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.
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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.
August 6, 2013 | 2:12 pm
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
My old friend (and one-time youth grouper) Rabbi Aaron Panken was recently chosen to be the new president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement’s flagship seminary. It is an excellent choice. Aaron is a scholar, blessed with great intelligence, vision, an engaging personality, and decades of service to the Reform movement. We should expect much greatness from him.
I was pleased to see that I was not the only one who noticed something interesting. Uriel Heilman, writing in JTA, http://www.jta.org/2013/08/01/life-religion/panken-a-commerical-pilot-who-will-head-reforms-rabbinical-school-eyes-horizon noticed that Rabbi Panken, like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has a connection with Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York. That was where Rabbi Panken served as the rabbinic intern, and he has family connections in that synagogue as well. Rabbi Jacobs also once served as its rabbinic intern, and then, some years later, became senior rabbi of the congregation before departing to lead the Reform movement.
But what of the Scarsdale connection? Rabbi Panken, quoted in JTA, thinks that it is “pretty much a coincidence” that both he and Rabbi Jacobs are, professionally, a product of the same synagogue.
Coincidence? I think not.
It’s not “who’s your daddy?” (or, in liberal movements, “who’s your mommy?”)
It’s: “who’s your teacher?”
Both Rabbi Panken and Rabbi Jacobs were influenced by the late Rabbi Jack Stern, who was the senior rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple for almost forty years. Rabbi Stern was a rabbi’s rabbi, as well as the father of Rabbi David Stern, senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Dallas, and Elsie Stern, who is one of American Jewry’s most erudite scholars. (Their brother, Jonathan Stern, is a prominent attorney in Washington, DC, and hardly chopped liver. But we are just speaking about the rabbinate here).
The elder Rabbi Stern was himself the son-in-law and associate rabbi of the late Rabbi Jacob Philip Rudin of Temple Beth El in Great Neck, New York. Rabbi Rudin was the best friend of the late Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn of Temple Israel in Boston. Rabbi Gittelsohn was immortalized by the celebrated (and in its time, controversial, because he was a Jewish chaplain) sermon at the dedication of the military cemetery at Iwo Jima. His assistants and associates, including Rabbi Charles Kroloff, who was chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Rabbi Harvey Fields, rabbi emeritus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, went on to become major leaders in American Judaism.
And then, you have one of Rabbi Gittelsohn’s contemporaries and neighbors -- the late Rabbi Joseph Klein of Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is beyond impressive how many Reform Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Eric Yoffie , past president of the URJ, and Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the URJ, grew up in that congregation. And then, add to the mix Rabbi Klein’s associate -- the late Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who was the indefatigable leader of the Reform movement and a world-class Jewish statesman.
You want to trace it back another generation, back to the 1940s and 1950s? Then go to Cleveland. How did the shores of Lake Erie produce so many rabbis? Easy. It was because of such Cleveland rabbis as the great Zionist leaders, the late Rabbi Barnett Brickner and the late Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.
I apologize, in advance, to my many friends and colleagues (you know who you are) whose names I did not mention in this piece. I only have so many words. But don’t think for a minute (again, I am speaking to you) that I have forgotten you. Quite the contrary.
I am talking about the immortality of influence, as well as the sheer power of mentoring and relationships.
I once heard a few Orthodox kids bragging to each other about who their fathers’ teachers were. If you know that world, then you know the drill: Soloveitchik, Hutner, etc.
But one kid piped up: “You think you're so hot? Get this: my father taught Rabbi X [a particularly well-known Orthodox rabbi and scholar]."
The reaction: “Wow.”
Getting back to all these rabbis and teachers. I don't know if they knew what they were doing at the time. Maybe they were just being who they normally were, and their students just picked it up. Maybe it was all an accident of charisma.
No, there are no accidents. We make this stuff happen. And we should. The Jewish world depends upon it.
So, whom are you teaching? How are you making your own town a powerhouse of Jewish influence? It can happen, and it does happen, in small towns; Safed in the sixteenth century was only about a thousand households, and it changed the entire way that Jews imagined the world.
As we enter the month of Elul, it’s a great time to remember your own teachers and influencers, and to thank them, even in the great beyond, for helping you become the person you inevitably are.
Because it really is about: "Who's your teacher?"
And, let us remember: "Who's your student?" as well.
July 23, 2013 | 9:44 am
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
Time to cue the band. Let’s see now: “Hava Nagilah?” “The Hokey Pokey?”
Um, can you do the hora to “Material Girl?”
Those were the questions on everyone’s lips this past week as the gossip pages roared the news that Rocco, son of the pop sensation Madonna and her ex-husband Guy Richie, was going to celebrate becoming bar mitzvah.
To coin a phrase: “How was this bar mitzvah different from every other bar mitzvah?”
For one thing, the ceremony entailed the completion of the writing of a Torah scroll. Madonna wrote: “We finish the last letter of the Torah for Rocco’s Bar Mitzva! [sic] Lucky 13! Happy Birthday Potential……….responsibility!!!!” This was certainly unlike any other thirteen year old’s rite of passage, at least in my professional memory. Learning a Torah portion? Chanting haftarah? Giving a devar Torah? Nope. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing a Torah scroll (it is, in fact, the 613th mitzvah in the Torah), but bar or bat mitzvah, it ain’t.
Oh, there was one other thing about the uniqueness of this bar mitzvah. Call me a stickler, if you want, but this might be the first bar or bat mitzvah in history in which none of the cast of characters is Jewish. Madonna isn’t. Guy Richie isn’t. Rocco surely isn’t.
I’m not going to take anything away from Madonna. As gentile pop stars go, she is definitely on our side.
Madonna is studying kabbalah. She gave herself a Hebrew name – Esther. She has played numerous concerts in Israel. She has visited Israel more times than the overwhelming majority of American Jews. She has gone to Israel for Rosh Ha Shanah. She has met with Israel’s President, Shimon Peres. She is reportedly interested in buying an apartment in Tel Aviv, which is sort of like South Beach.
We do not take this for granted.
However: what does Rocco’s “bar mitzvah” say about bar/bat mitzvah and about Judaism?
Ever since I wrote Putting God On The Guest List: How To Reclaim The Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-260-9, I have marveled over the fact that two phenomena seem to walk hand in hand.
On the one hand: among the non-Orthodox, the vast Jewish majority of traditional Jewish observances seem to have shrunken. It seems that the substance of Passover seders has shrunken. I sense that fewer people observe yahrzeit than ever before. Yom Kippur fasts are shorter.
And yet, even as other observances shrank, bar and bat mitzvah grew – explosively. What was once a semi-colon in the paragraph of Jewish life has become, sadly, a period. Bar/bat mitzvah eligibility is still the major impetus for synagogue membership. It is a multi-million dollar business. In my own non-scientific study of popular culture, I have figured out that bar and bat mitzvah is probably the most-portrayed religious ceremony, both on the small screen and the large screen.
Is it any wonder, then, that the popularity of bar/bat mitzvah has spread to other ethnic and religious groups? Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal featured a front page article about Protestant kids wanting bar/bat mitzvah: “You Don't Have to Be Jewish To Want a Bar Mitzvah Party. More Kids on Cusp of 13 Get Faux Post-Rite Parties; Picking Hawaiian Theme.” http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB107404276295131300,00.html
But it’s not just the party. It’s also the passage. In the African-American community, some thirteen year-old boys publicly give a small speech, and explicitly pledge not to do drugs, be involved with crime, and abuse women. A few years ago, I attended an Episcopalian “Rite Thirteen,” a church pageant in which a group of thirteen year-old kids declared their faith. Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery. A few years ago, a Protestant colleague of mine said to me: "Do you have any idea what a great thing you have in bar and bat mitzvah?"
Bottom line: if bar/bat mitzvah did not exist, it would have to be invented, because people really want rites of passage for their children.
Still, even though I can hear Madonna singing in my ear – “Papa don't preach,” I have grave misgivings about the de-Judaization of bar and bat mitzvah. I have to wonder aloud: is it really good for the Jews or for Judaism that a primal Jewish ceremony is ripped out of its traditional Jewish context and becomes available to anyone?
In the theological category of “if it quacks like a duck…” this is what I would want to say to Madonna. Madge: you are studying a kind of Judaism. You have given yourself a Hebrew name. You have proven yourself to be a friend of the Jewish people, Jewish teachings, and the Jewish state. Go the full Marilyn (Monroe, that is)! We would love to welcome you and Rocco into the Jewish people.
Is that "like a prayer?" Perhaps so, but it is a prayer worth uttering.
July 10, 2013 | 9:26 am
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
A number of years ago, I attended a rather large gathering of Jews. On Shabbat, I found myself sitting at a table with a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, including some rabbis, who hailed from Brooklyn.
Right after motzi, some of them started talking about what we would now call the “hood.” They were complaining about their neighbors. And suddenly, one of them used a word that I had not heard in a very long time: “the shvartzers.”
Whoa, I said to myself. This was unlike any version of Orthodoxy that I had ever encountered before. It was not the Orthodoxy of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, nor of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, nor of the late, lamented Rabbi David Hartman, nor of Adin Steinsaltz, nor of former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I had heard the term “Torah true Judaism” that many ultra-Orthodox use to describe their practice. Was this Torah-true Judaism? Then what about Leviticus 19, the Holiness Code, which included “love your neighbor as yourself?" What about the thirty-six times that the Torah tells us to take care of the stranger? Isn't that also, or even chiefly, Torah?
I was brasher then than I am now, and so I turned to one of my offending neighbors at the table and I asked him, point-blank: “Do you davven with that mouth?” I could not conceive of a mouth that uttered the Sh’ma, or chanted Psalms, or sang Adon Olam, also using racial slurs.
They looked at me like I was crazy. Let’s just say that birchat ha-mazon (the blessing after the meal) could not have come any faster.
Fast forward to what happened earlier this week on Rosh Chodesh Av at the Western Wall – Women of the Wall, and numerous friends and supporters and fellow pray-ers, went to davven at the wall. Except they were met by busloads of ultra-Orthodox girls, who blocked their access to the Wall. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews who were there greeted them with Nazi salutes and “Heil Hitler!” Follow this link to the video created by my colleague, Rabbi Ned Soltz.
Ask yourself: Who are the more authentic representatives of “Torah-true Judaism” – the screaming hordes or the praying women?
And once again, I want to say: Do you davven with that mouth? Do you wrap tefillin on the arm that you raised in a Hitler salute?
How about the way that many of the ultra-Orthodox refer to their brethren who choose to serve in the Israel Defense Forces? They ostracize them, they ridicule them, they will even seek to make these citizen soldiers unmarriageable within the frum community. Some ultra-Orthodox residents of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem actually physically attacked an ultra-Orthodox soldier who was visiting his family.
Some ultra-Orthodox Jews have coined a new term that Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew, would never have imagined. Hardakim -- a combination of the term hareidim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) and the Hebrew words for insects (charakim) and germs (chaidakim). And then there are the comic-like caricatures of these soldiers, which portray them as fat, bearded monstrous kidnappers of children.
Imagining Jews as insects. Imagining Jews as germs. Caricatures of fat, bearded, evil Jews. Right out of Der Sturmer’s play book.
Tisha B’Av is coming. The ninth day of the month of Av is the traditional date of the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem, along with a few other historical tragedies that just happened to be lumped into that date. We can thank Jewish summer camps for rescuing the observance of Tisha B’Av.
But it might be that Tisha B’Av is no longer about mourning a devastated city. Perhaps now, Tisha b’Av is about mourning our devastated values.
Jerusalem was destroyed, the sages said, because: Because its people profaned Shabbat. Because they neglected saying the Sh’ma mornings and evenings. Because they stopped bringing their children to study with the sages. Because they lost their sense of shame. Because they did not admonish each other. Because people failed to settle disputes by compromise. Because of baseless hatred (sinat hinam).
Seven sins. How about synagogues instituting a seven year cycle of reflection – one year for each sin? We already have Yom Kippur, you are saying. But that’s for personal sin. Tisha B’Av should be about communal and national sins.
Every mitzvah that we do contributes to the re-building of the Temple, said the Hasidic teacher, Reb Naftali of Ropshitz.
It's time for us to start.
July 1, 2013 | 2:53 pm
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
The first wail of mourning that I ever heard in my life was at my great-aunt Trudy’s funeral.
For forty-five years, Aunt Trudy had been my great-aunt Charlotte’s – what’s the word here? “Room mate?” “Apartment mate?” That’s what they were, technically – sharing a small, plainly furnished apartment on the Grand Concourse of the Bronx, long after the neighborhood had changed from the being the Jewish Champs D’Elysee to something much different.
It didn’t much matter. We often went out there for Sunday dinner, braving the interminable traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Charlotte was my mother’s aunt, the younger sister of my grandmother. And Trudy was her – well, actually no one ever labeled her, or their relationship. They were always simply the tantes. I remember asking, as a small child, why they had never gotten married. I meant, of course, to men – which is precisely how they each responded: “No man ever wanted to marry us.” And that was it. What was the term back then? “Spinster?” “Old maid?”
And then, one day Aunt Trudy became sick with cancer. And as she declined, Charlotte cared for her, full time, until she died. And when the day of her funeral came, I heard the wail of grief which, to this day, pierces my bones, because even though I have been a rabbi for several decades I have never, ever, heard a scream like the one that emerged from the lips of dear Aunt Charlotte. As the funeral began, the funeral director escorted Charlotte out to the chapel – as, in the decades hence, I have seen funeral directors escort grieving spouses out, over and over again.
Yes, grieving spouses. Let’s just hold onto that one for a few moments.
As the pall bearers were carrying Trudy’s coffin out into the hearse, my mother wondered aloud, somewhat off-handedly: “I wonder if Trudy’s family will be here.” To which I replied: “I thought that we were Aunt Trudy’s family.”
Fast forward twenty years. I was already a rabbi. When I visited Aunt Charlotte in the nursing home, I noticed that her siddur was in tatters. I offered to replace it for her. She demurred, saying, “Thanks, Jeff, but this one has Trudy in it.” It had been Trudy’s, and Charlotte could not bear to part with it.
Fast forward fifteen years after that. The waves of social change that were already sweeping across America got me thinking. Were Charlotte and Trudy more than simply “roommates?” By then, there was almost no one left to ask. My mother had died, as had Charlotte, and when I thought to subtly broach the subject to the remaining distant relatives, they shrugged their shoulders. One recalled that there were twin beds in their bedroom. Sure, but Ozzie and Harriet had twin beds as well. It didn’t prove or disprove anything.
And so it was that I constructed a story for myself. To this day, I cannot know if it is true or a myth that I have created. I came to imagine the context of my mother’s stray query: “I wonder if Trudy’s family will be here.” I came to imagine that yes, they had been lovers and partners, k’ilu (as if) they had been married. I came to imagine that back in the 1920s, Trudy’s family could not handle that truth and that they had disowned her or had emotionally abandoned her. (It would not have been the first, nor certainly not the last time). I came to realize that my maternal grandparents had unequivocally opened their home and their hearts to this (k’ilu married) couple, and had made no separation between themselves and Charlotte and Trudy. And neither had anyone else in the family. It wasn’t only a familial version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It was also a familial version of “don’t ask, don’t tell, doesn’t matter.”
I tell this story for all the obvious reasons. As both DOMA and Proposition Eight wind up on the well-deserved kaddish list, I am thinking of all the couples, all the spiritual descendants of Charlotte and Trudy, who are now free to legally bind their lives together. I think of Edith Windsor and the late Thea Spyer, who were together for forty two years until Thea’s death, in whose name the Supreme Court acted last week – Edith Windsor, who can now claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. I looked at Edith Windsor, and I saw the faces of Charlotte and Trudy.
All I know is this. The love and devotion that Charlotte and Trudy showed to each other was a living, breathing part of my childhood. It not only did me no harm. It did me great good.
And all I know is this, as well. I have been thinking about DOMA, and thinking about a Hebrew pun that should be married to it as well. DOMA sounds like duma, the Hebrew word for silence.
So now the multitude of silences can end.
And I would like to believe that Charlotte and Trudy are in the World to Come, applauding the death of Proposition 8 and DOMA.
June 25, 2013 | 4:46 pm
Posted by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
“It’s Only Rock And Roll…
…but I like it.” Those were the immortal words of the Rolling Stones.
And I do. I do like rock and roll, especially when its practitioners like Israel -- or, at the very least, are benignly neutral towards it.
Unfortunately, it would seem that such Israel-philes are in short supply in the world of popular music. Too many rock stars have bought into the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement by refusing to play concerts in Israel. We’re talking about people like Elvis Costello (though not his wife, Diana Krall), Carlos Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, among others. It’s not limited to rock stars. Meg Ryan and Emma Thompson have joined this infamous crowd. I have thought of turning around and boycotting their music and their work, but why sink to their level?
The whole boycotting Israel thing is dark, dangerous and extremely hypocritical. I am thinking about all of the national conflicts in the past thirty years that these rock stars have ignored, at least when it comes to choosing concert venues. I realize that some of the boycotters are British, so I suppose that’s why they didn’t self-boycott and refuse to play in London during the darkest days of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Or why you never hear of artists boycotting China even when the Chinese destroyed Tibet. Hmnnn…
But then, there’s the list of popular artists who have gone ahead and played concerts in Israel. That list includes Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Elton John (who has criticized the Israel boycotters), The Scorpions, Rod Stewart, Rihanna, the Pixies, Barbara Streisand…
And now, add to that list Alicia Keys. The pop singer has blatantly dissed Alice Walker in rejecting the famous author’s call to boycott Israel and not play concerts there. Alice Walker is such an Israel-hater that she refuses to have her books translated into Hebrew, which means that you can forget about picking up a copy of Ha-Tzevah Argaman (The Color Purple) at Steimatzky’s in Jerusalem anytime soon.
Boycotting Israel is bad enough. But boycotting Hebrew as a language? Waging a linguistic war against a (probably the) Jewish language? Hmnnn….
I have to tell you: I am really moved when rock stars and popular artists decide to play in Israel. Let’s face it. Most popular artists tend to move in very left wing circles (I myself am a boring centrist liberal type), and sadly, those very left wing circles are not always particularly friendly towards the Jewish State. I am sure that most popular artists and their management companies never really take the political situation into account when making their schedules. An audience of ticket-buyers is an audience of ticket-buyers. Still, playing in Israel – like visiting Israel – is a statement.
So, for a while I have believed that the Jewish community has to do a better job of thanking these rock stars for sharing their artistry with Israelis and, implicitly or explicitly, not allowing politics to get in the way of a rocking good time. And when they go to Israel, the crowds always adore them and they come back with a greater appreciation of what we have created in Israel. I even thought of creating an organization called “Rock of Israel” that would thank those stars and promote their work.
That’s why I posted on Alica Keys’ Facebook page. It was very simple and non-political. “Thank you for choosing to play in Israel and bringing your music as a message of peace.” I urge you to do it as well. And continue doing it for rock stars who play in Israel. Gratitude is a basic Jewish value. You don’t have to say “thanks for bucking the BDS stuff.” Just say “thanks.”
One last thing. This posting-on-Facebook thing is not without its perils. Or, minor perils anyway. The Israel-haters are going to respond to your gratitude with, well, attitude. And they will be loud and shrill and crass and frankly anti-Semitic.
My advice: ignore the haters who respond to your pro-Alicia/pro-Israel Facebook post. Don’t get into it with them. You have better things to do with your time.
One last thing: Since I began this blog post with a quote from the Rolling Stones, the rumor that they will be playing in Israel is, at this time, alas, simply a rumor.
May it come to be true. That, at the very least, would give a lot of us “satisfaction.”