Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
By now, any Jew who has been awake for the past week has read numerous essays on the implications of the Pew research study on the current state of the American Jewish community. Like many others, I find the results of the study to be of great concern. I believe that there are still many more things that we, as a community, can do that would clearly make a different and could yet refresh and reinvigorate contemporary Jewish life.
And so, having written just about all that I want to say about the study, at least for now, I am returning to an earlier form of creativity: the song.
Like many kids with a guitar and a creative urge, I used to write a lot of songs. I used to perform them at college coffeehouses, camp, and various youth events. I wrote Jewish songs -- most notably with my friend and colleague Cantor Jeff Klepper http://www.jeffklepper.com I even wrote a few protest songs. The protest song is an honorable Jewish art form, going all the way back to the prophets (you knew that Isaiah had a rock band, didn’t you?), and including such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and the late Phil Ochs and Tom Lehrer.
Or, if you choose, you can label my song a parody song, in which case its musical zeyde would be the late Allan Sherman, whose fortieth yahrzeit cannot go unnoticed.
Therefore, my humble musical offering to the cause of Jewish continuity -- which, like Zionism, needs a musical anthem.
The Jews, We Are A-Changing
(with apologies to “The Times, They Are A-Changing,” by Bob Dylan – recorded exactly fifty years ago this month)
Come rabbis now gather wherever you preach
It’s more than creating an eloquent speech
Admit that we must change the way that we teach
It's a brand new game that we're playing.
There's so many people out there to reach
For the Jews, we are a changing
Come cantors, musicians and all those who sing
Let's think of the spirit that we try to bring
Cause people won't pray if it don't mean a thing
And don't understand what they're saying
Plug in your keyboards, and tune up your strings
For the Jews, we are a changing.
Come organizations all over the land
Will people come forth for things that are bland?
Are we hearing precisely what these times demand?
Our institutions are graying
It's time now for asking: just what is our brand?
For the Jews we are a changing.
Come all you philanthropists, all those who lead
We must understand now just what people need
A sense of belonging not only a creed
You know that our people are straying
It's time to respond and to do it with speed
Cause the Jews, we are a changing
We wonder exactly how this came to be
Maybe it happened because we are free
To keep or discard our identity
But this great tradition’s worth saving
Let’s say it one last time, we all can agree
That the Jews, we are a changing.
I would say that the song is best accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
Or, given the nature of things, perhaps a shofar would be best.
Because we all need a wakeup call – musical or otherwise.
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October 2, 2013 | 1:05 pm
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
It has not been a good week. Not for America, and not for the Jews.
Actually, the government shutdown will eventually go away. We should be so lucky with the Jewish shutdown.
These are my main takeaways from the Pew Center study on American Jewish identity.
We wanted to be part of the American mainstream, and we won. When our great-grandparents sailed into New York harbor, many of them took out their tefilin, kissed them goodbye, and threw them overboard. There is an underwater mountain of tefilin somewhere near the Statue of Liberty. That became the dominant metaphor of the American Jewish experience. But it didn’t stop with tefilin. The whole tallit of American Jewish life is unravelling.
Is there anything left for us to do? Yes.
Intermarriage: Many basements in my general area of New Jersey have water problems. A contractor told me: “You’re constantly fighting a battle with the water. It just wants to come in. So, you put in sump pumps and French drains and hope for the best.”
To continue the metaphor -- none of the sump pumps or French drains or fancy waterproofing devices have kept the flood of unlimited freedom out of the American Jewish basement. Can we still win the intermarried for Jewish life?
My son, Sam Salkin, suggests a Birthright Israel program for the intermarried, the intermarrying, and those who are considering conversion. As sociologist Len Saxe has shown, Birthright is working for college students. I am willing to gamble on the fact that it would “work” for young marrieds as well.
Synagogue life: When Jews talk about having cultural connections to Judaism, they’re not just talking about bagels. No – there actually is a bonafide Jewish culture – music, film, art, literature, theater. In fact, here’s the good news that didn’t make it into the Pew study: almost all of the creative stuff that is happening in the Jewish world is happening in the arts. Bring it all into the synagogue – sort of like what Lab Shul is doing. Bring it into worship services. (Channeling Mordecai Kaplan here!). Perhaps even the creation of synagogues that are entirely devoted to the arts. And we need far more synagogues like Bnai Jeshurun in New York – with joyful, quality Jewish music.
Investing in young leaders: Remember all those young people who are going on Birthright? Consider how that experience is going to reshape the American Jewish future. Within the foreseeable future, a majority of American Jews will have spent time in Israel. This will help transform American Jewish life. We should be investing more heavily into Birthright Next programs, tracking participants, leadership development, etc.
One last thing (and back to the real estate metaphor): When you have your house inspected, the inspector will show you all the problems – many of which you had no idea about. You can then repair the house, or you can walk away.
We have major cracks in the American Jewish foundation. We knew about it. We neglected the repairs. Or we invested in the wrong kind of repairs. Or we put a little spackle here and there, thinking that we had done the best we could.
We were wrong. We just read the American Jewish inspection report, and if we are truly serious about what is wrong, and if we are interested in going beyond self-congratulation (as if there are any reasons to be sanguine), and/or protecting our own programmatic agendas and fiefdoms – then we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and work together.
Do we have the communal will and energy to do it?
I am hoping that we do. Time is short.
September 25, 2013 | 7:08 am
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
There has been near-universal joyous reaction to Pope Francis’s recent proclamation that the Roman Catholic Church needs to focus less on issues like homosexuality, abortion and contraception and more on other, deeper spiritual matters. The Holy Father has been lauded for his humility, and his reasoned stance that the Church needs to find a new sense of balance, lest it increasingly become a “small chapel.”
It is not as if the Pope is changing Roman Catholic doctrine on such matters. It simply means that the Church is going to attempt to re-calibrate itself, and to find a sense of balance, moving away from positions that have only succeeded in alienating huge sections of the flock.
So: is the Pope Catholic?
Yes, in its true meaning – genuinely catholic (universal) in his theological and social tastes. But beyond this: in some ways, the current occupant of the throne of Saint Peter is the most “Jewish” Pope we have ever encountered. It is difficult to remember a Pope who actually had the depth of relationships with the Jewish community as this Pope has enjoyed.
Yes, Pope John XXIII completely transformed Christian doctrine on Judaism and the role of the Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus. Pope John Paul II had relationships with Jews in his native Poland, and was the first Pope to visit a synagogue, and as a Polish survivor of the carnage of World War II, had a special sensitivity to the Shoah.
But Pope Francis, nee Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, had a real working relationship with the Argentinian Jewish community, especially with its spiritual leaders. His response to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA center in Buenos Aires was notable for its compassion. He has visited synagogues in Argentina. Moreover, he collaborated with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in the creation of Sobre El Cielo Y La Tierra (Regarding Heaven and Earth), which is the transcript of a series of conversations with the rabbi.
It is enough to create Pope envy.
Why? Because the Pope has looked critically at the way the Church has communicated its teachings in the realm of sexuality. Channeling the late Peggy Lee, he has begun singing an updated, theological version of “Is That All There Is?” No, the Pope is saying – this is not all there is to the Church, and it is time for the Church to say that and to act on that, and to find a better sense of balance.
[Related: Pope Francis the Liberal]
So, what would happen if Jewish leaders followed the Pope’s lead?
Let’s start with the chief rabbis of Israel. “We, the chief rabbis of the state of Israel, believe in the primacy of halakha. However, we have focused too narrowly on issues like whether women can worship as equals at the Western Wall; or on “who is a Jew?”; or even on the punctiliousness of kashrut. We still care about those things. But our focus on those issues has alienated huge swaths of the Jewish world and has created hostility for traditional Judaism. We need to focus on issues like the meaning of Torah in the world today, or on the ethics of war and occupation, or on the situation of foreign laborers. We are seeking a new kind of balance in Jewish life today.”
Now, let’s move to non-Orthodox rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators: “We have allowed our institutions to become ‘bar mitzvah-centric.’ We train Jewish kids to learn prayers and Torah by rote, without spending enough time discussing their meaning. We need classes on kavannah and ‘awe management.’ We are seeking a new kind of balance in Jewish life today.”
Now, let’s imagine if this conversation could have happened thirty years ago. “We American Jewish leaders believe that we must remember the Shoah. But we note with concern the proliferation of local Holocaust memorials and museums. With prophetic vision, we see the day when there will be a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on the Mall in Washington, DC, to which people will flock. We ask our philanthropists to create more powerful and lasting memorials to the more than two million Jewish children who died in the Shoah by endowing Jewish education. Someday, there will be a program called “Birthright.” But we need a birthright program for Jewish education here, in our country. We are seeking a new kind of balance in Jewish life today.”
So, Holy Father, thanks for being our teacher. Thank you for reminding us, and people of all faiths, of the need to balance.
September 18, 2013 | 6:08 am
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
Just when you think that the United States is evolving into a kinder, gentler, post-racial nation (you do think that sometimes, don’t you?), something comes along and kind of knocks the air out of you.
I am referring to the recent bigoted attacks on the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, a 24 year old aspiring physician of Indian heritage. In the competition, Nina Davuluri performed a Bollywood dance, bringing her Indian heritage front and center into the American public eye.
It’s truly amazing, and frightening – people making hateful remarks (which I will not repeat here), attacking the appropriateness of an Indian-American becoming Miss America. Some even linked her victory to terrorism and 9/11. Because, well, you know, they’re not really American, are they?
We are free to debate the contemporary relevance and appropriateness of the whole Miss America thing. It feels like a throwback to another time. (By the way, Bert Parks was Jewish). But, having said that, let’s celebrate the racial diversity that has marked the Miss America pageant in recent years. There have been seven black Miss Americas, starting with Vanessa Williams 30 years ago. A Hawaii-born Filipina won in 2001.
To coin a phrase, this is another “small step” for the Indian-American community, who are already supplying far more than their fair share of scientists and high achievers, including politicians (think governors Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindhal, to name just a few) and actors (Dev Patel and Mindy Kaling, to name just a few). This is a community that might look different from us, but whose experience in climbing up the American ladder of meritocracy feels very similar to ours. In fact, in many school districts, the whispered ”secret” (because it is hardly a secret) is that “Indian kids are the new Jews,” occupying the upper rungs of the academic ladder in those places where Jewish students used to be.
So, maybe we should call Nina Davuluri the Indian-American Bess Myerson?
Now, there’s a name from the past. Many people will remember Bess Myerson, now close to ninety years old, as being New York City’s first Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, and then later serving as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs under Mayor Ed Koch, who was her frequent public companion. Factoid: she was the first to introduce freshness dating on food, which became the standard practice all over the country.
True enough. But Bess Myerson was also, and most famously, the first (and so far, only) Jewish Miss America.
It was almost exactly sixty-eight years ago – on September 2, 1945, to be exact. The amazing thing is that Bess Myerson was not an assimilated Jewish woman. She had been advised to change her name to something "less Jewish." She refused. Bert Parks ("Here she comes, Miss America....) however, was born Bertram Jacobson. Name changing was big in those days.
Not Bess Myerson. She knew her roots. She came from the Bronx. She was from a working-class sociaiist family who spoke Yiddish at home. They lived in the Sholom Aleichem Cooperative Houses – inhabited by radical Jewish families.
Bess Myerson had been studying music. Her father was a painter and could not afford a piano. One of her sisters convinced her to enter the competition in the hopes of her winning enough to purchase one.
Why was this such a big deal for American Jews (and not just for American Jews; there was rejoicing in the refugee camps of Europe as well)?
Bess Myerson’s victory came only four months after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Over there, Jews had died, and were continuing to die in displaced persons camps.
Here, we were not displaced. This was our place.
Bess Myerson’s victory symbolized that the Jews had arrived. Her victory symbolized that America was starting the process of widening its gaze beyond the WASP ideal of beauty.
Incredible: a Jew had been named the most beautiful woman in America -- at a time when her European Jewish counterparts were emaciated and in rags.
And, to be sure, even after she won the title, there were barriers. "I didn't pose with Ford cars or in Catalina bathing suits," she reminisced. Those companies didn't want a Jew representing them. Not American enough, apparently.
Back to Ms. Davuluri. Her winning the Miss America title symbolizes the further expansion of the American beauty ideal. It turns out that she, and various other Misses America, are the true rainbow coalition.
But more than that. The pushback against her victory, and the ugly remarks that accompanied it, reveal the dark underbelly of American identity politics. Put simply: there are a lot of people out there who simply aren’t interested in expanding the canon of what it means to be a “real” American. Racial profiling, the immigration debate, surveillance of American Muslims, the birther controversy – it is all part of the same malignant stew.
And it has been used against the Jews. And in Europe, it still is.
Hebrew buffs, take note: The Hebrew word for India, Hodu, is the same as the word for turkey (!) – and for “giving thanks.”
Let’s "give thanks" that America has changed.
Even if a bunch of hate-filled turkeys don’t quite get it.
September 11, 2013 | 4:49 am
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
This s the sixtieth anniversary of one of the most unusual, one of the most obscure, and one of the most significant moments in American cultural history.
I am referring, of course, to Perry Como’s recording of "Kol Nidre."
Nostalgia warning: I am about to mention records. Record albums, to be exact. Ten inch LPs, to be even more precise. ("Teach this diligently unto thy children.....")
In 1953, the popular singer Perry Como recorded an album of traditional religious hymns. The album was called "I Believe," and it was subtitled "Songs of all Faiths Sung by Perry Como." It was released in a ten-inch LP format on RCA Victor Records in November, 1953 – exactly sixty years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY6i6SobW6M
On that album, there were two songs in Hebrew.
The first was "Eli, Eli," a Hebrew/Yiddish cry of anguish to God.
And the other song that Perry Como recorded on the album “I Believe” was not exactly a song. Neither can we rightly call it a prayer. It is a declaration, actually – Kol Nidre.
Perry Como not only recorded Kol Nidre; he also sang it every year around Yom Kippur on his television variety show, The Chesterfield Supper Club.
Perry Como was a man of deep faith, a pious Catholic. He would sit in a side pew in his home church on Long Island because he did not want to distract from the sanctity of the service. He was apparently enchanted by the Aramaic words to Kol Nidre – in Aramaic, which a Jewish member of the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra taught him to pronounce – and perhaps even more so by its melody.
If we were going to continue our cultural history of Kol Nidre, we would, of course, have to mention that Al Jolson sang it in "The Jazz Singer", the first "talking" movie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTufuWn3jv8Neil Diamond sang "Kol Nidre" in the 1984 remake of "The Jazz Singer." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IEDLZayfdU
And, in the category of “you cannot make this stuff up,” in 1958 -- five years after "Perry Como" recorded Kol Nidre -- Johnny Mathis also recorded it on his album “Good Night Dear Lord.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGJ4WS1h9YI
And, then in the category of obscure musical renditions of sacred texts: in 1968, an all-but-completely forgotten British rock band, The Electric Prunes recorded an album called “Release of an Oath.” It featured an English translation of Kol Nidre, with some semblance of the traditional melody. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pVUkQbcO4o
So, what do we learn from the odd American history of Kol Nidre?
First of all, this was not the first time that a song in a Semitic language jumped to the top of the charts. In 1950, The Weavers, whose leader was Pete Seeger, recorded the Israeli popular song, “Tzena Tzena." It was the B side of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene.” "Tzena Tzena" was subsequently recorded by such stars as Mitch Miller, the Smothers Brothers, and Connie Francis.
“Tzena Tzena” comes out of the immediate post-independence American romance with Israel. It is about Israeli girls in a moshav running out to greet soldiers, which must have been ironic, as Pete Seeger is a life long pacifist. “Tzena Tzena” went to Number Two on the music charts – which means that it is the most popular Hebrew song ever recorded in the United States.
In 1953, there was far more anti-Semitism in America than there is today. There were still restricted neighborhoods, restricted professions, and the gates of Ivy League universities were still not completely open to Jews. It was the heyday of Senator Joseph McCarthy -- not a good time for American diversity.
And yet, Perry Como, one of America’s most beloved recorded what is arguably the Jewish people’s most sacred piece of music. And it was a hit – in Aramaic!
I submit to you that Perry Como’s recording of "Kol Nidre" was a watershed moment in American Jewish history. It was a crucial, though underappreciated, part of the process by which American Jews became accepted in America – and by which Judaism became accepted as part of the American religious landscape.
I suspect that few people these days still listen to Perry Como. Musical tastes have changed, which is an understatement.
But when Perry Como recorded Kol Nidre, it was not just a recording of a beautiful and haunting melody. It was the opening of a musical and cultural gateway.
We could stretch this walk down Liturgical Nostalgia Alley a little bit further – and mention that Barbra Streisand recorded the majestic Janowski version of "Avinu Malkheinu." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YONAP39jVEAnd the rock band Phish, my sons hasten to remind me, performed the jazzed up folk version of "Avinu Malkheinu," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUw4TY9H4-g Odd little factoid here: they once gave a concert on Yom Kippur and included the song in the concert. Sacred or profane? Discuss.
And then, of course, you have Mattisyahu playing to sold out crowds, singing Hasidic reggae. And you know that those crowds are not all Jewish. No way.
Thanks, Perry, for making it happen. In the yeshiva shel maalah, the academy (or concert hall) on high, I hope that you'll be singing it to God this Friday evening -- on Kol Nidre itself.
September 2, 2013 | 12:42 pm
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
Let’s just say that reasonable people (or, even, people in Congress) can disagree, reasonably, about the most appropriate way to deal with the situation in Syria. I’m OK with that.
But here is what I am not OK with.
There was an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times magazine – a personal reflection by a man who had a terrifying bout with something called transient global amnesia. In other words, he had inexplicable short-term memory loss. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/01/magazine/a-brief-vacation-from-myself.html?ref=magazine&_r=0 In order to test the extent of the damage, the attending physician asked him the name of the current president; he could not remember. Nor could he remember what he had for breakfast. The doctor then showed him three objects and asked him to remember what they were – apple, table, penny – and again, he couldn’t remember.
“We are all just one misfiring neuron away from forgetting who the president is or what we did last night or what transpired in our most intimate moments. In an instant, I had become like my grandmothers in their last years, floating through life, uttering the same old phrases as if for the first time.
“Your accumulated memories make you who you are — how terrifying is it that they can simply vanish? What do you become then? This question still nags at me every morning I can’t remember where I put my keys, each time I can’t recall why I came downstairs. Now I have a simple way to ground myself. I repeat three words in my mind: apple, table, penny.”
But this week, we need only repeat one word in our minds: gas, gas, gas.
Here was Chris Matthews, last week:
"If you basically put down a red line and say don't use chemical weapons, and it's been enforced in the Western community…Don't use chemical weapons. We didn't use them in World War II, Hitler didn't use them, we don't use chemical weapons, that's no deal. Although we do know that Assad's father did. Then he goes ahead and does it......" http://www.city-data.com/forum/politics-other-controversies/1942953-more-stupidity-chris-matthews.html#ixzz2dO6MAdcj
And then, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer joined PBS Newshour to argue against military intervention in Syria. Here’s what he said:
“[But] chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear weapons are. The reason that chemical weapons were not used in World War II wasn’t because someone like Adolf Hitler was above using them for moral reasons."http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/july-dec13/syria_08-28.html
The Nazis didn’t use chemical weapons?!? What, then, would you call Zyklon B? And let the record note, they "even" used chemical weapons against combatants, i.e. the Soviet army.
I would have expected more from Chris Matthews.
But as for John Mearsheimer, it only shows that Israel-bashing is a gateway drug.
Remember Mearsheimer and Walt? John Mearsheimer collaborated with John Walt on The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy. They essentially say that a Jewish conspiracy is malignantly affecting United States foreign policy. Mearsheimer even blurbed a book by the execretious Gilad Atzmon, which refers to American Jews as “the enemy within” and which claims that “robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right.” Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli jazz saxaphonist who has compared Israel to the Nazis and has accused Jews of trafficing in body parts. He proudly calls himself a "self-hating Jew."
So let us not be surprised that Mearsheimer’s latest screed approaches the suburbs of Holocaust-denial -- or at the very least, minimalization.
We are now seventy years after the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and seventy five years after Kristallnacht. If the Shoah was a final exam, we all flunked. Just look at what has happened since the Shoah: Pol Pot. Rwanda. Kosovo. The Kurds. Remember “Hotel Rwanda”? The Hutus slaughtered eight thousand Tutsi a day for one hundred days straight, and no one did a thing.
You know the US Holocaust Museum? Every DC tourist’s favorite stop? School groups from Topeka and Anchorage and Chevy Chase wearing out the carpeting? A $53 million annual budget?
The US Holocaust Museum has not prevented a single death.
As US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, writes in her magisterial book on genocide, A Problem From Hell: America And The Age of Genocide
http://www.amazon.com/Problem-Hell-America-Age-Genocide/dp/0061120146, time and time again, American leaders did not act against mass killing for one major reason: they did not want to. They knew that genocide was wrong, but they simply did not want to invest military, financial or political capital in fighting it.
True: no one wants another Viet Nam. No one wants another Iraq or Afghanistan.
But: how about not wanting another Rwanda?
I remind you of the man in the New York Times Magazine who endured transient global amnesia.
Yes, there are many who now have (moral) amnesia.
Yes, it seems global.
But is it transient?
We cannot know. And as I write these words, we cannot know what, in fact, the Congress will choose to do about Syria. And as I said, reasonable people can disagree on the precise contours of American policy.
As we enter Yom Ha-zikharon, the day of remembering, Rosh Ha Shanah – let us at least, as Jews, be the shock troops in the war against amnesia.
August 27, 2013 | 6:14 pm
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
Last night, I had a bizarre dream. I would ask a therapist to help me analyze it, but it’s August and there are none to be found.
In the dream, I was back in college, and Mick Jagger (!) was lecturing on the Middle East, and the lecture was totally biased towards the Palestinian narrative. When the three Jewish students complained, he told us that we would get our turn as well. In the dream, I said to “Professor” Jagger (and I am not kidding): “Do the Palestinians simply assume that time is on their side [an obvious reference to the Stones’ old hit]?"
A therapist would say that Jagger was actually a nocturnal representation of Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd front man who has called for an international cultural boycott of Israel.
These are Waters’ words:
“Please join me and all our brothers and sisters in global civil society in proclaiming our rejection of apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”
True, other rock stars have boycotted Israel. But this is the first time in my memory that someone has actually called for a boycott. And, let the record note, Israel is, now, the only country in the world that is boycott-able. I sometimes wonder how British rock stars would have felt if American rock musicians had boycotted Britain during the darkest days of the troubles in northern Ireland. Remember how China destroyed Tibet? No "Boycott China" campaign.
In 2006, Waters was photographed spraying the words “no thought control” on the West Bank separation barrier. (I never liked the song “The Wall.” It always seemed frighteningly fascist to me). Roger: anyone who has ever visited Israel, or anyone who regularly reads Israeli newspapers or listens to Israeli politicians or sees Israeli films or listens to Israeli rock music knows that there is absolutely no control of anyone’s thoughts or political actions.
On the other hand, Roger, you might want to go to Egypt, Syria, Iran, and a host of other Moslem countries – just so you know what thought control really is.
That would be a journey to “the dark side of the moon.”
Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli has basically said to Roger Waters: “Kiss off.” (I am researching the Hebrew equivalent). “Take my image out of your videos.” This is what I call, truly, bar mitzvah. (Sorry).
There were some who were willing to give Roger Waters a pass when he adorned a pig with a Star of David. Fine.
But when you mix that in with the anti-Israel obsession, you really have to wonder how Roger Waters feels about the Jews.
And if the Jews are the only minority group in the world that one can hate with absolute impunity -- then, yes, I have a problem with that.
Sure, there are rock stars who boycott Israel. But, the list of Israel-visitors is much longer: Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, the Pet Shop Boys, Regina Spektor, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Elton John, The Scorpions, Rod Stewart, Rihanna, the Pixies, Barbara Streisand, Tom Jones (who is being pressured to call off his trip).
I understand why these artists are playing Israel. In some cases, it is out of a genuine respect and love for the State of Israel and its people. And in other cases, it is not that the artist is performing in Israel. It’s more like they are refusing to not play in Israel. A gig, after all, is a gig.
But who cares about motives?
Which brings me to the original Man in Black (and I am not talking about some guy in Meah Shearim): the late, iconic country singer, Johnny Cash, whose tenth yahrzeit will be in a few weeks.
There’s a new commemorative volume about Johnny Cash. It has rare photos and great biographical details. And, of course, there’s “Walk The Line,” the 2005 bio-pic about Cash.
But both the book and the film omit a crucial part of Cash's life.
And that was the State of Israel.
It might be that the popular artist who was most supportive of Israel was, yes, Johnny Cash.
Between 1966 and the mid-1990s, Johnny Cash, along with his wife June Carter Cash and their children, visited Israel five times. He recorded an album of inspirational hymns about the Land of Israel – “The Holy Land” in 1968 -- and made films about his journeys to Biblical sites.
Check out these lyrics to Cash's song “Land of Israel”:
From the top of Sinai to the Sea of Galilee
Every hill and plain is home every place is dear to me
There the breezes tell the stories oh what stories they do tell
Of the mighty things that happened in the land of Israel.
From the rolling plain of Sharon to Mount Tabor's lofty heights
To the deserts of Beersheba all is calm all is right
Green the trees are on the mountain sweet the water in the well
May there never more be sorrow in the land of Israel.
Check out the video -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1AzKrUTHVU
I am grateful to my friend Shalom Goldman for teaching me about this. (Check out his book about Christian Zionism -- Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land -- http://www.amazon.com/Zeal-Zion-Christians-Jews-Promised/dp/0807833444).
Johnny Cash’s brand of Christian Zionism was not about right-wing politics. Rather, it was based simply on his faith.
When Cash died, the State of Israel released a statement: “…Johnny Cash was loved by Israelis and his music will live on in the pubs, cafes and hearts of a grateful nation.”
So, how about naming a street in Jerusalem Rechov Johnny Cash?
We need more friends in the music world like Johnny Cash.
Because in far too many corners of the contemporary cultural world, support for Israel has become – well, a “ring of fire.”
August 21, 2013 | 7:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
Last week, you would have hardly known that there were peace talks happening in Jerusalem. That wasn’t the biggest Jewish news.
No, that prize goes to the viral Sam Horowitz bar mitzvah dance video.
I have spent the better part of my career thinking about bar/bat mitzvah. Ever since I wrote Putting God On The Guest List: How To Reclaim The Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah (Jewish Lights) http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-260-9 I have seen how the trends in bar/bat mitzvah have evolved.
The good news: As I travel around the country, talking about bar and bat mitzvah, people tell me that unfettered glitz has become passe. Tikkun olam is now hotter than Sam Horowitz -- who, let the record note, gave a nice piece of money to tzedakah. Check out The Mitzvah Project Book (Jewish Lights) to learn how to do it.http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-458-0
The not-so-good news: The American Jewish cult of the self has spawned the private bar/bat mitzvah industry. Rabbis and free-lance teachers hire themselves out to families. They’ll bring a Torah and do the ceremony….wherever. It could be a local restaurant, or an exotic locale, with no one there except the family and the scenery. Communal connection? Nope. Responsibility? Nope. Synagogue affiliation? Nope.
Approximately fifty per cent of our post-pubescent Jewish kids drop out after bar/bat mitzvah. And so do their families. You can practically hear the synagogue doors slamming right after Ein Keloheinu at the last child’s ceremony.
All of this leads to a heretical question: Is thirteen still the “right” age for Jewish maturity?
The Bible didn’t think so. There, the age of majority is twenty. That age doesn’t get reduced until the sages decide, as quoted in Pirkei Avot: “at thirteen, ready for mitzvot.” That age of thirteen becomes a legal category of Jewish ritual and moral responsibility.
The passage from Pirkei Avot continues: “At eighteen, ready for the huppah.” Actually, in America today, it’s “at eighteen, ready for the meal plan.” So, why cling to thirteen as the age of Jewish maturity -- especially when people are living longer and adolescence now actually lasts longer than ever before? (Watch re-runs of “Girls” on HBO and you will see what I mean).
My Reform ancestors got it. They invented the group ceremony of confirmation. It was more intellectual, academic and about what Jews believe. It wasn’t about biological age; it was about being in, say, tenth grade. It was also highly social. And we have come to understand that Jewish education is far beyond the formal stuff. It's the Jewish Holy Trinity: youth activities; camp; Israel trips.
So, my modest, even Swiftian, proposal. Move bar/bat mitzvah from thirteen to seventeen – that is, to the senior year in high school.
Introducing a new American Jewish ceremony: Ben/bat Torah, "old enough for Torah." Same basic arrangement as bar/bat mitzvah: Torah portion, haftarah, lead service, give devar Torah. Keep it as a solo ceremony. Kids need individual rites of passage -- a test, an ordeal, a moment of public wrestling.
Why move it to that age? Because, in American society today, thirteen just doesn't matter the way it once did. What's the real moment of passage? When you’re ready to leave home and go to college, work, the military. By then, our young people are more intellectually mature. It would be a way for the community to say: “We have educated you, nourished you, nurtured you with all the wisdom that we have at our disposal. Now, take this Torah and enter the world with it.” (You want a biblical source for seventeen? That's how old Joseph was when he left home. True -- it didn't start that well, but it all worked out in the end).
Look at what American Judaism invented in the last century alone: bat mitzvah, baby-namings for girls in synagogues, same sex wedding ceremonies. When certain ceremonies lose their historical rationale (i.e., pidyon ha-ben, redemption of the first born), we either re-interpret it or put it in the liturgical attic. We have ceremonies and blessings for everything -- and those that we don’t have, we invent.
At the very least, can we have a large communal conversation about the meaning of Jewish maturity? What Jewish hopes and expectations do we have for our children? What do we want them to experience? What do we want them to feel? (Note to self: mission statements for Jewish families. Help families create them. Think about it.)
What should they know? A Jewish way of looking at abortion, stem cell research, sexuality, torture, drones, the ethics of war, assisted suicide?
How about this: a huge number of Jewish kids are going to be having their first major conversation about Israel at around the same time they are unpacking their duffel bag in the dorm room. It’s going to come from their suite mates or from their professors. It's going to be about Israeli "apartheid" or something like that. It will not be pretty. By the time they leave home, shouldn’t our kids have learned how to have meaningful conversations about Israel?
And, with all due respect to our thirteen year olds, it will not have happened by then. No way. It can't.
Jewish parents of America: are we ready to articulate Jewish expectations for our children? Rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders: are we making sure that our programs are compelling? What kind of metrics are we prepared to use? How attentive are we to educational and societal trends? Jewish organizations like the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue: your professionals are asking all the right questions. Keep 'em coming.
You know all that time we spent discussing how a Jewish kid dances?
How about some time discussing what Jewish kids know?
Everything else is the sideshow.