Locusts: They descend on us, pick us bare, for the future of the Jewish people. We don’t align with denominations. We don’t look good in demographic surveys. We don’t care about continuity. We care about meaning, and that scares them. We do not exist to feed the future. We are not here to raise Jewish children. We are here to be Jews in our own right.
Frogs, writes Rabbi Elianna Yolkut, are cold-blooded amphibious creatures that hatch in cold environments, so the rabbis teach that the plague of frogs was meant to remind the Egyptian of the emotional distance and lack of intimacy that is a necessary prerequisite to enslave someone. Today technology is the cold-blooded creature that jumps into every moment of our lives, taking away our very ability to connect with others, to create space for intimacy with our children, our significant others and our friends.
Blood. The blood that is spilled, metaphorically speaking and literally, by governors who are refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and give healthcare to the most vulnerable among us. People with treatable conditions are already dying because they fall in the gap between Medicaid and being able to afford regular insurance. It’s really a travesty.
This is the last sentence of my horoscope for the week of April 3, 2014:
“You need to be free of the past, free of fearful influences, and free of the self you’re in the process of outgrowing.”
I’m thinking about this sentence as many around me observe Passover, as I opt out of it for the second year in a row, doing a thing that feels razor-sharp-right for me, and also confusing and dangerous. (More than one thing can be true at a time; let’s remember this always.)
What would it take for women to be free? All women — all ages, born as women, chosen to be women, or just born of a woman and know that the divine female is in us all and is calling to be liberated. What would it take for us all to be free?
I am writing this in a busy cafe, Nina Simone is singing serendipitously in the background, “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.” You and me both, Nina….
The Ten Plagues of Egypt have been compared to birth pains, necessary contractions in order for a new nation to come to life. READ MORE
Amnesia is the plague I want to call out. It is a widespread phenomenon of modern life here in the US.
To wit: I am the granddaughter of immigrant garment workers. The forgetting is such that I never even realized the significance of that reality until well into my adulthood. One take on that significance: flight from the familiar into disorientation and vulnerability. Humble origins, a tiny one-bedroom apartment for four people. Being “the stranger,” the ger, the experience that the Haggadah takes pains to remind us of and to transport us to.
Editor’s note: This year, Zeek introduces an intergenerational Passover series of feminist plagues. We’ll publish a new one for each day of Passover. This project was inspired, generally, by the 39th Annual Feminist Seder held this March at the home of Barbara Kane and the conversations we had there about creating more intergenerational spaces for feminists and social justice activists, and, specifically, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s reading there of “The Ten Plagues According to Women,” which appears here. Over the past few weeks, I reached out to Jewish feminists between the ages of 17 and 70-something, asking each to use the 10 Plagues as a point of departure. To redefine them or reflect on what each sees as today’s plagues, from a Jewish feminist perspective. (These were all written before the Kansas shootings, and it’s with a sad heart we pay particular attention to the connections made between the death of the firstborn and gun violence. —Erica Brody
The JOFEE Dialogues with Nigel Savage, Jon Marker, Nili Simhai, Seth Cohen, Lisa Farber Miller & Jakir Manela
One night this week — before spring arrived! — a statistic kept popping up in my Twitter feed: “Americans spend 90% of their time indoors.” Disturbing, right? As it turns out, the architect Marc Kushner had mentioned this disturbing fact during his TED2014 talk about how design and space impact our culture, communities and lives, deeply. Although he was talking about architecture, I was struck by the amount of time Americans spend outdoors — or don’t. Could it really be so little? The EPA thinks so. READ MORE
As an observant Jew, I, along with so many people in the Jewish community will spend today fasting and reflectingon the bravery of Queen Esther and the Jews in the Persian Empire. At that time, they gathered to fast and to pray in order to spare the Jewish people from extermination. There are seven fast days every year. But today’s fast feels different. On this day, women from across the Jewish spectrum are fasting and raising awareness to speak truth to power to achieve just, humane, and comprehensive immigration reform. As a Jew, as a woman and as an immigrant from Canada, I identify with the gravity of the mission of the day.
I didn’t set out to become a social justice rabbi. I didn’t grow up in an activist family or do a lot of community service in high school, and my Judaism is not all about tikkun olam.
“I’m looking for an internship in lobbying,” I said to my high school guidance counselor toward the end of junior year.
“Ok. Lobbying for whom?”
“I don’t care — could be the NRA, could be Planned Parenthood. I just want to learn how this lobbying thing works.”
Around this time every year we memorialize the Martin Luther King who was a peacemaker, a conciliator, a lover and not a hater. In reality, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was the master of the thunderous cadences of righteous rage. The Jewish community is rightfully proud of the picture of Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Martin Luther King and thousands of others into and through the forces of evil in Selma, Alabama.
We must, however, ask ourselves: “What have we done to earn that legacy?”
What does Tu B’Shvat mean when life on our planet feels so palpably fragile, asks Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Her answer? We who are blessed with good soil and healthy roots have an obligation to send sustenance to those on the thin, treacherous margins.
We can’t deny people what they have already taken for themselves: the ability to create identities that are satisfying and meaningful. American religious identities are fuzzy around the edges. The change is already here.
(This piece, from the Zeek archive, originally ran in May 2011.)
It was in the dining hall of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center just over two years ago when the light bulb appeared above my head. Our program director, Adam Segulah Sher, was welcoming participants for a weeklong retreat focused on serving on a chevra kadisha, a community’s secret burial society. “Welcome to this special week where we join together to learn how to honor the dead.” And there it appeared. Yes, we have a retreat focused on honoring the dead, but how about a retreat focused on honoring The Dead? A Shabbaton built upon dedication to the Grateful Dead, the legendary rock band.
From the beginning, it was something more than a joke.
“Will we pause long enough to look at the objects we possess and see that what we think of as ‘process’ is actually a chain of human beings? If not, then we participate in a criminal act of willful forgetting,” writes Rabbi Menachem Creditor. This Chanukah, let’s shine a light on modern-day slavery and ensure our choices support freedom.
I begin each day of my life with a ritual. I wake up at 5:30 am, put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirt and a hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and 1st avenue, where I work out for 2 hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual. —Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit”
Why do we recite Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur night? The exact history of this prayer is a little vague, but what is clear is that this prayer is not a prayer at all: the Aramaic text, dating from at least the ninth century, is a legal formulation for the annulment of vows. It doesn’t mention the themes of the season: forgiveness, teshuva, renewal. It does not mention God. Unrelated in its content to the rest of the Yom Kippur liturgy, it seems at first blush to be a strange way to start a 25-hour period of intense introspection and self-reflection.
Part of Kol Nidre’s rhetorical power comes from its repetitive language: READ MORE
“Social justice activists of all religious and spiritual stripes,” writes Shuli Passow, “have something to learn from what Heschel understood as the power and practice of praying — not with one’s feet, but with one’s mouth, lips, and words.”
Tweens need more. A look at one approach to making Judaism relevant, meaningful and transformative and giving youth a Jewish compass to navigate their lives ahead. Naturally.
Some time ago, I met a man named Avremel. Avremel was a Satmar Hasid, and when I told him that I too was once Hasidic but am now no longer religious, he did not know what to make of it.
“What do you mean, you are no longer religious?” he asked, shaking his head as if it was all some newfangled bit of nonsense, like naked yoga or a juice fast.
We had met at the Chulent, an underground weekly event in New York City for the non-conformist among the Orthodox: Hippie ex-Hasids mingling with weed-smoking, Lakewood yeshiva guys; Breslov Na-nach-nikim chatting up artsy young women from Borough Park or Monsey.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA means that the remaining voices of bias and hate in the conversation are primarily religious ones. This is nothing less than a crisis, writes Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, for anyone who believes that religion remains a prophetic voice for justice. It’s time to look more closely at Leviticus.
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