Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Bat-Mitzvah Time 

There will be a Bat Mitzvah in the Out of Step household.

This Shabbat we will celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of one of the Out of Step twins as her anxious, admiring and a bit jealous twin brother watches from the kitchen as she reads the Torah from the living room. Unfortunately, there are no synagogues in Kfar Saba that will accommodate a women's tefilah (to be honest there are not many with the second room necessary), but that is no different from even the "greatest" of modern orthodox towns in northern New Jersey.

We did find a sefer Torah from a local shul (not our own) which was a pleasant surprise. We didn't ask our shul because we didn't want to cause "trouble". You never really do know what will happen to a congregation that allows the words of the Torah to be read by a young girl. Years ago this would have upset us – now we accept the nervousness that comes with women's attempts to join the Men's Club – a nervousness that is at least as prevalent on the women's side of the mechitzah.

But, for all that we expect over 70 women and girls to join us in what will be a very crowded tefilah. They say that God expanded the Beit HaMikdash when required of a specifically large holiday crowd and we are hoping for the same miracle. If not coziness will reign.

The herring is ordered, the chulant planned, cakes and pastries from family and friends are here or on their way and a wonderful girl has proven over the last year that resilience and quiet determination can defeat the temptation to take the easy way out.

PS- Here is one for the fathers out there, words by Cole Porter, singing by Julie London.

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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Chodesh Irgun 

What is Chodesh Irgun? It is more than a what, it is also a who a why and a where.

Bnei Akiva is not only the largest religious youth movement in Israel it is the largest youth movement of any kind in Israel. For the most part it almost always lives up to its reputation as amateurish, disorganized, chaotic and shlumpy but never so much as during that one month period that leads up to the climax known as "Shabbat Irgun".

Literally, The Month of the Organization – Chodesh Irgun is the highlight of the year for those kids who are members of the local Bnei Akiva sniff (branch) and the most frustrating time of the year for their parents (especially if their parents are immigrants).

The month starts out with a festive and innocent enough Friday night tefila (prayer) followed by four weeks of "cleaning" the sniff and preparing a "play" to be put on, on that infamous Saturday night ending the wonderful month.

On "Cleaning":

There are two liquids used to clean the snif: Water and paint. The basic idea is to transfer the paint on the walls of the snif to the clothing and skin of the children. You see, the groups in Bnei Akiva are divided up by grade with each grade called a "Shevet" or tribe. The names of each shevet are fixed until you enter 9th grade at which point you receive your shevet name that lasts a lifetime. This makes it easy to identify someone's age relative to your own twenty , thirty or more years hence.

For the larger snifim (of which Kfar Saba's is one) each shevet gets a small room in the snif. (For the smaller ones, each shevet gets all or part of a wall.) This room or cheder is the meeting place for each shevet for their weekly Shabbat afternoon activity. It is the job of each shevet to scrape, wash, erase or clean the old paint job from the previous shevet and to make your own (one year) mark on your room. The easiest way to do this apparently is to make sure all of the old paint gets washed onto the clothes of the kids who are "cleaning". After expunging the artwork done by the previous (hated) shevet, you then must paint your own four walls. This project takes the entire four weeks.

On "Dramatics":

In between the (counselors) help the children to prepare a play on some subject that has been chosen for them by the powers that be in the national offices of BA.

For the most part each play is a series of inside jokes that no one outside the closed group can understand. Or so I thought until this year. Really, the same inside jokes have been recycled from pre-historic times leaving those of us who were raised in BA of North America (to say nothing of those who knew not BA) to sit looking at our watches or sending SMS's to other aggrieved immigrant parents.

Each play is no less than 30 minutes long. For those of you who are parents this is like sitting through four or five class plays all in a row. These are not the organized school plays from middle-class schools where silence reigns. For the most part each shevet has its "rappers" and its group of boys dancing in skirts (why is it that boys find nothing funnier than wearing their sister's skirts and dancing around the stage?), its giggling girls who scream into the microphone. And the play never ends. And in between each play the oldest shevet puts on "mini-plays" of the same quality. And the play never ends. And the noise never ends.

Did I forget to mention that during the four week period school all but vanishes from the "to do" list or that sleep is hereby limited to both parents and children? Did I mention that on the last Thursday night the kids grade 9 and up stay up through the night cleaning the mess that was created by four weeks of cleaning?

Chodesh Irgun ended last week, except for those of us whose kids are madrichim in the "secondary" snifim from the slums, affectionately called the "sh'chunot" – we got an extra week of happiness.

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Where is Moses when you Need Him? 

Although anyone with children in Israeli schools has had to deal with the plague of kinim (lice), the entire country might be caught up in the plague of arbeh (Locusts).

This more serious plague is threatening the vegitation of the country and has already destroyed much farmland in their orginal African homes.

A staff anyone?

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Terminal Three 

For those of you who are travel buffs the opening of a new airport or terminal is big news – and so it was here in Israel a few weeks ago when "Terminal 3" opened at Ben-Gurion Airport outside of Tel-Aviv. I had the opportunity to visit the terminal the other day, picking up my mother-in-law who is coming to participate in a very out of step Bat Mitzvah (more on that another time).

I was pleasantly surprised that so much proper planning went into the terminal. At least that was my impression. The train station not only goes to the airport – it is walking distance to the terminal – even closer than the parking lot. You can take the train straight to Tel-Aviv and even on to such exotic locales as Kfar Saba.

The arrivals lounge is large and roomy with ample seating, all facing the soon to be greeted passengers. The circular area where the passengers come out is of course surrounded by a railing in the hope, for some reason of keeping out the grandchildren, girlfriends and boyfriends of those returning to the Holy Land.

But this railing was not designed with the adult in mind. No, like the old one, it doubles as a fountain, but in this one the water runs on the outside so there will be no leaning on the railing for the worried and weary wait-ers. However, it is a paradise for the young children (suggestion to parents: Bring a towel) who will be glad to cool off while waiting for grandma and grandpa.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers out there. It is still my favorite holiday - food, family, football, four-day-weekends and best of all for the observant Jew - NO religious responsibilities!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Shoah Victim's Database 

Yad VaShem has opened a Shoah Victim's Database on their web site. Ha'aretz is reporting that over 400,000 people have visited the site in its first 24 hours.

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Yad Vashem at the Start 

Ha'aretz has an interesting article on the "battles" that went on upon the founding of "Yad VaShem" back in the early 1950's. Apparently, but not surprisingly the "old guard" – the Jewish History department at Hebrew University was pitted against scholars who were also survivors.

Benzion Dinur was not only the founding head of Yad VaShem, but was also chairman of the Jewish History department at Hebrew U. while at the same time was Minister of Education. Like many arguments then as now, the basis was ideological. The Labor-Zionist establishment "related to the Holocaust as an historical event that was nearly inevitable, a direct result of the Diaspora that, in his (Dinur's) opinion, had to end in destruction…" according to Boaz Cohen, author of a book on the subject.

"For the survivor historian, researching the Holocaust was an acute need," Cohen says. "They perceived the Holocaust as a wound in the body and the soul of the Jewish people, and thought that the study of it was a necessary condition for healing. They wanted research that dealt with the difficult questions that the Holocaust raised concerning the status of the Jewish people among the nations, the existence of Jewish solidarity, and the collapse of the European culture in which they had believed."

It is not surprising that the birth of an institution such as Yad VaShem, less than ten years after the end of WWII should evoke such bitter debates (the article also briefly discusses the debates in the Knesset), but one can't wonder if our collective mistreatment of survivors (in Israel as well as the US Jewish community) in the years just after the Shoah have not stained our own ability to come to terms (see these two posts: I, II) with those who lived, let alone with those who didn't.

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Attraction of Abuse 

Does dominance by men in the synagogue mean abuse of women in the home? Not in most of the Orthodox (both modern and haredi) homes that I am familiar with.

I am not so sure if this article by Theodore Darymple (a pseudonym of a British prison psychiatrist with many insightful things to say on the human condition), on the murder of Theo Van Gogh has something to tell us as observant Jews or not. Darymple implicates the abuse of women as the main "attraction" of Islam to young powerless men.

From CityJournal (courtesy of LGF)

"In fact, Islam is as vulnerable in Europe to the forces of secularization as Christianity has proved to be. The majority of Muslims in Europe, particularly the young, have a weak and tenuous connection to their ancestral religion. Their level and intensity of belief is low; pop music interests them more. Far from being fanatics, they are lukewarm believers at best. Were it not
for the abuse of women, Islam would go the way of the Church of England.
The abuse of women has often, if not always, appealed to men, because it gives them a sense of power, however humiliated they may feel in other spheres of their life. And the oppression of women by Muslim men in Western Europe gives those men at the same time a sexual partner, a domestic servant, and a gratifying sense of power, while allowing them also to live an otherwise
westernized life. For the men, it is convenient; interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, almost the only openly hostile expressions toward Islam from British-born Muslims that I hear come from young women, some of whom loathe it passionately because they blame it for their servitude. Religious sanction for the oppression of women (whether theologically justified or not) is hence the main attraction of Islam to young men in an increasingly secular world. This explains why a divide often opens between brothers and sisters in the same European
Muslim family; the sisters want liberty, but the brothers enforce the old rules. They have to,
or the whole gratifying system breaks down."

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Objectivity and Selfishness 

A good friend just returned from the NY area where she attended one of those (rich) Orthodox Jewish weddings. As is the case when I hear of the unfettered materialism and the "in-ness" of the NY area orthodox community (haredi as well as modern) I get into one of my annoyed at American Jewry moods.

So, I went searching the web for some good story to blog on – you know something with shallowness, inanity, goofy smiles. It was tough going until I found a site that apparently is popular amongst the very shallow and young Jewish broadband crowd – an internet publication called "Jewsweek". Here was something I could sink my teeth into: Stories about beautiful Jews and what apparently passes for Jewish culture: Lot's of Hollywood worship: Formerly nice Jewish girls in Jewish burlesque.

Then I hit pay dirt: An article about young Jews going to Germany!

How disappointed I was when I read the article and it was not about shallow American Jewry at all, but about my fellow Israelis. Now, I am not unaware that many Israelis, young and less so have been making their home in Deutschland. I think I even wrote about it a few months ago.

Yet this article went beyond anything I had ever read about young Israelis going to the home of the Holocaust.

Just to give you a taste here is one small snippet – just to get the heart-a-pumpin':

" 'Get over your guilt,' Wolotzky says in response to the German breast-beating she's encountered. "We are third generation. I think we can sort it out by now. Can we just get on with it?" Wolotzky feels a special connection with Germany…"

We can go on and on about all the psychological reasons and the political reasons for these young Jews from Israel to go to Germany – even to take out German citizenship. We can even continue to berate Israel's educational system (one of my favorite pastimes).

Personally, I think the main reason is a radical selfishness where a person looks for his own betterment irrespective of any other consideration. This selfishness I feel is the result of a radical effort to always remain objective that is brought on by the lack of an ability to think honestly and critically.

While it’s fair to say that now that three generations have passed from the Holocaust we should look at the German people differently – its uncritical and dishonest to haphazardly tell a German to "get over your guilt" and ask of yourself, your fellow Jews and the Germans "can't we just get on with it?".

Critical and honest thinking includes not only in looking at the facts "objectively" but, based on the factual evidence in taking a subjective stance. This is something that these selfish young Jews unfortunately are unable or unwilling to do.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Many Issues 

On my first visit to the blog written by a Jerusalemite named Noa (a beautiful name - one my daughter almost got) I found a post that touched on so many issues that it is certainly worth a read. She deals with the attitudes of Israel's religious girls/young women, skirts and pants, the relationship of Jews and Arabs in Israel, kashrut in Jerusalem, nursing school, shopping and many other gems.

Most of all she captures in this one post the many of the frustrations of being religious, American and Israeli – and with a touch of humor – which is the only way to really overcome these frustrations. From reading the comments I saw that those who don't live in Israel didn't quite get it …. But that is part of the reason she writes, I would guess.

Note: Noa, if you read this – put an email address on your blog.

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

On Change 

When we write about change in Judaism we rarely speak about some of the major changes that we as a people have gone through due to the stresses that history has put on us as a people.

Yesterday we heard an interesting post-tephilla talk by a good friend and a professor of medieval Jewish History at Tel-Aviv University. The talk was ostensibly about education or "chinuch" and how the concept of educating our children has changed from Talmudic and medieval times to our views on it today. Without belaboring the point too much, one thing he mentioned was the influence that the success of the crusades had on the education of the children – especially in the rush to have young children take upon themselves adult Halakhic responsibilities. For example, one question sent to the grandson of Rashi and the greatest of the Tosaphists, Rabbenu Jacob Tam, complained about children as young as 8 or 9 fasting on Yom Kippur.

The conquering of the Holy Land by the Christian Crusaders was a main influence on this behavior since it was a tremendous theological blow to Ashkenazi Judaism. For if our messiah was to return us to Eretz Yisrael who was it that allowed the Christians to conquer it in Biblical fashion (they, pace Joshua in Jericho, surrounded and circled Jerusalem seven times before conquering it, among other Biblical-like acts)? Interestingly, as my friend pointed out, only after Salladin defeated the Crusader state in the Holy Land did Ashkenazi Jewry even mention the Crusader successes.

But it was these successes that led to the fear of letting Jewish children become Christianized and so threatened the theological future of Judaism that Jewish mothers and fathers killed their children rather than let them fall into the hands of those who would convert and raise them as Christians.

I couldn't help but contrasting it with the behavior 700 years later during the Holocaust where parents searched out monasteries and other Christian institutions in order to save their children. Most parents certainly did not believe that the children, especially the young ones would be able to survive as Jews no matter the outcome of the war. Yet, unlike their ancestors, they saw this as preferable to death.

I don't bring this up in order to condemn the acts of either the Jews of the era or the Crusades or that of the Jews who suffered the Holocaust - although I personally understand the behavior of Holocaust sufferers more – but to show how our attitudes towards the major dilemmas and issues that govern our lives have changed so utterly.

It gives one food for thought when one hears those who know for sure what the "Jewish view" is on those dilemmas, large and small, that we face today.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Death 0f The Luckiest Terrorist 

Who is the father of Kurdish nationalism? Of Basque nationalism? Of the Macedonian people? What about the Armenians, the Mongolians? The Biafrin (remember them?) leader?

What was it that made the terrorist leader Yassir Arafat different from all the other nationalist leaders of the last 100 years? What was it that made him so successful on the world stage and the others not even also-rans?

Simple. Arafat had the dumb luck to be fighting against the Jews. Is there a better way to gain the support and sympathy of the western world and their intellectual and social elite than to be fighting against the Jews and their vast international conspiracy?

Luck of the Irish? That's nothing compared to the luck of those who get to fight the Jews.
There is nothing better than the "Luck of the Jew-hater".

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Interviewing Evil 

Can you imagine what it would have been like to sit in a room, one on one and speak to Rudolf Hoess, the Auschwitz commandant, Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering, von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, and Julius Streicher, editor of the antisemitic journal Der Sturme ?

The Forward has a short essay on a man who did just that. They have a short piece on Dr. Leon Goldensohn a 34 year old Jewish US Army psychiatrist who was assigned to "assess the mental health" of these and other Nuremberg defendants. His interviews were put together by his brother in a book called "The Nuremberg Interviews".

Is our interest in what these monsters had to say a type of masochism or an insane attempt to "understand" what was going through their minds? About 20 years ago, the diaries of Goebbels came out and for some reason I read them in their entirety. I guess that Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" sticks in your mind when you read the words of these men. Here were "perfectly ordinary" men whose evil acts morphed into the extra-ordinary.

From the essay:
"When Hoess talked candidly about sending an estimated 2.5 million people to their deaths in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Goldensohn inquired as to whether it troubled him to kill children the same age as his own kids with his wife and children living there at the concentration camp. Hoess responded with a line that leaves readers shaking their heads: 'I didn't personally murder anybody. I was just the director of the extermination program....'

Another stunning moment in the book occurs when Goering, who declared that 'nobody knows the real Goering,' informed the psychiatrist that the genocide carried out by the Third Reich was at odds with his personal 'chivalric code.' The air force commander told Goldensohn: 'I revere women, and I think it unsportsmanlike to kill children.' "

Revernece and sportsmanship. Indeed.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

The Re-Birth of a Language 

How is it that Hebrew became the spoken language of the Yishuv (Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel)? How did a language based mainly on ritual and literature make its way to the schools, playgrounds and ball-fields of fledgling Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine?

A new book by Natan Efrati is out on the subject and is reviewed in Ha'aretz by Zohar Shavit.

Shavit writes:

"That the 'Hebrew project' took place is undisputed; much, however, remains to be learned about the process through which it reached its fulfillment. How was Hebrew spoken in Palestine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Who spoke it, and in what situations? How did the people born in Palestine become natural Hebrew-speakers, reading, studying and living every aspect of their lives in Hebrew?Hebrew was a language of ritual; it also served as a means of communication among Jews of different ethnicities, who had no other common language. How, then, did it change into a natural, native tongue? "

There were battles over who had the "authority" to create new words and what the "proper" pronunciation might be – all echoes of the continental-European origins of the Jewish intellectual where everything must be made "official". I don't really know to what extent these "official" groups contributed to the success of the Hebrew Project, or whether children playing in the streets and fields and on the beach were the determining factor of its success.

One thing for sure, the decision by the British Mandatory authorities to include Hebrew as an official language alongside Arabic and English not only allowed Hebrew to be taught in schools but allowed for all street signs and other official markings to be in Hebrew.

All in all, it's an interesting story and one of Zionism's great successes. With the inevitable death of Yiddish after the Holocaust and the revitalization of Sephardi Jewry we can only be thankful that we have at least this one unifying aspect of our culture.

If only Diaspora Jewry would take up the challenge and make Hebrew a greater part of its life, who knows how and on what basis we all might communicate?

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Thursday, November 04, 2004


This has been a slow blogging week for a number of reasons. First, the previous handful of posts were SO serious as to drain me of future thought. I needed to take a break before I my self-righteousness got the better of me. Second, I was hired by two important groups to watch late-night television so as to help their efforts.

That's right, first the NY Jets football team hired me to watch their Monday night football game against the Miami. The feeling was that by watching I would help the Jets move to 6-1 and a tie with the Patriots. Living in Israel that means watching a game that started at 4am.

Second, Karl Rove of the Bush-Cheney campaign paid me to watch the election returns that started to come in about 2am here on Wednesday. They also felt that my watching would help their efforts.

The Jets won 41-14 and Bush won 51-48: Smart moves by the Jets and the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Arafat is on his death bed .... what is the opposite of Tehilim?

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