Debkafile Homes In

Home? Hone?

I recently read the headline on Debka...

Al Qaeda homes in on Germany as its next European target

I scratched my head. Home in? Isn't it "hone in" ? Time for some sleuthing...and

...it turns out that there is a fascinating little history of the term.


Chana's Prayer: A Commentary for Men

I was asked by the good folks in Charlotte, North Carolina's Chavurat Tikvah to share a few words on the Rosh Hashannah Day 1 Haftarah. While I didn't have time to write out a drash, I did put some thoughts together and had a half way decent insight on the topic.

So here's how I started -- Chana's prayer is a beautiful counter-culture moment in the RH liturgy. Here we are with all this gratitude and all hail God is King talk, and here this woman steps up and prays "al" -- "against" God. The Rashba remarks that her prayer was not dignified or proper because she basically said "How could you allow me to suffer like this?" -- but that is the very reason why the Talmudic commentators in Bercahot 31a-b love her. They liken her to Moses (and Elijah) as someone who is willing to say to God -- "hey what's going on up there? you need to act down here."

There is a great bit from Levi of Berditchev on this where he holds the shofar aloft and says: "hey God - you want to hear this? then have my enemies blow it -- because you obviously seem to favor them."

Second -- I shared the brilliant commentary of Lori Lefkowitz (appeared in RT). She argues that Chana is not eating - she has an eating disorder, brought on by both the unrealistic demands of patriarchy and by the abuse of Peninah. (there's even a Midrash that says that Peninah would taunt her by saying ("i'm packing lunch for the children to take to school") The eating disorder is causing her infertility. But emoting -- pouring out her heart -- is the self-medicating therapy that she needs. She has the power to break from her depression and self-destruction and become aligned again. (a midrash puts the following words in Chana's mouth ' do you want me to be an angel -- to not eat and not have children, or do you want me to be a woman?)

Third -- and this is my contribution to all this -- is the question "why should men be listening to this story year after year?" My sense is that we need to hear the words of both Elkana and of Eli -- two men who obviously do not get how deep the depression and despair of this woman has become. Elkana says "isn't my love better than ten sons?" -- a message to all of us men who think that we are G-ds gift to women, that all they want is our attention and that's it. Eli, in accusing Chana of being drunk, is a paradigm for all the times that we men dismiss women's emotions as hysterical. Rather than see the very moment when they are speaking from the heart, we see it as madness. Hearing the story of Chana we are given an opportunity to repent for our inability to respond to the suffering of women -- and a charge to change our ways.


Rosh Hashannah Poem: Cash for Clunkers

Cash for Clunkers

A Poem for Rosh Hashannah

Hitch your rusty old heart to the tow truck
(We’ve got an old 8 track of Yossele Rosenblatt Sings Holiday Favorites up in the cab.)
Chains of prayer pulling you along
the glass walled showroom by the old highway
eternal light
a red neon “open”

Plastic banner whipping in the wind
Trade-ins Welcome
Gates of repentance marked by an “ENTER” arrow, slightly bent.

And here you are,
Your clogged heap,
Your worn tires,
Your gunked up insides.

Do you even accept my make and model?

Blast your horn nine times.
Collapse on your steering wheel for one long and holy honk.

Open the glove compartment and recite the words in the Owner’s Manual:

Forgive us, have mercy on us, atone for us.

Close you eyes and the new year lies before you.

It’s a 5770.

And it is clean.
And it is pure.
And it sparkles.
And it smells like new car.
And the odometer reads
“you have more life to live”

So where are you heading to?

-Daniel S. Brenner


090909 NY Times City Room Blog Meets Reb Blog :)

SEPTEMBER 4, 2009, 3:57 PM
09/09/09: An Auspicious Start to School?

Sept. 9, 2009 — or 09/09/09 — will be a significant day for baby boomers (the digitally remastered Beatles collection is being released) and for gadgetphiles (Apple may introduce new products).

But it will also be significant for New York City children. It is the first day of school.

Given the diversity of cultures in New York City, we wanted to know whether this means anything. After all, given how 9/9/99 was widely heralded, perhaps we could expect a repeat a decade later.

City Room first thought of reaching out to rabbis, given that many are familiar with gematria, the Hebrew numerological art of finding meaning by spinning numbers and words. Eighteen is lucky, because the letters in chai (חי) — the word for “living” — are composed of letters that add up to 18.

Since 18 is 9 plus 9, what would another 9 add? Would it be 50 percent more luck? Or does the extra 9 mess everything up?

But the purists among our first round of rabbis would not even look at the Gregorian calendar. (”The English calendar is basically random from a Jewish perspective,” one said, somewhat dismissively.)

Alas. But we found one willing to humor City Room. Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, noted in an e-mail message that if you add up the three 9’s, you get 27. Similarly, that corresponds with the numeric value for the Hebrew letters in chida (חידה), the word for “riddle”: het, yud, dalet, hey.

Asked to expound on what “riddle” might mean in a school year context, Rabbi Brenner wrote:

Jewish education is based on the critical inquiry that happens between teachers and student, and riddles — which ask us to challenge how we define our world — are one of the fun ways that teachers engage students in learning. On the first day of school, I would hope that teachers not only set out the classroom rules, but set forth the “riddles” that they will explore with their students over the year.

Then we turned to the Chinese, another group that embraces numbers. We called Justin Yu, president of theChinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, for his take. The word for the number nine, jiu (九), sounds like the word for longevity in Chinese, jiu (久). He added, in Chinese, “Ninety-nine means forever, so 999 is even better.”

When asked about what that meant for students, he said:

The Chinese say that on Sept. 9, you can go very, very high. Sept. 9 is a day that people go up climbing mountains. For students, going back to school by Sept. 9 means that their score will be very high, and whatever they achieve will be much higher.

Are there other cultures that find meaning in 09/09/09 as the beginning of the school year?


Forward Thinking

(PHOTO: Birthright Israel NEXT alumni from Brooklyn dance at the National Yiddish Book Center)

Way back in 1997 I was a Steinhardt Fellow at CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Fresh out of rabbinical school, I was thrown into a rowdy crew of Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative rabbis – all of whom were dedicated to finding some way that we could transcend those very labels and yet still be true to our convictions. (I was trained by the reconstuctionists so I kind of had a head start.)

I only met very briefly with Michael Steinhardt during that year, but I heard many times about his desire to create a “Common Judaism” – a Judaism that was proudly shared across secular and religious circles. I was taken by the idea – and much of my teaching and curricula building energies were focused on defining the parameters of just such a breakthrough concept in Jewish life.

Reading the recent Forward articles I am reminded by those years at CLAL.

I, for one, am proud of the diversity of the programs this past year that Birthright Israel NEXT supported in New York -- including programs such as a seminar on Jewish culture led by the brilliant faculty of the National Yiddish Book Center, an exhilarating dance performance by the Batsheva Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and multiple evenings where Birthright Israel participants told their personal stories in our Monologues production. And I am also proud that there is room at our table for a sometimes irreverent reconstructionist rabbi like me and the sometimes irreverent haredi-trained rabbis from the JEC to work on the same project. In my experience, I have found that they offer a style of teaching that is compelling and a passion for Judaism that is genuine and that their offerings connect with a segment of our alumni. Their contribution to our overall offerings to Birthright Israel alumni in New York is yet another example of the diversity that crosses boundaries and exemplifies Birthright Israel’s maverick approach.

But the program that touches the most New Yorkers is not any of the cultural or religious events that we have organized, but our call for alumni to take responsibility for their own Jewish lives. I am incredibly proud that over 1,000 New Yorkers who are Birthright Israel alumni opened up their homes to their friends for “NEXT Shabbat” dinners. Inviting a large group of people into a small apartment is, in my opinion, an enormous responsibility. 82% of our hosts had little or no experience hosting a Shabbat dinner. Yet, three-quarters of them made a home-cooked meal for their guests. Since the average size of the meals was fourteen guests, that amounts to over fourteen thousand guests in the first year of the program. Nationally, our numbers are closing in on 50,000 guests. (Show me a Jewish organization that can create peer-led, home hospitality events where over 50,000 young adults meet each other and have a positive Jewish experience for an average cost of under $25. If we had more donors across the country who saw the simple logic of this model, we could easily take the number of guests to 100,000.)

One of the things that happens after the Shabbat hosts finish their event is that they are asked how much of a grant that they would like to cover the expenses that they put up for the meal. They can get up to $25 per guest – but the vast majority of our hosts do not ask for $25. They ask for less because they realize that if they do, more people can benefit from the program.

In the past year alone Birthright Israel NEXT was involved in over four hundred events in eleven cities and we worked with over eighty partnering organizations. In other words, through Birthright Israel NEXT young adults are being exposed to multiple options for Jewish involvement – from mainstream Jewish institutions to emergent ones. I found it ironic that the Jewish Daily Forward editorial used the example of the JDC as one such possibility of the use of program funds because Birthright Israel NEXT actually worked with the JDC and I was fortunate to visit the JDC office in New York and meet with Birthright Israel alumni who discovered for the first time the life-saving work in the FSU that the Joint has undertaken. One of my staff worked on an amazing short film about her trip with other Birthright Israel alumni to the Ukraine to visit JDC projects. (There is a clip of it in this four minute video)

I hope that critics will take a look at the entirety of Birthright Israel NEXT and see not only the authentic diversity that we embrace, but the tens of thousands of young adults who are discovering that Jewish life in America is a big tent where secularists, all types of religious folks, and those who do not have a defined ideology have a home.