Tag Archives: Judaism

Yom Haatzmaut: They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let’s Eat

There is an old joke about Jewish history:

“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” 

Today is Israel Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut).

Today is both a day to celebrate and a day to remember. We celebrate because we have returned to the land of our ancestors. We can physically follow and pray in the footsteps of past generations who have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.

But we also remember those who gave their lives and those who continue to give their lives for Israel. I think most, if not all of us are aware that Israel lives in a neighborhood in which relations with their neighbors is tenuous at best.

I have had the pleasure of visiting Israel twice so far in my life. I can only describe both experiences as life altering. I hope to be able, at some point in the future, go for a third time.

May those who gave their lives for Israel’s security and freedom forever a blessing and may we continue to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut for many years to come.

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I Would Rather Have a Zoom Seder Than no Seder at All

It is without a doubt that the corona-virus has changed everything about the way we live our lives.

That includes religious practice.

Wednesday and Thursday were the first and second nights of Passover, respectively. For many Jews, a normal Passover Seder consists of a large group of family and friends coming together to eat, drink and tell the story of Passover. But, with the influence of corona-virus, the traditional Seder had to be amended.

Enter Zoom.

My family, many others, used Zoom to digitally get together with our loved ones.

I think the best perspective on this new way of conducting Seders can be best summed up by a statement my father made Wednesday night. He said that his father, my late grandfather (who died 30 years ago), would not at all have approved.

My grandfather (Z”l) was in a certain sense, a man of tradition. He believed in and lived by the Judaism that he loved. That love of Judaism and our traditions were passed to his children and later, his grandchildren. It is one of the reasons that I am still a Jew in every sense of the word and proud of my faith.

While my grandfather would not have approved of Wednesday and Thursday nights, I know that it was the right thing. Not being in the same room with our family and friends was weird. But if I had a choice of holding a Zoom Seder or having none at all, I would choose a Zoom Seder.

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Practicing One’s Faith During the Coronavirus Only Needs a Little Creativity

It is without a doubt that the coronavirus has upended our lives as we know them to be.

This includes religious practice. With the holidays of Easter, Passover, and Ramadan coming quickly, the faithful must find new ways to celebrate their respective holidays while following the recommendations of the experts.

Across the country and across the world, religious leaders are turning to video conferencing services programs such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other programs to hold services.

What is frustrating to me is that there are some who are are willingly putting their lives and the lives of their loved ones in danger by acting as life is normal. Last month, a Fundamentalist church in Indiana held services in spite of warnings against holding large gatherings. In Israel and in my hometown of New York City, some ultra-Orthodox Jews ignored the edicts by the government to prevent coronavirus from spreading further than it already has spread.

Anyone who has read this blog knows of my Jewish faith. Though I am not as religious as others, my faith is important to me. Passover starts Wednesday night. My family, like many other families, are being creative when it comes to the Seder and the traditional ways of telling the Passover story.

If the coronavirus has taught us one thing, it is that it takes a little flexibility to get through tough times. To say that we are going through tough times is an understatement. That requires us to understand that we cannot live as we did a month ago. Those who willingly ignore that fact endanger us all.

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Filed under National News, New York City

Antisemitism: The Original Coronavirus

While the world deals with the coronavirus and the toll it takes, the Jewish community is dealing with another disease: antisemitism.

Pastor Rick Wiles blamed the coronavirus not on the virus itself, but on the idea Jews have not accepted the Christian G-d as their holy parent and creator.

“Stay out of those things, there’s a plague in them. God’s dealing with false religions,” he said on Wednesday night on TruNews, which he founded. “God’s dealing with people who oppose his son, Jesus Christ. He’s dealing with the forces of Antichrist. And there’s a plague moving upon the earth right now, and the people that are going into the synagogues are coming out of the synagogues with the virus.”

Given what we are going through at this point in time, the last thing that is wanted or need is division. Especially division that is based on something as surface level as religion. The fact is that the coronavirus does not care about the religious faith (or lack thereof) of the person it makes sick. Everyone is an equal opportunity home for this disease.

This is not the first, or the last time that the Jewish community has been blamed for a natural phenomenon. I just wish that in 2020, we would be using our brains instead of half baked lies.

But I guess some things never change.

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Purim, Queen Esther, and the Fight to be True to Yourself

We live in a culture and a world that values conformity over originality. To be different, to be an outsider is not ideal.

The story of Purim and Queen Esther is about being an outsider.

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.

Happy Purim!

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Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) Book Review

Just because one is raised in a home and a family that practices a specific faith does not mean that one practices that faith as an adult.

Like many American Jews, former speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz was raised in a fairly religious home. But as an adult, she walked away from Judaism. But then a bad breakup forced her to re-evaluate how she saw the world. Ms. Hurwitz tells her story and what she learned about Judaism is her new book, entitled Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).

Published last fall, her journey started when she happened upon a flier advertising a Basic Judaism class. That class started her on a journey to rediscover her faith and the beautiful complexity that is Judaism.

This book is absolutely brilliant. I loved it because it spoke to me. My experience with Judaism is similar to the author’s experience. Her book reminded me that my faith, like any faith is not monolithic. It is full of different voices and different perspectives that are just as relevant today as they were in previous generations.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Indebted Pilot Review

Family sitcoms have been part and parcel of the television landscape since the beginning. The question is, do these programs stand out from the pack or are they just a little too predictable?

Indebted premiered on Thursday. Linda (Fran Drescher) and Stew (Steven Weber) are a middle aged couple who, well, have not been the most responsible when it comes to their finances. When their debt becomes too much to bear, they move in with their son, Dave (Adam Pally) and daughter in law Rebecca (Abby Elliott). When generations collide, as they usually do, misunderstandings occur.

The thing about pilots is that they never reveal the nuances and the colors in both the characters and the narrative. That takes at least a season or two to develop. I was drawn to the show because it followed the standard premise of a family sitcom, but it felt like it belonged in 2020.

The problem with this show is that it trades on stereotypes and predictable character molds. I appreciate that the characters are Jewish, as there continues to be a dearth of positive Jewish representation on television. But I felt like the writers and the creative team leaned a little too far on the stereotypes instead of using them as a launching point for greater character and narrative exploration.

Do I recommend it? No.

Indebted airs on NBC on Thursday at 9:30 PM.

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RIP Kirk Douglas

There is nothing like a movie made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. There is just something about the movies that were made back then that feel different than the movies made today.

We lost one of the last icons of the Golden Age of Hollywood today. Kirk Douglas died at the age of 103.

Born to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Douglas grew up poor and did what he had to do to get by.

He was known for playing tough guys. That tough guy persona was not just for the screen. Off screen, while the Hollywood blacklist was destroying lives and careers, Douglas put his name and and his career on the line. He hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay for Oscar nominated film Spartacus.

Though he was raised Jewish, he stepped away from his faith as an adult. In the early 90’s, after he survived a helicopter crash, he returned to the faith.

He is survived by his second wife, his surviving sons and their families.

In Judaism, when we bless someone, one of the blessings is the following:

“May you live to 120.”

He lived to see 103, which is not something to sneeze at. In the words of our mutual ancestors, may his memory be a blessing. Z”l.

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Thoughts on MLK Day and the Spike in Antisemitism

For many Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. is an icon. More than fifty years after his death, he is the image of the Civil Rights Movement.

These days, the news is unfortunately full of stories of attacks against Jewish residents in the New York City area by African-Americans.

When asked about the Jews and antisemitism, Dr. King said the following:

“When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”

What many forget is that American Jews were on the forefront of the Civil Rights moment.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was not only a good friend of Dr. King, he was an ally. He was on the front lines with Dr. King, fighting for the rights of African-Americans.

In 1964, three young men were murdered because they believed that all Americans, regardless of race, were equal. James Chaney was the son of a African-American family from Mississippi. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were raised Jewish in the New York City area. They came together and were murdered together because of what they believed and what they were fighting for.

When I think about Martin Luther King Jr., I think of a man of courage, honor and conviction. He knew that the journey and others were about embark upon was dangerous. But he also knew that it was right. I take that as a lesson not just in my personal life, but in every aspect of my life. What is right is not always easy. But in that lack of ease comes the knowledge that though the journey is difficult, it is the only way forward.

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Filed under History, New York City

The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between Book Review

Religion is a fascinating thing. It’s more than the basic tenets of the faith and the lifestyle dictated by that faith.

Released last fall, The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between is written and compiled by the hosts of the podcast Unorthodox (produced by Tablet Magazine).

Primarily written by podcast hosts Mark Oppenheimer, Liel Leibovitz, and Stephanie Butnick, this book is more than your standard encyclopedia. It contains images, charts, and illustrations, it is the story of Judaism, past, and present.

The thing that I loved about this book is that though it is an opportunity to learn, it does not feel like the reader is learning something. It is a fun read and a wonderful opportunity to open hearts and minds, regardless of one’s knowledge or level of practice of Judaism.

I recommend it.

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