Sunday, October 31, 2010

So THIS is Rabbinic School

Last was almost our first normal week in a long time, maybe all year. We still had Sunday off which was great to get some time to have a life outside of school and Holy Days. This was also one of the first times in a while that I have absolutely loved all of the classes and homework assignments.

We are still working through a variety of different sections of Rabbinic Literature. I can't even express how much fun it was for me to be picking apart texts and looking for meaning in the translations I come up with. I have found a great study partner for that class too. We usually get together to just work on translating and trying to come up with a translation and meaning of the text. that way when we get to the larger class (by larger I mean 12 -16 people), we work with other people and the whole class to piece it together with help from our instructor. Great!

Biblical Grammar is actually starting to make sense to me. It's not that I can actually remember how to use correct pronunciation of words while I am reading or speaking, but the concept makes a lot of sense. There are actual reasons for why words are said the way that they are. It is really cool to see how the language opens up when you take it apart from a logical point of attack.

All of the history classes are awesome. We are putting things together. I am starting to see a clear picture. Kind of. One thing that I am starting to understand is that we need to look even more at the various traditions in the area and how it was put together to present a semblance of a whole story. All of the information is wonderful to learn and it is really cool to see some of the stories presented in archeological evidence. Three classes come together for this topic. It is awesome!

The last class that I have been really enjoying is Bible. I should actually call the class Biblical Criticism, but we haven't gotten into the actual nit-picking yet. We are doing a lot of translation and a lot of questioning of other peoples' translations. It has become clear that when you make a translation, you are making an ideological or even theological statement about what the text says. It may be boring to some people, but I find it fascinating.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Read Torah!

It has been a very long time since I have read from the Torah for a service. I could be wrong, but it may have been since June 13, 1998. Why do I know this exact date? Because that was the date of my Bar Mitzvah. I don't think that I have read since then.

I've been working a little bit on the portion that I read for the last two or three weeks, but I finally put some serious effort in starting last week. All I can say is that it was a lot of fun to work towards that again. There were a few tricky parts that I needed to try to remember, and from what I have heard, I pretty much nailed it this morning. I know there were a few vowels that I pronounced to short, but aside from that, bam!

But I didn't just need to read/chant today. One skill that HUC-JIR wants us to learn how to do is to translate the Hebrew into English. It is really important to be able to read and translate the text since a many Jews in today's world do not understand Biblical Hebrew. This was actually the part of reading today that I was most worried about. There were some words that I needed to translate as a concept that were not the easiest to convey in a few words of English.

I think that went well too. I'm really glad I got one of those taken care of early in the year, we are required to chant twice during the school year, and I can't wait until I get the chance to do it again.

Not too much else has been going on this week. A lot of school and that's about it. Tomorrow is the ordination of the Israeli Rabbinic program. I'm excited to see how that goes. It will be all in Hebrew and I hope I can understand what is happening.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes I Wish I Had a Tail

I know you Minnesotans reading this will think that I’m making this up, but I never thought I would miss the mosquitoes of the suburbs. Yeah, yeah, I know they’re a pain in summer, but until you are around these flies, oh geeze.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I seem to attract the flies around here. We’ve been taking a bunch of field trips and walks around the area and I can’t seem to escape them. They jump at my legs, they flay in my face. The only thing I can think of is that I want to have a tail.

Not in the Avatar sense, more in the sense that, like a horse, I would love to be able to flick these pesky flies away and not need to stop what I’m doing.

The problem with the flies is that they are faster that mosquitoes and they know you’re trying to swat them. So they take off and come back three seconds later to land on my legs again. And I’m still waiting for the satisfaction of squishing one.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tiyyul to The Golan and Kineret

For the last three days I was on a little trip up to the north of Israel on a study trip. We focused a lot on what it mean to be a pioneer in the early part of the 1900's and even today when things like the Moshavim and Kibbutzim are struggling. We also learned about the reasons that these parts of the north are so crucial to Israel as a state for their safety. I'm going to write another blog later focusing on some of the politics associated with the trip, Rabin's Yartzeit (the anniversary of his death on the Jewish Calendar) and on the peace process. The focus of this post is more on what we did.

On the first day we actually got to leave Israel and go into Jordan. We were looking at the hydro-electric power plant that was build on the border between the two countries. The plant worked for a while, but in the end it fell apart. Very interesting though to see the different attempts at building the country.

We also checked out a moshav, like a kibbutz but everyone can have their own property, to learn about their history. In Kriat Shmoneh and Tel Hai we looked at some of the hard work that other pioneers had to do to set up their roots in different places on the outskirts of Israel. Interestingly, only about 8% of jobs are located in this periphery of the country.

One of the coolest places we visited was Tel Dan. The beautiful park reminded me of home so much. I really want to go for a hike somewhere with forests here. The was a rushing river and lots of trees. Man I miss Minnesota sometimes. In Tel Dan there is an excavation site where archeologists have found an ancient Israelite Temple. By Israelite I mean the Kingdom of Israel that existed after Solomon's successor caused a massive civil war and split the kingdom into Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

In the tel there is evidence of a temple that is a smaller version of the one that is in Jerusalem. It has space for an altar for sacrifices and is set up as a place for the people of Israel (the ones I was talking about earlier) to visit during the year. But the big find there is the arch that was been dated to the time that we think the patriarchs (Abraham and so on) were alive. This would have been the city of Laish and it was really cool to see the restoration of the mud-brick arch.

One of the nights we got to go on a night safari in the Hula Valley. Unfortunately we didn't see to many animals there. There was some kind of a cat that we couldn't identify, crabs, frogs, cranes and something that looked like a muskrat. Wednesday night finished with a bonfire and song session. I hadn't planned on playing anything, but Yoshi had brought the drum along so I volunteered to play with the song leaders. I really need to buy my own here sometime soon.

At one point in the trip we had the option to either go to the Naot shop on a kibbutz up north, or to go to the Golan Heights and look into Syria. I chose the Golan, which was a good idea for me. It was awesome to look towards Syria and Lebanon at the same time from up there. On the way up there were some really statues that were made of shrapnel and scrap metal. There are remnants of when the Bental post was used in military operations, and we got to learn some about the history of the place.

Towards the end of the trip we also got to hear about a really interesting group called Ayilim. They are a group of students at Tel Hai University that live in the community of K'riat Sh'moneh. They try to work to rebuild the community that was really run down and since they are near borders, they have been hit by bombs, especially during the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. They are a very interesting group that seems to being doing a lot for the community they are living in, and there are other communities throughout the country.

That's all for now. I will be writing a blog about this trip for TCJewfolk with a different focus. Be sure to check it out there when I get that up and running.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trumah Project - Parallel Lives

As a part of our Year in Israel Program, we are all asked to take part in something called a Trumah project. Some of them involve volunteering to spend time in other communities, and others involve raising money for other causes. One of the projects that I am taking a part in is called, Parallel Lives.

The gist of the program is that we are spending time with Israeli Soldiers and learning about their lives as young Jews in Israel. We also will get a chance to share with them, what it means to be a Reform Jew from America (although some of our participants are from other countries as well).

A few weeks ago, we had our first meeting and got to know the majority of the Israeli participants. It was a really nice program that we got to talk with them about where we are in life. A common theme that we shared with them was that for the next few years, we don’t have a large amount of choice.

I know I will be in school for the next five years, maybe six, and at the end of that time I will hopefully be setting up what could be the rest of my life. Many of the soldiers shared a similar point of view. We’re all in transition and we hope to know who we are at the end of it.

I am really excited to get to know the soldiers better and think this could be an opportunity to build some good friendships. I’m also excited to work with one of my classmates and some of the soldiers to write a program. It should be a lot of fun!

I did hint that I am working on another trumah project this year. Expect an announcement when I need to actually start the fundraising aspect of it. In the spring I will be riding a large swath of road in Israel as a part of the Ride for Reform. This is the reason why I bought a bike earlier this year (you can read the blog about my Orange Dreamcycle). It will be a lot of fun getting to ride a long ride and this project will raise money that will go to helping progressive movements in Israel.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Father Was A Wandering Aramean

To anyone who has been at a Passover Seder, this phrase should sound familiar. It is a piece of text that we read every year. The image is supposed to help us think about all of the travels and wanderings that the Torah describes our ancestors taking part in. Sometimes I want to join them.

I grew up camping a decent number of times with my family and as a part of my wonderful teenage rebellion decided that I was too cool to keep doing that. That was not the best decision I’ve made and I’m realizing that I really want to get out into the wilderness a little bit.

I’m writing this while riding the bus towards our tiyyul to the north of Israel. As we are passing through the desert, I’m not sure which one, I can see the hills of Jordan off to one side and all I can think about is how cool it would be to wander off into the hills for a day or two.

I wrote about the little hike I took with some of my friends while we were in Haifa, you can read the story at this link at TCJewfolk. I really want to get out and do another one. During one of our discussions, another one of my classmates this year said that she misses the openness of Canada and how it is so easy to get out and wander in wide-open spaces.

Our group leader told us that there are some really nice places to hike just outside Jerusalem. Another one of my classmates went out to hike for a little while on the National Trail that actually cuts into Jerusalem. I don’t know which way I want to go. Maybe I’ll have the chance to do both. The bottom line is that I really need to get out and wander. Maybe sleep out under the stars, or maybe I just need to walk a few hours out until I decide to turn around and come back. Hey, it could make a really cool experience to write about.

Until then, I will keep looking out into the hills and wait to go for a hike.

JNF Dinner

A few weeks ago we all received an email that there would be a Jewish National Fund President's Mission that wanted some people from HUC to lead a short service and bring some Shabbat Ruach to the beginning of their trip.

After some preparation, last night was the dinner. It was a lot of fun getting ready to play some songs with Susie, one of the cantorial students. We were really excited to show off some of what we can do. When we got there, it was not exactly what I expected to see. The large hall was set up with about 20 seats for the people here on the mission. We started with some blessings and some songs and after dinner we lead Birkat HaMazon and a few short songs. Unfortunately we didn't get to use everything we prepared but the dinner was fantastic.

At the newly renovated 28 King David Reception Hall (they don't have a link I can find yet) we got to join the members of the mission for their 5 Course Gourmet Meal. The meat and chicken were spectacular. There was almost no need to chew the meat course it was so tender and flavorful. The 2nd course of lamb and vegetables in a pastry was so delicious as well. I didn't have a chance to have desert, but Susie was in love with it. This was probably one of the best meals I've had here, but I would expect nothing less.

The conversation was also great! The people around the table were large donors to the JNF and they were here to visit sites that they have helped fund. These people were so passionate about helping establish the legal purchase of the land of Israel. The man I was sitting next to said that the JNF actually has purchased the second largest quantity of land, second only to the State of Israel itself.

I had a lot of fun getting to meet some of these people that were here and I hope they have a great mission checking out all of the great places that Israel has to offer.

There was also something else that I liked about dinner. The group was a diverse cross-section of Jewish practice. Being here at the Reform Seminary there is one consistent message and line of thought that we discuss. Although we sometime like to point out how diverse our program is, there is a larger variety of opinions and beliefs in Judaism. Yes, this applies to the Reform Movement as well. It was very refreshing to talk to people that are not in seminary. Being in our little bubble, it is easy to forget that there are congregants that we will be hoping to lead in a few short years.

All in all, this was a great shabbat dinner and I'm really glad I had the chance to step outside the HUC box I was in the the three days earlier.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Almost Four Years Ago

The last time I was in Israel was almost four years ago on Birthright, Taglit. For those that are unfamiliar, Taglit Trips are organized trips to Israel for young Jews between 18 and 26 who have never been to Israel on an organized program. The tours provide an opportunity to see the country. If you are at all interested in these trips, check out the Birthright Website. I will also take a moment shill for the company I traveled with, Oranim. I had a great trip with them. Check out their site as well.

Why am I bringing this up?
That's a great question. Thank you for asking it.

On our three day Tiyyul to the north of Israel this week, we stopped at the Kinneret Cemetery. This cemetery is the final resting place of many of Israel's Pioneers and important Zionists. This was also a site that we visited when I was here on Taglit. From the edge of the cemetery I took one of my favorite pictures from that trip. And while we were there this last time, I tried as hard as I could to get a similar picture, but this time with lush vegetation growing all over the place and not a cloud in the sky. Check out the pictures here and see how it turned out.

January 2007

October 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Where Did My Freetime Go?

I used to be really good about putting up a blog almost daily. But then reality has set in. I’m just not going to have that much time this year. The amount of reading and studying this year is going to require, it is unrealistic that I will be able to spend the requisite amount of time to put up little journals. So what have I been up to the last week or so?

A lot of school. I’m not kidding, it’s been a lot of school work and studying. Yeah, I’ve been getting out a little bit, but not that much. I don’t have many interesting stories to share right now. The biggest news is that I decided to join the YMCA.

In Hebrew, you don’t say each letter in the abbreviation, so I didn’t join a Y.M.C.A., I actually joined the Yimkah. It reminds me a lot of the JCC in Saint Louis Park. Small, some good machines, but not a lot of them. There is a 25-meter pool and a basketball court as well. The best part is that it is on my way home from school. Instead of not exercising at all, I am going to make a concerted effort to get in there and move some weights around. I think it will help blow off some of the stress I’m feeling with all of the coursework.

I’ve also started buying a Newsweek every Friday. I’ve been going to a grocery store near my house every Friday morning. On the way home I pass a newsstand that has a bunch of English papers and magazines. I’ve been feeling really disconnected from world news, so I think this will help me keep tabs on what is going on in the world.

Unfortunately I think some of my favorite podcasts are going to be going on the back burner, maybe permanently. I just don’t have the time to listen to them and there are many more important things I can listen to so I can stay up on the world news. Sorry KFAN. Anybody form Minneapolis know of some good news sources (not the Strib online) that I can read so I can still follow the sports that I love?

It’s still friggin hot!

I was talking to the security guard at school and he said that this weather is abnormal. This week the weather has been back in the low to middle 30’s. My conversion numbers are off, but I think 38 is equivalent to 100? Someone better at math and science care to help me out with this?

I guess normally the weather has started to cool off at this point in the fall, and we have had a few days with some rain. But I didn’t expect to still be sweating through my Under Armor t-shirts in the middle of October.

Sorry about the length of this post, there will also be a few more coming quickly in the next few days. We’ve had a long ride up to the Keneret (Sea of Galilee), so I’ve had the chance to put a lot of words onto “paper”.

In Joshua's Shoes: The Sounds of Zion

Israel is an interesting place with all of the various cultures that are around here. There are crazy smells and even cooler is the incredible range of sounds that you can hear around the city.

I wrote a blog post for TCJewfolk about it, and it went up today.

Check it out here, Sounds of Zion, and tell your friends.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Field Trips!

One of the really cool parts about studying in Israel this year is the closeness to history. One of my classes this semester is about Biblical History and the hidden component to this class are the field trips. Since the last time I blogged (I know it's been a while) we have had two siyyurim (field trips). The first one with this class was to visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to look at their archeology section of the museum.

The brand new museum was incredible and I can't wait to go back, because apparently it has some really cool modern art. Instead of just checking out what was on display, we were also directed to look at what message they were trying to show us. It is very clear that the Israel Museum wanted us to focus on the development of the Canaanite culture that existed in this land and then the "revelation" that came with the Israelites.

The museum also tries to outline the development of culture to show that the Israelites were the next rational step in the development of society. Although I don't know enough to make a fully informed decision about this yet, this is an interesting message they are delivering.

The message is very different from that one that is delivered at the museum we visited just outside Tel Aviv. The Haaretz Yisrael Museum on Tel Qasile tries to show us what life could have been like in the area during a time contemporaneous with the Philistines. There are ruins of a "temple" and a large gallery of pottery and other finds from the site. This museum wants to show the interaction between cultures in the area. When we walked away from this museum, the thought is not that all of civilization leads to the Israelites, but the Israelite group coexisted with other people in the area. Very interesting field trips.

Then there is the class that is very siyyur based. In Israel Seminar we have gone to Tel Aviv to tour the "New Jewish CIty". It was an interesting perspective to walk around the city with a tour guide to see the layout and the way the city was built. I didn't know it at the time, but we had coffee at an historic coffee shop, Tamar. Apparently this was an icon of Tel Aviv and not to mention served some incredible espresso. I was all ready to taint it with sugar and milk until I sipped it. Perfect!

Our second siyyur was around the neighborhood Rehavia. A very upscale, flourishing neighborhood during the British Mandate Period. I don't live very far from Rehavia and it was awesome to hear some of the history that happened literally 10 minutes from my front door.

I can't stay up too late to write much more, we leave tomorrow for Tiyyul. We're going up north and I don't know exactly where were headed, but I know we will be staying next to the Kinnerit. I'm really excited. We actually get a full weekend (Saturday and Sunday) this week. So I will get some pictures and blogs up about what's been going on here. Now that we're in the meat 'n p'taters of the school year, I'm realizing there is no way that I can keep up with the almost daily updates.

For now,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kids and Israelis

The HUC-JIR Year In Israel Program is not the only group of people that use the space here in Jerusalem. There is an Israeli Rabbinic Program and a Gan (Preschool/Kindergarden) that are on campus too.

The Israeli school year started back at the beginning of September and we've had tons of little kids on campus since then. They're really cute. It always makes me smile to see how excited they are to be going to school. It was kinda funny last week though. I had arrived to school early and was getting a cup of coffee in the Moadon and there was this very little boy who clearly wanted to get something from the shop, but they clerks couldn't see him.

I asked him, in Hebrew, what he wanted to order. There was a minor problem though. In his very shy, high pitched voice, I had no idea what he was asking for. When it was apparent that I didn't understand him, he looked at me like I was crazy. I finally asked a passing classmate to help. It turns out the words I couldn't understand were, Mayim Ta'im (Flavored Water). But then he didn't have enough money, so of course I helped him out.

Although I have a hard time understanding the kids, it always puts a smile on my face to see them with their parents in the mornings.

Then, Yesterday was the first day of the IRP (Israeli Rabbinic Program). Another 20 something students showed up on campus to start their studies this year. It was really cool to see them all coming back from a summer off. A first observation, the IRP students are in a much different stage in life. I haven't talked to many of them (but I hope to soon), but they seem to be older. Not old, but older, as in, not just a few months to a few years out of college.

I'm guessing that they have a very different life experience and I can't wait to learn from them.

With all of the schools back in session, it's great to see all the different people on campus right now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kita Gimel Here I Come

I know I promised something about our little Tiyyulim, but I thought this would be good to write about quickly as I haven't put anything up in a few days.

I've been having a tough time in my Hebrew Class, Kita Dalet (4th class). I've been spending an inordinate amount of time working on Hebrew itself and not on other assignments, or staying up way too late to work on Hebrew. Over the week last week I though I should see about moving down a lever to Kita Gimmel. After checking it out for the last few days, I'm going to stay in that class. I really liked the harder class, but in order to keep my sanity and maybe get a little sleep every night, I thought it would be best. I'm bummed to not have the same classmates and teacher, but I also like my new teacher and there isn't a person at HUC Jerusalem that I don't like.

All in all, I think this was a good move. I don't walk out of class feeling stressed out anymore and I'm still learning things. It's the tricks to understanding some of the nuances that I hope will be picked up here.

Unfortunately I joined a class that has a test two days after I joined it. Back to homework.

Lila Tov,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rain. Rain. Came Today!

Yeeeeeeeessssss! It finally rained. It looked like it was going to rain for the last few days, and I was hoping it was about to pour, the only issue that I had with it was that it came right after I left my apartment. I started to get a light drizzle coming down and I looked up to the sky and there were real, actual rain clouds! Dark, heavy and slow moving.

It was too late to walk back home and get a coat so I just walked as quickly as I could to reach my destination. Then the skies opened up. I got pretty wet on my walk, but it was fantastic! This place has been hot, and sticky and I have been waiting to feel that again. I know if I give it two weeks of rain in November, I'll probably be tired of it, but for now it was incredible.

I'm actually sitting in my room with the windows open and it's awesome, it's chilly and I love it. This is a great change. And I hear it's the exact opposite back home. I just read on the Star Tribune's website that Minneapolis broke a record and hit 84. I don't know that we got that hot here.

Shabbat Shalom,

Expect a post about our two field trips we took this week some time tomorrow.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In Joshua's Shoes: It's A Wrap

Back in August I tried wrapping tefillin for the first time. Please check out my post at their site or

- or through this direct link -

In Joshua's Shoes: It's A Wrap

Feel free to pass it around to anyone interested in reading it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Caved In - It's the Playoffs

I've been missing me some baseball. This summer just felt really off not even watching a game since I've been here. Sure I've caught clips of things or watched gamecast on or, but that just hasn't been the same. I tried to find some streaming feeds a 0200 this morning to get the Twins VS Yankees game and none of the sites I had been using were working. I was already awake and had gone to bed at 2100 so I could get up for this, so what was I supposed to do, go back to bed? Wrong.

I caved in and bought the MLB Playoffs Package so I can watch the playoffs live from my computer. I am so glad I made that call. I'm sitting in the middle of the 5th inning watching the Twins take the lead earlier in the game against the Yankees and CC Sebathia. I've only had a few issues with the streaming so far, and I'm pumped to keep watching and finishing up my homework for class this morning.

I have to say, though, I miss this. I miss watching this game. The game's back on, so it's back to that. Man the internet is awesome. Let's go Twins!

You Can't Please Everybody

I'm not trying to be super negative here, but I'm starting to learn, even more so, an important lesson about being in leadership positions. You sometimes need to make a decision and often you will upset somebody. No matter how much you think about the consequences, there will be people who think you made the wrong choice.

It is easy to let these things get to you, it is very easy to feel like you're making bad decisions. I keep coming back to the idea that I should focus on those that appreciate the effort you have put forth. Sometimes this is just hard to do though, it's not easy to put aside criticism. This is especially true when the other person has a valid point. I just need to stand by how I felt and the logic behind my choices and trust that I made the right decisions.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Israelis don't know anything about Chinese food, or so that was what I have been told. Until I tried this new place that opened a short walk from my apartment, I would have agreed with you. If you're an American in Israel looking for your fix, come down Derech Azza to eat at Beijing.

The restaurant is still very new, so the servers still feel like they're smoothing out some of the bumps. I would also not recommend going on a Saturday night, after Shabbat because it takes a while for the chefs to get their cooking into high gear. Other than that the place was great!

The first thing I had was a meat, egg-roll. Very tasty. A good crispy crust that flaked apart just the way I wanted it to. Good overall mixture of all of the ingredients, although I couldn't tell you what they actually were. I added some of the sweet and sour sauce they had on the table too, not too shabby.

For a meal, I got the Beijing Chop Suey. I ordered it without the beef. When it arrived, the chef had accidentally added some too it. Yea for surprises! It was a little spicy and it was great to have an asian spice as opposed to the Mediterranean stuff that I've been having for the last three months. Well cooked noodles and a good sauce made the whole meal really solid.

If I wanted to, I probably could have saved some more of it for another day, but I was on the hungry side. Very filling, very tasty. I've satisfied my craving for asian food for a while now, and at least I know a place that is really good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sukkot and Simchat Torah

Before I start to tell you all about Sukot and Simchat Torah, I want to point out that I have started a new chapter. So many things that would come up in the last few weeks were always postponed until Acharei HaChagim - after the Holy Days. We are officially after the Chagim! Now back to a "normal" life.

The last week of the Jewish Holiday Season is very celebratory. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths starts very shortly after Yom Kippur and is a celebration of the fall harvest as well other things. Around Jerusalem, Sukkot -booths- pop up all over the place. Think of it like in America around Christmas time. Every hotel, restaurant and many houses proudly display their sukkah and many people eat all their meals and even sleep in them for the week long holiday. Here are some awesome examples!

The Sukkah in front of a restaurant on Karen HaYesod

I can count at least 10 different sukkot on this apartment building

Just a great sukkah on someone's balcony

Then, at the end of Sukkot is Simchat Torah. This celebrates the fact that we have finished reading the entire Torah this year. So what do you do when you finish reading this book? Reroll the scrolls and start back at the beginning with creation and read it all over again. This is a great time of year and everyone is very happy!

There is a special service in which you conclude reading the Torah, dance around the synagogue in celebration and then start over again. During this service there is a lot of singing and dancing. One of the students here is working with a Kibbutz outside of Jerusalem, Kibbutz Gezer. A group of us went to the Kibbutz to play music for two of the Hakafot -processions. At the last minute, I was able to hop on the bus he had hired and I got to play the hand drum along with the people who were playing guitar and singing. It was a lot of fun!

I had been planning on playing for a Reform Congregation with a few other students the next morning at Har El. We got to take the music on all of the Hafakot and it was a lot of fun that morning too. While they were reading from the Torah though, they used a trope -a system that instructs the reader in musically reading from the Torah- that I had never heard before. I believe it was a Sephardic Trope, which was really cool to hear.

That night, I went for a walk with Sarah around the Old City. What I had completely forgotten is that in "Orthodox" Communities, they celebrate Simchat Torah during the day and again after the sun goes down. Simchat Torah is a full Holy Day and therefore many people refrain from any work. Part of the prohibitions for a Holy Day are that you cannot use electricity. In order to make another celebration with much more music, they celebrate again when the sun goes down. It was really cool to see and hear this celebration while we were walking in the Old City.

Now it's back to school and homework since it is after the holidays.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Baby 2-Cheese Bareakas with Zatar

I found a basic recipe at the All Recipes website and as you have probably guessed, I changed it up a little. Basically, these are little appetizer type pastries that can be filled with just about anything. They are going to go really well with my salad and hard-boiled egg in the morning.

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shreaded
1 cup yellow cheese, shreaded
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp parsley, dried

2 eggs
2 tbsp water
pastry crust - room temperature

30 minutes of prep time
23 - 30 minutes of cooking time

First mix together 1 egg, all of your cheeses, garlic powder, onion, black pepper, and parsley.
Put the bowl of this aside.

Crack the 2nd egg and mix it with your water in a small bowl.
Set this aside.

Turn your oven on to 175 celsius or 350 fahrenheit.

Lightly flour the counter top and your cooking sheets.

Roll out your pastry crust on the floured surface and cut it into 1.5in x 1.5in squares (The size doesn't really matter that much).
Put about 1 tbsp of your cheese mixture onto each square/rectangle of pastry crust.
Paint the edges with the water/egg mixture.
Fold the pastry over into whatever shape you like. I tried triangles, envelopes and rolls. This is entirely up to you. Just make sure that the edges that touch each other have some egg on them so it stays together.

Place them on your baking sheet.
Paint the tops with egg/water mixture.

Sprinkle as much/little Zatar as you want on the top.

Put in your 175 C (350 F) oven for 23 - 30 minutes.
Check on them and take them out wen they start to turn golden brown and have puffed up.

They are best when served warm.

Like anything, I'm glad I made this for myself before I tried to make them for anyone else. They didn't turn out to be the best thing I've ever made. They are pretty good, but I need to play with the cheese and find a blend that I like. I also need to find the right size to cut the squares into. According to the recipe, there were supposed to be only 12, and I ended up with 19. I think there was supposed to be more cheese in each one.

Not the best I've had, but also not the worst thing in the world. Play with the different blends of cheese, you can get some interesting combinations and I'm sure you can add some other things to bake into the pastry. I'll play again later and let you know how it turns out!


Friday, October 1, 2010

You Can't Eat Here

I have been wearing a kippah almost all of the time. Apparently that makes a strong statement about who I am and what I do to practice my Judaism. I was going out to dinner with a friend a few days ago and she wanted to go to a pizza place. But as we walk in the owner of the restaurant started telling me that I can't eat at his restaurant.

When I gave him a confused look, he told me that they weren't certified as kosher and I shouldn't eat there. He looked even more confused when I told him it was okay, and I took off my kippah. There are two things at play here; the polarized view of what religion is in Israel, and the owner's respect and concern for me potentially breaking kashrut.

I was very appreciative of his concern for me. It is nice to know that people here understand the symbols and are partially looking out for you. This is just one example of how nice Israelis actually are, despite their rough exterior. What concerned me though, was the stark polarization of religion in Israel.

I'm sure this will come up again and again. In Israel, most people consider themselves either "Orthodox", or secular. To many people, there is no in between. There is no way that someone who wears a kippah could eat in a non-certified restaurant. If I have a kippah on, I should not do anything to break the traditional observance of Shabbat. It makes me stop and think a lot more about what these religious symbols mean here.

It also makes me think about the situation of pluralism in Israel. I was recently reading Rabbi Kravitz's sermon that he gave on Rosh HaShanah this year and here is the link to his sermon that I posted on my blog.

It seems to me that in Israel, there is a lack of understanding of the scope of religious observances that are possible in other places. I heard a friend say that Reform Judaism is something that will not catch on in Israel because there doesn't seem to be a need for it. Being a secular Israeli is pretty close to being in the Reform Movement. While I do think that Reform Judaism (and other manifestations of Judaism) do have an uphill battle in this country, there is a place for it here.

kashrut - Kashrut is the system of dietary laws that govern the way that Jews are commanded to eat.

Rabbi Kravitz's Rosh HaShanah Sermon, 5771

The following is NOT my work in any way shape or form. It is the sermon that Rabbi Kravitz delivered at Adath Jeshurun in Minnetonka, MN on Rosh HaShanah this year. I found it fascinating and it connects to some of the things I have been thinking and talking about here in Israel.

Rosh Hashana I 5771 Sept 9, 2010

Support Religious Pluralism in Israel

This is a ketubah- a Jewish marriage contract. Ketubot come in
different forms, some quite simple and others beautifully illuminated. The
ketubah confirms the commitment that two Jews make when they marry in a
Jewish ceremony. I ask for a show of hands, how many of you have a copy
of your parent’s ketubah? Clearly, if your parents are not Jewish or they
didn’t have a Jewish wedding ceremony you don’t have one. I have no idea
what happened to my parent’s ketubah.

How many of you have a ketubah for your grandparents? I don’t.

How about your great-grandparents? Unlikely.

A young man in our congregation, let’s call him “Ari”, contacted me
this year for assistance as he plans to marry a Jewish woman in Israel and
was asked to provide these documents, and others, to prove he is a Jew. You
cannot imagine the hassles he has had to go through. Thankfully, it looks
like he will be successful establishing his Jewish ancestry. However, if a
non-Orthodox conversion had been found on his mother side of the family,
the door would have quickly closed on his plans.

Let me assure you that “Ari” found the experience infuriating. You
should also know that what he experienced is now the norm in Israel.
Orthodox rabbis on the payroll of Israel’s government are charged with
determining whether a person who claims to be Jewish satisfies the
standards of the Chief Rabbinate. Since the creation of the State of Israel the
Chief Rabbinate has had sole authority overseeing Jewish marriage and
divorce. They have not, in the past, had authority to rule on “who is a Jew”
for the sake of citizenship under the Law of Return, which allows anyone
with at least one Jewish grandparent, or converted by a rabbi of any of the
major movements, to immediately become a citizen of Israel. That would
have changed this year thanks to Knesset member David Rotem, whose bill
you likely heard about this summer. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s
first focus on the issue of how any of us who is born Jewish would prove
that in Israel today.

In March, 2008 Gershom Gorenberg, a respected Israeli journalist
wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine called, “How Do You
Prove You’re a Jew?” in which he warned of this development that our
congregant “Ari” experienced first hand. Gorenberg wrote about a young
Israeli woman named Sharon who went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv
Rabbinate to register to marry. The Orthodox rabbi staffing the city office
that registers weddings asked Sharon to prove that she was Jewish by
bringing a copy of her parent’s ketubah, the document that many of us here
do not even have.

It so happens that Sharon’s family is from Minneapolis. Her mother,
Suzie, now 68, grew up here, made aliyah and lives on kibbutz. Suzie’s
background is similar to that of many of our members. Her grandparents
were Jews who came from Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Suzie’s
parent’s Belle and Julius Goldstein married in a Conservative ceremony and
were members of Beth El Congregation going back to when it was on the
North Side. After graduating from the U of MN, Suzie went to Israel where
she met a British non-Jew. They married in a civil ceremony in England, as
there is no civil marriage available in Israel. Since there was no Jewish
marriage, there was no ketubah. According to halacha, Jewish law, their
daughter Sharon was indisputably Jewish, but the office of the Chief
Rabbinate put the young woman through the wringer until they agreed.

As “Ari,” the young man from our congregation, found out this
process is not unusual in Israel, As I said it has become the norm. As
Gorenberg explained in his NY Times article, “the state’s Chief Rabbinate
and its branches in each Israeli city have adopted an institutional attitude of
skepticism toward the Jewish identity of those who enter its doors…The
Israeli government seeks the political and financial support of American
Jewry. It welcomes American Jewish immigrants. Yet the rabbinate, one arm
of the state, increasingly treats American Jews as doubtful cases: not Jewish
until proved so.”

So I ask how many of us could prove to an Orthodox rabbi in Israel
that we are Jews? Let me share another troubling story that does not have a
happy ending. In April, a story appeared in the Israeli newspaper Yediot
Achronot (4/30/10) about a young woman named Jessica Fishman who made
aliyah seven years ago and joined Israel’s army. Jessica’s Dad Les served as
President of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights. Before Jessica
was born, her mom converted to Judaism with a Reform rabbi, with mikveh,
in St. Louis and then moved to the Twin Cities. Here the family lived a
traditional Jewish life observing Shabbat, keeping a kosher home, and
sending their kids to Herzl Camp. Jessica traveled to Israel as a teenager
with USY and spent her junior year at Hebrew University. After college she
made aliyah. Hers is an impressive example of the kind of Jewish
commitments that can be shaped by the institutions of our community.

After two years of army service she settled in Herzliya where she met
an Israeli guy. When they decided to get married they went to the local rabbi
who began to investigate. When he learned that her mother converted with a
Reform rabbi he explored no further. Eventually the couple split up and
Jessica, who was so committed to living in Israel, left the country. When
interviewed in April, she said she had no intention of returning. How tragic
when someone who was so committed to Israel is pushed away!

These are the kinds of travesties being perpetrated by Israel’s Chief
Rabbinate. Let me be clear, I would not presume to suggest that Orthodox
rabbis do not have the right to determine who they believe fulfills their
requirements for conversion, or the right to decide for themselves “who is a
Jew.” They absolutely have that right. The outrage is when a Chief
Rabbinate is empowered to act on behalf of the State in making those

This was why so many of us were roused to action this summer when
Knesset Member David Rotem, representing the Yisrael Beiteinu party made
up largely of Jews from the Former Soviet Union, proposed to change
Israel’s law. He would have expanded the authority of the Chief Rabbinate
to rule not only over the personal issues of marriage and divorce in Israel,
which is bad enough, but for the first time empower them to make decisions
over who is eligible to be granted Israeli citizenship. Rotem’s stated
intention was to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Jews
from the Former Soviet Union of questionable ancestry, who wish to be fully
accepted in Israel. In order to get the support of the powerful minority
religious parties, the proposed bill would have undercut the conversions of
non-Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, and even of Orthodox rabbis whom
the Chief Rabbinate does not consider sufficiently Charedi ultra-Orthodox.
Thankfully the outrage expressed by leaders of the Conservative and Reform
Movements, with the crucial support of Natan Sharansky, who heads the
Jewish Agency and Jerry Silverman, the President of the North American
Jewish Federations, and others, led to the tabling of Rotem’s bill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received more than 60,000
messages expressing concern. Nearly 27,000 of those were emails sent
through the link on the Masorti Movement’s website. For now the Rotem
bill is tabled, but not dead. Negotiations are supposed to take place before
the Knesset reconvenes in October.

In October, with God’s help, I am going to Israel on a mission
arranged by the Masorti Movement, our Conservative movement in Israel. I
will be joined by recent past President of our congregation Heidi Schneider,
to send a clear message from our community that we find it unacceptable for
Charedi rabbis to have authority over the State of Israel, let alone over the
Jewish world. We will be speaking up for our young congregant “Ari.” We
will be speaking up for Sharon and for Jessica and for every person in this
room who would struggle to prove that they are Jewish to the satisfaction of
the Chief Rabbinate. Look around the room. How many of you would have
trouble proving to them that you or your children or your loved ones, or your
friends are Jewish? Heidi and I are going to Israel on this mission for each of
you and for all of us who care about you.

There are many things to worry about for Israel- the real threats posed
by Iran, by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by Hamas in Gaza. We worry about
the growing efforts to de-legitimize the very existence of a Jewish State,
efforts we must adamantly oppose. I am grateful that a renewed peace
initiative between Israel and the Palestinians was launched last week in
Washington and we pray for its success, though based on painful past
experiences we worry about that also. As a community we have stood up on
behalf of Israel time and time again and will continue to do so. It is
disheartening, however, to see our support taken for granted and our
legitimacy as Jews called in to question. It is unacceptable for Israeli
politicians to succumb to the blackmail of ultra-religious parties seeking
exclusive control in defining “Who is a Jew.”

I would be surprised if every one here is not outraged by the stories I
have told. What I find astonishing, however, is the incredibly lackluster
response of our community to these issues. Though, thankfully, many of our
members are active as advocates on behalf of Israel, through an array of
organizations, when it comes to the issue of religious pluralism in Israel they
are almost silent. Minuscule portions of our people’s contributions to Israel
are directed towards addressing these issues. It seems that the only time that
the issue of religious pluralism in Israel gets serious attention from most of
us is when there is dramatic news, such as the recent attempt to pass the
Rotem Bill.

You need to know that Israel is undergoing dramatic changes before
our very eyes. Israeli journalist Isi Leibler, in an article in the Jerusalem Post
(4-2-10), describes the rapid growth of the Charedi Ultra-Orthodox
population in Israel. According to Leibler, in the 1980s Charedim comprised
4 percent of Israel’s population, today they represent 10%, or about 700,000,
averaging 8.8 children per family. At that rate, in less than two decades,
Charedim could amount to 20% of Israel’s Jewish population.

Consider another sobering statistic, currently, 25% of all Jewish
primary school-age children are enrolled in Charedi institutions – double the
proportion of 10 years ago. Many of these do not celebrate Israel’s
Independence Day, do not recognize the Israeli flag, do not permit the
singing of “Hatikva” and discourage their students from serving in the Israel
Defense Forces. If this trend is maintained, 20 years from now, 40% of
Jewish children will attend Charedi schools. Assuming these trends
continue, what do you think Israel will look like twenty years from now?

This past March we heard a vivid description from Rabbi Gil
Nativ, the rabbi of our sister Masorti Congregation in Omer, Magen
Avraham, of the increasing polarization taking place in Israel. He described
how every year before Simchat Torah he goes out to buy flags for 'Hakafot,'
the circling we do with the Torahs to celebrate the completion of the reading
cycle. Two decades ago he could easily find flags with a picture of boys and
girls dancing around a Torah scroll.

These flags have almost disappeared from the market. Now there are only
boys and men dancing on these paper flags! (Also note the absence of the
Israeli flag!)

He observed that the manufacturers are careful not to upset the 'religiously

This is just one of many examples of the impact of Charedi Ultra-
Orthodox Judaism on Israeli life. There are intense debates going on about
Chaerdi demands in Jerusalem that women be required to sit in the back of
public buses and that the planned light rail have some cars designated for
men only. This week the Jerusalem police recommended the prosecution of
Anat Hoffman, a rabbi arrested this summer for carrying a Sefer Torah
through the Kotel plaza on her way to services at the less conspicuous
southern section of the wall, established by Israel’s Supreme Court as an
alternate place for non-Orthodox minyanim. If successfully prosecuted, she
could be jailed for three years. Is that the kind of State of Israel that we have
worked so hard to create?

I wish no ill to the Charedi community. Let them be well! What is
unacceptable is that the bill for their growth is being paid for by massive
funding from Israel’s government! At present, over $400 million are
allocated to Orthodox religious services- hiring 3000 rabbis, providing local
ritual facilities and ritual items, with no more than $100k allocated to
comparable services for Masorti or Reform communities.

I believe it is no exaggeration to say that establishing proper
separation between religion and state is critical to Israel’s survival; certainly
to its survival as a Jewish and democratic state. It is a given to us in America
that no one single religious sector should be able to control the public
square. We are blessed that this concept operates in the Jewish world here at
our Federations, where Jews of different streams and understandings sit at
the table together to maintain our communal structures. American Jewry,
following the Federation model and American democracy has much to teach

As I said earlier, the national leadership of the Federation played a
crucial role in tabling the passage of the Rotem Bill helping to convince
Israeli legislators that its passage would create a serious fissure between
Israel and Diaspora Jewry, 85% of whom are not Orthodox. At the core of
the mission of our Federation is a commitment to religious pluralism,
permitting everyone to participate in the life of the community. We need
every member of this congregation to continue to give generously to the
Federation, which greatly needs our support to maintain our community and
care for Jews around the world and in Israel. We also need to send an
unmistakable message through our Federation that the issue of religious
pluralism in Israel is high on the list of our priorities.
In recognition of the importance of supporting religious pluralism, our
Minneapolis Federation, despite severe budgetary strains, agreed to offer a
$10k matching grant for funds raised this year for Israel’s Conservative
movement known as Masorti. Federation is offering the same match for
funds raised for Artza, Israel’s Reform movement. I ask for your help in
meeting that challenge, for which we are grateful, and hope that this match
will grow even larger in the future. Please take a look at the handout you
received today, which gives more information about the work of our Masorti
movement in Israel and about our concerns regarding the Rotem Bill. Israel
is desperately in need of our Masorti movement, which teaches a modern
and sensible form of Judaism and plays a crucial role bridging between
Israel’s religious and secular extremes. As the letter makes clear, significant
inroads have been made in providing that middle ground, even while at a
severe disadvantage for funding.

As we look to the future there is much to be worried about for Israel.
The external threats are great. The internal problems of Israel are no less so.
I ask that today we hear in the sound of the shofar a call to wake up as a
community and stop ignoring this issue of religious pluralism. If we are
indifferent to the developments I have described, we may wake up one day
and find that it is our child who is told they are not Jewish and I fear that our
children and grandchildren like Jessica Fishman will simply walk away from
the place that our people worked so hard to establish. If that occurs we will
have ourselves to blame because of our indifference. The failure to get our
people to fully embrace the cause of religious pluralism and to press for
greater separation between religious and state in Israel will be cataclysmic
for the Jewish people and for the future of the State of Israel as we know and
love it.

At the end of Yom Kippur, at the conclusion of the neilah service we
will sound the shofar and recite the words, “This coming year let us be in
Jerusalem L’shana Habaah Beyirushalayim.” I have painted a troubling
picture of what is happening to Israel. I have done so because I truly believe
that it is not too late for action. It is still possible for us to work on behalf of
a vision for the State of Israel that will welcome Jews of different
approaches and views to the table. The day is short and there is much to be
done... Hayom katzar, v’hamelacha merubah…but as the rabbis teach in
Pirkei Avot (2:20-21), “You are not obligated to complete the task but
neither are you free to neglect it Lo alecha hamelacha lig-mor, Vlo atah ben
chorine lee-ba-tel mi-mena.”

Let us join together in the work of building up our Masorti movement
in Israel, and in working for an Israel not dominated by a single
fundamentalist religious view. Let us join together so that Israel will realize
the visions of the founders of the State as a homeland for all Jews. “Next
year in a rebuilt Jerusalem Lshana habaah beyerushalayim habenuyah.”

Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Adath Jeshurun Congregation
Minnetonka, MN