Reichskristallnacht – Commemorated 25 years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

This year, this very loaded date also coincides with the many memorials of the First World War. My grandfather and his brother were among the millions of teenagers who joined the army in patriotic fever. Only one of them came home, but my family still tells stories of their war experiences, and we still keep my great-uncle’s cigarette case that he carried when he died.

Here, the dead are commemorated with ceramic poppies, and NPR has more here.

Poppies in London

I’ll link to a much earlier post on this date here.

I wish I could say Never Again, but that seems hypocritical.

Let us Light Candles for Peace

If it is your custom to light candles in honor of Shabbat, here is a meditation for peace, co-written by Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum for these troubling days:

Let us Light Candles for Peace
Two mothers, one plea:
Now, more than ever, during these days of so much crying, on the day that is sacred to both our religions, Friday, Sabbath Eve
Let us light a candle in every home – for peace:
A candle to illuminate our future, face to face,
A candle across borders, beyond fear.
From our family homes and houses of worship
Let us light each other up,
Let these candles be a lighthouse to our spirit
Until we all arrive at the sanctuary of peace.

Ibtisam Mahameed Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

!تعالوﻭاﺍ نضﯾﻳئ شمعاتﺕ اﺍلسلامﻡ

وﻭاﺍلدﺩتانﻥ وﻭطﻁلبﺏ وﻭاﺍحدﺩ: خصﯾﻳصا اﺍلانﻥ, في ھﮪﮬﻫذﺫهﻩ اﺍلاﯾﻳامﻡ, اﺍﯾﻳامﻡ اﺍلبكاء اﺍلكبﯾﻳرﺭ, في اﺍلﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلمقدﺩسﺱ لدﺩﯾﻳاناتنا, في ﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلجمعة وﻭمساء اﺍلسبتﺕ, نضﯾﻳئ في كلﻝ بﯾﻳتﺕ شمعة للسلامﻡ: شمعة تطﻁالبﺏ بوﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلمستقبلﻝ, وﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلانسانﻥ. شمعﮫﻪ تنتصرﺭ على اﺍلحدﺩوﻭدﺩ وﻭاﺍلرﺭعبﺏ. منﻥ بﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ عائلاتنا وﻭبﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ صلوﻭاﺍتنا نضﯾﻳئ اﺍحدﺩنا للاخرﺭ وﻭاﺍلشموﻭعﻉ تكوﻭنﻥ اﺍلبرﺭوﻭجﺝ وﻭاﺍلفنارﺭ لارﺭوﻭاﺍحنا

!حتى نصلﻝ لمعبدﺩ اﺍلسلامﻡ. اﺍبتسامﻡ محامﯾﻳدﺩ

!تمارﺭ اﺍلعادﺩ-اﺍفالبوﻭمﻡ !!!


!בואו נאיר נרות שלום

שתי אמהות ובקשה אחת: שדווקא עכשיו, בימי הבכייה הגדולה האלה, בימים המקודשים לדתות שלנו, בשישי ובערב שבת, נדליק בכל בית נר לשלום: נר שמבקש פני עתיד, פני אדם. נר שצולח גבולות ואימה. מבתי המשפחות ומבתי התפילה שלנו נאיר זה לזה והנרות יהיו מגדלור לרוחנו

עד שנבוא אל היכל השלום

   איבתיסאם מחמיד ותמר אלעד-אפלבום

I couldn’t find the original online, so there’s no link.

Addendum to gender and war

I had heard rumors of this but apparently this is a real and serious campaign started by women in Crown Heights to entice girls to be “dressed in Tznius attire (i.e. clothing which keep necklines, elbows, knees and feet covered at all times)” for the safety of Israel.

On the one hand, this could be seen as an attempt to have kids show some sort of activism in a situation that makes grownups feel helpless BUT it is again an activism born out on the bodies of girls. I do not see a similar appeal for boys to be dressed in this way.

All this reminds me of the frumkas, the women who wear many layers of clothes, and essentially veil, taking modesty to a whole new level. I have to run but PHEW!

A brief note on gender and bombs in Israel…

Now that “ground operations” are under way, just hours before a suggested “ceasefire on humanitarian grounds”, here is an absolutely absurd story about gender segregation in bomb shelters, and it’s not the first such story circulating these days. And not to forget the many who do not have shelters in which to seek cover, or who are refused entry because they live on the wrong side of the tracks.

In Ashdod, where more than one bomb has landed lately, the Rabbinical courts reportedly marked the doors of their bomb shelter with a sign: “For men only.” The women’s secure area appeared far less enforced, it seems. This has since been addressed but seriously?! See here for more… 

The bottom sign reads “Shelter for men” (from the article linked above, photo is courtesy Stav Shaffir/Facebook).

As we know from so many other wars, fighting and bombs do not stop people’s lives. People go to work, children go to school (ok, it’s the summer break but you get my drift), groceries need to be bought, people celebrate weddings, births, and funerals, and go to bars and cafés.

Having read this story about gender-segregated shelters, I remembered a touching article I had read earlier in the week, by Osnat Sharon, an attorney and rabbinical advocate who helps Jewish women navigate the labyrinth that is the Israeli legal system. She tells the story of a woman who finally had her day in rabbinical court, trying to obtain a get, a religious divorce. In her own words, and quoted from the Times of Israel:

When it was finally time for R’s hearing, she went in with her head held high – finally, this was going to be her day! Then, just as the rabbis were questioning the couple to ensure that they were both agreeing to the divorce willingly, the missile warning alarm sounded yet again. R stared at the rabbis, unwilling to move; she had waited too long for freedom to have it postponed. She continued to stare at the rabbis. The rabbis remained in their seats. In fact, we all remained in our seats – even as we heard the other rooms emptying out and people scurrying to the bomb shelter. The rabbis continued with the proceedings even as the alarm continued, even as loud “booms” were heard as the missiles landed in an open field right outside of town. But R didn’t hear any of those things. All she heard were the rabbis’ words:  your divorce is final. You are free.[]

Choose Life Ramadan / 17 Tammuz

These are difficult times for liberal Jews (and Muslims, I imagine). The bombings of Israel and Gaza, the Iron Dome, the images of terrible suffering in Gaza, and now the anti-semitic attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe that are taking place under the cover of  fighting for Palestine. And so I was happy to find an event combining both Ramadan and the fast of 17 Tammuz, part of the campaign  בוחרים בחיים צום יז בתמוז- רמדאן 2014 نختار الحياة، مشروع رمضان وصيام 2014 Choose Life Ramadan-17 Tamuz fast. A rather impressive list of events they held can be found here.

I went to an evening at the Masjid (mosque) Malcolm Shabbaz on 116th Street and Lenox,  in honor of an Iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) and in honor of the fast of 17 Tammuz. We were maybe 60 people, more or less evenly divided between Muslims, mostly members of the mosque, and Jews. It was a loosely organized evening, and opened with brief remarks made by two of the organizers, Mia (also an organizer of the Harlem Minyan)  and Brother Tariq, followed by individual conversations among the participants. I was excited to be in this mosque that I had read so much about: founded originally in 1945 as Temple Number Seven (there is another Temple  Number Seven on 127th Street that serves the Nation of Islam), and Malcolm X’ mosque, this was the site of much radical struggle in the 60s and 70s, and I was thrilled to find one of its chroniclers sitting across the table from me and happily chatted away.

After some fifteen minutes or so, we were offered the traditional fig and water opening the Iftar (breaking of the fast), and all of us joined the community in the main mosque for Maghrib, followed by Ma’ariv downstairs, and, of course, more food.

All in all a good evening, an important evening, more for me personally than for any Muslim-Jewish  rapprochement. It was an evening that reminded me how much I love living in New York (I could have walked to the mosque, if it hadn’t rained so heavily), and also a time that reminded me of just how much work remains to be done.  Yes, we were together, shared food and drink, and talked, no, I at least didn’t even mention politics apart from making some general noises. But that is probably ok: for some of the Jews who came, it was the first time they entered a mosque (!), let alone spoke to a Muslim outside of work or a restaurant, and many were probably unaware of the place’s storied history.

Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein, as we say (loosely translatable as “small acts effect change”).


Spring 2014 courses

RELG 383, Introduction to Judaism, Wardlaw 101, 3:55 pm – 5:10 pm

Why do Jews eat crackers on Passover and why are they square? Is kosher food blessed by rabbis? How is Judaism different from Christianity or Islam? How does the Holocaust impact twenty-first century American Jews? Why are there so many Jewish jokes on the Daily Show? And, in the year 2014, what on earth is a Jew? We will approach these questions through the lens of the Haggadah, a ritual manual Jews read during Passover.

This “living text”, arguably the most popular Jewish book after the Hebrew Bible, will be our key to unlock a number of ideas that have shaped the Jewish experience such as the Oral Torah, the emphasis on prayer and social justice, sanctification of daily life, but also the impact of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and gay and transgender rights. You will notice that the last four classes are TBA. Those are classes whose topics will be determined by you, the students. Suggested topics are: the Ark of the Covenant, conversion to Judaism, Black Hebrews, Jews of color, Israeli music…

 RELG 203Z Introduction to Comparative Religion (asynchronous online course)

This course is an  introduction to comparative religion. You will think about the role of spirituality and religion in public life, and explore a number of religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, as well as Atheism and some more recent religious movements.

Current Project: Transgendered Jews in legal and medical Hebrew texts

My project looks at gender variance in medieval Hebrew texts written by commentators of Jewish law (the Rishonim) who were active in Europe and the Mediterranean between 1000-1500.

Two years of the anti–Semitism report in Germany

In 2008, the Bundestag decided to set up an independent work group to study the state of anti-Semitism in Germany. After a year of deliberation, the group was convened and after another year had passed (we are now in 2011), they published their report. It wasn’t pretty… 20% of Germans were seen as anti-Semitic, possibly more.

Two years later, not one of their recommendations has been put into action, and there seems to be no consensus that there might be any need to for action. In the meantime, a neo-Nazi terror group has been dismantled, after they had committed a number of murders, and anti-Semitic sentiment, if anything, has risen in popularity.

You can read more in German, here:

And the original report of the Bundestag is here: