Monday, November 28, 2011

In Memory of Mark Edw. West

By Susan Esther Barnes

Our dear friend, Mark West, died on Sunday evening, after a long and valiant battle with cancer. His mother asked us to post memories of him on Facebook, and below is what I wrote:

“When I think about Mark, what always springs to mind is movement. Whether it was him always opening a door behind us when we were playing Dungeons and Dragons, or the way his whole body moved when he told stories or laughed - not just his face was animated, but his whole torso, plus his arms and legs - it was always about movement. He was like a meteor, a shooting star, on the move, full of brilliant light, and then gone way too soon.”

In his honor, below is Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1928 poem, “Dirge with Music.”

I am not resigned to the shutting away of
loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look,
the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know.
But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than
all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exile vs. Redemption

By Susan Esther Barnes

Last week I attended a fascinating lecture at the Osher Marin JCC by Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The lecture, and the excellent Q&A afterward, covered a broad area. Below is a summary of his main theme, on exile and redemption. I hope to write about additional topics from the evening later.

Rabbi Hartman explained that, for about 2,000 years, Jews looked at the world through two lenses: exile and redemption.

After the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, Jews dispersed throughout the world, and lived in exile. No matter what country we lived in, we were a small minority, subject to the whims of the leaders of whatever country we inhabited. We could only live in certain areas and hold certain jobs, sometimes we had to wear certain identifying badges or clothing, and at any time we could be killed. We were without power.

During those 2,000 years, we believed that our exile would end during the time of the Moshiach (messiah), so at the end of exile there would be redemption. Redemption meant perfection, with no more sickness, war, or suffering. In the time of redemption, everything would be fine.

When Israel became a country, Rabbi Hartman says, Jews continued to see the world through the same two lenses.

Some say our exile is over. We were able to gather in our own land, we have power over our own lives, so therefore, redemption has come. Everything is perfect, these people say, and anyone who criticizes Israel is either uninformed, or a traitor. This is all they see.

Others say we are still in exile. Israel is surrounded by enemies. We could still be attacked at any moment, and in fact, rockets continue to fall in Israel on a regular basis. We don’t have the time, these people say, to worry about things like morality when what we need to focus on right now is survival. Redemption has not come, so therefore we are still in exile. This is all they see.

Rabbi Hartman suggests that we need to recognize that the Jews in Israel are no longer in exile. They have power, and they are home. The Jews in North America are not in exile, either. We also have power, and we also are home. However, things are not perfect, and we have not found redemption, either.

We need to find a new lense through which to view the world – one that is neither exile, nor redemption – in order to focus on reality.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Germs and Words Circling the Bed

By Susan Esther Barnes

This is a conversation I had with my husband last night:

Me: I can't believe I haven't caught the cold you had last week.

Him: Me, either.

Me: I don't know how many times I woke up during the night to find you breathing your germs right in my face.

Him: That wouldn't be a problem if you stayed on your side of the bed.

Me: There are two cats, plus me, on my side, but only one of you. We should get three-fourths of the bed. You should feel lucky for what you get.

Him: I don't think so.

Me: Do you think we should trade in our queen bed for a king so we'll have more room?

Him: No, we don't need a king. I don't feel like we're too crowded.

Me: Ok. I still feel lucky I didn't catch your cold, with you breathing on me like that.

Him: That wouldn't be a problem if you stayed on your side of the bed.

Gotta love that man.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Three Ways to Prepare for Christmas - If You're Jewish" at TC Jewfolk

Read my latest post on TC Jewfolk: Three Ways to Prepare for Christmas - If You're Jewish.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Frequent Attendance at Services Says About You

By Susan Esther Barnes

Fellow blogger Heshy Fried recently posted something titled, “Are You Just a Jew on Shabbos?

Setting aside the grammatical error – the title seems to ask whether you are also something other than a Jew on Shabbat (such as, for instance, an American or a mother), from the context of the post it is clear he meant to ask whether you are Jewish only on Shabbat, and not during the rest of the week.

It’s a fair question. If you only go to Shabbat services and do nothing else Jewish during the week, then, I suppose, you are, to his way of thinking, a Jew only on Shabbat. However, the post goes on to talk only about attending services during the week, as if attending services is the only way to be Jewish.

Look, I’m a big fan of synagogue services, for many reasons. They bring people together. They help build community. There are some prayers, like the Mourner’s Kaddish, that we only say when we have at least 9 other Jews with us, and the synagogue is a convenient place to gather those people. Rabbis are professional teachers, and through their sermons they can help us discover insights we might never find alone. The list goes on.

However, to imply that going to services is the only way to be Jewish is way off base. The majority of Jewish ritual practice has traditionally taken place in the home. Chanukkah is celebrated as we light candles at home. Pesach (Passover) is celebrated with a ritual meal and the telling of the Exodus story at home. Shabbat candles are lit at home every week. Sukkot are built, eaten in, and slept in at home.

Even prayers are often said at home, or wherever we happen to be. There are morning and evening prayers. There are prayers over food before and after we eat. There are prayers for when we go to the bathroom, when we see a rainbow, when we encounter someone we haven’t seen in a long time, etc.

There are all sorts of things we are commanded to do throughout the day, no matter where we are. Don’t place a stumbling block before the blind. Be kind to the widow and orphan. Don’t say hurtful things. There are, literally, hundreds of mitzvot, most – I would argue all – of which do not require one’s presence in a synagogue.

There are people who attend synagogue frequently because it is a commandment to say certain prayers that require a minyan. Some attend frequently because it brings them closer to God. Some attend frequently for the feeling of community they get. Some attend frequently but don’t believe in God, or they are unsure of God.

Different people attend services for different reasons. So what does frequent attendance at services say about you? It says you attend services frequently. That is all. To read any more into it would be a mistake. Nobody knows your reasons unless you talk with them about it, and even then they may not truly understand.

Attendance at services does not equal being Jewish. If that were all there were to Judaism, what a poor, sad bunch we would be. Being Jewish includes many, many things, and God willing, we will all spend our lives exploring the possibilities, without judging others based on one small piece of it, such as whether they show up at the synagogue during the week.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Haveil Havalim #337

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack.

We had a little glitch this week with submissions not reaching me properly. Jack helped by providing me with a workaround, but if you sent in something and you don't see it here, most likely it was an oversight due to the system issue. Also, I didn't get any submissions for the end of the week, so if you sent in something on Thursday or Friday and you don't see it here, it's nothing personal. Please submit it again for the next HH.

Opinions expressed in the posts linked below are those of the respective bloggers and not necessarily endorsed by me.

We Need More Hosts!
Hosting the Blog Carnival is easy. Just contact Jack through the Blog Carnival website here, and tell him what day you can host. You will receive links to posts as they are submitted through the week. You can read them as they come in, and build your Blog Carnival post over time, or do it all at once - whatever works for you. Or, if you don't have time to read all the links, at the end of the week the Carnival will send you an email with HTML you can copy and paste that puts together the whole post for you with one easy cut and paste. So please host - we need you, and it will build traffic to your terrific blog!

Mordechai Torczyner writes about a recent visit to his shul by England's Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and intellectual learning vs. inspiration in To Educate or to Inspire? posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

Jacob Richman presents Good News from Israel: New: Learn Hebrew Chanukah Video posted at Good News from Israel.

Yehoishophot Oliver presents Modeh Ani: Essence facing Essence posted at A Chassidishe farbrengen.

Sharon A says incitement to hate is growing, and provides examples,in Incitement to Terror « The Real Jerusalem Streets posted at The Real Jerusalem Streets's Blog.

Gail Rubin J.D. writes about a recent event at U.C. Davis in UC Davis Jewish Studies Program Presents the Anti-Israel Narrative and Censors Questions posted at Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers.

Harry treats us to an amusing - in some ways, but not in others - only-in-Israel story in The Israeli version of ‘the dog ate my homework’ posted at Israelity.

Sharon A uses photos to show us one way the Jerusalem landscape is changing in Meet you at Mashbir « The Real Jerusalem Streets posted at The Real Jerusalem Streets's Blog.

What do LBGQT interests have to do with how Palestinians are treated? Harry explains in A pink light unto nations or a ‘pink wash’? posted at Israelity.

Zman Biur has some good news about driving in Israel in Roadkill myths IV: End-of-2010 update posted at Biur Chametz.

Batya writes about the uniquely Israeli experience of sharing rides in B"H, Thank G-d, Great People! posted at me-ander.

Harry presents >Train construction ahead posted at Israelity.

Julie presents Jerusalem Playground Reviews -- Agenda and Parameters posted at >Walkable Jerusalem.

Julie writes a review of a park in Gan Gidon (Gideon Park), Baka -- Jerusalem Playground Review #3 posted at Walkable Jerusalem.

Batya presents The Rich Strike and The Poor Suffer posted at Shiloh Musings.

Jay3fer reacts to an ad that mentions "kosher style" food in Cranky Complaints-Lady Cooks Kosher-Style posted at Adventures in Mama-Land.

Mrs. S. presents Heblish: The Everywhere You Look Edition posted at Our Shiputzim: A Work In Progress.

I wonder, What Would You Like to Have Happen When You Die? posted at To Kiss a Mezuzah.

Rutimizrachi encourages us to treat eachother kindly in One small kindness. And another. And another... posted at Ki Yachol Nuchal!.

Mordechai Torczyner gives some teaching tips in Rabbinics 101: How to teach a class posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

Batya shares some photos and commentary on clowning in Clowning Around and A לך לך Lech Lecha Lesson posted at me-ander.

Batya presents Who's Having The Last Laugh? Matriarch Sarah and The Modern State of Israel posted at Shiloh Musings.

Food Reviews:
Daniela presents Elite's "Chocolate Para" Kids Cake posted at Isreview.

Daniela presents Lipton's Pyramid Jasmine Green Tea posted at Isreview.

Daniela presents Elite's Peanut Butter flavored Pesek Zman posted at Isreview.

How you can participate:
You may submit your blog post for the next edition of Haveil Havalim by using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page. Also, please sign up to host one or more future editions. It's fun and easy, and will be much appreciated!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Would You Like to Have Happen After You Die?

By Susan Esther Barnes

There is abundant speculation about what happens to you after you die. Will there be a spirit or consciousness (or something) that lives on after you die, or not? If so, what will it be like? Do Heaven or Hell exist? What about Purgatory? If you are going to be resurrected after the Moshiach (Messiah) comes, what does your spirit do in the time between death and the world-to-come?

Some people think they will be reincarnated as animals, others think they will be reincarnated as people. Some believe you get a trip straight to either Heaven or Hell, and some think there is an intermediate place, called Purgatory or something else, where at least some people will stop first before heading one way or the other.

Some, such as the ancient Egyptians, believed it was important to entomb dead people with food and other supplies they would need in the afterlife. It is commonly understood that Muslims believe martyrs will get 72 virgins, which I never understood. First, you would need a body to “enjoy” the virgins, and second, once you had sex with them, they wouldn’t be virgins any more, so what is the point?

Of course, there is no way for us to answer these questions while we’re alive. We won’t find out until we die. There are so many diverse opinions, I have often wondered, “What if what happens to you after you die is whatever you believe will happen?” If you believe death is the end of your consciousness, then it is. If you think you’re going to Hell, then you are. If you think you will be reincarnated, that is what happens to you.

So, if you were in charge of creating your own afterlife, what would you want it to be like? Given the choice, what would you want to have happen?

I have a hard time imagining a Heaven where everything is perfect all the time. It seems to me that would get boring after a while. Maybe it’s just a lack of imagination on my part, but I don’t consider it to be a goal toward which I want to strive.

I hope that after I die I will get to stick around at least long enough to attend my funeral and burial. I’m curious to know what people would say about me.

Our chevra kadisha recently spoke about experiences in which people felt the spirit of those who had died were still with them. One woman talked about how she keeps the spirits of her dead loved ones close to her. I have often wondered whether that is fair to the dead people. If we keep them with us, are we delaying them from being free to go on to whatever they are supposed to be doing next? Does it not matter because time isn’t the same after you are dead, and we will be joining them in death relatively soon, anyway?

It is my fond hope that, after I die, God will answer my questions, although I suspect that what I consider to be burning questions now may not matter to me at all once I am dead. Who shot JFK, from where, and how? What would have happened if Gore had won the Presidency instead of Bush? When was the Torah first written down, how much of the stories in it really happened as they were written, and how did that horrible passage about not lying down with a man as one would with a woman get in there? These are some of the things I would like to know.

Once my curiosity is satisfied, however, I’m not really interested in just hanging out and partying. I hope I am able to come back to earth in a new body, and that I’m given a chance to try again. I have made a lot of mistakes in this life, and I expect to make even more. I keep learning as I go, but there is so much more to learn, I know this lifetime will not provide me with all the wisdom I would like to gain.

So, I guess my wish for an afterlife would be this: I would like to stick around the earth for at least a short while, visiting my body, my family, and my friends, and have a chance to attend my funeral and burial. Afterward, I’d like to have at least my burning questions answered. Then, I’d like to have a chance to come back to earth, where I would be allowed to continue to struggle, learn, and grow.

What would you like to have happen to you?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review of Meir Shalev's New Book at TC Jewfolk

Read my review of Meir Shalev's fun new family memoir at Meir Shalev Doesn’t Disappoint With His Latest Book, “My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner” posted at TC Jewfolk.