Some Dumbass With A Pencil And Two Ounces Of Brave In Him

Shvat 4, 5767

In the time between when I went to Israel and when I came back, one of the boys’ bathrooms in particular has become far more, shall we say, decorated. In my second period study hall today I was discussing this fact with Mrs. C, the study hall teacher, G, a tenth grade student, and a few others. L, a squirmy, awkward, easily disliked freshman noodled about ovnoxiously in the back ground. The topic of discussion being my crusade of copy-editing the defacements in the bathroom.

G went to the bathroom to survey the current state of affairs. As he was coming back, L announced to what seemed to be no one in particular that there was something new on the wall for “You.” Shortly, I would find that “You” was in tended to be me. G says, “Oh yeah! There’s one of those Nazi symbols on the wall!”

I stood up immediately and went to the bathroom without asking permission of Mrs. C. When I got to the bathroom, I could not find the Swastika! I surveyed all the stall doors and walls and finally found a tiny Swastika in pencil next a urinal. It was no more than four or five inches across. I took a paper towel with some water and handsoap and caused the Swastika to disappear.

To L’s dissapointment, I returned to study hall after no more than five or six minutes and announced, “Boy, if that thing hadn’t been removable with handsoap, we mighta had a real incident here!”

A year ago I would have flipped at this. Now, I am just not interested in making myself a victim in a situation in which no real anti-Jewishness was at work. This was just some dumbass with a pencil and not enough brave in him to do anything interesting.

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Here We Go Again!

Shvat 3rd, 5767

Unless you are brand new to here, you may have noticed me rather proglonged absence from the blogosphere. You may also have noticed that I have given the blog a facelift and renamed it. (Anyone wanna tell me how to put the title in actual Hebrew, by the way?) I have also left up most of the posts from the Live from Israel version of this blog for posterity’s sake. Point being, I, as usual, find myself full of things that need saying. So here I am online again and attempting to do just that.

To answer your questions, if you have not already been able to ask me:
-Yes, I had a good time.
-Yes, it was amazing.
-No, I am nowhere near fluent in Hebrew.
-The thing that I most enjoyed was the people I was with.
-The thing that most suprised me was how much I like davening all in Hebrew.
-Yes, I have a girlfriend. (For those of you that did not ask me that upon my return, you might be surprised by how many did.)
-Yes, going to back to regular school is hard. Traumatic, really.
-Yes, I know where I am going to school. Drew University has accepted me and offered me an obscene scholarship.
-Yes, it is terrible what is happening with the Israeli government.

School is strange. Life feels like purgatory. I have a sense now that I am waiting in a train station for the last train to the rest of life. I know what I am want to do and why and what I want to do next and yet, here I am, still in high school.

I returned Sunday from the North-American Federation of Temple Youth-Texas Oklahoma Region Winter Conclave. My report follows in a few different sections, each one containing some connections to larger issues.


The theme of the event was “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Jew Fish.” Cute. The problem is that I am left wondering why. A good theme should start with an actual theme. This was slice of pop culture with a joke thrown in. The attempts to drag programming on being Jewish out of this theme fell largely flat.

The Lorax was a fine avenue for exploring Jewish environmentalism. The flaw was that the connection made between Judaism was through the fact that Dr. Seuss was Jewish and therefore the Lorax is clearly an allegory for Moses. Everyone whip out your copies (or internet synopses) of the Lorax and you tell me. I frankly, did not see it. However, Judaism does have a long tradition of being one of the few voices crying out for some sort of Justice in the world. That was the direction the program went in.

When my group was asked what issues they would be “Loraxim” for, the list was, shall we say, interesting. In included environmental issues, animal rights, child abuse, more puppies, gay rights, unfair municipally-instituted teen curfews, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur… You will notice that amongst this list there is not one single Jewish issue. There may be opinions on these issues informed by Judaism involved, but I fail to find a real Jewish issue. I suggested adding assimilation, Jewish literacy in America, and the crisis Israel is in via Iran. Added though they were, these issues did not seem interesting to my group, which wanted to talk about puppies and Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur… I am all for helping to protect other people from injustices that befell the Jewish people in the past. There is a genocide in progress in Darfur and there was a genoside perpetrated against our people in the 20th century. We can look out for other people and feel great about it and we should because it is one of our ehtical obligations. “Welcome the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt” and all that jazz. But, and this is one big but, we can not look out for others at the expense of ourselves. There is a man in Iran who wants to wipe the State of Israel off the map! With nuclear bombs! For real! And here is the worldwide Jewish with out heads in the sand and our hands over our ears yelling “La la la la la I can’t hear you!” and it is not a nigun! So maybe we could deal with this issue a bit more and then worry about the kids with flies on their faces in Darfur!

Are you mad yet? Mad at me for being flippant about the fly-face kids in Darfur? Fine.


No offense disclaimer: For themed services, these were alright. This is less a criticism of these services and more a criticism of themed services, using those from this weekend as an example.

A service is, by and large, a service. We have one for every occasion in Judaism. Each variety has its structure and its quirks and the only options ought to be related to melody and ideology. For instance, if you have a great new melody for Ahavat Olam, I am all for giving it a shot. If you have a group of people who do not believe in Moshiach Ben David, you can excise that Hebrew from the Amidah and insert something new on a similar theme.

Here is what happens at NFTY events. There is theme for the weekend, Dr. Seuss, in this case. For some reason, the entire weekend must be permeated with this theme, including the services. Thus, the Amidah (which we did not stand for all of, an entire post in and of itself) recieved a few cuts and a few themed readings written in a Dr. Seussical style were inserted. They called attention to themselves and eclipsed real prayers.

We constantly wonder why there are nor Jews in the pews on Friday night, Saturday morning, or, in the rare and glorious case of my own Temple, Wednesday evening. The answer is that we try and try and try to do new things to get people interested. Why new? Why not try something old for a change? Use Hebrew. It is our language. We’ve lost the archaic beauty or our own supremely archaic practice. If we just do something authentic and real and Jewish, there will be Jews in the pews.

If any of that spoke to you, read Gonzo Judaism by Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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.

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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.


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 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.


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.


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.

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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.


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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.


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.

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I don’t like Yom Kipur. I have always failed to be moved by the fast and I have never met a YK service I liked. I won’t go into too much detail about YK services, but I will say that we went to HUC for them and that they were dreadful. I am left with serious doubts about the effectiveness of HUC’s Jerusalem campus. On YK morning I attended a rather hilarious service at a small Sephardic shul, which, should there be any demand on this post’s comments page, I could write a post about.


I am forced to conclude that Austin makes better Jews.

First, on some general Texas-related notes, there was a kid at the Sephardic service wearing a shirt with a cowboy on it and English writing that read “Texas Ranger.” At the HUC services I ran into D.T. Panter, a long-time GFC staffer, as well as a woman named Rebecca (whose last name escapes me) who also a GFC staffer at some point and at another point a member of my temple’s choir.

On an unrelated note, simply as a sign that if you think the Jewish world in the U.S. is small, then you’d think the Israeli Reform and Progressive world is minute, I met a guy who, at Kutz, went by the name Scooter. At Kutz, he knew my teacher from this past summer, David Singer, and he was once the boss of Erica Santiago, who was Leslie and Bear’s (two of my best friends) boss at Kutz this summer. His orange shorts were also once hung from the ceiling of the Beit Am. He did not elaborate on this fact.

As for why Austinites Jews are better, we can point to the disproportionate quanitity of Austinites in Rabbinical school. Monique Mayer is at Leo Baeck, while Anna Grey (sp?), Erin Ellis, and now, this woman Rebecca, are at various HUC campuses. David Berkman, a predeccessor of mine as President of Austin Temple Teens, is Asst. Director of Camping for the URJ. Also, I want to go to HUC eventually too. So there ha! Empirical, indisputable evidence that Austin makes better Jews.


If you know me, you know I don’t cry often. This is problematic for me because I like to think of myself as very in touch with my emotions and I find crying to be very therapeutic. I am constantly looking for a good cry. That’s why I love Gilmore Girls. No snyde remarks at this juncture, please.

I actually cried during Yizkor today. I’ll preface this with the fact that I’m pretty sure I’ve nenver been to Yizkor. Mom or Dad, can you verify that on the comment page, please? Before Yizkor the fellow leading services read a story which you can read here (scroll down to the third heading, which is “Information Please” t0 read it). The story was so moving that it made me cry. Then, floodgates already open, we moved into the liturgy for Yizkor.

I thought of the closest relative of mine to have ever died, my Grandpa. Sol Wilensky. I cried more. I didn’t really mourn for him when he died. I was in third grade then and I’m not sure I knew how. Over the last year or so, I’ve though of him often. In the last year, I started wearing my talit to services more often, which I keep in the same velvet bag he was using for his talit at the time of his death. It is brown, though my Dad claims it was purple at some point. This has contributes in some way to my increasingly frequent thoughts about Grandpa, but the real cause was, inadvertently, my current plans on becoming a Rabbi. I was not conscious of the fact while he was alive, but my Grandpa was pretty religious fellow. Frozen in my brain is my final third grade perception of him as something special, even a Tzadik. His hypothetical approval is important to me now. When I first talked to my Dad about my plans for the Rabbinate, he told me Grandpa would have been very proud.

And so, today I mourned for my Grandfather, Sol Wilensky, who has been dead for eight years.

Coming soon: who knows? Is there anything y’all are interested in knowing about my time so far in Israel? Email me or post on the comments page.

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Shana Tovah! Cleansing in the Desert

You’ve been waiting for it, I know. I’ve been working on this for many days now and finally, the longest post ever in the history of bloggin is here. If you don’t want to read all of it and you just want a dose of funny, I suggest skipping down to the final section. The one on meditation. Oh yeah.

Before we get to it, you’ll notice that my blog has a slightly new look. I rather like it, but let me know what you think. I’ve started using the new Blogger Beta and I just wanted to play with my new options a bit.

We spent Rosh Hashana in the south of Israel, in the Negev Desert. This is the long-winded account of our stay there.


In 1972, the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve was founded by the Israeli government. It is the largest national park in Israel and considered the most naturally important. There are many neato hikes to be had. We went on a rather long one which followed to path of a mostly dry creek bed to a nice little suprise at the end.

The hike ends at a waterfall with a nice pool, which we all hung out in for a while and swam around in. As soon as we got there, I recognized this waterfall. In every brochure for a NFTY in Israel program that I have ever seen, including both summer programs and EIE brochures, there is a picture of this same waterfall, which like most pictures in these brochures, dates to the eighties! You can see it on page two of this brochure. I don’t know who that goofy kid is smiling there, but I have seen him more times than I care to.

In any case, the waterfall was quite refreshing, not to mention the ice cream bar I bought at one of the park stores when we got back. One thing I noticed was that this waterfall and its accompanying pool could have been, had we all been naked and saying whatever proper blessings, a mikvah! There were at least 40 seah of water present and the water was defnitely naturally flowing. Thus we had all the requirements for a mikvah. Although nobody present went through the ritual properly, the experience did contribute to my overall sense of cleansing during our stay in the desert.

They say that if you only go to the mikvah once a year, you should go before Yom Kippur. Last year, upon reading that, I had a rather misguided run-in with my bathtub and a garden hose stuck inside through a window. Don’t ask. This waterfall was much better.


Rather than list for you all the places that Yam Hamelach caused me pain, I’ll let the title of this section of the post speak for itself.

Yam Hamelach, known perhaps better to my readers by its Enlish name, the Dead Sea, is the lowest point on Earth. It is located at five bazillion meters below sea level and it has more salt than God. To use proper scientific terminology, it is neato.

The high levels of salt cause pain and, paradoxically, healing. The pain comes from any open wound on your body so much as a paper cut because all the sudden you have all the salt in the world converging upon said paper cut. For reasons I don’t really understand, there is a quality to this water which causes wounds to heal as well. My acne, for instance, disappeared for 24 hours or so after we swam in Yam Hamelach. The German national health plan sends Germans with psoriasis to Yam Hamelach for two weeks for free.

Also of note is the fact that this water is so crazy dense that you float like mad. If you untense all of your muscles, you just sort of lay there on top of the water. This is very unsettling and makes it very hard to maneuver about in any way, shape, or form.

Then there is this crazy mud. They say this mud is so good for you that they package it and sell it as a sort of spa-like product. I was coerced in putting this crazy mud all over me with the promise that it would feel good. It did not. It felt like mud. I don’t know what the big deal is with this stuff.

All in all, the sea was fun and only served to add to my sense of cleansing in the desert.

Live from Mitzadah: DAVID ALMOST DIES

That’s right. I almost died. Let me explain.

Mitzadah is the name of a plateau near Yam Hamelach. This thing is 305 meters or so straight up. Over the years, a number of nuts built fortresses up there. Crazy. Among them was Herod, who was a rather paranoid puppet Roman king of Israel back in the day (which, by the way, was a tuesday). Then some nutty Jewish rebels took it over, got beseiged by Romans, and committed mass suicide. If you wanna know what I think about these guys… Whatever. I’m gonna tell you what I think of these nuts regardless of whether you want here what I think about them or not.

These guys, believing that they were the last hope for Judaism, holed up on this mountain like some damn doomsday cult (think Waco) . They intended to live up on this mountain indefinitely and they had some sustainable lifestyle worked out with agricutlure up there and livestock and everything. They even had a mikvah. Then, when confornted with certain sale into slavery by Romans who were about capture them, they all committed suicide. If these nuts really believed that Avodah Zarah (foreign worship, idolatry) would be forced upon them by the Romans along with being sold into slavery, why not go along with it? You can maintian Judaism in secret while following foreign rituals without putting your heart into them. It had been done before and it would be done again later in history. These guys however, took a more glorious, bloody, and selfish road. They believed they were the last worthwhile Jews in the world. For all they know, Judaism ended right there with their suicides. That is selfish and wrong. And crazy.

We woke at up 4-o-damn-clock in the morning to hike up Mitzadah so we could see the sunrise from the top. I didn’t see it from the top. I was still only like halfway up when the sun came up. They made us hike up this frickin Snake Path, which causally winds its way all over one side of this mountain. There are over 700 steps on this path, not to mention all the parts where it’s just plain slope. I finally staggered up, collapsed, and took a nap a good 20 minutes after everybody else. I almost died on a number of occasions on my way up, on account of the fact that my legs were falling off. God that sucked!

Up top it was cool though.


After Mitzadah, we made our way further south to Kibutz Lotan where we remained for the two days of Rosh Hashanah. Lotan is a realtively young Kibtuz, founded in 1983 by mostly ex-NFTYites and Netzer Olami members from all over the world. They currently have about 50 adults and 60 children. Their industries are diverse and mostly agricultural, but they also have a wildlife reserve as well as an ecological focus unlike that of any community I have ever encountered. As a community they are amazing. They are committed to Reform Judaism and ecology in ways that I don’t know that I could ever commit to. Their newer structures are made from mud bricks and hay bales. They are incredibly sturdy stuctures and modernly furnished inside. They also have some amazing levels of composting going on as well as some very unique ways of disposing of trash and sewage. You should check out their website here. The grounds are astounding. The parts they live in as well as the agricultural parts of covered respectively in grass and arable land. This type of thing does not occur in the desert on its own. These people have litteraly coaxed this stuff out of the ground. They created topsoil that was not there.

Anway, we attended services there. I have to admit that I can’t stand Rosh Hashanah. I see the point in using the time between RH and Yom Kipur to prepare for YK, but RH itself as it is observed, I can’t jive with. In normal cultures, people celebrate the new year (feel free to chastise me for that sweeping and probably untrue generalization). They don’t sit in their place of worship for hours on end obsessiong over some ridiculous Book of Life metaphor.

That being said, I appreciated the general Israeli approach to it. They celebrate this holiday as well as lament the coming of Yom Kipur. In America we just obsess about getting dressed up and wearing nice shoes for the services which go on for eight million hours and are filled with much pomp and ridiculousness. Here, people have parties, wish people they see a happy new year, and nobody gets all damn dressed up! I wore shorts and Netzer t-shirt to services and everybody thought that was fine. They have a Rabbi on Lotan, but she is just like every other kibutznik there. Having no one who serves as Rabbi of the community, the services take on a very creative, open, and cooperative feel, which I enjoyed.

Tashlich was very nice. If you don’t know about Tashlich, you can read about it by following the link at the beginning of the previous sentence. The gist, however, is that by throwing pieces of bread into a flowing body of water, you symbolically cast off your sins in preparation for YK. Back home, Tashlich is always a highlight of RH for me, perhaps because it draws a small crowd and I always prefer small services. I have vivid and fond memories from my earlier childhood of going across the street from our temple to Shoal Creek where we would conduct Tashlich under a rather sketchy bridge.

On Lotan, we found ourselves in the middle of the desert with no running bodies of water. Thus, Tashlish seemed impossible. Josh, however, one of our JHist teacher who spent the weekend with us on Lotan, conducted a rather creative Tashlich-ish service. Yisrael, a kibutznik, led us, late at night, on a walk to a sand dune in the middle of nowhere. We laid down there and stared at the most amazing night sky I have ever seen in my entire life. In keeping with my usual practice of stargazing at camp (Leslie Bass, eat your heart out), I imagined that rather than laying on the ground and looking up, that I was leaning against a wall and looking out and that the void that took over my field of vision was right in front of me. It was truly awe-inspiring! While there several people (including, grudginly, me) confessed various harmful habits that we wished to curtail in the coming year, things we wished to cast off into the stars. I experienced a moment of clarity of vision under the stars, which I suppose should have been a first sign of trouble, but instead I reveled in it.

The trouble I speak of is dehydration. I was informed that the walk to this and dune would be brief. The walk itself ended up being at least 45 minutes each way. As such, I did not bring a water bottle, though I knew by the end that I should have. That night, blissfully unaware of the danger to come, I lay down to go to sleep, but found shortly that I needed to go the bathroom. I had rather a lot of distress in there, developed a headache, and took 2 gas-x and 2 tylenol. As the danger, several rounds thereof later, seemed to have subsided, I stood up, ready to go back to bed, but instead felt suddenly weak. My torso convulsed and I lost my dinner through my mouth. It happened twice more, in rapid succession. After the final upchuck I felt incredibly good, like a high. When that subsided, I made the connection. I was dehydrated. I went across the way to the room of Josh (a different Josh), my counselor. Josh gave me a liter and a half bottle of water and two rice cakes and told me to finish them before going back to bed. The water felt great, but the rice cakes came up four times, bringing us to a grand total of seven upchucks for the evening.

This is the last incidence of note in my desert cleansing. Although I would not have voluntarily undergo the same dehydration again, I am kind of glad it happened. I ate little the following day and this particular experience only added to my overall experience of cleansing and preparation for YK. I can honsetly say that I would like to spend every RH in the desert. It is very clear to me why many cultures use the desert as a source of mystical knowledge, a rite of passage, or a way of spiritual cleansing.


This final part is for fun only. It did not contribute to my overall experience. Actually, it detracted from it. If you like meditation, don’t read this. You will hate me when you are done.

Because of Lotan’s status as an environmental mecca, it has developed a group of the usual overly-spiritual neuvo-wave-o meditational types. As such, we got a free dose of the meditational exercises that normal tourists have to pay for. Yes, people pay for this. I was shocked too.

We sat down in a circle on the grass, our attention centered upon an Israeli woman whose name I have forgotten. I’ll call her Rainbow from here on out. Rainbow was young and not unattractive, with her sun-bleached hair hanging down to her hips, completely untamed. She probably doesn’t shave her legs either, now that I think of it, but I don’t recall noticing at the time.

She then explained to us where our chakras are. She told us all about them and about energy. I would like to comment for a moment on this so-called “energy.” Nuevo-wave-o types often refer to this energy, which not a single one of them has ever managed to explain to me. This energy, so far as I can tell, is invisible, undetectable, unexplainable, and has something to do with “life force” or some such thing.

She explained that there was a chakra on top of my head. In a failed attempt to connect this nonesense to Judaism, she mentioned that it was right were the kippah goes. I have found that most attempts at meditation within Judaism fall short of, well, anything and tend to grasp around in the dark for a way to validate mediation through Judaism.

We then meditated on each of our individual chakras by placing our hands over them and making various mono-syllabic intonations, such as “vaaaaaammmmmmm,” “raaaaammmmm,” and of course one can never forget “ooooohhhhhhhhmmmmmmmm.” At one point, between two meditations, Rainbow opened her eyes (they were closed most of the time, contemplating the universal life force, I’m certain) and glanced at me. I was reclining on my arms in the grass, barely containing my laughter, not meditating on anything universal whatsoever. She then glanced around and informed us all that whether we, personally, were getting anything our of this, we should engage in her various intonations because it helps the people who are trying to meditate with their vibes. There I finally saw the Jewish connection! Guilt! She was trying to guilt me into intoning various syllables!

I have determined that even if Rainbow has chakras and life energies and other such things, I do not. Anway, that sucked.

Coming soon: I don’t know. I’ll think of something good though.


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