Bye for Now
This will be our last blog post for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading over the past year!
Bye for now,
Katy and Geoffrey
(primarily, a vehicle for letting friends and family see lots of pictures of us)
1) We went to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue one Friday night, to get a taste of what a giant synagogue with a full choir and a world-famous cantor would be like. We were not so impressed with the prayer experience; it felt a little more like a barbershop-quartet concert (although it was more of a septet, I believe).We’ve also balanced these out, though, with a number of more positive Friday night experiences:
2) In Tsefat, we went to the Ashkenazi Ari synagogue – a synagogue founded on the hillside spot where Isaac Luria (the Ari) and his disciples allegedly began the custom of welcoming in Shabbat with the series of psalms that Jewish communities all over the world use today. Our experience there was also not particularly impressive; it even featured a full-blown argument about who should lead the service. (Our Saturday morning experience, at the Conservative synagogue in Tsefat, was a much more satisfying experience, even though they didn’t get the quorum of people required for public prayer).
3) At a Reform synagogue not far from our house, we were treated to a recorder concert as part of the evening – like the Great Synagogue experience, it was aesthetically nice, I suppose, but not exactly our favorite mode of prayer.
1) As we wrote about earlier in the year, the Italian Synagogue is an incredibly interesting place with really spirited and powerful prayer.
2) We’ve been to Shira Hadasha, a liberal Orthodox minyan right next door to Kedem, on a few occasions. It’s one of the few Orthodox congregations in the world that has taken a number of steps to allow women a high level of ritual leadership. Being there gives me a lot of hope for the rise of feminism in the Orthodox world. It’s also a place that does a particular good job of using song as a means of devotion rather than simply for the sake of aesthetics. And it's very crowded. As I mentioned above, places that are on the cutting-edge of Orthodoxy tend to generate a lot of excitement in the wider community, and attract a fair number of people who ideologically fit in well in the Conservative movement and whom I would love to see at a place like Kedem.
3) This past Friday night, we went to one of the Sephardic synagogues in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Yochanan Ben Zakkai synagogue, which was built by Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. It was a prayer experience with a lot of spirit, beautiful Sephardic melodies, and a really nice interplay between the prayer leader and congregation. The Song of Songs was chanted outloud in call-and-response format to a really nice melody, giving an extremely beautiful form to one of the most important texts for welcoming in Shabbat.
agriculture, astrology, biology, business, carpentry, chemistry, child-raising, cooking, cosmology, economics, engineering, finance, genetics, geology, happiness, history, kabbalah, law, linguistics, literature, marriage, mathematics, medicine, military science, music, philosophy, physics, planetology, psychology, social science, synergetics, theology, transportation and zoology.My learning for the past month or so has been particularly focused on biology and agriculture. Most recently, we've been dealing with the question of what defines a tree, a question of some consequence in Judaism because we have a somewhat unique relationship with trees (and especially fruit-bearing trees) -- we give them special protections (both in wartime and in general), say special blessings of thanksgiving before eating their fruit and upon seeing them bloom, have a whole holiday dedicated to them, and see them as symbolic of a range of concerns. A tree is generally defined in Jewish tradition as a plant which lasts from year to year, but there are some plants whose status as a tree is slightly ambiguous; the one plant of uncertain status that my Talmud class has been particularly focused on is the caper-bush. One of the features of being in Israel today and studying texts about caper-bushes written in the land of Israel in the third century C.E. is that Israel is as full of caper-bushes today as it was then. In order to learn more about them, all my Talmud class had to do was to step outside the front doors of the Schechter building. I've enjoyed following the development of one of the caper-bushes right outside of Schechter: last week, as you can see in the first picture below, the caper buds that are a bit further developed beyond the way that we're accustomed to seeing them in jars in the supermarket; today, as shown in the second picture, the buds are opening up into flowers.
1) the traditional view of fasting as a practice to raise consciousness of our sins and to stimulate our repentance. Fasting on Yom Ha-Shoah could seem to suggest the false theological conviction that tragedies like the Shoah came about because of our sins, something that no one should be thinking.
2) the widely-held sense that the response to the Holocaust should be a response that affirms life, not a practice of denial like fasting
3) if indeed some sort of abstinence is an appropriate practice for the day, I agree with my teacher Rabbi Ira Stone that a ta’anit dibur (abstinence from words) is preferable to a ta’anit ochel (abstinence from food). Jewish tradition teaches that initiating speech is unacceptable in the presence of a mourner because our speech often serves to trivialize tragic events. It is important to respond to tragedy with words as well, but it is important to make space for silence. Silence on Yom Ha-Shoah might also be an appropriate way to experience God’s absence – the blotting out of God’s presence and God’s image by the perpetrators of evil. On the other hand, fasts of speech are not easy for people to carry out in the course of their daily activities.
Despite these thoughts, though, refraining from food since last night seems to have been an effective practice for me for three reasons:
1) The repentance and self-examination associated with fasting are not totally out of place in response to the Shoah. Reflecting on one’s transgressions should not be linked with an admission of guilt for being a victim; but, rather, we should emerge from experiences of tragedy by reflecting on how we can be more effective at fighting evil in the world. As Golinkin argues, “we need to repent for our criminal apathy and silence which allowed the Nazis to progress towards the Final Solution unhindered and ignored.”
2) To quote Golinkin: “It is impossible for us, who did not experience the Holocaust, to imagine what it was like. But a common motif in almost every diary and memoir about the Shoah is that of hunger. Many suffered from acute malnutrition; all experienced hunger. One of the ways in which we can attempt to identify and empathize with the victims of the Shoah is to fast. By fasting we will remind ourselves in a tangible way of the hunger and suffering of the Six Million.”
3) In Jewish tradition, fasting goes hand in hand with giving of oneself to help others. Among other things that we’re doing is giving money saved by fasting to causes working to eliminate suffering in the world, in accordance with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s assessment that
Giving tzedakah is central to this day. Giving reasserts the value of human life. Taking responsibility for others repudiates the indifference of the bystanders which made the Holocaust possible. Thus authentic Jewish memory leads to acts of loving kindness rather than to hatred or revenge.We’ve also spent some portion of the day thinking in practical terms about what can be done to prevent widespread denial of the Holocaust (especially a problem in this part of the world), steadily-increasing anti-Semitic violence, and preventing genocide from taking place in our own day. The Jewish community around the world is, not surprisingly, especially focused on the events in the Sudan today and taking action accordingly.