Thursday, November 25, 2010

How do Judaism and Shakespeare intersect?

Over the past three months, I have been rehearsing and rehearsing to play the part as Paris in "Romeo and Juliet". Paris has taught me to understand Shakespeare, father of all theater. Then, I thought about Shakespeare and Judaism. They are both fairly old and must be connected somehow. I went onto Google. In approximately .21 seconds, the search engine gave me 98,700 results on if Shakespeare was anti-semetic. However, in .07 seconds, I got 2,930,000 results on if Shakespeare was Jewish. Doing research on both ends of the spectrum was difficult, but I think I have my own theory.

If Shakespeare was clearly Jewish, he would not have lived in Elizabethan English. Before he was even born, Jews were expelled by Edward I in 1290. Until 1655, no Jews lived in England. That bypasses the entire lifespan of Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, and the entire Renaissance. Still, I read an article claiming the William Shakespeare was Jewish. The author states that only a Jew could grasp the pain of antisemitism as we feel in "The Merchant of Venice".

If Shakespeare is not Jewish, is he antisemitic? Shakespeare only knew a Jew as the stereotypes he heard. He never met one. Yet, can you say it is right for an Englishman to be antisemitic, as a Nazi who never met a Jew. Others claim that Shakespeare pleads for tolerance. Can Shylock's short monologue change the entire perception of how to read "The Merchant of Venice"? The monologue states,

"I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter
and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that"

Shylock is one of Shakespeare's most mystifying characters. Depending on the actor, Shylock can be a treacherous villain or a sad soul whom was feel sympathy for. Although, a lot of Shakespeare's roles have two sides to them. Romeo is both a sweet, young boy who has fallen in love, yet an insane man who slaughters Paris in the tomb. Shylock is just subjected to the time around him. He represents the Jews of the Middle Ages. The second most oppressed generations of Jews the world has ever seen, after the Holocaust of course. Jews had no home. They were forced into the money lending. From this forced banking, they became known as greedy, cheap, and devious. Shylock is Shakespeare showing his audiences how cruel people can be. Maybe my opinion will change when I write my reflections of "The Merchant of Venice" after reading it myself.

"Romeo and Juliet" is another amazing piece of art. How Jewish is it? A ballet has been performed in Hungary that would say very much so. Romeo represents an Israeli Jew, Juliet a Palestinian. Shakespeare is timeless, just as Judaism. "Romeo and Juliet" is full of killing, jealousy, and rage. Judaism is against all of these attributes. Shakespeare relates to Jews because just like the Torah Shakespeare teaches us through others mistakes. The Torah may say do not kill, but we also read about Cain and Abel. Imagine if the Torah was translated into Shakespearean English.

Finally, Shakespeare and Judaism are both at a point in struggle. Shakespeare is supposedly timeless, so is Judaism. Unfortunately, both has withered through generations that are not religious or artsy as whole. Shakespeare, like religious services, is too confusing. Around the age of 13, students try to read a Shakespeare. Around the age of 13, Jews try to read Torah. And for what? A good grade? A party afterwards? Shakespeare and Judaism must be digested. Where do the king of theater and oldest region collide? "Ah me, Judaism, Judaism, wherefore out thou' Judaism."

-Bohm, Agnes. "In Mideast ‘Romeo and Juliet ' Love Overcomes All Obstacles." All About Jewish Theater. NCM Productions. Web. 24 Nov. 2010. .

-Verveer, David. "Was Shakespeare Jewish? - Israel Opinion, Ynetnews." Israel News: Ynetnews. Yedioth Internet, 26 Sept. 2006. Web. 24 Nov. 2010. .

-Hannan, Daniel. "Was Shakespeare Anti-Semitic? – Telegraph Blogs." Telegraph Blogs. The Telegraph, 2 Mar. 2008. Web. 24 Nov. 2010. .

-Maillbard, Amanda. "Was Shakespeare Anti-Semitic? Jews in Shakespeare's England." Shakespeare Online. 12 Jan. 2009. Web. 24 Nov. 2010. .

-Shakespeare, William. "Act 3 Scene 5." The Merchant of Venice. Print.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The American Family

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we will examine a major Thanksgiving element. Families vary, but the one around myself could not be better. By better, I mean ideal. I have two parents who would do almost anything for me, and a sister who is my best friend. All four of my grandparents are coming to celebrate the upcoming November holiday with us. Over this long weekend, cousins from both sides will come for a visit. We all have our difficulties, but I am so glad my family has not been corrupted.

Unfortunately, the American family is at a stage of decline or maybe evolution. Parents are career and Blackberry oriented while kids spend a beautiful late Autumn day playing X-Box. In addition, these time wasting video games are violent and geared for kids to be attracted to such brutality. In my opinion, such games could rot our brains just as candy rots our teeth. Families do not talk like they should. I know that if I need something I have three people I can and do go to. Just think what kids think of their parents these. Just for anybody under eighteen's information, parents are not chefs, or maids, or chofers, or butlers, or gift givers, or slaves to that matter. Parents are loving. Parents motivate, and they cook, drive, clean, and serve our every need out of endearment.

At the age of 14, I see two parenting extremes. In one case, parents give freedoms that were not even imaginable at 12. This is the path to independence. The parents are still responsible and do not abandon the child, but the lessons may come through well or poorly made choices. On the other end of the spectrum, parents watch their kid through a microscope. Everything is a crisis. This may not be terrible. As a teen, I love to have parents who watch over me while giving me the freedoms, as in the first situation. Making plans is difficult when dealing with the two extreme abyss.

What is the "ideal" family? Is it impossible? Can anybody be like these families we watch in the "Brady Bunch" and "Happy Days"? No, we are not written for laughs. Families fight, but the fights should never outshine our greatest triumphs. Genesis families were very dysfunctional. Cain killed his own brother! Perhaps, the ideal is not "Happy Days", nor Genesis.

On the other hand, my family may be ideal to me, but not to the people down the street. Families work. From New York to Napa Valley and everywhere in between, I hope your "ideal" family has a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Genesis Vayetzei 28:10-32:3

Unfortunately, the Torah did not line up with my high school's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. If they had waited one more week, the stories would have matched up. On this Shabbat, we explore how Jacob and Laban interact. First off, God appears to Jacob in his dream. Jacob sees a ladder to heaven where God promises Jacob and his descendants a land to live in. Next, Laban tricks Jacob into 14 years of labor. He forces him to marry Leah before he could marry his true love, Rachel. Once married, Jacob bears his twelve sons and one daughter. Finally, Jacob leaves Haran and comes back to Canaan with all his family,except for Laban.

Let us examine Laban and Jacob's character. Laban tricks Jacob into twelve years of hard work. He forces Jacob to wait for the love of his life. On the other hand, Jacob steals everything in Laban's possession. He steals his daughters, his maids, and his good sheep. Laban's sheep will probably turn into fortune later on too. Jacob, then takes it while he's hot and leaves for Canaan in the name of God. Who is right in this situation?

Neither. Laban tricks Jacob and Jacob steals from Laban. Did Laban deserve it? Think about it. Laban tricked Jacob first. The Torah explains that he may have been doing it for the right of his own daughter. Leah is sad and alone, while her younger sister has been swept off her feet by a man who crossed the desert just to find her. Jacob was just trying to get away and back to his home. Sure, Jacob could have asked Laban to go, but he did not.

Life is not a trade off. God does not strike every lie we tell with a bolt of lightning. Laban was wrong in the first place, but Jacob deceived his father-in-law. Revenge is no way to go about in life. Matches create fires, but water puts them out. Laban very well could have apologized for what he had done. Apologizing is always right. I tend to over-apologize. I thought it was a way to cover up everything I did. Now, I see that elaborating and dramatizing does not make it better. An apology must be sincere. As in, "You know, Jacob I am sorry for keeping yo here so long. I should have never forced you to marry anyone other than Rachel. I forced labor upon you and I am truly sorry." Perhaps Laban may have been reconsidered for the Promised Land.

Friday, November 05, 2010

My Experience with the Board

For the last three weeks, a small uproar has occurred in my congregation. One night on a Thursday, my dad came home shocked with a email. The president of the temple had just announced that our rabbi would not have his contract renewed. Tension has risen between the board and upset congregants. This is no editorial about how I feel on either side. However, the board held an open session for members of the temple to express how they feel Wednesday night. Attendance was high, even though we had five days notice of the meeting. There were many attendees who handled and expressed their situation with great poise.

In the utter beginning, the rabbi had come in. He told us a little of what had gone on between him and the board. It was nothing unethical or monetary that kept the rabbi from going. He asked for seven years and the board was willing to give him three. Seven years was his proposed amount merely because his age may get in the way of finding a new job in three years. My rabbi openly removed himself from the meeting to allow a more honest opinion flow.

Following the rabbi's exit from the meeting, the president spoke on behalf of the board. Of all the speakers on Wednesday, I believe the president was the most brilliant, yet the calmest. He apologized for all the disturbance. He made it clear that tonight was not a night to find out the why's. The details were not secret, just confidential between the board and the rabbi's family.

Our president brought a mediator from the union to guide the discussion. He stayed calm in a very heated discussion. Before allowing others to speak, he went over rules of conduct. He made it apparent that there was no wrong answer. Everyone was entitled to their opinion. Then, the board opened the floor.

Both sides spoke their opinions. Some audience members demanded answers, yet some just told their stories with our rabbi. As a result of the heated discussion, the board did not make any commitments. One member took notes. If nothing else, the people have spoken. The board listened. Listening is an important skill to have with leadership.

As for the only aspiring rabbi I know of in the room, it gave me a hands-on lesson of how to deal with the board and congregants. I learned that a successful congregation is not a three way divide between the rabbi, board, and congregation. Also, the board can do many things well that progress the temple. I feel that too many modern Jews get tense about the board. They feel the board is the puppeteer to their Jewish experience. Just as in "Inception", people do not like they are being controlled and their sub-conscious will fight back.

In my rabbinic career, I aspire to listen to the board. I will be neither my way or the highway, but not do as the board orders. Moses never had a board of directors. Then again, he did not live in a democracy. By the looks after the meeting, there are three tasks that the Jews have to handle in their synagogues.

First, congregants can not be made second best. All people are created equal. In student council, I have to remember to represent my class, not my opinions. Any elected official must put personal bias aside. Congregants felt like the board had just gone over their head. Voltaire once said, "All the citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they may be equally free."

Second, communication must be stronger in the synagogue. An email the night it has been decided is definitely not how the shul should communicate such a decision. Overall, our congregation must improve making non-active members attracted to the active "tempees". More religious does not mean border line insane. The only way the less attending group will receive information is through better communication. A group of furiously shocked individuals spoke their mind. That is how the meeting on Wednesday came about in the first place.

Third and finally, congregations must come together. Men, women, liberals, and more conservatives must all pray and worship together. Reform Judaism has this burden of being of the "I am Jewish for my parents" to "I will go on Yom Kippur" to "I go every Friday night" spectrum. There is no easy answer to this last one, but I assume the crack will begin to get filled when there is a relationship between the board, rabbi, and congregation. One last question left to filling the crack. Are we ready?