Monthly Archives: February 2015

Rally Day in Paris –by Michael Aronson

They told us not to go to the rally, so we did not go.  The rally was to highlight the unity and diversity of France, they said, not tourists.  We are sure other tourists went anyway.  We still stayed away, but this did not stop us from experiencing the rally from the streets of Paris, walking along Rue de Sebastopol and de Rivoli, the side streets of the Marais and the Siene:

Paris is on the streets today, up in arms over the recent slaughters at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the kosher supermarket.  “Je Suis Charlie” is everywhere.  On posters and buses and billboards, solidarity displays sanctioned by the government, but also spray painted on walls and sidewalks and streets.  No attempts are being made, so far as we can see, to repair or hide these spontaneous acts of vandalism.  Paris is Charlie.  Outrage is on the streets today. read more

Oscars’ Night and America’s “Selma”—by Ayala Emmett and Peter Eisenstadt

Rapper Common and musician John Legend
Rapper Common and musician John Legend

Last Sunday some of us stayed up late not because we were Oscars’ devotees but because we hoped to see “Selma” win. Many of us, viewers and reviewers, who saw the film following its release in November 2014, thought of several Oscar wins because of the high quality of the film. We were captivated by its astonishing cinematic qualities, the fine work of cinematographer Bradford Young; we were spellbound by a riveting storytelling that director Ava DuVernay skillfully created while drawing on a well-known narrative. Reviewers praised this accomplishment noting that, “even if you think you know what’s coming, ‘Selma’ hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling.” read more

Gift Giving and Community Building—by Ayala Emmett

Coming out of Egypt for the Israelites was a social/religious transformational journey to become a unified, covenantal, ethical community. Beyond the physical/geographic details of the move, the book of Exodus pays close attention to the Israelites’ social journey away from an unformed crowd of former slaves toward becoming a people. No one act sealed the deal of peoplehood, not the dramatic exodus from Egypt, nor the miraculous parting of the sea, not even receiving the Ten Commandments; yet each act constituted and provided a rich layer in the process of becoming one people. This was a tough road for the Israelites, a massive social change that required constant and steadfast commitment that was guarded by God and guided by Moses. read more

“And I Will Dwell Among Them”: Parshat Trumah —by Matia Kam

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness Illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
Illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible

“And they will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them. ” This remarkable instruction at the opening of this Shabbat Torah reading (Exodus 25-28) raises the question whether it implies the contraction of God of the Universe to a dwelling in a specific construction/space.

Indeed one midrash recognizes this possible dilemma and recounts that Moses upon hearing God’s instruction stepped back saying: God of the Universe, the heaven is your seat the earth is the place of your feet, how can one space contain your presence?” The answer, however, is enfolded in second part of the verse above: “and I will dwell among them.” Since the first part of the verse deals with building of the Tabernacle the expectation is that second part of the verse would say “And I will dwell in it.” Yet, surprisingly this is not what the verse declares; instead it says “and I will dwell among them,” among the people of Israel, and not in this or that space. From the words of the verse we learn that God ordered the building of the Tabernacle not for the sake of having a place to dwell in but so that He could dwell among his people who will follow Him and keep his covenant. And God in return will dwell among them. read more

Humans and Machines—by Ayala Emmett

Repair or Retire that is the Question
Repair or Retire that is the Question

A human-machine conspiracy has been going on in my kitchen for the last 15 years. I couldn’t say why I was so fond of a dishwasher that had a 1970s look a boxy white and black exterior in a kitchen that already had too many colors. Most importantly, it was not doing what a dishwasher was designed to do and the seller of the house was honest about it. Any dish that was not washed first by human hands came out with a judgmental hardened glaze. Over the years I had to call on various experts (it was not cheap) to fix whatever was wrong with it. The machine mavens were always vaguely reassuring and I refused to give up. read more

High On a Hill—by Peter Eisenstadt

High on a hill, on the campus of Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina, Tillman Hall stands, the university’s oldest and most iconic building. It is a graceful, red-brick building, with a lovely clock and bell-tower, and a carillon that rings the changes every hour. It opened in 1893, the same year that the first class entered Clemson College. The building was known as Main, or Old Main, until 1946, when it was renamed Tillman Hall, in honor of Benjamin Tillman, more often known as “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, both because of his sympathies for the plight of the farmers, and his snarling and irascible temperament. read more

God’s Presence and Human Agency—by Ayala Emmett

On a brutally snowy day in February, a day when roads and parking lots are dangerously slippery, some forty women come to a book signing for a local writer. They come to honor the author and hear her read selection from her memoire.  Some of the passages are heartbreakingly moving and she chooses to close her reading with a narrative of God’s presence: “I sat near the lakeshore to pray the Shabbat service… ‘Such a serene spot,’ I said aloud to my congregation of rocks, water, trees and a passing gull…I glanced down at my prayer book and resumed my private service…I heard Julian stage-whisper, ‘B.J.’ I wondered why he was calling me when he could see what I was doing. I uttered the final words, then looked up to see him in a canoe bracketed by two loons. We love the gorgeous black and white water birds with their haunting cry…And he managed to usher two to my chapel. As if in answer to my unspoken prayer. As if to emphasize God’s wondrous presence.” read more

The Scarlet Maple–by Barbara D. Holender


The Scarlet Maple
(for Aaron)

I went out to the park today
to see the tree your great-aunt
planted in your memory.

Like you it is a sapling bursting to bloom and through it your broken limbs will arch and stretch, and leaves will blaze like your living spirit. Best of all, you will grow old, and I swear that nothing, no one, will ever again cut you down.

At the Mountain of God—by Ayala Emmett

A father-in-law makes the difficult decision to tell his married daughter and his grandsons who live in his household that they should reunite with their father who is encamped at the Mountain of God. This is not an ordinary family since the son-in-law happens to be a political leader of a nation-in-the-making, an overburdened very public man and not exactly marriage material with very little time for family responsibilities. The father-in-law knows about the prominence and fame of the leader yet his compassion for his son in-law is so remarkable that this week’s Parsha (Exodus 18:1-20:23) takes its name Yitro from this father-in-law a Midianite priest the father of Moses’ wife. read more

Exodus – Yetziat Mitzrayim – and its Legacy- – by Matia Kam

Girl in Israel holding the sign  Because you were slaves in the land of Egypt
Girl in Israel holding the sign
because you were slaves in the land of Egypt

The experience of exodus from Egypt has been a founding event / an indispensable foundation in the shaping of Jewish identity, religion and values, and is inscribed in the first of the Ten Commandments, “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of Egypt, the house of bondage.”[1]

The narrative of slavery and the exodus to freedom is the foundation for numerous mitzvot, commandments in Torah, among them the sanctity of the Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost and Feast of the Tabernacles, and mitzvot such as laying of phylacteries and social justice commandments of treating with compassion the marginalized, the poor, the needy, the widow, the orphan and the Ger, the stranger. The moral ethical call to treat the stranger with compassion has for generations been embedded in the sign, “because you have been strangers in the land of Egypt.” read more