For people of many faiths, the question of how to educate their children in the doctrines and traditions of said faith is not always easy to answer. While the obvious answer is sending their children to full time religious school, not every parents wants to or is able to do so. The compromise is that the child(ren) will go to secular public school and then attend religious school.
Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut, otherwise known as Israeli Independence Day.
Though no country is perfect, I find it astonishing that in a little less than three-quarters of a century, she has become a vibrant, thriving democracy. Out of the desert and the memory of a thousand generations in exile, a modern country has risen. Through blood, sweat, tears, and the belief in a higher power, she has become the vision that has kept Judaism alive.
In his vision, the prophet sees himself standing in the valley full of dry human bones. He is commanded to carry a prophecy. Before him, the bones connect into human figures; then the bones become covered with tendon tissues, flesh, and skin. Then God reveals the bones to the prophet as the People of Israel in exile and commands the Prophet to carry another prophecy in order to revitalize these human figures, to resurrect them, and to bring them to the Land of Israel.
Happy Birthday Israel, may you live to see another 73 years and many more after that.
Diversity, as we all know, is a huge thing these days. But diversity for diversity’s sake is meaningless and empty. The only way it works is if we truly understand why a certain culture or faith has certain practices.
Over the weekend, Jews around the world recounted the story of the Exodus via the holiday of Passover. Carly Friesen, a Christian Lifestyle coach, decided to have a “Christian Seder“. The meal was completed by “Passover Challah” and a prayer to the Christian Savior.
If there was ever a definition of cultural appropriation, this is it. Anyone who has any basic knowledge of Passover knows that bread, pasta, and other foods in that category are verboten during the eight days. She could have made a genuine gesture by at least trying to adhere to the traditional food rules of the holiday. The amount of resources she could have pulled information from is nearly endless.
Instead, she took some of the most precious and respected aspects of Judaism and this week and twisted them to fit her needs. It is not exactly a secret that some members of the Christian faith have not exactly been shy about taking everything, including our lives, from Jews at certain points in history. It’s 2021. It’s time to think about how we treat minority cultures and people, especially when it comes to their most sacred objects and traditions.
It is not uncommon to open a history book and see a complete profile of a man. A woman, however is at best given a paragraph or a footnote and at worst, ignored completely.
The Jewish holiday of Passover starts this weekend. Though Moses is the protagonist of the story, his story would be nothing without the women around him. Given the many dangers around them, the easier thing would have been to say and do nothing. But instead, they stepped up, helping Moses to succeed and paving the way for Jewish women to do the same in their own eras.
Shifra and Puah: Shifra and Puah are the midwives who were responsible for bringing Hebrew children into the world. Brought before Pharaoh, they are told to kill every male newborn. They claim that they are unable to do this because by the time they get to the mother, the baby has already arrived.
Yocheved: Moses’s mother was facing a parent’s worst nightmare. Infant boys, when discovered by Pharaoh’s soldiers, were taken to the Nile and drowned. The only way she can save her son is to put him in a basket, send it floating down the Nile and pray that he would survive.
Bithia or Batya (sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Princess): Finding baby Moses in his basket as she washes up in the river, it is obvious that this child is of the Hebrew faith. Instead of reporting this discovery and sending him to his death, she adopts Moses and raises him as her own.
Miriam: Miriam is Yocheved’s only daughter. Not only does she watch over her baby brother, but she approaches the Princess, asking if she needs a wet nurse. That wet nurse is her mother. Years later, when Hebrews are wandering through the desert, it is Miriam who leads the former slaves via song to get to the promised land.
Tziporah: Tziporah is Moses’s wife. Though she is Midianite Princess and not of the Hebrew faith, she embraces his heritage as her own. Traveling with him back to Egypt, she encourages Moses to face his destiny and become the man who will lead his people to freedom.
Within the world of fiction (and sometimes non-fiction), there are two main female stereotypes: the good girl and the bad girl. With little to no room to move beyond these basic character descriptions, some women have been forced to play the hand they are dealt.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is started this evening and lasts until tomorrow. Within the world that is the genesis of this holiday, there are only two women, Queen Esther and her predecessor, Queen Vashti. Esther fits neatly in the good girl category while Vashti does the same in the bad girl category. Though Esther is revered as a female icon within the Jewish faith, Vashti has been given a bad rap.
As children, we are taught that Vashti was wicked for disobeying her husband. The reason she was either banished or executed (depending on who tells the story), comes down to the simple fact that the men who were supposed to see her “beauty” were afraid that other women would follow in her footsteps. The only way to quell the potential of any feminist rebellion was to get rid of Vashti and replace her with a woman who knew her place.
In real life, we know that we are much more than the good girl vs. the bad girl. No human being is entirely good or bad. We are a spectrum of personality traits and choices. The problem is that while men have been given unabashed permission to live within this spectrum, women are only starting to move beyond very specific character types.
I think its time to give Vashti her due. In standing up for herself, she is standing up for every women who has been put down and/or limited because of her sex. It’s time to give her her due as a role model instead of reducing her to a one note character.
It takes a special person to join the clergy of any religion. It is more than leading prayers and being the layperson at various stage of life events. That person has to be able to speak of that religion and its tenets in a way that connects to everyone, regardless of any specific faiths.
I had the pleasure of seeing him speak in person a few years ago. It was nothing short of inspiring. It was just before the High Holidays. Those who have attended High Holidays services can attest that as important as those days are, they are quite frankly, difficult and not exactly fun. But they shouldn’t be fun.
Rabbi Sacks was able to explain in very simple terms the emotional and psychological importance of those days. I’ve been attending High Holiday services since I was very young. But that was the first time I was truly able to understand the meaning of the High Holidays.
He recently was a guest on the Unorthodox podcast. Though he was there to publicize his latest book, he also spoke about current events and how morality is as important as it ever was.
To say that this year has not been easy has been an understatement.
Tomorrow night starts Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish year. On this day, we confess our sins and ask our heavenly creator to allow us another year of life.
But before we can make such a request, we must be honest with ourselves about our flaws and mistakes. That is where Tashlich comes in.
As I threw my bread in the water earlier today, I felt a sense of peace. Though the past can never be undone, we can learn from our mistakes. We can become better than who we were before. That I believe is the message of the High Holidays and Tashlich in particular.
May those who are fasting have an easy and peaceful fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.
No one has a crystal ball when it comes to the future. We can only live in the moment.
This coming weekend is Yom Kippur, the most important day on the Jewish calendar. One of the prayers we chant is called Unetanneh Tokef. The purpose of the prayer is to ask our heavenly parent for one more year of life on Earth. The text is as follows:
“All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval  and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severity of the Decree.”
Looking back at the year that is 2020 so far, this prayer feels like a message we need to hear. Before Covid-19 hit, life seemed so sure. But between the virus, the racial inequities, and everything that has happened this year, I’m not so sure anymore.
No one knows exactly when their time will be up or how they will go. We can only ask for as much time on Earth as possible.
For those who are fasting, have an easy fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.
As indestructible as human beings believe we are, Mother Nature has a way of reminding us that she will always be one step ahead of us.
Next weekend is the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Covid-19 has forced Jewish instuitions to rework how to approach one of the most important days of the year.
To say that it will feel weird is an understatement. Traditional holiday services will be limited and many will turn to Zoom to participate virtually. Instead of getting together with family and friends, social distancing and wearing masks will continue to be the norm.
To those who celebrate, wherever you are and whatever you do, have a sweet and Happy New Year.
Esther is an orphaned young woman growing up in ancient Babylonia. Jewish by birth and by practice, she is drafted to be one of the young women presented to the King Ahasuerus as a future bride. Chosen by the King to be his Queen, Esther must hide her identity. When her people are in danger, Esther must make a choice: continue to hide her true self or put herself in danger to save her people.
There are very few stories in the Bible in which a woman is not only front and center, but she is the heroine. The fate of the Jews rests on her shoulders. She knows that remaining silent would save her life. But she also knows that deep down inside, she cannot stand by and watch those she loves being slaughtered simply because of their faith.
My personal takeaway from the story of Purim and the courage of Queen Esther is that being yourself in the face of conformity is the hardest thing anyone of us can do. But, if we are willing to take the risk, the results may just outweigh the fear.