No human being is without flaws or imperfections. Though many of us try to mask these flaws or imperfections, they often bubble up the surface.
One of the aspects of Judaism that I appreciate is that my faith not only respects this aspect of humanity, but it encourages us to become better people.
I find that the most liberating Jewish traditions is Tashlich. In the days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many Jews will go to a body of water to cast away their sins via throwing pieces of bread into said water. While this is being done, those in attendance ask the heavenly creator to forgive them for their sins from the past year.
Following Tashlich is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. From sundown to sundown, most adults (with the exception of the people who are sick, need food or drink to take medicine or pregnant women/nursing mothers) will fast. We also wear white and forgo leather shoes so our creator will see how humble we are before them.
Though I am not religious, I understand the power of both Tashlich and Yom Kippur. One of the hardest things any person can do is take a hard look at the flaws/imperfections and ask for forgiveness for anything they might said or done wrong due to those flaws/imperfections.
To all who are fasting, may you have an easy fast and a sweet New Year.
Imagine the following scenario: From the time you were very young, you thought you knew who you were. As far back as you can remember, you were given a certain identity. Then a secret is revealed and that identity is questioned.
That is the premise of the 2007 book, Suddenly Jewish: Jews Raised as Gentiles Discover Their Jewish Roots. Written by Barbara Kessel, the book contains interviews with 160 individuals. While their lives and individual stories vary, they all have one thing in common: they discover they either they are Jewish or they have Jewish ancestry. The interviewees are broken down into four distinct categories: Crypto-Jews (descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to another religion, but still practiced Judaism in secret), child survivors of the Holocaust who survived by hiding and assuming Christian identities, the children of Holocaust survivors and children who were adopted.
This book is absolutely fascinating. What made it fascinating was not just the history behind the stories of the interviewees, but the reactions of those interviewed. Some were not only accepting of their true identity, but they also actively became members of the Jewish faith. Others dismissed the idea and distanced themselves from their Jewish ancestry. Either way, it was a compelling view of the roads where history and identity meet.
I recommend it.
I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but there is one song that to me forever feels relevant: Carefully Taught, from the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. One of the verses is as follows:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught
Mohammed Al Samawi was born in Yemen. Raised in a religious Muslim family, he was taught to believe that Judaism, Christianity and anything in general belonging to western society was inherently evil. Then, at the age of 23, he received a copy of the New Testament. This small action started him on a journey of not just acceptance of others, but ultimately forced him to leave his family and his country and make a new life in America.
This book is mind blowing. I had a number of thoughts as I read this memoir. The first thought is that we can overcome prejudice and hate, if we are willing and we have the opportunity. The second thought is that his story feels like it could belong to anyone, regardless of faith or family background. The final thought is that hating someone because they are different feels like a waste of emotions and energy. We only get one spin on this on planet, why waste it hating someone else when you could just go about your business?
I absolutely recommend it.
Today we remember and mourn the lives lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was the day that pushed America into World War II. It was the day that not only forever changed that generation, but also changed America as we know it to be today.
My grandfathers were young men in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Members of the greatest generation, they fought for liberty and their country. They were the lucky ones, they came home in one piece. 2,403 young men died at Pearl Harbor and 1,178 came home with battle scars.
Pearl Harbor was a turning point in American history. It forced Americans to come together as one nation and take a stand against tyranny and oppression. Just as Americans came together after 9/11 60 years later, we were forced to see our sameness instead our differences.
In Judaism, when someone dies, we say “may their memory be a blessing”. May the memories of those who died at Pearl Harbor be a blessing to those who knew and loved them.
May you live to be 120.
It is a blessing in Judaism that all of us should live to see old age.
Kirk Douglas will reach an age on Friday that few of us will ever see. He will be 100.
He was given the name of Issur Danielovitch at birth. The son of poor Jewish immigrants, he fought for his country in World War II. After the war, the changed his name to Kirk Douglas and become one of the icons of the golden age of Hollywood.
Known as a man’s man, Kirk Douglas is remembered for playing masculine characters who the epitome of strength and courage.
His most famous role is the Roman sword and sandal epic Spartacus.
Though he moved away from Judaism decades ago, Kirk Douglas re-embraced his faith and was re-barmitzvahed in 1999 at the age of 83.
For any number reasons, some people are destined to die young. Kirk Douglas is not one of those people. We should all be so lucky to see our 100th birthday.
Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas. May you actually live to see your 120th birthday.
I live in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. For every native New Yorker whose familial roots are deep in the city, there are many others whose familial origins or birthplace is not New York.
Because this is a diverse city, there is a lot of talk of acceptance and respect for those who have different political, social or religious beliefs. The question is, are we receiving lip service or is diversity and respect for another culture/religion truly important?
The video above proves that we have choices in life when it comes to love and hate. We can choose to live and let live or we can waste our energy on hating someone because they believe differently than we do.
If it were up to me, I would choose love because I have one life to live and I would prefer not to waste my one shot around this earth on hating someone because they see the world differently than I do.
But that is how I see the world.
Within Judaism and the Rabbi’s the lead the thousands of Jewish congregations around the world, Shlomo Carlebach was both a visionary, a wunderkind and a man ahead of his years. Shlomo was the son of a Rabbi and a descendant of a respected Rabbinical dynasty. Born in 1925, he and his family were able to part of the small minority of Jews that were lucky enough to escape Nazi Europe before the borders closed.
As an adult, he was known for being revolutionary (or a heretic, depending on your point of view). His goal was to return the joy and love to the traditional Jewish liturgy. But some within the Jewish community, including his own father vehemently disagreed with Shlomo’s vision of Judaism. But it was his friendship with legendary R&B singer Nina Simone that changed both of their lives.
The new Broadway musical, Soul Doctor, is the story of Shlomo’s life as he tries to discover who he wants to be. The show starts as Shlomo returns to Vienna, the city of his youth to perform. It then flashes back to Shlomo’s boyhood and then follows his journey to discover who he is and the life he wants to lead.
I liked this show. I haven’t seen many Broadway musicals recently and I have no interest in seeing most of what is presently playing on Broadway. But this one is enjoyable.
The audience does not have to be Jewish or know anything about Judaism to understand or enjoy the show. The recurring theme of finding your voice and being yourself when everything and everyone is pointing to fitting in is universal.
I recommend it.