Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Carlebach: The Musical?! Starring George Costanza?! (Article follows)

In a week that has been marred by the death of two pillars at our shul, Jack Bronstein, the shamash/mashgiach/candyman/everything for longer than I've been alive passed away and then Chaikhe Feinstein, mother of our Rabbi also passed away. I went to Chaikhe's funeral today, visited the family a few hours ago, and will be attending shiva at the shul (the home is not large enough to handle the crowd so it needs to happen just down the street, probably in the main sanctuary(to support this, our US Congressman almost didn't have a seat in the cemetary chapel.). Compounding this with application essays, it has been a tough week and I have had not so much time to do anything. However, when an article crosses my desk (well, technically my aunt and uncle's desk as I am at their house now because they live next to the shul) that is so noteworthy, that I have to republish it, well, I have to republish it. Item! An Off-Broadway Musical about Shlomo Carlebach possibly starring Jason Alexander, who is most famous for his portrayal of George Costanza on Seinfeld, but also has appeared in the LA tour of The Producers, as well as a number of plays, including the Neil Simon Memoirs Trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound) with my uncle. Well, this should be interesting. Read this article from the Jewish week and tell me what you think...

And remember to keep your distance from women for the next three days. God's orders...
Shlomo, The Musical
Rabbi Carlebach — the legendary and sometimes controversial spiritual leader and songwriter — may get his place on a Broadway marquee.
Sandee Brawarsky - Jewish Week Book CriticDavid Yammer works hard to make sure he’s not
Daniel Wise, is in the process of developing “The House of Love and Prayer: The Life and Music of Shlomo Carlebach,” with help from Carlebach’s daughter, Neshama, right. The larger-than-life rabbi, center, “is a classic case of a very strongly drive

The name of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach has long been associated with Broadway. As in Upper West Side Broadway. There, most of the homeless people were known by name by Shlomo, who freely gave them money, big hugs and the sense of not only being noticed but considered worthy.

Now his name is to have another association with the Great White Way, as a creative team is planning to bring a musical theater piece based on his life to an Off Broadway and then Broadway theater. Although totally different in conception, the show will follow recent productions about the lives of other remarkable Jewish figures, Golda Meir and Primo Levi.

“The House of Love and Prayer: The Life and Music of Shlomo Carlebach” is now in development, produced by Daniel Wise, with Dr. Jeremy Chess and Dr. Joel Kahn as co-producers. Wise is writing the show with director David Schechter, and Neshama Carlebach, Rabbi Carlebach’s older daughter, who is collaborating on all aspects of the show. They plan to have a reading in August, followed by a limited run pre-production in January 2007 at the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, before its official opening.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach — who was widely known by his first name — died in 1994 at the age of 69. He touched the lives of Jews around the world through his spirited and soulful music, his teachings and his open-hearted acceptance of all people. His music is played in synagogues, at weddings and concerts, and it is such an integral part of the contemporary Jewish musical repertoire that many are unaware that they are singing Rabbi Carlebach’s songs. “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The Nation of Israel Lives”) is his best-known composition.

“We couldn’t create a better theatrical character,” Wise says. “He’s the classic case of a very strongly driven will that has inner obstructions at every step along the way, and outer obstructions too.”

Wise goes on to list some of Rabbi Carlebach’s distinctive qualities. “He knew what his calling was. But he never had peace. He was always struggling. He was selfless to a fault, a person who never had a place in this world. He gave a tremendous amount. He had the level of uninhibited love that you may find in Down Syndrome children. He was a man of great Talmudic and esoteric kabbalistic learning who could give over these teachings in beatnik language.”

He adds, “Shlomo could walk into a room and transform your life.”

Wise came up with the idea for the project and approached Neshama, a songwriter and singer considered her father’s musical protégé. Together with Schechter, they presented a version of the show on Oct. 30, 2004 at the JCC of Manhattan to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death.

“My main motivation in wanting to see this happen,” Neshama says, “is so that the truth about who my father was can come out in the world. My family and I are saddened by the untruths that are told. People try to make him into a superhuman person, and it’s easy to do that when someone is no longer in the world.”

“The most beautiful thing about him was his realness. He wasn’t an angel. Although he was very angelic. He was a real human being. He worked hard to become who he was, and sometimes he was treated badly. Sometimes there was a lot of sorrow, sometime a lot of laughter. He died giving his heart to everybody,” Neshama says.

“I wish he were here to do it himself,” she adds. “One of my goals is that I want him to still be alive in the world.” She notes that many of the scenes in the play are drawn from stories he told her.

Wise’s first casting choice for the role of Rabbi Carlebach, seconded by Schechter and Neshama, is Jason Alexander, who has been approached. Schechter likes “the twinkle in his eye and the sense of mischief about him.”

The show’s setting is an abstract version of the House of Love and Prayer, the Jewish commune Rabbi Carlebach founded in San Francisco in the 1960s. The opening scene features Rabbi Carlebach seated on a stool, strumming his guitar, with the ensemble of actors — who are all musicians, singers and dancers — seated around him. Neshama, as the character Ruach, or “Spirit,” plays a lead role, moving the show along musically and narratively.

“It’s a hybrid of concert and theater,” Schechter explains. “We found a form more elliptical than literal, like chasidic stories, like his music, in different realms.”

The creative team wants the show to be a fun and uplifting story with humor, much like they describe being in Rabbi Carlebach’s presence. They see the show as having appeal in the wider Jewish community and also beyond the Jewish community.

Woven around Rabbi Carlebach’s original music, the show includes 30 of his songs including some lesser-known tunes and also some songs of his childhood. The story of his life unfolds, from his early years in Hitler’s Germany, to his arrival in America in 1939, to his Talmudic studies in Lakewood, N.J., and Brooklyn, to his years as a folk-singing rabbi in Greenwich Village, to his time in San Francisco, to the final chapters of his life as a spiritual teacher, finding lost souls around the world. Also featured are video and original recordings of him.

About the more controversial aspects of Rabbi Carlebach’s life, including allegations made after his death about sexual harrassment, Schechter explains, “In one way or another they will be addressed. But it’s not the thrust of what this piece is about.”

“It’s very challenging to make a plot arc out of a life,” Schechter says. “Shlomo was a bridger of worlds, he was also trying to reconcile seemingly unreconcilable poles, as he did in his music, creating a new kind of Jewish popular music that is accessible to everyone and also sacred.”

Zalman Mlotek, executive director of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, who will collaborate on the musical elements of the show, says, “Shlomo is one of the giants of Jewish spirituality in our time, and he has yet to get full recognition in terms of how his melodies and his music and words have crossed over all the lines. Musically, it’s a tremendously rich project.”

So far, Chess and Kahn have provided the seed money for the production. Wise says they need to raise an additional $300,000 for the next stage and $1.5 million for the full-scale production. They are about to bring a composer onto their team to turn Rabbi Carlebach’s music into a proper score.

Wise and Schechter are working together for the first time, although their paths have crossed over the years in the theater world. Wise, who is now producing the 10th anniversary world tour of “Rent,” produced “The Gathering” on Broadway. Schechter’s award-winning play, “Hannah Senesh,” has played around the world. He has directed and adapted stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer at La Mama E.T.C. and has written several plays and musicals on Jewish themes, among his other work. He has acted on and off Broadway, including productions by Liz Swados, and just finished shooting a film.

Schechter never met Rabbi Carlebach, but Wise knew him for all his life. He grew up in Antioch, Ohio; his mother had been a member of Rabbi Carlebach’s House of Love and Prayer. Rabbi Carlebach would visit the family on their farm and, after Wise’s parents’ divorce and his mother’s move to Borough Park, Rabbi Carlebach continued to visit their Brooklyn home. Wise, an ordained rabbi who says that he was never “a groupie of Shlomo,” has been involved in the Jewish world and art world since childhood, studying music, doing theater and studying Jewish texts.

Wise explains that they obtained “grand rights” from the family, to use Rabbi Carlebach’s songs as part of the narrative. The family has overall approval of the script and casting.

One scene recalls the first meeting between Rabbi Carlebach and a young singer and pianist named Eunice Kathleen Waymon, playing in the Midtown Bar in Atlantic City in the late 1950s. Rabbi Carlebach was then a rabbi serving a chicken farming community and he was very curious to learn about jazz music. He and the performer — who later changed her name to Nina Simone — swapped life stories, and Rabbi Carlebach also sang for her. They encouraged each other to keep singing.

In a final scene, the different characters — who might include his yeshiva teachers, hippies, and adversaries — ask questions, among them, “How do you give more than you have? How do you be a friend to the whole world while your own heart is broken?” The answer: “You sing.”

Saturday, May 27, 2006

DVAR TORAH: 10th Anniversary of Bar Mitzvah Spectacular!!! (Bamidbar/Machar Chodesh)

10 years ago, on the 29th of Iyar I became a man in the eyes of the Jewish people. We had just celebrated Jerusalem 3000 the day before, Which was the 29th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem and the 3,000th year of David's conquest of the city. My friday night service, in a rare occurrence, was in the Main Sanctuary (usually it is either in a smaller chapel or in most cases the smallest chapel) because they were also having something commemorating the milestone of Jerusalem, after a year of people wearing Jerusalem 3000 shirts (which I didn't understand the purpose of until my Bar Mitzvah).

Uh oh, Shabbos approacheth. What I mean is, hooray, Shabbos approacheth. However, this means my time is short for this. This will be quick.

I gave my Dvar Torah at my Bar Mitzvah regarding the census and how it was taken, and the fact that people weren't literally counted as one would count cattle. I am not going to focus on this, but rather the Haftarah I had then and will also be read this Shabbat. This would be a "duh" statement had it not been for the fact that this is a rare haftarah

For like 7 or 8 of the past 10 years, somehow Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar has fallen on the 29th of Iyar, meaning that the normal Haftarah from the book of Hosea (the story of Hosea marrying a prostitute and she cheats on him and then he says the Tfillin verses...) is preempted by the Erev Rosh Chodesh Haftarah, famously known as "Machar Chodesh" from the 20th Chapter of 1 Samuel. It is the story of the greatest friendship of all time, that of David and Jonathan. The relationship between the Crown Prince and the shepard that would actally inherit the kingdom is fascinating considering that David was annointed by Samuel (at the command of God) to take away Jonathan's job. There may be something more important underlying this relationship. This relationship might have been something more than just best friends. Jonathan loved David as his own soul (1 Samuel 18:3). As for david, during his song of eulogy upon hearing of the death of the king and the crown prince as well as his own coronation, in 2 Samuel 1:26 says "your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than the love of women". I'm gonna shower, but chew on that one over Shabbos and maybe I'll be back to give you more of what you love. Of course, for most of the people that would be reading this, it is already Shabbos...


Friday, May 26, 2006

ARTICLE: Scientists may be able to make magic like Harry Potter

Scientists may be able to make magic like Harry Potter

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Imagine an invisibility cloak that works just like the one Harry Potter inherited from his father.

Researchers in England and the United States think they know how to do that. They are laying out the blueprint and calling for help in developing the exotic materials needed to build a cloak.

The keys are special manmade materials, unlike any in nature or the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These materials are intended to steer light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation around an object, rendering it as invisible as something tucked into a hole in space.

"Is it science fiction? Well, it's theory and that already is not science fiction. It's theoretically possible to do all these Harry Potter things, but what's standing in the way is our engineering capabilities," said John Pendry, a physicist at the Imperial College London.

Details of the study, which Pendry co-wrote, appear in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.

Scientists not involved in the work said it presents a solid case for making invisibility an attainable goal.

"This is very interesting science and a very interesting idea and it is supported on a great mathematical and physical basis," said Nader Engheta, a professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Engheta has done his own work on invisibility using novel materials called metamaterials.

Pendry and his co-authors also propose using metamaterials because they can be tuned to bend electromagnetic radiation -- radio waves and visible light, for example -- in any direction.

A cloak made of those materials, with a structure designed down to the submicroscopic scale, would neither reflect light nor cast a shadow.

Instead, like a river streaming around a smooth boulder, light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation would strike the cloak and simply flow around it, continuing on as if it never bumped up against an obstacle. That would give an onlooker the apparent ability to peer right through the cloak, with everything tucked inside concealed from view.

"Yes, you could actually make someone invisible as long as someone wears a cloak made of this material," said Patanjali Parimi, a Northeastern University physicist and design engineer at Chelton Microwave Corp. in Bolton, Massachusetts, Parimi was not involved in the research.

Such a cloak does not exist, but early versions that could mask microwaves and other forms of electromagnetic radiation could be as close as 18 months away, Pendry said. He said the study was "an invitation to come and play with these new ideas."

"We will have a cloak after not too long," he said.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency supported the research, given the obvious military applications of such stealthy technology.

While Harry Potter could wear his cloak to skulk around Hogwarts, a real-world version probably would not be something just to be thrown on, Pendry said.

"To be realistic, it's going to be fairly thick. Cloak is a misnomer. 'Shield' might be more appropriate," he said.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Nobody likes you when you're 23...

A welcome distraction from writing resume essays, I decided to update this thing. I observed my 23rd birthday ('observed' and not 'celebrated' because birthdays aren't fun anymore) on Sunday by going back into the city. Surprisingly there was neither cake nor alcohol consumed on this date. Well, there probably was by other people consumed cake and alcohol (look for the passive voice in this one...) but not by my party (referring to a group of people as in "the Donner Party" and not the event as in the "Playboy Mansion 100th Anniversary Party"), well, not while they were with me or at least while I was looking.

It's always fun to organize a party, especially via facebook, and especially after they take away the ability to easily invite all your friends from Columbia or with the geography of New York City. No, I had to click on people one-by-one and it was too hard to sort through my 700-strong list of facebook friends. I did give the opportunity for people to invite other people, but whatever, it worked out in the end. Three others joined me for dinner at the vegan restaurant Zen Palate, and nine others joined me to see the Da Vinci Code.

Anyway, the movie was totally sold out for the time I wanted to see it even though it was being shown at the 66th Street AMC Loews on two screens at 8:20, so we needed to get tickets for the 9:20. As always, one more person joined us and of course tickets to that showing were at that point sold out. I think most tickets bought to any other movie went to enter this screen.

I really enjoyed the movie. It could have been a little better, perhaps, but the critics are just stupid (and possibly biased based on theological beliefs that they may hold).

I slept on a couch in Mathilde Schechter, but not before watching Adult Swim with some peeps.

And that was my birthday. And that was a clause that began with the word "and". And so was that. And so was that. And so was that. That too.

Friday, May 19, 2006

ARTICLE: Mexico, other nations condemn U.S. fence AND US concerned over reports of Iranian dress law

Why does this sound so familiar. The US wants to defend itself just as Israel does. Once again, we're both in the same boat.

Mexico, other nations condemn U.S. fence

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Mexico and four Central American nations condemned the U.S plan to build hundreds of miles of triple-layered fencing on its southern border, saying it would not stop illegal immigration.

In a joint news conference in Mexico City late Thursday, the foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico said that building barriers was not the way to solve problems between neighboring nations.

"The position of Mexico and the other countries is that walls will not make a difference in terms of the solution to the migration problem," said Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate approved a proposal to build 370 miles of triple-layer fencing along parts of the 2,000-mile border separating the U.S. and Mexico. The Senate also agreed to give many illegal immigrants a shot at U.S. citizenship. (Full story)

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Jorge Briz said a major immigration overhaul in the United States was the only way to stop the wave of people heading northward.

"All of us are looking for a comprehensive migratory regulation so that millions of Latin Americans can continue working in and supporting the United States economy," Briz said.

Earlier Thursday, Mexico's Foreign Relations Department sent a note to the U.S. State Department outlining the nation's concerns about the proposed barrier.

Honduran Foreign Minister Milton Jimenez said he expected several South American and Caribbean countries to join Mexico and the Central Americans in issuing a joint declaration on the matter soon.

In December, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to build a fence about twice as long as the one approved by the Senate. The House plan sparked a wave of criticism from Latin American leaders, with Mexican President Vicente Fox comparing such a barrier to the Berlin Wall.

Fox reiterated his criticisms on Thursday.

"Building walls, constructing barriers on the border does not offer an efficient solution in a relationship of friends, neighbors and partners," Fox said in the border city of Tijuana.

"We will go on defending the rights of our countrymen without rest or respite. With passion we will demand the full respect of their human rights."

On the border with Arizona, bedraggled migrants who had been turned back by the border patrol said that more fences would not keep them from crossing but only make smugglers charge more money for the trip.

"I had to leave my three children, walk for three days in the desert, and now I'm here with more debts than ever," said Edith Martinez, a 40-year-old from Oaxaca who walked back over the border bridge to the Mexican town of Nogales. "Now I have to work in the United States to pay my debts from the trip."

US concerned over reports of Iranian dress law
Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 19, 2006

The State Department said Friday it is concerned about reports that Iran's parliament is considering legislation to require non-Muslims in the country to wear badges.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said any such measure would be "despicable" and carry "clear echoes of Germany under Hitler."

US government statistics indicate that 98 percent of Iranians are Islamic. Other faiths are Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i.

McCormack said he could not comment further because the precise nature of the proposal is unclear.

"I don't have all the facts," he said.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Triumphant Return to NYC

Wow, where to begin? (I know that was a fragment but it's colloquial, so it's okay.) It felt really weird coming back from Jerusalem. My soul and mind (but thankfully not my baggage this time) seemed to remain in Jerusalem even though I corporally returned to New York City. In fact, there is a humorous account of this occuring my first day back. I landed at around four o'clock in the morning last wednesday. My first destination besides dropping off my bags in Goldsmith? Butler (especially look at the poem penned by Rolfe Humphries toward the end of the article) . Why? So I could finally use the website, which I was unable to post to from Jerusalem (it gave me the message "sorry... you're not on Columbia's network. now scram!", a message I am now currently receiving in the Jewish Theological Seminary Library). Anyway, following a meeting at Hillel (second place I went) and lunch at Cafe Nana (good, but not as good as Israel). I then returned to Butler to practice my Sofrut. My plan, by the way, was to stay up until 9-ish so as to avoid jetlag (I didn't want to go to sleep too early or I would be screwed up for a while, like the last two times I went to Israel, and not too late as I thought I wouldn't be able to do it)

I went with Elena to Zen Palate , where I got something completely random. It was good. I don't know if I could go vegan (seeing as I like meat and dairy -- but never together nor dairy within 3 hours after meat -- too much), but it was very good. As I was going back the jet-lag madness set in. We were on the 104 bus going uptown and I suddenly asked Elena if she wanted to stop at Ben Yehuda street. Ben Yehuda street, it should be pointed out, is in Jerusalem and not in New York City, and you take the Egged 18, not the MTA x104. To prove that this was not an isolated incident, in her room at Sulzberger at Barnard I groggily asked if she though the Shuq was still open. I don't feel I need to comment on the location of the Shuq, but it was slightly out of the way, by about 5,000 miles.

The next day I blacked out of my mind, probably for good reason. Celebrating the end of finals and the end of the school year (though technically mine ended 5 months ago) should not always be remembered. Neither should Absinthe al-flambé. It tastes like licorice but more disgusting

Alright, more later, but I need to graduate now (again). I wanted to leave you with the fact that I met President Clinton in Times Square yesterday. This would be the third time that I met him, the first being as we were kicked out of the Oval Office by a member of the Secret Service (long story, if you want it, come find me in person) because the President needed to get his golf clubs to play on his course in the Rose Garden) the second being at Hillcrest (and a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Feinstein that mentions it), where we spoke from 10 feet away. He was quite friendly. I did a double-take as I was walking with my dad and said "Hey, President Clinton" to which he responded "Hi". Wow. Anyway, I decided to try to get a picture with him (I don't usually get star-struck, but President Clinton is the most powerful person in the free world (Don't give me that "Dubya" crap, Clinton's still President!) He was very gracious as were his four Secret Service agents, and I see why he was and still is so beloved. Come back to the White House, President Clinton! We need you!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Thoughts on a long plane flight

Probably not what you're expecting from me upon my return, but it will take a little while to formulate my thoughts upon four magnificent months in the City of God, so let me try to reflect on at least the last three hours of my 12 1/2 hour flight.

I actually really enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha. I found it to be a very well done movie and I didn't mind one that could be labeled as a chick flick.
Coincidentially, while the girl formerly known as Chiyo was "practicing her calligraphy" on an expensive kimono, I was practicing my Hebrew "calligraphy" (more accurately "scribal arts") . I learned the final letter I needed to learn, Aleph (א), (actually this is the first letter of the alphabet but often the last scribally learned because it is arguable the most complex. It is also kind of hard to write a Torah scroll without it (it is the only letter that is in each of the four words of the Torah, or so my independent research (read: boredom) has concluded) and even Megilat Esther, the project that I want to begin and complete by Purim 5767 would be a little flat without the king and queen having writable names.

Now I'm watching Yatzpan on the plane. I actually have not watched it when I was in Israel. For some reason in this episode that is obviously not of this year, "Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (then-current, probably)" (Refuah Shleyma to the real one!), "MK Shimon Peres" and "President Moshe Katsav" and other famous Israelis were jamming with "The Ayatollah", "Shiek Yassin", "Saddam Hussein", and "Yasser Arafat". I also believe that "Ehud Barak" was there too. A whole bunch of people... Perhaps there was also a weird(er)-looking "George W. Bush" (they go for funny, not necessarilly looks, but sometimes it looks realer than SNL). I'm actually not sure about anything but somehow, even without titles appearing, I believe I am able to correctly identify the leaders being parodied. On SNL, on the other hand, they often have to identify the parodied characters by name. I actually wasn't paying so much attention to what the characters were saying. The delivery and the voices, however, were hilarious unto themselves.

We've just entered Canadian Airspace. 1 1/2 hours to go, we are above Halifax, Nova Scotia. Maybe I can parachute into Kings College and annex it for Philo, and perhaps take a dip in this hot tub I've been hearing about.

Why is King Kong fighting dinorsaurs and why is Jack Black so freakin' awesome? Could a King Kong/Jurassic Park crossover be in the works? He totally just destroyed that T-Rex (or should I say T-Wrecked after Der Konig Kong is done with him; Is this what I'm like without sleep?)! Oh look, there's Aragog and Shelob (from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, respectively) (can you say "Lawsuit"? I'm sure you can unless you lack the means of speech, in which case I apologize for offending you).

As I was just doing thew small change tzedeka thing they have on El Al, I noticed the triangle on the 20₪ and 100₪ bills. I finally realized that they exist on both sides and when held up to a light form a Star of David. Trés cool!

We're now flying over Bangor, ME. Heh heh... Maine... I love the way how they transliterate English into Hebrew.

At Universal Studios, King Kong spells like burnt marshmallows . Oh man, he's totally giving Ann Darrow (any relation to Clarence Darrow, who had a major role in the Scope's Monkey Trial? (ED: when I originally wrote this on paper on the plane I called him Charles Darrow, who actually is the inventor of Monopoly, around the same time, but a couple of miles away)) that "e tu Brute" look. He's about to go apesh*t (possibly subconsious, but it was not an intentional pun initially). Ah the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The flight attendant just called herself a stewardess!!! Whoa! That just sent Women's Lib back about 75 years. What's next, a food attendant callig herself a waitress or a God attendant calling herself a Jewess? That's backwards, man... sorry, person (also not intentional) (man this is as bad as when I unintenionally called something Ariel Sharon did a stroke of genius).

Double-decker planes are cool. I was on the first story. Why does the plane smell so [UNREADABLE] on the plane? Yup, back over New York.

There is a school... TOUCHDOWN!... from Chicago that is on our plane. Interesting experience, as it always is when dealing with eighth graders). One of the recent outbursts? "Poughkeepsie? I love Poughkeepsie, as much as I like traffic and stairs... (pause)... I like stairs".

"We never forget that you have a choice in airline" ...ok...

Friday, May 05, 2006

DVAR TORAH: Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Feliz Cinco De Mayo, México.
Un Sábado bueno y soñoliento a todos.
El queso es viejo y repugnante.
¡Lance mi burrito inmediatamente, vaca fea y gorda!
¿Usted besa a su madre con esa boca?

Once I locate the dvar torah I gave in April 2002 on this Parasha I will post it, bli neder. For now, I want so simply state that I believe that these parshiot give us the essential reason for doing mitzvot: "You shall be holy for I your Lord am Holy". Mitzvot not only bring us closer to God, but also to humanity. Remember Hillel who paraphrases the famous verse from this parasha to the flamingoed prostelyte: "Love your neighbor as yourself" The rest is just commentary.

Shabbat Shalom,


This was originally written for the Shabbat of April 20, 2002 delivered at Seudah Shlishit at the Columbia Barnard Hillel. I updated it the next year for a Dvar Torah I gave at a weeknight Koach Mincha/Maariv (This is the version from 2002 as the 2003 was edited by hand)

Acharei Mot / Kedoshim
Matt Rutta

One could write a million Yom Kippur sermons about parashat Acharei Mot, and there probably have been because Chapters 16 and 18 of Vayikra, both in parashat Acharei Mot, are the respectively the Torah readings of Shacharit and Mincha of Yom Kippur. I therefore would like to focus on this week’s second Torah portion, Kedoshim.
In last week’s double portions of Tazria/Metzora we were instructed on how to confront leprosy and leperous people, the unclean and impure. However, I could not find a location in either of these parshiot in which we are told how we can avoid tzoras in the first place. Miriam got leprosy because she gossiped, if you looked at Vayikra 19:16, you would see that gossiping is forbidden if one wishes to be Holy. קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדֹושׁ אֲנִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ . Through Moses, G-d tells us “You shall be Holy, for I, the Lord thy G-d, Am Holy”.
This parsha is overrun with mitzvot. I counted at least fifty. Following these mitzvot is the way to attain Holiness. Here are some of the ways to be holy: Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t falsely swear on G-d’s name, don’t curse the deaf, don’t put a stumbling block before the blind, fear G-d, don’t gossip, don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
In my eleventh grade Foundations of Jewish Law Honors class, we focused much attention on Vayikra 19:17-18.
‏לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָא אֶת־אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הֹוכֵחַ תֹּוכִיחַ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵֽטְא׃
‏לֹֽא־תִקֹּם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר אֶת־בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ ׃

I translated this as “Don’t hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke your fellow countryman and don’t cause him to sin.” Not only are we commanded to be holy, but apparently we are also supposed to make sure that our fellows can also attain holiness
Hillel’s famous saying: If I am only for myself, what am I? You’re not holy, that’s for sure. You need to look out for yourself and your neighbor, as the next line, one of the most famous in scripture, states:
'וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוךָ אֲנִי ה
“And you are to love your neighbor as yourself”. And as Hillel said to the skeptic on one foot, the rest is just commentary. Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tel Aviv (retroactive)

I reclined in a pool lounge chair sipping mineral water as the Mediterranean’s waves lapped at my bare feet as I listened to the Beach Boys on my iPod and read “Sacred Fragments” by R’ Neil Gillman.

That was only one aspect of my “senior ditch-day” in Tel Aviv. I had a valid excuse though, I needed to settle the matter of my paper ticket. El Al could have easily waived the $100 (450) charge due to the fact that they took my ticket when they were searching for my luggage, but they did not. Sigh…It was also another $100 to change the flight. That was quite expensive. What was comparatively cheap was the ride there. The Sherut from Kikar Tzion at the foot of Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv cost $4.44). Travel within Tel Aviv was relatively cheap as well, and the bus system wasn’t SO confusing (even though there are no bus maps or any semblance of organization within the mass-transit systems in this country)

I said the bracha “Oseh et HaYam HaGadol” upon putting my feet into the Mediterranean Sea. This is an ancient prayer written specifically for this body of water which is this prayer’s namesake, The Great Sea.

I for some reason also want to mention the most unfortunately transliterated highway exit on the 1, the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is Shaar HaGay (literally the Valley Gate). Somebody may take this the wrong way and American children might make fun of it.

Pelephone Conversation with my cousin Tammi:
Tammi: why do you want to work on a kibbutz
Me: I want a job where I can get my hands dirty
Tammi: I have a friend who needs a gardener
Me: No thanks, I want to wash cows or something

Haredi Center of Technological Studies?!

When I return to the Holy City of New York, will I be entering a warzone? I chose Newark over JFK because there is no way I’m going through the Williamsburg Demilitarized Zone to get to Manhattan. Will the Satmar (né Sata-Mare, or Saint Mary) groups there be rioting and killing again? Let us not forget the matter of the Williamsburg Eruv a couple of years back.

I’ve decided to take advantage of the interesting juices available in the shuk. First, a medium glass of straight up etrog (he juiced it in front of me… alright how many of you had an impure thought?…) After washing it down with water (it was way too tart) and picking up some dates (again, you’re misleading yourself), and then I had the Royal Cider (according to the Rambam) and Rambam juice. It made me feel like criticizing everyone in the world besides Muslims and Aristotle (sorry, just an undeserved cheap shot at Maimonides)

(This entry was added retroactively on Tuesday, May 9th, but originally written on Thursday, May 4th... at least I tried to make it retroactive)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Israel's Independence Day and its incarnation of Spongebob Squarepants

For the first time in my life I spent Yom Haatzmaut in Israel. This is a very big deal and is extremely different than anything you experience outside this country. For one, the previous day is of complete mourning (and is not just the thirty minutes preceding the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut). However, the transition is rapid, "מאבל ליום-טוב*", "from mourning to festivity". People somehow easily make this transition. Also the country is completely insane during the holiday for reasons I will mention shortly.

After Yom Hazikkaron, or rather in its waning moments, I went to the Great Synagogue to hear the tail-end of Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar who was speaking on something about Torah Learning winning us the Land of Israel or something like that... I came at the end so I don't really know. Anyway, his talk was followed by Maariv led by Chief Cantor Naftali Hershtik and the Great Synagogue Choir using Festival nusach (melody). They also did Hallel, various other psalms, Shofar Blast (done very well by Eli Jaffe), and Prayer for the State, Prayer for the Armed Forces (both of which done before an open ark accompanied by actual soldiers in uniform while the choir was softly singing the melody of Hatikvah. Services ended with Shir HaMaalot in the melody of Hatikvah followed by Hatikvah itself. This is unlike America where Conservative Jews just add Al Hanisim and Hatikvah at the end. In Israel it's a much bigger deal. Even the Haredim who were burning trash cans yesterday in protest to Yom HaZikkaron, IMHO, made it look like they were just lighting giant memorial candles.

Following services I joined up with some friends to go to a comedy club where one of our friends was performing a ventriloquist act. It was hilarious! Sara N. and I left after his act to check out the Ben Yehuda scene. On the way, she bought a rubber hammer (with built in whistle) and I purchased an Israeli Flag magnet pin that lights up in blue (funny story about that momentarily). We went down toward Kikar Tzion, trying to avoid the kids that were attacking each other and passersby with shaving cream, confetti, and rubber and plastic hammers (apparently a Yom Haatzmaut tradition that is equivalent to fireworks in America) to meet up with some other people. Meanwhile we checked out the concert down there where there were already thousands of people grooving to the music. Amidst the fireworks surrounding us from the skies of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, we heard the music). At some point as I was trying to show off the magnitude (literally and in a sense the word is never used for) of the magnet of my pin, by putting the flag and the magnet on either side of my earlobe. It worked for a couple of seconds, but then the magnet detached and fell into the crowd. It was dark and there were many people there. I decided to look for it anyway, and even though it only cost 7₪ (about $1.56; the exchange rate has improved for Israel a lot 4.48), it still was a nice souvenir and a patriotic thing to wear (along with my bracelets and my Ben Gurion (short-sleeve dressshirt and jeans). So thirty minutes later (after an on-and-off, I thought I saw something circular and glinting. In true sitcom style, I reached for it and feet came my way so I backed away and it wasn't there when the feet moved. People backed out of my way and some Israeli kids helped me out. One found it, gave it to me, and then asked me to dance with them. So I did. Israelis are awesome and the concept of sabra is such a truism. They have an exterior that seems rough, but they are really just sweet and awesome people.

I went to get frozen yogurt shakes with Menachem Ej., Sara N. and someone else, followed by a trip to the bar scene off of Ben Yehuda. I actually never knew of this place until last night. The area, known as Rivlin street, reminds me a lot of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. Egons, which I would compare to the Leaky Cauldron is the gateway to the real nightlife area of Ben Yehuda, namely, a plethora of bars. After going through this area and considering a place called Sollys or something like that on the Diagon Alley for Alcohol Drinkers (seriously, instead of Flourish and Blotts they have a place which you can get blotto, because its all bars... maybe an exaggeration...). Anyway we ended up back at Egon, I don't want to say anything bad about it but I am unable to make hakeret hatov and find anything good. I admit that it was the busiest bar night of the year, but the service was wanting and our waitress was flustered. That and there were little kids there doing things that nobody should be doing in public. Still I had a lot of fun there. On the way home, I was attacked by tweens who got me with shaving cream. I was absolutely covered. I was jibed at by passersby (which I returned with a smile), but it was for a good cause, for rejoicing on Yom Haatzmaut, and I was glad to be a part of the festivities. Thank God I ran into other people I know so I walked with them, still covered in shaving cream (which made it a lot less embarassing). After waiting for the hot water and taking a shower, I went to bed at 3 something in the morning.

I woke up at 9, davened Shacharit (with Enhanced Psukei D'Zimra (à la Hoshannah Rabbah), Al HaNisim, Hallel, Torah, Haftarah, all that jazz. I then went out to meet Sara and Menachem at Kikar Tzion to take a sherut to Tel Aviv (only ₪20!) we then joined up with Deborah B. and took a bus to Petach Tikvah for PICNICkelodeon. We arrived toward the end of the main concert. I brought a huge deli roll with me and myself and Menachem devoured it, but not before sharing a churro among the four of us (so excited, I miss Mexican food).

Among the celebrants were Bobspoog, the Israeli incarnation of Spongebob Squarepants. They sang a lot of Israeli songs, but I didn't notice any Israeli flags within the park. I did however joke that with all the orange (Nickelodeon's offical color) I didn't know whether I was at a Nickelodeon event or an Anti-Disengagement (also in Hebrew or Yiddish) Rally (which also use orange as their official color). Sara responded and said that the palm trees covered in orange linen made her think she was in Gush Katif. The ladies played on the playground equipment while I watched their bags. There were at least three Capoeira groups performing. It was totally worth the trip and I had a lot of fun, and got a little more tan.

So that was my Yom Haatzmaut. Not your average Independence Day, huh?

*(can anyone identify the source for this mini-quote?)

Monday, May 01, 2006

In Memoriam: The Martyred Heroes of Israel

I appreciate the beauty of the newly added holidays being placed as they are, with the two holidays of remembering the fallen, first Yom Hashoah on 27 Nisan and Yom Hazikaron on 4 Iyar being followed by the two celebratory holidays of Yom Haatzmaut on 5 Iyar and Yom Yerushalayim on 28 Iyar. Even after the most violent storm, you have a beautiful rainbow. Maybe I decided o this concept subconsciously, because the rainbow is an everlasting symbol, after the destruction, that the world would never be destroyed again.

Today we went to Har Herzl, the National Cemetary. We saw the graves of the heroes who have fallen in Israel's wars (as well as World War I and World War II), the graves of Hannah Senesh, Yoni Netanyahu, and others, memebers of Nili, Lehi, Palmach, etc.
At the cemetary, I actually put Israeli flags back into some of the graves from which they had fallen out, including the grave of Yoni Netanyahu. Yoni was the commanding officer and the only Israeli killed on the rescue mission of the hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda on July 4, 1976. It is interesting to note that most of the dead soldiers are officers. This is not like the american army where people who have stars (ie: generals of various ranks) sit in an office. No, the commanding officer is the first into battle. Many of the graves I saw were of Sganim, Army Lieutenants. The grave next to Yoni Netanyahu's belonged to the Chief of Staff, the Israeli Equivilent to a Five-Star General who fell in battle. And even so, his grave looks just like the Private's grave nearby. It was tough seeing the mass graves (known as kivrei achim, or "brother graves") in which they put people that died together but certain body parts were not able to be identified. Our tour guide, Pardes Professor, Zvi Wolf, gave a beautiful and touching tour of the cemetary and I wouldn't be surprised if this causes some of us to sign up for Tzaha"l.

Last week I talked about my father's father's father in Warsaw. This week I want to talk about my Mother's Mother's Mother in Jerusalem. My grandmother is an eighth-generation Sabra, meaning that nine generations before her, eleven before me, her family immigrated to Palestine from Turkey (previously from Spain, but Spain didn't work out too well for our family). My great great grandmother Freda was living in the house her grandfather, Rabbi Arie Leib Frumkin, apparently built (as well as founded and drained Petah Tikvah). The Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks talks about him as he was also his great-grandfather. Pressing on.

In 1949 during the Independence War, my grandmother and her parents Freda and Joseph (the source of my Hebrew middle name) were sitting down to dinner in their home in Beit HaKerem, the first house ever built in that area of Jerusalem. When my great-grandmother went into the kitchen to get some salt (or was it pepper) for the soup and a Jordanian terrorist threw a grenade into their kitchen, killing her. This caused my grandmother to leave Israel and eventually meet my grandfather. Though they didn't meet here, my sabbah fought in the Palmach during the War of Independence here in Israel (though he was actually supposed to be learning in Palestine. A funny story for later that involves The Gro"sh, Rabbi Saul Lieberman

As for Yom Haatzmaut which will immediately follow, my ideas are either trying to set the world record for Largest Picnic in Petach Tikvah, or a barbeque at Pardes. Meanwhile, the family tree from my mother's mother's side may interest you. It is incomplete (and doesn't actually spell out myself or Rabbi Sacks), though you might find some of the other names a little interesting.

Thank you to the heroes and martyrs who gave their lives for the glory of God and the service of Israel, the Jewish Homeland. May their memories be for a blessing. They made the ultimate sacrifice so we could regain and maintain our land and we cannot turn our backs on them.