What is z”l?

Z”L after a person’s name means that that person is dead. It is an abbreviation for the Hebrew phrase Zichrono livracha. [Of Blessed Memory.] The feminine form is zichronah livracha. The correct way to pronounce the abbreviation is “zahl.”

Jews love acronyms. If there is a phrase that takes a long time to write, why not just abbreviate it it? Added bonus: that way you don’t have to spell it! And if you put a vowel or two back in there, you can make it into an acronym!

When a word in Hebrew is abbreviated, there’s a little sign put into the letters that remain to clue you in to what’s going on. It looks like a lone quotation mark and most people refer to it as a “choopchik.”

SO:

Z”L  = Zichrono  + choopchick + Livracha = Of Blessed Memory, or “ZAHL”

in Hebrew, it looks like this:

abbreviationzl

And for your further edification and amusement, here’s a list of other common Hebrew and Hebrew-ish acronyms.

 

A Succinct Lesson on Jewish Thought

Image: A flowering cholla cactus. Photo by Kenneth Redmond on pixabay.com.

An old Ashkenazi gentleman once said to me, “I don’t know what happens when we die. Some say we go to heaven with the pearly gates. Some say it’s a big yeshivah up there. But me, I think it’s just this life and then, you know, the worms. So we better do our best in this life, since it’s all we’ve got.”

In truth, there’s no single Jewish idea about the afterlife. I have always like this man’s description of the puzzle, though, because it seems to hit all the main points of a typical Jewish worldview:

  1. Life is full of mystery.
  2. Some say this, others say that.
  3. But yes, I have an opinion, which is not a rosy one.
  4. The important thing is to live a good life.

 

 

 

Why Bernie Avishai winces at the term “radical Islam”

Image: Bernard Avishai, Photo by Neodbg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I hope that my readers will consider what Mr. Avishai has to say. The phrase “radical Islam” is useless. It plays into the fantasies of terrorists by elevating their status, when in fact they are merely murderers and thugs who find holy texts useful for justifying evil. Thank you, Rabbi John Rosove, for your thoughtful post which I have reposted here.

Rabbi John Rosove's Blog

I take seriously just about everything Bernard Avishai says and writes.

Bernie is an Adjunct Professor of Business at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has taught at Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Dartmouth College, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. A Guggenheim Fellow, Bernie holds a doctorate in political economy from the University of Toronto. Before turning to management, he covered the Middle East as a journalist. He has written many articles and commentaries for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harvard Business Review, Harper’s Magazine and other publications. He is the author of three books on Israel, including the widely read The Tragedy of Zionism, and the 2008 The Hebrew Republic. He lives in both Jerusalem and the United States.

Bernie doesn’t shoot from the…

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Gay Pride Parade Memories

Image: LGBTQA Jews marching in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, 2014. Note the Israeli flag under the arch in the background. Photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0.)

 

The famous Gay Pride Parade is today in San Francisco. It’s not the great-grandaddy of Pride parades (that’s New York) but it’s the one that usually makes it onto the news in the “red” states because it has the most colorful visuals. There are the Dykes on Bikes, of course, and the obligatory Nearly Naked People marching down the street, along with some Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. All make it onto teaser film for the Ten O’Clock News because face it, that’s ratings gold, right down to the phone calls complaining that someone should Think Of The Children.

Around my house, we no longer attend the Pride Parade because I’ve grown uncomfortable with crowds and mobility is an issue. However, every June we reminisce about Pride Parades. There was a time when they were a very big deal for our family, because that’s when all the other people we referred to as “family” would come out and be counted.

I think our first Parade was in 1988 or 89. AIDS was still ravaging the community, mysteriously sickening and killing gay men. Lesbian organizations were crumbling all over the place because many of us were putting our time into AIDS support or activism. Bisexual and transgender people and issues were still largely invisible; there was very little room for anything in the collective psyche but AIDS.

The Parade was much smaller then, and much more subdued. There was a float for ACT-UP, and contingents from the various legal and political organizing groups, and a group of people carrying a huge section of the NAMES Memorial Quilt. We were angry, sad, and determined to survive. Even in those days, though, there was a celebratory aspect to the Parade, because celebration has always been a form of defiance for us LGBTQ folk. The Dykes on Bikes led the Parade, and there were two floats I’ll never forget.

The first was the Bears float. “Bears” are round, hairy gay men. They and the people who are attracted to them celebrate that roundness and hairiness. (I don’t get it, but face it, I’m a lesbian – I’m not wired to understand it.) I will always be grateful to that float of Bears, because they were throwing little teddy bears into the crowd and my young son caught one. He was thrilled; he was still little enough that a new toy was a very big deal. We didn’t realize then that he was going to grow up to be a big round hairy guy himself, albeit a heterosexual one. However, along with the teddy bear he caught the message that it was cool to be a big round hairy guy. I will always be grateful to those men for the happy body image they bequeathed to my little one.

Immediately after it, there was another float, this one the Folsom Street Fair float. The Folsom Street Fair bills itself as “the world’s biggest leather event.” (That’s “leather” as in “leather fetish.”) That float was covered with scantily dressed people wearing a lot of leather straps and chains. Before I could cover his eyes with his new teddy bear, my son piped up, “Why are those men dressed up, Mama?” I answered with the first thing that came into my head: “Because they like to play dress up, sweetie.” Satisfied, he said, “I need to think of a really good name for my bear.” And that was all.

I think my last Pride was in about 2000 when the GLSen group (Gay/Lesbian/Straight Alliance) at my son’s high school wanted to march. I marched with three kids and the faculty advisor. As the only “out” queer parent at the school, I felt I really had to support them. The little boy who caught the bear had grown; he was the straight member of our contingent.

 

The change over the years in between those two parades was dramatic. By 2000 AIDS was no longer “the gay disease” although it was still a problem. By 2000 our congregation was marching in the Parade, too. I remember explaining to my rabbi that I needed to be with the high school group because it was so much smaller. By 2000 I was thinking about rabbinical school and I knew a lesbian who’d been accepted to the program at Hebrew Union College. 

Now I’m a rabbi. Now there are many LGBTQ Jewish clergy in all movements, so many that I don’t know them all. Linda and I are married, something we could never have imagined in 1988. The kids I marched with in 2000 came back to the Bay Area, all grown up, to attend my son’s wedding last weekend.

Much has changed, but much still needs to change. Transwomen of color live in dreadful danger, and transmen have it very rough, too. Gender fluid folk, and others under the “trans” umbrella, still have to explain too much and too often.  LGBTQ Americans may be able to get married, but our jobs and homes are still at risk in many states. AIDS is more manageable, but it’s still with us. Too many people still want to kill us.

Want to help? Support an organization like the Transgender Law Center, or the National Center for Lesbian Rights.  When you meet an LGBTQ person, don’t tell them what or whom you know, just be present to them as a person. If you meet a young person who identifies as LGBT or Q, don’t argue with them about it being too soon for labels. Just accept them for whom they are. Remember:

God saw everything that God had made, and indeed it was very good. So there was evening, and there was morning, a sixth day. – Genesis 1:31

Throwing Myself Into the Arms of Shabbat

Early this morning, after staying up to hear the news about the UK voting to leave the European Union, I posted this message to friends on Facebook:

This (Brexit, Trump) is what comes of the obsession with deficits post-2008 and the growing disparity in incomes. The 90% feel enraged and abandoned, looking for someone to blame, voting their fears.

I don’t know when I have felt so pessimistic. Time for Shabbat.

Then I did a bit of housework, always good therapy. I saw messages from friends, including an exhortation to “Look for the good, it’s still there” from a friend who sees much more of the trouble in the world close up than I do, a nurse who spent much of the last week watching over the victims of Orlando.  These good angels made me rethink my bad mood.

This is not the time to succumb to the blues. There is important work to do in this world. There are things that CAN be made right. We can fix our broken institutions here in the U.S. It isn’t too late to have a functioning Supreme Court, a Congress where they actually vote on bills that matter, and an economic system that brings a decent life to everyone, not just to the wealthy. 

I am tired right now. That SCOTUS non-result that has hurt immigrants hurt my heart. Brexit hurts people for whom I care very much. The reaction of those well-meaning people at the local Republican HQ – “Trump isn’t ours, please go away” – chilled me. Orlando shocked me to my bones.

And yet:

Last weekend I saw my youngest married to a good woman. I saw a new generation of my family begin. I saw that my sons are grown and they are good men. So I refuse to give up hope in the world.

Last weekend I was reminded what a precious and wonderful “family of choice” I have. The people who have chosen to love me and my children are a tribe of our own, built from what seemed, 30 years ago, to be the wreckage of my life. I have children of my body and adopted children, a brother I adore and adopted siblings who would walk through fire for me, ex-in-laws who have been dear to me ever since I met them in the fall of 1973. I have my beloved and beshert, Linda, and to our mutual amazement, we are legally married! So I refuse to give up on the world.

Last week I saw an outpouring of support for the gay men and other Q people and allies murdered in Orlando. There were a few haters. There were people who used it as another opportunity to demonize Muslims. But the vast majority of people saw those gay men as human beings, and saw the shooter as what he was: a hate filled individual who used Daesh/ISIS as his excuse. Even ten years ago, the reaction would have been quite different. So I refuse to give up hope in the world.

Last Monday night I was the guest of Muslim neighbors at their iftar. I saw the earnest seeking after true spiritual growth. I felt the welcome of generous spirits, and I listened to fears and worries that were very much like my own. I am convinced that the Holy One at the center of our attention is the same One. Their love for our country is the same as mine. I refuse to give up hope in the world.

I’m going to keep Shabbat, and let Shabbat keep me this week. Shabbat shalom, my friends. We will still do good in this world, whatever happens.

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. –Winston Churchill, October 29, 1941

Shabbat Shalom! – Beha’alotecha

Whew! This week’s Torah portion has a l-o-n-g name: Beha’alotecha. It means “when you ascend” or “when you mount” and as always, it’s the first striking word in the portion. In this case, it comes from a command given to Aaron:

When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lamp stand. -Numbers 8:2

This parashah begins with directions about the great menorah in the Tabernacle. It continues with the consecration of the Levites, directions about Passover, the cloud and pillar of fire that led the Israelites, silver trumpets, and then, at the end, two disasters. The first is a fateful meal of quail, and the second is a famous story about Miriam, Aaron and Moses.

For more about this portion, here are some divrei Torah from around the Internet:

The Heaviness of Leadership by Anita Silvert

The Silencing of Miriam and the Cushite Woman by Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

The Fine Art of Complaint by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Offering God Compassion by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Nachshon Moments, on Land and on Sea by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

When You Ascend by Rabbi Ruth Adar

And Nun Shall Be Afraid by Rabbi Philip Rice

 

Meet Sefaria!

If you have not yet discovered Sefaria.org, you are in for a treat. It bills itself as “A Living Library of Jewish Texts” which is exactly correct. It contains all the major Jewish texts in Hebrew and some lesser known texts, many of them with English translations.

They have recently updated the site with a modern translation of the Tanach (Bible) texts. Most of the major rabbinic texts have translations available, many of them by users of Sefaria. (That’s one of the things that makes it a “living library” – it is constantly under construction.)

When you enter Sefaria, you’ll be greeted with a menu of the available texts. Old hands will recognize them. Those new to Jewish texts may find a primer helpful. Below are some very brief definitions of terms on the menu, along with pronunciation. When there are two options for pronunciation, the first is the Modern Hebrew / Sephardic pronunciation and the second is the Ashkenazi.

TANAKH – (tah-NAKH) The Jewish Bible, Genesis through Chronicles. (Note to Christians: While there are definite connections between your Old Testament and our Bible, they are not the same. The Tanakh is arranged differently and our translations differ.)

MISHNAH – (mish-NAH or MISH-nah) Discussions by the rabbis, redacted in 200 CE by Rabbi Judah the Prince. Mishnah is the record of the early part of the process we call Oral Torah.

TALMUD – (tahl-MOOD or TAHL-mood) What is the Talmud? will give you the basics.

MIDRASH (mee-DRAHSH or MID-rash) – What is Midrash? will answer that question.

HALAKHAH – (hah-lah-KHAH or hah-LAH-khah) is what many refer to as “Jewish Law,” although that can be somewhat misleading. Halakhic literature includes codes and other lists and explanations of rules for Jewish living derived from the Written and Oral Torah.

KABBALAH – (kah-bah-LAH or kah-BAH-lah) Jewish mystical literature.

LITURGY – (LIT-ur-gee) Prayer books, services, and documents that are used in the context of ritual, such as a ketubah [marriage contract.]

CHASIDUT – (khahs-ee-DOOT or khas-EH-dus) About 250 years ago, Ashkenazi Judaism was dominated by an intellectual approach to Torah; a rival movement grew up which focussed on inward experience of the Divine, mystical knowledge, and a more emotional expression of Torah. Chasidut is the literature produced by the teachers in that movement. However, it is famously a difficult term to define and I look forward to the comments which will explain that I have completely misunderstood it!

MUSAR – Jewish literature that concerns itself with systematic self-improvement. To quote Rabbi Louis Jacobs, z”l: “The Musar Movement was founded by Israel Salanter in nineteenth-century Lithuania with the aim of promoting greater inwardness, religious piety, and ethical conduct among traditionally minded Jews.” (from The Musar Movement)

RESPONSA – Through the centuries, Jews have written questions (she’e’lot) to scholarly rabbis, requesting clarification of proper Jewish practice. Rabbis respond with answers (teshuvot) citing cases and precedent in the halakhic literature. This process continues today.

APOCRYPHA – Books not part of the final canon of the TANAKH which may have been included in earlier collections or in Bibles of other faiths, e.g. the books of Maccabees.

You might enjoy browsing “Source Sheets,” which are study aids put together by Sefaria users using the library materials. For instance, you can find source sheets on these topics:

Give Thanks and Praises (Rabbi Sari Laufer)

Blessing Food (Rabbi Jill Zimmermann)

Mayim, Mayim! Ten Wet Jewish Texts (Rabbi Justus Baird)

Who is Moses? (Rabbi Marina Yergin)

Drinking on Purim (Rabbi Ruth Adar)

Enjoy!

 

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