Friday, April 22, 2011

Is There Really Freedom?

All over the world Jews are observing the festival of Passover this week. Passover is one of the three harvest festivals where Jews celebrate their liberation from Egypt. Freedom is the very precious treasure Jews rejoice over this time of year. As a citizen of the United States, freedom comes easy to me. The first amendment of the constitution automatically states my freedoms as a member of this union. In the United States, I can say whatever I want and be whoever I want. Israel is a similar situation where Jews are allowed to practice their religion free of persecution. As a religion, Jews have won many rights that our ancestors would have thought unthinkable.

Unfortunately, not everybody in the world can be as free as us Jews are. As I am sure any of us knows, the youth in the Middle East have been fighting constantly for the simple liberties we enjoy everyday. In early February, I wrote a piece on the Middle East while Egypt was overturning Hosni Mubarak. The storm of protests across the region are known as the Jasmine Revolution. They are inspiring and give hope that the hostility towards American throughout the area is finally coming to an end. On the other hand, the Jasmine Revolution could release a new wave of extremely dangerous terrorist government. I feel the same way I felt in February, only time can tell what will and will not happen.

It is a Passover tradition to recline a pillow while we eat the delicious Passover meal. In the Middle East, specifically Libya, turmoil removes this sense of comfort from millions of people. Egyptians suffer a fight that has had no results since Mubarak left his office. Yemenis are harshly fighting a tyrant who claims the United States is controlling the protests from a small office in Tel Aviv, Israel. Worst of all, Momar Kadafi is massacring his owns people. I feel that many times we see these images and see only images. The news can not illustrate the actual suffering one feels when one's leaders turn against them. I believe it may be like when we take in too much horseradish at the seder. We are all alone and have no one who can help us. Not even the stabilities of water and other foods can completely dilute the bitterness of the maror.

How free can the world ever be? Even in developed countries, laws and political disagreement strain our ability to live free and progress as a society. Do religious and political laws restrain our freedom? I believe that without such laws people would stop aspring to perform acts of love and kindness. Evil is caused by human's ability of free will. Every human has the free will. In Kadafi's Libya, someone can still speak out against their dictator. The only difference is that in the United States' someone still has a chance of living. At the conclusion of the service, we ask to all be free in Jerusalem. In my opinion, we not only mean the Jews, but anyone who is still fighting the fight of freedom.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Modern Debate from Biblical Times

Parshat Acharei Mot is one of the more provocative of the Torah's passages, especially chapter 18. To keep it blunt, Chapter 18 is the part of Leviticus where laws on sexual practice are discussed. Sex laws, just calling out the elephant in the room. Most times, our religious views on sex are taboo. As a writer and scholar, I wish to view my opinion on one of the most discussed commandments in the Bible. The Torah states, "You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22).

Abomination, now that is a firm word. In my bright red pen, I wrote the word "why" seven times in the margin. Now such a quote could turn people off to Judaism for good. In the parshat, I got a couple of reasons to my septuple why. First of all, the Torah claims that the restraints put on sex are to distinguish the people of Israel from those who enslaved them in Egypt and dwell in Canaan. Another response is that such practices would defile one's name and the name of God. The final response to conclude the parshat is the God's way of saying "because I said so. God declares, "I am the Lord your God". What will happen if one finds a homosexual in their midst? According to the Torah, the person shall be shunned, or worse banished. That word still bothers me, abomination.

Psychologists believe and have nearly come to prove that being gay, lesbian, transexual, or bisexual is not something one can control. It is merely the physical way a particular type of brain functions. People can not prevent what Judaism calls, "an abomination". This is not to say that homosexuals are cut off from the community today. I am a Jew, but I fight for the civil rights of those who have a particular sexual orientation. In Christianity, it is nearly the same way. Christians protect homosexuals, but some still proclaim this a sin. Muslims abstain from the birds and the bees between the same gender, yet a mere relationship between gays or lesbians is under debate. Depending on which branch of Buddhism one belongs to, homosexuality is either accepted or seen as a tad bit obscure and unnatural. The Bhudda does not particularly discuss his view in his writings. Hindus disagree on their views, but their writings have no particular preference. As one can see, Eastern ideals are more accepting than those of the West.

Homosexuals of today are to black people of the 1960's. What will happen if we do not change our ways? On the show "Glee", Kurt Hummel is an excellent demonstration of homosexual bullying at its worst extent. His public school failed to protect him and eventually drove him out. It may be a fictional TV musical, but the point is still rigid. Just this past week, Kobe Bryant got ticked off at a referee. He called them a "homo". Such behavior can make homosexuals feel like aliens on their planet. In the United States, a citizen can marry their cousin in 26 states. As of 2009, same sex marriage was legal in 6 states. Homosexuals are trapped without a voice, a place, or a time.

There are many ways to put an end to the isolation of homosexuals. Just today was the Day of Silence, a day where people go without talking to show what it is like for a homosexual, transexual, bisexual, someone questioning their orientation who are deprived of their ability to come out and say what they feel. Empathy is a quality that ranks above bravery, strength, and intelligence anytime, anywhere. We must take time now to treat this minority of people like anyone of us. They treat straight people no differently they interact with each other. Like standing up to antisemitism, we have to rise against this bullying and defend those around us. Never again should someone defenselessly be called a "homo" or "fag" by some ignorant coward. Never again should a situation be described as "gay". The most influential of actions an adult can take is sitting down and talking to their children about how to interact with those of a different sexual orientation. The conversation is simple. It goes, "If you ever came home and said that you were gay/lesbian we would support you all the way?" We have the chance to change our world, especially the millenium generation.

How do we react as Jews? Reform Jews have generally abolished this law from their repertoire and are open to accept even rabbis who prefer to love someone different than the opposite gender. Conservative and Orthodox Jews are hesitant to defy the Torah, but may be getting exponentially more liberal. As a Jewish nation, we are commanded to change the world. Is one allowed to abstain from eternal law to bring themselves into the modern age? Whenever the debate comes up, we Jews just go "Oy!" Everyone knows the old saying that with two Jews comes three opinions.

Cited Sources
-Annoymous. "Homosexuality and Buddhism - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the Facts on the World's Religions. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. .
-Annoymous. "Homosexuality and Christianity - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the Facts on the World's Religions. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. .
-Annoymous. "Homosexuality and Hinduism - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the Facts on the World's Religions. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. .
-Annoymous. "Homosexuality and Islam - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the Facts on the World's Religions. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. . "Facts about cousin marriage." Cousin Marriage Resources. 15 Apr. 2011. 15 Apr. 2011 .
-Vestal, Christine. "Gay marriage legal in six states." Stateline. 4 June 2009. 15 Apr. 2011 .

Friday, April 08, 2011

Spanish in the United States

¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás? ¿En qué puedo servirle? Get used to hearing such vernacular as this. For a majority of a century now, English has been the primary language of the United States, yet Spanish speakers are growing in numbers. According to the 2010 Census, 15.8% of the United States has Spanish as their native tongue. Already, Texas has a Hispanic population of 36.8%. These statistics can only grow in number. Good or bad, Americans need to brace for change.

Just as immigration was vibrant in early twentieth century Europe, Hispanics are searching for a better life. In many Central American countries, times are very rough and drug sellers are creating animosity. Often times, the anarchy of the Middle East overshadows these Latin countries in the news. From a Hispanic perspective, it makes sense why one would want to flee their country. Chile has the highest Latin American Human Development Index, and it is number forty-five. Although we feel our economy is tanking, even today, come to our country in search of the American dream.

What does such a change mean for us? On the occasional trip to Lowe’s, we find ourselves looking at bilingual signs. We see FLOOR in large, bold lettering and PISO under it. Soon enough, signs like those of Lowe’s will be found in a majority of U.S. merchandisers. At Barnes and Noble, we will begin to see more and more books in Spanish print. A change in the tongue of the United States could cause communication problems. In Belgium, the Dutch north and French south are pondering a split because of the lingual divide. I doubt the United States will break off from itself, however the challenges may become adverse and tough for our government to handle.

To ease ourselves into this transition, we must be aware of a few things. First of all, we can not try to prevent this change from happening. Just as the South could not prevent the Civil Rights Movement, we can not try to rid our country of “Latinos”. Often times, especially in young adults, I find that we assume every Hispanic is an illegal immigrant. The claim is not preposterous, however can be very offensive for those who went through the entire process many of our grandparents and great-grandparents had to struggle through. Secondly, I feel that a majority of Americans should begin to take Spanish. When push comes to shove, we are losing of linguistically monolithic society. Times are changing and the only way to overcome communications issues is to learn how to communicate with Hispanics ourselves. I love the language of Spanish and believe it rolls off the tongue. On the other hand, I feel many Hispanics should aspire to educate themselves in the ways of English. Finally, I feel that we should embrace each other’s cultures. We should welcome Hispanics by appealing for Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead celebrations. Maybe some immigrants coming to this country are well trained dancers in the ways of the tango, flamenco, and salsa. If we refuse to welcome such Hispanics, we can only hope a real life "West Side Story" does not erupt all over the country.