Man is a meaning-seeking animal. Hardly a second goes by in which our mind does not stop its routine activities to ponder the meaning of the input it receives from our senses or from its own activities.
Anyway, what does it mean to be happy? Does it mean to experience constant pleasure? Bouts of joy? Moments of ecstasy? Does it mean to suffer no pain? Never be sad? Never struggle with challenges? Whatever it is, how does one get happy? It's a High Holy Days challenge if ever there were one, since if we all lived happier lives, wouldn't the world be a better place?
At first glance, "Testimony" (Aperture, $40) looks like an innocent-enough coffee table book of Israel-themed photographs. Thumb through the first few pages and you'll see examples of photographer Gillian Laub's excellent portraiture. Each color image is accompanied by a simple enough quote from the subject, an Arab or Jew sharing the same bit of the Holy Land.
This week's Torah portion contains a story that most of us skipped in Hebrew school -- the story of Dina.
Experiencing the classic symptoms of altitude sickness -- fatigue and hallucinations -- Hall had refused to continue down the mountain and ended up passing out. The two sherpas with him concluded, after poking Hall in the eye and getting no response, that Hall was dead. Suffering from lack of oxygen themselves, they hurried down the mountain.
In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues -- bloody, violent, magical -- are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.
During a recent trip to Argentina -- eager to see where my parents were born -- I traveled to Carlos Casares, a five-hour trip by car from Buenos Aires. At the town's archive, I looked up my family history. I got more than I bargained for -- especially from a volume of local history that was first written in Yiddish, then translated to Spanish.
Vincent introduces us to three women who illuminate three very different aspects of the shameful reality of white slavery that existed in Latin America between 1860 and 1939.
When he was 6 years old, Los Angeles artist Ted Meyer had two life-changing experiences. He won his first art show prize after copying a flamingo drawn by an older friend. Secondly, he was diagnosed as suffering from Gaucher Disease after intensive bouts of pain in his knees and hip bones.
Gaucher is sufficiently rare that many doctors weren't and still aren't aware of it. And when LaBelle was diagnosed, "they were just doing research, and there was not a glimmer of hope" for a treatment, she said
This week's Torah portion begins with an issue that is a recurrent one for our foremothers -- difficulty conceiving. As Sarah before her and Rachel after her, Rebecca has trouble getting pregnant. After her husband Isaac pleads with God, she does conceive. But the pregnancy is a painful one -- so much so that Rebecca cries out with words to the effect of, "Would that I did not exist!" Out of this depth of despair she approaches God.
I'm reluctant to draw lessons from the hurricane, even if the High Holidays are a time of stock taking, and even if Jewish tradition suggests that calamities are "heavenly alarms" meant to arouse repentance.
Coming to terms with someone else's anguish is one subject of "Call Waiting," a new film about the bedridden daughter of Holocaust survivors. The film stars Caroline Aaron, who recreates her successful turn from the stage version. Aaron can relate to the material, both because she is Jewish and because her family has its own significant pain.
It's hard for Gideon Daneshrad to imagine himself on the receiving end of tzedakah (charitable giving). In the 30 years since he arrived from Iran to study computer science at North Louisiana University in Monroe, Daneshrad, 56, has built himself a full life -- with four children, a lakefront home and New Orleans' only kosher restaurant.
"Just close your eyes and imagine that you wake up in the morning and you are stripped of your identity," Daneshrad says. "You are nobody. You are nothing. You have no money coming in. You don't have clothes. You don't have food. And all the people you knew are scattered around the world."
Daneshrad and his family have been in Los Angeles for more than a week, and he still finds himself imagining this is all a nightmare.
Recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued an apology for its Holocaust on Your Plate campaign and exhibit, which showed concentration camp images next to photos of animal abuse on factory farms. The comparison was extraordinarily tasteless, and widely condemned. PETA expressed surprise at the negative reaction, and while they should have known better, their campaign has thankfully ended.
By the time he had reached the fourth grade, Josh's dystonia caused his right hand to involuntarily clench into a fist so tight that he could only open it by force. His feet turned inward, requiring him to wear braces. The symptoms had forced Josh to quit his baseball and basketball teams after six years of playing, leaving him depressed and angry.
Natan Sharansky's attitude is as old as the Bible. This week's Torah portion began with a description of the olah, the obligatory burnt offering that was brought twice a day -- morning and afternoon -- to the Holy Temple.
It is quite painful for a proud, practicing pro-Zionist Jew, who was bar mitzvahed, educated in Israel, lights candles on Shabbat, attends shul regularly, contributes to The Forward and educates his own child into the religious tradition, to be accused publicly of anti-Semitism ("When Jews Wax Anti-Semitic," Feb. 18).
"A man sat opposite me in my study one evening: 'Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life I went to the funeral of a man my own age.... He died suddenly over the weekend.... That was two weeks ago.
I once counseled a young man through what he later understood to be the most profound and transformative moment of his life: He was abandoned, without explanation or apology, by his beloved fiancée. After a crushing year, he came back to tell me that he realized, in retrospect, that his heart had to be broken, shattered to pieces, in order for light to be able to come in. As he spoke, I envisioned a beautiful clay vase, intricately painted on the outside, but dark and empty inside. This man realized, through his suffering, that the life he had thought was whole had actually been hollow, a realization that opened up for him the possibility of healing, of growth, of new relationships -- both with future partners and with God.
I am sitting in Adam's living room -- a carpet on a dirt patio. On one side is a small tent for his five children, as well as two nephews and a niece who have been orphaned.
Inside the Mnaje Mojo hospital -- "one coconut" in Swahili -- it was absolute chaos. The place was teeming with people and I had to push my way through what seemed a never-ending crowd to get to the small room at the end of the corridor.
It's hard to believe that a whole year has passed. Almost one year ago to the day, Dr. David Appelbaum and his daughter, Nava, were murdered when a suicide bomber exploded himself at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem. Dr. Appelbaum, 50, was the head of emergency medicine at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, and was a rabbinical scholar to boot. He had treated countless victims of terror, Jewish and Arab patients alike. Nava, 20, was to be wed the next day. Alas, she never made it to her chuppah.
These are painful memories that we are tempted to shelve into the recesses of our distant memories. Yet we dare not, just as we dare not forget the holy martyrs of the Shoah and all other martyrs of our people's past.
Before he was the Buddha, or Enlightened One, Prince Siddhartha lived a luxurious life behind the walls of his family castle. But each time he ventured out, the legend goes, he discovered the lame, the halt, the dying. His squire, Chandara, convinced him to ignore such things, as the world was full of suffering. Then his wife gave birth, and Siddhartha, at 29, was struck by the inexplicable mysteries of life and death. Late one night, he kissed his sleeping wife and newborn son goodbye and wandered out of the palace with Chandara to find the answer to how one overcomes sufferin
Claire Luce Booth, the wife of the owner of Luce Publications, reported a frank conversation with a Jewish friend. Booth said, "I must admit being positively bored by all this talk of the Holocaust and its constant repetition of Jewish suffering." The Jewish friend replied, "I know just how you feel. I feel exactly the same way about the Crucifixion."
Each would like to see the other's story go away. But neither will go away. Golgotha and Auschwitz, the Crucifixion and the Holocaust, remain the dybbuk of our culture. They must both be confronted and understood.
Yechezkel Chezi Goldberg, a Jerusalem-based counselor for adolescents and families at risk, wrote the following essay in 2001. On Jan. 29, Goldberg was murdered in a Jerusalem bus bombing.
In Kibbutz Negba, a dozen Israeli teenagers attending a summer camp in the guesthouses of this Negev kibbutz were asked to model small trees, and then decorate them with photographs of themselves.
For most of the last hour in this bomb shelter-cum-multipurpose youth room in Ashdod, Israel, Avivit Sabat has been sitting quietly, her long arms and legs folded protectively across her body. Her hair, pulled tight in a low bun, highlights her delicately defined 17-year-old beauty.
Once or twice she twists around to smile or whisper to someone, or she nods at a particularly biting truth as told by her friends, all of them Ethiopian Jewish teenagers who founded and run an advocacy group.
This week's Torah portion presents the blessings and curses that follow from observance or defiance of the law. Some people understand this as a rigid system of reward and punishment. Keep the covenant, and all will be well; violate it, and you will suffer.
7 Days in Arts
Last month, seven Los Angeles rabbis and five community leaders traveled to Argentina for a whirlwind 72-hour trip. The mission, organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, helped them gain firsthand knowledge of the crisis in Argentina. Upon their return to Los Angeles, the leaders have begun promoting the Federation's Lifeline to Argentina campaign, a $1 million challenge grant matching every dollar raised. Below are some of their thoughts and photos of the trip.
A poster of Moshe Dayan hung in my childhood bedroom. Growing up in the light of the Six-Day War, I adored this new Jewish hero -- tough, cocky, a Jew without fear.
Imagine a disease that strips a child of the routine autonomic and sensory abilities that we take for granted. A disease that affects a child's nervous system to such a degree that he or she cannot feel pain or produce tears, even when seriously wounded. The child becomes plagued with developmental delays, both physical and cognitive, and must be fed through gastric tubes to prevent inhaling food through the windpipe instead of down the esophagus. He or she experiences severe vision problems, breathing episodes, seizures, an absence of taste, cyclical vomiting, unstable blood pressure, fainting spells, excessive sweating, skin blotching and other abnormalities. The child also incurs numerous hospital stays, frequent surgeries and enormous medical bills. Worst of all, the disease statistically guarantees that the child will not live to see his or her preteens.
"So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom...." (Psalm 90:12)
People can hear about the economic crisis that has affected South America in the news.
What do cloven-hoofed cud-chewers have to do with ritual purity, much less holiness? In what way do fins and scales on a fish acknowledge God as the One who redeemed us from slavery? The "explanation" for kashrut demands further explanation.
Like many Jewish leaders in the community, Rabbi Reuven Malekan, who works with various Persian Jewish organizations, is torn about the prospect of war.
Ami Ankilewitz, 34, weighs 39 pounds. He is lying on the front seat of car, because he cannot sit without support, and he occupies about half of the space that the seat creates. He is wearing leather pants, and sports a tattoo on his arm of the astrological sign Leo, and another that says, "When love flies, the heart dies."
Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little children and kill them?
I don't want to be petty. I just want my ex to be sitting alone in his room, turning a lamp on and off and wondering how he's going to live without me.
There's a Yiddish saying that goes: "I've been poor and I've been rich. Believe me, rich is better!" In the Midrash we read: "Nothing in the universe is worse than poverty; it is the most terrible of sufferings." (Exodus Rabbah 31:14)
We buried her 13 months ago -- this flower, this light, this precious partner of his for 60 years. Everything was done in our ancient way: the funeral with its torn, black ribbons and clods of earth thunking on plain pine; the shiva, with its prayers, grief and Bundt cakes; a year of "Kaddish" ending with an unveiled marker that captured his love for her in words as terse as Haiku.
Ethan Gura doesn't remember his sister. Still, he cannot forgether. He can't forget that Rebecca Alexandra Gura died in 1991 after afour and a half year battle with leukemia. She was then six yearsold. He was three.