Archive for the '8.1.2 10 Days' Category

Glimpsing the House of Tomorrow

From the start of Elul through Shemini Atzeret, we recite Psalm 27. There we read, “One thing I ask of the Lord, only that I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, to frequent God’s Temple” ( Psalm 27:4). On a simple level, when meditating on this we are beseeching God to allow us to return and stay in the Temple. Do any of us pretend to understand what it was like to be in the Temple? What are we really asking for? 

Maybe we are seeking the feeling of home.  

My name is Avi Orlow. Over 20 years ago, I was honored to start as a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) while its beit midrash, or study hall, was still nascent. There, I felt that sense of home described in Psalm 27. I came to YCT with a deep love for the Jewish people, and thanks to my education there, I left it years later with a profound appreciation for what Judaism has to offer humanity. I look back fondly at how after every class we would discuss how we might transmit the experience of YCT’s spiritual environment to the outside world. 

Many of us yearn to create a sense of home in multiple areas of our lives. For me, I have attempted to replicate that feeling of comfort in both my professional and personal spheres. It is not surprising, then, that my professional growth has run parallel to that of my family. The same spring I was ordained by YCT in 2004, I became a new father. I was fortunate enough to have our son’s bris, and then his pidyon haben, at YCT. Soon after these events and my graduation, our growing family packed up our books, the BabyBjörn, and our life in New York as we prepared to take on the bigger world.

Along the way, my career has taken me all over the country. First, I spent four years as a Hillel rabbi at Washington University in St. Louis where we opened our home to students. While I loved working on campus, I moved on when given the chance to impact how thousands of young people every summer understand Jewish camp to be their home away from home. I have spent the last 13 years at Foundation for Jewish Camp where I have traveled the country learning from and with Jewish camps all over North America about how to spread joyous Judaism. During that time, my wife and I have been blessed with three more amazing children.

While I have helped build the home that is my family, I have never forgotten the home I knew at YCT. My connection to YCT has waxed and waned over time, but I have always stayed curious as to the successes and challenges of my fellow alumni in our efforts to bring the goodness of the YCT beit midrash to the world. Many of us started at YCT with little more than a vision for what Open Orthodoxy could mean. In some moments, I haven’t always been sure how much impact our small school has had on the world.

Recent events, however, have made me realize that the home we all built together at YCT is being realized in unforeseen ways across generations.

A few weeks ago, I was picking up some of my children at the Camp Stone bus stop in White Plains, New York, where I live. I was expecting to see the usual neighborhood YCT suspects: Rabbis Jack Nahmod (‘05), Seth Braunstein (‘06), and YCT faculty member Chaim Marder. Our children are all friends from the neighborhood and we send them to the same camp. 

a school bus stopping on a road with its doors open while a line of small children with backpacks walk in a line to get onto the bus

I was surprised, however, when I spotted Rabbi Seth Winberg (‘11), the executive director of Brandeis Hillel, at the stop. It was his daughter Hadas’s first summer at camp so she had flown there. She had assumed, however, that she would know people on the way home, so she came back on the White Plains bus. Rabbi Seth had come in from Boston to pick her up. As we chatted and caught up, the buses rolled up the street. Rabbi Seth found Hadas, and I found my daughter Emunah. I asked Emunah if she knew Hadas. She responded, “Of course I do, Abba! We just sat next to each other on the nine-hour ride home from camp.” What are the odds, I thought to myself!

When we got home, Emunah did not want to talk with us. We were not surprised. She just wanted to talk with her camp friends. She talked with her friend Amollia for over an hour. Later that night, she was having trouble falling asleep. It turns out that when you work in camping as I do, your kids do not get homesick at camp. Rather, they get campsick at home. To calm her down, I asked her to go through a list of her friends. I stopped her when she told me about Amolia Antine from Maryland. Her father, Rabbi Nissin Antine (‘06), from Potomac, was ordained two years after me at YCT. Truly, what a very small world! It was astonishing to me that, without any direction or interference from me, my child had just naturally gravitated toward the children of other YCT rabbis.

When Kalil Gibran’s Prophet is asked about children, he responds:

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Emunah discovered these people on her own. She is her own person, and she is finding friends who share her interests and her values. It is amazing to see the emergence of the next generation of YCT as our children build their own community. 

This time of year, when I get to L’David 27, I reflect on how the world is sometimes a very big and a very scary space. I cannot say that I want to hide from it in the Temple, but there is a part of me that yearns for the comfort and holiness of the beit midrash I knew as a rabbinical student. I know that the YCT rabbis are each doing what we can to share this experience of home from the beit midrash with the larger world. And while I might not be able to gaze upon the beauty of our children’s “house of tomorrow,” I find that even a glimpse is heartwarming, affirming, and worthy of meditation. 

-Reposted from YCT Blog

Tzom Rabin

On November 4th, 1995 at 21:30,  at Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo Accords assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. I pause to remember the man he was and his importance to the Jewish people. In President Bill Clinton’s eulogy for Rabin he wrote, “Yitzhak Rabin lived the history of Israel. Throughout every trial and triumph, the struggle for independence, the wars for survival, the pursuit of peace and all he served on the front lines, this son of David and of Solomon, took up arms to defend Israel’s freedom and lay down his life to secure Israel’s future.” As I look back on the past 26 years since his death I think about how much has changed and how much as stayed the same.

Israel's Yitzhak Rabin assassinated at peace rally - archive, 1995 | Middle  East and North Africa | The Guardian

There are clearly growing generational gaps between the Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and the Gen Zers. We have not even begun to understand the impact of the recent political and environmental shifts let alone the effect of Covid-19 on this next generation.

Just as my father knew exactly where he was when Kennedy was shot, I know exactly where I was when Rabin was shot. And for our four children Rabin will be as distant as Kennedy is to me. Despite the distance of time, I hope that our children learn from Rabin that contributing to the world as a responsible citizen does not happen despite their Jewish identity, but actually can be lived out more fully through their Jewish identity. Rabin’s assassination teaches us how violence is senseless. And I want Rabin’s memory to be for what he did and tried to do, not what was done to him.

I was thinking about this yesterday in trying help my children understand the significance of Tzom Gedalia.  Gedalia was the governor of Yehudah. His assassination by a fellow Jew ended Jewish autonomy following the destruction of the First Temple.  Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” When will we learn?

Getting Uploaded to the Cloud: Rethinking the Media of Yom Kippur

Before Marshall McLuhan  popularized the idea in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Aan educator Angus MacLean coined the phrase “The method is the message.” For McLuhan it morphed into the idea that “The medium is the message.” McLuhan uses the term ‘message’ to signify content and character. The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped. And the character of the medium is another message which can be easily overlooked. McLuhan says “Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled “the scale and form of human association and action.” It means that the nature of a medium (the channel through which a message is transmitted) is more important than the meaning or content of the message.

I was thinking about this last year on Yom Kippur during a walk with Yishama right before Neilah. My 12 year old and I needed to stretch our legs before the last service so we walked around the block from the synagogue. As we were headed back into the synagogue some said, “Gmar Chatima Tova“. Yishama asked me what that means. First I translated it for them- that the other person was wishing that we ” End with a Good Seal”. He looked at he if I was crazy so I launch into explain the Rabbi Kruspedai’s three books.

There in turn made me think of a Gemara in Rosh Hashanah where we learn:

Rabbi Kruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the in between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed definitively in the Book of Life; the thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed definitively in the Book of Death; the doom of the people in between is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Death (Rosh Hashanah 16b)

So we say on Rosh Hashana we should be inscribed in the Book of Life and on Yom Kippur we should be sealed in the Book of Life. Again Yishama looked at he if I was crazy. He understood is a nice salutation, but it was lost to him.

If McLuhan and MacLean are right, what is the meaning of the media/method of a Book of Life? What might this mean for a child of the 21st Century? I turned to him and said, “On Rosh Hashana we saved to God’s desktop and on Yom Kippur we should be uploaded to the Cloud.” This made sense to Yishama and had meaning.

cloud computing platform, cloud server hosting, data infrastructure, dedicated cloud hosting, virtual cloud server icon

If the media is the message, a book might not continue to work for his generation. It is uplifting to know that being “saved” does work. It also makes me rethink all of the metaphors we use for God. To that ends, on this Yom Kippur I hope that we are all blessed to be uploaded to the Server up on high.

Return and Be Found: Thoughts on Shabbat Shuva

As we journey from the Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur we stop along the way at Shabbat Shuva. During these Ten Days of Awe we are asked to contemplate Teshuva. On this special Shabbat we might even have some time to contemplate what would it take for us to return. What is special about this time of year. What is special about Shabbat during this time of Teshuva? We learn in the Talmud:

As it is taught in a baraita: All are judged on Rosh HaShana, and their sentence is sealed on Yom Kippur; this is the statement of Rabbi Meir. (Rosh HaShana 16a)

It was reported about the same Rabbi Meir about his teacher Aḥer, Elisha Ben Abuya ,who was an apostate. There we learn:

The Sages taught: There was once an incident involving Aḥer, who was riding on a horse on Shabbat, and Rabbi Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah from him. After a while, Aḥer said to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already estimated and measured according to the steps of my horse that the Shabbat boundary ends here,and you may therefore venture no further. Rabbi Meir said to him: You, too, return to the correct path. He said to him: But have I not already told you that I have already heard behind the dividing curtain: “Return, rebellious children,” apart from Aḥer? ( Chagigah 15a )

It is possible that the exception of Aḥer not being able to return is there to prove the rule that the rest of us are actually invited to return. It is also possible that the Shabbat in reference in the Gemara in Chagigah was Shabbat Shuva. It is possible that for Rabbi Meir on this Shabbat between  Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, even Aḥer’s sentence was not sealed.

As we read in this Haftarah from this week:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God; for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take with you words, and return to the Lord; say to God: ‘Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods; for in You the fatherless finds mercy.'( Hosea 14:2-4)

In this holy period of the Ten Days God and humanity are both asked to be vulnerable and accessible. On Shabbat we achieve deeper level of having time to actually be available. This is a special Shabbat during which we are all invited back.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Hassidic stories.  The story goes that a Rebbe is walking and sees a little boy standing by a wall crying. The Rebbe asks the boy why he is crying. The boy replies that he was playing Hide and Seek with his friends and he thinks that his friends forgot about him. At this point the Rebbe starts crying and the boys asks him why the Rebbe is crying. The Rebbe responds, ” Now I understand how God feels “.

Image result for hide and seek

It seems for that on Shabbat Shuva we are invited to end the game of Hide and Seek. Humanity and God allow each other to return and be found.

Unforgiven: Preparing Myself for Yom Kippur

Yesterday I was walking from Grand Central to work listening to Pandora. Seeing that we are in the 10 Days of Repentance  between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur it seemed particularly timely hearing Iron Horse‘s  bluegrass cover of Metalicca’s Unforgiven. Here is a sweat live recording that is worth listening to:

 

The song deals with a person’s lifelong struggle against the forces that try to subjugate him. He is dubbed ” Unforgiven” because he has not actualized his full potential. The day of Yom Kippur itself atones for our sins between us and God. We clearly use it as an occasion to heal the wounds of sins between us and other people. Listening to this song, I pause to reflect on the possibility that I need to spend some time atoning for the sins between me and myself. As we learn in the song ” that old man here is me”.  Each of us are simultaneously the protagonist and antagonist in our own personal narratives. Have we actualized our full potential? The good news is that the story is not yet over. We can still decide where it goes from here. As we prepare for Yom Kippur, how can we forgive ourselves for the past and work harder to be the person we want to be in the future?

Möbius Torah: The Media and Message of Torah and Teshuva

Recently my dear friend Shalom Orzach was in touch because he wanted explore making another contemporary daf of Talmud. Together we had made one exploring Leah Goldberg’s Pine and the Landscape of Israel  and it was a lot of fun. Despite being very busy I was up for the challenge. It seemed like a great way of preparing for the High Holidays. Pretty quickly we started batting back and forth different texts that we might want to play with in the project. You really have to love Google Docs. Out of this process emerged two interested strands dealing with Teshuva and the question as to where or when is the beginning of our story.

In general this project was in pursuit of putting modern and relevant content in the standard form of the Vilna Daf.

Image result for daf talmud

In general it is an amazing way to portray a conversation over time, but seeing the themes involved I thought we might push ourselves.

Marshall McLuhan once coined  the phrase “The medium is the message“. What would it take for us to find a way to ensure that the form of a medium would embed itself in any message it would transmit? This inspired our creation of Where To Begin: Unending Learning for the 10 Days of Repentance  (Möbius Torah 1.0). To make a Möbius Torah please:

  1. Print this page our on Ledger (11×17) sized paper. This will ensure it is big enough to read.
  2. Cut out the table on the sheet.
  3. Fold along the dotted line with the writing facing outwards.
  4. Bend Paper  into a circular shaped cuff.
  5. Tape the ends to create a möbius strip as in this picture.Image result for mobius strip
  6. As you learn it turn it and turn it again because there is no beginning and no end to learning Torah.
  7. Alternatively you can just learn the text without the arts and crafts project, but that would not be as much fun.

With Möbius Torah 1.0 we hope to create a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message the Torah is perceived. Please print this out and enjoy. It has been a pleasure playing with Shalom in the bringing you this Torah. As always I would love your input and ideas for other ways to make revelation relevant, engaging,  and more accessible. So please do be in touch.

Gmar Chatima Tova

Ruthless Interrogation: Ta-Nehisi Coates, the High Holidays, and the Making of a Mensch

Recently I had the joy of reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is written as a letter to his 14-year-old son about the black male experience in America today. Coates puts forward a disturbing and convincing characterization of our country’s past and ongoing violence against black men. While Coates’s depiction is bleak and not one filled with hope, his profound ability for personal reflection itself is uplifting and inspiring. I have no doubt that I will reflect on this book and my own issues around white privilege for years to come, but seeing that we are in the middle of the High Holidays and about to enter into Shabbat Shuvah, it seemed both timely and timeless to share one of Coates’s reflections now.

Coates recalls that when he was his son’s age and got in trouble his mother would give him writing assignments. About this Coates writes:

Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing- myself. Here was the lesson: I was not an innocent. My impulses were not filled with unfailing virtue. And feeling that I was as human as anyone, this must be true for other humans. If I was not innocent, then they were not innocent. Could this mix of motivation also affect the stories they tell? The cities they built? The country they claimed as given to them by God? ( Between the World and Me p.30)

His even-handed view of his own limited humanity opens a whole vista to understanding the flawed dream of America. Despite all of our differences, we are all the same flawed creatures. This inspires me to look deep inside at my own limitations in preparation for Yom Kippur.

This in turn made me think of a Gemara in Rosh Hashanah where we learn:

Rabbi Kruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the in between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed definitively in the book of life; the thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed definitively in the book of death; the doom of the people in between is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death (Rosh Hashanah 16b)

Like Coates’s story from his adolescence, in this time of year we are all in the middle of our own writing assignments. Which book will be inscribed in?

Seeing that today is Global Character Day, I wanted to draw your attention to Tiffany Shlain‘s new movie the Making of a Mensch, which I had the honor of helping with and came was release today. Inspired by Coates, this Gemara, and this movie I suggest we all experiment with a Mussar practice of regularly keeping a journal so you can all “ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing” ourselves. In the process we will create new habits ensuring that we will inscribed in the right book. Gmar Chatima Tova.

-For more resources on Mussar check our this new page: Accessible Wisdom

-Check out my friend Jonah Canner’s Yom Kippur Journal Practise


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