Friday, December 31, 2010

The End of an Era, A New Time

The portion Vayera means "to be chosen". In this portion Moses begins to fulfill his lifelong destiny as liberator of the Israelites. God sends Moses back to Egypt to speak before Pharaoh for freedom. Pharaoh declines seven times in the portion. Each rejection to free Moses and his people results in a place. God strikes Pharaoh and Egypt down with blood on the Nile, frogs, vermin, beasts, cattle disease, boils, and hail. Pharaoh concludes the portion by seemingly releasing the Israelites.

Throughout the week, two things floated in my thoughts: plagues and the New Year. Are they connected? God plagued Egypt because Pharaoh denied God's existence. He believed each of God's "wonders" could be equally created by his magician. 2011 brings uncertainty to us all. We see God's wonders everyday. Why is it that God lets us watch oil burn, crimes unfold, and sickness dwell? Is God against us in this day and age?

I am afraid that we have brought our own plague upon us. Technology now controls our lives. The Internet, Blackberries, I-Phones, everything has imprisoned us to a world of devices that beep. Theaters have lost great deals of respect. Almost every Shabbat service is accompanied by a ring. In 2010, I feel we have entered a new era. In this year, the Internet became bigger than the phones, newspapers, and even television. Eventually, somebody will write a parallel piece to mine. They say how they internet is out of style. There may be no blood in our water or hail in our skies, but technology is a menace.

In my opinion, the plague is a result of instant knowledge. If we have a question, we Google it. If we need to contact someone, we Facebook them. Got a rumor to spread? Go and twitter it. News is always happening and somebody is always telling it. The plague is the end of privacy. As previously stated, God did not bring this plague upon us. Technology is a man made plague.

In this new time we call 2011, we should redeem ourselves. We have the ability to buy a newspaper. Maybe when we have a question, we look it up at the library. We can even shut off our precious cell phones at synagogue. Technology can be stopped, but we have to part the Red Sea to halt it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Do They Eat Chinese Food Too?

Dreams are irregular for me, but last night was remarkable. To start, it was not a dream. Reminiscing about it, makes it more clear how much of a nightmare it was. It all started in a small town, like one we would find in upper New England. In the midst of just a few shops, the family and I were on vacation. This dream was over a two night span. On the first night, we created a hangout. Even all my grandparents came to spend the time. We met great people from the town, and had a great first evening. The next night, we started off in the same fashion. We headed down to the hangout, my dad got me a cone of ice cream. Just as everything and everyone begins to look like the closing of an episode of "Friends", the police come in. They claim the guy with us is a crook. My dad looks around and sees a something that horrifies him on the wall. Although, he would not reveal to me the slur, I could only assume it was towards the Jews. A shooting broke out at the scene, and I told the family we had to get out of here. It turns out that it was all a set-up. The police, this guy, and maybe even the ice cream seller hated Jews and planned to exterminate us. My mother was ravaged by the savages. My sister disappeared. Just as I felt as alone and sunken as the bottom of the sea, I awoke.

To avoid the fact that I may be psychologically disturbed, let us do some clarifying. When people ask, "How do you deal with the aftermath of the Holocaust or situations in Israel?", remember this dream. My brain is always processing the cruelties Jews have faced. In this week's parshat, it was becoming enslaved in Egypt. Seventy years ago, one-third of our population perished in Europe. In the 21st century, we find ourselves catching antisemitic villains. Hate crimes happen, but nearly to the extent of what my dream may tell. To anyone in a panic right now, do not worry our towns will not turn against us. Antisemitism is a lot more subtle. It seems that all antisemites out there just feel like keeping their hatred a secret.

Watching Christmas come among us this year was quite interesting. For the first time, I felt that Hanukkah was a part of the American way. People for the most part wished me a happy Hanukkah that actual 8 days of Hanukkah. "Conan" brought Hanukkah up each day his show appeared on the holiday. We must not let Hanukkah become a "Jewish Christmas", but it got me thinking. What do other people do without Hanukkah, Christmas, and/or Kwanzaa?

Just like Jews, Muslims have a lunar calendar. Unlike Jews, Muslims do not have any leap year. Ramadan was once in December. Due to the leap years, Ramadan has ended up in September. My question is; "Do they eat Chinese food too?" Islam is the newest of the Abrahamic religions. Muhammad is the Muslim prophet who spoke the word of God to the people of Mecca. In Mecca, he was at first rejected by most and then accepted by a few followers. Muhammad was banished by Mecca and sent to Yathrib which he renamed Medina. Muhammad reclaimed Mecca, but sadly died two year later in 632 CE. Muslims had an empire that spanned from Iran to Spain. Today, they are dispersed all over the world. "Do they eat Chinese food too?"

In history, we have been studying the rise of Islam. On the first day of the unit, my teacher did a very interesting experiment. Each day we do a warm-up in class. On this particular day, the warm-up was to write on the board three words that come to mind when we think of Islam. Some of the most common were 9/11, oil, and women covered. There were two that stick out in my mind, "no women's rights" and "suicide bomber". After the eyeopening experience, my teacher showed a series of video of Muslims combating stereotypes. He showed us a more comical video. For example, the video below, "Video Blog #4: Muslim While Flying" is a funny way of looking at Muslim stereotypes.
"Video Blog #4: Muslim While Flying" by: ummahfilms

On a more serious note, he showed us a video that showed Muslim extremists committing acts of terror. It said, "If you think all Muslims are like this, then all Christians are like this". The video showed a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. Islam is probably the prominent stereotype of time.

What is our task? As Jews, we know exactly how Muslims feel in America. My dream may be their reality. We must combat their stereotypes. Americans must prevent, the "Islamacaust". We should never have a Muslim persecuted in the home of the free. Jews are finally assimilating without giving up their culture. Let's help the Muslims out. Maybe we can all eat Chinese food together.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How One Tradition Changed Judaism Forever?

Genesis closes with a very powerful statement about Judaism. To start, it is very well written. Besides that Joseph and his father are not madly in love, Jacob's death is a reminder very much of the tomb scene in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". Shakespeare and the Torah capture the same, resonant tone that paints a vivid, moving picture for the reader.

In the portion, Jacob is prepared to move on from the Earth. He knows his life has come to a nice conclusion with the reuniting of his family. Joseph and his brothers get blessed by their father. Of all twelve sons, Joseph receives the family blessing. To Jacob, the family blessing means to carry out the task of being the leader of God's people. The other leaders, Abraham and Issac, have been buried in a very specific location in Canaan. Jacob says, "Behold, I am going to die, and God will be with you, and He will return you to the land of your forefathers" (Gen. 48:21). Jacob believes Joseph will follow in his footsteps into Canaan. On the other hand, Joseph has a different vision. When Joseph moves on, "they embalmed him and he was placed into the coffin in Egypt" (Gen. 50:26). Maybe even to this day, Joseph remains a mummy in Egypt. Did Joseph get the Jews stuck in Egypt? 40 years in the desert? In the Diaspora?

Joseph had his reasons to stay in Egypt. He was pretty much a Pharaoh in this land. In Canaan, he is just a man. His brothers and entire family have food in Egypt. They must have feared returning to once-famished Canaan. Why fix something that is not broken? Joseph probably should have stayed in Egypt, but Joseph and his whole family went to bury Jacob. The Israelites were in Canaan! They could have stayed. Instead, they remained in Egypt. How could Joseph know that a new Pharaoh would force the Israelites into slavery? Perhaps, God intended the entire story of Exodus and on to happen.

Unfortunately, Joseph creates an entirely new dynamic of Judaism. The Israelites completely lost their sense of homeland because Joseph did not bring his family back. He chooses to become more Egyptian than Jewish. Having a leader of the people was just about as dead as Joseph and Jacob. Jacob entrusted Joseph with such a dignified honor. He asked to carry on the traditions of the people and join his forefathers in the Canaan burials ground. Back in Egypt, Jewish culture never was the same.

When trying to think of a non-Jewish concept to demonstrate this theme, the New York Yankees came to mind. Every Yankee win is sounded by the playing of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York". Imagine if the Yankees thought the song was not "hip" or "convenient" enough to be the trumpet of a victory. A win here or there would be missed. Then, the song is not played at all. After that, Yankees fans do not know the song or even who Frank Sinatra is. Finally, Frank Sinatra and his swell Jazz style die out all together. Traditions are powerful. Whether it is a Yankee victory song or section of Torah, enjoy and relish these customs that hopefully keep Jacob's wish alive.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Creative Serivce

At my synagogue, the youth group writes a creative service. This year's theme was miracles!

From August 15 to November 1, I struggled to find a miracle. With the High Holy Days coming, it was a struggle for how Jewish I should be. On top of that, Rachel, my sister, was finishing up the college admission process. This eclipsed my life at home. On top of that, I was lost to find who my friends were. With many more issues and pressures of eighth grade, it was a depressing and miserable autumn. Then, one day the light was at the end of the tunnel. Instead of taking the time to focus on the negative aspect, I would like to speak of the triumph.

I was looking for a miracle from the outside. I wanted a friend to reach out and lift this burden off my back. Instead, the depression took over more. Functioning day to day was almost impossible. September was like a few bumps in the rough road. October was the lull of sorrow. Then, out of nowhere November came. With a better sleep and a broader batch of self-confidence, I got through a day. Then, just another week. And now, as one can see a month.

It was certainly a miracle. We find ourselves all at this point. Some go through it at 14, others at 40, and others at 80. Self-confidence is the key to everything. It is the miracle that propelled the Maccabees to victory, the Jews out of Egypt, and a young man through the expedition of his eighth grade year. Having self-confidence is a miracle in itself. When services conclude, go out in the world and find the miracle of self-confidence. It sure does help get us out of the hole.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Genesis Vayigash Verses 44:18-47:27

To start, I would just like to recognize how nice it is to be back in action this week. While Hanukkah and Shabbat were observed, the week felt so empty with a blog and nice Shabbat dinner with the family. Also, I nice mazal tov to all my fellow cast and crew members with two great performances of "Romeo and Juliet".

Jumping back into Torah, we will explore another tale of Joseph and his brothers. As Genesis is heading toward its close, we open this parshat with Benjamin being taken into custody. Joseph has accused his brothers of being spies. Unknowing of their relationship, Judah appears before his brother. He pleads for Benjamin's liberation. Suddenly, Joseph cries out the truth. In shock, Judah goes to tell the others. Vayigash closes with the moving of the Israelites. Joseph successfully appeals to Pharaoh to let his family move into Goshen, Egypt finest portion of land. To conclude a warm and fuzzy family reunion, the Israelites leave their famished land and return to Joseph and his flourishing Egypt.

What if Joseph had not been as accommodating? Perhaps, Joseph would have sentenced all his brothers to imprisonment or worse death. It is their fault that Joseph was a slave and Egypt without even a family to call on for support. In fact, Jacob could have been just as much in a fury. Reuben, Simeon, and all the rest of his sons proclaimed his pride and joy, Joseph, a dead man. Rachel could be equally annoyed. She worked for hours diligently weaving her son's beautiful rainbow coat. Now, she is informed that her son's ruined the gorgeous coat by staining it with blood. Right then and there, the Israelites could have stayed angry and the Jews would not have made it past Joseph's time.

Instead, they forgave each other. Forgiveness is a beautiful aspect of the human mind. Betrayal can presents itself right before our eyes, yet the human mind searches for the good within people's rough exoskeletons of cruelty. Where do we halt forgiving? My mother always tells me not to become a human doormat. She would tell me, "Never let people walk all you!" When is forgiving just not right? When hateful, sorry is not enough for us, yet we despise when someone refuses to accept an apology.

If we are all our own judges, how do we determine who to forgive? Family was obvious for Joseph and still pretty easy for us. Generally, people are a slight bit stingier to forgive with friends. What about a stranger on the street? Do we forgive Joe who bumped into us? I say yes. We never know just what Joe on the street may have to offer. Relentless having a grudge upon him may cause our family to have a famine.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Blog this week

Sorry no writing this week due to my heavy involvement in my production in "Romeo and Juliet". I invite you to share your thoughts on the show, the terrible fires in Israel, or "Romeo and Juliet.

Shabbat Shalom!