Here We Go Again!

Shvat 3rd, 5767

Unless you are brand new to here, you may have noticed me rather proglonged absence from the blogosphere. You may also have noticed that I have given the blog a facelift and renamed it. (Anyone wanna tell me how to put the title in actual Hebrew, by the way?) I have also left up most of the posts from the Live from Israel version of this blog for posterity's sake. Point being, I, as usual, find myself full of things that need saying. So here I am online again and attempting to do just that.


To answer your questions, if you have not already been able to ask me:
-Yes, I had a good time.
-Yes, it was amazing.
-No, I am nowhere near fluent in Hebrew.
-The thing that I most enjoyed was the people I was with.
-The thing that most suprised me was how much I like davening all in Hebrew.
-Yes, I have a girlfriend. (For those of you that did not ask me that upon my return, you might be surprised by how many did.)
-Yes, going to back to regular school is hard. Traumatic, really.
-Yes, I know where I am going to school. Drew University has accepted me and offered me an obscene scholarship.
-Yes, it is terrible what is happening with the Israeli government.

School is strange. Life feels like purgatory. I have a sense now that I am waiting in a train station for the last train to the rest of life. I know what I am want to do and why and what I want to do next and yet, here I am, still in high school.


I returned Sunday from the North-American Federation of Temple Youth-Texas Oklahoma Region Winter Conclave. My report follows in a few different sections, each one containing some connections to larger issues.


The theme of the event was "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Jew Fish." Cute. The problem is that I am left wondering why. A good theme should start with an actual theme. This was slice of pop culture with a joke thrown in. The attempts to drag programming on being Jewish out of this theme fell largely flat.

The Lorax was a fine avenue for exploring Jewish environmentalism. The flaw was that the connection made between Judaism was through the fact that Dr. Seuss was Jewish and therefore the Lorax is clearly an allegory for Moses. Everyone whip out your copies (or internet synopses) of the Lorax and you tell me. I frankly, did not see it. However, Judaism does have a long tradition of being one of the few voices crying out for some sort of Justice in the world. That was the direction the program went in.

When my group was asked what issues they would be "Loraxim" for, the list was, shall we say, interesting. In included environmental issues, animal rights, child abuse, more puppies, gay rights, unfair municipally-instituted teen curfews, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur... You will notice that amongst this list there is not one single Jewish issue. There may be opinions on these issues informed by Judaism involved, but I fail to find a real Jewish issue. I suggested adding assimilation, Jewish literacy in America, and the crisis Israel is in via Iran. Added though they were, these issues did not seem interesting to my group, which wanted to talk about puppies and Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur, Darfur... I am all for helping to protect other people from injustices that befell the Jewish people in the past. There is a genocide in progress in Darfur and there was a genoside perpetrated against our people in the 20th century. We can look out for other people and feel great about it and we should because it is one of our ehtical obligations. "Welcome the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt" and all that jazz. But, and this is one big but, we can not look out for others at the expense of ourselves. There is a man in Iran who wants to wipe the State of Israel off the map! With nuclear bombs! For real! And here is the worldwide Jewish with out heads in the sand and our hands over our ears yelling "La la la la la I can't hear you!" and it is not a nigun! So maybe we could deal with this issue a bit more and then worry about the kids with flies on their faces in Darfur!

Are you mad yet? Mad at me for being flippant about the fly-face kids in Darfur? Fine.


No offense disclaimer: For themed services, these were alright. This is less a criticism of these services and more a criticism of themed services, using those from this weekend as an example.

A service is, by and large, a service. We have one for every occasion in Judaism. Each variety has its structure and its quirks and the only options ought to be related to melody and ideology. For instance, if you have a great new melody for Ahavat Olam, I am all for giving it a shot. If you have a group of people who do not believe in Moshiach Ben David, you can excise that Hebrew from the Amidah and insert something new on a similar theme.

Here is what happens at NFTY events. There is theme for the weekend, Dr. Seuss, in this case. For some reason, the entire weekend must be permeated with this theme, including the services. Thus, the Amidah (which we did not stand for all of, an entire post in and of itself) recieved a few cuts and a few themed readings written in a Dr. Seussical style were inserted. They called attention to themselves and eclipsed real prayers.

We constantly wonder why there are nor Jews in the pews on Friday night, Saturday morning, or, in the rare and glorious case of my own Temple, Wednesday evening. The answer is that we try and try and try to do new things to get people interested. Why new? Why not try something old for a change? Use Hebrew. It is our language. We've lost the archaic beauty or our own supremely archaic practice. If we just do something authentic and real and Jewish, there will be Jews in the pews.

If any of that spoke to you, read Gonzo Judaism by Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein.


Anonymous said...

It stinks that you hated your services so much. I didn't really have much to object to at NAR (only a few English readings replacing prayers and one reading in the middle of the Amidah). Although, I did have an advantage since Tal and I sat in the back with Avodah Shebalev and did whatever we wished the rest of the region was doing. And when I am Tefillah coordinator at Spring (which I am applying to be), hopefully I will fix the few problems I had with services

zach said...

i can definitely tell that you just got back from eie. welcome to the new life, my friend. welcome to the new life.

Allison G said...

hey boo. i agree with Zach. and sarah w. and i are always talking about how reform judaism is all about the american liberal agenda, aka darfur and environmentalism. needless to say it pisses us off. i hate creative services. in nfty sar we had to draw for each prayer. i wanted to vomit. galut wont be so sucky during convention. can't wait to see you and bahatzlacha!

BZ said...

Dr. Seuss wasn't Jewish (but maybe that's what you meant by "the flaw").

Darfur, environmentalism, etc., are all "real Jewish issues". Would you tell Isaiah that his issues aren't Jewish enough?

Allison G-
I think "the American liberal agenda" is what Reform Judaism does best. I wish it did other things better too, but not at the expense of its longstanding commitment to social justice.

David A. M. Wilensky said...

My point is not, Allison and bz, that envinronemntalism and Darfur are not Jewish issues, but that there is something more dire and more Jewish that we spend no time on. We need to take a break from Darfur from ten seconds and address Iran for twenty.

David Singer said...

I hear your frustration, kiddies. But, now what're you going to do to fix things and not just be a grumbling grouch in the back of the room.

Lead people! Teach people!

In other news, Seuss was Jewish, and he lived in my neighborhood.

David A. M. Wilensky said...

In other news, I don't care what nationality Seuss was! Hop on Pop is not a Jewish text!

BZ said...

This article says:

Despite the fact that he had made no overtures to any of the fraternities, Ted was nonetheless surprised to not be invited by any of them to pledge. He realized that it was probably because he was taken to be Jewish, with his last name, Semitic nose and dark hair. This was in counterpoint to the hostile atmosphere that pervaded Springfield (and all of the U.S.) during the war as all German-Americans were looked at with suspicion by their former friends, business associates and neighbors. Ted felt the isolation during the war years, and found it continuing, though for different (and rather ironic) reasons at Dartmouth. "It took a year and a half before word got around that I wasn't [Jewish]. I think my interest in editing the Dartmouth humor magazine began...that pledge week."


Jewish or not, I liked his books.