Ethiopian Jews Arrive, Receiving, Bringing Beautiful New Traditions

Recent olim from Ethiopia celebrate as they dance at a “Hachnasat Sefer Torah” ceremony at The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Ibim Absorption Center. Photo: Ofer Baram, The Jewish Agency for Israel.

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Imagine making aliyah, moving to Israel during incoming missiles from Gaza. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that yesterday, more than 500 new Jewish immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia transformed trauma into joy by welcoming a Torah scroll donated by Charles and Ariela Zeloof. Those at the Jewish Agency’s Ibim Immigrant Absorption Center had spent much of last week in bomb shelters.  

In honor of the arrival and courage of these new immigrants, here is a beautiful story from Ethiopian culture that is creatively retold in Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning by Montreal’s Rabbi Israel Bernath.

“It was the summer of 2001, and I was finding my seat on an Egged bus headed to Tzefat. To my left sat an elderly Ethiopian gentleman; the morning sun protruding from the window cast shadows on his face. His cane leaned against his leg, and a broad smile welcomed me for the next three or so hours. I returned the smile.

“So,” which seemed like a good way to make conversation, “maybe you have a story you can share with me?”

“A story?” He was clearly puzzled, unsure how to stereotype the young, red-bearded, black-hat-wearing rabbi sitting beside him.

“You must have a story to share with the next generation.”

Like an enlightened philosopher, his eyes lit up and his words began to flow:

The story follows the jump.
There was once a king who was growing older in years, and he couldn’t figure out which one of his three children would be the one to assume the throne and rule the kingdom.

His eldest son was strong and brave, a warrior and leader. His middle son was brilliant, quick and witty; he could outsmart just about anyone. His youngest child, his daughter, was young, very young. He loved them all equally and wanted each of them to take over the throne.

He thought and thought and finally came up with an idea. In the middle of the picturesque royal garden, there sat a small shack.

“Whoever can fill the shack to capacity,” the king exclaimed, “will take over my throne.” Each child would have seven days to fill the shack with anything they chose.

The oldest child decided to go first. His siblings watched as he lugged stones and rocks of all shapes and sizes and tossed them into the shack. Day after day he carried the heavy loads. When there was no room left, he filled the cracks and crevices with small pebbles, to fill the room to capacity. At the end of the week, the king walked down the winding, narrow path that led into the garden and reached out to open the door of the shack.

“My son,” the king said as he smiled, “you have filled the shack to capacity; you may be the next king.” He then ordered his servants to empty the shack.

The middle son, the smartest and fastest, took his turn to try to outwit his brother. The others watched as he ran back and forth from the chicken coop to the shack, carrying bags and bags full of feathers, dumping the feathers into the shack, time after time. When there was no room in the shack, he jumped on the feathers to make room for more. Before long, the entire shack was filled to capacity with feathers and so was the rest of the garden.

At the end of the week, the king came walking down the winding, narrow path that led into the garden. The entire garden looked white as snow. The king reached out his hand and opened the door.

“You have surpassed your brother,” the king exclaimed. “With the rocks there were still little holes left over in the crevices. With the feathers, however, you have managed to fill the room to capacity. You may be the next king.”  Once again he ordered his servants to empty the shack.

It was now the youngest child’s turn. The brothers pleaded with their father not to let her compete or at least to wait until she was older.

“She doesn’t understand, father. This is the whole kingdom on her shoulders,” they declared.

The king would not hear of it.

“You each got your turn; now it’s hers.”

The first day passed, and the shack was empty. The second day, the shack was still empty. The third day, still nothing had changed. By now the townspeople had heard of the competition and began crowding around the palace, wondering what the princess had planned.

The fourth day passed, and the shack was still empty. The brothers continued to plead with their father.

“She is making a mockery of the throne.”

The king just waited.

The fifth and sixth days passed and the shack remained empty. On the seventh day, the king slowly walked down the winding, narrow path that led into the scenic garden. Only this time he was not alone. Scores and scores of people followed behind him, wondering and waiting for what would be.

The king reached out his hand to open the shack. People pushed and shoved to try to get a view. A stillness passed over the crowd.  The door opened…and the shack was empty. Yet before a word could be uttered, the young princess passed under the arm of her father the king and headed straight into the shack. She knelt down, reached into the folds of her robes and revealed a small candlestick. She reached back into the folds of her robes and pulled out a candle. She proceeded to light the candle, and the entire shack was filled to capacity with light.

The king smiled. “You, my child, will take over my throne.”

The crowd cheered. The brothers also cheered. They all lived happily ever after.

As the sun sets on Friday evening and I watch my wife light the Shabbat candles and utter the brachot, I think of that bus ride and this story. The Shabbat candles-they fill our homes, our lives, our souls with light. The Shabbat candles-they fill the world with light.”

Yisroel Bernath is a graduate of Central Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim and a Hadassah-WISO diplomat in Structural Cognitive Modifiability. Rabbi, Jewish educator and author of three titles, he has entertained worldwide. He was the liaison responsible for Jewish Cultural Programming in Montreal public schools. His hands-on Hanukkah experience, Maccabees, was visited by over 10,000 children. Yisroel creates quality Jewish children’s entertainment, thus far with Shazak, Inc, Big Bang Animation, Realtime Jewish Media and Young Avraham. Spiritual Director of the Jewish Monkland Centre-Chabad NDG and Loyola Campus. He lives in Montreal with his wife, Sara, and children Chaya, Zalmy and Leiba.

Book Review: Fugitive Colors

Composition VI by Vassily Kandinsky (1913)

— Reviewer: Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr offers a sensuous and stunning entry into the art scene in Europe during World War II. This work of profoundly engaging historical fiction delves into the passion and peril of those artists who were then in the thrall of creating a wide array of modern art genres. Entartete Kunste — “degenerate art” is the term the Nazi spin doctors created to justify prohibiting, destroying and also secretly hoarding some of the works of emerging avant garde masters such as Klee, Mondrian, Munch, Chagall, Kandinsky, Nolde and over one hundred more.

The full review after the jump.
Barr’s riveting scenes sear with the heat of in-the-moment abstract expressionist innovation, in contrast to many earlier grand masters who would stand at easels carefully placing each stroke. She reminds us of how magnificently radical these artists were in their time, how outsider their ways in contrast to classical realism and even their Classical Impressionist forebears.

Rene began to caress the wall with midnight blue pigment, lightly dragging his brush across the white plaster, creating an undulated effect. He then added in light dabs of orange, and the texture changed completely. Julian had never seen anything like it. As the music picked up, Rene’s body began to twist as he painted. He swept from left to right, blending in various shades of yellow, green and red into the blue… His full lips were parted, his breath was heavy, his eyes opened and closed rapidly as if surprised. His neck muscles seemed to be bursting through his skin. Rene looked at once monstrous and inhumanly handsome. He did not paint. He was the paint.

This insider-styled story can’t help but fascinate. The action is given over through the eyes of Julian, a young Orthodox Jewish American who abandons his difficult family in service of his essence — drawing, painting-art.

When he spotted Ernst Engel’s work, he had to make a conscious effort to keep his hands at his sides. He leaned forward and read the plaque: “Women Bathing.” It was gorgeous, sensual and forbidden. The colors were shocking. The lake was pinkish, the sky golden, the naked bodies free-flowing with burgundy and splashes of indigo. Julian yearned to touch the painting, to feel the depth of the texture against his fingertips…

Julian may yearn to paint, but trysts and jealousies between artist friends and Nazi horrors steadily intrude with vicious intensity. The ethical dilemmas he will face yield important questions for contemplation and discussion, particularly whether to put your life and integrity at risk for a friend, or lover, or for the sake of saving works of art. Today, just over 60 years after the Holocaust, incredibly, it is not so difficult to imagine art being stalked like a fugitive. Here in America numerous fundamentalists attempt to prevent various forms of art and books from appearing in public institutions. The wielding of degenerate Nazi power is well and extensively articulated by Barr:

  “Hartt,” began the Baron, “you will compile the lists of artists whose work we will confiscate and the museum directors who refuse to cooperate with us. They must be dismissed from their positions immediately. Start with Berlin’s Nationalgalerie, particularly the Kronprinz-Palias, it should be purged of all its modern art. Dismiss everyone who works there, effective immediately… I expect a full-scale plan on my desk at the end of this month…
  “Exactly how far can I go?” Streibel piped up.
  “Far enough,” the Baron answered. “The key to our success is to spread fear. Once there is real fear out there, I promise you it will perpetuate and do the work for us…”

Have you, for example, perhaps viewed Emil Nolde’s surviving light and life-filled color-full canvases? 1,052 of his works were taken by the Nazis, most were slashed or burned. While Fugitive Colors focuses on the evolution of Abstract Expressionism, art forms declared “degenerate” also included: Bauhaus, Fauvism, Cubism, Impressionism, Dada, New Objectivity, and Surrealism.

The Nazis exhibited the works they stole in an Entartete Kundst exhibit in Munich, featuring over 650 paintings, sculptures, prints, and books by 112 artists from July 19, 1937 until November 30 before taking the show to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. Famously, on the night of July 27, 1942 in the gardens of the Galerie National du Jeu de Paume in Paris, works by Miro, Picasso, Ernst, Klee, Leger and Picasso were destroyed in a bonfire. According to Stephanie Barron, author of Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, 16,558 works were expropriated during this time. A good number of works were secreted away by Goebbels and other Nazis leaders in hopes of future appreciation in value. Some that were found buried after the war are thought to be among the substantial collection in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia. Major museums in Paris, Munich and New York are among those with significant collections open to the public.

Lisa Barr’s Fugitive Colors is more than good reading; it is an important form of honoring the legacy of the abstract expressionists. She advances our appreciation of this genre of painting by creating readable sensations of the sort usually reported by synesthetes — where the senses switch places — tasting a color, seeing a sound, hearing a touch — a rare accomplishment.

Powerful pacing, well-developed characters, expert twists of the plot and the capacity to effectively convey genuine human and artistic sensibilities informed by in-depth period research result in a book that is hard to put down. This work of historical fiction won the Hollywood Film Festival’s manuscript “Opus Magnum Discovery Award.” Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr is a book you won’t be likely to forget.

We Don’t Paint with the Ashes of Our Dead

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Judaism Editor

Old wounds were opened for Holocaust survivors and those who care about them when art gallery owner, Martin Bryer, placed on show a painting made of ashes of the Holocaust victims’ murdered at Majdanek extermination camp. He initially claimed his decision to have “no moral flaws” but ultimately succumbed to world-wide pressure to withdraw the painting from exhibition. This is the letter that I sent to him:

Dear Mr. Bryer:

In the 1980’s in Vineland, a New Jersey Holocaust survivor went back to Auschwitz on a pilgrimage to visit the ashes of her entire family and reflect upon her experience. While sitting, her hand stroking some loose earth, she came upon a significant piece of jawbone. Distressed to the extreme, she put it into her pocketbook. Back in the states, she came into my office, when I was serving as a Jewish Federation executive, saying she’d not meant to remove it from the site, but in her distress had done so. She placed it on my desk asking what to do now.

Letter continued after the jump.

Our community had the jawbone checked to find out if it was a human or animal remains. Human. I then invited the local Holocaust survivors in for meetings to discuss what to do. We decided to hold a ritual for “the unknown survivor” in the Jewish cemetery and to create a grave for the bone and a monument to be placed there.

I will never forget the initial meeting and our profound weeping – for some it could have been a family member’s jawbone, for others it was the purest of all symbols of those lost in the Shoah — often family whom they remember every day. Did they speak of their own suffering in the camps as we sat there? No. They remembered their children and siblings, parents, grandparents and friends in life.

A process began to unfold. Those attending the ritual planning meeting took assignments to contemplate which prayers to say, to consider who might make a casing to hold the bone for a burial with dignity, who to invite to the ritual, how to word the invitation. Our process was the opposite of yours, Mr. Bryer. Had you witnessed our survivors opening up, many for the first time – only one of the Holocaust oral history archives existed at this time, then maybe you would possibly understand and begin to appreciate how healing and holiness happen. The historic Alliance Cemetery in rural southern New Jersey overflowed on the day of that ritual.

If you, Mr. Bryer, and the artist Mr. von Hausswolff, who is quoted as saying, “The ash has followed me, always been there…  as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people… people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people.” wish to speak with me after reading this article, I’d like to gently help the artist work through his dilemma — the pain he’s carried that now is surely amplified through his decisions and those of the gallery owner. And, with his permission, a proper ritual for interring the work can be created so that healing can be renewed.

First though, kindly donate the painting to Jewish community in Lund, Sweden for interment. We Jews neither exhibit, nor sell our dead — with our love and prayers we return any and all bodily remains to the earth from which we all came.”

Live Report from Colleagues: Deadly Attacks on Israel and Gaza

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

My colleague Rabbi Rosalind Glazer sent the report that follows below moments ago, after emerging from the “safe room” at Kibbutz Revadim in the Northern Negev. While according to the JTA “three Israelis were killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit their apartment in southern Israel. The rocket that struck the Kiryat Malachi apartment on Thursday morning — one of at least 140 rockets fired from Gaza since the assassination late Wednesday afternoon of the Hamas military chief in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari — also injured a baby girl and a 4-year-old boy. A second building in Kiryat Malachi also was hit. On Thursday afternoon, two rockets hit Rishon Lezion, located about 10 miles south of Tel Aviv. Fifteen Palestinians have been killed, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported Thursday.”

Now the report from Rabbi Glazer:

It is a bit strange and troublesome to be arriving back in Israel at this very time, but not entirely new or unusual for me. Having been in the states since the High Holidays, I arrived at Ben Gurion last evening (today, is my 49th birthday) and my sister Cynthia came to pick me up. When we got home we learned on the news that the strategic air strike that assasinated Ahmed Jabari had occurred precisely while we were on the road back from the airport!

More after the jump.

The rocket fire from Gaza, which after 3 weeks has prompted retaliation by the IDF, is clearly impacting us at Kibbutz Revadim in the Northern Negev (we’re not too far from the Gaza border) and also in Yavne, where my sister Michele and her family lives. My youngest niece and nephew Noa and Elad returned home a few hours early last night from their Hashomer Ha’tzair youth movement activities and school was cancelled for them today. I was thinking, “Yay a birthday party in the ‘safe room/bomb shelter’ today!” And then it happened. While the ‘fireworks” were exploding in celebration, the siren went off around 8 AM and everyone rushed to the ground floor where we stuffed ourselves, all 6 of us, in the the safe room, and after shutting the door they errupted in, Happy Birthday to you!

Let’s hope this latest operation doesn’t blow up into full scale war. I hope & pray it goes well for all our Israeli michpocha and our Palestinian friends, as we navigate this latest military madness on the bumpy road to co-existence and peace and that all will and return to normal (or even better than normal) soon.

The first day of my 2-day advanced ulpan in Tel Aviv (already in progress) is supposed to be this coming Sunday, and my very personal birthday wish is that my study and other plans for klita not be interrupted.

My colleage, the professional Jewish storyteller Noa Baum writes in her newsletter:

My sister is a film professor at Sapir College in Sderot, the  town in the south of Israel, bordering Gaza. Yesterday the rockets started falling without the usual siren warning, class was dismissed and my sister and her students ran to find shelter. She then got in the car and after many hours arrived safely to Jerusalem.  

The college is closed until further notice. In Gaza the Hamas declared a war of retaliation for the targeted killing of their commander in chief.  The Israeli army is bombing in retaliation for months of continuous rocket falling.

I am worried for my family and friends in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

I am sad that the cycle of revenge, violence, trauma and hate continues.

And from Rabbi Arik Asherman of Rabbis for Human Rights who visited both Jewish and Arab kibbutzim yesterday:

Yesterday, just a few hours before Israel began it’s operation in Gaza,  a delegation of RHR rabbis visited in Bir Hadaj and Kibbutz Revavim.  Bir Hadaj is the Bedouin village where on Monday police fired tear gas into the village’s elementary school, sending some 29 children to the hospital for tear gas inhalation.  

Hadaj has suffered large numbers of home demolitions over recent months. Although it is a recognized village, its master building and zoning plan has been frozen, meaning that it is impossible to get a permit to build legally.  About a month ago, police were injured when forces came to demolish homes, and today’s confrontation started because they were intending to distribute new demolition orders.

Our immediate sympathies were with Bir El-Hadaj.  The head of RHR’s education department, Rabbi Nava Hefetz, knows the principle of the school well as a man who educates for peace and coexistence. RHR also teaches in the Negev pre-army academy that volunteers in the school.  As part of the Recognition Forum, we have been asking ourselves what we can do to end the wave of Bedouin home demolitions throughout the Negev.

However, we also visited the adjacent kibbutz, Revavim.  As I was reading through the comments to a picture Physicians For Human Rights posted of the collection of tear gas canisters and stun grenades collected from the school courtyard, one respondent posted a link to a right wing website reporting of a massive arson attack which took place on the same day in Revavim and the fact that the kibbutz regularly suffers from theft of calves.  While I am automatically suspicious of a source like this, I was able to confirm that the report was more or less accurate.  It was clear to me that, if we really believe that every human being is created in God’s Image, we couldn’t make a solidarity visit to Bir El-Hadaj, without a solidarity visit to Kibbutz Revavim.

In Bir El-Hadaj we were gratified to learn of the efforts by the school’s staff and volunteers from the Negev Academy both to help the children deal with their trauma, and to understand that the police who stood just outside the gate of the school and fired round after round of tear gas did not represent all Jews.  In some classes they asked the children to free associate with the word “Jew.”  I wouldn’t want to repeat some of what came up, but the fact that the Academy volunteers were there clearly helped the children understand that reality was more complex.

On Kibbutz Revavim the large bales of hay were still smoldering.  We understood that they had sustained well over a million shekels worth of damage and loss.  While they believe that those who regularly steal their calves are a group of professionals from further away, they think that the individuals who raced by on ATVs, threw Molotov cocktails at the bales and seriously damaged their irrigation system came from Bir El-Hadaj. We were told by the kibbutz secretary that most kibbutz members realized that they were also victims of the government policy to demolish homes and discriminate against their neighbors.  However, others had much more anger regarding Bir Hadaj. One member of the secretariat bitterly pointed out that it was only the settler media outlet “Arutz 7” that bothered to report on the arson. (I told him that I had seen a report on another right wing website.)

So, what does this have to do with the tragedy unfolding in Gaza?  Most of us have biases burned into our hard drives.  If our sympathies lie with the Palestinians, we see Zionist aggression and charred Palestinian babies. If our sympathies lie with Israel, we see terrified Israeli children with 15 seconds to run to a bomb shelter every time the siren sounds (According to one source, some 11,000 rockets in the last 4 years.)  For all too many of us, our sympathies are all encompassing and exclusive.  We see only Palestinian children or Israeli children.  

This is not just a matter of spiritual blindness, although it is certainly that. When some Israelis rage against our government without a word about our fellow Israelis suffering from rocket attacks year after year, most Israelis see them as out of touch at best, and possibly self hating. I wonder what conclusion is being drawn on Kibbutz Regavim about the fact that only settler websites are concerned with their situation. When others of us go on and on about Sderot without a word about the death and destruction our overwhelmingly superior power wreaks in Gaza, it may play well at home, but we confirm for many that we are jingoistic purveyors of exclusive Jewish privilege.

Some of you no doubt see what I have written as simply a sappy attempt to be “even handed” and “balanced.”  I agree that evenhandedness seems a bit outrageous when we Israelis have so much more power.  In the words of Revavim’s secretary I heard the words of our sages in Pirke Avot, “The sword comes into the world because of the suppression of justice and the perversion of justice, and those who misinterpret the Torah.” (Pirke Avot 5:11, in other versions 5:8) Our rabbis were not justifying or excusing violence.  They saw violence as a curse.  They expected human beings to resist the impulse to do evil, but understood that in the real world the Bedouin who see their homes unfairly demolished and schoolchildren tear gassed will lash out at their neighbors in their comfortable homes.  Gazans who can import or smuggle in just about anything, but can’t afford many of the goods on their well stocked shelves because restrictions on exports leave them without income, will continue to support terror against their oppressors.  Israelis under rocket fire while the world is silent will feel justified in doing whatever is necessary to stop those rockets, even when civilians are also killed.

Our message can not be to ignore the rockets on our fellow Israelis.  However, when we hear “There would be no attacks on Gaza if their would be no rockets on the Western Negev, we must both join the demand that the rockets stop and remind our fellow Israelis that we can best help ourselves if we stop using our overwhelming power to make life miserable for most Gazans.  With our greater power comes greater responsibility.

Our task as rabbis and Israeli human rights activists must be first and foremost to hold our own government to the most basic principle in international law and in the Jewish tradition:  We have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves, but we can not harm civilians, even in the name of self defense.  As I have taught in the past, Tractate Sanhedrin 74 teaches this principle and the principle of minimum necessary force.  Somebody who kills a pursuer to prevent him/her from killing when s/he could have stopped him/her by other means is seen as  a murderer.  The Talmudic sage Raba teaches that we can kill the person coming to kill us, but can not kill an innocent third person even to save our own life.

My subjective observation at this point is that Israel is doing a better job this time of not harming civilians, but better isn’t good enough.  “One who destroys a single life, it as if one as destroyed an entire world.” (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5).

When a cease fire seemed to be going into effect, and we have not taken the steps we could take to make lives better for Gazans, I have to ask whether we have observed the principle of minimum necessary force.

While our first responsibility is to hold our own government accountable, we must make it clear that Gazans should be held to the same standards. Our fellow Israelis must know that we know that they too are created in God’s Image.

And, I can’t help recalling the fact that not so long after the Gaza War, the level of rocket fire returned to where it was before the war.  I can only sadly identify with the desire of my fellow Israelis for peace and quiet, and repeat again, “The sword comes into the world because of the suppression of justice and the perversion of justice, and those who misinterpret Torah.”  

In this week’s Torah portion (Toldot), Esau is driven into a murderous rage after Jacob cheats him yet again.  Jacob flees for his life, and will live in exile for twenty years.  Both feel themselves to be the victims.  In two weeks, we will read that two older and wiser men will find God in each other.”

In conclusion, a prayer for those affected:

May all who huddle and hope for safety and peace be so blessed.
May all who serve do so with the greatest possible integrity and well-being.
May we be granted healthy and holy ways to support your well-being and peaceful coexistence.

Human and Don’t Forget Animal Welfare: More Mitzvah Storming

Hurricane Sandy Mitzvah Storming IV

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

1. Did you see Anat Hoffman’s tag line in her outreach for support of victims of Hurricane Sandy. “We are family,” she writes and cites Haaretz that “Israelis have followed no event in the United States as closely as Hurricane Sandy…and fact, New York City is the metropolitan area with the second largest Jewish population of any city after Tel Aviv.” Perhaps you have also seen the organization that serves Holocaust survivors soliciting Hurricane relief funds targeted for them. Never did it occur to me to fund raise based on the Jewishness of those affected — we are a human family during emergencies.

More after the jump.
Helping each other as equally as possible with eyes blind to difference, if not now, when? Many different religions are housing each others services right now in affected areas. Can we keep this a “simply human” situation, so many are still freezing in the dark and even still, without sufficient gasoline to relocate or forage for food?

Reports of houses of worship across every religion are now sharing sacred space throughout impacted regions, how inspiring is that? Candlelight b’nei mitzvah and first communions have abounded. While stories of religious leaders and youth groups going door to door have arrived in various movements’ press releases — I see no reason for us to get extra credit, claim credit, or pat ourselves on the back. Mitzvot are done for their own sake, not ours. And, yes, many of us will help repair synagogues, in Judaism lives get attention first.

When some of those I asked to join me in a trip to work in a shelter or setting the tikkun olam (social action) committee into motion, some replies most resembled this: “We only give and volunteer locally.” I felt very nonplussed and judgmental. It took awhile to process this with them.  Such a response turns out to come primarily from  “green thinking” that applies to every day living. Emergency funding and support has a very key strategic concept embedded – preventing emergency conditions from becoming chronic. Thinking local doesn’t do it for large scale emergencies, it compounds the long-term burden on society big time.

This morning I was reading an emergency room physician’s plea for people to be more aggressive about finding, taking in and insisting others get out of this cold wave– to prevent pneumonia and much more. The factors are pain and suffering, and costs of associated healthcare, and rehab of buildings that stay soggy rather than dry…I’m sure you get the point. Those who wrote us to volunteer to help with clean-up are in action in NJ as I write, I will again be with them today. They’ve asked for anonymity. Menschlichkeit is awesome.

Why were the tikkun olam committees in place throughout most Jewish organizations seemingly not pro-active rather than reactive? I’m sure many will be pondering this soon. The trauma of awaiting the storm is what I saw in the eyes of our Philly locals, it was so draining and some of our internet servers were ruined in lower Manhattan, underwater. So with compassion, we can move on to creating pro-active plans and assignments…for the next time. As my son who was evacuated from the Jersey shore put it: “We’ve had three storms this year already, the next time could be next week.”

2. Overarching best ways to help for those who live at a distance are clarifying — first, donate blood, this need has become urgent. Injuries to rescue and repair workers are vast because of the extremely hazardous conditions.…

3. The the vastness of need for clothing is proving to require bulk funding for bulk purchase of goods.Brooklyn Neighbors in Need Fund (a not-for-profit)”… asks that you…” donate money so we can buy the 600 pairs of underwear (socks, towels, belts, etc) we need for the Armory or John Jay.” [shelters].

Per the Red Cross: “The cost to sort, package and distribute these types of donations to disaster victims is usually greater than the cost of purchasing the items locally, and it is logistically impossible to distribute a wide variety of individual items in a meaningful and equitable way during an emergency of this magnitude.” Instead, make a financial gift via, 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.  

4. Let’s not overlook the crisis in animal welfare. The Humane Society of the United States and American Humane Society are seeking donations to help rescue stranded pets and help animals in shelters. In every affected state they are looking for volunteers due the vast numbers of displaced pets.

5. The Food Bank For New York City has different ways for you to get involved: You can donate by texting FBNYC to 50555.

6. Clean-up Teams. All clean-up volunteers that have contacted us have been put into action through the State of New Jersey volunteer coordination effort. When asked, these volunteers requested anonymity — what menschlichkeit, thank you! By all means now fly direct – opportunities abound to help in shelters, door-to-door, clean-up and more.

Some more links just supplied by my ever-mitzvah-centered colleague Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit:

Most federations and many denominations are running support campaigns as well through links on their websites.

7. Prayer.

May we be blessed with the ability to heal, help, vote, and plan wisely for the future.

Via Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, a litany of prayers composed by Rabbi Samuel Barth and Rabbi David Ingber, folded together and expanded by The Rev. Peter Elvin, 2 November 2012:

*A Litany after the Hurricane*

Source of all Life, soothe hearts aching with pain and loss in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Strengthen all responders, all relief workers, all friends and neighbors, to do their best to alleviate suffering, heal injury, and restore services upon which our daily lives are built. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of Compassion, you are close to all who are confused and bewildered in the wake of this shocking storm. Quicken their recognition of your
presence all around them. Free their ability to move through shock, to see and make their very best choices. Stir our resolve to support, encourage, donate, and pray. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of Wisdom, move within all of our hearts and minds and wills to learn the most important questions to ask and answer. Instill your wisdom
in all who are responsible for public policy, for future preparedness, for re-building and for re-thinking, as the elements of your created order? wind and rain, tide and surge– disorder our old assumptions. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Source of all Creativity, anoint our wisdom, our technology, our compassion, and our national will to rise from the watery grave of this storm and claim the new life your Spirit desires and our future requires. Inspire us to find flexible ways to cooperate across old boundaries, freeing energy and resources to move with your blessing. We lift up our eyes to the hills; from where is our help to come?

Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.


Tzedakah That Grows With Time: Heifer at Hanukkah

— by Hannah Lee

What could you give to someone who has everything essential? When my friend, Mary Jo, finally married her long-time sweetheart and they combined two households, she didn’t need another set of wine goblets or china. I was thrilled when she said that a donation to Heifer International would warm her heart. I knew of their humanitarian work in foreign countries, but I’d yet to learn of their myriad educational projects, including ones here in the United States. So, I purchased a flock of chicks in her honor.  These chicks were given to an eligible family overseas and when they grow up and become productive, the family donates the new chicks to another family in a Passing on the Gift ceremony. This is tzedakah that grows exponentially from your initial investment.  

More after the jump.
Heifer International‘s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.

It all started with a cow.

Its origin lore states: “Moved by the plight of orphans and refugees of the Spanish Civil War as he ladled out meager rations of powdered milk, Dan West, an Indiana farmer, volunteer relief worker and Church of the Brethren member, grasped that the people needed “a cow, not a cup”– cows that could produce milk so families would not have to depend on temporary aid. From that simple idea, Heifer International was born.

In 1944, the first cows sent abroad were donated by West’s neighbors and distributed throughout Europe following World War II. More than 67 years later, Heifer has expanded its mission, just as it expanded to 30 types of animals it now provides– from goats, geese and guinea pigs to bees, silkworms, and water buffalo.”

This Hanukkah, Heifer International is providing a variety of gift options that fulfill the Jewish mitzvot of tzedakah and tikkun olam. They’ve launched the “Heifer at Hanukkah” website, where shoppers can honor a loved one — from Abba to Zaide, in their words — with a cow, goat, or chicks to help an impoverished family move from dependence to independence. Heifer provides livestock, trees, seeds, and training in environmentally-sound agriculture to families in more than 42 countries, including the United States, Nepal, China, Brazil, Rwanda, and Armenia.

Mark Feuerstein (of USA Network’s Royal Pains) and Ed Asner (known to the younger generation by his voice in the Pixar film Up) are featured in a family-friendly video. Mark dresses up as a Heifer, the gift that Ed plans to give his granddaughter, which will provide an impoverished family with four gallons of milk a day. “My granddaughter will receive the gift of giving tzedakah,” Ed says. “Kids play with a good toy for a few months or a year, but this gift ends poverty here at home and abroad.”

With Heifer at Hanukkah, Jewish shoppers can select socially-conscious and eco-friendly gifts to dedicate to their loved ones. These gifts include:

  • A Flock of Chicks ($20): A flock of chicks can help families add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets. The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. Protein-packed eggs from even a single chicken can make a life-saving difference.
  • A Boost of Nutrition ($36):  This gift has everything a malnourished child needs to become healthy and happy: fruit and vegetable seeds to provide vitamins and minerals, chickens to provide daily protein from eggs, training in sustainable farming, and nutrition for parents.
  • Women’s Self-Help Group ($72): Help start a group to empower women to learn to read, teach them valuable skills, and decrease their vulnerability to domestic violence, trafficking and health-related issues.
  • A Goat ($120): A dairy goat can supply a family with up to several quarts of nutritious milk a day– that’s a ton of milk in a year. Extra milk can be sold or used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. Families also learn to use goat manure to fertilize gardens.
  • An Ark ($5,000): The Heifer Gift Ark is one of the most comprehensive gifts you can make to hungry families worldwide– 15 pairs of animals to change their lives.

I’ve long wanted to keep chickens and I have been collecting books on their care. I’ve even checked with our zoning codes —  two chickens, no roosters, and 15-feet from our neighbors.  Finally, this fall, my husband gave me his approval, with the stipulation that I research the methods to protect chickens from predators.  I’ve learned that they’re fine from cats, but they’re vulnerable to dogs, foxes, and hawks.  For me, it’d be an indulgence, a hobby. In the meantime, I can indulge my fancy by sponsoring chickens that could sustain a family overseas.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Philadelphia Jewish Voice Living Judaism Editor, says,

Consider reading this article with your children or grandchildren and visiting the “Heifer at Hanukkah” website when they come for Hanukkah. This is a cause where giving gelt together can inspire a new generation of caring Jewish donors.

Mourdock’s Magical Thinking

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Mourdock said ‘when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” That is magical thinking. If I (or anyone) put sperm and eggs together enough times in a test tube, a conception results, that was my will, not God’s. A matter of intention, and compatibility of pH and DNA, sperm motility and many other clearly identifiable factors. Mourdock’s infantile thinking (pardon the pun) demeans God, and as a woman I find his statement to be a form of religious terrorism.

More after the jump.
I once walked through an anti-abortion rally with a clip board respectfully asking for people to sign up to adopt the fetuses and raise them when they are born, or to at least fund orphanages for them to be raised in – 3 people signed up to adopt, fewer than $100 were raised from some 1200 in attendance. Most said something to the effect of: “Oh, I never thought about the consequences of finding money to raise, feed, clothe and educate them…oh dear…well, I’m sure the government will take care of them.” Gotta love “small government” hypocrisy, no?

Rape aside, those who want millions more births of children with no one to care for them had better be prepared to fund those lives to the tune of billions of dollars per year, and that’s only the first year. Even since the advent of birth control, according to UN statistics, 50 million legal induced abortions have been performed in the United States since 1973 and world wide, there have been over 1,260,000,000 abortions performed. Now imagine birth control freely available, lower costs and lots less suffering all the way around.

Now imagine that many unwanted children and finding funding to raise them. Plus, it has been recently demonstrated that the state of mind/spirit of a mother carrying a fetus can impact its ability to function in life, no less how destroyed the life of a mother forced to conceive an unwanted child tends to be. So add lots of mental health funds on top of normal costs of raising a child. Not to mention the ruined life of the mother. Could it be that we are given minds in order to discern when we are ready to become parents and with/by whom?

I just returned from teaching in Europe and there visited a number of magnificent cathedrals, some Templar sites. Notations indicate that those very knights, as instructed by church leaders followed “God’s will” to murder babies in towns being ransacked. They would stack the infants on skewers like human shish kabobs and then parade proudly through the streets bearing them aloft as “holy” conquerors, and then threw them to roast upon flames as “sacred” offerings to God. Was it God’s will for those fetuses conceived by loving parents, to be born and then murdered as infants by those claiming to “know God’s will?”

Mourdock is the only newest manifestation of such nightmare thinking, if anyone even wants to dignify him by even calling it thinking.  

Call for Mitzvah Story Submissions in Honor of Danny Siegel

Submissions are invited of previously unpublished mitzvah-centered stories in honor of the esteemed Jewish educator Danny Siegel. Stories should be written for Jewish family reading and take the form of engaging tales of good literary quality that inspire and support a mitzvah-centered life. There will be a juried process to select stories for inclusion from among the submissions. Reclaiming Judaism Press will be publishing the volume, provisionally titled, A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories.

More after the jump.
So many of us have been guided and inspired by Danny Siegel – from his Ziv Foundation mitzvah projects and books, teachings at conferences worldwide, his poetry volume Soulstoned that opened up the world of Jewish spirituality for yearning Jews of the 60’s, and his new volume of love poems, From the Heart. This juried mitzvah story competition allows you to honor Danny while making an important contribution to Jewish lore and family learning.

This volume will be the second major book in the Reclaiming Judaism “Mitzvah-Centered Life Initiative”, which includes a first volume in honor of Peninnah Schram, Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning (available through ReclaimingJudaism), a Mitzvah Stories Discussion Guide by Shoshana Silberman, matching, professionally illustrated decks of Mitzvah Cards, and Mitzvah-Centered Life workshops & storytelling programs for all ages.

To indicate your interest and receive the full story submission guidelines for this juried volume, please e-mail Rabbi Goldie Milgram, Editor-in-Chief, [email protected].

Will Blue Tzizit No Longer Be Fringe?

— by Hannah Lee

With gratitude to Diane Sandoval and Rabbi Dr. Joel Hecker for their feedback.

Do you know anyone who wears tekhelet tzizit, ritual fringes with one blue cord with dye from one special species of marine creature, the chilazon?  I’ve learned that Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Professorial Chair in Talmud and Rosh Kollel at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) does. Furthermore, the eminent rabbi recently met with Dr. Israel Ziderman, the Israeli biochemist who identified the correct species of snail and agreed to join the Public Council of the Tekhelet Foundation to help advance this project.

In workshops on tzizit, Rabbi Goldie Milgram teaches that in Biblical times, the Kohen Gadol wore a tunic made only of tekhelet (Exodus 28:31). Tekhelet thread is used in the coverings for the Mishkan (tabernacle), the parochet (curtain), and the efod (tunic). (Exodus 26:1,31; 28:6,28)

More after the jump.
Jews stopped wearing tekhelet tzizit 1,300 years ago when its authentic source was in question. The reappearance of tekhelet dates back to 1887, when the Radziner Rebbe (Grand Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner) proposed that the Sepia officinalis (common cuttlefish) met many of the criteria for the chilazon. Within a year, Radziner chassidim began wearing tzitzit dyed by this cephalopod.   However, chemical analysis later determined that it was actually a well-known synthetic dye “Prussian blue,” made by reacting iron sulfate with oxygen from the cuttlefish blood.

The next attempt came just before the Second World War, when the Admor M’Rozhin, one of the great Chassidic leaders, came to the conclusion that the dye needed for tekhelet came from a fish called the Dag HaDyio, literally the Ink Fish.  His proposal was not accepted by the great poskim (jurists).

From L to R:  Rabbi Avi Berman, Head Orthodox Union Israel; Dr. Yisrael Ziderman, Scientific Head of the Tekhelet Foundation;  Foundation ‘s Development Executive Chanan Ziderman;  Rabbi Aaron Adler, Foreign Liaison of the Foundation’s Public Council; Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of REITS at Yeshiva University.

In 1913, Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, later Chief Rabbi of Ireland and then of Israel, published his doctoral thesis on “Hebrew Porphyrology.” He identified the source of the dye as the Yantina fish, but he did not attempt to introduce this opinion because current practice follows the teshuvah of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isseles [Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 9:5] that today tzizit must only be white. The Mishna Berura says the same. Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, maintained that according to the teachings of Kabbalah the chilazon will not re-emerge until the coming of the Messiah.

I asked Rabbi Albert Gabbai of Mikveh Israel if the Sephardim wear tekhelet. He said that [most] Sephardim follow the teshuvah of the Rambam and wearing white tzizit fulfills the mitzvah. Many now do wear tekhelet, but he has not accepted the practice.

Drawing upon Rav Herzog’s work, Dr.  Ziderman identified the banded dye-murex snail(Hexaplex Trunculus) as the ancient source of the tekhelet. Shells of these snails have been found in the excavations of ancient homes in Jerusalem, as tekhelet had also been used to dye the garments of the Kohanim.

In 1993, Dr. Ziderman’s scientific work was applied in the making of kosher tekhelet tzitzit by the Ptil Tekhelet Association. Currently snails from Eastern Europe are used for the dye, because the snails found on the Israeli coast are a protected species, thus unavailable for this purpose. Only 5,000 sets of tekhelet tzizit are sold each year and the price is prohibitive for many Jews ($36 at Bala Judaica for the blue tzizit versus $3 for the white ones).  Dr. Ziderman founded the Tekhelet Foundation to raise dye-murex snails in Israel, so tallit manufacturers can make tekhelet tzizit at affordable prices.

One thousand snails have been sent to the National Center for Mariculture in Eilat, to begin a three-year study on breeding the banded dye-murex in sea-water tanks. After the best procedures are determined, facilities will be built and the production of the dyes will begin. The goal of the Tekhelet Foundation is to produce 50,000 tekhelet sets by 2017, and 250,000 sets by 2020.

The Tekhelet Foundation is a not-for-profit organization. Chanan Ziderman, Development Executive and son of Dr. Ziderman, says, “This mitzvah could unite Jews of all backgrounds, as tekhelet would again become a sign of godliness and a symbol of our faith.”  

Mitzvah Storming During Hurricane Sandy

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Mitzvah Storming Part 1

As we batten down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, there are many mitzvot to undertake for family and neighbors. Here are several that come quickly to mind that I haven’t seen on the standard sites to help us prepare.

  1. Call elderly neighbors and those who are disabled and/or unemployed, physically ill or emotionally fragile to ask if they need help bringing things in from outside, property and auto protection, make sure they secure sufficient food, water and batteries. You might bring them in to stay in a guestroom to reduce fear and isolation, ensure warmth and safety.
  2. Are you the wrong person to be alone right now? Call friends, family and neighbors and arrange to stay with them. Bring provisions, flashlights and batteries to help out. Far better safe than sorry.
  3. Make a regular check-in plan for while the storm rages, if electric goes out, keep these short and reassuring so as not to lose all your battery.
  4. Now and during the storm, start collecting things to donate to those who will have had major losses, talk together about a family tzedakah plan for funds to donate as well.
  5. No one to reach out to? E-mail me and our team at PJVoice will do our best to respond.