Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This year in Jerusalem!

Hey World,

First off (to those celebrating), hag sameach, woo passover! Passover is one of my favorite holidays, if not my favorite, but to be fair I love them all.

This year for Passover I put on my own seder in honor of my mom coming to visit. It was a crazy few days of cleaning and kashering and then cooking in preparation for it. I had 11 people over, and I cooked enough for about 20 haha. I'm still eating left overs.

It's been really special so far to be in Jerusalem for passover. As every year at the end of the seder we sing "l'shana haba'a b'yerushalaim" or next year in Jerusalem, and my prayer from last year came true. Passover was also, in the time of the temple, a pilgrimage holiday, so the idea was that everyone would come to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their passover sacrifice. So it was cool to be in the place where historically people would come on pilgrimage, and many people still do come on passover, Jerusalem is full of tourists!

So during passover day (Tuesday) I went to services at Kedem, as usual. They were lovely. I really love singing hallel. One other thing I have really come to appreciate are the calendar markers in Judaism, whether it is the special insert you say on rosh chodesh, or different prayers that change with the season. For example for half the year during the section of the service called the amidah, half the year we say a line that has to do with having the rain fall "mashiv haruach u'morid hagashem" and the other half (although I think it's only in Israel) we say morid hatal, which is the prayer for dew. The first day of passover is when you switch from the rain one to the dew one. There is also a special prayer for dew that you say during the service. I just found it so cool, I remember at the beginning of my year here when we were doing the dew line and then switching and it is interesting to come back to it and think about where I was then vs where I am now. I love this stuff.

What else...last night I went to the kotel (western wall). I'm not such a fan of the wall to be honest, but I went because it's passover and this is what the Jewish people used to do, and I had the opportunity so I wanted to take it. People pray to be here and I'm here. It was cool to be there and see all the people that had descended on Jerusalem. I saw a fair amount of tears in the women's section. I had an interesting run in with a woman who asked to use my cell phone. She needed to call a cab so I let her, and then we were talking and she wanted to give me food (Jewish haha), but before she did she asked me if I was religious. I didn't really know how to answer, so I said "yes?" She asked me if I said blessings before I ate because if I didn't then she couldn't give me the food. Super frum. I said a blessing before I ate the chocolate, so we are both good. woo. It was just not something I'd heard before, but I don't spend a lot of time with super religious people so I guess it makes sense. Israel is a wild place/Judaism is a wild religion. I love it.

So now I'm on vacation. Life is good. Passover is lovely, and super easy here because everything is kosher for passover and there are all these restaurants open. Good stuff.


ps this is my fave passover video/parody thing that I've seen this year, check it out:

Monday, April 11, 2011


Hey World,

Another post?! Yes, but I have something I actually want to say.

So I finally got around to reading Dr. Daniel Gordis' piece about American Rabbinical students and their relationship towards Israel. The article and especially the comments left below the article were very disturbing to me. I don't really understand the climate that has developed in the American Jewish community over the past year, while I am here in Israel, but frankly I am scared to go back to it. While I think it is important to support Israel, and while I do love Israel (if you read my blog you know this), I do think that it is important to have a nuanced and complex relationship with Israel, because Israel is a nuanced and complex place. To me this means being critical sometimes. Tough love. I will always support Israel's right to exist and I think it is so important for us Jews to have a homeland, but that doesn't mean we can turn a blind eye to the Palestinians, and to the other people that are suffering on behalf of the Jewish homeland.

It isn't just the American Jewish community that is the problem. Just last week J street was deemed to be "Pro-Palestinian" by an Israeli Parliamentary committee. Since J street does not offer unconditional support to Israel, in the eyes of the Israeli government it is not pro-Israel. I can't even tell you how frustrated all of this makes me. To expect unconditional support is ridiculous. Even as a Jew of the diaspora I believe that I have a right to speak my mind about what is happening in Israel. If you want my unconditional support, Israel, you need to start behaving like you want it. I am not only talking about "the conflict", I am also talking about some of the b.s laws that are being enforced by the rabbinic courts. For example this whole issue of mesorevet get, where the husband leaves his wife trapped in a marriage, and there is nothing she can do. Along with others.

While there is a lot I am critical of, this does not make me anti-Israel. I am critical because I care (a lot). I want Israel to be the amazing place, and the" light to the nations" that I know it can be. I want Israel to be blameless and perfect so badly, but that's not the reality at this time. I think that by being vocal and having a generation of young Jews who are vocal about both their praise and criticism, we can help Israel improve itself. Instead of accepting everything that goes on, maybe by being critical we can help change some things. Maybe this is overly optimistic, but no one ever brought about change by staying silent.

I have really loved living in Israel this past year. It is so amazing to have a place like this for Jews. A place where Jewish holidays are national celebrations, and where Jewish culture is lived all the time. It's really beautiful. I think Dr. Gordis was aiming his criticism more at rabbinical students who flat out deny Israel's right to exist, and I think that it is scary to think about future rabbis who are actually anti-Israel, but honestly I don't think there are that many of them. I think that Dr. Gordis has decided that certain rabbinical students' actions makes them anti-Israel, when in fact they just have a more nuanced and complex relationship with Israel. For example the case cited about a rabbinical student having his birthday in Ramallah.

One of Dr. Gordis' suggestions to help "fix" this situation is "could we find the funding to place academically superb and unequivocally Israel-supportive professors in the schools that want them? " Sure put professors that are supportive of Israel, but all being unequivocally so? See the arguement that I just made above.  Also by sheltering future rabbis I don't think you are being much of a help to the future generation of Jewish leaders.

I think that by expecting unconditional support of Israel it alienates more people. Let's say you are someone with minimal Israel education, and has maybe come on a birthright trip or something so you have seen the happy amazing side of Israel, but not the more complicated and confusing parts, and then you come to live in Israel for a year as part of your rabbinic training (or just life) and you come into contact with the most challenging parts of Israel (whatever those might be for you). How can you deal with those? I think there needs to be some preparation. Israel education in America needs to prove that Israel has a right to exist and is an amazing place without ignoring the realities of the state. How exactly to do that is a great question, and one I am going to be struggling with for a while. I don't want to turn people off of Israel, Israel has enough haters, but at the same time I refuse to lie and I refuse to ignore the complexities of the situation here.

As a fellow rabbinical student and encounter buddy said (I feel weird using names on my blog, so I won't. ALSO I'm paraphrasing) she highlighted the fact that as Jews we struggle with difficult texts all the time. Every year we read about the binding of Isaac, and struggle with the complexities in the story. We read about God being angry and seemingly far from perfect, and we struggle with that. If we spend our lives struggling with difficult ideas that are put forth in our text, so why can't we struggle with the difficulties that exist in the reality of the state of Israel? It is not black and white, and I feel that it would be dishonest of me as a Jew and especially as a future rabbi to portray the situation as such.

whew. I hope that made sense. I welcome comments on this issue. I think this is something extremely important to discuss, because I think this tension is only going to get worse. I am nervous to see how this will all play out, but at the same time I know that there are many people who feel similarly about this situation, and that this critical and yet also supportive voice will continue to be heard.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

good vibes

Hey World,

First off according to my "stats" for this blog, I have a following in Japan. I'm not sure if this is true, or if it is some glitch. But if you are from Japan reading this blog, consider this a shout out and thank you for visiting. I would love to know how you found me. Also I am hoping for the best for you over there (whether or not you are reading my blog)

Second. I cut my hair off. It's shorter than it's been in a while, and I am LOVING having short hair. It was a necessary change. It's funny how a haircut can really change things.

Third, today I taught my Talmud class, and it was awesome. In honor of passover coming up we studied the 10th chapter of masechet psachim (the mishnah) which is all about the passover seder. I love passover/studying about it so I had a lot of fun with it. I think it is cool that so much of what we do in the seder has already been codified by the time of the mishnah. Even the 4 questions (yes with some changes, but they are still there). I recommend reading it, it's not too difficult, especially if you find yourself a good translation. We had an interesting conversation about what it means to see yourself as if you personally left Egypt and were freed from slavery. How does one do that? Also as progressive Jews should and is our understanding of this requirement different? food for thought...

Fourth, I wrote about this a little bit in a previous blog entry, but 2 weeks ago I went to navah tehillah and we sang part of shir hashirim and I found that they recorded one of the songs we did, which was my favorite one so I just wanted to share it: So shir ha shirim is a love poem and the chorus of this song is "like a rose amidst the thorns so is my love (beloved?) among the [other] women." awwwwwwwwwwwww.

And also cause I'm in a sharing mood here is anther song I like. This is going back to the beginning of my blog when I used to share music, oooh vintage...

ok off to spin class. woooo


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

what to do if your animal kicks a rock that breaks a window that breaks a vase?

Hello World,

Happy Talmud Tuesday!! That's not really a thing, I just made it up. However Tuesday is the day I have my Talmud class, AND it's alliteration, so yeah.

Anyways I am still taking a Talmud class with the Israeli Rabbinic Program every Tuesday. This semester we have a different teacher, so the class is very different, but I LOVE it. We are doing masechet bava kamma, which is about damages. While some people may think it is absurd to study about what to do if a cow you have is walking in another person's yard and steps on a rock in a way that it flies up and breaks something, or if a bird is flying and the wind that it's wings make breaks something... I think it's awesome! Yes this has very little, if any practical purpose, and I doubt as a Rabbi I will ever get asked halachic questions like this (if you notice there is no religious significance to these questions, it is purely secular dealing with property), but that's not why I study Talmud.

For me the beauty of the Talmud lies in it's organization and logic. Each sugya (section-ish, argument? hard to translate), is organized in such a genius way. When I first go through to try and figure out what is happening I will open up my Talmud and try to translate. The problem is (which I think where the Talmud loses a lot of people), is that even if you understand every word you probably are not going to understand what is going on. Then I go back and try and see the structure. Who is arguing with who, what quotes are being used to challenge someone's point or to support someone's claim. Within a sugya there are arguments/differences of opinions and then arguments over why the opinions differ, it gets pretty meta at times. After working for a while I will get to a point where I can understand most of what is going on, and then it helps to have a chevruta or a teacher to help further clarify and point out the details that I missed/didn't understand.

This whole process is beautiful to me. I want to share it with everyone. The problem is the lack of accessibility of the Talmud. I have been studying Talmud for over 4 years  now, and it is still  difficult for me. You need to have a knowledge of Hebrew/aramaic, knowledge of different talmudic terms and how the Talmud is structured and patience (until you get really good, which I am waiting for). Yes, there are English translations, but the language is weird, because the language of the Talmud is sparse/they don't use lots of words to clarify what they are talking about because a lot of knowledge is assumed. So yeah the translations are also not very clear, and it is hard to get to the beauty of the text through translation.

This is something that frustrates me when I teach my talmud class. I really enjoy teaching the kids and having discussions with them, but I want to figure out a way to show them this beauty. They don't have enough Hebrew to study in the original, and I'm not sure I could do it in translation. I have fun showing them interesting content (which there is a lot of!) in the Talmud, like all the stories, but the structure and the logic is a really special part of the text and I want to be able to bring that in more.

Give the Talmud a chance! Even the people in South Korea realize its genius (it is studied in schools there, look it up).

Ok the end of my not rant, it is a rant that is positive. Is there a word for that? Probably.

Nezek shalem or chetzi nezek?


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jerusalem is NOT boring

Hello World,

So the title of this blog post is dedicated to the MANY people (mostly Israelis from outside of Jerusalem) who always say how Jerusalem is boring. I disagree. If by boring people are referring to the nightlife, while Jerusalem doesn't have the same nightlife as Tel Aviv, it still has a lot of options. There is downtown and there are many bars and clubs with many different feels. There is also nachla'ot which has some more chill bars, and there are cute places all over. Same goes with restaurants.

If you are not referring to night life there is still a lot to do here. I hope I have made that clear in my blog. Yeah there are a lot of tourists, but there are places where there aren't. Also the touristy places have GREAT people watching, well all of J'lem has that.

The most "boring" day in Jerusalem is probably shabbat if you are not someone who celebrates it. If you do want the shabbat experience Jerusalem offers a plethora of praying options (I still have some I need to go to) and a very restful atmosphere. If that is not your thing, there are restaurants that do stay open, they are harder to find but I know they exist. There is one on Azza st that I walk by a lot coming come from shabbat dinner and it always seems to be hopping.

In addition to all of this the Jerusalem municipality (or something) puts on fun events. For example, last week there was a food festival in the old city. I went there last Thursday night with some friends and it was super fun. There were all these different booths with yummy food set up. At first we tried to find the food in the Armenian quarter and got lost, so we ended up in the Jewish quarter. It was a gorgeous night, and there was a band playing. It was quite the scene. I had this delicious rice dish, I forget what it was called, but dang it was yummy.

So yeah, Jerusalem is awesome.

I had an eventful and lovely shabbat this week. I went to services at navah tehillah (the renewal minyan). Before doing kabbalat shabbat we sang some of shir ha'shirim (the song of songs), which was a nice change. I learned that if you are sefardi you actually sing shir ha'shirim every shabbat instead of the psalms that are used in the ashkenazi version. Good stuff. Then I had dinner at my friends and it was Mexican themed, which was amazing. I think I've mentioned before Israel's lack of quality mexican food, so this really satisfied my craving. They could teach the Israeli restaurants a thing or two about mexican AND it was all kosher, you can have good mexican without meat (or with fake meat).

After that I went to bed knowing I was going to have to wake up around 4:30am. yikes. Why?? To go to bakashot. A while ago during Israel seminar we visited this synagogue called Ades, which is a Syrian synagogue in nachla'ot. It is so cool it even has it's own wikipedia page. They are known for their particular style of chazzanut (singing of the liturgy) that is crazy complex. When we went on Israel seminar we got to meet a Chazzan and he talked to us about the style and gave us a demonstration. He also invited us for bakashot (literal meaning: requests). Bakashot happen during the winter, but super late at night/early in the morning on shabbat. Everyone gathers in the synagogue to sing special songs each week. So I really wanted to go check it out. And finally this week I did.

I'm really glad I went. It was definitely a totally new experience for me. I didn't know any of the songs. Probably because they were all from this syrian/aleppo tradition of music and I mostly only encounter ashkenazi style stuff. The singing sounded very middle eastern (I don't have good musical terms to explain it). I was sitting with my friend above the action in the women's section, which was cool because I could see everything that was happening. The men took turns singing solos, and wow some of them could really sing! It was great to watch. I HIGHLY recommend you go, if you are in Jerusalem when it is happening. There are only a few more shabbats left until they go on haitus for the summer (I'm pretty sure), so get there! People were very welcoming, they came around with coffee and tea, which was much appreciated in the early hours. (If you are interested more in bakashot, the wikipedia article is also pretty good).

So after a few hours of bakashot, I went home and went to bed. I slept through my alarm so I didn't make it to morning services. I was a bit bummed because I like going on saturday morning, but I did need the sleep. Then I got ready and went to a picnic lunch. It was super nice out today so I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it, which was the logic behind having lunch outside. We had the picnic in gan hapa'amon, which is beautiful right now. There are these really fragrant purple flowers in bloom.

Then I went home and took another epically long shabbat nap. Which always messes me up for falling asleep on Saturday night. oy. I forgot to set one of my clocks to the hour ahead and then I forgot that I forgot so I accidentally had an extra hour of shabbat. I was confused why it was so dark, haha oy. I fixed the clock now so that won't happen again.

Yeah so life is good. I'm starting to feel the time pressure, because I leave for America in less than 2 months (May 24th). April 1st marked my completion of my 9th month here, which is nutso. So I definitely feel the pressure to get to everything that I have been wanting to do and putting off. ahhh. and I also have school, haha.

ok homework time...

Shavua tov,