to be one ritual that I think may be helping me with my ethics.

If you don’t pray regularly, have you ever prayed before as an adult?

I’m seventeen years old, so… you know… no.

Have you ever had an experience you’d call “spiritual” or “mystical”?
No. In fact, I have a near-unbridled hatred for mysticism and spirituality. I dislike intangibles and things which no one who believes therein can seem to explain.

I once had a moving experience at Kutz, in the main prayer space there, which has no walls and juts out onto a picturesque lake. I picture it at the end of the Amidah every time I do it to try and get back there.

Do you think that belief in G-d and prayer are important parts of being
Jewish?

Yes. To deny God or not pray or to depart from the tradition in some way on these subjects requires an authentically Jewish reason. One cannot simply proclaim that one is bored by prayer and then cease to do it. One must explain that in one’s boredom one is afraid that one is not giving it one’s all or some such thing. Therefore, even if you don’t pray and even if you don’t believe in God, you must give the topics thought and have opinions on them. The Reform Jew cannot say, “I don’t pray because I’m Reform and we can do whatever the hell we want.” The Reform Jew can say “I don’t pray because I am unmoved by prayer and it doesn’t help me.”

My point is, even if you don’t pray and even if you don’t believe in God, you must know why that is. Prayer and God are not ignorable subjects for our people.

Are these questions important to you? Do they bug you?

Yes, they are important. No, they do not bug me.

Continue to tune into Faithhacker in the coming days for more of these supercool surveys.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Live from Israel: ANOTHER BLOGGER STROKES DAVID’S EGO

Who is my new favorite blogger? Laurel Snyder over at Faithhacker is. She posts some really great stuff that you should all read now.

She also recently quoted me and subsequently gave me a good ego-stroking. Read about it here.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Live from Israel:DAVID GOES TO GADNA, HAS SOME THOUGHTS FOR Y’ALL

As previously mentioned, I have been to Gadna. It feels strange to say it now, but not only did I not hate being in the Israeli Army for five days, I truly enjoyed it, and I took pride in waking up and putting on that uniform.

This post could be a simple narrative detailing our five days in the Israeli Army, but I’ve tried to avoid mere summary and go more profound and thoughtful posts.

NOT THE ISRAELI ARMY, BUT THE JEWISH ARMY!

A lot of the week was devoted to running, learning what do when a rimon (grenade) come your way, how to camouflage yourself, standing and walking in formations, cleaning, etc. Military stuff. You get my drift. A lot of it was also devoted to classes on Jewish topics.

If you’re thinking that this sounds like Sunday school, you’re in for a shock. The realization which I will now reveal to you is one which I’ve been working on since I came to Israel, but only now do I see the bigger picture in all of its completeness. These classes were about the Army. To some extent they were about ranks and different jobs in the Army, but the big picture of the week was more interesting than that.

The truth is that Jews have not, to any great extent, defended themselves in eight gazillion years. In the Diaspora we withered into skinny defenseless yeshiva nerds. In our return to Eretz Yisrael and in the foundation of Medinat Yisrael we fulfilled A.D. Gordon’s well-put dream of a people of strong, intellectual laborers. It was in this newfound physical strength that we founded militant movements in the Land. These were not just militias striking out against their perceived enemies like the Islamic militants we see on the news now. These were, for the most part, defense forces involved solely in the defense of its people, the Jewish people. Haganah, the largest of these became the Israeli Army when the state was founded in 1948 and that mission of defense has remained its goal. This is no ordinary national military. This is not just an army of Jews. This is THE Jewish Army.

All my life I have seen American Jewish teenagers go to Israel and return wearing Israeli Army t-shirts. I have always thought of the Israeli Army the same way I have thought of the American Army. I would never wear an American Army t-shirt. Now I have a clearer picture that this is not just another national army, but that this is the first Jewish Army in two thousand years and I recognize the incredible significance of this Army and I have the swell of pride in this Army.

Now I want an Israeli Army t-shirt.

NATIONALITY OR RELIGION? ALIYAH OR AMERICA?

It is so oft-discussed here on EIE, I find myself surprised I have never spoken about on the blog before.

The truth is that in assimilating into the American (or British or German or Australian or etc.) culture, Jews lost their old Jewish identity. Not just the shtetl identity, but a national identity. With the loss of our own language we ceased to be a people and became a religion.

This identity is so ingrained in us that when (this actually happened with a speaker we had while the parents were visiting) an Orthodox man tells us we’re Jews, but that because we identify as Reform we’re not practicing Judaism, all we here is somehow “You’re not Jewish.” This is not what he said. What he said is that according to halachah, most of us on EIE are Jewish, but we’re clearly, to him, not practicing authentic Judaism. What he is saying is that we have a Jewish nationality, but not a Jewish religion. For us, since we feel our nationality is American, and our entire Jewish identity is the religious one, in saying this, the speaker took away our entire identity. The parents were extremely upset by this. We got over it.

It was this week that I had an epiphany about this. When you ask the average “secular” Israeli whether they consider themselves more Israeli or more Jewish, they say Israeli. An American Jew is saddened by this because to us it means that Israel is no longer a Jewish state and that its inhabitants have been come simply Israeli rather than Jewish like France’s inhabitants are simply French. What is really going on is a breakdown in vocabulary. Our respective vocabularies (American Jewish and Israeli) are different and neither of us knows how to say what we mean. What the Israeli means when he says he is Israeli and not Jewish is that he is a member of the Jewish Nation rather than the Jewish Religion. What the American Jew means by his outrage is that he cannot relate to Judaism as a peoplehood because he has become an American whose religion is Jewish, rather than a Jew who follows his people’s religion.

What does this mean to me and where is it going to mean it? It means that I’m not making Aliyah and it means that I want to stay in the United States. Why? I’ll give you an allegory. I am an American. This American identity is inextricably tied into a Texan identity because it is the part of America that I grew up in. Likewise, I am a Jew. This Jewish identity is inextricably tied into an American Diaspora identity. The allegory is imperfect and in this next sentence is where it breaks down. To leave American Jewry would be bailing out. The realizations that we come to here and the education I have that most American Jews do not have must be dispensed. I have to stay in America and help do what I can to enhance the Jewish lives of the rest of those of us who remain there.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Live from Israel: DAVID GOES TO POLAND, WANTS THE CCAR TO GROW SOME BALLS

On Sunday I am going away again for almost a week. This time, it is to Gadna, an introduction the Israeli Army for teenagers. I’m scared shitless.

POLAND

We were in Poland for five days. There are about 6 million things I could say about our trip there. It focused not just on the Shoah (Holocaust), but on the incredible Yiddish culture that was centered in Poland before the Shoah.

First, some things to look into because I found them interesting:
Righteous Gentiles. Skip the paragraph about the halachic origins of the term.
Beit Warszawa. During dinner on our last night in Poland, we received a talk from Rabbi Schuman, the first Progressive Rabbi to serve in Poland since 1939. It was incredible.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I am proud to say that the first violent resistance against Nazi oppression in all of occupied Europe during WWII was carried out by young Jews.

Now, my brief comment about the Shoah. 6 million is a lot. 1 1/2 million, the number murdered at Auschwitz/Birkenau, where we spent considerable time, is also too many to people to conceive of. One third of the population of Warsaw, the number of Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, most of who were murdered in death camps, is too many people to think of! Even a thousand, I can not handle. One, however, I can do.

Esther, the grandmother of X, a fellow EIE student, died very recently. She spent time in Auschwitz. Her timing was brilliant. Less than a week after her death, we departed for Poland. The experience, especially the day we spent at Auschwitz was rough on X, whom I have become close to as of late. I was honored that she let me share Esther for the day. Thus, I had my one person to mourn for.

I think I’m getting the following story correct. If not, you will get the gist of it anyway. Esther was a Greek Jew. She grew up in a relatively affluent family. When the Nazis took Greece, they took refuge with business connections who hid them. One of the people in on the secret got drunk in public one night and gave them up. You have heard of the three day train rides from across Europe that many Shoah victims endured without food or water. The Jews of Greece took three week long train rides without much food or water. Esther survived this. Then she survived Auschwitz. She returned to Greece after the war where she met the man who became her husband. Alzheimer’s, however, she did not survive.

So thank you Esther, for letting the Shoah move me.

THE TARGET

The Tzitzit Report: I quite enjoy wearing them. Aside from the expected effect that I think twice before being mean now, I am in a perpetually good mood when they are on.

CCAR NEEDS BALLS!

The Sidur Report: In the last post, I wrote that I want to write my own sidur. This caused several comments and more than a few emails. Let me clarify my intentions.

For the several of you who wanted to know what happened to my rabidly pro-Mishkan T’filah stance, no, I have not abated on this front. I still believe that URJ institutions should adopt MT and that it is the best sidur out there for leading a congregation of American Reform Jews. However, yes, I will now admit that there are flaws. Sadly, for some of my more traditional readers, this doesn’t mean that I have acknowledged that lack of moshiach-oriented prayers is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think that the CCAR needs to grow some balls and make it even less moshiach-oriented. When we open up MT to the Amidah, we see that the people who constructed this sidur do not know what the hell they are doing.

The traditional Amidah represents all of the central desires, longings, and beliefs of the people who created it. Why shouldn’t the Reform Amidah reflect mainstream central Reform desires, longings, and beliefs? Why is that when I look at y’shuah, the traditional prayer for the moshiach in the Amidah, I see that the CCAR, in its infinite wisdom, has not chosen to create a prayer for the Messianic Age, but instead to water down an orthodox prayer so that it becomes a meaningless five-line piece of pseudo-poetic garbage? You tell me what central longing this represents:
Truth springs up from the earth;

Justice looks down from the heavens.
May the strength of Your people flourish through
Your deliverance for we continually hope for Your deliverance.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who causes salvation to flourish.

Meaningless!

The questions that MT poses to me are these:
Why is there no Messianic Age in this?
Where is a prayerful mention of educated choice, the cornerstone of Reform?

The additional questions that I pose to myself which are sidur-related, but not MT-related:
Why is the Shma, the central theological statement of our people not placed along with the all the other central statements in the Amidah?
How can I pray with a community, but use a different sidur? Can I?

These are the questions I attempt to answer in thinking about constructing a new sidur. This new sidur is not one at all intended for mass use. This is Minhag David. The entire thing will be for me and me alone. The Amidah will represent all of my central ideas about Judaism. Every moment of it will be carefully constructed, redacted, and written so that I can most effectively express myself in personal prayer.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Live from Israel: DAVID WEARS ANTI-ASSHOLE FRINGES

Last night, upon reading the part of the my most recent post which discussed tzitzit, my roommate Eric, who wears them everyday, immediately jumped at the oppurtunity to assist me in attaining painting part of the target I mentioned yesterday. He offered me the use of one of his talit katanim today and I went for it.

The irony here is that during Hebrew today, which is my first class in the morning we watched the Israeli movie Ushpizin (which I highly recommend to anybody, Jewish or not), which is about Orthodox Jews. Anyway, I had a great morning, which (as nonsensical as this may or may not be) I will attribute to the tzitzit. The feeling I get having them on is best described as a mix of the feeling one gets wearing new shoes for the first time and the feeling one gets during a really great prayer service.

I have gotten a number of comments on them, all from fellow students. They range from “Whatever! We all know you’re too Clasical Reform to believe in that!” to “They really suit you, David!” In between there have been several comments along the lines of “You just don’t look right in those” (to which I said, “You don’t look right in that face”).

To respond to the first comment: The distinction of Classical Reform can kiss my ass. I am a Liberal Jew, Reform Jew, Progressive Jew, or whatever kind of Jew you want to call me. All I know is that Jewish practices which I find meaningful and helpful in my quest to be a non-asshole are those practices which I choose to do. I thought that wearing tzitzit might fall into that category. As it turns out, it does.

To the other extreme: Thank you.

To the middle: I don’t care what I look like in them! I care what I feel like in them. On that note, I think they look really cool. That’s right: COOL.

On another note related to my target (see prev. post for more on the target), I have decided that I need to compile my own sidur.

SHABAT SHALOM L’KULAM!

Read full story · Comments { 3 }

Live from Israel: THE LONE RANGER WRITES AGAIN!

Live from Israel: THE NEWS FROM TZUBA

I have not written in quite some time and I hope to God that you have not all deserted me. Since I last wrote, I spent Sukot with a family of Israelis in Jerusalem, antagonized the Dean of HUC Jerusalem, hiked for five days from the Kineret to the Mediterranean, died twice, my Mom visited, my Dad and his girlfriend Lauren visited (during which we had no less than two taxi-related escapades), I went to an Hadag Nachash (Israeli rap/pop concert), went to Tel Aviv for a weekend, and ran into an Israeli friend of mine from Kutz two years ago (Ariel) in Yafo.

However, none of that is as important as what I shall now attempt to describe to you.

Live from Israel: DAVID HAS AN EPIPHANY CONCERNING RELGIOUS PRACTICE

I think that we can all agree that the goal of a serious Reform Jew should be to constantly make conscious decisions about the way they want to practice Judaism. I have decided that to facilitate this I need some sort of system. And by system, I mean elaborate metaphor. That’s right. Elaborate metaphor.

They say that when an Orthodox Rabbi makes a ruling on an issue of halachah, he shoots an arrow and then paints the target on around the arrow. That is to say that the Rabbi knows the answer he wants to give and causes/picks and chooses the halachah to support the answer.

I want to do the opposite. I want to be constantly painting targets and then trying over and over again to shoot an arrow right into the middle of the latest target. That is to say that I need to be constantly deciding what my ideal practice of Judaism looks like and then trying to do that.

Live from Israel: THE TARGET

So where does the target stand now?

Everything I think of tends to fall into 4 categories: Torah, Ritual, Social Justice, and Israel.

Torah—I generally feel that I am more in touch with the details of the stories of the Jewish People than most, but I want to be more familiar. I want to be able to translate Tanach and I want for biblical references to jump out at me the way they do at my JHist teachers here.

Ritual—I want to wear tzitzit. There. I said it. It looks meaningful to me and I want to buy tzitzit and try it. As I once told David Singer, they seem like anti-asshole fringes. Constantly there, reminding the wearer how to behave. I need that. Also, prayer has become more important in my life in the last year or so and I would like to aim for the full three times a day.

Social Justice—Why don’t I volunteer more of my time for charitable causes in my community at home? Why don’t I just give that poor fellow a buck when he asks for one? Will tzitzit help on this front?

Israel—I know that this must be an important part of the target, but for now it must remain a question. Do I want to make Aliyah? Probably not. In that case, how do I recognize the growing importance of the Jewish State in my life? The Israel component of my target must, for now, remain an unanswered question.

It may be another two weeks until the next real post. Next week we will be in Poland and the week after that we will be in the Gadna, an Israeli army preparatory program that all Israeli teens go through.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }