Inspired by Stan, our congregation's 83-year-old bar mitzvah boy, I’m thinking that I may not wait until I turn 83 to recreate some part of my entry into adulthood, according to Jewish tradition, on an upcoming Friday night.
Judaism was so unfamiliar to my son that he was wary of my Hanukkah gift. I felt as though, at such a young age, he was choosing to shun my religion, to identify with Christianity. Of course, if he chooses to identify with either religion later in life, that decision will be his own – but for now, I need to at least give Judaism a fighting chance.
In 2010, I watched two dynamic Argentine cantors, Gaston Bogomolni and Ari Litvak, create an incredible Shabbat evening service called “Davenin’ La Vida Loca,” which translates loosely as “Praying the Crazy Life.” Filled with music in the Argentinean style of Friday night worship, together with compositions from Latin American composers, the worship was so well received that Bogomolni and Litvak were commissioned to create a series of Latin American anthologies. The first one, Ruach Hadarom, Anthology of Congregational Melodies from Latin America, Volume I: Shabbat, will be available soon, with anthologies for the High Holidays, festivals, and weddings to follow.
I ask you, is this a sheyn punim (a pretty face)? I’ve been dying to say those words for the past four years, ever since I came to China to work as a teacher of oral English at Nanyang Normal University.
In the midst of the water crisis here in Flint, MI, Shapiro’s Delicatessen of Indianapolis – purveyors of exceptional Jewish foods since 1905 – traveled 300 miles to deliver a “We stand with you” meal to Flint’s Jewish community on the last Shabbat in January.
I’ve often been taught that as the people of Israel, named after our forefather, we are meant to struggle with God. It just never occurred to me that could include the struggle to remain upright.
Most of us are looking for simple ways to re-center ourselves and our lives, and ReformJudaism.org's new weekly podcast is designed to help you do just that.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, interrupts the description of the building of the Tabernacle with a long narrative section that includes the story of the Golden Calf, the smashing of the Ten Commandments, the carving of the second set of tablets, and — although perhaps less famously — the most chutzpadik (impertinent) question in the whole Torah.
The question comes after Moses has negotiated twice with God on behalf of the Israelites: first, with moderate success, when he asks God to forgive the people for the sin of the idolatrous Golden Calf; and second, when he successfully convinces God to lead the Israelites along the next stage of their journey.
But Moses' next negotiation with God is not on behalf of the Israelites, but for himself. Out of the blue, it seems, just as God has acceded to his second request, Moses speaks up again. "Oh, let me behold Your Presence!" he says to God (Exodus 33:18).
"I hope you are excited for the birds!" our guide said to us.
We had just arrived in Tanzania for a safari, and suddenly, I was concerned that we had been assigned to the wrong jeep. "Oh, we're not birdwatchers," I explained. "We came for the regular safari — lions, leopards, rhinos — that sort of thing." I was looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some of the rarest and most exotic animals on the planet. Leopards, for example, are famously difficult to spot, and the black rhino is so endangered that there are thought to be only about 5,000 left on the planet.
"But we like birds, too," my husband assured the guide. "We're excited to see them." The guide nodded in approval. "Some people tell me, 'Nicholas, we came all this way for the rhinos and leopards! Don't waste our time with all these birds!' "
The next day I got my first glimpse at why people might be excited for the winged creatures when Nicholas showed us what was, perhaps, the most beautiful bird I've ever seen up close. The feathers on its back were the colors of a peacock, iridescent blue and teal and navy. It was tiny — the size of a small songbird with a belly like a robin, a rich orangey-red, and bright white eyes against a black head. "He's beautiful," I said. "Suberb starling!" Nicholas instructed, while I admired the colors. "Superb" really was the right word. I felt lucky that we had caught a glimpse at such a stunning, unusual being.
"A very common bird!" Nicholas exclaimed. "We will see many of them!"
And so we did. In addition to a few gorgeous leopards, one spectacular rhino walking in the distance, and a week's worth of other exotic wildlife, we saw superb starlings every day: on shrubs, on dead tree stumps, flying by our jeep, walking around every picnic area, even perched outside every bathroom that we stopped at. It was one of the most delightful surprises of the safari: I never tired of them: every single time, those birds took my breath away. Everywhere we went, their presence ensured that there was beauty.
Beautiful, colorful, and rare things are the subject of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Vayak'heil, which continues the Book of Exodus' long description of the building of the Tabernacle. The Israelites are asked to bring their most valuable belongings: precious metals, expensively dyed colorful thread, spices and oils, gemstones of every variety, even dolphin skins (Exodus 35:5-9). With all of these materials, the community's craftsmen will make the most precious of all physical spaces: a place where God will dwell in the people's midst.