Category Archives: Articles

Dies Irae –by Peter Eisenstadt

I was home on Saturday afternoon. As I have for over forty years, at I o’clock, starting every December, when I can, I listen to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast. It was the first broadcast of the season. Very unusually, the performance was not of an opera, but the Requiem of Giuseppe Verdi.   James Levine was conducting. It was, if I am correct, his 2865th performance with the Metropolitan Opera, far more than any other performer in the history of the house. It probably was his last. read more

We Asked and People Came—by Ayala Emmett

Supporting Our Refugee Neighbors
Bobbi Berg
Karen Elam
Barbara Orenstein-Present

Sunday December 3 turns out to be a beautiful sunny day, a surprising treat in Rochester. I sit in a line of cars inching our way to unload our donations at the door. The line is long, the day is pleasantly warm, and I decide to park my car and walk over. I do not know yet that I would speak to the organizers of the event. I am unaware that I would encounter Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, or that I would leave with unexpected gifts. My plan is to just drop off my items and enjoy the rest of the day. read more

Standing with DACA and Reading Deuteronomy-by Ayala Emmett

DACA’s young people grew up in this country. They went to school with our children; they embraced American values, they became our kin, friends, students, and colleagues. This administration is brazenly threatening them with expulsion and exile. There are no words to describe the dread they feel that they might become fugitives, stripped of their American identity, home and life, as they have known it.

Those, like Jeff Sessions, who so callously would exile 800.000 amazingly courageous young people, suffer from amnesia. They refuse to remember their own histories, their ancestors who came to this country for a better life. Fleeing religious persecutions, despotic kings, poverty, famine, and hardships. They came with the same hopes and aspiration of DACA’s parents when they entered. No difference. Those who plot expulsion, use amnesia/blindness to ignore the fact that their immigrant ancestors and DACA parents shaped, and continue to shape American democracy. All immigrants have entered this country with similar aims. read more

Judith—by Peter Eisenstadt

An Israelite town, Bethulia, is besieged. (The narrative seems a little confused about whether it is the Babylonians or Assyrians doing the besieging, but never mind.) The Bethulians are desperate, running out of food and water. The leaders decide they will give God five days to get them out of their pickle; if God doesn’t come through, they will surrender, and their fate will be in the hands of their conquerors. Then a wise and wealthy widow, Judith, summons the elders. She criticized their plans, and criticized their theology. Don’t give God any ultimatums. “Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him.” Judith knows in hard times, it is not God, but the faithful that are being tested. read more

The Eclipse—by Peter Eisenstadt

I suspect the beginning of all wisdom, of all religion, of all science, consisted of the earliest humans looking at the sky with wonder, looking for meanings, fashioning explanations.  They found what they were looking for. They found gods, they found portents of good fortune, harbingers of doom. They found, as the Torah and Hagaddah says, “signs and wonders.”

They also found order. The most mysterious quality of the sky was that it was humans who could figure out some of its mysteries. They found patterns. They knew that the same group of constellations appeared in the same part of the sky, every year, in the exact same place of the sky. They knew that the moon completed its cycle every 28 days, the stars every 365 days, and the five visible planets with their individual cycles, but each of them was utterly predictable. It was hard not to think that these regular patterns did not have some impact on our lives. Surely the stars and planets controlled the weather, and perhaps our personal and collective destinies? But the more we learned about the planets and the stars, the less likely this seemed. We could now understand the movement of the heavenly bodies with utmost precision, down to the nanosecond. We started to explore the heavenly bodies we once gaped at in wonder. We have even walked on the moon. Something had been gained, surely though much of the mystery had been lost. read more

Choosing Life on Friday Night—by Ayala Emmett

On Friday night, on her tiptoes, a two-year-old in a lovely summer dress is helped by Rabbi Levy to light the Sabbath candles. Her parents, holding a baby, recite the blessing.

The congregation joins the parents in an Atrium filled with people, suffused with a summer sunset and two lit candles. The words of the blessing for the candles are familiar and ancient. They are rooted in a long Jewish tradition and had appeared already in a ninth-century prayerbook. Reciting the blessing in community creates a seamless connection. Recited in the present it creates a protective canopy across time and space. read more

Thoughts about Confederate Monument Controversy –by Peter Eisenstadt

1) First, to state the obvious, contrary to our president, “you can change history.” What you can’t change is the past. As the president no doubt remembers, Hegel, in his Philosophy of History stated “history encompasses in our language [that is, German] the objective as well as the subjective aspect and signifies both historiam renum gestorum (historical accounts of the past) and res gestae (the things themselves.)” Same in English. Though today we are perhaps more skeptical than Hegel that the “res gestae” are self-interpreting. History, the interpretation of the past, is always changing. And the history of the Confederacy has undergone vast changes in recent decades. read more

On the Horrible Violence in Charlottesville—by Peter Eisenstadt

Let no one mistake who is behind the violence in Charlottesville, that took the life of at least one protestor against the neo-Nazis, and left many more seriously injured. It’s not David Duke, it’s not the so called “alt-right,” it’s not even our miserable president, who is incapable of making even a grudging gesture to the cause of justice. It is that notorious traitor, Robert E. Lee, the man responsible for the death of more US military personnel than Adolf Hitler.   The protests are over a statue of Lee that the city of Charlottesville wants to remove. This statue was erected in 1924. It’s time for it to go. read more

Victory Over the Sun –by Peter Eisenstadt

The emperor awoke. As usual he was angry and surly, yelling at his attendants, calling for his grand vizier. As usual, there was only one topic on his mind. For weeks he had speaking about nothing else. “Screw the sun. I hate the goddamn sun.   What are we doing about the sun? Every morning what do people do? They think about the sun. Is it shining or cloudy?   Why are we dependent on the sun? It’s embarrassing. The sun gets way too much attention. People think the earth revolves around the sun. That’s just fake and biased liberal science. The earth revolves around me!” read more

The Day I Was Questioned by the KGB by Peter Eisenstadt

Let me tell you a story. When I was 21, way back in 1975, I was studying at the University of Leeds in England, and I took a two week trip to the Soviet Union. You couldn’t travel on your own, and had to be part of an organized tour, and our tour had Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad as the major stops. It was great; everywhere I went Jews asked me if I was Jewish (I guess I look it) and I tried to converse with them the best that I could. Our tour seemed to stop at every memorial to the Great Patriotic War, of which there seemed to be no end with one exception—it did not stop, despite our asking, at the monument at Babi Yar, outside of Kiev. Anyway, I loved the trip—a ballet at the Bolshoi, an opera at the Kirov; one of these years I have to get back to St. Petersburg, which I still think is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, and we were there in early July, when it stays light in the city until the wee hours. read more