by: Shari Motro on September 3rd, 2013 | 5 Comments »
Credit: Scott Ableman/Creative Commons.
Jewish law requires that all synagogues have windows. We’re not supposed to pray in separation from the world; we’re supposed to pray with the world, conscious of its cycles, in a space that invites connection with them. Unfortunately, most authorities interpret this rule as permitting synagogues to have windows that never open – windows that seal congregants in an air-conditioned bubble, even on days when outdoor temperatures are moderate.
Synagogues, like other houses of worship, are no different from the majority of our secular spaces. Our default building methods presume round-the-clock mechanical air circulation – windows do not open, and natural cooling designs like cross-ventilation, high ceilings, porches, and recessed doors and windows are quaint rarities. The official guided tour of Washington DC’s National Building Museum, built in 1887 and inspired by Michelangelo’s church architecture, features the building’s ventilation system literally as a museum piece. Visitors are informed that the building’s great hall was designed to “create a healthful building with plenty of fresh air” – but in step with the times, the days of natural airflow there too are gone.
Like many Jews, my only visits to synagogue are during the High Holy Days, which begin this week with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is also one of the periods when the ubiquity of air conditioning saddens me most. It saddens me because of the sheer waste. It saddens me because I like to wear white linen to usher in the holiday and walk to services carrying nothing, rather than packing layers fit for the tundra as I do when I go to the office, the megaplex, or the airport. And it saddens me because sealed windows separate me from the signs and wonders with which nature beckons me to contemplate the very same lessons that are at the heart of what Rosh Hashanah is all about.
Credit: Creative Commons
As has been widely reported, Pope Francis began his papacy with an already strong relationship with the Jewish community. Yet only time will tell if this pope will put the final nail in the coffin of Christian anti-Judaism: namely, an official end to the absurd notion that Christian faith produces more compassion and mercy in the human heart than does the Jewish faith.
It is worth noting that in addition to his expressions of solidarity with Argentina’s Jewish community, Pope Francis, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, participated in a Jewish-Catholic Tzedaka service; a charity effort where Jewish and Catholic volunteers went out – together – distributing aid to the poor and downtrodden of Buenos Aires.
Arguably, inter-faith Tzedaka-like service programs could be a template for a healthy, and I would argue very necessary, reform of Catholic religious life: specifically, the kind of reform that would help to end the utter fiction that Christians are more loving and compassionate than Jews.
by: Ian Hoffman on August 14th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, invites you to celebrate the High Holidays at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley, California. For five days of food, music, and dance, you’ll feast on vegan potluck and hear the spiritually charged ideas of speakers such as Rabbis Phyllis Berman, Arthur Waskow, and Lynn Gottleib; Pastor J. Alfred Smith of Allen Temple Baptist Church; and Spoken Word Poet Joshua Healey. If you’re interested and want to know more, check out the video I took of Rabbi Lerner discussing his services, below.
Then register at beyttikun.org. No one will be turned away for lack of funds! Services are in Berkeley, California, mostly at the Pacific School of Religion, 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, CA (although services on September 4 will be at Zaytuna College, 2515 Hillegass Avenue, Berkeley CA, and on September 6 at 951 Cragmont Avenue, also in Berkeley). It’s easily worth the shlepp, even if you can’t meet Chamoodie!
by: Robert Cohen on August 12th, 2013 | 16 Comments »
So, peace negotiations have been restarted but nobody’s holding their breath for any miraculous breakthroughs in the next nine months.
And why is that?
Well, I could talk about the long-standing American bias towards Israel and the undue influence of the pro-Israel lobby on Congress and the White House. I could mention the appointment of Martin Indyk as the talk’s chairman (a former Israel lobbyist and previous US ambassador to Israel). I could point out that Israel’s governing coalition is stacked firmly in favor of continued Settlement expansion. I could remind you that Israel has already said it will never share Jerusalem and refuses to take any responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugees in 1948.
So, all in all, it’s hard to imagine quite what a fair and principled final status deal would look like that could be remotely acceptable to both sides.
But instead I want to examine a different factor. Something more fundamental to the dynamics of the talks. Something that underpins all of the issues above.
by: Amy Dean on August 2nd, 2013 | 1 Comment »
Hannah Gelder is moving into a new office. Since she has to pack boxes, keep her appointments with seniors concerned about their Medicare benefits and attend community meetings on how to make sure companies doing business in Illinois are paying their fair share of taxes, the only time she has for an interview is on the train on her way in to work.
AVODAH service corps members Lizzy Scheinkopf, Aaron Simmons, Bailey Hanselman, Rachel Sumekh, Kerry Bowen, Dena Goldstein, and Laura Landau are nearing the end of their service year in Chicago. Credit: AVODAH.
Gelder is one of about 600 alumni of the AVODAH Jewish service corps, having entered the corps alongside other freshly minted college graduates. Now, at age twenty-seven, she is a full-time community organizer at Lakeview Action Coalition, the nonprofit Chicago neighborhood organization where she completed her year-long AVODAH service placement. “AVODAH helped me understand the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam,” says Gelder. “I think it’s especially important that we look out and see who is having the hardest time in our society and work to make the world better for everyone.”
Avodahniks, as the corps members call themselves, have slowly bloomed in numbers since Rabbi David Rosenn founded the group in 1998. For the 2012-2013 service year, AVODAH has had seventy-four corps members working in community-based organizations in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and New Orleans. But their commitment to service differs from the more secular approach of past generations of Jews that worked in the civil rights movement or as union organizers. Avodahniks approach their work as Jews – their Jewish faith and values are infused in their activism and they choose to do community based work as an expression of their Jewish faith.
Avodahniks live communally in small groups during their year of service, bringing principles of intentional Jewish community to their work and drawing sustenance from shared spiritual practice and discussion with each other. Gelder says that this sense of shared experience and spirituality has had a profound effect on her: “It started me off in Chicago with a really strong community of people that are committed to justice,” she says. “After a difficult day at work, it helps to go to Shabbat and light candles and take a deep breath.”
Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope. (Walter Benjamin, Schriften I)
Traditionally, the weeks after the ninth of Av, which is the traditional dark day of Jewish history commemorating the destruction of the temple, are considered weeks of hope, the weeks of being comforted. We frequently speak of hope. Hope seems one of the more lofty spiritual aspirations of mankind, but we must continue to redefine the question of hope toward what end?
Schiller seems to have summed it up for the Romantic era as:
“Im Herzen kuendet es laut sich an:/Zu was Besserm sind wir geboren!”
“The heart proclaims it loudly within/We were born for better things!”
What these better things might be is not outlined, yearning alone was enough of a goal in the Romantic era. Hope always seems about something that will take place in a distant future, for future generations. Imber’s Hebrew poem, “The Hope”, now adapted for use as the Israeli national anthem, opens with a similar line: “As long as within the heart/A Jewish soul yearns…our Hope is not lost”. This hope is defined as (in the current official version) “To be a free nation in our land/ The land of Zion-Jerusalem”. While perhaps at the time this may have served to define “The Hope”, there are few who would currently feel that these two lines were a sufficient end goal of hope. Hope seems no less necessary now than it did in the past. So what is it that we hope for? Must hope always be something aimed at a distant unattainable fantasy future? Is it possible that we can define hope in such a way that it reflects a process which can be actualized in the present, in the here and now? Hope for now?
In the Jewish tradition, the classic locus of hope is the Messianic hope. Is the Jewish hope for a Messiah a simple hope for a utopia in some mythological future? Is the hope that a Messiah will appear and transform the world into a happy place? I will attempt to demonstrate that a tradition exists, extending through the Hassidic masters on to Kafka and Benjamin, which places messianic-like responsibility upon contemporary generations, and views hope as a possibility for the present.
by: Shloimie Ehrenfeld on July 18th, 2013 | 6 Comments »
Oil lamp found in cistern during excavation in Jerusalem. Photo by Vladimir Naykhin.
Israeli archaeologists have recently discovered artifacts that give us a vivid sense of how destructive and merciless extremism of any sort and an eagerness for war can be, as reported earlier this month by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
You wouldn’t expect to find a cooking pot – let alone three of them – inside a cistern, which is a tank, usually underground, used to collect rainwater.
Photo by Vladimir Naykhin.
But when archaeologist Eli Shukron and his team were excavating a cistern associated with a first-century building near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, they found three intact cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp (pictured) dating to the time of the failed Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in 66-70 CE.
These inhabitants of Jerusalem – who were most likely innocent, peace-loving people – were forced to eat food in hiding, at the risk of persecution – from other Jews. Both the eye-witness testimony of Josephus and a story recorded later in the Talmud report how a group of Jewish extremists known as the Zealots (or the Sicarii or Biryonei) were so bent on getting the rest of the Jewish community to fight for its independence by revolting against the Roman Empire that these Zealots intentionally caused a devastating man-made famine to force the people into war.
Protestors gathered in New York City yesterday in response to Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Jay Stephens.
…………… The jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and murdered the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was emblematic of the consistent racism and double standard used in the treatment of minority groups or those deemed “Other” in the U.S. and around the world. Where is there justice in a world in which so many people suffer oppression and in which those who choose to use violence as a way to address and deal with their hatred and fear often seem to triumph?
Jewish theology holds that there is a karmic order, so that evil actions will not always run the world. Justice and compassion are both essential to the survival of the planet. Unlike many religions that focus on individual sinners and imagine that they will be punished in some future not currently verifiable – for example in a heaven or hell after life, or in a reincarnation in some form that provides rewards or punishments for how one lives in this world, most of Jewish theology sees karma as playing out on a societal scale, and over the long run.
There may never be a this-world punishment for George Zimmerman. Murderers and other perpetrators of evil too often get rewarded instead of punished. James Comey, who played an important role in approving water-boarding and indefinite detention without trial when he served in the Bush Administration, was appointed last week by President Obama to head the FBI. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in denying NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it is Edward Snowden who is now seeking asylum for whistle-blowing and revealing the extent of that lie. Henry Kissinger who played a central role in prolonging the Vietnam war (causing thousands of deaths) still receives public acclaim. Those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans received rewards and huge bonuses instead of prison sentences. And corporate leaders who have been responsible for polluting our air, water and land around the planet remain firmly in power while environmentalists are scorned and their message largely ignored by the Obama Administration.
So where’s the justice?
by: Robert Cohen on July 11th, 2013 | 17 Comments »
Christian Cross and Jewish Star of David. Credit: Creative Commons.
Right now, decades of progress on Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue is unraveling. What had been a period of unprecedented advancement has been halted and replaced by (Christian) frustration and (Jewish) anger.
Interfaith relations now seem to exist only as part of the established hierarchy of formal Jewish and Christian communal structures. The realms of acceptable debate are securely locked down, confined to domestic issues and the sharing of religious practice. Any serious challenge by Christians or Jews to the status quo on Israel is considered firmly out of bounds.
So what’s happened and what can be done to get back on track and establish a mature, open, and honest interfaith conversation that doesn’t fall apart as soon as Israel or the Palestinians get mentioned? Here, I want to examine how distorted presentations of Christian theology and fossilized views of Judaism have become part of the new and disturbing dynamic of Jewish-Christian interaction.
by: Adam ‘Segulah’ Sher on June 12th, 2013 | Comments Off
In the summer of 2006, I was teaching eighth-grade social studies in a Seattle public school. I was 26 years old, on a career path, in a long-term relationship, and a new homeowner. Life was good, and it was time for a summer vacation. So I signed up for a weeklong retreat at the Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center in Accord, New York. I thought I was getting away after a busy school year, going on vacation, learning a little, but basically relaxing and rejuvenating. All of that happened. But while I was getting away, I was getting into new possibilities for my work, my ideas, my spirituality, my social connections, and my life. Fast-forward seven years, and I’ve dedicated my work and life to the power and potential of Jewish retreats. I’ve connected with a sense of purpose within the Jewish community and the wider world that places the model of retreat – the temporary autonomous zone designed for transformation – at the center of a vision for how religion and society are evolving today.