Friday, September 24, 2010

El Pez to El Pescado

Swimming. A nice day in the ocean. Admiring the pure beauty of which the giant sea provides. What a beautiful day! Everyone is here to swim with me. My aunts, my uncles,my grandparents, my many siblings, and my lovely parents . Being hungry, I decide to grab a quick snack. Suddenly,someone offers me a bite. We do not look like them, but that's ok. It's just a snack. What's this? I'm caught! My mouth is stuck to the treat.

I have no idea what is going on. Oh no, what is happening? Why can't I breath now? Aunts? Uncles? Grandparents? Siblings? Parents? I been abducted and I can not even yelp as I cling on to life. I have been dropped from my snack. I feel different, but that sharp thing is out of my mouth. "That's a relei....."

A fish tale, that has no happy ending.

No this is not usually how we get our white fish salad. Usually entire schools are taken away from the vast ocean at a time. Giant nets cast them up to a poisonous, dry world they have always looked up. These nets even catch dolphins and sharks that nobody would ever eat, but these larger marine animals meet the same fate. At the bottom of the net, there are shreiks that is the process of tearing up the beautiful corral reefs these fish once viewed everyday. All this pain and suffering for a can of tuna.

Vegetarian, you say? Do you eat fish?

No, I do not eat fish.

Why? They are Kosher.

If some alien took me from my home, my family, to space where I can not breath, just to have me for lunch. The horror that we do to these animals. I am no preacher for the vegetarians of the world, but just remember the beautiful day on the ocean next time you get the salmon a la mode at the fancy restaurant.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gimme' Shelter- Sukkot 2010

Happy Sukkot Everybody! Sukkot is the Jewish, fall harvest festival. We celebrate by bringing together the four species (a willow, a myrtle, palm, and an etrog)and eating in our sukkah. In Hebrew, Sukkot is the plural of sukkah. Sukkah translates to shelter. Sukkot celebrates the community coming together after the High Holy Days to observe the fall harvest. What qualifies as a sukkah?

Usually, a holiday sukkah is a flimsy, temporary hut covered in straw or other autumn crops. It is a mitzvah, not only to celebrating in the sukkah, but to build it too. This year, I took part in both mitzvot. Constructing the sukkah was great, the only better part of celebrating in it was spending the time with my sister. It was great how Jews from all over the area came in the mid-point of the week just to sit back, relax, and eat kugel.

What is a shelter to us? We most definitely do not think of the Sukkot sukkah as a home. Is it our house? Our property? Our town? Our state? Our country? Our world? Shelter is a necessity for life, but what is "home, sweet, home"?

Whether I like it or not, I live in suburbia.Houses tower over the streets. I love my house dearly. My room could even be considered my own shelter. Imagine my room like a mini, Yankee Stadium with bursts of Jewish flare!The hallways are spacious, and one room flows into the next. I love how everything from the kitchen to the bathrooms to the living room express my family's vast dynamics and values.

To quote a visitor to the property, "Is it like National Geographic out there?" As you come down the lengthy driveway, there is a little island of trees. Then, a vast elegant hill shows a great valley, my front yard. The tiny hill hugs the beautiful house just described. The outside looks like a typical contemporary house circa. 1984. My sister and I live in a triangle corridor making the house look like a piece of art. Going around to the deck, we uncover a huge, rock wall. Behind the wall is a wilderness. Every creature lives back there. I have seen vultures, snakes, squirrels, deer, foxes, and even once a sheep. These animals are almost provide dinner and show as we watch Sparky the Fox come out to play over pasta. Land is precious, and growing up on this property has shown me how.

Honestly, my town is not for me. Seeing the animals is lovely. The people are pleasant for the most part too. It is just that I believe I am New York bound. I should be heading on the Am-Trak straight out of this small New England town, but instead I am on the commuter train. This tiny town is still my shelter. I get a super education and the crime rate is low. All and all, growing up with excess boredom is a lot better than growing up in the wrong neighborhood.

Where am I from? Which state do I claim allegiance to the most? Massachusetts has been my house for more than half my life. Unfortunately, being a Yankee fan in the suburbs of Boston has driven me bonkers. I was born in Freehold, NJ.(Coincidentally, I write this on the Birthday of a fellow Freeholder. Do you know who is from Freehold and turns 61 on September 23,2010? Comment with your guess!) Even with all of this New Jersey and Massachusetts tension, add New York in the mix. To me it is the second Promised Land. When we exiled, God brought us to a New World. A world flowing in show tunes and apple trees.

As for the United States and the world, I believe they are a sukkah. We are on a planet teaming with life, but so ignorant to come together. God created this sukkah called the world. It is our commandment not only to celebrate and eat in it, but to build it. Tikkun Olam to us Jews. Rebuilding the World. Happy Sukkot!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food and Fast

Ugh! 3:30 on Yom Kippur. Stomach is rumbling like an Earthquake. When does Neilah even start? Soon I hope. Food. I miss food. Why do I even have to be put up to this horrid fast? My stomach hurts, I miss water oh so much, and my breath is so foul from not brushing me teeth. Oh yeah, respecting God. I am atoning for my "sins". What sins? I was perfect this year! I miss not being below Bar Mitzvah age. Looking forward to when I get old or I can not fast for health reasons, maybe then I'll be able to atone my sins. Gosh, you know what I miss more? Food!

A tale of an atoning Jew. Food's the only thing crossing the mind as we are in denial of our sins. We try to flush out why we fast, why we are Jewish. Jewish holidays have become we nearly died, we lived, we eat. No more meaning. High Holy Days have become: we were bad, now we are better, bring on the food. No more meaning. With each generation, it gets worse. Modern world distractions are more "important".

Why is food so great anyways? Humans die without food, but die from too much. Food makes us feel fat and unattractive. Hey, America is having such a problem of obesity, thanks to food. Food can intoxicate us with poison or drugs. Most of the foods we love are made from chemicals. Of all the things in the Torah, you know what has the most laws, food! In general, food is a menace.

Then again, I have a love/hate relationship with food. Of all things my all-time favorite food is ice cream. Once I think about food, I smile. After that, I reminisce. I reminisce how every night at dinner I want more than I should have and I have to run just to make up for the food I consumed. It just tastes so good.

Here's some food for thought. Clever I know. We all make our own choices. Perhaps we choose whether or not to eat too much or too little. Americans everywhere have brains that are much smarter than their stomachs. Humans intoxicate food and fill it with drugs. God creates the fruits of the gardens, but humans fill them with chemicals. Does not sound to me like food is a burden at all. It is humans that are the nuisance.

Humans? God created us, why did the Lord make us with so many flaws? We kill, we destroy, we betray, and worst of all we hate one another. On Yom Kippur, we constantly ask to be inscribed in the Book of Life. Do Jews even know what that means anymore? God handed us a rulebook. You know just that litte, unknown thing called the Torah! All the rules are there. Most of us just do not bother to read them. God created us with flaws as a test. Anything in life requires listening. If we listen and obey the laws of the Torah, even to our own degree, we will actually be able to say, "I have sinned just a speck on this year." If we even take the time to understand the laws of the Torah, hopefully just like I have found I hope you find meaning in life and finally understand why food is just not so bad.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Deuteronomy Ha'azinu Verses 32:1 - 32:52

When my buddies at Torah study mentioned that the end of Deuteronomy is complicated, they weren’t kidding. Ha'azinu gave me great difficulty in coming up with a decent interpretation. Moses is living out his last day. He is giving his closing address. In summary, Moses discusses the problems the Israelites have. God is the principal in this school of thought. God's teacher is Moses. Now that Moses is going, God and Moses are afraid the substitute teacher will be mediocre. Moses explains that we blame God for our own destruction, but we are responsible. Then, he praises God. Another main point is how God is the true leader of the Jewish people. Moses expains that even when we forget Adonai, God is the Rock who sustains us and delivered our anscestors from Egypt. Pretty much, Moses condenses the Torah into cliff notes.

Unfortunately, Moses is not permitted to enter the land of Israel. Instead, God allows Moses to see Israel from the border. God commands Moses to climb Mount Nebo to see Israel because Moses sinned in the desert and in Egypt. If you remember in Exodus, Moses smashes the Ten Commandments at the sight of the Golden Calf. Are we worthy of Israel?

As I read the portion today, (actually during a study hall) I could not help, but feel this tension of our worthiness to own Israel. The entire reason we are in Israel is because God and Abraham made a promise. Abraham proved he is worthy, but have any of us?

Israeis have defended their land, and Jews have visited the land. Zionism is a form of proving our worthiness. I feel once I enter the land, I will be a true Jew. If a leaf falls off a tree, say...a tree in Israel, and the wind blows that leaf to Massachusetts. Does that leaf still belong to the tree of Israel?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What is Rosh Hashana?

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. It is the first holiday of the High Holy Days. The other being Yom Kippur. Jews accross the world observe Rosh Hashana with numerous traditions. Some friends ask me why we get off of school for this day and not other holidays, like Hanukah. One major part of Rosh Hashana is going to the synagogue. On the first and second of the month of Tishri, we purify our souls for a great, new year.

One tradition we observe is to dip apples in honey. Honey represents the sweetness of the year to come. The apple has more to offer than just a sweet flavor. It symbolizes the scent which Jacob had when he was blessed by Issac, the scent of an apple orchard. Also, an apple has a star and ten holes when cut in half horizontally. The ten points of the star represent the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet which is a Yod. Five represents a Hey, the fifth letter. Yud Hey Vav Hey is God's name in Hebrew. Why do we dip the apples? I am not quite sure, but my guess is the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life were apple trees in the Garden of Eden. By dipping we are inscribing ourselves in the Tree of Life sweetly. Please comment if you know the true reason. Another reason we eat apples and honey is because they are just in season.

Added to that tradition, we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Shofar is made out of a ram's horn. The instrument dates back to ancient times where it was used for different purposes, like gathering the people for assembly or warning them of an approaching enemy. In modern times, the shofar makes all bad spirits tremble and flee. When these spirits flee, the shofar sounds the new year. The shofar is like when the ball drops in Times Square; the new year has begun.

More foods than just apples and honey are traditional for Rosh Hashana. Challah is eaten every Shabbat, but the challah is round on Rosh Hashana. The roundness symbolizes the cycle of every year. When one year ends, the next begins. Also, new fruits of the season are eaten on the second night of Rosh Hashana. Some Jews avoid these fruits all summer just to have the joy of eating them for the first time this night. The popular fruit to enjoy is a pomegranate. Pomegrantes are one of the seven fruits of Israel and have many seeds. The seeds are the many splendors and good deeds that we will be a part of throughout the year. According to legend, a pomegranate has 613 seeds, just like the Torah has 613 commandments. Just thinking about Rosh Hashana makes me a little hungrier.

After synangogue on the New Year, Jews join together near a body of water. This is called the Tashlich service. Around the water, Jews cast off bread crumbs. The crumbs are the sins we have committed over the year. Even if a seagull or a duck eats the crumb, at least our sins are gone and we are pure again. Today I experienced my first Tashlich. I went with my grandma and father. We all enjoyed it very much. Tashlich is a very symbolic tradition of Rosh Hashana.

To conclude, Rosh Hashana is not just the day off from school. To Jews, it is a very special day. I wish all my readers a good, healthy, happy new year. !שנה טובה לכולםTo a good year everyone.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Deuteronomy Nitzavim-VaYelekh Verses 29:9 - 31:30

"Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. " -Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig uttered these words when he found out he had ALS and could no longer play in Major League Baseball. Moses sort of does the same thing this week. He is leaving the people he has lead through the desert. This double portion contains everything before Moses makes his Lou Gehrig speech. The Israelites arrive at Yankee Stadium. The microphones and television cameras are set up. Just as Moses open his mouth, the portion ends.

All things considered, Moses is 120 years old and nearly leaving his people Israel. God tells Moses to fetch up Joshua to pass down the legacy of the Torah and being a prophet. Everything God says makes sense. Last week, God talked about blessings and curses for observing Torah. This week God went into more detail of how to receive a curse or blessing.

Moses is 120 years old. According to my grandparents, we are old as we hit 80. 120 is ancient. Moses has seen the generation that actually left the land of Egypt weaken and die off. Now, God proclaims it is Moses' time to move on. 120 years of wisdom, and 120 years of smiles, laughs, tears, and just experiences. Do all these elements just disappear as we do?

Death is such a nebulous concept. Surely, it can not be the end! Or is it? I consider the vagueness a pleasure. "Back to Future" teaches us best how we can not know too much about our own destiny. For example, Moses destroyed the original Ten Commandments. God told him that he would never be able to enter the Land of Israel because of the sin he had committed on Mount Sinai. Standing in Moses' shoes in that moment, devastation would overcome my lifetime on this planet.

In the afternoons at Camp Shomria, different activities were given to us to choose. They were called חוגים, clubs. My chug was Chug X. It pertained to older campers sitting in a circle each afternoon discussing texts or issues in the world. Ice coffee was even available some days for scholars in the discussion. One day this very topic was the discussion. What happens after death?

Most of the bunch predicted that dying will be identical of being unconscious, just forever. I tend to hope there is something more. I believe in heaven and hell, but I am not quite sure what deeds get you where. Someone like Albert Einstein. He was a genius, but he was the genius who figured out how to massacre millions very quickly. Where does Moses belong? Where do we?