How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

March 22, 2013

Israel activity on and off campus

This is an eventful time in Israel-related activity in San Diego and beyond, and I wanted to get some of my thoughts and resources in one place for my own and others’ edification.

In no particular order, most people know that US President Barack Obama visited Israel this past week for the first time since his election in 2008. It was a highly anticipated trip, no less by all those who’ve been saying since day one that he would “throw Israel under the bus” than by his most fervent supporters. Many of Obama’s critics regarding his Israel policies won’t be swayed no matter what he does short of making aliyah himself (and probably not even then), and reaction in Israel and in the American Jewish community has been mixed (what else would it be? Are we not Jews?). Still, even some conservative commentators lavished POTUS with praise, including Yossi Klein Halevi, who called the Thursday speech “a love song to Israel” and maybe “the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president.”

I had a great conversation Thursday, after reading part of the speech, with a couple of students at SDSU who’d stopped by the Aztecs for Israel table and display on Library Walk. Carl (a history major) and Jay (finance) were two of the most educated, intelligent, and engaged people I’ve ever spoken to about this issue. They were knowledgable and challenging, open to learning, asked insightful questions – it was really a pleasure talking to them, and while they came as friends, I hope they left even more supportive of Israel. AFI was out in force this week (and will be back next week) to counter the ridiculous amount of hatred, lies and vitriol spread by Students for Justice in Palestine during their Palestine Awareness Week/Israel Apartheid Week (one and the same, of course). With able and critical assistance from StandWithUs and other community partners, “my” students (I’m their staff advisor) provide passersby with factual, helpful information about Israel, the IDF, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and how they differ), etc. They promote the truth – that Israel seeks peace, but that peace takes partners, and that in many ways Israel doesn’t seem to have any at this time. This is unfortunately but tellingly reflected in the student organization situation on campus, where SJP students have repeatedly rebuffed AFI efforts to engage in dialogue, either direct or with a third party (even when the third party is a high-ranking university administrator dedicated to diversity, who reports directly to the president of SDSU). My students have been amazing through this all, weathering terrible verbal and written attacks while maintaining their composure and maturity, displaying real courage and strength that makes me so proud.

Partly due to President Obama’s visit to Israel, NPR has done more stories on Israel this week than I’m used to hearing (at least when there’s no war going on). While I really appreciate the longer, more in-depth pieces public radio tends to air, they still sometimes display a subtle (or not so subtle) bias, such as when they say “the occupied West Bank” whenever talking about that region. Overall, though, I heard or saw a couple of interesting stories this week:

  • A photo essay on Beta Israel, the community of Ethiopian Jews;
  • A story about Ethiopian-born beauty Yityish Aynaw, who, as the first black Miss Israel, dined with Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, during his visit. This piece also notes a couple of other Ethiopian cultural and social milestones in Israel, including Idan Raichel’s collaboration with singer Kabra Kasai and other Ethiopian artists, and 2011 Israeli Idol winner Hagit Yaso;
  • This piece about Hamas schools in Gaza (about 20 out of 400) that teach Hebrew. This was particularly fascinating, partly because of the subtext and things that WEREN’T said by the reporter or anyone interviewed. There is a whole generation of Palestinian men who are fluent in Hebrew because they worked in Israel before the withdrawal, and who are therefore able to get a glimpse into Israeli society via television and print media. While the 9th grader the reporter talked to in this story said it was important to learn Hebrew because “it’s the language of our enemy” (a sentiment echoed/parroted by “[a]lmost everyone I speak with in Gaza,” the reporter says), the 44-year-old cab driver, who worked in Israel for 12 years, doesn’t put it in those terms. He freely admits to watching Israeli TV and reading Israeli newspapers, and wanting his kids to learn Hebrew as well. I don’t think there’s any way to consume this media diet and not come away with at least a basic sense of humanity of “the other” (in this case, Israelis) and therefore be at least a LITTLE skeptical of your leadership’s claims about the “enemy’s” intentions. In other words, the seeds of normalization exist in Gaza; they were planted years ago, before Hamas came to power, and there’s nothing Hamas can do to erase the experiences and interactions these Palestinian men had with Israelis. Obviously not everything was love and light – far from it – but many of these men (who now have families of their own) know that many Israelis want the very same things they do. They know that on both sides there are people who want to raise their families in peace and security, within borders recognized by neighbors who, while perhaps not engaging in vibrant diplomatic and cultural relations, at least recognize each other’s right to exist.

    Finally, a fair amount has been written and said about the phone call Bibi made to Turkish PM Erdogan from Ben Gurion Airport, as Netanyahu was escorting President Obama back to Air Force One for the trip to Jordan. Some of what’s being said is to the effect of “Obama forced Bibi to make the phone call,” “this is humiliating to Israel,” “Erdogan is the only winner from Obama’s trip to Israel,” and other such nonsense. Quite frankly, if you really believe that this phone call was forced on Bibi at the last minute (or at all( and that the renormalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey is of no benefit to Israel, you have no idea how international diplomacy works and should just stop talking about it.
    That is all.

March 12, 2012

Forty kilometers (25 miles) from the border

To make it easier to imagine yourself in southern Israel over the last several days (not to mention the last 10 years or so), as Palestinian terrorists fire dozens of deadly rockets every day on civilian population centers, here’s a handy little map. If Gaza was Tijuana, this is the area of San Diego county that would be subject to being hit by the rockets. Schools are closed throughout this area (this would include SDSU, USD, and all primary and secondary schools in this range), mass transportation is at a standstill (including our international and regional airports), and most businesses are shuttered. Do you know anyone who lives in this area? They all have to be prepared to run into their bomb shelters with a few seconds’ notice from an air raid siren. Here’s what a small part of the barrage on Ashdod sounded like this morning.

Zoomed in for detail:
Range of Gaza rockets - TJ to San Diego

December 17, 2011

Count your blessings

Tonight I get to go to sleep in my own bed, next to my wife, my only concern being how soon one of my children will wake up and need some attention (at worst, we’re talking a couple of times overnight, none of which are likely to kill me).

Meanwhile, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Grammy Phyllis lays in a hospital bed, her body ravaged by a ruthless disease and bombarded by the medications the world’s greatest medical minds have devised to fight that disease.

I have a long post in my head about how I came to share my lifeblood with Grammy and her family, but I still need to flesh it out. For now, a bit over 24 hours before my stem cells are infused into her body, I’ll ask that you pray for her health (or, if prayers aren’t your thing [I’m looking at you, Jon], send healing thoughts and vibes her way). Take your inspiration from this epic piece of artwork which I commissioned from the oh-so-talented Ethan Nicolle. That’s me on the left, joining forces with Axe Cop (background, Episode 1) to rid humanity of the Big C once and for all. Wish us (and Grammy Phyllis) luck.

Me & Axe Cop ready to kick cancer's ass

Original, 1-of-a-kind commissioned piece of art featuring me and Axe Cop

July 26, 2010

Pre-school profundity

I had a profound, important conversation with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Sunday evening.

We were visiting the home of a congregant from our synagogue for shiva minyan, the service held in a house of mourning. The friend (T), himself well past middle age, had just lost his mother (she was in her 90s). Since we had made plans to go to the service, we were able to tell H about it earlier in the day. We covered a few salient points, including the fact that we were going to T’s house because his mother had just passed away (Jenn’s choice of words)/died (mine) and he was sad, and one of the things you can say is, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Once we were there, H was terrific. She has attended Shabbat services with us essentially since she was born, so she’s very familiar with the basic liturgy, and she also had some friends there (the Rabbi’s kids) so she wasn’t bored.

The really interesting conversation began when she noticed a mirror completely covered with paper towels and asked me about it. I answered that it was a Jewish tradition to cover the mirrors in a house of mourning for a week after a person dies. When prompted, I repeated the explanation a couple of times, then she explained it to me with the brilliant circular logic pre-schoolers are so good at (something to the effect of “The mirrors are covered because they’re covered”).

She then asked, “Why do we say, ‘I’m sorry’?” Picking up on her confusion, I explained that we are not saying “sorry” as an apology (her frame of reference for that word) but as a way to show the person that we understand they’re sad because someone they love has died – that they’ve “lost” this person. She made a couple of comments about how our friend’s mother wasn’t sick any more (true enough), and then pulled out the crowning glory of the evening’s conversation, “Everybody dies, but some people are alive.”

I was a bit ferklempt at the end there.

Oh, by the way: this entire dialogue happened while she was sitting on the throne, going potty.

June 20, 2010

I love it when a plan comes together

I just successfully upgraded my WordPress installation, which powers this blog, to the latest version (3.0, called Thelonius – see the complete list of major WP releases, all named for jazz musicians). I did this with nary a bump, very few changes in settings, and everything seems to be right.

My first activities with the new version was changing the theme of the site (the look & feel theme, not the content theme) to WP’s default for this version, called Twenty Ten, then changing the header image that appears on each page. While the default image is nice, I wanted 1) to test the waters and modify something and make sure it worked, and 2) to personalize the site imagery. To that end, you’re currently enjoying a (cropped) view of the Brandeis Bardin Institute, home of BCI, the summer camp for Jewish young adults that I attended as a camper (’95) then returned to as an advisor/counselor (’98). This small image hardly does the place justice, but it’s indicative and evocative of the campus’s beauty. I’ll write and talk more about this place another time.

For now, I’m going to call it a night. The plan for tomorrow is to begin documenting my participation with a good friend in The Jonah Project.

Edited on 6/23 to change post title. Because I can.

February 5, 2010

Shabbat shalom x2

Starting off the weekend right with a couple of outstanding drashot from two of my favorite rabbis:
First, again, is Rabbi David Wolpe from Sinai Temple in LA, whose weekly Off The Pulpit I’ve mentioned before – it’s consistently inspirational and thought-provoking (I’m including the sign-up information at he bottom so you can subscribe too):

Yearning to Learn

By Rabbi David Wolpe

Knowing where to find information is not the same as possessing it. Each fact we learn is arranged in the matrix of all we already know. One who knows how to Google “Shakespeare sonnets” cannot be compared to the one who has memorized Shakespeare’s sonnets. The latter carries the words with him. The former is an accountant of knowledge; he knows where the treasure is, but it does not belong to him.

Real education instills a desire for knowledge, not merely the tools to acquire it. We are shaped by what we know and what we yearn to know. The Talmud tells us that as a young man Hillel was so desperate for words of Torah that he climbed on the roof of the study house to hear the discourses of his great predecessors, Shemaya and Avtalion. Noticing the darkness, they looked up and saw the young man on the skylight, covered with snow. The rabbis rescued Hillel, washed and anointed him, and sat him by the fire.

“If you want to build a ship,” wrote Antoine de Saint Expury, “don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.” First teach children to love learning; the web will wait.

We hope that you will email these words to a friend, and encourage them to sign up by e-mail so they will be able to receive similar articles as well as updates in the future. Together, let’s create a virtual community of modern Torah for the 21st century!

Closer to home is my dear Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, who co-officiated at my wedding and continues to be a valued spiritual leader and guide. The Mi Shebeirach prayer is on my mind and my lips a lot these days, so this is particularly poignant and meaningful for me:

Dear Friends:

I meet with our Abraham Ratner Torah School students one Wednesday a month. We usually meet in our Goodman Chapel. This month I introduced them to a new addition to our chapel, the Mishebeirach tapestry that was fashioned from the creative contributions of many members of our Sisterhood and congregation.

This fabrication of this tapestry was the brainchild and labor of love of Sharyl Snyder. Sharyl had seen a similar tapestry on display on Temple Emanu-El and thought we should have one as well. Our Mishebeirach tapestry enlivens our chapel with its very personal artwork and stands as a reminder to all who are ill or in pain that they are not alone. At Tifereth Israel Synagogue they are a member of a community that cares and prays for them.

I asked the students to find the multiplicity of Jewish symbols on the tapestry. They correctly identified many of them and shared how they thought creators of each square expressed their care and concern for those who are ill.

I also used the introduction of the Mishebeirach tapestry to explain to our students the Mishebeirach prayer we say each morning at our daily minyan and on Shabbat (“May the One who blessed our ancestors…send healing to…”).

On the spur of the moment I also said the prayer with them and asked them to share the names of their relatives and friends who were ill and pray for their recovery. It was very quiet during our prayer and I found myself surprised by how it had turned our learning into a spiritual and sacred experience.

That same evening we talked about the Mishebeirach prayer at a meeting of our Ritual Committee. We all expressed the same thought: we all believed that our communal prayers for those who are ill are efficacious and powerful even though we are not sure how they work.

The next time you are in the synagogue, please stop by the chapel to see the new Mishebeirach tapestry. I also invite you to find as many Jewish symbols as you can and try to discover their relationship to Jewish healing and life. You may also want to use the opportunity to say your own prayer for those you love who are suffering or in pain.

Even though your prayer does not guarantee that those who are suffering will be healed, I am confident that their burden will be eased by your caring.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal
Tifereth Israel Synagogue
San Diego, CA
rabbi@tiferethisrael.com

Hope these words help you have a truly peaceful and meaningful Shabbat.

September 8, 2009

The Drop-out agenda

Filed under: education — howdoyoujew @ 09:02

Having read the text of President Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren, I am all set to listen to it (streaming live behind me at my desk on a secondary workstation).

I am also all set to hear someone – anyone – lay out a rational, reasonable argument for why the POTUS shouldn’t be able to tell American kids to stay in school and have real goals for themselves and that they can be anything they want to be.

August 21, 2008

Our civilization is doomed, reason #128,212

Filed under: education,Family,News,random — howdoyoujew @ 14:28

I know I need to fix some stuff with my blog (apparently the comments link is broken, and I need to spiff up my theme and do a bunch of other things, like, you know, post and stuff), but sometimes stories jump out at me so much that I have to post them immediately.

Linked from BoingBoing:
Mayor shuts down home produce stand operated by kids
Money quote from the asshat mayor:
“They may start out with a little card-table and selling a couple of things, but then who is to say what else they have. Is all the produce made there, do they make it themselves? Are they going to have eggs and chickens for sale next,” said Manning.”

Putz.

March 7, 2008

No words

In memory of the victims of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva shooting, March 6, 2008

January 9, 2008

Interesting stuff I’ve read in the last couple of days

Filed under: education,entertainment,funny,Health,Life Online,News,random,technology — howdoyoujew @ 14:52

1. A terrific profile of Melinda Gates from CNNMoney.com/Fortune. My favorite snarky moment:

She made valedictorian and got into Notre Dame. But Notre Dame did not get her. When she and her dad visited, she recalls, officials at the university told them that “computers are a fad” and that they were shrinking the computer science department. “I was crushed,” Melinda says. Duke, which was expanding in computer science, got her instead.

2. Guns don’t kill people. People don’t kill people. Dogs with guns kill people.

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