Purim 2013 Facts and Fancies

What is Purim? Purim is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated exactly four weeks before Passover. It is based on the story told in the Book of Esther and offers an ancient blueprint for that age-old scourge, Jew hatred or anti-semitism. We read in the Book of Esther Chapter 3:1:

3:8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. 3:9 If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries. 3:10 And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy.

The rest of of the story recounts the escape from this cruel fate by the actions of Esther who manages to sway the king and acquire the right for the Jews to defend themselves. Those who attack the Jews are killed but the Jews do not touch their spoils. (Verses 9: 1 – 9:16) The Rabbis thought long and hard about whether to include this text in the Jewish cannon. and in our own time Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of England admits that he always wondered “Why is this book worthy of celebration.” And celebration indeed marks this holiday more than any other: Children and adults dress up in disguise, food and drinks are passed form neighbour to neighbour.

Play and laughter, food and drink is the order of the day. Here are some recent pictures posted to my facebook page from our recent Purim holiday which took place last Sunday.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks says, “It is important to celebrate because here is an instance where Jews overcame their enemies and were victorious, and this is worthy of celebration.

And here is my favorite Purim video for this year – Move Like Graggers Remix (Purim Song) by Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Michigan

How many Purim themes can you name here?

Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew

At the Montreal World Film Festival, I had the opportunity to watch Phillip B. Roth’s new film: Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew. The description of the film says:

“CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HATING JEW examines how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects the lives of American Jews from the perspective of a gay Naked Yoga teacher.”

confessions of a self hating jew

The director was at the screening and fielded questions from the audience after the film.  The film opens with the filmmaker holding a banner with the Star of David and the number 6,000,000 in the middle of a banner with flames around it. He ends the film abruptly, with the same slide but this time he is seen ripping apart the same banner of the 6,000,000 in the middle, the flames and the Star of David around it, and the screen abruptly fades to black and lights are up. Needless to say, it is controversial and shocks the viewers. I was especially taken aback since this appears to give fodder to Holocaust deniers.

The filmmaker tells the audience that he stopped considering his Jewish heritage after his bar mitzva, at the age of 13. He continued to be a supporter of Israel until he gradually realized that some people do not agree with the traditional Jewish narrative about Israel. He first realized this by seeing Vanessa Redgrave at the Academy awards expressing support for the Palestinian cause.

He became curious about his parents support for Israel. In his film, he interviews his father, mother and grandmother, in their home, as they explain that, yes, they do support Israel and do not understand why he does not, even though they may not follow all of the Jewish rules: His grandmother is seen cooking bacon for breakfast.

Also featured in the film are: Charles Small, a scholar of anti-semitism; Phyllis Chessler, the feminist, who has written, “The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It“; an orthodox Jewish couple identified as “liberals” who oppose “Zionism”; Hannah Arendt, a German/American Jewish philosopher, with a problematic connection to Jews and Israel; as well as a representative of the Neturai Karta, a tiny minority of Jews, a virulently anti-Israel Hassidic group that lives in Jerusalem and opposes the creation of the Sate of Israel on religious grounds because “It i only the Jewish Messiah who can create a Jewish State. The Neturai Karta are so extreme that they are often seen joining Palestinian anti-Israeli demonstrations – (I have noticed that there is always a small group of them protesting at the Israeli Indepence Day celebrations here in Montreal, and they are often seen supporting the Ayatolla Khomeini of Iran who has repeatedly threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”.

To the filmmakers’ credit he also has slides showing the history of wars attacking Israel in the Middle East and their outcomes. In between, we are treated endlessly to the same video clips of him in the nude, instructing his naked Yoga class participants, seeing him exchanging identities with a non-Jewish Gay man, and being chased by a Hassid with side-curls. In other words, he covers the waterfront of criticism of Israel and some idiosyncratic ideas of anti-semitism. Is this tongue-in-cheek? What does he want to say?

confessions of a self hating jew

I, myself, was very confused as to the filmmakers’ point of view. The reason, I think, is that this film can be seen as a Rorschach test of peoples’ attitudes towards Jews and towards Israel. This was exposed during the question and answer period. In the sparsely populated theater, approximately four people voiced questions or comments about the film. The comments seemed to me to represent many varying responses to Jews and Israel that are floating around in the universe, only one of which I thought represented a solid understanding of either Israel or Jews.

1. The first person commented that he actually liked Roth’s Mother, Father and Grandmother. I did too because they were plain speaking older Americans expressing their feelings about Israel based on their experience of being Jews in America – Americans who had lived through the periods before and during the second World War and the fragile Jewish American world that existed before the establishment of the State of Israel, and who appreciate the value of the power of the State of Israel as a defense against the very real dangers of anti-semitism worldwide.

2. The second person said, “I am glad that you pointed out that Jews don’t all share the same ideas re: Israel.” This person identifies with the Jewish filmmaker who he perceives as identifying with those Jews and non-Jews who criticize and distance themselves from Israel in the diaspora, those who choose not to see the veiled antisemitism embodied in the virulent anti-Israel, leftist kabal, so aptly chronicled by Phyllis Chessler. They wear the the hat of “Jewish intellectuals critical of Israel” and thereby siding with non-Jewish leftist criticism of Israel which actually turns out to mostly quite unhinged. It was Robert Wistrich, the scholar of antisemitism who pointed out that Nazi intellectuals were among the greatest supporters of Nazi ideology in Germany.

3. Then there was another person, who saw himself as one of the critics of Israel and commended the filmmaker..

4. And one student who asked about the Neturai Karta. I guess, he was genuinely struggling to understand the various points of view.

How to understand this mishmash of a film and the title: “Confessions of a Self Hating Jew?” The phrase “self-hating Jew” has been fashionably used to characterize Jews who side with the critics of Israel. Most people don’t realize that “self hatred” is one of the defense mechanisms of the Ego, coined by Sigmund Freud in his book, “The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense”. The core of “self hatred”, he claims is the Ego’s identification with the aggressor” in order to avoid  feelings of humiliation and distress that are attendant in the aggression. Roth, the filmmaker, explained to me when I approached him after the film, that by tearing up the banner of the six million, he is expressing his idea that in America today, he has matured to understand that he no longer has to fear prejudice for  being gay, for being Jewish, and he now feels “free to be a Gay Jew teaching Yoga in the nude and free to criticize Israel since he no longer fears the “bogeyman of anti-semitism.” Unlike his parents, he feels free in his identity as an American Jewish gay naked Yoga teacher. Of course, the reality of a defense mechanism is that by definition it remains unconscious: In order for it to function as a defense, the ego must remain blissfully unaware of its functioning.

Author: Abigail Hirsch, MSW, filmmaker, blogger, journalist, citizen of the world

Rosh Hashanah : The Birthday of the World : What Does it Mean ?

 

Rosh HashanaOne of the names for the Jewish new Year, is the “birthday of the world”. It is two days that Jews choose to celebrate, every year, by collectively attending synagogue services and having festive meals, starting with apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year.

As we look around the world, this Rosh Hashana 5773/2012, the Middle East is in turmoil. Riots in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and the burning of the American flag have replaced the deadly assaults in Syria on the front pages of our newspapers. Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon program and continuing its genocidal threats against Israel, although its real target is the World, and the end goal is Arab/Muslim Hegemony.

Africa is in turmoil. Asia has its share of dictatorships and oppressed peoples. The United States is poised for an election in the midst of an economic crisis that affects all of us.

And yet Jews all over the world are getting ready to celebrate the Jewish New Year, the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the 5773th year in the Jewish calender.

A birthday is the birthing anew of our world. Everything seems possible at the beginning of the year. The Torah portions that we read highlight these ideas.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, we read about Sarah, the wife of Abraham being told she will have a child at the age of 100. Genesis 21:1–34; And the next day we read about G-d asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Genesis 22:1–24

In the additional readings, (the Haftorot) for the two days, we learn on the first day (Samuel 1:1-2:10) about Hanna, who was barren, praying so hard for a son that the priest, Eli thinks she is drunk, and the birth of Samuel. (Reminding us of the long and event filled life of the Prophet Samuel, recounted in the two prophetic books, Samuel I, and Samuel II.) On the second day we read the words of  (Jeremiah, 31:1) prophesying about G-d’s eternal love for His people and His promised ingathering of the exiles, bringing all Jews back to Israel – the promised land.

Life is fragile and, as adults, we all know that we are never completely in charge of our fates. On Rosh Hashanah, during synagogue services, Jews meditate on this fact, by sharing the liturgy of this day, some in grand operatic style, and some with muted prayer. We all pray, that G-d in partnership with man, will bring us safely to the best options through the coming year. We pray to be blessed with life, health, abundance and happiness, all the while recognizing the fragility of life, and the joy of having one more day to fulfill our hopes and dreams.

This is aptly recognized by Rabbi Steinmetz in his brief Rosh Hashanah talk: Life has no “Easy Button.”

Shana Tova. Here is praying for a fruitful year of wisdom, good health, and abundance for all of us.

Abigail Hirsch

Jews and the Afterlife

heaven hellRabbi Steinmetz has prepared another one of his inspirational talks and I was glad to film and upload his newest video. He speaks about the concept of “extra innings” in Judaism. Take a look at the video below:

 


And then this morning, I read this moving talk by Rabbi Yonatan Cohec Life Gives Birth to Death and Death Gives Birth to Life. It’s well worth reading. You won’t be sorry. Here is a short excerpt: 

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of difficult personal accounting. Our rabbis referred to this as cheshbon ha’nefesh, the internal calculations and considerations of the soul.

 

On Yom Kippur in particular, death weighs heavily on the bottom line. We remove our shoes as though we are in a state of mourning. We wear white recalling the white shrouds enveloping the deceased. The Yizkor service reminds us of the fragility of life, while the daunting words and melody of Unetane Tokef pound upon us. Who shall live and who shall die…Read more

 

Hope you enjoy this. Have a great Day.

Rosh Hashana: Jewish New Year: What it Means to Jews and to Non-Jews

Featured

Rosh-Hashanah-pomagraniteRosh Hashana is an unusual holiday since it is both communal and personal. In one of his brief talks Rabbi Steinmetz explains that the only time a Jewish community is obligated to hire a Rabbi and organize public prayer is for Rosh Hashanah. And yet Jews are of all different stripes and persuasions. This was amusingly brought home to me by a humorous Rosh Hashana e-mail:

Shana Tova
Author Unknown

To modern, ultra & just plain Orthodox Jews, Charedi Jews, Misnagdim, Conservative, Conservadox, Reform & ConForm Jews, Reconstructionist,Gartel Jews, non-Gartel Jews, Jews with sheitels & without, Tichel Jews, Sheitel, tichel & hat Jews, converted Jews, adult & child Jews, Frum from birth Jews, Baalei Teshuva, Satmar, Agudah, black hat, kipa s’ruga, Mir, Munkacs, BelzBeta Yisrael, Bobov, Chaim Berlin, Y.U. Jews, payos in front of the ear Jews, payos in back of the ear Jews, kipa only in shul/ hat in shul/ no shul at all Jews, Mizrachi Jews, Jews by choice, Bathrobe on Friday night Jews, Likud Jews, Labor Jews, Meimad Jews, Ten Lost Tribes Jews, cardiac Jews, Irish Jews,Black Jews, White Jews, 3-day-a-year Jews, Rav Nachman Jews, Rav Shlomo Jews, Neturei Karta Jews, Hasidim, Telz, Lakewood & Ner Yisrael Jews, Chofetz Chaim Jews, zaftig Jews, skinny Jews, Fremeiners, Dinevers, Kook-ies, JTS, RJJ, HUC, HTC, MTJ, BMT Jews, Celebrity Jews, Generation X,Y & Z Jews, NCSY Jews, Solomon Schechter Jews, Chinuch Atzmai Jews, Fackenheim Jews, Yitz Greenberg Jews, Kahane Jews, Feminist Jews, Chauvinist Jews,egalitarian Jews, traditional Jews, Kaddish-zuger Jews, political Jews, intellectual Jews, ignorant Jews, tomato Jews & orange Jews, Shinui Jews, Shas Jews, Israeli Jews, American Jews, Persian Jews, Russian Jews, Galitzianers, Litvaks, Polacks, Birthright Jews, single Jews, married Jews, wish I was married Jews, Greener Jews,  Redder Jews, Scandinavian Jews, South of the Border Jews, Italian Jews, Bald Jews, Hairy Jews, Canadian Jews, Latino Jews, Ladino Jews, Jews in kapatas, Jews in T-shirts, Jews in sandals, Jews in gym shoes, Jews in cowboy boots, Hungarian Jews, Czech Jews, Jews on the Hungarian-Czech Border Jews, Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Yemenite Jews, Afrikaaner Jews, Romanian Jews, Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists, post-Zionists, Jews with an accent, Jews who speak perfect Midwestern English, Hebrew, Native American Jews, Anglo-Saxon Jews, French Jews, German Jews, Greek Jews, Indian Jews, Chinese Jews, Jews who like David Levy Jews , Wannabee Jews, Conspiracy Theory Jews,Japanese Jews, Shayna Panim Jews, Meesekite Jews, Closet Jews,Shnorrers, Baalei Tzedaka, Tzadikim, Baynonim, Rashaim, Chacham-Tam-Ayni Yodea Jews, Chevramen & Forbisseners, kvetching Jews, Guta Neshama Jews, Vizhnitzer, Ger, Gerer, Chabadnik, Kohenim, Levi’im, Yisraelim, Machers, Mavens, & Pashet Jews, Manchester, Melbourne, Jerusalem and Toronto Jews, EVERY KIND of Jew in this vast Universe.

Jews are argumentative and fractious and often divided, But on Rosh Hashanah we come together to pray for ourselves and for the community. The Jewish community is never an isolated community. We live and have lived in every corner of the world and we are an integral part of every conversation. This year, the world is divided indeed, from the Iran nuclear deal being debated in the US Congress as we speak, to the refugee crisis engulfing Europe and Canada, and the ongoing internecine Islamic wars in the Middle East, and Africa, it is hard to find one’s bearings as a Canadian, as a Jew, whether living in Israel or in the diaspora.

What is the glue that holds us Jews together? Rabbi Steinmetz spoke yesterday about the “Covenant or Contract – Brit in Hebrew” that Moses lays out for the Jewish people – the Sinaitic contract passed down by Moses at the mountain to the Israelites in the dessert.

The words of this brit, covenant or contract are quite beautiful: Chapter 29 v. 9 – 14 Deuteronomy reads as follows: “You are standing today all of you before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes,d your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, 15but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.”

Chapter 29 v. 9 – 14 Deuteronomy

Rabbi Steinmetz spoke about the startling declaration : “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. ”

Those who are not here with us today” is generally interpreted to mean “all future generations” whose souls are also considered to have stood at Sinai.

Rabbis have asked the question, how can a contract be avowed for those who are not here with us today? And yet the Sinaitic covenant has been passed down and continues to be upheld by ongoing generations and communities. This Rabbi Steinmetz explains is the greater miracle than the question often posed “are Jews  disappearing in our time?” as posited by Pew statistics.

As many of you  know blowing of a ram’s horn or shofar is emblematic of Rosh Hashana.

I even wrote a blog about this not so long ago. Everything you wanted to know about the shofar but were afraid to ask.

Rabbi Asher Jacobsen in his communal class last Friday, spoke about a talmudic discussion about what kinds of shofars are permissible for the Rosh Hashanah services. For a horn to be kosher 1. it has to have the characteristic of self hollowing. (Apparently when a ram’s horn is soaked in water the matter inside the horn simply dissolves leaving a hollowed out instrument.) 2. Traditionally it is a Ram’s horn that is chosen and the ram is a kosher animal. The Talmud asks the question can we use the horn of an animal other than the ram? And what if the permissible horn is from an animal that is not kosher?

Apparently in the face of scarcity, all three are permissible i.e. 1, A ram’s horn, 2. A hollow horn from another kosher animal other than the ram and 3. a hollow horn from a non-kosher animal.

Rabbi Jacobsen  then quoted from a text that compares the three types of horn to three types of Jews: 1. The horn from a non-kosher animal is compared to the Jew who is a Jew only because of anti-semitism. He is defined by a negative outside world. And that world reminds him that he is Jewish. 2. The hollowed out horn from an animal other than the ram parallels the Jews who defines himself as a Jew due to history – legacy. 3. The kosher horn, the Ram’s horn reminds the Jew of the famous Abrahamic contest with G-d, the Binding of Jacob, where Abraham agrees to follow G-d’s word even to the extent of sacrificing his son and heir.  At the very last moment when Jacob is already bound to the altar, G-d calls out to Jacob, not to touch his son, but to sacrifice the ram caught in the bushes instead. As the Rabbi pointed out, this test is a very personal and private test. The binding of Jacob occurs on a lonely mountain top with no witnesses other than the two principals. And this represents the Jew who in spite of it all has accepted the covenant of Abraham and Moses at Sinai.

So why do we have so many divisions and how can we understand it?

David Nirenberg in a U. of Chicago Harper Talk, “Can History Help Us Think about religious conflicts.” brilliantly exposes the ambivalence and variability of theological interpretations of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, within their historical contexts from ancient times to the present. Listening to his talk which is an hour long offers true hope for peace among those of every religion. He points out brilliantly from various sources how in the present and in the past those who stick to their own and only their own interpretation can and have gone astray. And yet is able to assert “Holding onto faith while allowing for different versions of that faith: that’s the true art of any scholar.”

His is a powerful lesson for continuing to mine the wisdom of all of our ancient traditions with hope that one day, we may truly find a personal and a communal G-d that is one and the same that can unite us with all mankind.

May we all unite — without a fight! — and together ignite G-d’s great light.
May we see a sweet and blessed year together with a  true peace.

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah!
Hope you enjoyed this,
Love,

Just an addendum: Here is Rabbi Sacks explaining how the individual can follow his personal path via Rosh Hashanah related practise. Cultivating the Inner Self

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections on the Eve of Yom Kippur

A few short weeks ago on August 23rd, 2010 I attended and videotaped an amazing conference organized by CIJR (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) here in Montreal.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center gave the lunchtime address. He started by commenting that in the face of intellectual giants who were presenting during the day such as Professor Wistrich of Hebrew University and Professor Small of Yale University, he did not feel compelled to exert himself on the intellectual plane. And so he shared three incidents which resonated powerfully with me, one of which I will share with you today, as it feels particularly apt on the eve of our annual Yom Kippur observation.

Rabbi Cooper shared that he has traveled extensively internationally, meeting with government officials, the Pope, and the public on issues of concern to the Jewish people. For example, he shared that he has traveled to Japan and many other countries to educate about the dissemination of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and to shut down its publication.

After one of these talks to a group of Japanese businessman, the Rabbi respectfully asked, “Are there any questions?” As Japanese audiences are known for their polite reticence, he was very surprised as one CEO stood up and said ‘Yes, Rabbi, I have a question. Rabbi Cooper, we understand now that Jews don’t get together to plot world conspiracies and financial domination in their synagogue, but can you tell us what do Jews do in synagogue? Do Jews pray?” This question stopped him in his tracks, and it stopped me in my tracks as well. I think of it especially now as we Jews begin our twenty-five hour annual stint of fasting and prayer. How do we explain what happened there?

How do you share a five thousand year tradition while standing on one leg?

For now I refer you to the following website of Beliefnet: for a hands-on explanation of the key elements of Yom Kippur as well as a description of the actual service. But on a deeper level, how does one share a five thousand year practice that has evolved with each generation continuing to maintain its loyalty both to the past and the future?

On September 10th, 2009, I participated in a webinar with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg on the prayer service of Yom Kippur. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Kimmelman share how the ritual of the Yom Kippur prayer service is connected not only to the individual Jew but also to the community and all nations. He shows us how the prayers are carefully crafted to pray for peace not just for the individual but for all nations and all people in the universe, and to be realized under the rule of law, truth, and justice. And these are not mere empty words but also a prescription for achieving it.

The amazing thing about our tradition is that it has been evolving for five thousand years with loyalty to the past, the present, and hopes for the future.

The main refrain on Yom Kippur is “Tshuva, tefillah and tzedaka, maavirin et roah hagzera.” I say this in Hebrew transliteration because each word is multilayered, powerful, and significant and difficult to translate but I will attempt it. Tshuva, (return to our sources) tefillah (prayer) and tzedaka (doing just acts) can have the power to mollify evil outcomes.

To be continued… gmar tov: traditonal greeting at the end of Yom Kippur – May our prayers be fulfilled for good in the next year and within our lifetimes.

May we all pray together this Yom Kippur for the tshuva (improved behaviour) of every Jew, every human being, every government, and all peoples in the Universe. Even a slight improvement in each individual’s awareness and behavior can have a major impact on all of us.

Shana tova oometukah.

Wishing you a good and sweet year during this coming year.