Foundation of Beauty: Truth, 20 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty days, which is two weeks and six days of the Omer, in the year 5782. יסד שבתפארת. Yesod ShebeTiferet. Foundation of Beauty. אמת Emet, Truth, is another name for the sefirah we are meditating into this week. In my heart, I know that the foundation of beauty is truth.

The Authenticity of Beauty that Pierces the Soul: Truth

We all have intuition. Whether its the music that we like or the speaker whom we connect with: some things call us in while other things repel us.

I am a person called towards truth. I don’t care for artifice. I am not interested in production values. I connect with soulful praying and inspiring art.

When I feel bonded with beauty, it is because the truth has reached out and forced me to take notice.

How do you bond with beauty? What is the truth reaching towards you at this moment?

May 5, Cinco de Mayo, Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day

Jewish days begin and end at sundown. So, I am counting the 20th day on what is still May 5, 2022 in my time zone. Which means it is still Cinco de Mayo, but it is not Yom HaAtzmaut. Mexico declared victory over French colonialists, though they lost a subsequent battle with the Second French Empire. Still, it is a significant day, particularly honoring Mexican American culture.

Israel’s Independence Day was on the 5th of Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), though it rarely falls on that day because it moves to avoid occurring too close to Shabbat. I could say a lot more about the importance of Israel and its legitimacy. Jews are the only indigenous people to return to their land and reclaim their self-determination. For a small piece of the story, please see my previous reflection on moving from “peace activism” to progressive Zionist.

Another Terrorist Attack, 3 Israelis Dead

According to the Jerusalem Post:

“The three victims in the deadly attack were identified as 40-year-old Yonatan Habakuk, 40-year-old Boaz Gol, and 35 year-old Oren Ben Yiftach. Together they left behind 16 children.

Seven other people were injured in the attack, one in critical condition and another in serious condition.”

From “Elad terror attack: Manhunt continues, main suspects’ identities released,” by Anna Ahronheim

Two Palestinian suspects from Jenin in the West Bank attacked civilians with axes and knives.

I cannot imagine the inhumane ideology that leads people to murder other humans.

Israel Is Not an Apartheid State

The most vicious lie I ever swallowed was the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. It is based on the false notion that Jews are “imperialist colonizers.” Fundamentally, all of this rhetoric is upheld by anti-Jewish bias in mainstream culture. I could go on, but there’s just too much…

Religious, Cultural, and Individual Liberty

I try avoid heated rhetoric that inflames conversations. Yet, the leaked Supreme Court document overturning Roe v. Wade is such a quintessential piece of Christian, patriarchal hegemony, that it is hard for me to deny the relevance of saying the thing in this moment.

The cells in my body do not have rights separate from me.

The “soul” is a concept formed by pagan Greeks and is not part of the original intent of the Bible.

The poetry of the Psalms should never be the basis of law. No Jewish law is decided based on the words of poetry in the Bible. It seems barbaric to strip poetry of its nuance and pretend that it was intended as the basis for legal decisions. Further, the Hebrew Bible itself upholds the personhood of pregnant people and the distinction between pregnancy and human life.

So yeah, my culture and my religion stand firmly on the side of privacy, bodily autonomy, and a religious imperative to support pregnant people’s ability to make their own decisions about their bodies.

Grounded in Truth, I Relish Beauty

I’m still in awe of artists. I cannot wait to experience Jenny Yurshansky’s installation at the American Jewish University.

I just learned that my brilliant friend, Anike Tourse, will be debuting her feature film, “America’s Family,” at the Dances with Films festival on June 11.

I think this is why I enjoy The Business from KCRW: the process through which artists create their work is endlessly fascinating. I’m looking forward to having more time to explore culture once my studies are completed this month.

The Spiral of 20 Days of Omer

Foundation of Compassion: Breaking Through Compassion Fatigue, 5781 / 2021.

Foundation of Truth: finding my way to Zionism, 5780 / 2020.

Relishing the beauty in theatre, 5779 / 2019.

Depression is a sin, 5778 / 2018.

Creating a daily practice, 5777 / 2017.

Image of the Tel Aviv skyline by avner nagar via Pixabay.

A Bissel of Modern Judaism

Over the last several months, I led a course at Temple Beth David on “A Bissel of Judaism.”

Please enjoy the video of the class on Modern Judaism. I owe so much of my knowledge to Dr. Bob Levy, his memory will forever be a blessing. Also important was the course I took on 21st Century Judaism with Cantor Dr. Jonathan Friedman. And of course, all of the discussions and retreats I have attended on the future of Judaism.


History of Reform Judaism

CCAR Platforms

Jewish Federation SGPV Keynote Speaker, Dr. Steven Windmueller on the “Current State of the Jewish Community:”

Yom HaShoah: Day of The Catastrophe

Today is the 26th of Nisan, in the year 5781. It is the eleventh day of the Omer, which is one week and four days, Netzach ShebeGevurah, Enduring Strength. On this Yom HaShoah, Day of The Catastrophe, we honor the Jewish victims of The Catastrophe during World War II by recognizing their eternal resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Don’t believe the anti-Jewish rhetoric: we were not sheep walking to our own deaths. My people fought physically and spiritually to survive the Nazi evil. The world chose to abandon us and one-third of my people were killed.

The Shoah did not happen in a vacuum

Jew hatred has been relatively constant throughout Western history. David Nirenberg’s book Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is a thorough overview. Similarly, Geraldine Heng argues that race was invented in the Middle Ages, in large part to place Jews at the bottom of a social hierarchy. That is, whiteness was defined in distinction from Jewishness. And religion is not always perfect — the history of Christian Judeophobia is vast. In particular, the Catholic Church helped create the modern acceptability of Jew hatred.

Not quite as dense are the graphic novel, Maus, and the brilliant feminist autobiography of Ruth Kluger, may her memory forever be a blessing.

Yom HaShoah, The Catastrophe: most fitting name

I prefer “Yom HaShoah” to Holocaust because those murdered were not consumed whole for the sake of HaShem (original definition of holocaust sacrifice). 1/3 of my people were slaughtered for evil.

Read a book

Previous Yom HaShoah musings

Yom HaShoah is usually on the 27 day of Nisan. Unless that day is adjacent to Shabbat, in which case the holiday shifts. That is why my musings on Yom HaShoah for the last two years were written on the 12th day of the Omer count, rather than on the 11th day.

Yom HaShoah: A more complete response, based on the depth of information I learned from Dr. Bob Levy, of blessed memory.

Yom HaShoah, Am Yisrael Chai.

Why Jews find anti-Zionism to be anti-Jewish

I wrote this in an attempt to explain why the majority of Jews find anti-Zionism to be anti-Jewish. I fully recognize not all Jews agree with this position, but it is the position that people find so difficult to understand. Perhaps after reading this, you will still disagree with us. Before responding, I hope you will take the time to read my entire comment.

First, if conversations are going to continue, words need to be defined. Zionism is the desire of Jews for self-determination. In 2019, Zionism describes the right of Jews to self-determination in the land of Israel.

Second, the reason Zionist Jews find anti-Zionism anti-Jewish is because our connection to the land is as inherent to our identity as the term Judaism. We are Israelites. Traditionally, “Israel” in our prayers refers to us as a collective people. It is deeply offensive to be described as colonialists — for centuries, archaeologists have been discovering how we lived in our land before the multiple times we have been expelled.

Third, there is a difference between criticizing Israel and being an anti-Zionist. An anti-Zionist denies that right of the Jewish state to exist. That ridiculous opinion piece claiming that no state has the right to exist is another piece of rhetorical deflection. At the same time that Arab states continue to keep Palestinians in refugee camps for generations, they were expelling their Jewish citizens. This is not a “gotcha” question. It is a question that clears the way for understanding whether there is any room for discussion. North American Indigenous nations exist within the reality of accepting that the USA exists. And the constant analogies to indigenous people is also offensive.

Here’s the thing: I try hard not to use the term “anti-Semitic.” I do not deny that as a Jew, I am a Semite.* But I also understand the term was created because people found it too difficult to broach the words “Jew” and “Jewish.” And yes, it is anti-Jewish to deny our right to self-determination. I get that not all Jews feel the need / want to be associated with Israel. The majority of us, and more importantly the majority of us who live there, want Israel to exist. That’s what self-determination means. It means that collectively, we made a decision and our collective decision was recognized by the United Nations. The existence of the state of Israel is not racist. The actions of the Israeli government, like the actions of any government, can be critiqued. But when you claim our state, and only our state, does not deserve to exist, then you are anti-Jewish. That is why anti-Zionism is such an offensive term and ideology to Jews.

*And let’s go back to the understanding that Jews are Semites. We’ve been kicked off our ancestral land generation after generation, century after century. We were murdered in Europe and Israel during the Crusades. Islamic rulers pushed us out. And then we came back. We are not colonizers. We are indigenous people returning to our land. Should Israelis find a peaceful way to co-exist with Palestinians? Absolutely! Does that mean accepting the “right of return” for everyone claiming Palestinian heritage? No. Modern states divide territory between peoples who have competing, legitimate desire to the land.

This is the world view that progressive Jewish sisters are asking you to understand.

It is also worth questioning: why is this the one and only foreign policy issue that “must be part of the collective platform of the movement for women’s rights.” There are more than two sides to any geopolitical dispute. And women’s rights in the United States are not dependent on the successful negotiation of peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Just as our rights are not dependent on Rohingya women in Burma being able to live freely, or any religious people in China (Muslim, Jewish, Christian), or Tibetans. Fundamentally, there is a distinction between gathering for women’s equality and advocating on foreign policy. And it is worth questioning why it is so easy to call out, and indeed demonize, Jews in the “pursuit of peace.”

Thirteen Martyrs

Thirteen people were murdered last week by white supremacists.

On Wednesday, Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Jones, 67, were murdered at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky. Mr. Stallard was at the supermarket with his ten year-old grandson to buy posterboard for a school project.

On Saturday, eleven Jews were slaughtered at the beginning of their Shabbat services in Pittsburgh. Joyce Feinberg, 75, a research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, mother and grandmother. Irving Younger, 69, a greeter at shul. Melvin Wax, father and grandfather, always in a good mood. Rose Mallinger, 97, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; her daughter was injured in the attack. Bernice Simon, 84 and her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86; were married at the Tree of Life Synagogue more than 60 years ago. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, primary care physician and an early healthcare provider for HIV treatment. Richard Gottfried, 65, dentist who dedicated time to helping those without insurance and underinsured. Daniel Stein, 71, recently became a grandfather and attended Shabbat services every week. Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and his brother David Rosenthal, 54. Developmentally disabled brothers who greeted everyone who came to shul with a smile and a prayer book.

As my teacher, Dr. Rabbi Elijah Schochet confirmed, the slain Jews are Kedoshim HaShem, their deaths are a sanctification of God’s name, they are among the martyrs of Israel. We are commanded to choose life, and never to seek out death. Thus, Jewish martyrdom is not about choosing to die for your religion. Indeed, over the course of history, most of our martyrs were not given any choice in the matter. Now, I can understand that stating these murders are holy deaths can be disconcerting. As Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg points out, we must understand the context of their martyrdom and challenge the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States.

HaShem Yikom Damam. May HaShem avenge their blood. This is the traditional statement regarding martyrs. Wendy Kenin wrote a concise explanation of Jewish martyrdom in The Times of Israel, calling upon the wisdom of Rabbanit Sabrina Schneider.

There is a difference between avenge, the goal being justice and revenge which is angry retaliation. Even if in self defense a person kills an assailant, justice is in the jurisdiction of the Almighty.

It makes sense that the Jewish honorifics in these situations leaves the solution to Hashem the true Judge, similar to saying Baruch Dayan HaEmet or “Blessed is the true Judge,” which is a common term from our liturgy used after a person passes, sometimes with family members practicing the custom of tearing their clothing. But in the case of cold blood murder, it is an expression of our humanity to recognize there is an injustice that we do not accept when a Jew has been martyred while still maintaining faith in the ultimate outcome.

Rabbanit Schneider elaborates, “Jewish martyrdom is unique in that it isn’t something that the Jew seeks. Contrary to radical Islam, martyrdom is not glorified. Only G-d is glorified. Living a life in service to the Creator is what the Torah Jew ultimately seeks with the ultimate goal of perfecting all of humankind.”

More common honorifics for the deceased are “May their memory be a blessing,” or “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion.” But for the anti-Semitic act of murdering Jews just for being Jews, we need a clearer statement that acknowledges the horror and injustice — one that does not invoke hate, one that does not perpetuate the cycle of violence, one that is inclusive of those sentiments of comfort, blessings, and faith. The phrase for martyred Jews already exists and has been in use for generations, “May Hashem avenge their blood.”

I reflect on this teaching because it is so painful that these murders are being shuffled away in the onslaught of the news cycle. I have felt the normalization of white supremacist rhetoric since Trump declared his candidacy. I have witnessed the rise in anti-Semitism, racism, and hate. And when a Christian wore a tallit and invoked Jesus before Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a rally yesterday, my political animosity boiled over. Like many Jewish Americans, I blamed Pence and his forceful evangelism for the slight. I seemed to be one of the first in my circles to learn that Lena Epstein, a Jewish Republican candidate for Congress, took responsibility for inviting the Jew for Jesus Messianic Christian as a sign of “religious tolerance.”

And as I signed off Twitter last night, I worried that I was letting my emotions get the better of me. I don’t want to speak out of anger. I want to transform my anger into righteous action that honors the souls of everyone around me, including people who cannot see how hurtful they are being. This is an important turning point for understanding the reality of the threat that surrounds us. Words matter. Choices matter. Three days after a massacre, allow a Jewish clergy person to stand up and say a benediction. Allow us to mourn our dead and acknowledge the horror and injustice, without invoking hate and without fake universalism. Each specific act of hate must be called out for what it is. Yes, thirteen people died last week at the hands of white supremacists. Two died because they are Black. Eleven died because they are Jewish. May HaShem avenge their blood.

Shattered Shabbas

I tried to stay offline today. I woke up with this intention and I got to synagogue with my children without incident. I learned and I prayed and I experienced holiness in a way that has been missing in my life for weeks. I felt the presence of the Divine and I knew for sure that holiness surrounds us and enlivens us.

And then, before the Mourner’s Kaddish, my rabbi announced that there was a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and at least 8 people were dead. And he asked us all to join in the Mourner’s Kaddish. A few minutes later, religious school staff brought the kids into the sanctuary. And my five year-old was troubled by my tears. And my three year-old kept telling me to be quiet (because that’s what I normally tell him during the Mourner’s Kaddish).

I am a bit numb. A friend’s text chain brought me back to the reality of the world. (I had been trying to sink into Hebrew homework.) So I am here. I am here to say, I thought I was willing to put my life on the line when I tried to become a career diplomat after college. I never really dreamed I was putting my family in harm’s way by trying to become a rabbi.

This I know for sure: we are all less safe with Donald Trump as president. Nazis and white supremacists of every stripe have come out of the woodwork in the last two years like never before. There is a chasm of difference between deeply felt political disagreements and incitement to violence. Blaming George Soros and globalists for your grievances is the path of anti-Semitic hate mongers.

And this I know for sure: holiness is real. We are all soul-endowed beings. May we cling to the good. May we be shepherds of goodness. May our actions honor the holy souls within us. And may our passion and our reason be united to speak holy words of truth.

Vote on November 6th. My life depends on it. Yours does too.