Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lazy Blogging

Ok... I'm a bit under pressure to finish my last two assignments of my undergraduate career, so I don't really have time to be blogging, but I just read 4 news stories that I wanted to share. So in lazy blogger fashion, here are the links:

B'nei Menashe Soldier Honored, Family Still Stuck in India (All the "Lost" tribes really interest me...)

Online Jewish Film Archive Offers Glimpse Into the Past (It's an old story but a good write up, the actual site under review [here] is also a great way to waste away extra time that I don't have right now...)

Diaspora Bible Champ Crowned (These kids are impressive, I wish I knew half what they did...)

Rav Moshe Halberstam, First to Renew Semikha, Dies at 74 (I havn't had time to really give this a lot of thought, but the renewed Sanhedrine and Smicha stuff also really interests me, I'm curious where it's all leading up to...)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Still no going home for me...

This mornings email brought with it the crushed hope of returning home to Israel this summer. I was officially turned down for the ROI 120 conference. Needless to say I'm not happy about it, but I do wish those who where accepted much success on their endeavors. (If your curious about the conference, you can read about it at an old post here.)

In the mean time, if anyone else wants to pay for this ol' puppy to go home to Israel for a few weeks this summer, I'll gladly wag my tail.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

An update from Earlier...

Props to TM from Jewlicious for linking to this update over on their site. Apparently, PSU has recanted and Josh will be able to show his artwork. Read the article for details here. The earlier post can be found here.

A Worthwhile Read...

Arutzsheva has a great write up about this years Boombamela festival here. Mordechai Zellar was a good friend of mine in Israel, and reading the article brought back plenty of memories from my great Pesach at the festival. (As talked about at this earlier post.) The very name of the Jewish Camp "Ohel Ahava V'Tefilla" - Tent of Love and Prayer, is characteristic of the approach that we need to be willing to take in accepting and inspiring the countless unaffiliated Jews out there. Obviously, not everyone is a hippie, and Boombamela isn't for everyone, but the theory behind accepting people for who they are, showing them love, and then teaching them in a loving, open and friendly environment can be adapted to just about any context. Acceptance and love of a person does not have to come with condoning or liking their actions and beliefs, but it IS a requirement if the person is ever going to open up to the possibility of listening and absorbing what you've got to teach and share. The healing of our people can only come out of acceptance and love, not fear and rejection. This is the great lesson that can be gleaned from reading the article and experiencing events like that first hand. Now we just need to do more of it...

Some Bat Ayin Guys Dancing at Boombamela

Tzvi (A friend of mine from Bat Ayin) connecting

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hey Jude...

It was Yom HaShoa today. The day we remember the Holocaust. It is one of the few times I ever wear black clothing, this already seemed to freak people out. But the yellow star I wore today with "Jude" printed on it (German for Jew) sparked a much larger reaction.

I made it a point not to talk today if I could avoid it, absent of the Yom HaShoa program I ran for my Jr. NCSYers anyway. It wasn't a taynat dibur (A fast of words where one doesn't speak as a means of gleaning the value and power of words). But in my mind, words lacked the power to really convey the message of the day.

Rather, normally bubbly me was solemn, silent, and dressed in black (I make it a point to only wear black for periods of morning), completely out of character. This drew attention, but the power seemed to rest in the little yellow star pinned to my chest.

When I walked into my class today the room paused and fell silent. Many did not even know that it was Holocaust Memorial Day, but many more momentarily cringed, and an awkward impromptu moment of silence was had. Later one of the local area high school teachers who was taking the class with me approached me and thanked me. I'm not sure if she is Jewish or not, or that I really even did anything, but she was moved and wanted me to know it.

After class I proceeded to NCSY. The event was simple, yet heavy.Sitting on the floor in a darkened room around a single candle, the kids were each given copies of the lyrics for Wu Tang's Never Again and the powerful rap was played for them. This set the tone. After a brief introduction, I passed out biographies of children from the holocaust, a mix of survivors and non-survivors. Each NCSYer read one of the biographies as if they themselves were that person. The goal of this was that they should more readily be able to internalize the monologues. I made a point, especially because of the age range involved not to have any graphic imagery or descriptions. Everything was simple yet powerful. We then talked about the importance of their particular generation being the last of the generations who are going to be able to remember hearing survivor accounts first hand and the special responsibility that lay upon their shoulders for the coming decades where Holocaust deniers are only going to gain clout. Finally, we closed by discussion why it is so important to remember, why it is so important to make sure that Never Again can it happen, and how the Jewish State of Israel figures into that equation. We played Wu Tang's Never Again one last time, and then sang Hatikvah in the direction of the Israeli flag I'd hung. Amazingly, the children (grades 3-7) were well behaved, and focused, throughout the duration, all one and a half hours of it. For some of these kids with chronic ADHD I'd just figured that would be impossible, but in the end they all were attentive and gained a lot.

All this however only caused a surface reaction in my personal self. I was too focused on practical details with implementation to really be impacted by the day. That is, until I went to the grocery store anyway.This is where my wake up call happened. I went to the kosher freezer section to pick up dinner. I was out of food because I hadn't done any chametz shopping since Pesach ended. There an elderly couple was standing in front of the coolers completely blocking my ability to grab the kosher pizza I wanted to buy. I cleared my throat and said excuse me and the women turned and shrieked, went white, and nearly fainted. I thought at first I'd just startled her, but that was not the case. Apparently I'd forgotten to remove my little yellow star. I have no idea if she was a survivor, she seemed young for that. Perhaps she was a child of a survivor, or a child of one of the allied refugee camps after the war. Whatever her background though, that star represented horror. She begged me to tell her that everything was ok,that no new persecutions were abound. I explained to her that it was Yom HaShoa and that I hadn't taken it off yet from an earlier event,but she was still flustered. Her fear had been real, and the pain in her eyes still burned. That is when the power of the day hit me. As we exchanged goodbyes and well wishes I realized that I'd gained more from her in that one instant then any ceremony or program could have imparted on me over the course of the day. It was clear in her mind and clear in mine that Never Again can we let this happen.

Maybe the Beatles had it right when they sang, "Hey Jude, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better." They were talking about something else entirely, but we Judes should listen up, the Holocaust was a sad song, possibly the saddest in our nations long history, it is up to us not to make it into something only bad, but to take the lessons we learned from our experience and make our collective song better.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

PSU's Discrimination of Nondiscrimination

The above picture is an advertisement from a previous exhibition by Josh Stulman at Penn State University's School of Visual Arts. One which was co-sponsored by PSU's Hillel (You may have to squint to read the tag line at the bottom... It reads: "Opening sponsored by Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life"). Stulman's latest endeavor however has been canceled by his University at the last minute for being in violation of the campus Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate. (Read the article about it in the PSU Collegian Newspaper here.) His latest exhibit is also apparently (according to the school) not his own endeavor, but rather an attempt by an organization to push its agenda. "Garoian (professor and director of the School of Visual Arts) also wrote that exhibit space in the School of Visual Arts is reserved for students and faculty, not groups with a particular agenda." Strangely, all the art is uniquely his own and without prompting from Hillel, and the sponsorship of Hillel did not seem to be a problem in the past.

So what exactly is so problematic and controversial about his artwork?The answer... It's about Palestinian Terrorism. His gallery entitled "Portraits of Terror" was to display in the Patterson Building but was cancelled by email just 3 days before it was scheduled to open. The emails reasoning... His exhibit on images of terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" Sounds like a bunch of BS to me.

Now admittedly, I don't know much about the current campus culture and politics at PSU. But, at my university student groups like the MSU(Muslim Students Association) and other groups have been able to openly display imagery of Israeli "atrocities" and been able to paint pictures(metaphor intended) of the "apartheid state" of Israel and its"terrorist government" and during all these instances the groups right to free speech was upheld. Admittedly, by comparison to other campuses though, my university is largely apathetic and real issues are largely non-existent. Perhaps PSU has a legitimate fear of hostility and backlash as a result of the event, it's hard to say, but at the very least they need to be open about their true fears that cause them to cancel the event, rather then attempt to make ridicules claims as they have. At this point, however, it is very hard not to look at this as a discriminatory act by their administration.

Regardless, if anyone who reads this is actually around PSU's neighborhood, I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open as Josh and Hillel attempt to find another venue to display his work. And when you do, try to make an effort to go out and support him.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Something I found interesting...

Thanks to reading "R"'s blog, I came across this interesting individual. (Interesting to me anyway...) Aviel Barclay is a woman trying to do what she loves, and what she loves is Soferut (Jewish Ritual Calligraphy) She is by her own label a Soferet. (The term for a female Sofer - something that it is unclear if there even has been one in the past. ) You can check out her Blog here.

So what's my connection besides the human interest story? Well, it seems that it is controversial as to whether or not female Soferut is allowed. See article from the Forward Here... In that article you'll see if you read close that "according to Dov Linzer, head of academics at New York's Chovevei Torah rabbinical seminary, the Talmud clearly states that women are not allowed to write a Torah scroll for ritual use. Linzer pointed to an oft-cited passage (Tractate Gittin 45b) that specifically includes women among those who cannot produce a kosher Torah scroll."

IM"H I'll be attending Chovevei this coming year. Chovevei gets a lot of slack for being "too open" and having an "agenda contrary to classical orthodoxy". It has even been stated that suspicions loom that Chovevei hopes to ordain women Rabbi's . (See responses to the Cardinal Visit from my earlier post...) Now... I don't know about you, but a female sofer seems less controversial then a woman Rabbi... Though of course I know little of the relevant Halacha. So this story kind of eases a little of my concern that one day my school would be seen as nothing more then another JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary - The Conservative movements flagship rabbinic school.) and that my Smicha would not be accepted as Orthodox. I think this can serve as a clear sign that the school knows the boundary of Halacha and isn't willing to cross it, period, even while maintaining a commitment to openness and inclusion of women as much as possible.

I do wonder however what his take would be on women Soferetot who would not write for ritual use... Guess I'll have to ask him when I get there. Anyway, regardless, her commitment and passion are admirable and inspiring even if her finished product can't be used for ritual purposes, and her artwork is nothing short of fantastic. I wish her continued growth and success.

Chag Samayach

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pre-Pesach Plans and Predictions

I apologies in advance for the length of this post...

So for some time now I've been praying for a way to return to the home of my heart, to Israel, even if only for a little while. (It's been almost two years now since I left home.) And while I hate getting my hopes up, It seems there is a chance now that maybe, just maybe, my prayers have been answered and I can see home again before another extended absence begins while studying for Smicha in NYC. The chance; a conference, ROI120 (Return on Investment 120 - like the life of Moshe Rabbenu, the number of people on the historic Sanhedrin, and the number of people who will be chosen to attend the conference. )

So what's the deal? In their words: We hope to find and nurture an exceptional group of young Jews, people of excellence and character who are deeply motivated and committed to ensuring the vibrancy of Jewish life. We will invite 120 of them to be our guests in Jerusalem this summer in the inaugural gathering we have named "ROI 120."

What it means for me? If I get chosen, they fly me out to Israel and cover all expenses including airfare to get me there to participate(That means food and accommodations also). I've no idea if I can extend my ticket or not (it'd be so amazing if I could stay for even just one Shabbat...), or if I even really have a chance of being chosen to participate. But with my summer being relegated to camp for the latter half, and apartment hunting in the early going, the dates that they picked for the conference are basically screaming my name. (In other words they fall when I can actually make it!)

Of course, their stated intentions are fantastic and I really believe that they should bring the best and brightest (even though I'd love to believe I'm one of them...) That being said, the link to apply is HERE and if you qualify and think your a good fit and will make a good contribution then you should apply. Also selfish me wants no one to apply so I can certainly go, the part of me that believes in their mission and truly cares about Am Yisrael would rather sacrifice the free trip if that meant someone better could go who'd make a larger positive impact for the Jewish people.

In other news...

Passover is tomorrow night. I'm fasting tomorrow being that I'm a Bachor (First Born - First Born males fast the day of the Seder until the Seder to commemorate the deaths of the first born of Egypt. ) and I'm not in an area where I'm going to hear a Siyum (completion of a lengthy Torah/Talmud study that ends in a big celebration) or experience a Bris or something tomorrow. I get to get up early and burn my Chametz though just like everyone else.

My new convection oven arrived a while ago (See earlier post to hear what happened to the last one), but I decided to save it for Pesach and I think it was the right call. The Techelet (Blue String died Tzitzit)that I ordered from Israel arrived today, just in time for me to tie the new pair of Tzitzit in time for Pesach. I'm also just about finished with crocheting my new kippah, I'll finish that after this post. So things have been falling together last minute as usual. (G-d apparently likes to keep me hanging, but he always seems to pull through in the end...) And my landlord even came today and finally installed the new dryer so my closet clothesline could come down (See earlier post) and I could wash my sheets, blankets, towels, and cloths before passover. Like I said, last minute indeed.

Living with an apartment mate who does not follow traditional halacha or keep mitzvot regularly (but who is a great guy, friend, human, and yes, even a good Jew in his own way, though he doesn't like to admit it), make Passover really interesting. Needless to say I'm selling everything in my apartment except my room. My room at least is Chametz free and will stay that way. (He is phenomenal when it comes to respecting my practice, even though he doesn't share the same outlook and believes. A true friend.

As a result of the coming holiday, I don't have class for two weeks!Which is great! I still have 2 major assignments that need to be finished over this time, but they are definitely doable. I've got a Yom HaShoa event for my Jr. NCSY'ers to plan also. (That's going to be fun,and by fun, I mean not so...) I've got to make the arraignments to crash by someone in the city on the 7th and 8th of May as I make my way down to Chovevei to finally meet the Rabbayim in person, go through the formal interviews and have a formal bechina (exam) with R' Katz. I have to buy plane tickets still also. With the dates set for NCSY's Spring convention and now not conflicting with my University graduation I need to decide If I want to break my streak of non-attendance and actually attend my graduation.

I move out of my apartment in about a month and a half, and I still have so much to do in that time, and so much to figure out. (I've no idea how I'm even doing the more, or where I'm going yet.) Thinking about it is really kind of overwhelming, having the next several days be Yom Tov and Shabbat couldn't have come at a better time, I really need the time off from this stress and worry to just not think about any of that stuff, to just rest, relax and enjoy. It's truly great being a Jew!

So with that, I wish you all a Chag Kasher V'Samayach (A Kosher Happy Holiday) and sign off for a while...


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Chovevei's Chutzpah, or YCTorah's Beautiful Aura?

On March 27th, Just a little while ago, while I was busy working on my application for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the school was busy welcoming a group of Cardinals and Bishops, part of a World Jewish Congress led-delegation. This was an event that did not go unnoticed as a look at the picture above clearly displays the press who covered the event. As such it was also not without controversy. As I was not there myself, and only recently found out about it, I am ill prepared to attempt to cover it in any fashion, rather I would direct the reader to follow any or all of the links below. They cover a spectrum of opinion from the official position of the Yeshiva to the position of its critics and a range of casual blog commenters and their opinions for good measure.

Now, in my case, I know next to nothing about the issues involved and certainly do not qualify to weigh in on the halachic debate. I can only have an open mind and try to gauge the impact that events like this have on me personally as I prepare myself to IM"H attend the school in the fall. Kach Li B'Yadecha Tati, G-d should take me in his hand. I'm following the path that he lays out for me and in the process can only hope that I don't miss read his signs. For now I do the best that I can and have faith that Hashem will take care of the rest. Regardless, I know that next year is going to be a huge year for me in terms of Torah growth, and a real period of formation for me as I solidify the direction that I will most likely be following for the rest of my life. For now, the best I can do is daven and keep on plugging.

Links to Other Blogs and Articles on the Subject:

YCT Chevre - The Official Blog of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Drew Kaplan's Blog - A Student at YCT
Drew Kaplan's Follow Up to Editorial in Jewish Press
Article from the Forward
On The Main Line - A Blog
Hirhurim Musings - Links to Responces of YU's Similar Event
Cross-Currents - Blogged by Yitzchok Adlerstein
The Lonely Man of Mechqar - Musings and Mutterings of a Maybe Musmakh
Editorial in Jewish Press
Canonist - Blog of Steven I. Weiss
Canonist - Responce to Cross-Currents

Friday, April 07, 2006

Shabbat Shalom Indeed!

Shalom comes from the root Shalem, Shleimut, Completeness, Settled. This Shabbat brings for me a true Shleimut for the first time in a while. No longer do I have applictions hanging over my head, or interviews to prepare for. I've closed that chapter and after shabbos will begin the next. But this Shabbat, this shabbat I am B'Shleimut. I'm settled. This is going to be a true Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Good Thing Pesach is Coming Because I Need Some Seder in My Live

As I plan for my remaining time in Rochester, and look toward Pesach, and the plans that I'm making, I recall fondly the beach at Boombamella during Chol HaMoed of my year in Israel. This Chol Hamoed I'll be spending one day in class, maybe doing one event with my NCSY'ers and spending the rest of the time cracking the whip over my head getting ready for yeshiva. A far cry from the beach. Now that the realization that I'll be spending an extended period in the states has begun to set in a dull sadness is beginning to set in as well. Homesickness you might call it. I waited two long years, anxious to go back, and as soon as the time arrived, and my excitement built up, plans changed. Men Trachet un Gaut Lacht (Men Plan and G-d Laughs... - a famous Yiddish expression...)

Anyway, I can go for short periods of time though on my breaks and what not, the issue becomes funding, so if anyone wants to fund a round trip ticket for me this summer I'll gladly jump at the opportunity. Or if your a group looking for a Birthright Madrich, or other group leader, and willing to pay my way to Israel, I'll gladly take you. But at this point I guess I'm dreaming. My summer is going to be spent looking for an apartment in Manhattan, trying to make some money somewhere, hopefully doing Keshet again this summer at the Wildrose Moshava. (That office is starting to drive me crazy with their disorganization and poor communication, you'd think I'd be used to it after 6 years, but I'm not...) And looking for a place to learn/pump up my textual abilities before I start Mechina in the fall. So I guess if you know a good summer yeshiva program that's free, or better yet pays you to learn, I'm in...

I also have to figure out how to deal with the hassle of moving. I can't rent a truck because I'm under 25, and it's really expensive to move just about any other way. Maybe I can borrow a van or something, I have to get on that though, my lease is up in 2 months... But, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself. First and for most, I need to finish my Chovevei application and mail it out tomorrow, then I have Pesach to worry about, and finals, then moving out, then apartment hunting, then summer program... I guess that's the order. Really, I've just got to get myself organized and get on the ball, I can't just coast any more the way I have for the last 2 years. You just can't coast through transition periods, and this is probably the biggest transition I'm going to experience as a single individual.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Who Am I Anyway?

For those of you who know me, you've already realized the clown picture is just some random picture off the web that had the word Purim, and really has nothing to do with me. To you guys, this South Park'ified image of me will seem pretty familiar and either bring you to laugh or at least feelings of nostalgia. To the rest of you who don't know who I am, mostly because I've chosen to keep this persona as an anonymous forum, this picture will hopefully give you some image to attach to me. It was made during my sophomore year of college while I was living at the Drama House on my campus. Everyone had one. Basically, non of us made our own, so what you see is someone else's South Park impersonation of me. Apparently I'm a softy with a big heart or something...

Anyway, if any of you think I should replace the scary clown with this image, let me know, I can photoshop in the word Purim easily enough, I could probably even do that with Microsoft Paint.

On to the Future...

This is the point of transition for me. Today was my last day working at my campus job. From now on I will be focusing that time towards preparing for Chovevei next year. Before, everything was planning, and relegated to the sphear of theory. Now, tangible steps and practicle changes are taking place in my schedual. It's moved out of imagination and into action, out of dream and into reality. It's becoming concreate, it's becomeing real.

Truthfully, it hasn't set in yet. The day is ending, sleep is coming, and Tuesdays don't change for me, I still have class and Jr. NCSY on my schedual, and don't begin my altered schedual until Wendsday. But there is a paradime shift non the less. I've got a major presentation in class tomorrow, but aside from that all that's left for me to do is finish my formal application and mail it. Thursday is my first Chavruta with Lev, and the coming week is the first full week on my new schedual. Your not going to be able to read it, and I need to sleep so I'm not going to transfer it now, but to give a glimps, above is the screen shot from the outlook calender. The green are independent learning, the blue are chavrutas and class (there are only 3 classes). If you expand the image you can kind of make it out. I'd love feedback from those who've tried setting up independent seder lilmud before, and any tips for success and self disipline.

Anyway, there's a lot ahead of me, and chapters left to process behind me. But right now, all that is in the present is my bed. G'night