By Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein
It's fascinating. While so much in American Jewish life has changed in the last couple of decades, so much hasn't. We have new shuls, new arts and culture festivals, new institutions and even record labels. Yet in the main, those of us who belong to congregations still drop off our kids at religious after-school programs and hope that our professionals (rabbis, principals, teachers) will somehow "transform" them into committed, active, and caring Jews. In the meantime, we just go about our literal and metaphorical business. Judaism is often at the very bottom of our totem pole of priorities.
It doesn't work that way. Parents need to be every bit as active and involved in the transmission of Jewish identity and culture as Judaism's trained professionals. Yes, we "hired guns" can give young Jews the resources to explore their spiritual heritage in more depth, but unless that heritage is reinforced in a positive, uplifting way back at home, our efforts will be hamstrung (if not destroyed). Young Jews need to live in households where they see models of a robust and celebratory Jewish life, not where it is relegated to a second-, third-, or fourth-tier. I implore every one of you who is reading this: If you send your child to a Hebrew school, take a Jewish adult ed class. If you want to have your child celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah, attend a Friday night Shabbat service on occasion.
You have no idea what you're missing. Literally.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
This comes from member Cathy Gins.
It is an excerpt from "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert:
Now, this was a first for me. And since this is the first time I have introduced that loaded word—GOD—into my book, and since this is a word which will appear many times again throughout these pages, it seems only fair that I pause here for a moment to explain exactly what I mean when I say that word, just so people can decide right away how offended they need to get.
Saving for later the argument about whether God exists at all (no—here's a better idea: let's skip that argument completely), let me first explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively, I could call God "That," which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable entity I have sometimes experienced. But that "That" feels impersonal to me—a thing, not a being— and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God's name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: "The Shadow of the Burning."
I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability and "God" is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that's what I use. I should also confess that I generally refer to God as "Him," which doesn't bother me because, to my mind, it's just a convenient personalizing pronoun, not a precise anatomical description or a cause for revolution. Of course, I don't mind if people call God "Her," and I understand the urge to do so. Again, to me, these are both equal terms, equally adequate and inadequate. Though I do think the capitalization of either pronoun is a nice touch, a small politeness in the presence of the divine.
Culturally, though not theologically, I'm a Christian. I was born a Protes¬tant of the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion. And while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would do, I can't swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that is the only path to God. Strictly speaking, then, I cannot call myself a Christian. Most of the Christians I know accept my feelings on this with grace and open-mindedness. Then again, most of the Christians I know don't speak very strictly. To those who do speak (and think) strictly, all I can do here is offer my regrets for any hurt feelings and now excuse myself from their business.
Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed—much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love. In every religious tradition on earth, there have always been mystical saints and transcendants who report exactly this experience. Unfortunately many of them have ended up arrested and killed. Still, I think very highly of them.
In the end, what I have come to believe about God is simple. It's like this—I used to have this really great dog. She came from the pound. She was a mixture of about ten different breeds, but seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all. She was brown. When people asked me, "What kind of dog is that?" I would always give the same answer: "She's a brown dog." Similarly, when the question is raised, "What kind of God do you believe in?" my answer is easy: "I believe in a magnificent God."
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
Here is some information about the series that I'm running - "God's Law: Made to be Broken" - which begins next monday night at the Brandy Library, 25 N. Moore St. (b/w Varick & Hudson Sts.)
Also, here is a link to an article that we will begin our discussion with: Orthodox Paradox
Written by Noah Feldman and published in the New York Times Magazine this past summer, this article stirred up a little bit of controversy in the orthodox community and we will be using it as a launching point to discuss the status of the non-Jew in Jewish law.
Looking forward to what is sure to be lively discussion.
God's Law: Made to be Broken
This three part series will deal with the interplay between Jewish law and personal belief. These sessions will include a broad discussion on the evolution of Jewish legal thinking, as well as how modern scholars have grappled with some of the hot-button issues of the 21st century. Does traditional Jewish law reflect our feelings about what is right and wrong? If not, what does it mean to be Jewish today?
October 22 The status of the non-Jew
November 5 The status of the homosexual
November 19 The status of God
25 N. Moore St. (b/w Varick & Hudson Sts.)
FEE: $18/session members, $20/session non-members. (Cost includes one drink. Full bar and dinner menu are available.)
Sunday, October 14, 2007
THE SPIRITUAL WARRIORS OF BURMA
By Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein
I can't stop thinking about the brave monks of Myanmar. With so much anarchy and violence in the world, the media moves from one story to another with such rapidity that hugely important events are quickly forgotten. The movement toward democracy in Myanmar/Burma is real, but it desperately needs our attention. The spiritual leadership there has already been crushed; it is as if the whole event never happened. We've moved on to new stories and subjects.
Religion if so often depicted these days as a misguided and warped institution. Yet in Burma, here are these brave monks--spiritual warriors risking their lives--marching in the streets for political reform, leading the way toward a better society, being cheered on in the streets. After a few days, the military junta has had enough and either rounds them up or kills them. But where is the outrage? The Civil Rights movement in the United States succeeded largely because of media attention and public support. Will our national television networks, CNN, Fox, and the rest of them pick up where they left off? Or will we all just forget and let the monks and their movement shrivel up and die?
Thursday, October 11, 2007
You may have seen this on newsstands this week, it's a New York Magazine cover article titled - "God, by Mailer" and contains a new theology put forth by Norman Mailer.
I thought this might be an interesting piece to add to our discussion of radical theologies, what do you think of Mailerism?
Here are some excerpts:
Mailer’s deity is much like Mailer. He or she is an artist—with the stipulation that God is the greatest artist—concerned most particularly with the human soul, but with much else besides. God takes great pleasure in his creations. God is constantly experimenting, and highly fallible. God is far from all-powerful, but is learning along with us. God is in constant struggle with his own fallibility, and also with evil—with the devil—and is not certain whether good will triumph in the end. We are God’s creations, but we are not at all times part of his plan—God may not even be cognizant of all that we do. And if God needs our love, the question Mailer insists has to be answered is, Why?
On the Devil:
Mailer’s devil is borrowed partly from Milton—very possibly a fallen angel who, Mailer posits, may find God incompetent. The devil’s principal weapon is technology, which was of course a driving force of the twentieth century—Mailer’s century. Mailer believes that the devil aspires to create a mechanized world, where souls are increasingly interchangeable. Mailer even questions the value of quotidian inventions, like plastic or the flush toilet, believing that they may have insulated people from the truth of their existence.
Click here to read the rest of the article.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
From member Jane Prawda:
I would like to share with you some information about the HAS Advantage Visa which is the first of its kind to support Israel.
With every single purchase you make on the HAS Advantage card, you generate revenue for charities that impact the very fabric of Israeli society. Go about your daily spending on your HAS Advantage card and choose to help Israel maintain an edge in advanced scientific research, provide medical assistance for those in need and help protect Israel's environment.
One can choose up to 5 charities from a given list that support Israel. All is free of charge. No fee. HAS Advantage claims to be comparable to American Express in terms of skymiles and has a cash back program.
Yes-To-Carrots.com, which is being promoted by Has Advantage, is a skin & hair care line made with minerals from the Dead Sea. It is made in Israel and can be bought exclusively at Walgreens or online. The Yes-To-Carrots Seed Fund was founded to help developing countries produce and self sustain themselves with an organic food source by providing equipment, vegetable seeds, irrigation support and technical know-how.
I have been using my Visa card proudly for more than a year and have had excellent service. BTW You can choose the image you want on your card. My card displays the Wailing Wall. What a wonderful way to support Israel!
Click Here for more information!
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Deborah Grinberg sits at the London Terrace Street Fair this past Saturday looking to attract shul shoppers at a street fair in Chelsea.
Thanks to all our other member volunteers, including: Asher Remy-Toledo, Janice Moses, Raz Mossafi, Blake Golding, and Sherry Narodick.