Sunday, September 20, 2009

What's your Kavanna?

I love this story from Rav Steinsaltz. (article entitled "Education for Prayer.")

In order to explain something about this subject of kavvanah, I will quote a well-known anecdote:
They tell of a simple Jew, almost an ignoramus, who stood on Rosh Hashanah and recited with great fervor the liturgical poems: "These and these shout with a shouting, these and these roar with a roaring…" They asked him why this great fervor over '
befetsah mefatshin', and what did he understand by these prayers?
The Jew answered, “What do I care what is written there? - I know that all of the prayers have one meaning: Master of the Universe, help us to make a living."

On the topic of Kavanna, see this post too.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Assaf Ramon z"l

The awful news of the death of Assaf Ramon has hit Israel by storm.

He was the eldest son of Ilan Ramon, Israel's only astronaut (and a pilot who bombed the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1976) who was killed so tragically before our eyes in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia. We all watched on with tears in our eyes, how he wore his father's NASA jacket at his father's funeral. we watched with tears in our eyes as he graduated the pilot cadet course just a few months ago. And now, his plane has crashed. What a terrible tragedy for the family.

It is amazing how Ilan Ramon touched all of our lives. I wrote this at the time of his death, some 6 years ago:

The news that has occupied Israel over the past 24 hours is
the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and in particular,
our astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Israel has been overwhelmed with
a feeling of national sadness today. Despite the intifada
and the economy, Ilan Ramon struck a deep chord and his loss
has been devastating on a National scale. There has been
nothing else on the radio. All sectors of Israeli society
are subdued with this tragic news.

What particularly impressed me, and drew me to admire Ilan
Ramon, was his unusual sense of Jewish pride. He knew that
he was the first Israeli astronaut. Despite the fact that he
was not personally shomer mitzvot, he decided to eat kosher
on the space shuttle, to commemorate Shabbat by making
Kiddush, to recite Shema Yisrael as he passed over
Yerushalayim. He clearly had a deeply religious soul. In
addition, as a child of Holocaust suvivors, he took symbols
of the Holocaust, amongst them a Sefer Torah that was kept
in secret through the Shoah. This man understood that at the
heart of Jewish identity, is Shabbat, Kashrut, Sefer Torah,
Sh'ma; all this as an expression of Judaism, Holocaust and
Medinat Yisrael. For him there was no difference between
Jewish and Israeli. We did not simply have an astronaut in
space. We lost a precious person who represented so many
Jewish truths.

Today I heard a story that typifies his Jewish approach to
his Israeli-Jewish identity. The Chief Commander of the
Israel Air Force asked Ilan Ramon if there was anything that
he would like to take to Space to represent the IAF. Ramon
responded that he would like to carry to Space the Mezuza
from the IAF headquarters. Every connection had a Jewish
rootedness, certainly a very unusual trait to find.

May his family find comfort amongst the mourners of Tzion
and Yerushalayim. Today all of Tzion and Yeriushalayim was
mourning together with them. Tihye Nishmato Zerura Bitzror

At the time, my son was just in first grade. The entire school had been following the Space mission. These little boys were all recommended to watch the launch of the Shuttle. And there was a huge picture of Ilan Ramon, saying "Ilan will be coming home in X days!" His science homework was to watch the live TV feed from the Shuttle. Ilan became every little Israeli boy's hero. And then on Motzaei Shabbat after Havdalla, when the shuttle crashed and we were watching it on live TV, I cannot even begin to tell you how my little son was crestfallen, in tears, besides himself. I recall quite clearly how he simply didn't know how to react. In the end, he sat down and drew a picture of a Space Shuttle eneveloped in fire. I kept the picture. It expressed the only way that my son could deal with his disappointment and sorrow.

I cannot forget the story of how each astronaut would get woken up one day of the mission with their favourite music. Ilan Ramon's wife Rona, woke him up with a famous Israeli love song. I must be honest that I cannot hear that song anyomore without tearing up and thinking of him. The words are:

זֶמֶר נוּגֶה

הֲתִשְׁמַע קוֹלִי, רְחוֹקִי שֶׁלִּי,
הֲתִשְׁמַע קוֹלִי, בַּאֲשֶׁר הִנְּךָ –
קוֹל קוֹרֵא בְּעֹז, קוֹל בּוֹכֶה בִּדְמִי
וּמֵעַל לַזְּמַן מְצַוֶּה בְּרָכָה?

תֵּבֵל זוֹ רַבָּה וּדְרָכִים בָּה רָב.
נִפְגָּשׁוֹת לְדַק, נִפְרָדוֹת לָעַד.
מְבַקֵּשׁ אָדָם, אַךְ כּוֹשְׁלוֹת רַגְלָיו,
לֹא יוּכַל לִמְצֹא אֶת אֲשֶׁר אָבַד.

אַחֲרוֹן יָמַי כְּבָר קָרוֹב אוּלַי,
כְּבָר קָרוֹב הַיּוֹם שֶׁל דִּמְעוֹת פְּרִידָה,
אֲחַכֶּה לְךָ עַד יִכְבּוּ חַיַּי,
כְּחַכּוֹת רָחֵל לְדוֹדָהּ.

Will you hear my voice so far away from me
Will you hear my voice where ever you are
A strong voice,
praying silently
And beyond time, it sends a blessing

This land is large and has many paths
We meet for a moment and separate for ever
A man tries, but his legs fail
He will never find what he has lost

My final days are very close
Near is the day of good bye tears
I will wait for you until my life will end
Like Rachel waited for her lover

I always find it so ironic that this classic Israeli love song, became so true with Ilan Ramon. Like an epitaph.

And now, his son, who chose to follow in his father's footsteps - a boy who everyone says was quite an exceptional young man filled with idealism - is dead, also finding his death in the air.

Words cannot quite come to grips with the depths of tragic emotion in a story like this.
As the Sephardi consolation line reads:
מן השמים תנוחם

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Have you seen this video?

This is the new video from MASA that has aroused a huge controversy. MASA just publicised that they are pulling the plug on the ad (link.) If you haven't seen it, watch it now. Questions below...

(Who uploaded that with a spelling mistake?)

Is this ad offensive?
Does it assume that Jews cannot survive w-out assimilation outside Israel? - Is that incorrect?

So, the blogosphere is filled with discussion on this. See this and this.
Others simply raise the huge cost of this campaign and wonder whether MASA is using its money wisely (link).

But what struck me is the basic philosophy, this confidence that the greatest solution to stem assimilation is to come to Israel! I know that this is the premise upon which Birthright and other programs are predicated. I know the statistics show that it is successful. (This video is like a Zionist version of Aish HAtorah!)

But is Israel enough?

Is Israel alone the answer to assimilation?

And what of Judaism?

I recall, as a 16 year-old chanich in Bnei Akiva, discussing "Is it better to be a religious Jew in England or a secular Jew in Israel?" It was a silly discussion because one doesn't get that choice in life, but nonetheless, it raises the question.

Rav Yuval does it again! Violent tendencies and Religious alcohol abuse in the Rel-Zionist Community.

Rav Yuval Sherlo, once again demonstrates himself as one of the most courageous and clear-thinking Rabbis in Israel today.

In a recent article (link, and slightly skewed and tabloidified here in English) Rav Yuval warns about the potential to violent acts in the Religious-Zionist community here in Israel. His article comes after a frightening series of murders in Israel over recent weeks. Rav Yuval warns us that the religious community is not immune. Let me summarise a few points:

First, he stresses that just because we are religious , we are not unaffected by these problems. Just as the religious community has had to admit that it too has domestic violence, and a drug problem, so too, we may never assume that it is the secular - "them" - who are tainted by these social ills, and imagine that we are somehow insulated from them.

He then highlights a few areas of caution:

1. Violent language: Israeli popular language doesn't specialise in tact and subtlety. It is frequently crude and inflammatory. Violent speech creates an environment of violence.

2. Violent movies. In the religious world , parents prefer their sons watch violent action movies to the "other option", i.e. sexually explicit content. The result being that Religious youth watch a great deal of violent TV. Does this not have an effect?

3. Rav Sherlo warns about alcohol abuse in the religious community, especially under the guise of Hassidic tisches and the like. The rising Hasidic trends in the Religious-Zionist community, have lent a legitimacy to drinking in Yeshivot etc. He cautions that this drinking can lead to violent behaviour.

4. Political Violence. That there is an increasing legitimisation of political violence, whether in Mea Shearim, or other places (link). Rav Yuval warns that this violence will spin out of control.

Rav Sherlo's messages are vital and timely. I feel that the Religious Zionist community in which I live is far too carefree in these areas (link) and I frequently feel that that there is a thin line to violence and lawlessness that can be easily crossed. Just today, it sounds like there was a murder between Yeshiva students in Netanya (link). Maybe his words have come just in time. If only people would absorb his wisdom.

Unfortunately, not enough people will heed Rav Sherlo. He is seen as too moderate, Left-wing, and the like. But I am glad that there is someone that shares my concerns. He is one of our most farsighted, eloquent, thoughtful, and balanced leaders. I hope his influence continues to grow.