Joke of the Day

I’m not sure if this joke will work in written form. I’ve only heard it verbally. You’ll have to say the punch line out loud to get it, I think. Even then, you’ll have to be quite a Jew to get the joke.

“What did the bank robber say when he robbed a bank in Mea Shearim? He said, “Gimme loot, Chasidim!”

That joke courtesy of Josh Weinberg, my JHist teacher.

You may groan now.

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Mornings, Mourning, Miscellany

I have become a morning person. I’m not sure when it happenened, but I’m going to guess somewhere withing the last week and a half. I wake up every morning, often at ungodly hours, jump out of bed, let out an epic yawn, and spring into shower action. I want breakfast (the good KB, for you Jewies out there [don't worry, if you're a Jewie, you know it])! I want to go to class! My first class is Ivrit, which I think I’m pretty good at. Then there’s Jewish History, which I’m better at. It lasts three hours and it is the reason my day peaks a tad early. After that, it’s downhill. Lunch, General Studies, homework, coma.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the passing of a very close family member of one the members of our EIE community, whom I will refer to as M, for Mourner. This yartzeit is common knowledge amongst us here and we all knew it was coming. In observance of this and in support of M we davened mincha (held an afternoon service) yesterday.

When we arrived at the Mourner’s Kaddish, things got awkard. Normally, most people say the Kaddish. A few people (only two of us here that I know of) refrain from reciting Kaddish unless they are in mourning themselves. This is, however, a vast minority. Yet, this particular time, many people said Kaddish much more quietly than they ordinarily would have. Some whispered it, but many didn’t say it all. To make matters worse, M, seated in the front row, became the center of attention. M was openly stared at by most people present. M was also the only person who said the Kaddish at a normal volume.

I was greatly troubled by this. Comforting the mourner is one thing; indeed it is called, in our wonderful *ahem* outgoing North American Reform siddur, Gates of Prayer, an Obligation Without Measure. Putting undue focus on a person already in emotional turmoil, however is not. It is not comfort. It is, in point of fact, discomfort!

I was very troubled by this.

I have just learned that according to Talmud, Alexander is the only non-Jewish name that one can be called to the Torah by because of how well Jews were treated under Alexander the Great. I have decided that based on this, my Jewish name shall no longer be simply David ben Tzvi v’Gilanah, but it shall now be David Alexander ben Tzvi v’Gilanah. This incorporates my English middle name.

Coming soon there will posts here perhaps about Reuven (perhaps not), perhaps about American Jews who have made aliyah (perhaps not), and perhaps about our impending trip to Mesada and Kibutz Lotan.

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It’s coming. I can feel it. You can shoot me if it doesn’t.

I promise with God Almighty as my witness that I will post tomorrow. It is currently very late here and I am going to bed now. If there is not a post of considerable length tomorrow, you may send me a mailbomb or something else horrid.

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He Didn’t Walk. He Didn’t Fly.

You like that title? Think maybe it sounds poetic? It’s not. It’s a Yiddish insult. I’ll get to its meaning in a little bit.

First, if you haven’t been here in afew days, look at the previous post as well.

Second, some background on Yiddish. The Yiddish language was basically a German dialect spoken throughout the Middle Ages on until the Holocaust, when its use was severly diminished. Few people still speak Yiddish in their daily lives.

Written with Hebrew letters, this language was the language of the Jews in Europe until the Holocaust and the creation of the modern state of Israel. It is the most colorful, shall we say, language ever in the history of languages. Reading the translated transcript of a conversation which was held in Yiddish between fluent Yiddish-speakers is like reading a string of idioms, insults, sayings, and metaphors. The unique thing here with the colorful articulations is that they are so often colored by the Jewish experience these people knew. If a man went home to his wife and found that she was furious with him for whatever reason, he might go out to a bar and say to everyone there, “I went home from work this evening and my wife had the destruction of the Temple in her eyes.” If you said this in any other language, the person you were speaking to (even another non-Yiddish-speaking Jew) would not have the slightest idea what you were saying. This was and is a language informed entirely by the Jewish life and stories and ethics known by its speakers in their own times.

I have taken to sitting a lunch with Reuven, one of the Jewish History teachers here. Reuven is an older fellow, more sharply intelligent and blunt than any other person I have ever know, and he lives here on the Kibbutz. He has been a Kibbutznik here for many many years. He used to work in the fields here even. He is an expert on Jewish history like no one else I know. We disagree, all in good fun, on almost eveything concerning the American Jewish experience.

Towards the beginning of lunch today, Reuven took issue with something another Jewish History teacher said. Reuven responded, (I am quite certain I am rendering this wrong so someboby correct me if they know better) “Nisht keshtoygen. Nisht kefloygen.” The conversation at the tabel paused as we all inquired as to what he had just said. “It,” he said, “is a Yiddish expression meaning, ‘That’s bullshit!’” We inquired as to its literal meaning. “It means,” he said, “He didn’t walk. He didn’t fly.” We inquired as to why this had come to mean “That’s bullshit!”

In Europe it became common for a time for the Christian leaders in a community to force all the Jews in the area to attend a lecture on the evils of Judaism and the correctness of Christianity. These lectures often ended with the story of Jesus’ life, which of course ends with his ascension to heaven. “And then,” the lecturer, probably a preist, would say, “he ascended to heaving, flying, carried by God!” And the Jewish parents in the audience would lean down to their children and say, “Nisht keshtoygen. Nisht kefloygen.” As if to say, “He didn’t walk up to heaven and he didn’t fly up either. That’s bullshit!”

This later came to be a general expression used when confronted with something one deemed to be bullshit.

That being said, regardless of your own feelings about such a statement, you can’t help but love a language that is so consistently inflamatorily blunt about everything!

More on Reuven some day. Perhaps tomorrow. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe next week. If you haven’t yet seen it, look at the previous post as well.

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And Now A Word From Our Sponsors . . .

We’ve been very busy the last few days. Hence, the lack of posting. I will return to posting as often as I can as soon as my current pile of homework recedes a tad.

Until then, I’ve been wondering about who reads this blog. I know a few of you because you get the regular email updates about new posts. And I know a few of you because you regularly post comments, but because of emails from back home, I have reason to believe that there are more of you reading this semi-regularly than there are posting comments regularly.

I would request that everybody that reads this post before September 16th (that is to say, if you read this regularly or semi-regularly) leave a comment on the comments page. Id you don’t know where that is, look down at the bottom of the post, after all that bullshit I type in grey in every post, there is some yellowish type that reads “[X number of] comments.” Click on that to comment.

Good night and good luck.

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David’s Brain and Ego Are Off Life Support, Recovering Nicely

Sorry if that last post caused anyone alarm. I was not in a good way when I wrote that. I’m much better now, thanks mostly to my friends here. Mac, Narco, Tal, Noa, etc. Thanks, guys.

We had a test B’kitah Ivrit last period. It was hard, but me ego has been boosted my complete lack of wrongness on it.

Every Saturday night they like to take us to some public area with shopping and other fun things. We tried out a new one last night that none of our staff had ever been to. It seemed uncharacteristicly unplanned of them to take us somewhere none of them had been. We went to a boardwalk on the beach somehwhere. One of the side effects of seeing this whole country from a tour bus, bascially anyway, is that I never know where the hell I am. Thus, we found ourselves on this boardwalk with no idea where the boardwalk was in relation to the rest of the world. I had no money. There was no Kaspomat (ATM), which kinda sucked. When we got there I still had not had a Shabbos Coke. My buddy Tal bought me one. I think that was really the truning point in the day. Things started to look up. Too bad the day was pretty much over with by then.

As it turned out, this was a pretty lame boardwalk. There wasn’t much to do–or shop for–so most people kvetched the whole time about how much it sucked. I however, Coke in hand, enjoyed the sand under my bare feet, the wind in my almost nonexistent hair, and my friends. I felt very calmed after a desperately crappy, stressful day.

There were old Israeli men selling illegal Latina Muzika at a stand. It was funny. I’m going to class now.

Long story short, I am better now. Not good, but better.

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Live from Israel: DAVID SUCKS LESS NOW

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David’s Brain and Ego Have Been Chopped Into Little Pieces and Spiritually Chargrilled

This is bad. I have been hurt. I have incflicted awfulness on other people. I have not yet had a Coke. This is not a good Shabbat so far.

Last night for Shabbat Ma-ariv T’Fliah we went to Kehilat Kol Haneshama, the largest Reform anything here in Israel. If you recall my experience with the Kotel and my expectations about it (second post down on the page here), it will mean a lot to you when I say that I was a bout ten million times more excited about Kol Haneshama than I was about the wall.

I am always interested by how Reform Judaism looks in different places. Though the basic theology and the basic tenets remain the same in Progressive, Reform, and Liberal Judaism everywhere, the outward appearance that develops around that underlying structure changes from place to place. The ethics and the observance of ethical commandments and traditions don’t change too much, but the rituals and the observance of ritual commandments and traditions do change. Thus, I was really psyched for this.

We arrived at Kol Haneshama about a half hour before services began. The Kol Haneshama campus is composed of anumber of buildings and wings including a sanctuary (which I imagine doubles as a social hall), an administrative office wing, a youth center, and a nice open plaza in the front center of the whole assemblage of buildings. The architecture is all understatedly made of white Jerusalem limestone, the only flourishes being green metal Frank Lloyd Wright-esque windowsill fixture things. The structure, more than any American Reform institution screamed out a sense of stability and rootedness that impressed me and made me all the more excited. The inside of the snactuary was obviously furnished on the cheap, but nicely and elegantly so.

The first omen of things to come was when Baruch Kraus, our principal, pointed out to me that all the other men there had their heads covered. He noted that in the Israeli Progressive movement a kippah is almost expected. I told him I’d rather not put on one. (If anyone is interested, let me know and I can do a whole other post here about why I don’t like to wear a kippah). He insisted. I asked if people would be offeneded. He said he wasn’t sure. After a protracted and highly awkard conversation about the issue, he grudingly agreed I didn’t have to put one on. So I didn’t.

Then the service started. There more nigunim than I care for. There were then a copious amount of meditative moments. Then we did about half of the service silently. I couldn’t determine why. The moments felt awkward, not spiritual. I cannot express how unfulfiling this service was for me.

This comes also on the heels of an increasing sense that although I know excatly what I think about ethics and rituals and Reform, I can’t tell what anyboyd else thinks. I feel increasingly alone as the mainstream URJ maintains serious Classical Reform roots and, to a large extent, practices, yet the “Indie” or “Contemporary” or “Ultra-Modern” wings of Reform in the US become too ritualized for even me.

All of this together created an exremely quiet and conflicted mood in me last night. The most horrible realization of all being that I felt so spiritually out of it that I was unsure that I could lead services on Shabbat morning. Oh yeah, did I mention that?

Services sucked. I blew it. It cannot be sliced any other way. I led the service, my friend Sam accompanied on guitar at various points, and another friend, Rachel, served as gabbai and led the Torah service.

I am good at leading services. I do it more often than the average person and I do it well. People enjoy. This is not my ego (which is currently on life support) talking. These are fact. Thus, when we established a T’filah Committee I naturally too charge. We set up a system of rotations of leaders, songleaders, and Torah readers and we have plans to set up a D’var Torah rotation later.

The ideas I was testing in this service were minimal instructions and subdued leadership. Rachel, Sam, and I sat in the front row. I explained that I would be leading from within the congregation, rather than from without, the norm. I also announced page numbers only when absolutely neccessary and I never issued directions such as “rise” or “be seated” Being that I was in the front row and couldn’t see everybody behind me, my mind created a picture of everybody enjoy the damn thing. Apparently they didn’t. Someone was “elected” from within a large group of people who disliked services to come speak to me about the general problems that people had with services.

They were apparently boring, devoid of music (although we did use the guitar on four occasions), and confusing. This hurt a lot. I know that nobody was trying to be mean in this, but it means that I obviously know a lot less about what I’m doing than I thought. I’m in a very self-critical mood right now. I am sitting writing this on my balcony looking out at more of the hotel and the sweeping Judean hills. I am inconsolable. “Everybody has off weeks,” somebody told me a moment ago. It doesn’t matter what people say to me right now. I just feel like a moron. I have hurt the community by inflicting boring services on them.

I feel really alone right now. They say that it is normal for teenagers to always feel like nobody understands what they are going through. I have never felt that. Until now. I feel isolated. I feel like nobody trying to console me right now knows what I’m trying to tell them. It doesn’t matter if people just have off weeks sometimes. Of course they do! I know that! I also know that you can’t have this much of an off week when it comes to leading a community.

After my ordeal with Kol Haneshama and my confusion about Reform I expected to at least be able to go through the motions this morning. Apparently, I couldn’t even do that properly.

d.profound@gmail com. Etc. Etc. I write the same damn thing here in every post.

This sucks.

Live from Israel: DAVID SCREWS UP

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Tureky on the Earth and in the Heavens

The Hebrew word Hodu means thanksgiving. It also means turkey as in the animal, not the country. It also means India. Go figure.

Therefore, in services when we sing Hodo Al Eretz Bashamayim, etc. we are, in essence, sayin Thanksgiving/Turkey/India on the Earth and in the Heavens.

That’s odd, isn’t it?

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Live from Israel: THAT WAS WEIRD

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The Theological Revolution: Circumcision, Avraham Avinu, and the Akeidat Yitzchak

This was spawned by a trip today to a spot called Tel Gezer as well as some discussion point in my Jewish History class. Let’s talk about a lot of things.


You should know as context that part of the focus of this part of the Jewish History class here is Documentary Hypothesis (for example, we separated out the story of Noach into the two separate stories it actually contains, which were later merged) as well as the process of examining the historical context of these biblical stories as well as contemporary sources (for example, we examined B’reishit at the same time as Enuma Elish, the Babylonian story that closely mirrors the first in many ways).

Anyway, we were talking about circumcision. When you, the pre-civilized man, discover agriculture, this shocks your world, right? (The correct answer is “Right!”) Then religion happens. Why? If I, the farmer, have a bad season, I inevitably wonder why. Have I done something wrong? If I have done something wrong, who decided it was wrong and who, most importantly exacted punishment on me? The obvious answer one will create/come to/be struck with is the gods.

There is a paradox here. On the one hand, because of farming, you have gained infinitely more control over your life than you ever had before. You are in control of your own source of food! On the other hand, you’ve subsequently developed some sort of religion to explain the one thing that remains outside of your control; the weather. Once you’ve got gods, the amount of control over your world only shrinks as you cede more and more power over your daily life to gods.

In ancient Canaan, people came to the conclusion that sex was involved. This is not a particularly surprising conclusion when you think about it. Sex is a mystery to the early farmer. Farming itself is also a mystery to the early farmer. They both involve planting/impregnating the ground/a woman with seeds/sperm. After a process that is a complete mystery to this early civilized man, food/a baby appears. Farming to this early agriculturist is sex.

Why is this section of the post titled circumcision? Everything I just said brings us to the symbol of circumcision. When we pose the question, “Why does the sign of the covenant take the form of circumcision?” we might quickly come to an answer, which though good, is not absolute. That is, we might think to ourselves, well, this is a time when religion is dominated by men so obviously only men need the sign. Fine. We might also realize that the sign has to be readily apparent. What could be more apparent to a man than the physical alteration of his own penis? This is valid, but not absolute for the hypothetical devil’s advocate in this conversation might say, “Why not a serious facial tattoo? Or the removal of a finger? Or something equally physically remarkable?” The answer to this harkens back to the relationship between sex and agriculture.

If my power over the world is derived from my ability to control it through farming, my symbolic source of power is my penis because of the parallel between sex and farming. Thus, when I enter into Avraham’s covenant and give power over my life over to God, I must mark my source of power to show that it is not only mine, but God’s. The reason for the mark only being required on the male sex organ is that only the male sex organ contains power in the metaphor. The female sex organ is simply symbolic in the metaphor of the hole dug in the ground to sow seeds. More on this at the wrap-up.


Going back to the polytheistic Canaanite farmer we spoke of earlier, we spoke of how his power shrinks as he cedes more supernatural powers to his gods. Then he wants to know how he can make them happy. “Well”, he thinks, “if they’re like me (and believe me, there is an element of ego contained herein so they are like me because I want to be godlike) then they like what I like. That means they like to be kept fed and to be supplied with wine.” So the farmer begins the first sacrificial system. In return for a good harvest, the farmer gives back some of this fruits and veggies to the gods. Then he gives them some wine and some olive oil because those are products of his farming too.

It still all comes back to sex. How do you know where to put these sacrifices? Near something might that can represent the god you are sacrificing to. Like a monolith. These large rocks are highly phallic. Then the mighty gods demand more and more. Thus, sacrifice of the first born becomes commonplace. It is so commonplace, in fact that, Avraham has no argument with God about such an occurrence when God asks him to sacrifice Yitzchak, his favorite son. To Avraham, this is as normal is prayer is to us. In fact, it is prayer.

We could say that this is simply God testing Avraham’s faith, but this answer is not absolute. The hole in it is from shortly before in the Tanach where we have the story of the twin cities of S’dom and Amorah. In this story, when confronted with God’s perceived immorality, Avraham argues. However, once we reach the Akeidat Yitzchak Avraham seems so willing to accept this thing that we would perceive as highly ethically problematic, not to mention emotionally gut-wrenching, which he was not in the S’dom and Amorah story.


I would propose that this story is symbolic of what I’ll call the Theological Revolution. The Theological Revolution was started, in the bible, by Avraham and in reality by somebody who may or may not have been Avraham. Point being, the Revolution realizes that the practices around the revolutionaries are not good. The Revolution takes a step back and says, “No! Sacrificing your own child is not normal!” The Revolution also says that rather than these petty people-like gods, there is only the one and that this one is above in some inconceivable way. This, of course, makes sense because how could something so similar to us as the Canaanite pantheon create us or control us? The Theological Revolution leads to a lot of very big ideas that will have massive effects on western society forever.

I hope to God that was coherent.

Next up on this blog: I don’t really know. Good stuff is on its way though.

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Tiyul #3 – The Crusader Castle! (so cool it required an exclamation point)

On Shabbat we hiked up a Tel which is situated on the Kibbutz. The Tel is aptly named Tel Tzuba. As it turns out, this Tel has never been really excavated so the top layer of civilization remains on top, ruins jutting out of the hill side. The Tel was most recently the site of a castle built by crusaders, but later captured, refurbishe, and added on to by an Islamic occupational force.

To get there, we walk north from our hotel, past Kibbutz Tzuba’s factory where they make bullet-proof windsheilds.
The castle on the hilltop from far off.
As we walk along the road, we pass come upon a historical marker, which tells us where the trail up the hill starts.
Aaron Altmark is rolling film on all of this.
We passed many bits of castle on our way up such as this, this, and this.
The view from the trail halfway up and some sabra plants. In Texas we call them prickly pears. TomAYto TomAHto.
At the top of the Tel we were greeted by incredible ruins!
This cement or plaster domes was added by an Islamic force after the Cursaders abandoned or were pushed out of the castle.
A cool chunk of wall and some of Tom, our Israeli counselor/gun-toter.
We all just chilled up there for a while.
David Solomon, our Asst. Principal told many bad jokes. He does that from time to time. And by from time to time I mean when ever he can get away with it.
More of the trail up to the Tel.
More chillin out.
Many people decided to perch themselves precariously upon the walls.
One room or tower quite intact.
The ruins were heavily overgrown in some parts.
Kelsey poses, Charlotte takes it slow.
Josh Beale, one of my counselors epicly poses from the rear.
Noa poses in a window.
From left to right: Elana, Jacob, Charlotte, and Ray atop the ruins.
Some idea of the scale in this picture, perhaps.
Un Finale.

Now that was pretty dang cool!

Up Next on This Blog will be “Life and Death at Tel Gezer: Avraham Avinu, Circumcision, and the Historical Record.”

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