Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Who's YOUR tribe? Finding yourself in a crowd

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Have you ever had the feeling that you completely belong someplace?

Before we left Toronto, I got to go to the Torah homeschooling conference twice.  And the biggest thing I felt, both times I walked through the door of the Jewish Community Center in Baltimore for the conference, was "Here I am."  Not JUST me, but people like me.  My tribe.

"Finding your tribe" is a popular expression that goes back maybe about a decade.  I have no clue where it comes from, or who coined it, and if you know more than I do, I'd be happy to find out.  Google isn't showing me any references before 2012, but that's because Google, like most of us, is entirely now-oriented.

Finding your tribe is a primal thing, locating the people you click with and clicking.  It's about what Kurt Vonnegut called

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Is Kiruv a lie? Does it drive people away from Judaism…? (Hint: No, it doesn’t.)

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In an article at Pop Chassid, Elad Nehorai wrote – with a big headline – “Kiruv is a lie.”

Why?  Because it creates the illusion that Judaism is “fun” or “easy.” 

Because it lures people in with songs or cheap spirituality or tasty food and then – bait and switch!!! – it turns out Judaism is a hard life and so the Judaism you thought was all about fun fizzles and you drift away from Judaism.

And those who do stay religious, who move into religious communities like, I’m assuming Monsey or Lakewood or Boro Park or Jerusalem, suddenly discover that religious Jews are like anybody else, not all “souls on fire” but just regular people trying to make a living, playing loud music, behaving obnoxiously, speaking loshon hora, even stealing from each other in various horrible and petty ways.

Nehorai’s solution is a little fuzzy – he recommends “improving the qualitative state of our communities.”  By this I’m assuming he means make every Jewish person behave nicely instead of just a few kiruv rabbis.  As we say here in Israel, halevai – if only.  If only it were that easy.

I could be wrong about his message, and I hope somebody corrects me if I’ve misunderstood.  Whatever his goal is, it seems both vague and also almost certainly impossible.

There is no “Bad Kiruv”

Here’s my two cents:  There’s nothing wrong with kiruv, and I think kiruv professionals mostly have the right idea, even if they do sometimes paint an unrealistic picture of what Judaism looks like, and what the person being drawn in will look like in five, ten, or twenty years down the line.

I think that first of all, some of these tensions are created by

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Sydney Taylor Award 2018 BLOG TOUR: Drop by Drop, A Story of Rabbi Akiva, by Jacqueline Jules / Yevgenia Nayberg

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Welcome to visitors here with the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour!  You can find a full list of hosts and featured books at the Association of Jewish Libraries site.  There are some amazing selections this year.  In fact, that’s what I’m going to be talking about – a wonderful new Jewish kids’ book.

If you’re not fascinated by Rabbi Akiva, it’s probably because you just don’t know enough about him.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by the tale of someone who comes to Torah learning late in life but persists until he becomes not just an expert, but one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish world.

The problem is, how do you turn a figure commonly thought of as being more like this…

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Into someone warm and relatable, more like this…

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so that kids can actually enjoy the story and start to understand its full meaning?

Well, that’s exactly what author Jacqueline Jules (left) and illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg (right) have done with Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, which turns this classic and often-told tale into a kids’ story that will make a great addition to any family’s Jewish bookshelf. 

Along with Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam, The Language of Angels and others, their book has now won the 2018 Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Award for “outstanding books that portray the Jewish experience.”

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I feel lucky to have had the chance to send Jacqueline and Yevgenia a quick Q&A, and I’m excited to share their responses with you here:

Tzivia (that’s me):  Jacqueline, why do you think Rabbi Akiva is an important figure for kids to learn about in the year 2018?

Jacqueline Jules:  Rabbi Akiva’s story of learning to read at age 40 is an amazing role model for children and people of any age. Akiva’s realization

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Freedom, Imprisonment and Redemption: The Naïve Idealism of the Torah–a dvar Torah (ish) for late Bereishis / early Shemos / Bo

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In historical Judaism, freedom and imprisonment are just two sides of the same möbius strip. Inner and outer freedom is the prime concept of the Torah and of Jewish tradition. Yet in Judaism, freedom is at once freely given and at the same time, never without a price tag.

Captivity plays an almost schizophrenic role in the Tanach, and indeed, throughout Jewish history. On one hand, we find the prisonless society described in Exodus. But then, there is the forced captivity of an innocent described in the laws of the “yefes toar” – the beautiful woman taken in battle. And, though Judaism is far from an ascetic tradition, both ancient and modern Judaism have glorified, to an almost grotesque extent, the concept of spiritual redemption through imprisonment.

How do these seemingly opposite concepts build upon and complement each other? And of what use are they in the modern world? Our culture is widely assumed to be “Judeo-Christian” in character, but little remains today of the idealistic Jewish approach to crime and punishment.

Criminals and Victims

If Jewish life begins with Bereishis (Genesis), there, too, begins the complex Jewish relationship with prison. The first Jewish imprisonment, like most that have followed