A future Olympic event?
Photo of the Day: July 30, 2012
July 30, 2012
A boy looks on as tens of thousands of Ultra Orthodox Jews attend a celebration marking completion of a seven-and a-half year daily study-cycle of the entire Talmud
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
I know about leaving. People would say to me ‘If you don’t like it, go change it.’ What they mean is, ‘Go away and change it.’ But there’s power to staying.
—Tova Hartman, founder of Shira Hadasha, a modern Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem that has no central leadership or rabbi, and permits women to lead services and bat mitzvah ceremonies.
Read Kevin Grant’s full article on The Huffington Post.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Coexistence Is in the Eye of the Beholder for Design School Students in Haifa
by Jessica Donath, USC graduate journalism student
At the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education in Haifa, a microwave is one of the hot-button issues for students and faculty alike.
“He won’t let us have one because it will be difficult to make sure non-kosher food stays out of the microwave,” says Jonathan Land, the third-year graphic design student’s voice and facial expression caught between restraint and outrage as he describes a diktat from David Alexander, the school’s president.
This type of problem illustrates the tensions between religious and secular Jews in Israel. This level of religious conflict, however, was not on the official agenda when students and faculty met with journalism students from the University of Southern California to discuss how the power of art can facilitate coexistence.
The Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education was founded in 1971 by WIZO, an international women’s Zionist organization, and is located in this seaside city’s multicultural German Colony. In 1868, German members of the Evangelical Templar order started settling in the area. They believed that doing so would hasten the second coming of Christ.
“I could have not found a better home for it,” says David Alexander, an Orthodox Jew.
The eloquent educator has no trouble introducing nuance into the discussion. He acknowledges the kosher problem but reminds students that he did not want his school, with all its open space, to permanently smell like a cafeteria. This issue, too, like many questions that touch religion, democracy, or land in Israel, is complicated.
Alexander explains that Neri Bloomfield was different than other Israeli arts and design schools because its students are trained to become high school teachers in their field.
For most of the visiting journalism students, Jewish Israelis, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds studying together with Christian and Muslim Arab-Israelis is the distinguishing element. While this fact of life in institutions of higher education in Israel seems normal to the Israeli students and far less exciting than the low student-to-faculty ratio at the school, their USC counterparts have trouble moving past it.
In smaller group sessions, they inquire about the relationship between arts and politics, as well as the potentially transformative experience that studying and creating art together could have for Jewish and Arabic students.
“I don’t think the idea of a transformative experience is exactly what you should be looking for. How we live our lives on a day-to-day basis is enough,” says photography student Eric Judkowitz, after regaining his composure from laughing hard at the question put to him.
For Hady Azaizy, the only Arab-Israeli graphic design student currently enrolled at Neri Bloomfield, there are just not enough Arabs in the four design-oriented departments (architecture, graphic design, photography and documentary film) to turn his education into a deliberate exercise in coexistence. Thirty percent of the school’s total student body are Arab-Israelis, but most of them don’t study toward a degree in one of the creative disciplines. Rather, their focus is in culture and educational management.
“Me and you can be in one room together for four years, and maybe I will learn something about you, and maybe you will learn something about me. But just because I study in a place where there are Jews and Arabs doesn’t mean there will be communication,” he says.
But the school they attend is not a place for loners, adds Itay Eylon, who grew up on a kibbutz. When students criticize very personal works in front of a classroom of their peers, they need to be respectful of the narratives and beliefs that are revealed through art.
Suri Michaeli was looking for openness when she chose a university. The modern Orthodox woman received her primary education at a religious girls school, and she considered more of the same at a small religious arts college. But instead she chose Neri Bloomfield.
“I was looking for a very open place. I didn’t want to be closed-minded. I wanted to have all the experiences that you have here,” she says. Too many topics are taboo in religious schools, she explains while sitting next to Hady, whom she helps to find the right English words to express himself during the group discussion.
For the Neri Bloomfield students, talking about coexistence is far less important than living it.
Jessica Donath is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, she moved to California in 2009 after spending a year in Prague, Czech Republic, where she studied journalism and political science. She has written and published articles in German and English.
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We all want to see more and more Jews immigrating to Israel, but we aren’t willing to accept conversion over the Internet or by mail.
Haaretz reports that Danon recently affirmed Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s decision not to recognize conversions by most Orthodox rabbis outside of Israel. The implication is that many converts may not be “eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews.”
In his explanation, Rabbi Amar cites that Orthodox rabbis from the European and American continents are receiving bribes from converts up to the sum of one million U.S. dollars.
Finding God in the Face of the Stranger
by Krista Tippett, host
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (center) marches side-by-side with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (right), demanding action to halve poverty worldwide by 2015. (photo: Cate Gillon/Getty Images)
I interviewed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks twice in our recent days at Emory, and these separate encounters offered an interesting glimpse of the range of this man. If you heard our show with him on stage discussing happiness with the Dalai Lama, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori, and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, you experienced an exuberant storyteller who captivated a room of 4000. But I first met him for a one-on-one conversation two days earlier, on a Friday afternoon as Sabbath approached. That day, as in the happiness discussion, he offered my favorite new definition of Sabbath — a time to focus on “the things that are important but not urgent.” And he was in an altogether quieter, reflective mode. This is the man you’ll encounter in this show.
I’ve been wanting to interview Jonathan Sacks for several years, intrigued by what I’ve read of him and, in particular, by the evocative and helpful phrase he’s developed: “the dignity of difference.” This suggests a kind of sacred alternative and addendum to the language of “tolerance,” the limits of which I discussed with Evangelical leader Richard Mouw several weeks ago. Jonathan Sacks is in a unique position to ponder faithful, theological approaches to life in a multi-religious, globalized world. The Office of Chief Rabbi was a creation of Victorian-era Britain, a kind of imperial Jewish corollary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is himself an Orthodox Jew, and holds formal religious authority in that community alone. But as chief rabbi, he is the public voice of British Judaism.
And as a deep thinker and wise voice, Jonathan Sacks has carved out his own kind of moral authority in the modern United Kingdom — a relatively secular culture in what remains an officially Christian state. He is asked to advise government ministers and the royal family. He reflects on issues of the day in media and public venues. He is a masterful writer.
I focused in, for this conversation, on his understanding of “difference” in Jewish and religious perspective. For what could be more urgent? Behind our great contemporary political, ecological, and social challenges, we struggle to find new ways to see and live with the “other” — and to understand the well-being of the other as linked to our own. Science itself is revealing that this kind of awareness can make a profound biological and behavioral difference — leading us towards forgiveness over revenge, peace over war. And Jonathan Sacks is one of the most articulate champions I’ve found for intentionally tapping the vast resources of wisdom on “the other” that his tradition has carried forward across time and through no small amount of tragedy.
Some of Jonathan Sacks’ convictions might sound counterintuitive culturally and religiously. The unity of God is itself the source of diversity, he notes, pointing from the Bible to the natural world. And moral imagination in a pluralistic world is about finding more substantive and thoughtful ways to bring the fruits of our particularities to bear. “By being what only I can be,” he says, “I give humanity what only I can give.”
At the depth of our traditions, Jonathan Sacks says to the faithful, we are called to see a God who is bigger than us, who will surprise us, who will show himself in places we never expect God to be: in the face of the stranger, and in the practice of a radically different faith. Jonathan Sacks embodies the mix of humility and boldness, of a passion for both mystery and truth — something I’ve experienced in the wisest individuals I’ve interviewed across the years. Listen, or watch (!), and enjoy.
Moshe Levy’s Time to Shyne, But How Does His Conversion to Orthodox Judaism Fit In?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Dominick Brady got it right. The photo heading The New York Times profile piece of Moses Levi (or is it Moshe Levy Ben-David?), the hip-hop star known as Shyne, is a great photo. But, when it comes to the whys and the hows of Mr. Levy’s path to Orthodox Judaism and his ongoing relationship with the faith — as the headline exploits — the article itself falls short. You’d be better served reading David Brinn’s initial piece or more recently published long-form profile in The Jerusalem Post. Or watching the video above.
Dina Kraft has tapped in to something in the American psyche though. Her article is rapidly spreading online and, as I write this post, it’s the third most emailed article on the Times website. Even several colleagues approached me Thursday wanting to talk about it and proposed posting this pull quote:
“What I do get is boundaries. Definition and form. And that is what Shabbat is. You can’t just do whatever you want to do. You have to set limits for yourself…All these rules, rules, rules…But you know what you have if you don’t have rules? You end up with a bunch of pills in your stomach. When you don’t know when to say when and no one tells you no, you go off the deep.”
This is one of those articles from The New York Times that is so full of promise but leaves the reader with a string of anecdotes and very little understanding. There’s mostly back story; Orthodox Judaism is used as a hook but rarely followed up on here. As I was reading it Wednesday night, I found myself wishing Kraft’s editor would’ve been more generous, and more pressing.
And I found myself feeling a bit empty. Left wanting. Wanting to hear more about the convicted felon’s path to Orthodox Judaism in prison and outside. Wanting to understand why he chose the Orthodox tradition instead of a version of Conservative or Reform Judaism. Wanting to know how the language of the yeshiva is informing his lyrics. Wanting to know more about his Ethiopian Jewish heritage. Wanting to know how he’s living differently because of his new-found faith. Wanting to know more about his current relationship with his father in Belize and his interactions with Jewish communities after being deported from the United States.
We’ll put out a request to get these and other questions answered. And, if you have any of your own, offer up a comment.
(photo: Ricki Rosen for The New York Times)