Friday, April 27, 2012

Yom Ha'atzmaut: One Year Before Yedid

As May quickly approaches, I already feel eager to end the school and attend summer camp. I find it difficult to imagine my emotions at this time next year. In the summer of 2013, I will complete my years as a camper with a month-long trip to Israel. Since both Jews in the diaspora and Israelis celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli independence day) yesterday, I find it appropriate to reflect on this exciting expedition approaching in my near future. I attend a camp in New York’s Catskills Mountains, and we focus and build activities around three main ideals; Judaism, Socialism, and Zionism. On this trip called Yedid (friend in Hebrew), the camp explores aspects of each of these pillars. We go to kibbutzim to see socialism in practice. On the kibbutz, farmers work together for the betterment of the community over profit. Additionally, we see all the common tourists sights, some dating back to the days of ancient Judaea. We climb Massada, and the group walks around the holy sites at Jerusalem. In just a month’s time, I will explore the entirety of Israel, and I believe the days until then go by way too slowly. Every year, I see campers return with wonderful stories about Yedid. Going with Hashomer Hatzair, the organization that runs my camp, I experience the country from a truly Israeli perspective movement. This movement exists in Israel, and many locals come to the States. Some accompany us throughout the trip, showing us the inner secrets of the Holy Land. The trip offers a more valuable way to see Israel, touring “between the lines”. Last summer and the one prior, I met some of my best friends in the world. We live across the world from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia, and spending the summer together in this unifying place for all Jews bonds us together, even if our camp years end when we return to school in September. We started as a group of individuals with solely two similarities; our age and our varying practices of Judaism. Now, we approach this crux of our experience, learning more about each other every day. I most importantly want to travel to Israel before I matriculate at a rabbinical school. All rabbis need to study abroad in the Holy Land for one year. If everything occurs according to plan, this trip requires me to study Israel from an academic viewpoint. Going on both trips allow me to enjoy the country in two distinctly different ways. I want to go after undergraduate school, but I also know visiting during the summer relieves me of any pressure I feel from September to June. As 2013 quickly approaches, the glorious opportunities Yedid bestows upon me entice me every day. Until next July, I intend to wade my Israel-free days in a strategic manner. While I remain untouched by the glory of Israel, I plan to embrace my fully Jewish-American identity. I know Israel purely through the media and friends. The media depicts Israel as a war-stricken disaster, but I know it differs from this idea. From teachers and fellow campers, I hear Israel shines in the desert sun with beauty akin to that of a great painter. Rumors tell me the country mystifies any Jew wishing to learn about their roots. However, I want to arrive in Israel prepared for the journey. Although I find it difficult to balance my studies of English and Spanish for class and Hebrew as a hobby, I hope to acquaint myself with many more useful Hebrew phrases. Of course, I love my camp, and I expect to share as many great days with my peers as last summer in the coming months. Once the age group above us departs for Israel in late July, we dominate the camp as its oldest children. In those last few weeks, the camp requires us to write a play, create a closing ceremony, and plan a camp-wide activity. It takes teamwork to accomplish these tasks, but we will need this when we trek Israel in its 65th year of existence.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why Keep Kosher?

Many Jews revere the Torah's dietary laws as a sacred tradition, even as modern times create a more difficult atmosphere to keep Kosher. The weekly portion, Shemini, begins with an argument between Moses and Aaron over sacrificial ritual. God quickly establishes peace among the brothers, and Moses begins to receive the Kashrut, the Jewish dietary customs. God classifies certain animals as clean and others as an abomination. To the uninformed mind, the taxonomy appears random, but the Torah distinguishes a particular system with each animal in a possible diet. By land, an animal needs to chew its own cud and possess splits hooves. The former describes a particular way an animal eats their food, and the latter focuses on the feet of an animal. The majority of farm animals fit these Kosher characteristics. Pork and other pig products remain the most common example of mammal traife, non-Kosher food. Kosher fish include any scale and fin bearing creatures, like salmon and tuna. Crustaceans top the list of marine traife, prohibiting Jews from eating lobster, shrimp, and clams. No guidelines exist for birds, but the Torah lists the names of unacceptable birds, such as owls, hawks, and ostriches. With one exception, God finally decrees all insects traife. Insects with jointed legs, mostly crickets and grasshoppers, are the only acceptable six-legged critters in the Jewish diet. Most Reform Jews stopped following these laws in the creation of their movement, but Orthodox and Conservative Jews continue these practices. According to the Torah, one who breaks this law remains unclean until evening. Unlike other laws, the severity of the consequence seems weak in comparison to that of a stoning or execution. These laws complicate life every day, but lack reason in the Torah. Traditional rabbis saw this as a health concern to the Jewish people. Swine often carried more diseases than other farm animals. Deeming them sacrilegious supposedly helped ancient Jews' livelihood, yet modern science disproved this theory not so long ago. Other ancient rabbis payed special attention to which animals God decides to exclude. Pigs bathe in their own filth, and crustaceans consume whatever scraps they find. The olden thinkers thought God found these lowly beings unfit for humans. Most people eat three times a day, so keeping Kosher serves as a mechanism to force Jews into thinking about God. When thinking about a place to host a business lunch, the Jews need to consult the Torah. The consistency of eating reveals the holiness in every moment on Earth. For those who discount the existence of God, keeping Kosher provides a more universal lesson. Abstaining from certain foods, no matter how delectable, requires a great degree of discipline. Workers and friends alike desire such control. By eating only certain foods, we learn how to tame other inhibitions, such as lust, jealous, and anger. God specifies how to eat, but the portion requires a better explanation for keeping this custom. Like many parts of the Torah, these chapters demand personal interpretation. I started keeping Kosher around eight years old. It started because I simultaneously the perks of a career as a rabbi and my dislike of shrimp. After eight years of devouring crustacean and porks delicacies, I knew I needed to progressively eliminate my traife intake, rather than following all the Kashrut at once. Following these laws serves a dual purpose for me. When I smell bacon and ignore my inner temptations to forget the Torah, I immediately feel more connected to God. On Yom Kippur, God theoretically weighs a person's sins against their good deeds, and observing the Kashrut provides an easy way to tip this scale. Secondly, keeping Kosher teaches me how to calm myself and learn how to refuse certain foods. Yesterday, I tried to run with a stomach full of donuts, but I certainly felt the importance of a balanced diet as an athlete. When I learn how to ignore the deliciousness of lobster, I also teach myself how to reject a second helping of ice cream. In addition, the Kashrut laid the foundation for my work ethic, one that allows me to excel in school and other aspects of my life. The exacting nature of God shown in this week's Torah portion shows how I need to complete the work I plan for myself when the day begins. While hearing the theme song to my favorite show in the family room, I intently concentrate on homework, comparing the television to traife. Keeping Kosher allows me to exert intense efforts when needed. For any one who keeps Kosher for Passover, I find the regular dietary guidelines much easier to follow. For those who feels they lack a deep connection to Judaism, I recommend keeping Kosher. Like any lifestyle choice, time and consistency makes the change easier. I no longer miss traife,for I see how greater a reward I reap from these laws. I see their greater purpose in changing my life, as a runner, a student, and a Jew.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Next Year In Jerusalem Part 2

Last night, I discussed the importance for supporting the freedom of people all over the world. I declared, "All people deserve the same liberties people in Israel and the United States take for granted every day, and next year in Jerusalem, we will come together, not as a nation but as a world." The story of Passover resonates with activists such as myself. God calls on Moses to save a nation, and one man's courage revolutionizes the fate of a people. At first, Moses struggles to convince Pharaoh, but God sends a series of plagues that change his mind. On Passover, we remember how the weak overcome the mighty. Often, progress halts in the face of stubborn ignorance. We occasionally see the rise of a few great leaders who compare to Moses. To name a few, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Theodore Hertzl belong on this coveted list. These heroes conquered their doubts, and they assailed all obstacles in their way. People often denounce humanity in the face of darkness. We witness abuse of power or cruelty, but we fail to genuinely care. In the United States, our massive fortunes as a nation sometimes inhibit our ability to empathize with the world's large number of poor people across the world. Each and every Passover, I hope to see an improved world where the health and wealth of all peoples increases.

Earlier this year, I talked about people who know about righteous but fail to strive towards it. Finding a method to correct society remains an evermore difficult task. Charity seems like the everlasting solution to poverty, but economic instability makes donating a dangerous task. However, other, effective forms of activism definitely exist. In this age of technology, the Internet provides a number of opportunities to protest around the world from the comfort of a desk in a singular place. Recently, the Invisible Children foundation launched a Kony 2012 campaign. Through the power of Facebook and Twitter, one man informed the world about the horrors of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Before any kind of changes take place, one needs to spread awareness and educate the masses about the problem. This movement taught many people about this conflict. To truly fight for the freedoms of others, we must support the rebels. In the 1960's, King's protests succeeded because people of all races joined to show their passion for civil rights. In the coming year, I intend to pledge allegiance to fight for the liberation of the entire world. Like Moses, I want to change the world, and with the help of all those around me, this dream surpasses hope and establishes itself as reality.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Passover During Another Arab Spring

On Passover, we completely disrupt our nightly dinner routine. Some of us host extravagant seders with meals that took hours to cook, and others travel to nearby homes or faraway places. By using a number of symbols throughout the service, we recount how the Jews departed Egypt in the name of God and freedom. In Hebrew, seder means "order". From Beijing to Berlin, Jews around the world start the seder with reciting Kiddush, and we continue through the same sequence. The way we tell the story varies in each household, yet we repeat a similar seder every year. By the time a Jew reaches adulthood, the Passover story comes to mind as easily as one of Aesop's fables or Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". Most Jews know how Pharaoh enslaved the Jewish people, and God freed us through the leadership and bravery of Moses. The Passover seder serves one primary purpose; we wish to teach the next generation of Jewish children about this most holy event. If we fail to retell this story, complacency will rage throughout the Jewish nation. We not only rejoice about God's miracles in Egypt, but we force ourselves to seriously acknowledge them. Many Jews celebrate Passover in praise of God, and the rest observe the holiday to commend the literal courage of their ancestors. The holiday represents a new dawn in the history of Judaism, our age of freedom. As Moses and his caravan cross the Red Sea, God deems them the Jewish nation. We reached the Promised Land of Israel, and we spread across the world preserving our culture through many eras. Just as parades and fireworks remind Americans on the fourth of July, we eat matzah and bitter herbs to fill our minds with thoughts about freedom.

Towards the end of every seder, we recount the toils of enslaved peoples in the present. We declare to help these people as God answered the Jewish people's ancient cries. Traditionally, we open the door for the prophet Elijah. This old sage represents all of the world's kindness and charity. Elijah allegedly drinks a sip of the Passover wine at each household, showing the prophet's commitment to redeem the entire world. Many haggadot includes, "This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free." The lines means to encourage Jews to strive for the liberation of Jews in other places where their leaders restrict their freedom. We conclude the seder with a message of hope, a mission to perform Gemulut Hasidim, acts of love and kindness. By coming together on this holiday, we establish ourselves as individuals who share the ability to revolutionize humanity. Moses liberated a nation with only his words, and we too possess this ability.

Last year, our Arab brothers and sisters took hold of their inner voice. We witnessed a wave of revolution, which most recently compares to the turbulent year of 1968. In December 2010, a man in a Tunisian square engulfed himself in flames. That fire roared across the Sahara and Arabian Peninsula. Within a month, the people overthrew their horrid dictator. Egypt soon followed suit, toppling the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak. By autumn, organizers created a new, more democratic Egypt. As the spring turned into a passionate summer, Libyans fought a civil war against their malignant leader, Moammar Gadhafi. When each protested ended, Israelis hoped the new leaders would reconsider long-term peace in Israel. This year in Jerusalem, we see a spread of newly freed people. Rather than Jews fighting for the sake of other Jews, the world experienced a revolution on a scale unseen anywhere else in history.

Now, we face a growing problem in this volatile region. We see others in oppression, like the ongoing revolutions in Bahrain and Syria. From our memories of Pharaoh, we know how it feels to face a stubborn dictator, yet the reality of supporting extremists brings fear. Just this week, Egyptians fired missiles into Israel's tropical city, Eilat. After thirty years, it appears young Egyptians want to break a seemingly stable pact negotiated by Anwar El Sadat and Menachem Begin. Is this the mission we want Elijah to complete over this next year? We strive for our reconvening as a nation in the land of Israel, but Israel appears fragile in the face of complete freedom. Overall, I believe supporting democracy across the world holds more importance than the issue of peace between Israel and these Arab neighbors. For every anti-Israeli Arab, another denounces their practices. Over each summer, I spend a couple weeks with a few native Israelis and Palestinians. They know the possibility of peace, for they coexist at my camp during a long, six week stretch in the Catskills. The hopes Israelis held last year were not forsaken. On this night of teaching the children, I seek to deliver this message; all people deserve the same liberties people in Israel and the United States take for granted every day, and next year in Jerusalem, we will come together, not as a nation but as a world.