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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
With William James I met a finite god, which was a pleasure.
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David Hartman, Orthodox rabbi and philosopher who founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

We’re in the final throes of producing this stirring interview for release on September 20th. Hold on to your hats; it’s a dandy!

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Finding Refuge in the Month of Elul

by Carly Lesser (Ketzirah), guest contributor

Joy(photo: Love Fusion Photography by Kelsey/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

It’s Jewish tradition to read Psalm 27 daily during the month of Elul, which falls during August and September. In this month of Elul, we have no holidays. It’s the month where we are supposed to turn inward and prepare for the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. It always seems like this month should be one of quiet reflection, but it never is for me.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…”

I started to adopt this practice a few years ago, and found that the words of the Psalm were exactly what I seemed to need to get through the month, which seems to have become a time of trial in my life each year. This year, like so many recent ones, seems to be following this pattern.

“Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;”

I’m conscious of not only my own personal trials and tribulations this year, but also our societal ones. So far this month, there have been hurricanes and floods on the East Coast and terrible droughts and fires in the South and West. We’ve also had bad economic news and the beginning of the remembrances of the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11th.

“Hear, O LORD, when I call with my voice, and be gracious unto me, and answer me.”

When I read the words of Psalm 27, it resonates deeply within my body. It doesn’t matter which translation I read. The words feel like mine. They feel like my cry for help to deal with a world that seems to be spinning out of control, whether personally or globally.

“Teach me Thy way, O LORD; and lead me in an even path,”

Each day as I read the Psalm, I’m aware that I am one day closer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the days of remembrance and judgement. I think of the imagery we use: the gates of heaven open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. I think this is sad to think that the gates of divine blessing can only be open to us during this short nine-day period of time.

“If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”

Then I think, ‘Maybe this is why Elul is always so hard. Maybe the infusion of divine energy that is opened to the world so fully at Rosh Hashanah is fading out? Maybe thousands of years of this pattern has ingrained itself so fully on the world that we all feel it? Maybe what we need to do is be extra kind to each other and the world during this time, not for “repentance,” but rather because we need to support each other?’

“Wait on the LORD; be strong, and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for the LORD.”

I believe in the cycles of time. I believe in mythic calendars that move our souls. I look to the “land of the living” to see the beauty, wonder, and mystery of G-d/dess, but it is hard to see in the fading light of the year. I will be strong. I will use these ancient words to remind me of my priorities and to sooth my fears. I will take refuge in Psalm 27 during this time of twilight because I know the sun will rise again and we all will be renewed and refreshed.

*Note, the translation of Psalm 27 is from the JPS 1917 edition of the Tanach.


Carly LesserCarly Lesser (a.k.a. Ketzirah – קצירה) is Kohenet, celebrant, and artist whose passion is helping Jews who are unaffiliated, earth-based, or in interfaith/interdenominational relationships connect more deeply with Judaism and make it relevant in their everyday lives. She is an active blogger and prayer leader on PeelaPom.com and PunkTorah.org.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Glimpses of Jewish Cuba
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Last week I visited one of Cuba’s few operating synagogues. It was founded in 1939 by Sephardic Turkish Jews who immigrated to the eastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba in the first decades of the 20th century. Later, they were joined by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing Nazi persecution.
The synagogue’s doors were shuttered from 1980-1995. I was told that an Argentine rabbi came in the 1990s and helped to revive Jewish life here. Today, roughly two dozen members attend services. Over the years, the Jewish community in Santiago de Cuba has dwindled. People have opted to leave Cuba to make a new life in Israel. Still, according to congregant Emma Levy (pictured below in the flowered dress), as long as there’s one member, the doors of the Santiago de Cuba’s historic synagogue will remain open and Shabbat candles will illuminate the temple’s sanctuary each Friday.






(All photos by Nancy Rosenbaum)
Glimpses of Jewish Cuba
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Last week I visited one of Cuba’s few operating synagogues. It was founded in 1939 by Sephardic Turkish Jews who immigrated to the eastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba in the first decades of the 20th century. Later, they were joined by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing Nazi persecution.
The synagogue’s doors were shuttered from 1980-1995. I was told that an Argentine rabbi came in the 1990s and helped to revive Jewish life here. Today, roughly two dozen members attend services. Over the years, the Jewish community in Santiago de Cuba has dwindled. People have opted to leave Cuba to make a new life in Israel. Still, according to congregant Emma Levy (pictured below in the flowered dress), as long as there’s one member, the doors of the Santiago de Cuba’s historic synagogue will remain open and Shabbat candles will illuminate the temple’s sanctuary each Friday.






(All photos by Nancy Rosenbaum)

Glimpses of Jewish Cuba

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Last week I visited one of Cuba’s few operating synagogues. It was founded in 1939 by Sephardic Turkish Jews who immigrated to the eastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba in the first decades of the 20th century. Later, they were joined by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing Nazi persecution.

The synagogue’s doors were shuttered from 1980-1995. I was told that an Argentine rabbi came in the 1990s and helped to revive Jewish life here. Today, roughly two dozen members attend services. Over the years, the Jewish community in Santiago de Cuba has dwindled. People have opted to leave Cuba to make a new life in Israel. Still, according to congregant Emma Levy (pictured below in the flowered dress), as long as there’s one member, the doors of the Santiago de Cuba’s historic synagogue will remain open and Shabbat candles will illuminate the temple’s sanctuary each Friday.

Norma and Emma outside Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de Cuba

Exterior -  Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de Cuba

Interior of Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de Cuba

Hebrew lesson -  Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de CubaNorma inside  Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de Cuba

Interior  Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de Cuba

Exterior -  Communidad Hebrea Hatikva - Santiago de Cuba

(All photos by Nancy Rosenbaum)

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Tisha B’Av, a Time for Lament Among Jews

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Tisha B'Av commemorationMarching in Jerusalem during Tisha B’Av commemoration. (photo: Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images)

Tisha B’Av, also called the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning for Jews around the world. On this day, they commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, including events reaching back to ancient times — the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE. The Holocaust and the start of World War I are also associated with this day.

Also called the "darkest day" of the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av is observed with prayers, fasting, and very specific mourning behavior which prohibits bathing, marital relations, wearing luxuries like leather shoes, and idle chatter or leisure activities. At night the synagogue is darkened, and The Book of Eicha (Lamentations) is read by candlelight.

Reading from LamentationsReading from the book of Eicha (Book of Lamentations) during the annual Tisha B’Av in the Ultra Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. (photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Mourners also gather at the Wailing Wall (remains of the second temple) to recite kinot for the dead, and in some communities blow the shofar at the end of the fast as an expression of hope for the future.

Blowing the Shofar at the Wailing WallBlowing the Shofar at the Wailing Wall. (photo: Johnathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

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A powerful store of social capital still exists. It is called religion: the churches, synagogues and other places of worship that still bring people together in shared belonging and mutual responsibility. The evidence shows that religious people – defined by regular attendance at a place of worship – actually do make better neighbours. … Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good.
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The Chief RabbiJonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom

In his article in the New Statesman, the chief rabbi builds on Robert Putnam’s recent research on the role of religion in public life. Sacks argues that religion and its institutions can, and should, play an important role in civil society — as an instructive model and a great convener of people. 

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

(photo: Dean Ayres/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

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Adolph Hitler’s 1919 Letter Reveals His Anti-Semitism
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
An eery document in the context of history. Adolph Hitler’s typewritten letter from 1919 revealing his hatred of the Jewish people was presented in New York yesterday and will go on display in Los Angeles. In the document, Hitler refers to the Jews as a “racial tuberculosis on the nation” and told Captain Karl Mayr, the officer who requested Hitler’s assessment, that the “final goal must be the removal of the Jews. To accomplish these goals, only a government of National power is capable and never a government of national weakness.”
(via cheatsheet)
Adolph Hitler’s 1919 Letter Reveals His Anti-Semitism
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
An eery document in the context of history. Adolph Hitler’s typewritten letter from 1919 revealing his hatred of the Jewish people was presented in New York yesterday and will go on display in Los Angeles. In the document, Hitler refers to the Jews as a “racial tuberculosis on the nation” and told Captain Karl Mayr, the officer who requested Hitler’s assessment, that the “final goal must be the removal of the Jews. To accomplish these goals, only a government of National power is capable and never a government of national weakness.”
(via cheatsheet)

Adolph Hitler’s 1919 Letter Reveals His Anti-Semitism

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

An eery document in the context of history. Adolph Hitler’s typewritten letter from 1919 revealing his hatred of the Jewish people was presented in New York yesterday and will go on display in Los Angeles. In the document, Hitler refers to the Jews as a “racial tuberculosis on the nation” and told Captain Karl Mayr, the officer who requested Hitler’s assessment, that the “final goal must be the removal of the Jews. To accomplish these goals, only a government of National power is capable and never a government of national weakness.”

(via cheatsheet)

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Bob Dylan, Musical Prophet: BBC Documentary Traces Singer/Songwriter’s Spiritual Journey on His 70th Birthday

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

'Bob Dylan, Rossilli Bay' by Peter RossPainting of ‘Bob Dylan, Rossilli’ by Peter Ross. (photo: Martin Beek/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

The BBC has released Blowing in the Wind: Dylan’s Spiritual Journey in celebration of the singer/songwriter’s 70th birthday. The radio documentary traces Dylan’s path from a Jewish boy bar mitzvahed in Minnesota through and beyond his conversion to evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s. Even if you’re not a die-hard Dylan fan, it’s well worth 30 minutes of your listening time.

The panoply of voices includes Bishop Nick Baines. A long-time Dylan fan, Baines likens the musician to a modern-day Old Testament prophet, someone who uses poetry to speak truth to power:

"He questions why it is the good people who get it right who end up strung up. … If you go back to the Hebrew scriptures that he grew up with, they’re riddled with these complaints, laments, and this question: ‘Why do the wicked prosper?’ But he comes from a tradition that does that. The Jewish community is very good at questions and Dylan gets it.

Bishop Baines and others point out that religious allusions and imagery are recurring in Dylan’s cannon. “Bob Dylan is very much drawing on ancient texts and integrating them into contemporary concerns,” says author Seth Rogovy. Selected lyrics from "Blowing in the Wind" such as “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?” echo specific passages from Isaiah and Ezekiel, says Rogovy.

Dylan’s musical and spiritual path have led him to explore Jerusalem’s Old City and the baptismal waters of Malibu. For Bishop Baines, the theological thread unifying Dylan’s life and work is his ongoing creative wrestling with the human condition:

"He’s constantly looking at human experience and his experience and the way the world is against this backdrop of God and his understanding of the scriptures. And my guess is if he lives to 100 he still will be doing the same thing. … What Dylan gets is the fact that spirituality isn’t divorced from reality. So Dylan moves through loneliness, love, sex, God, meaning, all of that. It’s all in there."
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Canada’s Tent of Abraham: Jews Extend Qur’an to Muslims

by Habeeb Alli, special contributor

ch'town mosque.
A Charlottestown mosque in Canada invites all. (photo: level 5 vegan/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

I’m thrilled again to have been a part of recent history. While someone burned the Qur’an in the United States, another presented us with a Qur’an in an expression of solidarity. I told this to my congregation during a Friday service and they were all moved by the gesture.

For the eighth year, an exercise of interfaith exchange between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Ontario has progressed in good faith — and the gift of the Qur’an was this year’s highlight. The Abraham Festival in Peterborough originated on the premise that all three faiths have a common heritage, which needs to be explored and shared. Walking through the symbolic tent of Abraham — referring to the biblical prophet’s tent, a place of hospitality and engagement with strangers which was open to the four winds — in order to enter the St. Andrew’s United Church gave attendees the sense that history can be relived, even in a modern-day setting.

Dr. Dan Houpt, a Jewish partner, facilitator, and doctor who has been keen in bringing the three faiths together in Peterborough, presented the Qur’an to us Muslims during the festival last month. He first suggested the idea to his Muslim counterpart and co-founder Elizabeth Rahman, who then consulted with the Canadian Council of Imams about the gift. Rahman is a convert from the UK and first became active in the community in the 1970s, with her late Indian husband.

The Muslims Students Association at the nearby Trent University hosted the Friday service, on the first day of the festival this year, so that Christian and Jewish neighbours could observe the presenting of the Qur’an. Houpt offered some thoughts on the gift, stating, “It shows we stand with [Muslims] in solidarity,” and then added that this offering “shows it’s a terrible act to burn a holy book.”

I offered my gratitude and reminded the audience — comprised of people of all three faiths — that it is a tribute well received on behalf of all Muslims and that the desecration of any holy book is an attack on all Holy Scriptures. I also reminded them that this act was in line with a historic tradition when the Muslim Ibn Rushd, Jewish Maimonides, and Christian Thomas Aquinas learnt from one another’s works in 12th-century Spain, which even John Paul II recognised as being of significant historical importance.

This year’s theme of the Abraham Festival was forgiveness. Many facilitators were present to share what their faith offered on the subject of forgiving others. In my speech, I told attendees that “forgiveness is an interesting topic because you often need it for people you love the most. The person you love the most can hurt you the most. And forgiveness lightens the burden.”

The presentation of the Qur’an by the local Jewish community was a way to show goodwill and remove any misunderstanding and hurt that Muslims may have experienced in today’s unfortunate atmosphere of Islamophobia — something Jews can relate to given their long years of dealing with anti-Semitism.

I also told festival goers that recently a group of Jewish people had donated money and time to build a mosque in Toronto. Television producer Kenny Hotz will highlight this daring project, the Peace Mosque, in his documentary to be shown on the Showcase Television channel this spring.

Rahman was recognised during the event and I handed her a card of appreciation along with the Qur’an, which she will use during her tours to the area’s schools and prisons. Muslims have been overwhelmed by and thankful for this token of solidarity, for such is the tradition of Abraham.


Habeeb AlliHabeeb Alli is a freelance writer for The Ambition, a scholar on allexperts.com, and the author of 12 books on Islam.

A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on May 10, 2011. Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Touching our Trembling Places: A Generational Story for Yom HaShoah

by Iris Tzafrir, guest contributor

Eisenmann Memorial, BerlinA balloon flies over Eisenmann Memorial in Berlin. (photo: Danny/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Our household was a heavy one. I always felt the presence of sadness and loss; those emotions were part of everything that took place in our family, including birthdays and personal achievements. I knew where the sadness and sense of loss came from, to an extent, from stories that Aba (my father Yehoshua) told — and from his writings.

Growing up, I did not want to touch those places where the sadness and loss came from. Ouri, my oldest brother, calls these hard to touch places hamekomot harotetim, “the trembling places” inside of us.

As I matured, I came to believe that, if I got courageous and got close to these trembling places, I might be able to help myself and those I love to heal from that sadness and sense of loss. And maybe eventually this package of sadness and loss would not be so overwhelming and heavily present in my life.

A Murdered Family Made More Real

A Sign on the Wall of BelzecA wall at the entry to the Belzec extermination camp in Poland reads: “This is the site of the murder of about 500,000 victims of the Belzec death camp established for the purpose of killing the Jews of Europe, whose live where brutally taken between February and December 1942 by Nazi Germany. ‘Earth do not cover my blood; / let there be no resting / place for my outcry!’ Job 16:18’.” (photo: Iris Tzafrir)

Last year, my siblings and I traveled for the first time with Aba to Poland and Germany to visit places of significance in Aba’s life before and during the Shoah. Belzec is an extermination camp located in Lublin county in eastern Poland, where we believe Aba’s parents and four younger siblings were murdered during the spring of 1941.

We prepared to conduct a memorial ceremony with kipot (head coverings), memory candles, and poetry written by Aba. My brother Assaf opened the ceremony, saying that we were gathered there in memory of our grandfather Tuvia, our grandmother Miriam, and our uncles and aunts Schiendel, Israel, Tzvi, Sara-Eitah, Roza, and Yehudit.

We then read Aba’s poem, “In the Illumination of Lightning”:

In the illumination of lightning
I saw a frightened boy in an open field
Distancing himself from a well-branched aspen that is being severed at once.
Gashes of a downpour are beating on his back
And the tears of his face mix with the water columns.
Such powerlessness.

As the flood silences down he will come into his ark
Wondering from what will he construct his world that was destroyed.

It was hard reading Aba’s poems to completion without choking and spilling into tears. Working our way through the ceremony was about courage. I felt courageous standing and reading Aba’s poems in Belzec, memorializing with purpose our murdered family members whom we had never met.

The ceremony made our murdered family more real than before because I now had a place to associate with the sense of sadness and loss absorbed from Aba over the years. I knew that it made Aba feel good to see us being courageous. It was an attribute that was held in high esteem in our family: you don’t run away when a situation is hard; you stay and grind through it, if necessary, because something beneficial, albeit hidden, might come out of such situation.

A Journey to Renewal and Healing

At the Gate of AuschwitzIris Tzafrir, her father Yehoshua (seated in wheelchair), and her siblings Ouri, Ora, and Assaf stand at the entrance to the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland. (photo: Iris Tzafrir)

We concluded our 10-day trip on the grounds of Block 66 in Buchenwald, Germany, where Aba arrived after a death march that started in Auschwitz III (Buna-Monowitz). Aba described his liberation moments on April 11th, 1945: an American tank went through the main gate of Buchenwald, and from the top of the tank a black soldier came out and said: “You are free.”

Standing on the grounds of Block 66, Ouri pushed Aba for details, reaching to touch a trembling place, trying to frame the enormity of the moment.

“How did you see the black soldier? How did you hear him say ‘You are free?’”

Aba answered crying, “You hear these words everywhere; after all the atrocities we went through, these words come from the heavens.”

Between Tishah Be’aav, the day memorializing the destruction of the Temple, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Jewish people read from the book of Isaiah. In chapter 54, verses 7-9, God promises:

"For a brief moment I forsake you, but I will gather you with great compassion; in an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says God, your Redeemer; this is like the waters of Noah to me; I swore that the waters of Noah would never again submerge the earth; similarly, I swore that I would not be angry with you and would not rebuke you.”
—from The Living Torah, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

When I listen to Aba recalling himself as a small boy holding on to his mother’s hand when they walked together to the Thursday market in Dombrova, near Krakow, I ask, “How could You leave us, even for a moment? In the one brief moment that the prophet Isaiah talks about, I feel that You have forsaken the boy in the ‘Illumination of Lightning’”:

As the flood silences down he will come into his ark
Wondering from what will he construct his world that was destroyed
.”

We read from Isaiah during the transition period from destruction to renewal. The trip we took is part of our family’s attempt to get closer to our trembling places where we feel anger, sadness, and loss of trust. Now that we have visited the trembling places as the real places that they are, we are able to continually use them as sources for reflection in our journey to renewal and healing. We find such renewal and healing by creating anew:

What is good in life is to create.
To create, from what is and from what is not.
To breath life into a clean fresh page,
Line to line, crossing and toasting each other.
Forms coalesce in the real and in the abstract
Leading you in awe among mazes.
Do not fear, Ariadne in a thread of grace
Will bring you into light.

Mix the colors, knead the material,
Slightly swing with your hammer and determinedly remove
Oddments that seize beauty.

Creation is born in pain,
Because you have to start anew.
What is good in creating, is that you never conclude.

—“What is Good in Life” by Yehoshua Tzafrir, translated from Hebrew by Iris Tzafrir


Iris TzafrirIris Tzafrir is an Israeli who has been living in the United States for the last 20 years. Trained as a scientist, she manages intellectual property transactions in the agriculture industry. She regularly speaks and writes about being a second generation of Shoah survivors.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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The Gratitude of a Firstborn Before Passover (Pesach)

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Seder PlateSeder plate (photo: Dana Skolnick/Flickr)

Today is ta’anit (“fast”) bekhorim (“of the firstborn”), the day before Passover begins, when only the first-born males of Jewish families abstain from eating. In our show on Exodus, Avivah Zornberg describes the tragedy of the tenth plague, the plague of the firstborn, and how the tradition of eating unleavened bread during Passover came about from that story:

"And that God passes over the Israelite houses as the firstborn in the Egyptian houses are dying. It’s actually rather a terrible. One can just imagine the sounds, the crying. And I think there is really a feeling of pressure at that moment. This is not an ecstatic moment. The word that’s used in the Hebrew text, here and in later retellings of the story in Deuteronomy, is chipazon. Chipazon means “panic haste.” And you should eat the paschal offering, the sacrifice that the Israelites were supposed to eat on that night, you shall eat it in haste, which is always a strange commandment. Ahead of time, you should prepare to eat it in haste.”

It’s not the tempo. It’s the — the people are being told ahead of time that the way in which you will experience this will be pressured, there’ll be a sense of pressure. The Egyptians will be rushing you out of Egypt. But most of all, what’s called the haste of God himself, a sense of history, a sense of the redemption as something that God is making happen rather faster than people can really assimilate it. Things are happening very fast at that moment, and people are almost not capable of registering what is really going on, as one often is not at critical moments of experience, cataclysmic moments.

MatzoUnleavened matzo bread (photo: paurian/Flickr)

The uninviting, dry, brittle matzo bread is meant to remind Jews of what nourished them in the midst of that “panic haste” created out of great trauma.

The religious symbolism of fasting is an act of gratitude for the life you have and the time when you can eat again.

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Steve and Cokie Roberts Discuss the Importance of Ritual for Christian and Jewish Families

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"Marrying a Catholic, in some ways, made me more Jewish."
Steve Roberts

"When I was pregnant for our first child, I understood the meaning of Passover and wanted to have that celebration in our home and didn’t know how to go about it."
Cokie Roberts

Steve and Cokie Roberts WeddingWho knew that listening to two veteran power journalists discuss their “mixed” marriage, the meaning of Passover, and the importance of the Seder could be so delightful and entertaining? If you’re looking for apleasant 20 minutes to spend this weekend morning, listen to Sara Ivry’s interview with Cokie and Steve Roberts for Vox Tablet. Ivry’s style and demeanor are relaxed and comfortable, which makes you feel like you’re participating in a dinner table discussion rather than a question-and-answer session.

For me personally, I know that as my wife and I transition our boys from preschool at a Jewish community center to a Catholic elementary school (both foreign worlds to me), I don’t want to lose some of the gifts and rituals present in both of these faiths and people. This conversation is a refreshing, uplifting perspective that I found quite helpful in making the most of one’s own journey.

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Educational Inequality Divides Israeli Jews
by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Aside from Israel’s ongoing conflict with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, it must also deal with the internal complexities that exist in most modern societies, like immigration and racial discrimination.
An example of this can be seen inside the immigrant and impoverished neighborhood of Katamonim of Jerusalem. There, the Kedma School serves Jewish students that come from countries such as Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq —  called Mizrahi Jews. Kedma’s mission is to combat the educational inequality these students face at other schools where the dominant population of students are Jews of Eastern European descent — called Ashkenazi Jews.
It’s a small school for 160 seventh to 12th graders. Many of these Mizrahi students were unpopular at their previous schools. Some say they weren’t accepted socially, seen as outsiders by their classmates and troublemakers by their instructors.
The Kedma School provides smaller class sizes — two teachers for every 26 students — than the typical public school, which has one teacher for more than every 40 students. According to the school’s website, only 10 percent of students from the greater Katamonia community complete high school. Many of these students come from single parent homes and are not encouraged to pursue professional careers in other schools.
Yardena Hamu (pictured above) grew up in this neighborhood and faced the same discrimination as these students. After receiving her bachelors’ degree in art, she returned to be a mentor and teacher at the Kedma School.
Having migrated from Iraq, Hamu can relate to her students. She keeps them motivated as though they were her own children: “We hug them, we kiss them, and we shout at them.”
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as  part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.
Educational Inequality Divides Israeli Jews
by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Aside from Israel’s ongoing conflict with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, it must also deal with the internal complexities that exist in most modern societies, like immigration and racial discrimination.
An example of this can be seen inside the immigrant and impoverished neighborhood of Katamonim of Jerusalem. There, the Kedma School serves Jewish students that come from countries such as Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq —  called Mizrahi Jews. Kedma’s mission is to combat the educational inequality these students face at other schools where the dominant population of students are Jews of Eastern European descent — called Ashkenazi Jews.
It’s a small school for 160 seventh to 12th graders. Many of these Mizrahi students were unpopular at their previous schools. Some say they weren’t accepted socially, seen as outsiders by their classmates and troublemakers by their instructors.
The Kedma School provides smaller class sizes — two teachers for every 26 students — than the typical public school, which has one teacher for more than every 40 students. According to the school’s website, only 10 percent of students from the greater Katamonia community complete high school. Many of these students come from single parent homes and are not encouraged to pursue professional careers in other schools.
Yardena Hamu (pictured above) grew up in this neighborhood and faced the same discrimination as these students. After receiving her bachelors’ degree in art, she returned to be a mentor and teacher at the Kedma School.
Having migrated from Iraq, Hamu can relate to her students. She keeps them motivated as though they were her own children: “We hug them, we kiss them, and we shout at them.”
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as  part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

Educational Inequality Divides Israeli Jews

by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Aside from Israel’s ongoing conflict with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, it must also deal with the internal complexities that exist in most modern societies, like immigration and racial discrimination.

An example of this can be seen inside the immigrant and impoverished neighborhood of Katamonim of Jerusalem. There, the Kedma School serves Jewish students that come from countries such as Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq — called Mizrahi Jews. Kedma’s mission is to combat the educational inequality these students face at other schools where the dominant population of students are Jews of Eastern European descent — called Ashkenazi Jews.

It’s a small school for 160 seventh to 12th graders. Many of these Mizrahi students were unpopular at their previous schools. Some say they weren’t accepted socially, seen as outsiders by their classmates and troublemakers by their instructors.

The Kedma School provides smaller class sizes — two teachers for every 26 students — than the typical public school, which has one teacher for more than every 40 students. According to the school’s website, only 10 percent of students from the greater Katamonia community complete high school. Many of these students come from single parent homes and are not encouraged to pursue professional careers in other schools.

Yardena Hamu (pictured above) grew up in this neighborhood and faced the same discrimination as these students. After receiving her bachelors’ degree in art, she returned to be a mentor and teacher at the Kedma School.

Having migrated from Iraq, Hamu can relate to her students. She keeps them motivated as though they were her own children: “We hug them, we kiss them, and we shout at them.”


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…
by Robyn Carolyn Price, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week  and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University  of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication &  Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of  our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this  complex place.

While walking around the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, Yardena Hamu explains that this rock formation is a sculpture that was created by a local artist.

Yardena, a Mizrahi Jew, has lived in this lower class area, generally reserved for non-Ashkenazi Jews, her entire life. Members of this community often suffer discrimination because of the countries they migrate to Israel from — such as Ethiopia, Iraq, and other Arab countries.

For as long as Yardena can remember, these rocks have been scattered about her neighborhood. And so a local artist took neighborhood beautification into his own hands and created a sculpture the community could be proud to look at.
When Life Gives You Lemons…
by Robyn Carolyn Price, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week  and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University  of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication &  Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of  our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this  complex place.

While walking around the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, Yardena Hamu explains that this rock formation is a sculpture that was created by a local artist.

Yardena, a Mizrahi Jew, has lived in this lower class area, generally reserved for non-Ashkenazi Jews, her entire life. Members of this community often suffer discrimination because of the countries they migrate to Israel from — such as Ethiopia, Iraq, and other Arab countries.

For as long as Yardena can remember, these rocks have been scattered about her neighborhood. And so a local artist took neighborhood beautification into his own hands and created a sculpture the community could be proud to look at.
When Life Gives You Lemons…
by Robyn Carolyn Price, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week  and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University  of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication &  Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of  our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this  complex place.

While walking around the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, Yardena Hamu explains that this rock formation is a sculpture that was created by a local artist.

Yardena, a Mizrahi Jew, has lived in this lower class area, generally reserved for non-Ashkenazi Jews, her entire life. Members of this community often suffer discrimination because of the countries they migrate to Israel from — such as Ethiopia, Iraq, and other Arab countries.

For as long as Yardena can remember, these rocks have been scattered about her neighborhood. And so a local artist took neighborhood beautification into his own hands and created a sculpture the community could be proud to look at.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

by Robyn Carolyn Price, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

While walking around the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, Yardena Hamu explains that this rock formation is a sculpture that was created by a local artist.

Yardena, a Mizrahi Jew, has lived in this lower class area, generally reserved for non-Ashkenazi Jews, her entire life. Members of this community often suffer discrimination because of the countries they migrate to Israel from — such as Ethiopia, Iraq, and other Arab countries.

For as long as Yardena can remember, these rocks have been scattered about her neighborhood. And so a local artist took neighborhood beautification into his own hands and created a sculpture the community could be proud to look at.

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The Difficulty Of “Belonging” — And Not Belonging — To Israel

by Kevin Douglas Grant, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

As we cruised southeast from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem’s Old City, our Palestinian driver Yasser — “like Yasser Arafat,” he reminded us — pointed out Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, just to our left. The West Bank, we realized, was immediately adjacent to the Highway 443. We passed village after village, walled and fenced, the minarets of mosques visible in the distance. Ofer Prison, where a year ago 200 Palestinians "rioted" against the detainment of Fatah leaders there, slipped by. Its gray guard towers and barbed wire almost matched the rainy sky.

Yasser said he has the proper card that allows him to work as a driver, which means he “belongs to Israel.” As we passed another village, this one with uniform cement buildings lined atop a craggy hill, Yasser said that particular Palestinian area had achieved the same status from Israel. Later, two of us caught a ride into the Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Adumium on the same Highway 1, invited to attend Shabbat dinner at the home of a Jewish peace activist and construction worker. The guard at military checkpoint outside the settlement waved us through without hesitation.

“Palestinians have to have a permit,” explained Leah Lublin, originally from Canada. She and husband Al immigrated to Israel with her husband 17 years ago. They chose Ma’ale Adumium because the cost of an apartment there was right, far cheaper than one in Jerusalem a few miles away. Over more than a dozen courses, the two took turns lamenting the way many of their neighbors fear Arabs, and said they’re working through their own ingrained mistrust:

“When the Arab laborers are working on the street, people get on edge,” Al Lublin said, explaining that he loses some construction jobs because he employs several Arabs. ”They’re just focusing on their work, but everybody gets nervous.”

Talk ranged from their children’s service in the Israel Defense Forces to Egypt to The Rolling Stones. Leah leads interfaith dialogues to try to bring Jews, Muslims, and Christians together without getting too mired in politics. The husband and wife said they both preferred to focus on day-to-day living and peacemaking, blocking out somewhat the fact that they live in disputed territory. ”I’m more spiritual than religious,” says Al Lublin. “For a Jew, living in Israel is more important than all the other 613 [mizvot, “commandments”]. So I have more freedom to focus on the people in my life.”

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Tattoos and Torah: One Woman’s Journey to the Rabbinate

by Robyn Carolyn Price, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Rabbi Rochelle
Rabbi Rochelle Kamins

Rabbi Rochelle Kamins has not always felt Jewish enough. No youth group or summer camp. She never did all of the things that young Jewish people were “supposed” to do. But she always wanted to feel like she fit, and that she could belong — tattoos, motorcycles, and all. Relaxed in her office at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades where she is the youth activities director, Rabbi Rochelle talks candidly about her non-traditional road to the rabbinate and why she doesn’t plan on conforming anytime soon.

“I think everyone has an image of a rabbi,” says Rabbi Rochelle laughing. “They think old white man with a beard and big hat. Just like when you ask most kids what God looks like, he is still the man on the cloudy throne in the sky.”

Rabbi Rochelle is a bit of an anomaly. Adorned with tattoos, albeit inconspicuously, she drives her Honda CBR F4i motorcycle through Los Angeles traffic en route to perform one of her rabbinic duties. Ordained in 2009 as a Reform rabbi, she has built an image on being different and welcoming people into Judaism that might not fit the mold.

Her goal is to make change in the Jewish community — in the way that Jews look at other Jews. She has a passion that stems from a lifetime of feeling like people were looking at her as if she could not be a part of the community, because she didn’t participate in all of the things that constituted being a “good” Jew. As a rabbi, she aims to help people foster connections within the community while being a reflection of what she believes are different, yet acceptable routes to Judaism.

She tells the story of a couple who asked her to perform their wedding on a Saturday, the day of rest in Judaism where working or getting married is against tradition. The couple grew up Jewish and were interested in maintaining a Jewish household, however were not currently connected to a synagogue. They shared with her horror stories of other rabbis who had refused to perform the ceremony and told the couple that they were not Jewish because of their decision to get married on Shabbat.

"I had a conversation with them and explained the tradition," recalls Rabbi Rochelle. "The date and the place for their wedding was already set. Is it the worse thing in the world? No. The worst thing in the world would be if the next rabbi said no. And the next rabbi said no, and the next. Then they would be lost. Why would anyone come into a community if they feel like the door keeps getting slammed in their face?"

Raised in San Francisco by her mother, a more traditional Jew from the Bronx, and her father, an L.A. Socialist Jew, Rabbi Rochelle’s experience was anything but traditional. “How the two of them came together and created a rabbi is anyone’s guess,” chuckles Rabbi Rochelle.

Her upbringing, however, cultivated a sensitivity for Jewish people whose lives did not fit perfectly within the boundaries of traditional Jewish practice or thought. “My dad’s parents were basically communists,” says Rabbi Rochelle. “You know L.A. Socialists had meetings in their house. One of my grandparents’ good friends was a lawyer who was defending people at the Supreme Court during the Red Scare and all of that. My dad’s father was very anti-organized religion. He was all about science and reason. My grandfather was like, ‘Oh sure you can have a bar mitzvah, if you believe in that.”

Rabbi Rochelle at Her Father's Bar Mitzvah
Rabbi Rochelle Kamins at her father’s bar mitzvah.

Her father, who is in his sixties, never had a bar mitzvah until she performed it last November. “We had a deal,” says Rabbi Rochelle with a smile. “He said he would have a bar mitzvah when I could be the rabbi. It was pretty cool.”

Her mother shares that her daughter’s decision to become a rabbi came as a huge surprise: “I knew after she went to college that she would do something with kids and Judaism, but had no idea that she would take this route.”

Veering from the beaten path has become one of Rabbi Rochelle’s hallmarks. She successfully petitioned UC San Diego to allow her to create her own undergraduate major in Modern Israeli Society and Israeli Culture. And in rabbinical school she wrote her thesis on the question of tattoos in Judaism, "The Illustrated Jew: A New Jewish Perspective on Tattoos," hoping to give a reference to people like herself that were trying to find a balance between the secular world and their Judaism.

"I did a ton of research before I got my tattoos," she says. "And I eventually came to the conclusion that body art did not make God angry with me or make me a bad Jew. I am not a bad person and I live my life with integrity.”

Rabbi Rochelle’s body is adorned with two tattoos, although the second one can hardly be considered a single tattoo. It initially started off as a tattoo on her back that spelled the word “love” in the shape of a heart. It has since morphed into an olive tree, which makes the heart appear more like a carving in the tree. The olive tree has special significance in Judaism.

The word emet, meaning “truth” in Hebrew, is tattooed on her hip and was designed to look like it was written on her body with a black Sharpie. The tattoo’s placement was carefully chosen, as she wanted it to be a bit hidden, just for her, and to serve as a reminder to always walk in truth and integrity.

Rabbi Rochelle Ordination
Rabbi Rochelle’s ordination.

Walking in truth and integrity for Rabbi Rochelle has not always been an easy road to travel. Adopting the unpopular position that someone’s sexual preference, body art, or piercings has nothing to do with their spirituality has presented its fair share of challenges. She is aware that she might be looked at as a bit of an outsider, and is sometimes referred for jobs that quite possibly nobody else will take. Weddings on a Saturday. An interfaith wedding with a minister. She gets the impression at times that people refer these jobs to her because they think, “Oh, it’s Rochelle, she’ll do anything.” That just because she is open in some ways, that she has no boundaries or rules, that there is no method to her madness.

“So many people go through the motions,” says Rabbi Rochelle. “They go to religious school. They do the things, but there is no real connection. I want people to stay connected and to let people know that even if they feel different, like they don’t fit or they don’t belong, there is still room here. You know, they say that Abraham’s tent was open on all four sides, so that visitors or people coming from any direction — he could greet them. I really think that is what the synagogue should be and that is what a rabbi should be. A rabbi is like Abraham, open on all sides and ready to welcome anyone in when they are ready and from whichever direction they come.”


Robyn Carolyn PriceRobyn Carolyn Price is native of Los Angeles, California. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University, and studied in Florence, Italy. She is currently a Masters Candidate in the Specialized Journalism Program at the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism. Her specialization is American politics and its effects on marginalized communities.

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