Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
We mourn the 12 victims and 58 wounded in the senseless slaughter in Aurora. We also mourn the suicide bombing that murdered five Israelis and two Bulgarians, and wounded dozens of Israelis in Bulgaria.
These two horrific events are tied together chronologically and also on a communal level. These tragedies potentially could provide us with a catalyst to change the harsh polarization that is affecting both the American and Israeli society.
Today, deep political divides have polarized communities in America and Israel. Opposing sides lash out in anger and vitriol, fragmenting our societies.
These tragedies occurred at precisely the time of greatest sadness for the Jewish people. During these three weeks Jews worldwide remember their persecution from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE to the Holocaust and today’s terrorism.
The Jewish Sages tell us that these Three Weeks of sadness were precipitated by national strife. Baseless hatred and disunity destroyed Jerusalem and caused the expulsion of Jews from the Holy Land. It set the stage for the next 2000 years of numerous persecutions.
The tragedies in Bulgaria and Aurora did not occur because of the current state of strife. Rather, attempting to help us all cope with the emotional impact of these tragedies can help us bridge the gaps that divide us.
A nationwide realization that people on all sides of these divides have been deeply affected by these events can help us see our common humanity. This understanding can help us begin the process of healing the disturbances caused by our divisions.
Let us transform strife into unity. Let us conquer fear with compassion. Let us soften this period of loss with acts of kindness and caring. Let us add to the healing over the tragedies and ensure that the loss of life results in some positive growth in society.
May God comfort the families and friends of victims, heal the dozens of wounded, and bring us all peace and unity.
11.3.13 at 10:01 pm |
8.16.13 at 9:21 am | The High Holidays need not be awful, they can be. . .
8.16.13 at 9:18 am |
7.16.13 at 4:26 pm | We should not look at this as an isolated. . .
6.25.13 at 12:05 pm | The debate must be change from the narrow. . .
6.9.13 at 9:27 pm | The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists. . .
1.17.13 at 2:07 pm | Despite controversy in 2008 over Nazi memorabilia. . . (4)
6.25.12 at 10:34 am | From the moment that Matisyahu’s new album. . . (3)
7.30.12 at 2:17 pm | There is a great deal of ferver among the. . . (3)
June 25, 2012 | 10:34 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
From the moment that Matisyahu’s new album ‘Spark Seeker’ hits your ears, you realize that the singer/songwriter is on a new journey of self-discovery. Complex, deeply spiritual, worldly, upbeat, at times pop and danceable, transcontinental, and electronic, ‘Spark Seeker’ grabs you. New beats, new sounds, new music, period. This July 17th release is best listened to loud.
‘Spark Seeker’ represents a continuation of Matisyahu’s personal journey and his independent streak. The changes he is showing the world are part of his spiritual quest, and are fueled by the same desire for authenticity as the call that led him to avoid the world of materialism and towards a spiritual Hasidic path. Matisyahu has has not forsaken his spiritual quest or the Judaism that has inspired him on his journey so far. He, like so many of us, is seeking, dreaming, struggling and wrestling with tradition and God. But unlike us, his personal journey has become the topic of intense public discussion.
“Crossroads”, the first track on the album begins with middle eastern rhythms, sounds and ancient winds blowing across a desert. Then the familiar voice fades in “like I’m walking through a kingdom of time…only to find the other side,” revealing to us that the Matisyahu is at a crossroads in his spiritual and musical development. ‘Spark Seeker’ brings together his previous albums and says, this is one path, one journey.
You can feel the spiritual energy that went into ‘Spark Seekers’ echos back to previous albums and songs. In his beautiful “Sunshine”, Matisyahu longs for a champion, a redeemer, the Moshiach. In “Live Like a Warrior”, you feel the power of “Youth”.
“Shema Yisrael…” calls Matisyahu into the vast sound of “Desert Eagle”, and you can see him there standing in the Judean desert embracing the beauty of the ancient past, and fusing it with the present and the future. The ancient and the modern mashup works brilliantly.
Each listen to the album reveals new elements, new voices, new lyrics. You come face to face with the brilliant collaboration with Shyne, the former Bad Boy Records rapper who spent nine years in prison before heading to Israel and becoming an Orthodox Jew.
Many have questions for Matisyahu: What happened to the beard? Are you still Jewish? Do you still keep kosher? What does your family think?
While offering some answers, there is still much mystery that surrounds Matisyahu’s transformation from beatboxing, rapping, Hasidic reggae artist who burst onto the world stage with “King Without A Crown”, to the clean-shaven rock-star we see today.
In a recent sit-down interview at his Beverly Hills home, we discussed the transformation, the songs, and ultimately the message of ‘Spark Seekers’. Rather than abandon his fans, he feels that he has a responsibility to keep them informed of his journey.
“I have a responsibility [to convey] my message at any given time. As I am going through things in my life, I will write songs about them. Whether it is ‘Shake off the Dust’ and was ‘Warrior’ learning about Hasidus, and my life then, or my life now.
“Just like then, if not more than ever, I feel I have evolved. I don’t look at myself at a downpoint in my life. The way I feel now, the wisdom that I have gained and the truth I feel I have found over the last 6 months, feels more up than ever in my life. I have gotten a taste of something that I have been searching for, for a long time, for my whole life.”
Rather than thinking he will disappoint some of his more religious followers, he feels that he has an obligation to share with them his journey of spiritual self-discovery.
“Why would I not share what’s going on - why because I’m afraid it may hurt people? I have led some people in a certain direction. There are certain kids who are ba’ale teshuva (newly religious) because my music has, at some point in their journey, had an influence on them. Now my life has changed, and I should end the story there? … If i am putting my life out to people there through music and art, there is a duty, you can’t just decide to put some of it.”
The third track on the album is called ‘Searching’ and discusses searching the soul for truth. This song includes deep Hasidic wisdom which permeated his first album “Shake off the Dust…Arise”. A teacher can be heard saying, “In the earth there are so many wonderful treasures. And if you know where to dig, you will find gold and diamonds and all kinds of treasures. If you don’t know where to dig, you find rocks and dirt. A Rebbe is a geologist of the soul. He can show where to dig and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself.”
In the 24 months that Matisyahu worked on this album, one wonders if he found what he was looking for or is still searching. Did he find diamonds or did he find dirt?
“Did I find it?” he says, “I don’t know if there is a such thing as finding it. But you find aspects of it, you find degrees of it. But when you actually figure out what it is — and that continually evolves as well — to actually have experienced something, and you know that that is what you want, that is authenticity. Authenticity with self, with others, with your art and with your music and with God. That is what I was looking for. Truth, in that sense. And that is what led me to let go of certain things.”
Matisyahu has not abandoned Judaism, but he has let go of the Hasidic beard and garb which distinguished him. Instead of external trappings, Matisyahu wants his voice and music to speak for themselves, while he stays true to himself, his beliefs, and his spiritual journey.
June 21, 2012 | 4:31 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Recent headlines casting doubt on the kosher status of Hebrew National at first came as somewhat of a relief. To those like myself who have avoided Hebrew National for years – first because they never allowed outside rabbinic supervision, but did all the supervision themselves, and then starting in the early 2000′s because they chose Triangle K — the lawsuit was a long time coming.
However ironically, instead of the lawsuit bringing about any kind of justice, the big loser in the end might be the kosher consumer. When the kosher supervision industry – and there are many reasons to be skeptical – receives a blow to its credibility, it affects everything that is under kosher supervision, not just meat. This may mean fewer companies choosing supervision down the road and fewer choices.
Triangle-K is a huge company. Sadly, unscrupulous companies and individuals have taken advantage of the consumer need for high level kosher supervision. As long as there is money to be made, there will be charlatans at play. Is Triangle-K one of them? It will be interesting to see how this plays out, to say the least.
Hebrew National. Even the name sounds authoritative. They have been named by Consumer Reports as the nation’s best tasting hot dog. They have won numerous other awards and accolades. They are feted as one of great kosher additions to modern American cuisine.
However the “higher authority” they answer to might be called profits.
The lawsuit does not claim that Con Agra is “passing off pork as kosher products,” said Hart L. Robinovitch, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the American Jewish World. “. … And based on our investigation, there were certain things that weren’t conducted properly, in a systematic way—from the way cows were slaughtered, to the way the lungs were inspected or not inspected for imperfections—as is required to meet the standard that the meat is 100 percent kosher.”
If I were the lead attorney on this case I would not argue about something being “100% kosher.” Among kosher consumers there is no unanimity about what is 100% kosher at all. In fact, one of the arguments that defendants ConAgra can make is that they represented their “level” of kosher supervision honestly by employing the Triangle-K.
The plaintiffs may need to show that Triangle-K were complicit somehow in fraudulently representing the status of their meat as complying with basic standards of orthodox supervision.
“This is an invisible fraud,” the lead attorney in the case told told Reuters. “How does a consumer who thinks he is buying kosher meat really know he is buying kosher meat? It’s a very, very difficult thing for a consumer to detect, unless someone investigates.”
It’s not hard to detect — it’s impossible for a consumer to detect, which is why we rely on outside kosher supervision for meat. This last phrase really applies to the entire kosher industry. How DO we know that what is passed on to the consumer is really kosher? We don’t. On the part of the consumer its 100% faith unless the product itself doesn’t need supervision in the first place.
Stay tuned, this one will get interesting. In the meantime, pass the mustard, these soy dogs really need some added flavor.
June 4, 2012 | 5:31 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Jewish organizations that are on the cutting edge are having a hard time making it to the next level. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Instead of getting to sustainability, they cannot access bridge or mezzanine funding to take themselves out of start-up mode.
As anyone in business will tell you: you can’t stay in start-up mode. It’s sink or swim.
In a brilliant article in the Forward, Dana Raucher the executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, demonstrates the significant challenges that Jewish innovation is facing, and a solution. “Organizations on the cusp of this “second stage” must find a way to professionalize their systems and staff, and to do this they often need additional financial resources just at the moment when the luster of their novelty is dimming/”
Raucher’s article also highlights a comprehensive study commissioned by Bikkurim, From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest: Maximizing the Potential of Innovative Jewish Start-Ups. The study was overseen by an impressive study group and list of partners including The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, NATAN, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, PELIE, and the UJA Federation of New York.
I wish that I could say that here at Jewlicious we know nothing of these obstacles. However, that is not the case. In fact, there are the exact issues that Jewlicious is facing now.
Over the past decade, the Jewish community has fostered these types of organizations, which often try out groundbreaking forms of outreach and mix contemporary culture with tradition. But ironically, especially when these initiatives become successful, they encounter new obstacles that demand they rethink how they can best achieve their missions….
This also echoes my own experience at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, where we make long term, deep investments in nonprofit organizations. We have learned again and again that no organization’s life cycle is completely linear. There are key points of inflection that present unique challenges and opportunities. Because we have been able to witness our grantees as they evolve, we have been involved in identifying and addressing these moments….
Second-stage growth requires nimbleness on the part of funders and organizations. By focusing on the mission and not the form through which it is driven, organizations are able to promote their institutional goals during each phase of their development. A commitment to a consistent set of core values may require shifts over time in both program orientation and organizational structures.
It is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including funders, professionals and lay leaders, to engage more publicly in this conversation. Today we are confronted with an opportunity to address an important need in the Jewish community, and together we must exchange ideas, share best practices and continue our support for this sector. Through collaboration and adaptability, we can better equip these organizations so that they don’t falter as they transition to their next stage.
May 24, 2012 | 12:40 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Ahad Ha’am, a great Zionist thinker and icon, knew that one of the keys to creating a thriving Jewish culture in Palestine, and among assimilating Jews in Europe, was reviving the ancient Hebrew language. While Hebrew had been relegated to books of law and philosophy for centuries, Ahad Ha’am and his contemporaries wiped away the dust, and revived the spoken language, creating a modern Hebrew culture.
More than 100 year’s later Hebrew is again at the center of cultural transformation, with a novel program bringing Hebrew into Jewish homes—again.
Can a bunch of free Hebrew children’s books preventing Israelis from disappearing into the melting pot of American culture? A pioneering program is being launched nationwide seeking to do just that.
While America has been a land of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, it is also a place for where many lose their connections to the Jewish community. Sifriyat Pijama B’America, or the Pijama Library in America, is seeking to reunite Israelis and Jewish and Israeli-American culture.
The project is the brainchild of Adam and Gila Milstein, leaders in the Israeli American community in Los Angeles. “There are hundreds of thousands of Israeli families nationwide,” said Milstein, “who are not affiliated.” And that trend has him very worried about the future of the Israeli Jews in America.
Sifriyat Pijama B’America is a Hebrew language spin-off of a large and popular program called PJ Library, which sends thousands of Jewish-themed books for free into homes. The Hebrew sister project launched in 2011 and within weeks, 2,000 families signed up to receive monthly Hebrew language children’s books that they can read to their children. The program was off to an amazing start. The organizers realized that just sending books was not enough, and looked for ways to make the program even more effective.
This summer, Sifriyat Pijama B’America is also launching a Jewish day school initiative, tying the book program to Jewish day schools in a novel way. The program brings participating families to register for the free program at local Jewish day schools around the country. By bringing the families to Jewish day schools, the organizers, Adam and Gila Milstein, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Avi Chai Foundation and The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, hope that these families will end up becoming more involved in Jewish education.
“The goal,” said Adam Milstein, Sifriyat Pijama B’America’s founder and champion, “is to get unaffiliated Israeli families more connected to Jewish education and life, and hopefully increase enrollment at Jewish day schools.”
It’s estimated that up to 1 million Israelis have immigrated to the United States since 1948. Their children tend to assimilate quickly, attend public schools, and maintain a highly secular Jewish lifestyle. But as Milstein points out, “being secular in America means assimilating and disappearing at a faster rate.”
Sharon Barkan, a Hebrew teacher in Los Angeles, has enjoyed the books and feels it’s an important part of raising her Israeli-American children. “For me words are the strongest thing there is,” said Barkan, “these books are the connection my daughter now has to the Hebrew language.” Reading the books with her kids has been, “a wonderful experience. And the beginning of each book has information and activities that we do with the kids.”
The books chosen seem to resonate with their audience, “My daughter,’ said Barkan, “likes to speak about the characters in the books - they are very compelling.”
Milstein’s main concern are children. “Many families are clearly not affiliated and connecting with Jewish education. And the victims are the kids, because the kids have no connection to Jewish life and Israel. That is why so important to bring into Jewish life and learning to them.”
Registration is now open at 28 schools nationwide and online and can accommodate 6,000 families. The organizers hope that up to 50,000 people will be reached in this current year of the program. When families register, they have two year’s of free books.
The books are chosen by a committee made up of representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Education, early childhood educators and psychologists to promote Jewish values. Each book contains instructions to the parents to help them teach the values that each book promotes. While the books are not religious in nature they contain Jewish themes and characters.
“It is much easier for Israel’s to become unaffiliated from the Jewish community, than maintain a connection,” said Milstein, “but we hope that through Jewish education, getting families active in passing on Jewish values and Hebrew language, that we can create a thriving and connected community of the future.”
I am sure that in heaven Ahad Ha’am is smiling.
For more information visit: http://www.sp-ba.org/
May 7, 2012 | 12:48 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Delmon should keep swinging the bat in a Tigers uniform because Judaism believes in the God of second chances. Judaism instructs us that we must give everyone the opportunity to make amends. In fact, I have a few suggestions that can make Delmon one of the most popular players in the Jewish community today.
When Young was arrested on April 27th, and charged with misdemeanor aggravated harassment and assault, Motown, the baseball world, and the Jewish community cringed in disbelief. Some called this the end of his short career.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who is happens to be Jewish, suspended Young for seven days without pay. With a $6.75 million dollar salary, that added up to $258,000 in lost wages. The Tigers were prohibited from further disciplinary action because of baseball and the players’ association labor agreement.
Young issued an apology to his friends, family, team and the community, and confessed that the whole incident was related to an alcohol problem that he will now address.
In a press conference before Saturday’s game after the end of his suspension, Young said, “I made a lapse in judgment, but I can tell you that I am not an anti-Semitic. I wasn’t raised that way, came from a good family, and we weren’t taught any of that, especially growing up in a diverse area.”
In fact it seems that the hardest part of the ordeal for Young is being branded an anti-Semite.“Me branded being racist or bigoted, that’s not me,” he said. “I have a lot of diverse friends; I live in a diverse area; that’s just not me or my character.”
And while there is part of me and I am sure many other Jewish fans, who, every time that Delmon Young is going to approach the plate for the foreseeable future, will be reminded what happened, that doesn’t have to be the case.
The entire essence of the Jewish High Holidays challenges us to seek out those that we have wronged and ask forgiveness. We ask God for forgiveness for what we did against God, and we ask friends and family to forgive us for how we let them down or hurt them in the previous year.
The Days of Awe compel us to believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Does this forgiveness extend to Delmon Young? You bet.
While the hurt in me thinks that Young and his number should be ejected from baseball, on further contemplation, that would be wrong.
Rather, let’s give Young a chance to learn from his mistakes, become a spokesperson for tolerance and most importantly, let him become an ally of the Jewish community.
The power of teshuva can turn this hurtful incident into a one that teaches compassion and love.
Young knows that one apology can’t convince people that he’s not an anti-Semite and said, “I know it’s going to take a while. I can’t smooth this thing over and convince anyone after one speech, but just go out there every day and be a positive influence.”
Delmon, if you sincerely make amends now you will be forgiven in an instant.
Here are some of my suggestions:
Delmon, I am sure that you can become not only a friend to the Jewish community, but that you can become a shining example of the power of teshuva, the power of the individual to transcend their shortcomings and become great.
We as a Jewish community will forgive you, and make sure that you are remembered as a great friend of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Yonah is an Oxford educated rabbi who loves music, Israel and runs Jewlicious. You can follow him on twitter.com/rabbiyonah
May 6, 2012 | 11:10 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Moran Samuel sat in her wheelchair on the dais after winning a gold medal in the rowing competition. She waited for the Hatikvah to start. And waited. And then a strange song started that sounded nothing like Hatikvah. She signaled that this was not the right song. What happened next you will never forget.
Moran Samuel was not always disabled. She awoke one day when she was 24 and was paralyzed from the chest down due to a rare stroke in her spine. Undeterred by her disability, she became the leading woman player in Israeli wheelchair basketball, and began rowing competitively.
She arrived in Italy ready to win her last competition before the paralympics in London. The Italians though were not as thoroughly prepared as Moran. They didn’t have Hatikvah ready, maybe because they didn’t think that an Israeli was going to win.
When Moran realized that they didn’t have the music, she took the microphone, and sang it herself. See the video below courtesy of Mideasttruth.com
Hat tip to TM
Rabbi Yonah is an Oxford educated Rabbi who loves music, blogging, and Jewlicious. You can follow him on @rabbiyonah
April 25, 2012 | 3:09 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Los Angeles is home to more Israelis than many Israeli cities. And yet, last year the Israeli Festival was cancelled after falling on financial ruin, and a lack of general community support. It seemed that this most Israeli of American cities, was going to let Israeli Independence go by without a peep.
Then came Naty and Debbie Saidoff to the rescue.
The Saidoffs are major philanthropists, founding members of the Israeli Leadership Council and many other organizations. They were distraught thinking that Israeli Independence Day would not have a major celebration in Los Angeles. So instead of complaining, they rolled up their sleeves, got out their rolodex, and created a windfall of activity that is accomplishing in months, what it would have taken normal channels to accomplish in more than a year.
What drives a community member to do so much? I decided to have a heart to heart with Naty and see what makes him so passionate about community-wide celebration.
“I remember that 25 years ago, that Yom Haatzmaut meant that you walk through Jewish Los Angeles, until you can’t walk anymore. We would push our strollers with our kids through the street, waving the Israeli flag. The whole city knew that it’s was a special day. For the last 25 years the walk was MIA, because of logistics, it was expensive, many excuses, but none very good. The festival moved to Pan Pacific, and to the valley, and finally last year — there was nothing.”
He continues, remarking on the dynamic cultural diversity of LA and the way the city embraces international community celebrations, but not one for Israel. “In a city like Los Angeles that has Chinese New Year where they shut down half the downtown, and huge commemorations of Cinco de Mayo, we need to have a day of the white and blue of Israel. We have 600k Jews and no major community event that celebrates the miracle and the marvel that is Israel. Since that last walk 25 years ago, we have lost a generations of kids riding in strollers through the streets.”
Why is this year different than other years? Why are the Saidoffs — and their organization the Israeli Leadership Council — so determined to share their love of Israel with the next generation? It is simply because they know it is hard to stand up for Israel in today’s political climate. “This year more than others, we have the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel. This past Sunday on 60 minutes, millions of people saw a Jewish reporter falsely accusing Israel of being anti-Christian. What they did is to say that “Israel is nice to you because they want your money, but really they are bad to you.” In fact Israel is the only country in the middle east where Christians have any security….
“In this environment, not to celebrate Israel — and what Israel has done for the world — would be a shame. We need to celebrate the legitimacy of Israel.The question is not why have such a big celebration of Israel, the question how can we not have such a festival!”
This year’s festival, in addition to a myriad of activities, booths, pavilions, stages and rides, highlights the interconnectedness of Jewish life and values with Americans life and values. The spirit of determination that energized the creation of the State of Israel in the face of opposition and destruction has been brought to Israeli life in Los Angeles - both to support and defend America and democracy.
“We are bringing an American war hero, Tibor Rubin, who is a survivor of the death camp, then joined the American army and won the medal of honor. Why? because if we cannot take for granted the lives that were sacrificed so that we can have our celebration. This celebration came at a real price, of life and limb. When we know the price that was paid, and the real cost of the festival and the cost of freedom, we can rejoice together.”
Naty is happy with the reception the festival has gotten from the local neighborhood groups.
“What is amazing is the support from the neighborhood committee. Everyone thought that they would be against it, but they voted 11 to 1 to allow the Festival, and even that one who voted against it, is not in favor and handing out flyers. This is an unparalleled celebration of Israel…. You will see that as we celebrate, we also educate.” In addition, Councilman Paul Koretz managed to get the permits expedited, and the city behind the celebration in record time.
Additionally, Naty underscores that the celebration of Israel is not just for Israelis, or not even just for Jews, “The Festival also allows our Christian brother and sisters that are devoted and devout, to show their expression of love for Israel.”
Naty’s enthusiasm is infectious. He is motivated by a deep love for America and Israel and a belief — strongly shared by me — that opportunities to celebrate create stronger bonds of community, in addition to identification with Israel and the Jewish people.
It’s not easy in a city like LA, even with the enormous Jewish and Israeli-American population, to get everyone on board for a community wide event. But the main organizers, the Israeli Leadership Council, and partners StandWithUs, The LA Israeli Consulate, JLTV, the JNF, the Mati Israeli Community Center, Hidabroot, and The Jewish Federation have managed to pull in 100 local organizations, schools and other institutions to participate.
“We need to see action, to be instigators. We need to be Nachshon and cross, and jump in the water and see that something happens.”
To get tickets and more information about the festival visit Celebrate Israel