Reading about Israel and Gaza

August 11, 2014

gaza

Two pieces came across my computer screen yesterday that I think worth sharing with readers who want to understand the situation in Gaza and Israel. One is by an expert on Middle East politics, and it gives a broad view and some background. The other is a first-person, very personal account, a voice that I haven’t heard in all the noise, and that I think should be heard.

First, the broad piece by the expert: this  article in the Washington Post is worth reading if you want to get a handle on the background of the current situation. The author is Dennis Ross, who was chief negotiator for the Clinton Administration and who has worked for the Obama Administration. Pay no attention to the headline; Ross didn’t write it and the person who wrote it apparently didn’t read his article. Ross gives background to the current mess and a fair description of the parties involved. Then he suggests a path towards peace. I am not qualified to judge the latter, but the first part of that article is as reality based as anything I’ve seen.

The second item came my way this week via my colleague Rabbi Mark Hurvitz. I’m sharing it here on my blog because it offers a point of view on this war that has thus far not gotten much attention. It’s not polished, but it is eloquent.

First, I’ll let Rabbi Hurvitz introduce the piece:

While I have never met Mette Hvid Hansen. She lives in Denmark, but also spent some time on Kibbutz Hulda. Mette recently posted this to the Hulda Facebook page. You might want to share it with those who think that all Israelis are “bloodthirsty” and care nothing about their adversaries. She has given me permission to repost it. (Forgive the spelling errors, English is not her 1st language.)
Now, the post by Mette Hvid Hansen:

Yet another weekend ahead of me where I will send my thoughts and prayers to people at war.

My heart breaks whenever I read the horrorfying stories from Gaza – children and civilians trying to escape the bombardments but being held back by hamas – hospitals, mosques and schools are being used as weaponstocks and ramps for firing rockets bringing death and wounds to my friends and their children who must spend most of their time in bombshelters – even when a truce is called.

The “bloodthirsty” Israeli soldiers who are sons and husbands of my girlfriends – some of the soldiers I have known since they were born and all of them are soft,wonderfull young boys – with all the same kind of dreams and hopes that my own son have.

Boys who will protect their families against monsters that appear through tunnels build for some of my taxmoney – tunnels used to kill, maim and kidnap from the kindergartens where the tunnels end

Boys who feel surprice and despair against the society that condems their every step and for whom we almost do not dare show our worry, sorry and pain in public since they are officially named “the bad gys” – Who understands this? – Well I really dont!

I KNOW that these boys will stay scarred forever for what they have to go through and what they have to do – hamas knows this too and use the fact that these boys have the same way to see life as you and I – every life counts – not as dead people on horrifying pictures but as living people who can help build a society where peace and calm rules…

Those boys have a very short time – seconds to decide weather they can help the old wounded man on their parth or if he is just another dirty trick to collect as many people around him as possible before he push the botton on the explosivebelt
Those boys must decide if they can help the two children standing crying out for help – on a balcony – and when they decide to help they all get killed instantly when they step into the boobytrapped house.


Those boys have all but a few seconds to decide – boys at the age of 18-20 years – who would prefer sitting at the beach, play the computer – watch girls (or other boys – in israel homoseksuality is allowed..) or have a drink.

Im grieving for all the dead children i Gaza – but Im also grieving for the sons and husbands of my girlfriends – and Im impressed that they are able to stay focused.


I think of all my friends that miss their husband and sons and the fact that their whole life can be changed by a tekst or phonecall.

I think of all my friends who spend most of their time in bombshelters.

I think of my friends who have children and grandchildren who never slept in their own bed becourse of the risk of rockets and where the alarm can make the difference between life or death – within maybe 30 seconds – same amount of time if you are 6 or 90 years old 


I think of how they all must feel when they see how they are judged from the fact that their country decided to spend millions of dollars to protect its people – and now have to read that it would be more “fair” if more of them would die – who of my friends would have to die to make all this more fair so that all of us – here in Europe could feel better about my friends sons and husbands wiping out hamas? 

The hamas that wont recognize Israel and actively work on the destruction of Israel?
The hamas where proof have shown that they use civilians and children as human shields in front of the schools,hospitals and mosques where they hide and use their weapons ?
The hamas that do not recognize basic womans rights?
The hamas who executes people on the street without any kind of trial and many time just on a suspicion?
The hamas who spend my taxmoney to build huge and long tunnels – each tunnel could have finansed maybe 19 medical clinics?
The hamas who wants to kill so bad that they dont care if their rockets backfire and hit their own hospitals, schools and powerstations and thereby kill they own people(this is also proven) ?

The sons and husbands of my friends fight against all that – they DONT fight the children that are used by hamas OR the civilians who are theatend by hamas – all they want is to return to my girlfriends and their families and work for peace and calm..

Hoping for a shabbat shalom for all
Mette/Tikva

—————–
You’re welcome to discuss these articles in the comments – that would be great. Disagree and/or discuss all you want, but please remember that there are other human beings behind your computer screen. Please choose both your words and their tone accordingly.

Resource for Conversion to Judaism

August 9, 2014
Dawn Kepler & Linda Burnett

Dawn Kepler & Linda Burnett of BecomingJewish.net

Are you interested in conversion to Judaism? Did you recently become a member of the tribe?

BecomingJewish.net offers support and information for anyone seeking conversion or recently become Jewish. It has additional resources for users living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

They have solid information about the process of becoming a Jew and about conversion outside the U.S. They also have first-person accounts by Jews by Choice about their own experiences.

Their directory of rabbis is a resource for anyone “shul shopping” [looking for a synagogue] because it includes stories by people who have converted with each Bay Area rabbi, and who have gotten to know their rabbi well. If you want to get a taste of what the rabbi at Beth Somewhere is like, this is a great way to do it.

Full disclosure: The site is staffed by my dear friend Dawn Kepler (who mentored me through conversion) and my spouse, Linda Burnett. But seriously, even if I didn’t love the people running it, this is a great resource!


What is Shabbat Nachamu?

August 8, 2014
"The Heavens Spread Out Like a Prayer Shawl" by Victor Raphael

“The Heavens Spread Out Like a Prayer Shawl” a meditation on Isaiah 40:1 by Victor Raphael

We’ve been through a lot in the past few weeks, haven’t we? This year, it wasn’t just in the liturgy and the calendar: it’s been a hard time for Israel, for a lot of people in the Middle East, and for the world. So this week, I will likely listen with tears in my eyes when I hear the familiar words of Isaiah: Comfort, comfort, My people!

This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Nachamu.” It takes this name from the beginning of the Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) this week, Isaiah 40:1: Nachamu, nachamu ami! [Comfort, comfort, My people!] After the terror of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish People turn to God and to one another for comfort.

There’s a lot of midrash on this passage: who is comforting, who is comforted, and how? The rabbis speculate whether it means comfort as in “There, there” or comfort as in “strengthen.” There is even a midrash that suggests that it is God who needs comforting, after the terrors of Tisha B’Av!

The problem of suffering has puzzled human beings forever. Often suffering comes to those who have done nothing wrong. Sometimes wicked people thrive. How shall we make sense of it all?

I read this line in my own way. I think Isaiah is telling us that to get comfort, we need to give comfort. There is much undeserved suffering in the world, and I am not qualified to judge who “deserves” or does not. What I know is that a lot of us are hurting. This Shabbat, when we feel we need comfort, may each of us reach out to someone else and say, “Take heart.”

Shabbat shalom.


Praying the Sh’ma

August 7, 2014

The Shema in a Siddur (Prayer Book)

The Shema in a Siddur (Prayer Book)

 

Sh’ma Yisrael! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!

Listen, Israel! The Eternal* is our God, the Eternal is One!

This week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan, contains the Sh’ma, the Jewish statement of faith. The Sh’ma is the first prayer a Jewish child learns and often the last prayer on the lips of a dying Jew.

A teacher once gave me an exercise that I still find useful:

1. Find a quiet place to sit.

2. Say the first word of the Sh’ma: “Sh’ma.” Say it aloud, and listen to it.

3. Think about what that word means. Let your mind flow to other possibilities than the usual “Hear.” Or let your mind linger on the sound of the word. It’s up to you. (You can do this either in Hebrew or in English. Do what is comfortable for you.) Let your mind play with it until it is ready for something new.

4. Take a moment to be completely silent. Then take the next word, “Yisrael.” Say it aloud. Listen to it. Think about what all the various things the word means to you. Let your mind linger on it for a while.

When you are ready, proceed through the rest of the Sh’ma, one word at a time.

Sh’ma. Yisrael. Adonai. Eloheinu. Adonai. Echad.

Listen. Israel. Name of God. Our God. Name of God. One.

Now here’s my question: What does the Sh’ma mean to you? 

*The actual word in Hebrew is the Name of God, which Jews do not pronounce. You may fill in with “Adonai,” “HaShem,” “The Eternal,” “Lord” or whatever works for you. Or you may simply be silent.

 

 

 


Depression and Judaism

August 6, 2014
Black Dog #1: Jojo

Black Dog #1: Jojo

I have two black dogs. One makes me laugh, and one makes me cry.

This is Jojo. Sometimes we refer to her as Jojo the Clown, because she makes my entire family laugh. She has a dance that she does when she sees new people or favorite people, aka “the Jojo dance,” which consists of her front paws doing a waltz and her back paws doing the Charleston. Someday I need to stop laughing long enough to make a video.

Jojo is a rescue dog. She languished at her foster home, waiting for new people. The old people had gotten sick and had to give her up. After months of being passed over (something that often happens to black dogs) she became depressed. For comfort, she stole food from the other dogs, and her normally 9 pound body ballooned to 15. When Linda and I met her, she was a sad little depressed dog. She lay there, looking sad until I picked her up. Then she peed all over me.

I immediately identified with Jojo; we both had “black dogs.” That was what Winston Churchill called depression: his black dog. I have that kind of black dog, too, and from time to time it sticks to my heels like glue. Lately, I have been visited by Black Dog #2. (Jojo is Black Dog #1 – of course she is #1 – she makes me laugh.)

When Jojo got a home, and the right meds, she returned to the self she was meant to be. And I find her encouraging during my spells with Black Dog #2. If Jojo could learn to dance again, so can I.

Part of recovery is following doctor’s orders and taking my meds. And part of it is immersing myself in the home of my heart: Judaism. Judaism teaches me in my morning prayers, “The soul … within me is pure.” I’m not bad, even if I feel bad. Moreover, I can do good: I can do mitzvot. I can study texts, I can pray, I can give tzedakah, I can teach my students, and I can relieve suffering (in small ways). Like Jojo, I can rejoice in having a home, even if “rejoicing” consists of eating good things and staying in touch with loved ones until I feel like more strenuous rejoicing.

Judaism teaches me that when God finished Creation, God saw that it was “tov me’od,” – it is very good. All of it. Including a certain depressed rabbi.

I am writing about this because I know that some of my readers, some whom I don’t even know, also suffer from depression. You aren’t alone, just as I am not alone. There are lots of us. And with the right help, and doing mitzvot (eating right, following doctor’s orders, getting outside ourselves to do mitzvot for others) it will be OK.

It is the tough weeks when I am most grateful for being a Jew. I have a storehouse of wisdom saved up for me by the Jews of the past: the Torah, the Tanakh (Bible), the Mishnah and the Gemara, and wise words written by centuries of wise Jews. Even when I can’t get it together to study them, I can see them there on my shelves: centuries of faith, seeking to do good.

We’re all going to be OK.


A Jewish Valentine’s Day?

August 5, 2014
"Love Ring" by Daniel Lee

“Love Ring” by Daniel Lee

Did you know there’s a Jewish Valentine’s Day? There was never a Jewish “St. Valentine” but there’s an ancient holiday of love.

Tu B’Av is a minor but fun Jewish holiday. After the mourning of Tisha B’Av, this is a lovely little day to be happy and to celebrate love.

  • Tu B’Av = Fifteenth of the Month of Av. In Hebrew, the letters that form the number 15 can also be pronounced “Tu.”
  • Today in Israel, it’s called Chag HaAhavah, the Holiday of Love, and it’s a favored day for weddings. Think of it as Jewish Valentine’s Day.
  • In Temple times, in Jerusalem, the grape harvest began on the fifteenth of Av and ended on the tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kippur. On both those days, single girls dressed in white and went to dance in the vineyards in the afternoon. It was a traditional time for courtship.
  • There are no big religious observances for the day. However, it’s a good day to get married, a good day to fall in love, and a great day to tell your loved ones “I love you.”

In 2014, Tu B’Av falls on August 10-11 (begins at sundown, runs until sundown.) For future years, check the Hebrew calendar at http://hebcal.com.

 


What is the Blood Libel?

August 4, 2014

An old, terrible lie has resurfaced. 

The video above is part of an interview with Osama Hamdan, head of international relations for Hamas. on the Lebanese Al-Quds TV channel on July 28, 2014.  In it he makes the assertion that Jews have a custom of killing non-Jewish children and using their blood to make Passover matzah. 

The belief that Jews kill people, usually children, and use their blood in rituals or to make matzah is called the Blood Libel. It is a lie. It is a particularly baffling lie in that Jewish dietary law forbids the eating of any blood: blood is drained from animals before butchering, and meat is salted to remove any stray drops of blood. 

The Blood Libel has been around a long time. Apion, a Greek who hated Jews wrote about it in the first century CE.  It then pops up periodically, but the first major European case was in 1144, in Norwich, England. In the Middle Ages, these accusations followed a pattern: a body was found, or a child disappeared, and the Jews were accused of the crime. Elaborate fantasies about the supposed rituals were imagined and written down by the accusers, which then became fodder for the next case. For more detail about it, there is an excellent but heartbreaking article in the Jewish Virtual Library.

The Blood Libel has continued in the modern era. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic document that was distributed by the Russian secret police in 1905. It is a catalogue of all the ancient lies about the Jews, repackaged for the 20th century. Henry Ford distributed it in the United States. It included the Blood Libel as well as other medieval stories about Jews poisoning wells, spreading plague, and so on. It was used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust. And now, in the 21st century, it continues to circulate on the internet, and it has surfaced in Islamist talking points.

The important thing to know about the Blood Libel is that it is a lie without any kernel of truth. Observant Jews do not eat blood of any kind, ever. All Jews categorically reject human sacrifice. And despite what Mr. Hamdan says, the Blood Libel is not in any of our books. It is only in the books fabricated by sick minds to poison the world against Jews.

I really hate this topic. I hate teaching it and writing about it, but tragic experience has taught us that these lies are extremely dangerous. May the day come, and speedily, when all such horrors are finally behind us.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,739 other followers

%d bloggers like this: