Saturday, December 29, 2018

Hineni: Here I am. A Shemos dvar Torah for my father’s 10th yahrzeit

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In this week’s parsha, Moshe proves he’s ahead of his time, most strikingly in the first question he asks when he starts addressing Hashem.

When Hashem calls to Moshe from the bush, Moshe responds with “Here I am,” hineni. In Hebrew, it’s one word, one concept, הנני מוכן ומזומן–I’m here and I’m ready. Not just presence, it’s total presence.

But what’s the next thing Moshe says? Hashem first tells him all about the plan, that Moshe’s going to go to Paroh, going to bring out bnei Yisrael. And suddenly, Moshe isn’t so sure. What does he say? “Who am I?” מי אנוכי / mi anochi? He thought he knew, but now all of a sudden… he isn’t so sure.

Which of us haven’t been there? In that spot where we thought we were brave, we stepped up, put up our hands, applied to make aliyah or signed up for grad school. Whatever it was, we are about to take that leap, and then suddenly, we wonder. Is this the right thing to do? Is this really who I am?

This is actually a very modern question. Throughout most of our history, we didn’t need to ask who we were. Wherever we lived, Poland, Morocco, Egypt, Spain, everybody around us was all too happy to answer: “You’re a Jew.” “You can live in these places, you can do these occupations, you can pay these taxes.” They were happy to show us the fences around our Jewish identity and inside those, we were Jews.

That doesn’t mean we always got along. Chassidim and mitnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, more observant and less observant. In Europe, different professions had their own shuls: carpenters didn’t want to daven with candlemakers, or whatever. There were always lines we put ourselves on one side of or the other. But whether or not to be a Jew—that wasn’t a choice, or rather, non-Jews made the choice for us.

Then, all of a sudden, for those of us in Europe, there was. With the Enlightenment, there was the promise of no more fences. After thousands of years, we could ask, Mi anochi? We could be whoever we wanted to be. Things went wrong in Europe, but they kept trying in America, building on the idea that nobody could tell you what it meant to be a Jew.

“Who am I?” we asked. Mi anochi? There were so many answers: Zionists, Reform, Orthodox,

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Hanukkah and the Holocaust: What stories are we telling our Jewish kids?

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If, as Jewish parents, we care so much about sharing Judaism with our kids, why aren’t we doing it through the books we read them???

Only slightly frustrated by a flood of Chanukah books coming at me from all sides, I decided to go to my friendly local online library (in Toronto) and search for various keywords of Jewish life, just to rank which categories were most important to us, as parents and readers, based on how many kids’ books turned up in each category.

So it turns out we’re telling our kids a whole lot – about Hanukkah and the Holocaust. And not much else.

I want to point out up front that this search was never