Monthly Archives: May 2011

The New Wedding Simplicity

I recently attended an Orthodox wedding where the reception consisted of a buffet of baked ziti and eggplant parmigiana, along with some salads and bakery cakes. The entire wedding was kept simple- no floral arrangements, no alcohol, no elaborate decorations.The wedding was simpler than the average bris. And even simpler than the Israeli weddings of 20 years ago. It was a joyous celebration. The groom was connected to Uri L’Tzedek so I assumed that this wedding was only an exception. But as I waited outside for my ride, I asked the singles:What was their reaction to the wedding. I received a unanimous answer that they wanted their wedding to be the same way: Simple, Modest, Inexpensive and Thoughtful. They said that this way the love and the simcha shine though. We may be watching the start of a new trend. This wedding may serve as the exemplar. Wedding trends travel quickly and this one will be supported both by idealism and by the financial downturn. This wedding was based on high ideals, and the guests were all idealists but some might embrace the simplicity out of need.
The follow place card was set up on each table- I removed names.

Our Ethical Food Decisions for this Wedding

1. Why did we choose to have a modest buffet meal?

We wanted to embrace the core Jewish value of Histapkut ba’muat (being content with less) and Ben Zoma’s teaching that a wealthy individual is one who is content with one’s lot (Pirkei Avot 4:1). Rav Bachya Ibn Pakuda, an 11th century Spanish philosopher, shared this view and taught that a lifestyle of materialism and overindulgence leads one away from G-d. In fact, throughout various time periods, the Jewish community embraced sumptuary laws (laws limiting personal expenses on religious grounds) as a way of showing “deference to the poor” (Moed Kattan 27). Every simcha (religious celebration) affects the communal standard, and we would like to strive for the virtues of modesty and moderation. We are striving to have a creative and holy celebration that fosters inclusiveness and community building. A wedding, birth, bar/bat mitzvah, funeral, and the like are all great spiritual and ethical opportunities and are a time for families to engage in cheshbon ha’kis (financial introspection). We worry about the effect of consumerism on our celebrations. We struggled with whether or not to use dishes (more environmentally friendly) or disposables (lower in cost), and decided upon the latter.

2. Why did we choose to make the meal dairy?

[The birde] has been a vegetarian for about 14 years and [the groom ] has been for about eight years. One of [groom’s ] rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, once wrote that “the dietary laws are intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently to vegetarianism.” We believe that in an age where it has become apparent that the new age of mass production done in factory farms immensely violates tza’ar ba’alei chaim (the Torah prohibition against inflicting pain upon animals), we must reconsider our consumer habits. In addition to the cruelty of how these animals are caged, fed, and slaughtered, many studies have shown the detrimental effect that meat consumption has upon human health. In a recession where our charity is needed more than ever, and as meat prices increase, the purchase of meat seems even more problematic. However, this is not an ascetic ideal. Alternative meat options are now more accessible, affordable, and similar in taste to meat than ever. In an age where vegetarianism must be viewed as a Jewish ethical ideal, we hope that more will consider this path in the pursuit of striving for truth, justice, peace, and holiness.
After the wedding, we intend to embrace a fully vegan diet as we have learned that many parts of the dairy industry have serious moral and health concerns as well.

3. Why did we choose food certified by the Tav HaYosher?

Launched by Uri L’Tzedek, the Tav HaYosher is a local, grassroots initiative to bring workers, restaurant owners and community members together to create just workplaces in kosher restaurants. Rav Yosef Breuer, one of the leading figures of 20th century Orthodoxy, famously stated that “Kosher” is intimately related to “Yoshor.” “G-d’s Torah not only demands the observance of kashrut and the sanctification of our physical enjoyment; it also insists on the sanctification of our social relationships. This requires the strict application of the tenets of justice and righteousness, which avoid even the slightest trace of dishonesty in our business dealings and personal life.” Recent studies have revealed widespread abuse and exploitation of workers in the New York food industry. Thousands of workers are paid below minimum wage. Even more are denied their legal rights to overtime pay and time off. Workers are often subjected to unsafe and abusive working conditions. Given recent events in the kashrut industry, we believe it is imperative that we implement a system that will prevent abuse and exploitation and that we must ensure these abuses are not taking place in kosher restaurants. The Tav HaYosher is an opportunity to harness some of the power and influence we have as an observant community to strengthen tzedek in our world and create a true kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name).

Visit to Poland- Part II – Looking for Izbica

I was going to talk about several graves in order to deal with some of the issues of graves in a single post but this one became long enough for its own post.

I set out to visit the grave of the Izbitzer rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica (pronounced in Yiddish as Izbitz). Izbitz Hasidus is currently fashionable for his vision that we have personal illuminations of God’s will.

Izbica is 30 minutes south-east of Lublin in one of the poorer parts of Poland located on the road to the Ukraine. On the side of the road are endless mustard yellow fields of rape–seed for canola oil. Everything is now modern agriculture with tractors, but many homes still have the older horse plows still rusting the yard. Cows and chickens in the front yards were common sites. One is entering into a realm scarcely populated with little business or industry. I remembered the signs at the Warsaw airport encouraging foreign investment to develop the country.

The town of Izbica goes back to the medieval era and it was briefly conquered by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the eighteenth century, but upon return to Poland it became an all Jewish city.

An ordinary Polish town of a noble from the 17-18th century originally had two parts, a Catholic part with a Baroque church and the Jewish side of the town; market was in the middle. (See Moshe Rosman The Lord’s Jews. Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the 18th Century, Cambridge, MA, 1990 Gershon Hundert The Jews in a Polish Private Town. The Case of Opatow in the Eighteenth Century, Baltimore, 1992.)

In Izbica, as in many of the other towns in this region, there was no Christian side nor any Church. Izbica was 95% Jewish. The return of the town to Poland created an all Jewish town. Whereas the end of the arenda system led to poverty in Russia, in the Lublin province of Lublin it lead to financial security as the Jews built factories and help industrialize the country. Izbica was known for having furniture, wood, and comb factories. These new Jewish factory towns suffered a dearth of leadership in the nineteenth century and organized their religious lives around Hasidism- specifically the individualistic and mercantile qualities of Polish Hasidism. We know that the Kotzker had a vinegar and then an apparel factory. The older nobility towns were market towns now we have Orthodox factory owners and proletariat. And whereas the older towns had yeshivot and rationalism, these new towns had Hasidism.(see Raphael Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment)

Rabbi Mordecahi Yosef was born in Tomaszow located 50km further south and he eventually becoming a student of Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (Koch). Tomaszow was the place of all the wild stories of the court of the Kotzker. In 1830, the Kotzker supported the Polish uprising against Russian so he needed to change his last name and his city to save his life. He moved to Koch and Mordechai Yosef followed. In 1839, there was the famous break between the two and Mordecahi Yosef moved to the all Jewish town needing leadership. He died in 1851.

We arrived into a nineteenth century brick town looking like many an American small town of only four blocks length. Izbica has a depressed rust belt town feel and one website claims that most of the inhabitants were unemployed.

The Jewish cemetery is located behind a yellow house. Everyone in town knew, when asked, where it was.One enters the private driveway and then goes up a narrow and steep hill with dirt steps. One comes to a tangle of bushes and bramble with a dirt path which the locals are walking on to reach the other side of the hill. The grave was located immediately to our left behind a forest of hedges, trees, and vines. We missed it and entered the trail which ran the length of the former Jewish cemetery. We noticed a few recent Post WWII memorial stones to relatives killed in war. One of these was by two siblings to their killed parents, but one of the siblings was Catholic and one Jewish so the tombstone had a Jewish memorial on one side and a Catholic one on the other. Realizing we must have missed the tomb, we went back and saw what looked like a garage set back behind the thicket which must be the ohel. There was no sign to the grave, no Jewish community signs, or clearing of the bushes to get through, nor was there any fence or enclosure.

There was a new black memorial tombstone plaque to all those killed in Holocaust and then a little clearing in which sat a wall made of broken Jewish tombstones and a homemade garage structure made of tombstone fragments held together by cement. The Nazis had destroyed the cemetery at the very start of the war to build a headquarters and prison/ghetto. These were the remnants of the broken stones returns to the cemetery now embedded in two structures. In the garage looking ohel was the grave of Rabbi Mordechai Leiner with a simple new stone and a simple plaque above it. The grave seems to have been built by the members of the Leiner family who live in Brooklyn & Israel in order to pray to their ancestor.

On the way out of town, we were pointed to a brick building and told that it was originally a bakery the only remnants of the former main street. Some of the homes looked similar in age.

The students of Rabbi Mordechai Leiner, Rabbi Zadok Hakohen and Rabbi Leibele Eiger share a common ohel in the new cemetery in Lublin proper but they get little attention and are not mentioned in the guides. If one wanted to show the past of Lublin, they should get greater attention.

But why was the grave of Rabbi Mordechai Yosef give special attention in contemporary Poland? He was not a wonder worker and the Polish Hasidic tradition is not part of the world of Galician wonder working Zaddikim. Those coming from Boro Park to visit the Hozeh, Reb Elimelech, Sanz and Belz do not include the Izbitzer. It seems that there was some Shlomo Carlebach influence on the Polish committee seeking to restore the graves as well as surprise money from German TV because they were doing a documentary of the Nazi responsible for destroying the town.

I am still trying to understand the bigger picture of these isolated acts of reclamation by the small Polish Jewish community, The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ) explained their work in Izbica as follows.

The goal of the project is to restore the neglected Jewish cemetery in Izbica and to bring back its proper look. The project is coordinated by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and by Tvschoenfilm, a German documentary producing company.

Until the end of 2006 the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage had finished the first stage of the project, during which the following results were achieved:

– the matzevot, stolen during World War II and used to build a Gestapo prison in Izbica, were moved to the cemetery and secured;
– a monument commemorating the Jewish community of Izbica was erected at the cemetery;
– a pamphlet presenting the history of Izbica was published;
– a workshop on Jewish history and culture was organized for the students of the Izbica School Complex.

In autumn 2006 the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany had joined forces with the Foundation to realize the IZBICA JEWISH CEMETERY COMMEMORATION PROJECT. The financial support of the Embassy allowed the Foundation to erect a monument commemorating the Jewish community of Izbica, publish pamphlets presenting the history of the town (in Polish and in English), organize educational activities for the students of the Izbica School Complex and, finally, to trace the geodesic boundaries of the cemetery and design a new fence.

On November 16th, 2006, a ceremony of unveiling of the monument commemorating the Jewish community of Izbica took place.

The teachers and students of the School Complex in Izbica have been taking care of the Jewish cemetery in Izbica for many years, trying to discover the past of their town. In September 2005 the School Complex in Izbica joined the educational program “To Bring Memory Back”, launched by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage.

Within the framework of the „To Bring Memory Back” program the students take care of the Jewish cemetery, discover Jewish history and culture, and explore the history of the Jewish community of Izbica. They also undertake public activities leading to bring to the inhabitants of Izbica the memory of their past.

On December 19, 2006, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage organized for the students of the Izbica School Complex a workshop on Jewish culture and history, dedicated also to the educational program’s method and the realization of public activities.We certainly hope that thanks to the workshop, led by experienced animators, young people of Izbica will manage to invite many other inhabitants of their town to join them in taking care of the cemetery and exploring the past of Izbica.

The final stage of the IZBICA JEWISH CEMETERY COMMEMORATION PROJECT will be fencing the cemetery. The cost of this undertaking is estimated for 50 000 €. The Foundation is now seeking partners who will help us to complete this task. A pamphlet presenting the history of Izbica: “Izbica. A Story of a Place”»

They had a programs in the local school in 2005-6, but there does not seem to be any programming since 2006. The cemetery has several year’s of growth of bushes so the cleanup has not been maintained. They produced a very nice pamphlet on the town “Izbica. A Story of a Place” which is worth downloading. I have not uploaded my pictures yet. In the meantime page eight of the pamphlet has pictures of the wall of gravestones, and the ohel.

Towns such as Izbica had fewer survivors since there were no Christians in the town to serve as vehicles for escape and protection. In addition, in these towns, everyone spoke Yiddish – no one spoke Polish- so it was hard to blend in outside the town. The most famous survivor of Izbica is the still living Thomas Blatt who survived an escape from Sobibor. The pamphlet quotes Blatt that his father was called Leibele Goy since he was a freethinker who ate ham and spoke with Polish Christans, the latter a trait useful for survival.

Those who know the Torah of the Izbitzer come for pilgrimage and affirmation of his influence. Those Polish Jews who have reclaimed their Judaism come for an sense that just as they recovered their faith – they have an illumination that there is Jewish core to Poland. Some Jews from the US come for an Ozymandias sense of the immense loss and imagined vision of what the town was like when all Jewish. Others like Jonathan Foer Safran came to Eastern Europe and saw nothing but stones so he used his imagination to create his own personal illumination.

Now the goal is the raise money to fence it in. The question is: for whom? Is the goal to place a memorial and a fence around in all surviving cemeteries? But as the decades and centuries pass, who will take care of these places and who will travel to these places? Even with a fence it will soon be impassable due to overgrowth.

This morning a New York paper complained about the neglect and overgrowth of colonial Protestant cemeteries in NY. Thee are no funds to maintain every cemetary even in the United States. Do the well meaning restorers in POland understand the immense commitment for upkeep?

There are hundreds of Jewish graveyards of famous rabbis in Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco and Russia? Do we preserve them all? Here in Izbica, there are no surviving tombstones. No history to see. No graves left to protect. There is no Jewish community returning to educate and there is not enough cemetery left to create a focal point for Polish education. There are over 350 known cemeteries of shtetlach with destroyed graveyard with no tombstones left, should there be 100’s of projects to fence them in?

To be continued—Visit to Poland Part III: On to Zamosc

Rabbi Riskin declares Christians have entered through revelation into a special relationship with the God of Israel

Rabbi Riskin has reached the culmination of several years of interfaith dialogue by declaring in a new statement that “Judaism must respect Christian faithfulness to their revelation, value their role in divine history, and acknowledge that Christians have entered a relationship with the God of Israel. In our pre-eschaton days, God has more than enough blessings to bestow upon all of His children.” He does this, in his own proclamation, “as a catalyst for other orthodox Jews and Jewry worldwide…”

In this statement, the general sharing of the universal creator of heaven has become a sharing of the the particular God of Israel, that Christians have a special positive relationship with the God of Israel, that Christianity has to figure positively in a Jewish theory of history, and that we should respect their revelation, implicitly indicating the New Testament. At the same time, Riskin reserves the right to prayer for their escatological conversion of Christians to Judaism but thinks both sides should avoid proselytizing for conversion.

This statement is way beyond Dabru Emet. Will anyone comment or will they ignore it? And if they ignore the statement-will it be because of loyalty to the Riskin of the 1970’s or because they do not take it seriously?
Riskin’s theological dialogue partner was the Hebraic Heritage Christian Center, a small non-accredited Bible college that seeks to return Christianity to its Jewish roots. Here is their concerns and here is their vision. Here is a DVD on their approach to dialogue.

Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin said, “This statement only represents the view of our center but should also be used as a catalyst for other orthodox Jews and Jewry worldwide to consider fostering relationships with Christian communities. Leaders within the mainline Christian denominational world as well as the non-denominational movements of Evangelical Christianity have sincerely become friends of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It is vital that we strengthen our relationship with them. We are certain that through these relational dialogues we will find far more which unites us than divides us.”

A Jewish Understanding of Christians and Christianity

Many leaders of Christianity today no longer seek to displace Judaism. They recognize the Jewish people’s continuing role in God’s plan for history, and through their own understanding of the Christian Testament, they understand themselves as grafted into the living Abrahamic covenant.

Christians see themselves not merely as members of the Noahide covenant, but as spiritual partners within the Jewish covenant. At the same time, they believe that God does not repent of his covenantal gifts and that the Jewish people continues to enjoy a unique covenantal relationship with God in accordance with its historical 2000 year traditions.

Jewish and Christian theologies are no longer engaged in a theological duel to the death and therefore Jews should not fear a sympathetic understanding of Christianity that is true to the Torah, Jewish thought and values. In today’s unprecedented reality of Christian support for the Jewish people, Jews should strive to work together with Christians toward the same spiritual goals of sacred history¬, universal morality, peace, and redemption under God¬ but under different and separate systems of commandments for each faith community and distinct theological beliefs.

Nearly all medieval and modern Jewish biblical commentators understood Abraham’s primary mission as teaching the world about God and bearing witness to His moral law. Maimonides insisted in his halakhic and philosophical writings that spreading the knowledge of the One God of Heaven and Earth throughout the world was the main vocation of Abraham. Significantly, this understanding of Abraham’s religious mission is exactly the role and historical impact of Christianity as understood by great rabbis such as Rabbis Moses Rivkis, Yaakov Emden and Samson Raphael Hirsch. [1]

[1] R. Moses Rivkis (17th century Lithuania):
The gentiles in whose shadow Jews live and among whom Jews are disbursed are not idolators. Rather they believe in creatio ex nihilo and the Exodus from Egypt and the main principles of faith. Their intention is to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and we are obligated to pray for their welfare (Gloss on Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat, Section 425:5).

And Rabbi Jacob Emden (18th century Germany):
The Nazarene brought a double goodness to the world… The Christian eradicated avodah zarah, removed idols (from the nations) and obligated them in the seven mitsvot of Noah…a congregation that works for the sake of heaven¬(people) who are destined to endure, whose intent is for the sake of heaven and whose reward will not denied. (Seder Olam Rabbah 35-37; Sefer ha-Shimush 15-17.

And Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany):
Although disparaged because of its alleged particularism, the Jewish religion actually teaches that the upright of all peoples are headed toward the highest goal. In particular, rabbis have been at pains to stress that, while in other respects Christian views and ways of life may differ from those of Judaism, the peoples in whose midst the Jews are now living [i.e. Christians] have accepted the Jewish Bible of the Old Testament as a book of Divine revelation. They profess their belief in the God of heaven and earth as proclaimed in the Bible and they acknowledge the sovereignty of Divine Providence in both this life and the next. Their acceptance of the practical duties incumbent upon all men by the will of God distinguishes these nations from the heathen and idolatrous nations of the talmudic era (Principles of Education, “Talmudic Judaism and Society,” 225-227).

Israel…produced an offshoot [Christianity] that had to become estranged from it in great measure, in order to bring to the world¬sunk in idol worship, violence, immorality and the degradation of man¬at least the tidings of the One Alone, of the brotherhood of all men, and of man’s superiority over the beast. (Nineteen Letters on Judaism (Jerusalem, 1995).

When we combine this rabbinic appreciation of Christianity with today’s non-replacement Christian theologies toward Judaism, we find fresh possibilities for rethinking a Jewish relationship with Christianity and for fashioning new Jewish-Christian cooperation in pursuit of common values. If so, Jews can view Christians as partners in spreading monotheism, peace, and morality throughout the world.

This new understanding must encompass a mutual respect of each other’s theological beliefs and eschatological convictions. Some Christians maintain that Christianity is the most perfect revelation of God and that all will join the church when truth is revealed at the end of time. Jews, too, are free to continue to believe, as Maimonides believed, that “all will return to the true religion” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:1) and, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik declared, “In the ultimate truthfulness of our views, [we] pray fervently for and expect confidently the fulfillment of our eschatological vision when our faith will rise from particularity to universality and will convince our peers of the other faith community”(“Confrontation” from Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 1964, 6:2).

The new relationship requires that Christians respect the right of all Jewish peoples to exist as Jews with complete self-determination ¬free from any attempts of conversion to Christianity.

At the same time, Judaism must respect Christian faithfulness to their revelation, value their role in divine history, and acknowledge that Christians have entered a relationship with the God of Israel. In our pre-eschaton days, God has more than enough blessings to bestow upon all of His children.

The prophet Micah offers a stunning description of the messianic culmination of human history:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and the God of Jacob, that He teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.…Let the peoples beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore. Let every man sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and no one shall make him afraid….Let all the people walk, each in the name of his God; and we shall walk in the name of our Lord our God forever and ever.” (4:2-5)

Jews and Christians must bear witness together to the presence of God and to His moral laws. If Jews and Christians can become partners after nearly 2,000 years of theological delegitimization and physical conflict, then peace is possible between any two peoples anywhere. That peace would be our most powerful witness to God’s presence in human history and to our covenantal responsibility to carry God’s blessing to the world. It is the very essence of which the messianic dream is made of.

The Message of the Holocaust is not the avoidance of Cyber-Bullying

I sit here amidst announcement of ever new studies on the Holocaust that go beyond the death camp iconography. Books that deal with the Holocaust in different countries and forgotten aspects of the inhumanity. There is much to still grapple with now that the original shock has culturally been digested. However, much of the American presentation is so trivial as to be offensive to the victims. So, I was glad to see the recent article in the NYT decrying the connection of the Holocaust with bullying or thinking that holding hands and singing tolerance songs would defeat a foreign nation or stop slavery. I come late to this article written almost a month ago since I was out of the country. I assume it was already discussed on many websites. Nevertheless, it is a great piece to give out to classrooms.

In addition, the very people who are busy trivializing the message of the Holocaust by associating it with everything are the same ones complaining “the Holocaust is unique” when other groups mention their loss. They also dont see that their trivialization has led to the infotainment news stations to call almost everything a Holocaust.

April 29, 2011 NYT
Making the Holocaust the Lesson on All Evils By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN

As proof, below a streaming news ticker (“Gay Basher Gets 12 Years”) are panels about “Confronting Hate in America”: Two Latinos are beaten on Long Island; a white supremacist shoots Jews in Los Angeles; a Sikh is murdered in a post-9/11 “hate crime”; a homosexual student is brutally murdered in Wyoming. On one panel is a description of the Oklahoma City bombing; on another, the attacks of 9/11.

A case of cyber-bullying also solicits our careful assessments. “Think,” we are urged by the signs: “Assume responsibility,” “Ask questions,” “Speak up.”

The museum’s central exhibition about the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews is preceded by this “Tolerancenter,” as it is called, which strains to tie together slavery, genocides, prejudice, discrimination and hate crimes, while showing even elementary school students (as the museum literature says) “the connection between these large-scale events and the epidemic of bullying in today’s schools.”

In the recently opened Holocaust museum in Skokie, Ill., bullying also plays a cautionary role.

Though Yad Vashem in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington have remained relatively immune to such sweeping moralizing, in most institutions and curriculums, the Holocaust’s lessons are clear: We should all get along, become politically active and be very considerate of our neighbors. If not, well, the differences between hate crimes and the Holocaust — between bullying and Buchenwald — are just a matter of degree.

Perhaps, though, we should take the lesson even further. What if this were the approach of every historical museum? The Imperial War Museum in London might look at World War I as a result of intolerance and hold out the promise of ending all wars if only its lessons were properly learned; after all, didn’t the French and Germans enjoy a sociable Christmas holiday cease-fire in the trenches of the Western Front?

The history of American slavery might explore the many ways people have enslaved others or forced them to do things against their will. An examination of the Soviet Gulag might emphasize the need to permit greater diversity of opinion in society, or more adventurously, it might attack the notion of imprisonment itself for being so Gulag-like.

As history, this is laughable. Yet we seem willing to accept that in the case of the Holocaust, an exhibition must allude to all forms of genocide, and must offer broad lessons about tolerance.

The impulse to tell the Holocaust story only in the context of elaborate generalizations has also helped justify its inclusion in school curriculums and helped obtain public financing for museums: The goal was not particular but general, not Judeocentric but humanitarian.

And the deeper one looks at the Holocaust itself, the more unusual its historical circumstances become. The cause of these mass killings was not “intolerance,” but something else, still scarcely understood.

Intolerance is almost too easy an explanation, implying a comforting moral message. Instead, why not look at how Hitler’s powers might have been undercut before he began to wage the war in Europe and the war against the Jews? Wouldn’t an examination of those possibilities offer a more profound lesson about how to prevent genocide?

And how central is intolerance to genocide anyway? Many intolerant societies don’t set up bureaucratic offices to supervise efficient mass murder.

There are even intolerant people who would still find genocide unthinkable
Read the Full Version Here

‘Religious macho’ among Shuvu Banim

Interesting piece on the quest for macho reckless behavior among the Shuvu Banim followers. Nice quotes from Zvi Mark on their quest for adventure and spontaneous activities. Undertaking a risk places one at a higher level of emunah.

‘Religious macho’
Just three days ago, the Hasidim of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva, situated in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, were informed that their rabbi, Eliezer Berland, would be returning today from the United States… Berland is an extreme mystic who aspires to be a tzaddik, a righteous person, in the image of Rabbi Nachman. His Shuvu Banim community of Bratslavers numbers more than 700 families. At Pesach one of the students, Ben-Yosef Livnat, was shot to death by Palestinian policemen

But no one denies that Berland has for years urged the Hasidim to visit Joseph’s Tomb and other dangerous places in the West Bank.

According to Dr. Zvi Mark, a scholar of Judaism and an expert on the Bratslav doctrine at both Bar-Ilan University and the Shalom Hartman Institute, Berland wants his followers to visit Joseph’s Tomb precisely because it is dangerous, and not in spite of the danger. “Even people who view highly dangerous backpacking trips by their children to all corners of the globe as a healthy outlet of youthful energies, accuse the Bratslav community of being adventurers,” Mark notes. “This is based on the concept of a separation between the vibrant secular way of life and religiously observant life, which must be spiritual and mystical, without earthly passions. Let them pray quietly in the synagogue and not disturb us during the siesta. But that dichotomy is remote from the Bratslav religiosity.”

The Shuvu Banim community describes Berland reverently as the spearhead of the visits to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, that began in the 1980s – with the aid of forged passports and the ability to give the KGB the slip. The Soviet authorities offered a reward of thousands of dollars to anyone with information that would lead to Berland’s arrest. A similar mythology sprang up about his trips with followers to the graves of the patriarchs in the territories during the second intifada, under fire, and was bolstered by the more recent high-speed night rides across highways in northern Israel.

Some of the Hasidim said that Berland had instructed them to elude “dinnim,” negative forces that try to stop their motion, such as traffic lights, road signs and policemen. According to N., Berland taught him that “the moment you undertake a practical endeavor that entails a certain risk, it connects you with the tzaddik at a higher level.” And in the case of Nablus, with the biblical figure Joseph.

Another Hasid, Benny Mahleb, one of the organizers of the visits to Nablus, said: “When I go to Joseph’s Tomb, I know that something is liable to happen to me, but I believe in the rabbi [Berland] and I have a sense of security. I call this the adrenaline of holiness. You enter a city where there are terrorists – and we have already encountered gunfire – but you enter with faith, pray at the tomb and understand that by means of faith and prayer it is possible to change even nature.”
How many Hasidim have been hurt on the way to Joseph’s Tomb?

“One was injured and he has been in a vegetative state since 2003, and one, Ben-Yosef [Livnat], was killed. With all the grief – both were my friends – you have to view it in relation to the level of risk and you understand that it’s nothing, it’s beyond nature.”
Drawn to the Haredi world

The Haifa-born Berland is a product of the state-religious education system and the Bnei Akiva youth movement. He met his wife, Tehila, the daughter of the late Rabbi Shalom-Avraham Shaki – a Knesset member from the National Religious Party in the first half of the 1960s – when they were both members of a settlement group in the Nahal paramilitary brigade, bound for a religious kibbutz. Berland was already drawn to the Haredi world then, and no one was surprised when he entered an ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian yeshiva instead of the IDF.

Dr. Mark, who met Rabbi Berland a few years ago, says: “He has great knowledge. He interweaves material from different aspects of culture. In the course of a conversation he opens an encyclopedia and explains how storms happen and then switches to expert talk about a kabbalah manuscript. That is quite impressive.” Mark adds that, in contrast to other Bratslav rabbis who saw themselves, at least implicitly, as reincarnations of Rabbi Nachman, “I did not find any such claim in Rabbi Berland. On the other hand, I have never seen another Bratslaver rabbi whose demeanor is so close to that of Rabbi Nachman. If you ask yourself how the Hasidic movement started, what it was that people looked for in the tzaddikim, why people went to them, suddenly you have a powerful living example of just that.”

Mark points out that “some Bratslav Hasidim see Rabbi Nachman as being a saintly figure removed from them. Rabbi Berland sees him as a role model. He suddenly goes to Tiberias, suddenly goes to the United States – that is a very familiar pattern to those who know the behavior of Rabbi Nachman. Part of Rabbi Nachman’s ethos was always to renew himself and to change. If you are drawn to something, take action, go with what you feel. ‘Flow.’ Rabbi Berland is exactly that kind of character. If he feels the need to do something in the middle of the night, he will not put it off until morning but will go and do it immediately.”

“As a boy, Rabbi Nachman prayed he would die as a martyr to God,” Mark says. “He lived in Bratslav, but toward the end of his life said he wanted to die in Uman, because thousands of Jews who were martyred in pogroms were buried there. The whole ethos of Joseph and his devotion is interwoven in Rabbi Nachman’s life from beginning to end, and is also interwoven in the life of Rabbi Berland – from his trips to Uman when it was under Soviet rule, to his forays to Joseph’s Tomb.”

Do the Bratslav Hasidim consider the Palestinians, or the IDF soldiers stationed around Nablus, as “dinnim,” who need to be evaded or perhaps confronted?

“They don’t throw stones and don’t hurt anyone,” Mark says, about the Bratslavers. “It is an ethos of confidence in God or in the tzaddik. They take a chance and rely on Rabbi Berland, but they have no intention of hurting a living soul. It’s religious macho, not military macho. They say, ‘We go about without weapons, defenseless, and place our lives in God’s providence.'”
Read the full article here.

Baby-Boomers may rise again

The Baby -Boomer changed the world less than they expected and they never expected a backlash by gen-x or by conservative religious and political forces. They also never imagined their current health and financial horizons that allowed a second life. Many of the 60 year old’s I know feel that relgion, politics, and the social climate did not turn out the way they planed. If this article turns out true then expect a major influx of money, time, and dedication as baby-boomers try to use their golden years of 60-85 to re-make the Jewish world. At this point, they will have an alliance with many of the gen-y and gen-z. The article claims that baby-boomer may not continue to support the institutions that took care of them or which they were affiliated during their work and family years. If they don’t like the community they will go elsewhere rather than hand the reigns to someone younger.

If the article is correct, then many baby-boomer Jews will seek their encore careers in the universalism of social action or arts. They may also shift their denomination affiliation. (I am predicting unless this issue is addressed this will be a major drain of money and resources out of Orthodoxy). Any thoughts on its effect on Judaism? These are people who became religious because they assumed the heroes of the 1960’s and 1970’s was the way of the future. What is the effect on the community if they want to re-capture their dreams? Alternately, what will happen if they opt out with their money and expertise? Or what of devote themselves to the community after 65 but show a strong lack of willingness to work with gen-x when they disagree?
Is this prospect scary or hopeful?

Update- There is the additional question of the media and tech abilities of the Baby -Boomers. Those born before 1957 do not generally have the web savvy or the needed ability to led and communicate via the web and new media. Will they be able to organize with their web limits?

As the Generational Winds Blow by Dr. David Elcott and Stuart Himmelfarb

When we look at that chart in the 21st Century, we see a radical shift as the sides have become more even. Our generational pyramid now looks increasingly like a square with large populations in their fifties and sixties near the top, and many more on top of them living beyond their eighties.
In fact, as analysts at Standard & Poor’s have observed, “No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy making as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.”

If Boomers stay engaged in the work of society rather than pursuing traditional retirement plans, if they enter Encore careers in public service or if they offer their talent, experience and financial resources as serious volunteers, we will then be forced to find a way to model something dynamically different and powerful: four active generations working side-by-side both in the work force and in Jewish communal life. The potential benefits of this achievement in the private and non-profit sectors are huge in an age of declining governmental supports, a besieged middle class and the increased demands of an aging population. Conversely, if we fail to address these issues, the result could be generational collisions and a potential collapse at the core of our community.

Given these winds of change, where can we look for solutions and support? Many of the foundations and communal organizations that fund innovation, especially in the Jewish community, are firmly fixated on youth and believe their focus on 20- and 30-somethings alone
In a recent study of over 250 philanthropic funders regarding their programmatic goals, responses clustered around childhood education and a wide range of entitlements for young adults. The only mention of any other age group related to geriatric needs.

And we have comforted ourselves by assuming that when people get older, their young leadership experiences will ensure their continued deep commitment, and that they will invest their financial resources, experience and talent in Jewish communal life.

Yet in a recent study of highly affiliated Jewish Baby Boomers, two-thirds said that if they do not find what they want in the Jewish community, they have every intention of going elsewhere. Rather than reaping the benefits of generations of fidelity and Jewish passion, we may well find ourselves with four generations of highly entitled Jews whose allegiance to the Jewish community will only be as deep as the next meaningful experience offered to them, and whose loyalties might not extend beyond their own, more narrow interests. And instead of intergenerational collaboration, we will have fostered a competitive environment where generational cohorts demand a larger share of ever decreasing entitlements.

The Jewish population is among the oldest of any ethnic or religious group. The evidence we gathered in the national survey of the Jewish community cited above indicates that continued Boomer fidelity to the Jewish people cannot be assumed. Competitive alternative options for Jews in their fifties, sixties and seventies are emerging throughout the country, from the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to Senior Corps and Executive Service Corps. (For instance, 10% of all AmeriCorps positions are reserved for those over 55.)

We ignore at our peril the implications of Boomers leaving the Jewish scene and the influence of that exit on the generations that follow.
The first Baby Boomers have reached sixty-five years old. The youngest are approaching 50. They are at a pivotal moment as they consider their next steps. What they do and how the Jewish community connects with them has implications across the generational landscape. In fact, the next decades of Boomer behavior may well determine what kind of Jewish community we share and whether it grows stronger or is buffeted by forces beyond our control.

The authors, Dr. David Elcott and Stuart Himmelfarb, are co-founders of B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform, a new initiative dedicated to engaging – or re-engaging – Jewish Baby Boomers in Jewish life and to advancing inter-generational connections. Read the Full Version Here.

Visit to Poland – Part I : Two Lublin Projects

I will begin to summarize my thoughts on my recent Poland visit over the course of several posts. I will start will the city of Lublin.

My local Lublin guide was a local Polish Catholic, a native of the old city of Lublin, who was willing to take me around for several days out of the goodness of his heart because I taught his best friend from college who now lives in the US. One of the first places that we entered was a door under the gate between the Christian and Jewish sections of the old city of Lublin. The lower level had a restaurant that served non-kosher Jewish style recipes and had klezmer performers.

Upstairs was three floors dedicated to the former Jewish community. The place was called Teatr NN – Theater of No Name, memorial to the missing Jews. Here is their memory project for the Jewish community with many links to their activities.

The first room contained detailed aerial and spatial maps of the area with details, as well as diptychs of photographs then there were rooms of viewers of photographs of pre-WWII Jewish Lublin labeled by house number. The center is documenting each house and building, floor by floor, year by year. They are gathering photographs, deeds, business records of every building and its activity. The center of the display was a scale model of the old city where one could point to and discuss each building. They explained with great dedication the history of each building. They showed where the poor lived by their small close set houses and where the wealthy lived by heir expansive buildings.
Here is their model of the Jewish quarter.
They placed their model on Google- Satellite Maps.
They produced a little history book on the Jews of Lublin.
(Both Map and book may load slow and may need plug-ins or updates.)

They claimed from photographic evidence that the Yeshiva of Maharshal was bombed by the Nazis but that it was still standing and the Soviets were the ones who actually destroyed the building. They also discussed with me the brush factory across from Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin in the 1930’s, which was owned and operated by an American Jew of Czech origins.

They were proud to explain how they bring classes of school kids and have all sorts of projects for them and they perform shows about Jewish life.
On seeing such dedication, I asked them: how they became involved in this project? They said that they had been students at the Catholic University of Lublin KUL. One of their priests included material on Judaism- the priest emphasized the role of Judaism in Catholicism in a post-Vatican II age as well as selections from Heschel and Levinas. They were now committed to the Jewish-Catholic reconciliation.

The top floor of the little museum was dedicated to the righteous gentiles who saved Jews during the war—and they told me that they were sorry there were no more. They want the students to understand that not everyone was good. I asked: who funded this project? They answered: The city of Lublin.
Teatr NN –served educational needs of both Jewish visitors (if they have a Polish speaker with them) and of the Polish visitors.

Then I visited Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin recently restored and renovated. During most of the decades from the War until four years ago it was a medical school. Now it was renovated as a community center, shul, adult education center, and mikvah for the Jews of Lublin, a branch of the Warsaw Jewish community. There are about 40 Jews- older and still scared of the Antisemitism from the Soviet era.

There was little restoration of the original look of the interior of the Yeshiva. It was renovated to look like Israeli govt funded school, white wash paint, no details on the wall, and modern plywood bookshelf. There were a few original touches like the color of the pillar in the shul but it mainly looked non- descriptive Israeli. In addition, rooms were not restored to original size, for example renovated otzar seforim is a tiny room, even though the original was a large room. And most annoying for me, was the anachronistic painted sign above each room in modern Hebrew with the name of that room- like in summer camp- dining room “hadar ochel” or library “sifriah”

I appreciate the need for a forward looking shul with a mikvah that has Rav Eliyashev’s approval, but then then dont claim renovation or historical education.

In general there was no attempt to restore the building to any of its former glory. The original building followed Rav Meir Shapiro’s plan for tiferet, to bring aesthetic glory to chassidus. The original tiles were carved and decorated the way the fancy buildings of Lublin are engraved. The original building was to bring an aesthetic building to the Torah world. Now it is industrial plain. The very glory of the building is obscured. The Yeshiva had a model of the beis hamikdash since they emphasized the sacrificial cult (kodshim)- currently, no attempt was made to even mention it.

This past summer an Orthodox rabbi mentioned in his sermon that he was brought to Lublin as part of a Federation trip and when he visited the yeshiva, he said: “so what? It is an empty building.” I felt the same way. No effort was made to restore the original. No effort was made to create an aura of the original. They were just proud that the building was in Jewish hands and they remembered that it went from rubble to renovation. The goal was to keep the costs down.

The pictures on the wall were just random collage arrangements of collections of pictures of Rav Meir Shapiro and the Yeshiva in no order to provide decoration. The paid docent knew little about the Yeshiva beyond the dozen talking points that she was fed.

The pictures and ephemera of the original Yeshiva was, however, preserved in many many photographs and we have records of its stationary, publicity, and printed materials. We have several volumes dedicated to the Yeshiva edited by Rabbi Dovid Avrohom Mandelbaum.(Go read them) There was not even a sense that they knew the content of Yehoshua Baumol, A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom: The Life of Rav Meir Shapiro.One could create many educational displays from our knowledge of the yeshiva from Mandelbaum.
We have many volumes written by the graduates and teachers Eretz Tzvi from Rabbi Aryah Tzvi Frommer Rosh Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin or students like Rav Pinhas Hirschsprung of Montreal or Rav Shmuel Wozner of Bnai Brak. There was no one associated with the renovation that had any idea.

The building as it stands is not useful for education for Jews or non-Jews. They have plans to add to the building a museum of Hasidism. If their current approach continues, it will be pictures of dancing Hasidim, Buber stories of the Besht, and pictures of tombstones for their current Hasidic visitors. It will have nothing of the actual greatness of the community.

But the tragedy is that the Polish Jews who were born in Communist Poland and are now in charge of these buildings know nothing of the Torah history. Personally, I think that if there would be a museum, it should be dedicated to the Yeshivot in Poland, starting with the great ones of the 16th century, then to the new ones of the 18-19th century – Zamosc, Zagres, and then the new yeshivot of the 20th century like Daas Moshe run by the Piesetzna Rebbe and Yeshivat Chochmai Lublin.

Many of the Polish Jews in charge who hid their Judaism under the Communists and now are showing their Judaism by taking possession of buildings have little background in history, museums or Torah- even if they think they know history. I can understand that they do not want the actual history of Jews as part of the arenda system which mediated between szlachta and peasants by making Jews tax farmers and middlemen. And do they want to portray the Jews as factory owners and industrialists. But I was told that they want to do a Hasidic museum because they think Catholic Poles want to hear about the joyous Buberian Hasidim of Ukraine and that the Brooklyn Hasidim, the people who actually come to visit are mainly Hasidim have no interest in history reconstruction- only graves. Even if one did a Hasidic Museum, there is so much more than joyous romantic portrayals since there is so much rich Polish Hasidic material to show.

The building currently has no lesson for Jews or Poles. The community interprets “restoration” as restoration to the community and not historical restoration.

Long term, if there is a goal of history or education then there should be some committee created to advise them consisting of academic historians, museum curators, and Haredi representatives with an interest in history.

On the way out, I was told by one of the officials that I should bring American money to restore the cemetery. But after the way they showed that they had no concern to restore or preserve this building nor any effect at education, I would rather have the city of Lublin or the Polish Catholics restore the cemetery.
I am giving them the benefit of the doubt but some have recently ascribed more nefarious motives to these reclamation projects.

More on this in the next post: Visit to Poland Part II: Looking for Izbica