Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Lesson from Mohamed Morsi and Israel’s Bus 497

Am I the only one in the world who was not surprised by what happened this summer in Egypt? Really? In “using” the democratic process, the population elects the Muslim Brotherhood to lead a democratic state?!? What is wrong with this equation? Now, I get it. In a democratic process anything can AND DOES happen, clearly! But quickly enough, Egypt was not looking so much like a democracy after all! A few days ago, with charges of inciting murder and many other abuses being levied against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood a few months after their fall, it looks like this group’s hope for anything approaching democratic leadership have been dashed. And, it appears, appropriately so! So the debate goes another round, ding ding ding! Does the United States have a right (responsibility? Any business?) getting involved with countries like (oh right, don’t forget Syria!) where abuses are threatening internal citizenry, never mind what happens to others OUTSIDE the pale of that country’s political process!

Let us not forget that a mere two years ago, one of our own notorious political hopefuls for President was none other than David Duke, known for his many political runs for office (all of which were unsuccessful, thank G-d and the intelligence of the American people, specifically those in Louisiana). If you did not know this little tidbit of Americana, than this is the greatest success of all in terms of who we are as America! I don’t even want to consider what would have happened if ….. but then this is a democracy, in which all can speak, yell, even be abusive and prejudiced and inappropriate, but when the democratic process is in action, we are ultimately protected, may it always continue to be so!

Not so with Egypt! So once again, its people are in turmoil, going through yet another painful and protracted process of regaining its footing. Sure, there are protests and rebellions, but well, we all know what has happened during the last months in the name of ….. what, I am not sure.

So what does Bus Line 497 in Israel have to do with any of this? Bus Line 497 has garnered a great deal of attention and consternation as the self-appointed Mehadrin Line (and oh yes, there are others!), you know, kind of like the parts of the United States not so long where black people had to enter the busses through the back doors and sit in the back so as not to pollute the white people in the front. Except this time, it is TODAY – approximately fifty years after that battle -- and the protected passengers on Bus Line 497 are men and the pollutant passangers are women. Yes, this is unspeakably horrible. Now don’t get me wrong, IF an individual group or community in say, B’nei Brak or Ramat Beit Shemest want to rent their own private busses and demand such separate seating, go right ahead. BUT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A PUBLIC STATE SPONSORED EGGED BUS!!!!!!!!

Anyone seeing a pattern of here in terms of what happens with ideological and religious extremism and where it can and does lead!?! So, now thanks to the Israel Religious Action Center under the leadership of Anat Hoffman, the DEMOCRATIC PROCESS is alive and well in Israel, thank you very much. In fact, they have their very own FREEDOM RIDERS, a group of people who specifically go and take short trips on the Egged lines on which individuals are trying to coopt government resources and services for their own purposes. Not only that, but the Knesset has indicated quite clearly that this is illegal and now there are signs on every EGGED bus indicating that each and every passenger may and has full permission to sit wherever they wish!

It is truly terrifying when you consider the abuse and inappropriate behaviors of some of our most religious Israeli (and others for that matter) Jews towards others but, Baruch HaShem, Medinat Yisrael IS upholding and carrying on the legacy of Eretz Yisrael and NOT handing over this wonderful place and space to the extremists that are trying to impose their own code of behaviors on others.

In this season of awe and reconsideration of ourselves as human beings let us remember that religious belief and religion is supposed to make us better people and not facilitate our succumbing to forces of evil, misusing and abusing the beautiful traditions that all of our faiths have given us, whether we are Jewish, Christian or Moslem or any other people of G-d.

Gemar Chatimah Tovah!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


You know, it really has been a while since we added yet another ideological grouping to our growing rainbow of the many different definitions of Judaism and Jews. I often feel lost inside of all of the different names we give to ourselves. I can’t even imagine how Moshe Rabbeinu would handle this disunity since titles seem to be so important in our times that they practically walk in the door before we do.

A poem that I often have used through the years at this season in my teaching is Moshiach’s Hat by ANOMYMOUS BEN KOLANYMOUS (which can and should be found and read at http://haruth.com/Jewish/JSMoshiachsHat.html ) -- it is a thoughtful and actually chilling piece that walks us through the journey of the Moshiach who comes back to earth and tries to find where he fits in and cannot. Either he is not accepted by the “black hats” or looked at as suspect by this and that Hassidic group, not accepted by the more liberal Jews who want to be sure he is safe and so on. You get the point – think the Jewish version of Tom Lehrer’s National Brotherhood Week! It’s funny if you find tragedy amusing.

So, I have been reading this wonderful book that my daughter Rachie gave me for Channukah. It is SHUVA by Yehuda Kurtzer about how we fashion our identity today through consideration of “the future of the Jewish past.” I highly recommend this book to those who are struggling, as am I, with what has become and is becoming of that thing we call Jewish community or AMCHA! Then to add to my already pensive mood, this morning I opened up my most recent email from Morethodoxy (also a wonderful resource for thinking and consideration of difficult issues) and I see this word that keeps appearing lately in so much I am reading – PERFORMATIVE – namely the notion that to be Jewish we have to DO Jewish. So what does this mean? Well according to the Moshiach’s Hat it is ALL about the dress – what you wear and how you look wearing it. In our Jewish communities it is about who is allowed to play with your child or mine or where we are allowed to announce a variety of Semachot that may not resonate with the larger community. What will they say if my daughter has a public Simchat Bat? What if we have people of color in our shul? Where can I share the good news that my lesbian daughter and her girlfriend have decided to spend their life together? Who accepts me, with my Modern Orthodox ways and look, as a teacher of Jewish texts? Who does not accept the conversion of my son? And so the list goes on…..

Now I often say that I am going to write a book one day called “I stand in one place and they change what they call me” or some more catchy shortened version of the notion. I was born to an Orthodox identified mother who INTRAmarried my father from a non-religious background and we grew up Halachically conservative. Yes, chevra, there was once such an entity! So I learned how to be actively and purposely Jewish – you got it. PERFORMATIVE in an intentional way. Then I become an adult (at least I think I did) and there is no such thing any more. So now, I am Orthodox, then it is important to distinguish that I am Modern Orthodox and now they call me Open Orthodox. Go figure! Again, comedy is surely to be found in this tragic insanity.

So as we are in the midst of the Aseret Yemai Teshuvah/Ten Days of Repentence and return to G-d and to our rooted identity, I take stock. I am clearly intentional about my Judaism and it is most definitely performative – filled with codified actions and involvements both individually and as part of a community. So, when the Moshiach comes to look for me, he can look in my inclusive pluralistic INTENTIONAL PERFOMATIVE Jewish community and place. Please do feel free to join me.

Gimar Chatimah Tovah to all.