Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'judaism'

Remembering the Holocaust

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 09, 2013 @ 9:06 pm PDT

userpic=tombstonesThe other day, I wrote about the extremely moving holocaust memorial at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. As we have just observed Yom HaShoah, I have two additional holocaust related items to highlight.

The first is a series of photos from PopChassid that give a different view than the normal depressing stuff one sees about the holocaust. These photos are special because they show not the defeat but the optimism — the hope that survived even the worst of times.

The second is an article about Judaism in Germany today. Berlin’s Jewish Museum has a new exhibit called “The Whole Truth”. There are a number of exhibits that force Germans to consider their attitudes towards Jews. The most controversial is one where a Jewish man or woman sits inside a glass showcase and answers questions from visitors who approach. Is this the right way to bring Jews and Non-Jews together? Some German Jews are eager to participate. Other leaders demur. “For many, Jews are not friends or colleagues at work.  Jews are people from TV or from history books. So that places, automatically, Jewish individuals behind an exhibit glass in a museum in the heads of the German population.” Thoughts?

Music: Music Is Better Than Words (Seth MacFarlane): “You’re The Cream In My Coffee”

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Let Me Tell You The Story ‘Bout a Man Named Mo…

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 25, 2013 @ 4:05 pm PDT

userpic=tallitNow it is almost the time to tell the story I’ve hinted at in the last two posts. I’ve already done my ceremonial playing of the table setting song…

Starting from the left take the little fork, it’s the salad fork, then find the bigger fork place and place it to the right of that fork, then we take the plate, it’s a lovely plate, and you place the plate right next to them, line it up, mmmmm, that looks nice, aren’t you having the time of your life, and guess what comes next — you guessed it, the knife, ….

(if you haven’t heard the “Fork, Knife, Spoon” song from “Dear Edwina”, you should)

I’ve set the Seder Table, and I’m just waiting for it to be closer to put the final items on it:

13-seder-1

13-seder-2

Last year I printed the 6th edition of my Haggadah (let me know if you want a copy, but it is for personal use only as I haven’t done all the copyright clearances). So we should be all ready to go. All together now (to the tune of the “Theme from the Beverly Hillbillies”):

Come an’ listen to a story
’bout a man named Mo,
A Hebrew child raised
by the daughter of Pharaoh,
An’ then one day
an Egyptian beat a slave,
An’ Moses stepped in,
the Hebrew for to save…
(Struck the guard, killed him dead!)

Well, the next thing you know,
ol’ Mo is all a-feared.
The Hebrews said,
“Mo, run away from here!”
Mo decided Midian
was the place he oughtta be,
And there he stayed,
till he saw a burnin’ tree…
(God, that is… boomin’ voice, majesty.)

God told Moses
to go an’ tell Pharaoh,
“Time has come
to let my people go!”
Pharaoh just laughed, said,
“You tryin’ to pull my leg?”
So Mo raised his staff,
and God brought down the plagues…
(Blood, that is… frogs an’ lice, hailstones.)

Ten plagues in all,
and the last was really bad:
Slayin’ of the first-born,
and Pharaoh was a dad.
He said to the Hebrews,
“Go on! Get away from me!”
So they loaded up their matzah
and they headed toward the sea…
(Red, that is… mighty wide, no way across.)

Pharaoh got all crazy
and decided to attack.
Mo raised his staff,
and the waters, they drew back!
The Hebrews walked through,
just as dry as they could be,
And Pharaoh’s army chased ’em,
but were covered by the sea…
(Drowned, that is… chariots, riders, too)

The Mo’s sister Miriam,
she began to sing,
And the womenfolk danced
as she played the tambourine.
Once we were slaves,
but now we are free,
And in every generation
we recall our history…

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Sepulveda Pass Class #4

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 18, 2013 @ 5:07 am PDT

405-2Today was the fourth (and last) installment of my Sepulveda Pass class (#3,#2, #1). Today’s class focused on the Jewish people and institutions of the pass, and why they are there. One of the points being made was that the pass is the current Los Angeles center for “mainstream Judaism”, defined as Judaism that has aspects of social action, pluralism, and ethnic pluralism (as opposed to purely humanistic Judaism or Orthodox learning). Here’s what I remember:

  • Leo Baeck. The first person we talked about was Leo Baeck, the namesake of the congregation at the southern end of the pass, Leo Baeck Temple, which was originally Beth Aaron. We talked about how Baeck was representative of a form of German Judaism that attempted to reconcile German ideas of efficiency with Judaism.  He was a force within Progressive Judaism. I don’t recall any discussion of why Leo Baeck Temple located where they did, but they did provide an early home to the next institution of note.
  • Stephen S. Wise. Stephen S. Wise was the namesake of the next institution of note in the pass, Stephen S. Wise Temple. Wise was a leading Reform rabbi, an ardent Zionist when Zionism was not part of Reform, and a strong believer in social action. He was also a notable influence on Rabbi Isaiah Zelden, the founding rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple. It was Zelden who had the foresight to purchase the land at the top of the pass for his offshoot congregation from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. Supposedly, the land was purchased because of its accessibility to both the west side and the San Fernando Valley.  The construction of Stephen S. Wise Temple led directly to the next institution, and thus person, in the pass.
  • Mordechai Kaplan. Both of the previous two institutions were Reform-based. The next is not. In order to build Stephen S. Wise Temple, the engineers had to slice of the top of the mountain. This they used to fill the ravine next door, which became flat land used to construct what was then called the University of Judaism, now part of American Jewish University. The initial notion of  a University of Judiasm (UJ) was an attempt to fulfill a notion of Kaplan’s: That of a full-service university that integrated Jewish teaching with other secular disciplines. UJ never fulfilled that goal, becoming instead a west-coast version of the Jewish Theological Seminary — that is, the west coast center for the Conservative movement. I asked whether the mission had changed after the merger with Brandies-Bardin to form AJU, but didn’t get a strong answer. We talked for a bit about Kaplan’s conception of Judaism, and the nature of Jewish movements in America.
  • Jack Skirball. This led to our last notable person: Jack Skirball, namesake of the Skirball Cultural Center. Actually, we didn’t talk that much about Skirball’s history, other than the fact he was a Reform Rabbi turned filmmaker who donated to a number of institutions — notably HUC to establish the Skirball Museum on the original HUC campus in LA.

This led directly to our next speaker, Uri Herscher, President of the Skirball. Uri talked about the history of the Skirball, and how they were a very cramped museum with a large collection near USC. They needed more space, and looked at a lot of locations. One day while at an event at Wise, after having done a helicopter survey of the area, they settled on the location at the top of the pass, at the exit of the Sepulveda tunnel. This had been an informal dumping ground (he said when they started construction they had to remove 50′ of trash), on a narrow piece of land. They had to negotiate with three different landowners to acquire the property: Union Bank (representing someone who had gone backrupt), a Canadian company, and a local person. They eventually acquired the land for (IIRC) $3 million. They then worked with homeowner groups to build the present campus  into the available space. He indicated that one of the rationales for the location was easy access from the freeway. Ultimately, he said, the main reason they loved the space was that they weren’t alone: they were together with Wise and UJ, not an isolated Jewish institution. He also indicated that one of the changes when the Skirball moved was the transition from a simple museum to a larger cultural center, working with people from all cultures and celebrating all cultures. Uri felt that Jewish centers need to be more than just the holocaust and Israel. Thus… ethnic pluralism. It is also why the Skirball is more than just the main exhibit — it is classes, and childrens activities, and concerts, and programs, and school field trips.

Uri also related the story of how Rimerton Drive got renamed to Skirball Center. Rimerton was created as an artifact of the freeway construction. It turns out Jack Skirball was one of the people that gave Pete Wilson his start in politics as mayor of San Diego, so when the center, named after Skirball, wanted a sign for the center, Wilson helped grease the paperwork to get it done.

Uri also mentioned that after 18 years they may be revisiting the main exhibit. It appears that the current exhibit isn’t attracting as many people. Some in the class posited that was due to lack of interest in general Jewish museums. I felt it was more yet another negative impact of the Internet — younger people no longer feel the need to visit physical museums, when they can get their history over the Internet and from virtual visits. The implication of this is that museums must provide something that is not available over the network. Figure out what that is… and put it in.

All in all, this was a very interesting four week class. The instructor reminded us that there will be an exhibition coming up at the Autry on Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic. I think I’ll plan to go to that.

Music: Seussical The Musical (2007 Off-Broadway Cast): “Horton Hears A Who”

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News Chum Stew: CSUN, PIs, Words, Brats on Bikes, Wine, and Purim

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 23, 2013 @ 7:00 am PDT

userpic=bicyclingWell, it’s (ummm) Saturday again… time to clear out the miscellaneous accumulated news chum links:

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An Un-Orthodox Concern

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Feb 19, 2013 @ 11:37 am PDT

userpic=tallitThis summer, our daughter (with her cousin) is very likely going to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip. In general, I think this is a good thing. Birthright Israel, in the large, is a good group. Erin never had the extensive Jewish summer camp experience that I did, and she had bad experiences with the plastic people sometimes found in Reform congregations.

The trip she is going on is coordinated by Israel Free Spirit. I’ve looked through their pages and they seem a reasonable group. They appear to be OU (Orthodox Union) sponsored. IFS does their trips in conjunction with a number of partners. In particular, Erin’s trip would be done in conjunction with the Southern California Jewish Awareness Movement (JAM). JAM is active on a number of Southern California campuses, including UCSB where her cousin is a sophomore.

Here’s our concern: JAM is an off-shoot of Aish Ha-Torah, and IFS is an OU organization. We’re Reform. These are on almost different ends of the practice and belief spectrum (although there are further outliers on both ends). We’ve discussed this with our rabbi, and she’s pushed for a Kesher Birthright trip, which is under the auspices of the Reform movement. Erin wants no part of that; she wants to do the trip with her cousin. As I noted earlier, Erin has had bad experiences with the larger Reform congregations, mostly resulting from the nature of the teens that tend to be present in such congregations (i.e., teens more concerned with status and where you go to school than actual learning).

I’m troubled about the trip for two reasons, neither of which are insurmountable and both of which are probably more on me and my psyche than anything else.

The first is that I’m worried about any hidden agendas by the coordinating groups (this has likely been magnified due to the concerns about non-Kesher trips from our Rabbi). Part of this is due to the fact that when searching on the rabbi organizing the trip (Rabbi Zaret), this article came up.* I’m very sensitive to the groups that often have hidden agendas or exert pressure on college students (I have strong memories of this happening on campus back when I was at UCLA in the late 1970s). Last night I had a discussion with Rabbi Zaret, who was very nice and gracious on the phone. He indicated that their group was bound by the strictures of Birthright, which dictates a pretty fixed agenda and tour program. He indicated that the groups that go under JAM-auspices are primarily secular and that the program they run is primarily secular. He indicated there is nothing particularly religious on their Birthright trips. They do make some slight changes, such as visiting an Israeli Olympic Museum, because Rabbi Zaret knows the widow of one of the people killed in the 1972 Olympic Village shootings. He was going to send me some material on the program they do, and I’m going to see if I can talk to some of the students who have done their program in previous years to see if there was any undue pressure. He also indicated that JAM does a separate 3-week trip that is more religious and involves more learning, but the Birthright trip is not that trip. I felt reasonably reassured regarding this concern after talking to Rabbi Zaret, although I’d still like to talk to some people who participated in previous years as confirmation.
[*: I'll note that, other than that one article, I have seen nothing negative about the organization, so it is likely an outlier.]

[ETA #1: This Yelp writeup is interesting, and also helps allay fears -- although I'm curious about the mentioned evening discussions. I also found this 8 tips post interesting. There is also this page with responses from people who went on JAM's 3-week program, but I'm guessing the 10 day program is less intense.]

[ETA #2: My wife spoke with a rabbi at our congregation today at a Torah study; the rabbi indicated that going with a modern Orthodox group actually might be good for Erin, so I'm feeling a little better on this aspect.]

The second thing bothering me (and in some sense, it is bothering me more) is the question of why am I bothered at all. After all, if you know me and my history with both the Soc.Culture.Jewish FAQ and the Liberal Judaism Mailing List you know that I believe in respecting all Jewish movements.* I’ve never been one to beat up on Orthodoxy. I have quite a few Orthodox friends with whom I have great discussions — we each respect each other and can discuss religion without OCR arguments**. I have no problem with Orthodox beliefs as long as practice is consistent with those beliefs; I believe Judaism supports the different streams. I regularly follow Orthodox discussions (including modern Orthodox folks such as Mayim Bialik) and am on a number of Orthodox mailing lists. Further, both OU and Aish HaTorah are on the modern Orthodox side of the spectrum, not that Charedi side. This is a much more reasonable version of Orthodoxy than the stereotypical image often projected. Going even further, it is very unlikely that my daughter, who has never been that religious and has been relatively skeptical towards religion, would be swayed over to Orthodoxy in a 10-day trip. She might be swayed into some increased practice, increased belief, or increased Jewish connection (which wouldn’t be a bad thing), but moving to a true Orthodox position (i.e., that the Torah is 100% God-given and we follow every word simply because it is God-given) takes more than a simple trip. Going even even further, even if she went Orthodox, at least we would know she is going out with Jewish boys :-).
[*: In fact, I read over this post many times just to make sure I wasn't creating an implied dig at my Orthodox co-religionists.]
[**: "OCR arguments" refers to the name-calling between Jewish movements that discussions often devolved to in the days of soc.culture.jewish on USENET]

Still… still… it bothers me, and I’m bothered for being bothered. It’s making me question my stated tolerance and acceptance — why is it OK for someone else but not for my daughter? I guess this is the parental aspect coming in: you want to protect your children, but here the question is really: protecting from what? Why do I believe that secular program run by a modern Orthodox organization is something from which protection is required? As I said above, this is not a problem with the program, but with my psyche.

I decided to write this up because writing things out often helps me sort through the issues. We’re going to be talking some more with the Reform rabbi that expressed concern, plus I plan to talk to some additional Rabbinic friends to see if I can put my mind at ease. I’d welcome your thoughts as well — especially if you have experience with Birthright, Birthright trips, or any of the organizations involved with this trip.

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Friday News Chum: Iranian Jews, Homework, 7-11, and Shuttle Moves

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Oct 12, 2012 @ 11:35 am PDT

Well, it’s Friday at lunch time (well, it’s really Thursday night, but let’s do like they did at the debate and play “let’s pretend”). It’s time to clear out the remaining accumulated links…

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Yom Kippur Thoughts

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 26, 2012 @ 4:11 pm PDT

Today is Yom Kippur, and so I thought I would share you some thoughts related to High Holiday Services… and such. Normally, our congregation has two adult services: early and late. Because trying to get the rest of the family out “early” to anything is difficult, we had tickets for the late services last year. This year, they combined the adult service into the single “late” service… which we went to for Erev Rosh Hashana. For the rest of the services, we went to the “early” service… which was the family service, for families with kids 8 and under.

Guess what. We liked it. No parking problems, you could find a seat up front, and the service was only an hour. So there are kids running around. That’s the future of Judaism!

So, as I normally talk about our sermons, you get the “kids” sermons (yes, we did hear one adult sermon on Erev RH — you can read it here):

  • On Rosh Hashanah morning, Rabbi Shawna spoke about why the rams horn was chosen to be the instrument for the shofar. This was after a number of percussive approaches (banging rocks) were dismissed, and instruments made of materials of war (metals) were ruled out.
  • On Erev Yom Kippur, Rabbi Shawna provided a story about a girl who had to pound nails into a wall whenever she lost her temper. After she learned how to control her temper, she removed a nail for every day she was calm. But the holes remained, showing that the damage from the words we use often remains even after we apologize.
  • This morning (Yom Kippur), Rabbi Lutz told a story about a man lost in the woods for Yom Kippur, who simply recited the Hebrew alphabet, on the basis that God could form them into the prayers he needs to hear.

Nice sermons, and nice services.

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Of course, while this was going on, we had Iran’s speech in the UN. I find it hard that the UN is permitting someone to speak who is denying the current and future existence of one of the UN’s member nations. I wonder how much of the tension in the Middle East would go down if there was simple recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a nation. Of course, the problem likely isn’t Israel’s existence as a nation, but it’s existence as a Jewish nation. These same nations, however, have no problem being explicitly Islamic nations. They also have no problems hating Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation.

This was highlighted to me when I was reading about Egypt’s reaction to President Obama’s speech yesterday:

“Egypt respects freedom of expression,” said Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood movement once banned by the U.S.-backed secular dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. But “not a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture.”

On the surface, this might make the Internet more civilized. Let’s prohibit hate speech against religions and cultures. No hate speech against Islam. None against Christianity. None against Jews. Wait… what was that last one? I wonder if these nations that are protesting anti-Islam videos would be willing to take down the equivalent material promoting hatred against Jews? Probably not.  Especially not on sites out of government control.

Free Speech … and limitations on speech … go both ways. If you want to have free speech and the ability to spew what you want, then sometimes you hear things you don’t like. Be an adult and ignore them. Don’t let them make holes that never heal. Of course, it would be great if people learned not to spew hate speech in the first place. This is something adults learn to do. But some people remain children, and spew things without thinking of their impact on others. They say I’m sorry after the fact, but that doesn’t undo the damage.

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Children’s services. Perhaps they aren’t just for children anymore.

G’mar chatima tova.

Music: Say Darling (1958 Original Cast): Something’s Always Happening On The River

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L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5773

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 16, 2012 @ 10:41 am PDT

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts tonight. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog, LiveJournal, Google+, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5773. May you be written and enscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Round challahs. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. As for the round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the King of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
[Thanks to Aish Ha'Torah for these insights]

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting this evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of September 25th), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

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