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Fantastic Jewish-themed T-shirts

December 4, 2011

Shofar Blowers International 250The Jewnion Label is a fun online store filled with clever Jewish-centric paraphernalia. It’s back-ended by CafePress. The founders, Stacey and Joshua Abarbanel of Santa Monica, Calif., created emblems honoring a wide range of unsung heroes, including latke flippers and Jewish mothers. All of these designs can be put on the usual Cafe Press fare of shirts, sweats and mugs.

Each emblem highlights a guild or society with a motto. For example, the Purim Shpielers & Squelers Society’s is “Shake, Rattle and Role.” The names of the Purim story characters are wrapped around the main design. Really clever.

I purchased a t-shirt for the International Federation of Shofar Blowers, since I am BIJ’s Ba’al T’kiyah for the High Holy Days. The blasts of the shofar are translated into symbols of long dashes, short dashes and dots. This design is superb.


Last Year’s New Year Column for the BIJ Newsletter

September 13, 2011

Here is my column from last September’s BIJ Bulletin, entitled: Fresh Mitzvot For Your New Year. I referred to it in my current column, so here it is …

The High Holy Days are a time of deep reflection, heartfelt prayers and renewal. At the same time, they can bring opportunities for new blessings and fresh connections to our spiritual heritage, and perhaps, the creation of traditions for you and your family.

Many of the High Holiday symbols and customs are familiar: the round challah, which represents a crown (we refer to G*d as Melech, “king,” in a number of prayers in the liturgy ); and the dipping of apples and challah into honey on the first day of the new year  (adding the special blessing “to renew unto us a good and sweet year”).

Yet there are many other customs and observances for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that can enrich your spiritual connection to the season. Here are a few for your consideration:

Piling on the Shehecheyanu blessings. On holidays, we say shehecheyanu, the blessing for special occasions thanking G*d for “granting us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this time or occasion.” But is one blessing enough? No way! Our tradition points to creative ways to double up on shehecheyanus. Read more…

Hateful transliteration rules

July 14, 2011

I note that a number of my B. Mitzvah students have trouble with the “ch” sound of the “chet” and “khaf,” even those who attend a Jewish school with plenty of Hebrew. They make it more of a aspirated “h,” rather than a nice strong “ch” sound. And yes, I know about the pronunciation difference between the chet and khaf, the latter getting the IPA symbol that looks like an X. I encourage a stronger, more forward “ch” sound for both letters when chanting.

Perhaps this predilection for the “h” comes from longstanding Hebrew Academy transliteration rule for “chet” of using an “h” and a diacritic mark underneath, a line. This could be confusing to some people and sends the wrong visual cue. I understand it for library and academic purposes where we want to get some semblance of the actual Hebrew spelling from the English letters. But for saying the prayers?

Yes, the students should stick with the Hebrew, but sometimes eyes stray. It creates a visual ambiguity.

My eyes prefer the “ch” transliteration rather than the “kh” version. But either is better than the “h” Hebrew Academy version.

Teaching & Guided Meditation for Sacred Hebrew Chant & Drum Service, Shabbat Mishpatim 5771

March 6, 2011

This is the teaching and guided meditation that I offered in January at Congregation Beth Israel Judea’s Sacred Hebrew Chant & Drum Service for Shabbat Mishpatim, 24 Sh’vat 5771.

Here are some thoughts on uncertainty from the book Yearnings by Irwin Kula:

“The mystical text the Zohar tells us that G*d says to every human being every day “go forth,” begin the journey that is yours to make.

“What makes us enlightened is that we are not afraid to wander. Doubt is a prerequisite for any meaningful journey. When we can acknowledge the built-in anxiety rather than maintaining the illusion of certainty, we become humble — which in turn creates a new and more authentic confidence.

“What if we understood that all decisions, even the seeming sure things, are leaps into the unknown? What if we were galvanized, rather than paralyzed, by uncertainty?

Read more…

Gloomy Analysis for Two-State Solution

December 10, 2010

A recent analysis by Benny Morris on Tablet Magazine, titled Bleak House, is worth reading.  In the piece, Morris says that prospects for a Palestinian state have “rarely been more grim.”

First, is a fact that he says American and EU politicos won’t admit: that there’s no will for peace on the Palestinian side, even from the “moderates.”  He says this rejectionism is ignored by most Western observers.

… Palestinian political elites, of both the so-called “secular” and Islamist varieties, are dead set against partitioning the Land of Israel/Palestine with the Jews. They regard all of Palestine as their patrimony and believe that it will eventually be theirs.

Read more…

Stop cheapening the word ‘Holocaust’

August 12, 2010

In an L.A. Times opinion piece in late June called a A Huge Word Made Small, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote about the misuse and overuse of the word “holocaust.” It is being used willy-nilly for any terrible event or injustice or even a sporting even, which then devalues the word and the Shoah.

The continued misuse and trivialization of the word prompted Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and chronicler of the Holocaust, to discontinue using it. “Whatever mishap occurs now, they call it ‘holocaust,'” Wiesel said. “I have seen it myself in television in the country in which I live. A commentator describing the defeat of a sports team, somewhere, called it a ‘holocaust.'”

Wiesel is right. There are many injustices and manifestations of evil in our world, even in our own country, the greatest of democracies. Standing up to them is not only our right but our obligation. But that obligation does not include distorting and demeaning the word that has come to stand for the great evil that was the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a total eclipse of humanity. It was not about going to the back of the line or eating in a different part of the restaurant or being escorted to the border without recourse. The Holocaust had one purpose: the total annihilation and extinction of a race.

I would expand on Wiesel and Hier’s proposition: We should avoid the casual use of powerful words that have a specific meaning in our history or society. Read more…

Unbelievable ADL Decision

August 2, 2010

The ADL recently said it would not support the establishment of the Cordoba House, an Islamic Center that would include a mosque located 2.5 blocks from Ground Zero in New York. This decision is just awful and shows zero backbone. I am very disappointed.

A friend recently sent an email message  to a group of us who worked as counselors-in-training many years ago at Camp Swig (a Jewish summer camp in California). The message included a link to a video from Jihad Watch against the Cordoba Institute.

Now, one of our members is Rabbi Reuven Firestone, Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam
at Hebrew Union College. He wrote the book An Introduction to Islam for Jews and others.

Here is Rabbi Firestone’s message to the group responding to the attack on the Cordoba Institute and House:

Dear friends,

The video you received about the Cordova Initiative is outrageous bigotry. It is full of lies and is in essence an antisemitic diatribe, but directed toward a community that is the state-of-the-art scapegoat for this decade. Just substitute Judaism for Islam and Jews for Muslims and you will find the typical antisemitic screed that was broadcast on the radio in Germany and occasionally in the US during the 1930s.

I can’t believe that Jews who have any sagacity will think that he is talking sense. I happen to know something about Islam, and I can assure you that the narrator is an ignorant bigot who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Read more…