Monday, November 23, 2009

Thoughts onToldot 5770, in Haiku

Isaac, Rebekah
Embittered by foreign wives
Had the same idea:

Send Esau afield
Bless Jacob while he's away
Bupkis for Esau.

Isaac was deceived:
He was expecting Jacob
Thought he got Esau

Isaac was relieved:
The voice, the voice of Jacob
Ears did not deceive.

Isaac was afraid:
Conflict was not his strong suit
Esau had returned.

Could not tell the truth
To Esau, the son who hunts
"We don't like your wives."

Esau overheard:
"Take no foreign wives, my son."
Then he understood.

Had Esau been told?
Was the expectation set?
What if he had known

Not to marry out
If only they had told him
Leah might be his.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Simple Shakshuka

The shakshuka at Cafe Hillel leaves one feeling nostalgic, so I've been tinkering with the concept and after a couple of tries came up with this. It doesn't have much in the way of exotic spicing, but goes from kitchen to table with about 5 minute's knifework and 30 minutes stovetop.

Simple Shakshuka

One medium onion, medium dice.
1C Bell Peppers, medium dice.
One Can (28 oz/800g) diced or crushed tomatoes.
A splosh of lemon juice (probably two Tbsp)
Four eggs.
One clove garlic, minced
One half tsp Salt
One half tsp Black Pepper
Olive or Grapeseed oil sufficient to saute in a 10" pan

Heat a 10" pan (I prefer cast iron for this) and add oil.
Saute the onions with the salt and black pepper.
As they become translucent, and the garlic, then the peppers.
Deglaze with the lemon juice, then add the tomatoes.
Simmer uncovered to reduce the liquid by about half.
Break the 4 eggs over the sauce and cover until eggs reach desired doneness (tradition dictates a set white with a runny yolk-about 4 minutes).

Serve with Pita or Challah. A garnish of steamed spinach creates a nice contrast on the plate

Serves 2. Parve.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Life as a Jew in Minnesota in Haiku

מזג האוויר
קר, אפור, ויש גשם
זמן לבנות סוכה

Weather conditions:
It's cold, it's gray, and there's rain
Succah building time.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Post by Morgan: Stuck at Ben Gurion

Ben Gurion Airport, August 28,2009 1:50 AM

We are STUCK. Tonight’s attempt to arrange ground transportation to the airport was a comedy of small errors, which, compounded by mishegaas at Ben Gurion, resulted in our suffering what I had always thought was my worst traveling nightmare: we missed our flight. It all started innocently enough. Rich checked Egged’s web site, and learned that from the central bus station in Jerusalem, there were busses running direct to Ben Gurion every half hour until at least 9:30. The 9:30 bus would get us to Ben Gurion around ten, just right for the three hour window that El Al’s website had recommended as a pre-flight arrival time. Pretty much any bus from the area of our hotel would go to the central bus station, and we calculated that we had to leave around nine for everything to work. When we checked out of our hotel, the woman at the desk offered to call a sherut for us--much nicer than bus way to travel--but Nesher wasn’t answering their phone any more, so we returned to our well-laid bus plans.

We had a lovely last dinner at the Cafe Hillel near our hotel. I even managed to ask, in Hebrew, that my dish be made without walnuts. I must have even been comprehensible, as I am still alive. After dinner, we walked to the bus stop and waited only a short time for a random bus to take us to the station. Unlike busses in the US--or at least the Twin Cities--Egged busses can make CHANGE, meaning you don’t have to worry about having the exact fare, or even about knowing what it is. Moreover, you can pay for two people and get a single ticket that indicates that it’s for two. And you can do this RIGHT ON THE BUS. I was impressed. The ride wasn’t hugely fun, but a bus ride with a backpack never is: you can take it off and it becomes the most awkward thing on earth to schlepp around, or you can leave it on and sit really uncomfortably and have the thing take up a whole seat by itself. I elected to do the latter.

When we arrived at the central bus station, I was awed. The thing is basically a multi-story shopping mall--worthy of being a destination in itself. Awkwardness ensued as I had to take off my pack and send it through an x-ray. By the time I got through the metal detector and reclaimed my stuff, my husband, who had been right behind me, was nowhere to be seen. Not knowing if he was behind or ahead of me, I put on my pack and stared around stupidly until I sighted him on the other side of the metal detector. Once we were reunited, we decided to check out the nearby book store, since it was just after nine and we had time to kill until our connecting bus. Or so we thought.

When we finally made our way up to the ticket station, the woman there told us that she thought the busses to Ben Gurion were no longer running, but sold us a ticket to Tel-Aviv anyway. We figured that from there we could get a cab or something if she was right, and it turned out that she was. We had just sorted out the process of getting on the Tel Aviv bus, when what should arrive but the bus that we thought we could take to BG. We jumped off, thinking that we would be saved the inconvenience of arranging yet another leg to this trip, only to be told that no, this bus really wasn’t making any more trips. So we got back on the TA bus, and ended up sitting right in front of some young men who proceeded to talk loudly the entire trip. Loudly enough that at one point the driver yelled at them. It was a comfortable bus, and Rich and I both took off our packs and held them on our laps. I might have enjoyed the ride if I hadn’t been so worried about time. I think it was almost eleven when we finally got there.

The TA bus station doesn’t have as sophisticated security as J’lem. There was just this table and a couple of guys with portable wands looking in people’s bags. I think I was pretty fried by then--he had to ask me several times to open my bag, using vocab that I usually understand, and when I finally got it (after he asked in English), I exasperated him further by assuming that I had to open every little compartment on my VERY many-compartmented backpack, when all he was interested in was the main one. He must have thought I was a complete idiot. I started to get really worried when we got inside and saw how dead the place was. Most of the information counters--make that all--were closed. We finally found a ticket counter that was staffed by a helpful guy who told Rich the number of the bus to catch to get to the airport. When we got to the platform we found out that there were two left that night, one at 11:00 and one at 11:40. We caught the 11:00, but I was getting increasingly worried. We were well outside our three-hour window, and edging into the two-hour window that I usually leave for domestic flights. Moreover, this was a local bus route with lots of stops and people getting on and off. I began to contemplate the possibility that the evening might become grueling and expensive.

When we arrived at BG, we wandered around until some helpful airline staff told us where to go. An innocent further ‘where do we go’ question lead to us being ushered through the start of the security process BEFORE I had a chance to use the bathroom and this was NOT A GOOD THING. The security interview was brief and pretty much the same as the one at JFK. They weren’t even interested in x-raying our carry-on luggage at that point. We were shown where to go for check-in, and made the mistake of grabbing the nearest line, which proceeded not to move for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. It was around 12:15 now and I was seriously nervous. Moreover, my feet were hurting, I still needed to use the bathroom, standing around with a heavy pack on my back in a hot muggy atmosphere was making me want to puke, and my left knee was starting to act up. The knee was the bit that I was really worried about. It can be fine and then pop suddenly and be real painful, and tonight was seriously provoking it.

At one point Rich asked if he should try to find a faster line while I stayed there. I lost it and informed him that I was in pain and couldn’t stand much longer. He went to talk to someone or see what was going on or something. The party of women ahead of us was also doing the same thing. Yelling ensued. I had no idea what was going on. I had kind of hoped he was going to find a place where I could sit, but it didn’t sound like that was what was happening. I heard the word “supervisor” a couple of times. When he came back, I learned that 1) the flight was already boarding and therefore we had missed it and 2) the clog seemed to have been caused by a party that didn’t even have tickets trying to get onto the flight. He went back to the counter and there was more yelling. Finally, I had had it. I stepped out of the line intending to just sit down on a clear space of floor, because I really needed to sit. But I lost control of things and belongings and body parts when flying. A very kind family retrieved my water bottle and asked if I was OK, and I felt like a complete dork having to explain that actually, I was better off on the floor.

Right after that, stuff did start happening. A supervisor or something came and we learned that we’d have to go someplace else for re-ticketing. That took a long time, but fortunately didn’t cost any more money. Our new itinerary is: depart BG at 4:30 am (OY!), arrive not at JFK but at Newark (not sure whether this is an OY! or not--never been to Newark but JFK was pretty bad), spend most of the day in Newark (OY!), get on plane for MSP at 6:00, arrive MSP after 8pm Friday night (OY!). And BTW the only seats they had were on two separate aisles, but we can try to fix that at the gate (right). This is a bit of a grrr.... but all things considered, it could have been worse, and at least it wasn’t expected. Also, one of the things I most fear about the logistics of air travel, missing the flight, has happened, and the sky did not fall. It didn’t even cost us extra money, just time and aggravation.

[Rich Adds:]
When we checked in at Newark for our Northwest Flight, Morgan found she could book us on a flight that left at 1:30. We booked it and got to the gate to find that another plane headed to MSP was boarding. I asked if we could get on that flight, and we could, so we got home at 2pm instead of 8pm.

Post by Morgan: Another View of the Kotel

I had not been sure that I wanted to go to the Kotel. Gender-segregated spaces are things that I avoid like the plague. On the other hand, it’s an important site, and I’m pretty certain that for a pair of Jews to go to J’lem and NOT see the Kotel constitutes “doing it wrong”.

It had been a grueling day in many respects. We had, at my insistence, paid a second visit to Yad Vashem, and then had ended up paying way too much for the cab ride home. I was physically tired and emotionally exhausted, badly in need of catharsis for the roiling feelings left me by the day’s events. Rich had suggested earlier that we go to the Kotel in the evening, when it would be cooler and the shops mostly closed. I wasn’t sure though, after Yad Vashem, that I wanted to visit the remnant of the Temple, the site of another of our great disasters, on the same day.

I don’t know how we started discussing coffee, but the mention of it shook me out of my blah-ness, and we agreed to get coffee at Cafe Hillel and then head to the Kotel. I had read somewhere that women pretty much have to wear a skirt when visiting the Kotel, so I dressed accordingly, and in doing so learned an interesting lesson about how things work in Jerusalem: an ankle-length black skirt will get you tons of space on the sidewalk. It was Rich who first pointed it out to me: “People are giving us a wide berth” he said--and it was true. Usually all you get is enough space to squeeze by each other--no one really steps exaggeratedly out of someone else’s way like they do in MN. But we were getting plenty of passing room that night.

The walk down to the old city was pleasant, and there were places where I wished I could have lingered over beautiful vistas or beautiful architecture. It was a cool but muggy evening--one of those where you can be chilled and sweaty at pretty much the same time. Part of the time we were walking on a road where you shared the space with cars--sometimes with the benefit of metal or concrete posts protecting the pedestrian area and sometimes not. We only had to fend off one guy who really wanted to sell us stuff.

There are separate entrances to the plaza for men and women. This is something that Rich had warned me about. When we arrived, there were a lot more women than men waiting. I was somewhat uncomfortable as I broke away from him to join the women’s line. He and I are seldom apart. The men’s line moved quickly. The women’s line crawled. Bags were being opened, and of course everyone in the women’s line had a purse or something that needed inspected. Suddenly the men’s line was completely empty, everybody had gone through. After a few seconds, the bunch of women immediately behind me charged the men’s entrance. More women who had just arrived joined them. My line still wasn’t moving, so I said “lamah lo?” and joined the other line. The last woman in line and I exchanged giggles. This was pretty much the last thing I had expected to happen.

From the security checkpoint it’s just a little walk to the plaza, but nevertheless, the space seemed to open up really suddenly, and there was the Kotel right in front of me. It was, honestly, a smaller space than I had expected it to be, and the ancient wall itself seemed to be hemmed in by the stuff around it. But the thing that struck me most on seeing it in person was the same thing that always strikes me in photographs: those plants. Those big, humongous plants that grow in the spaces of the wall. They really are huge. I think some of them are longer than a person is tall.

I took some photographs, and then stood there for a while just looking through the metal screen that tops the wall that separates the plaza from the area in front of the Kotel. I could see where the mechitzah was, and for a long time I stood right there, right on the border between the men’s and women’s sections, just watching. I couldn’t help noticing that the women’s side is much smaller than the men’s, and it made me angry. The whole thing made me both angry and sad--very, very sad. Here, in that wall that divides the prayer area in two, is a tangible articulation of how far we have not come in bringing justice to the world, how far we have yet to go, how impossible it is that my own eyes will live to see justice here or anywhere else. The heartbreak that I found at the Kotel was not the heartbreak that I had been expecting: it’s hard to feel the national loss that the Temple’s destruction must have been when the plaza is crawling with live Jews, when this site is so obviously ours again. I contemplated a couple of times just swallowing my objections and going down to the women’s side, to daven or to just touch the stone, but I couldn’t do it. Every time I thought about it, my stomach turned over, and I realized at last that I would be happier, and have more respect for myself, if I did not make this particular compromise. Instead, I took out my sketchbook and did several sketches of the site, focusing on the things that delighted me most: those beautiful huge plants.

At some point, Rich had sat down in a chair behind me--there are plastic chairs available all over the place, in case one needs to sit down. When I been standing long enough that my feet started to hurt, he gave me his seat and went to get another chair for himself. I realized that I had ended up sitting right behind the men’s section. Rich pulled up a chair and sat beside me but a little way away. I had an inkling of what he was doing before he said anything. He had positioned himself just behind the women’s section. No one cared of course; we were still on the plaza, separated from the segregated area by a wall that I had to stand on tiptoes to really see over, and plenty of other people were observing what was going on on the opposite gender’s side. We took out Paths of Faith and davened Ma’ariv from it. It was a symbolic protest of course, meaningful, perhaps, only to us. But nevertheless there was a certain power in having found a way to pray together as a couple, here in this place where we were so vehemently NOT supposed to do so. It was a cool, peaceful night, relatively quiet despite the number of people there. It was satisfying to be able to pray. As we reached the end of the service, there was no question but that we would say Kaddish for those of our people who were killed in the Shoah. Here, in the peace of the cool night, in the ancient words of the Kaddish Yatom and its familiar rhythms, I found the catharsis that I had needed since our visit to Yad Vashem earlier that day. I experienced once again the power of Jewish ritual to heal the soul, and experienced also the powerful truth that ours is a religion where what you do matters. I had been unsettled by a welter of emotion all day because of a need to do something--a need to do what there was for me, as a Jew, to do in order to honor the memory of those whom we all have lost.

I left the Kotel feeling both at peace and uplifted. I had found a way to pray there, and to do it in my own way, without making any compromises.

The Food in Jerusalem

Point the first: if anyone tells you that Starbucks pulled out of Israel because of politics; they are wrong. ארומה - Aroma is the local corporate coffee behemoth, and, well, Starbucks falls so completely short of what they deliver in both food and drink that Starbucks must have seen itself a grasshopper in comparison. The smaller chain, Hillel, is a full service restaurant which serves Shakshukah, and a wide variety of pastas, salads and sandwiches made fresh in its own kitchen. During our stay, the manager came to know our habits. She called us "Chocolate Junkies."

The Falafel, from a stall on Ben Yehudah, of course was grand; 50nis got us both a full sized falafel with everyhing and two beers. The falafel was beautifully balanced in its seasoning, not overpowered by cumin as our American falafels tend to be, and it was crisp outside without being hard, and tender inside without being gloppy. And "everything" really was, even fries were used as toppings.

The next evening, after our feet had time to recover from our Shrine of the Book adventure, we found a place near Independence Park called The River Noodle Bar, where we had a lovely beef noodle soup with a hard cooked, deep fried egg. No, not pho - the stock held the spicing characteristic of Korean food, with strong hints of sesame.

The following evening we dined at a place called New Deli, a bit like Subway, but even here, the chicken for Morgan's sub was grilled to order and the pastrami tasted like top-flight Chicago pastrami.

Also, the fleishig cafeteria at Yad VaShem does an awesome beef stew.

Final Verdict: the food is better here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Shrine of the book.

Morgan and I are staying at the Jerusalem Inn, on 7 Horcanos, about a a block from Yaffo and Heleni Hamalka. Those of you familiar with Jerusalem's geography and topography will probably raise an eyebrow when I tell you that we decided, on Tuesday to walk to the Shrine of the book to see Dead Sea Scrolls and (drum roll please . . .) the Aleppo Codex! We started out early walked Yaffa to HaMelech George to Ramban. After about 3/4mi on Ramban we crossed a really big street and followed a street whose name I can't recall to the Israel Museum Complex. Once in, we looked for a while at the model of Late Second Temple Period Jerusalem. I turned on the Audio Guide and a British voice gushed lovingly in my ear about the sheep pools. I turned off the Audio Guide. Morgan took this picture of the model Temple:

There is an amazing amount of care and detail that went into the model, but it is unpeopled, empty; even architectural models place people in their landscapes to suggest a place in use. This model, however, suggests a place in disuse.

After ascending the stairs to a plaza we came across this lovely fountain:

The "fountain," of course, is the Shrine of the Book. It is designed to look like the lid of one of the pots that contain the Dead Sea Scrolls; appropriate since it itself contains them. The fountain is a very effective cooling system, keeping the interior in the 60's or so, even when the exterior is in the 100's. Jerusalem's dry climate is part of its effectiveness - evaporating water cools the dome.

Inside one steps down through a series of small displays concerning the material culture of the Qumran community, and then one enters the rotunda which has displayed the scrolls, or copies thereof depending on their condition. We saw part of the rule of the community, and the battle of the sons of the darkness and the sons of the light. A copy of the Isaiah Scroll was displayed at the center. One is struck first by the legibility of the texts - the letter forms, penned more than 2000 years ago, are not strikingly different than those we use today. The English alphabet has undergone more changes in about a quarter of that time. Most of the scrolls are in Hebrew, so to the reader of Hebrew they are comprehensible as well as legible. To read a scroll written that long ago is to stand in direct communication with its scribe across millenia.

Downstairs a special treat awaited us. The Aleppo Codex, edited, according to Maimonides, by no less than David Ben Asher himself is the crowning achievement of the Masoretic Tradition. It's not much to look at - penned in a plain hand with nikkud, cantillation marks, and Masoretic notes it is a text whose writer clearly valued function over form. This was the text that Maimonides used as his exemplar when he wrote his own Sefer Torah, and provided the basis for his Hilchot Sefer Torah which remains to this day an essential body of Halachah for the scribe writing a Sefer Torah for Synagogue use. The text remained in tact until 1948 when parts of it were lost in a pogrom.

Another item on display was called the "Small Codex." It is a small codex penned by an Ashkenazic scribe using the Aleppo Codex as its exemplar. It was opened to a spread containing the last page of Eichah and the first page of Esther. It was stunningly beautiful, rich with creative formatting of the text. In some ways I found this text more remarkable than the Aleppo Codex itself - it testified to what a scribe can do to wed form and function when presented with a reliable exemplar and a kavannah for hiddur mitzvah.

Other things we learned that day - the Art Garden is torture at midday. Israeli Feta and Watermelon are a fantastic pairing. And one side of Agron St. is closed to Pedestrian Traffic between the Conservative Center and HUC Jerusalem. The following morning we found a very nice apothecary who provided just the thing for our blisters. It was a transaction conducted entirely in Hebrew, though that entailed me showing her the blister because I have no idea what the generic name is for Moleskine, let alone how to say it in Hebrew.

The Kotel and the Liminal

So there I was at the Kotel. I had just inserted a woman's prayer on the men's side. Then I davenned Ma'ariv from Paths of Faith, complete with the matriarchs. I choked up during Hashkiveinu, something about reciting a prayer of protection at the site of so much conflict. When I got to the risha'im in the Amidah, I realized that I was thinking of the ultra-frum all around me, even as they would be thinking of me when they encountered it in their siddurim. As I finished praying the golden dome of the Al-Aqsa mosque, just visible over the Kotel, emanated its call to prayer. I turned and looked up at the Plaza and there was Aish HaTorah's new yeshiva side by side with Chabad's Soup Kitchen. These two competing ideologies in ultra-orthodoxy looked to me to be looming over the Kotel, over Judaism, like Godzilla and Mothra locked in struggle, careless of how many Tokyo residents became collateral damage, careless that the quid-pro-quo theology that ultra-orthodoxy teaches can produce only zealots or atheists. And beyond these august institutions was visible the dome and cross of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Kotel stands at every border: borders of faith, theology, gender, past and present. I choked up at Hashkiveinu because I was praying for protection while standing in front of what I can only describe as a wound in history. And I think that in one way or another, every prayer offered at the wall is a prayer for the healing of that wound, however that healing may look to the petitioner.

The Old City and the Kotel

On Sunday, Morgan spent most of the day recovering from her accidental seafood exposure. I went to the Old City to see if I could figure out how to get to the Kotel. The Old City is crowded and tightly packed. Streets are often shared between vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The narrow sidewalks are often choked by tour groups and the vendors hawking their wares are often agressive. I decided to buy Morgan a pomegranate since electrolytes are always a good thing. The vendor showed me a lovely view from a roof top and introduced me to his brother who succeded in selling me a 80NIS mezuzah case for 150NIS. When he tried to sell me a 150NIS Magen David for 900NIS we had an argument in Hebrew about whether God did or did not want me to spend 900NIS on a Magen David from a Bedouin in the old city. When I left his shop the price came down to 200NIS, but he had already swindled me on the Mezuzah Case, had just shown me the depth of the swindle he tried to pull on the Magen David, and I was not kindly disposed. I left the Old city then, rebuffing an offer to be shown David's tomb (in a place within the Old City, though it is in fact outside the walls) and a come-on from a self-proclaimed purveyor of "schmattes and chazerai" near the Jaffa gate.

Why all the attention? Perhaps because of my mannter of dress. At the time I looked rather like the image on the left. I clould be seen coming from a mile away and everything from the shirt to the shorts to the uncovered hair says: "American Idiot on Vacation." So later that evening, as a small experiment I donned a pair of black Chinos, a white cargo shirt, a black corduroy jacket, and a canoeing hat to create a mode of dress that I call faux-frum. No one spoke to me. I looked frum to the hawkers, and I looked, I will assume, strange to the chabadniks and charedim. And in this garb, with a copy of Chaim Stern's Paths of Faith tucked underneath my arm, I headed out for the Kotel.

To get to the Kotel from the Jaffa gate, one takes the Armenian Patriarchate road through the Armenian Quarter, and then makes a hard right into a parking lot. Follow that until you see a sign that says "No Traffic on Shabbat or Holidays." and follow that road down hill until you reach a switcback with a pretzel stand. Robinson's Arch is directly across from the switchback. If you actually reach the pretzel stand, then the Kotel is behind you. This is a view of the Kotel from the Plaza:
Women are to the left, men are to the right. The privacy fence serves as the mechitza. The wooden items stacked near the mechitza on the men's side are shtenders, basically portable reading stands. I entered the Men's side and located a good spot to deliver the note I had been asked to deposit there and davened. That deserves its own post.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

In Jerusalem

I had thought to order posts chronologically to form a cohesive narrative of events, but my attempts to do so are futile. So I'm going totally non linear.

The City
It reminds me of Manhattan in the '80's, before gentrification. A little bit TriBeCa, a little bit of the east Village, a little bit of midtown - times square especially. It pulses with restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, people selling their wares. And on Shabbat it is, to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen "dead as heaven on a Saturday Night." An ironic description since on Saturday night the city wakes from its sabbath slumber as if in answer to Isaiah's charge in this week's Haftarah "התעוררי התעוררי קומי ירושלם" - "Awaken, awaken, rise up, Jerusalem." We read this Haftarah in Shul this morning when we davened at the IMPJ affiliated Har-El synagogue next to the Bezalel Artists' house on Shmuel haNagid Street.

This is what happens on Shabbat Morning at Har El - More P'sukei d'Zimrah than in typical American Reform congrregations, but fewer than in Conservative. Morning Blessings are read as follows - the Shaliach Tzibbur reads a blessing, the Congregation says Amen to that blessing and then reads the next blessing to which the Shaliach Tzibbur says Amen. Thus the roles of reader and respondent are passed between the Shatz and the Congregation. The Torah Service includes seven aliyot, maftir, and haftarah, with additional honors of lifting the Torah and dressing the Torah. The service is kept to about an hour by the use of the triennal reading cycle, and is followed by a kiddush, wherein the person making motzi washes the hands prior to doing so and the bread is salted. I had the honor of lifting the Torah, and Morgan had the honor of dressing it. I was also asked to make motzi, and did so, grateful that I had the handwashing prayer in my head.

There are some restaurants and clubs that don't necessarily wait until Havdallah to open. They cater to secular Israelis and may serve things that put them outside of eligibility for a heksher. Seafood is not uncommon, but pork seems very unusual. Smoked goose breast seems to be used in its place. People with seafood allergies would be well advised to seek out a Heksher when dining out, because it is a guarantee that there can be no contamination from shellfish. How we became aware of this is left as an exercise for the readers imagination.

I have been asked about cigarette smoke. What we have found is that most places prohibit smoking indoors, and provide generously for it out of doors. Smoke tends not to linger near the ground here, but is pretty quickly lifted away, making proximity to smokers less problematic than we thought.

We went for an evening walk in Independence Park and as we were walking back up to the hotel, were invited into a Judaica shop by a vendor. We ended up getting a fair price on the earrings, paying about 20 NIS less than the originally quoted price, and they really do pick up the blue in Morgan's eyes quite nicely.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The flight up.

We departed Minneapolis for a flight to New York where we will be connecting to an El Al flight to Israel. I have in my pockets four dollars of money from each of 3 people and Temple Israel to be given to those who may need it. This is a סגולה, a charm, for safety. No harm will come to the traveler on a mission of charity. I am also carrying a prayer for the Western Wall, and though I don't hold that prayers tucked in to the wall are more effective. but the petitioner does. So that is another mission. I myself may have different feelings after doing this.

I also carry fears and expectations. My biggest fear is that I will find that the Israelis smoke everywhere and I won't be able to tolerate it. Or that MM will get a nut - She's allergic. Or that there will be zealot trouble on a bus.

I am looking forward to discovering the liberal davennen scene. Har-El on Shabbat, someplace masorti for the week. Looking forward to coffee in the land that spit out Starbucks. ארומה, Aroma is the big chain. And I am looking forward to bookstores. Steimatzky's is the chain. And looking forward to food. I want to walk the city, to conduct life without a car - impossible in Minnesota. I want to feel the history washing over me. Not interested in details right now; just want to contemplate what it means to be in a city where so much has happened, a city 10 times older than New York.

Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dvar Pinchas 5769

Dvar Pinchas, - Beth Jacob Congregation, 11 July 2009, Rich Furman

We are starting to see them now, the signs for the Great Minnesota Get Together, the State Fair. It’s a lovely week of celebration, when Snelling Avenue north of University becomes undriveable, when Minnesotans converge upon Our Fair City, the State Capitol, to stroll up and down the midway, buying food from vendors selling out of booths all along Dan Patch avenue, and if you should approach from the north side of the fairgrounds, you will see the RV’s and tents, the temporary dwellings set up by those who have come from all over the state of Minnesota to this place that has been established for them to show off the finest of their fruits, grain, and livestock.

The fair is about celebrating the bounty that has come forth through the summer, it is about coming together as a community, and sharing the bounty that has been granted to us, about wandering through the fine arts building and the arts and crafts building to see the work of one another’s hands, but it is something else too - it is summer’s denouement, and as such, in the midst of the joy, there is that tinge of melancholy, a sense not unlike the fatigue that comes at the end of the day - the Jams and Jellies and pickles that have been tasted and judged are harbingers of winter days to come, the bounty of summer condensed and contracted to carry us through the winter. The fair is as much about preparing for the winter as it is about celebrating the summer. It is about the contraction that follows the expansion of summer. And part of that contraction is minimizing the amount of livestock that needs to be wintered over. Ann Reed touches on this in her song “My Minnesota State Fair:”

Took some time, but now I find the heartbreak of this place,
The shocked and frozen look upon some FFA kid’s face;
If her pig should lose, I s’pose that’s only pure dumb luck
But if her pig’s a winner then she’s next year’s pronto pup

We learn two things from this: first, that the Fair’s pronto pups aren’t exactly built around Hebrew National hot dogs; second, and more poignantly, it also captures the essence of sacrifice, namely that the offerer is parting with something significant, that there is a certain melancholy associated with that parting, and with the loss of life that turns livestock into food.

And with this we begin to touch upon our parsha, Pinchas, which ends by listing the sacrifices associated with Sukkot. Because of the way it is described, outlining the sacrifices day by day, we cannot fail but be impressed by the sheer amount of meat that is being butchered and eaten during this festival. I have always wondered what could possibly be behind this. I am not alone in wondering this; Nigel Savage, writing for Hazon’s Jewish food blog The Jew And The Carrot learned a possible reason when chatting with Aitan Mizrahi, the goat herd for the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, where they would be holding their annual conference in December of 2007.

I should perhaps begin by explaining why Savage was talking with a goatherd in the first place. This was when Rubashkin’s was beginning to receive its well deserved scrutiny from within the Jewish community, and many questions about Sh’chita were coming to light. Many Hazon participants are vegetarian, others eat meat, so the question became how people’s food choices would be affected if they were to witness Sh’chita for themselves. So a decision was made that two goats would be shechted for an erev shabbat meal at the December conference, and so Savage found himself asking Mizrahi about the details.

He learned in his conversation with Mizrahi that Hazon would need to pay to feed the goats between October and December. When he asked why, Aitan explained that male goats are slaughtered in October so that they will not have to be fed during the winter, when the dairy producing females would be in greater need of the food. Savage was surprised at the irony that shechting goats at the conference would extend their life. Mizrahi boiled it down to one basic rule in dairy farming: "No dairy without death"(Paraphrased from Savage) This revelation caused Savage to reflect on

the fact that Pesach and Succot are exactly six months apart – they’re both on the full moon – they’re both seven days long – but on Pesach, biblically, they killed a single paschal lamb; and on Succot there’s this enormous series of sacrifices of bulls – ie male cows?
We may say that the commandments concerning sacrifice are חוקים, to be obeyed for no other reason than that they were given. We may look hard at the numbers and come up with notions like 70 bulls being offered to make expiation for the 70 nations, and 98 sheep to avert the 98 curses in Deuteronomy(Numbers R. XXI:24, Rashi on 29:18). But to me, this explanation rings true: that in the annual cycle of expansion and contraction, the huge number of sacrifices offered uniquely on Sukkot helps to get through the winter by ensuring that the dairy producing females will have sufficient food.

“No dairy without death” is an important point to bear in mind - it points to the dialectic of the autumn, the tension between life and death and the necessary deaths that make survival of the winter possible. One interpretation of the commandment not to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk is that milk represents life and meat is the result of death. Thus, the idea that it is impossible to have dairy without death underscores the tension between life and death that is the essence of the autumn. Deciduous trees drop their leaves in an imitation of death that helps them conserve their life force for the following spring. Bears hibernate, and people take to the indoors, the bounty of summer dried, pickled, canned, or otherwise preserved to carry us through. It will be six months before the next festival - Pesach - because we are hardly expected to travel in winter.

And while this all seems so melancholy, we are, nonetheless, commanded to be happy on Sukkot:

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ־עבת וערבי־נחל ושמחתם לפני יהוה אלהיכם שבעת ימים
You shall take for yourselves on the first day fruit of the Hadar tree, branches of palm trees and boughs of myrtle and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days (Lev. 33:40, my translation).

Rejoicing is a key element of the commandment here because, although things are winding down, we have our harvest in, and with the growing season behind us, we can relax. This rejoicing before Adonai is also a reason for the number of sacrifices. Bearing in mind the number of people who pass through the fair and want to eat, imagine what Jerusalem must have been like at Sukkot. We find some sense of this intimated in the revised edition of Plaut’s The Torah, a Modern Commentary:

The procedure [for animal offerings] was basically this: instead of slaughtering the animal privately and eating it privately (as was the overwhelming practice everywhere), it was killed at a special spot, its meat was shared with the sanctuary workers, and it was consumed in an attitude of gratitude, exaltation, repentance, or other sentiment appropriate to the occasion of the sacrifice. Frequently such cultic meals were the only occasions on which the worshipers would or could afford to eat meat. . . . Public offerings like those prescribed for holy days were to reflect the awareness of the whole community that God dwelt in its midst (Plaut, 1090).

The idea that the sacrifice is consumed in an attitude appropriate to the occasion is something that we may miss in the modern context, indeed, the Plaut commentary goes on to express concern about the dysjunct between the modern consumption of meat and the willful ignorance of what goes on in the abbatoir. Hazon’s experiment two years ago was a way of addressing that problem. With our blessings prior to eating we acknowledge God as the Ultimate Source of the foods we eat, and we also take pains acknowledge the immediate source, with specific blessings to remind us that the grape was once on a vine, the potato in the earth, and that by his word all manner of sustenance came into being.

That parshat Pinchas should end with a series of sacrifices serves as a bittersweet reminder that in order to nourish and preserve life demands a certain amount of death. This is the denoument of the story of redemption and revelation that began in Exodus. The Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and Moses, who knows he will not be entering, has seen his successor invested before his eyes.

Ultimately, this entire Parsha is about succession; Pinchas becomes heir to the priesthood, which he had not been, having been born too soon (Rashi on 25:13). The daughters of Zelophechad argue successfully for their father’s line of succession, and Moses’ role is passed to Joshua who will be seeking God’s help through Aaron’s heir El’azar.

Works Cited:

Davis, Avrohom. Metsudah Chumash/Rashi. Ktav Pub Inc, 1999.

Plaut, W. and David Stein. The Torah: a Modern Commentary, Revised Edition. Union for Reform Judaism, 2005.

Reed, Ann. “My Minnesota State Fair.” Keepers: Morning Show Favorites. Minnesota: MPR, 1994.

Savage, Nigel. “Schrodinger’s Goat, scapegoats, and the goats of Yom Kippur.” Viewed on: 14 June 2009.

Simon, Maurice. Midrash Rabbah. London: Soncino Press, 1983.

Friday, May 29, 2009

What do we mean by "melacha?"

Dovbear has an interesting post on a controversy over a Baltimore JCC's decsion to open its doors on Shabbat. It's worth reading, and perhaps even necessary to fully understand what I'm going to write here.

Dovbear argues that most Jews keep Shabbat in one way shape or form, but also notes that "Officially shabbos is only 'kept' when you refrain from melacha in testimony of the fact that God created the world/took us out of Egypt." To me the hinge question is what do we mean by "melacha." Chazal tended to view "melacha" as the 39 tasks they deemed necessary for the building of the tabernacle. This is an important principle to which I will return in a bit when I discuss shabbat in the life of a rabbi. For me "melacha" means my occupation.

I do computer support for a living. My definition of "melacha," therefore, is fixing broken computers, or answering questions about computers. My community has learned not to approach me with computer problems on Shabbat, though some will say "I wonder if you could look at something after Havdallah." This then is my boundary for what I absolutely positively will not do on Shabbat. On the other hand, blogging is expressly forbidden to me in my workplace, and thus falls outside of my definition of Melacha. Hence I am posting on a Festival day. If the computer needs fixing before I could post, the post would wait.

What about a rabbi? What comprises melacha for him or her? If the rabbi is standing on the Bima leading a service on Shabbat, is he or she not working at at an occupation? Is this not what they are paid to do? There is of course the legal fiction that a rabbi is not paid to be a rabbi, but rather that a rabbi is paid to not be something else. This is a legal fiction, and therefore a fiction and does not apply. This is where the 39 tasks come in. The 39 tasks are derived from the Toraitic principle that one should not build the sanctuary on Shabbat. To my mind, that is the principle that anyone engaged in Synagogue business, whether Rabbi, Board Member, or Committee member should heed. The rabbi should not be dealing with budgets, planning, personnel searches and the like on Shabbat, and nor should anyone else. This is "building the sanctuary" but if a Rabbi wishes to worship with the community and the community wishes to grant the Rabbi the honor of being Shaliach Tzibbur, this is acceptable. And of course, for a rabbi to study with the community is both acceptable and good.

This also brings me around to something else I don't do on Shabbat or festivals: committee work. This is building the sanctuary, and I don't like to talk about synagogue business on shabbat. Executing a program is another matter - after all I am a Levite, and Levites have ALWAYS been charged with enhancing the worship experience of their fellow Jews. And in today's world those who volunteer to execute a Shabbat or festival program, to run a Shabbaton, and such are enhancing the worship experience for their fellows; as long as it does not break down into the sort of thing that should have happened in a committee meeting, execution is well and good.

So there you have my thoughts on what "melacha" means in Modernity. What tasks would YOU deem forbidden in this framework? What do you refrain from on Shabbat?

Monday, April 13, 2009


First night: Fleishig.

I made Lamb Tagine; it came out good. The recipe is long and complicated and I did not follow it. I used fresh ginger, whole cloves, whole toasted Cumin and forgot the saffron. It still came out good.

MM made a Persian Onion Soup from Olive Trees and Honey. This was a parve soup, and would be served both nights. It got rave reviews, sort of a French Onion Soup meets AvgoLemono kind of deal.

BM made a Potato Casserole, also from Olive Trees and Honey.

JK made Matzoh Ball Soup and a flourless chocolate torte.

SS Brought much more chocolate.

With RK and צב"ע there I had a nice full age range. I like this, it's a way to fulfill the commandment ושננתם לבניך on Other People's Children (seeing as if I had kids, they would probably end up feral).

Night 2 was dairy.

I did a yam and spinach casserole with Korean flavorings. MM did the Persian Onion soup and a braised leek and tomato dish, LR brought a Feta-Kale pie with a Quinoa crust and for those who wanted it JK's Matzoh Ball soup gave a reprise performance. LP brought a veggie plate.

This was led from the concise family Seder, and everyone present was an adult.

In some ways, both sedarim almost caught me unawares, even though I was hosting them.

Birkat HaChammah

Went to Morning Minyan at Beth Jacob. Usual service followed by a study of the laws of Birkat HaChammah to give the first-borns something they could make a siyyum for. Finally went outside, had a little custom service with Osheh Ma'aseh B'reshit at its center and the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun as its closing song. All issues of calendrical accuracy aside, it seemed just right for Minnesota this year.

A few bubbemeisses floating around. One says that Birkat HaChammah last coincided with Erev Pesach 500 years ago. Another that this happened at the Exodus, at Purim, and this year and these were the only three occasions. The truth: it last happened in 1925.

The MO world seems troubled by the idea that because the calendaring is off, this might be b'racha l'vateil, a wasted blessing. Because of my own belief about the nature of being and time, I don't think Oseh Ma'aseh BiReshit is ever a b'racha l'vateil. The process by which we move moment by moment into a world that reflects the results of whatever state-changes were effected in the prior moment is a constant miracle.

All the angst aside, I think it's cool that we have a religion that can think in terms of 28 year cycles for this, and 50 year cycles for the Jubilee. As Rav Allen said, may we all merit to see the NEXT birkat HaChammah.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Interchange from first night seder, 5769

Recording this here, because it was an insight that I might want to mine in the future.

JK: Why seven days of eating matzah? Why once they were out couldn't they just bake bread?

MM: The short answer is that seven days is what's commanded. If you stop and think about it though, in those days leavening did not come out of a packet from Fleischman's. They were almost certainly using a sourdough starter made by letting flour and water catch wild yeast, and that can take seven days.

Me: If that's the case, then the starter made with yeast caught in Egypt was left behind, and when the Israelites could make leavened bread, it would be with starter that contained only yeast caught in the wilderness. This may symbolize that at a point of transition, we need to leave behind old attitudes and acquire new ones.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

D'var Tzav, 5769

Dvar Tzav
Rich Furman
Delivered on Shabbat HaGadol, 5769 at Temple Israel, MPLS.

This is the second year running that I have had the privilege of drashing on parshat tzav, and it has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to uphold R. ben Bag Bag's saying "turn it and turn it for everything is in it." Our parsha deals with the Standard Operating Procedures for each of the sacrifices, and while we may not, to borrow the words of the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, expect "the return to a sacrificial system of worship under the sons of Aaron," we owe it to ourselves to seek the lessons that even these passages have to teach.

One of the ways we can learn from these passages is to look at the types of offerings brought brought and why they are brought. I want to focus today on the last of these offerings, the שלמים offerings. שלמים is most often rendered as "peace offering," but the word carries more of a connotation of wholeness or well being. Three types of these well-being offerings are defined for us. The תודה, or thanks offering, the נדר or vow-fulfilling offering, and the נדבה, or voluntary offering. Of these three, the תודה is unique in that it must be eaten the same day it is offered, whereas the נדר and נדבה offerings may be eaten over two days.

Why is it the case that the thanksgiving offering should be consumed in less time than the vow or free will offerings? Rabbi Zelig Pliskin explains this by citing Sforno, who “comments that the purpose of this extremely short time period was to ensure that he would share the bread with others. This would publicize the fortunate event." (Growth Through Torah, p. 244-245) In other words, the speed with which the offering was to be eaten was designed so that the person who brought it would have to share his gratitude with as many people in the community as possible.

We may think we're good at that right? After all, every Friday night, from the bimah, we hear about who's been born, who's becoming bar or bat mitzvah, who's getting married, and who's having an anniversary. But these are all things that happen in the public eye in any case. They are all things which, if we live out our days, will happen to everyone.

The things for which the Talmud teaches that one is supposed to bring the thanksgiving offering are a bit closer to the bone:

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: There are four [classes of people] who have to offer thanksgiving: those who have crossed the sea, those who have traversed the wilderness, one who has recovered from an illness, and a prisoner who has been set free. (BT 54b)
These things are a little more intimate than our life cycle events - returning safely from a dangerous journey, recovering from illness, release from captivity, all of these entail being able to admit to our community, and therefore to ourselves, that we were in mortal danger, and that were it not for the grace of God, we would not be able to offer thanksgiving.

The sacrifices ceased with the destruction of the Temple, and prayer has replaced them. What prayer is said in the place of the thanksgiving offering? "Rab Judah said: 'Blessed is He who bestows lovingkindnesses'. (ibid)" And in keeping with the idea that this gratitude is to be shared with the community, "Abaye said: And he must utter his thanksgiving in the presence of ten, as it is written: 'Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people.'(Psalm 107:32)"(ibid).

The prayer that has replaced the thanksgiving offering is called Birkat HaGomel, and it may be found on page 253 of Mishkan Tefillah for Shabbat. What we will see if we look at it is that it is set up as a dialogue between those who are thanking God for delivering them from danger and the Congregation which in turn thanks God for the the good that was done in delivering those members of the Congregation who were in danger. This can be seen in the Hebrew which is perhaps best rendered:

Individual Recites
Blessed are you Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has bestowed every goodness upon us.

Congregation Responds
Amen. May the one who has bestowed every goodness upon you continue to bestow every goodness upon you forever.

I do not know why, in MT’s translation, the congregation’s part is rendered “us” when the Hebrew says “you.”

In explaining why one who returns from the sea should recite Gomel Rab Judah cites Psalm 107:

Whence do we know this of those who cross the sea? Because it is written, “They that go down to the sea in ships these saw the works of the Lord He raised the stormy wind they mounted up to the heaven, they went down to the deeps they reeled to and fro and staggered like a drunken man they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses.”(ibid.)

This is an easy passage for anyone who has, as my wife and I did Tuesday night, flown into MSP during a snowstorm in a commuter jet. The turbulence at time raised us up and cast us down, and so I will rise, and ask her to rise, and if anyone here has, as the note at the bottom of page 253 says, survived a life challenging situation over the past six months, please feel welcome to rise and join us as we recite Gomel.


Perhaps half the people present rose for Gomel on this prompt. Those standing recited the individual’s portion which, in MT, is couched in the plural. Those who were still sitting responded with a bit of prompting. I enjoined people to not ask those who were bentsching Gomel for details of their situations. It went well. The rabbi indicated to me that he had not known that MT had Gomel; to the best of his knowledge it is the first Reform Siddur to contain it. Another congregant came up to me afterward, volunteered what she had been through to me, and thanked me for giving her the opportunity to bentsch Gomel.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

To form one Mishkan

The book of Genesis tells tale after tale of fraternal relationships gone awry. We begin with the worst case scenario: Cain kills Abel. Then Sarah becomes incensed when Ishmael is playing with Isaac, and he is banished; they reunite only for their father's funeral. Then Jacob buys Esau's birthright and acquires Esau's blessing, they enjoy one reunion, and don't see each other again until they must bury Isaac. Finally we have Joseph and his brothers - who sell Joseph into slavery. In this case, the entire family is reunited, everyone hugs and cries, Jacob and Joseph are gathered to their kin and חזק חזק ונתחזק.

There is a progress, of sorts, through Genesis; each fraternal conflict has a successively better outcome, but it is in Exodus that we finally see siblings dwelling together, by and large, in peace. I'm speaking of Amram's kids - Miriam, Moses, and Aaron.

I think the importance of kinship is of paramount importance in Exodus: Miriam monitors Moses' progress on the Nile and arranges that he will remain connected to the family by having Yocheved for a nurse. Aaron and Moses act together, in concert with each other in the Passover narrative. While numbers will show us some family tension, God resolves it quickly and easily; no lengthy estrangements required.

And yet, it is not only in this family dynamic that we see the importance of familial devotion, but so too in the instructions for the Mishkan and its furnishings. On the ark of the pact, there are to be two cherubim, each facing the other. But the text does not read "each facing the other" but rather "each facing his brother." And the place where God will appear to Moses is between these two brothers facing each other. Likewise, the curtains of the Mishkan are not joined "one to another," but rather "each to her sister." The purpose of this is to form one Mishkan.

The unity of the brothers facing each other is like the unity of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh - between them they could speak for God to pharaoh. The unity of the curtains is like the unity of Miriam and her sister Israelites, dancing in praise of God.

The message is clear - it is that God delights when K'lal Yisrael - The family of Israel - come together for common good. Their may be schisms between communities, there may be rifts within communities, but the ability to come together, to find strength in those differences, and to apply that strength in God's service is the ultimate goal of Torah.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Parshat Bo: The Thing which Matza is Not.

ויאפו את הבצק אשר הוציאו ממצרים עגת מצות כי לא חמץ כי גרשו ממצרים ולא יכלו להתמהמה וגם צדה לא עשו להם

They baked the dough that they brought from Egypt [into] unleavened cakes, for it had not risen, because they were kicked out of Egypt and could not tarry and also did not make provisions for themselves.

We know about Matzah. Hard, dry, square things that come in a box from Manischewitz or Streit's. It was on my family's seder table all the time I grew up.

I recently switched to Shmurah matza for the seder. Big round things, not real uniform, without the perforation or machine-cuts of the Streits' stuff. It feels closer to what this verse describes. Flour and water, hastily baked by a nation in flight. It really gets to the bone of what matza is. But we are missing something, I think.

What is this matzah not? By which I mean, if it had had the time to leaven (sour, really. The root חמץ means "went sour" more than it means "leaven") and rise and be baked properly, what would the product have become? One thing I'm certain of - it would not have become Wonder Bread, nor Baguettes, nor Challah.

What it would become I learned the week before last passover, where I stopped into a place called "Queen of Sheba" thinking to get some falafel or something, only to discover that it was and Ethiopian cafe. Well, having gone in, and perused the menu, I settled on a boneless lamb stew. I knew that I would betray a horrible American-ness if I used the flatware that was condescendingly placed at my table. When the food arrived, there was the stew, and there was this huge, round, soft, flat bread pockmarked with bubbles. I ripped a piece of it and used it to pick up some of the stew. It was a sourdough. Made of teff. Really absorbent. Injira.

I was delighted. I knew, in a deep down knowing that this was the thing the shmurah matza was not. It was חמוץ - sour. It was tender. And it was perfectly suited to picking up stewed meat with one's fingers. I sat eating it thoughtfully - this was the meal that Abraham served the visitors, these the "cakes" that Sarah prepared. And the shemurah matzah? The unleavened cakes that Lot had on hand.

When I sat down at the Seder, I knew precisely what I was missing - a tangy crepe like bread replaced by bread that shatters. And I may have acquired a new custom - to eat Ethiopian in the week before pesach.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Because it seems remiss not to . . .

This is a religious blog, not a political one. I did not create this space for the habitation of my righteous indignation, but rather for my theological, and philosophical reflection. That said, it seems that having a JBlog and not saying something about Gaza are mutually exclusive.

As complete a statement as you can hope for of my theology can be found at the top of this blog. The bit of it that is relevant to the current situation is "Human nature being what it is, things sometimes get ugly, and sometimes booty needs kicking in order to create space in which kindness can prevail."

I will now subject you, patient reader, to the exegesis of my own words. Your patience is to be commended.

There are two parts to the statement. "Booty needs kicking," and "kindness can prevail." While Israel is currently doing what is necessary with respect to the first bit, it is my fervent wish that it will follow through with the second bit by reoccupying Gaza for the purposes of rebuilding its infrastructure, creating an education system that does not teach hatred, and extending a thousand kindnesses to the population there so that no organization like Hamas can get a foothold there again. This is a decades long project, and not likely to meet the world's approval, but the success of the Marshall Plan in Germany and Japan shows how well such an approach can work towards the creation of lasting peace and prosperity. On the other hand, if Israel leaves Gaza an impoverished smoking heap of rubble, as Germany was left in the wake of WWI, it should not be altogether surprised if there are similar results.

I hope that Israel will pursue such a rebuilding effort, and I hope that it will enjoy the full support of the incipient Obama administration in such an effort.

While it is tempting, in my cynicism, to note that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, I will instead conclude with these words from the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah - עוד לא אבדה תקותנו - still our hope has not passed away. May we see the space created where kindness can prevail on both sides of the Gaza border, and may it do so.