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A tiny teaching about healing prayer

A week or two ago, my Talmud teacher shared with me a little teaching about praying for health and names of God. A few people have asked me to write it down for them, so I figured I'd put it here.

When his sister Miriam is stricken with tzara'at, Moses prays a short but effective one-line healing prayer: אל נא רפא נא לה, el na, refa na la -- "please, God, heal her." This prayer has eleven letters. What can we learn from this? That it is meant to point us toward the eleven-letter name of God, the name God gives to Moses at the burning bush: אהיה אשר אהיה, ehyeh asher ehyeh, "I will be who I will be."

When we use this short prayer to pray for healing, we implicitly call upon God Who is ever-changing. We call upon the God who is continually becoming, to heal and strengthen our loved one who needs transformation and change.

If anyone in your life is in need of healing, I wish them a speedy recovery, and wish you comfort as you walk alongside them.

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Social justice in the holiday season

I tend to focus here on liturgical, textual, and spiritual matters, not social justice ones. But a recent post at Radical Torah reminds me that our liturgical lives and our political lives are necessarily intertwined. Check out Pesach and Globalization, a post by David Seidenberg that explores traditional seder prayers through the lens of Hasidic commentary Tsuf Amarim, yielding insights about poverty and justice. "Exile came," that text tells us, "because the owning class eliminated charity in order to make themselves richer..." This is good pre-Passover consciousness-raising stuff, and it makes me want to highlight some of the smart social justice posts in my aggregator.

The rabbis over at Virtual Talmud are posting this week about immigration reform. All of them have interesting things to say, though my favorite among their posts comes from Rabbi Joshua Waxman. His post is called The Stranger In Our Midst, and he writes:

In our hearts, Jews are immigrants. The very name "Hebrews," Ivri'im, comes from the word 'to cross over'; Hebrews are boundary crossers... [We must] deal humanely with a class of workers whose plight is created in part by globalization, our existing immigration policies, and our insatiable demand for cheap goods and services. In other words, we can heed the Jewish experience of exile and the injunction not to oppress.

Continue reading "Social justice in the holiday season" »

This week's portion: unleavened sacrifice

Parashat Vayikra: a Torah portion that strikes fear into the hearts of b'nai mitzvah students and new rabbinic interns, faced with the challenge of making the sacrificial system meaningful to a congregation of contemporary Jews. In this week's post at Radical Torah, I examine part of this week's Torah portion, looking first at the meaning of the word we usually translate as "sacrifice," and then exploring the mincha (grain-offering) and its resonance with today's Passover practices:

One of my favorite moments in our Passover seder comes early, when we take turns going around the table to read stanzas of Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb's poem "Spring Cleaning Ritual on the Eve of the Full Moon of Nisan." The poem describes the process of cleaning the hametz, the leaven, in our houses and burning it -- and, alongside, the process of cleaning out the hametz in our hearts and casting that, too, to the flames. In days of old no leavened bread could be burned as an offering to God; in modern times our leaven is precisely what we burn. What does the shift teach us?

For my answer to that question, read my d'var, Unleavened offerings of our hearts. Enjoy!

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Hiding and Seeking


My friend Nate has an encyclopedic knowledge of movies, and his tastes are consistently interesting. Even on the rare occasions when I don't like one of his favorites, I always find his choices thought-provoking. So when he recommended that I see Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust, I was inclined to listen. (Okay, so he gave it to me a while ago and I just tonight got around to watching it, but I knew it would be good when I finally watched it, and sure enough, it was.)

An Orthodox Jew and child of Polish Holocaust survivors, [Menachem] Daum has spent many years interviewing camp survivors about the impact of the Nazi "final solution" on Jewish religious faith. Daum worries his two sons' inwardly-focused version of Orthodoxy may be leading them into intolerance toward the world outside the confines of the yeshiva. He has similar misgivings over what he sees as growing insularity in Orthodox Judaism, both in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Daum grew up and reared his sons, and in Israel, where his sons have moved to immerse themselves in Talmudic studies.

So it's no laughing matter when Daum's wife, Rifka, comes home one night from a lecture with a tape of a rabbi openly preaching "hatred" of the non-Jewish world. ...[H]e flies to Israel, the audio tape in hand, to discuss the matter with his sons, who have adopted a strict Orthodox Judaism centered on study of the Torah and other sacred Jewish writings. Thus begins the difficult and revelatory journey documented by the Emmy® nominated filmmaking team of Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky, in "Hiding and Seeking."

(That's from the film synopsis at PBS.) What does Daum do when his sons admit that the teachings on the tape, while a little strident for their tastes, basically make sense to them? He takes his sons, and his wife, on a journey to Poland to find the "righteous Gentiles" responsible for their family's survival of the Shoah. And he brings a documentary film crew along for the ride.

Continue reading "Hiding and Seeking" »

Ecumenical justice work

Some weeks ago the editors of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, a progressive and social-justice-oriented Catholic blog, asked me to participate in their guest-blogging program. (The first guest-blogger was Jo Guildi from CrossLeft, who wrote The Hungry Multitude in the Age of Mass Culture; my post is the second in their monthly guest-blogging series.) They asked me to write about how Christians and Jews have worked together to advance the cause of social justice, and how we can more effectively work together in future.

My response to their query is now online: The Ecumenical Call to Social Justice Work. In it I honor the historic collaboration of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, explore who's carrying on their legacy in today's world, and offer some thoughts on where we need to go from here. Here's a tiny taste:

Those of us who care about social justice care about it deeply, but there aren't nearly enough of us to achieve the work that needs to be done. I'd like to see more people involved in this important work -- not just those of us on the liberal fringes of our traditions, but everyone who identifies themselves as a Christian or a Jew. How can we bring this dream to fruition? I think one answer lies in our scriptures...

My thanks to the SRS editors for including me! You can read my guest post here.

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Borei pri hagafen

Immediately after I posted my haggadah for Pesach, my mother came for a visit, so I've been mostly offline for several days. I trust nobody really minds that blogging has been light, but even so, I'm looking forward to returning to writing & posting this week.

For some months now I've been collecting links, quotes, and ideas toward an eventual meaty post (pardon the pun) about kashrut. That post is not forthcoming today. Instead, since everyone knows how many words a picture is worth, I offer the following:

Mom and I snapped the picture at the local supermarket on Friday afternoon, just after we selected a bottle of wine to bring to the rabbi's house for Shabbat dinner. Hey, at least the two signs aren't pointing to the same bottle... :-)

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Haggadah for Pesach!

2020 Edited to add: you can always find the most up-to-date version of the VR Haggadah by going to velveteenrabbi.com and clicking through to the haggadah page.

"If we wait until we feel truly ready, we may never act at all." Those words appear in my haggadah for Pesach, in the paragraph preceding the blessing and eating of matzah. Every year they give me a happy little shiver. They're a useful call to action, a safeguard against letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This year, they're nudging me into releasing my haggadah today.

Passover is my favorite holiday, bar none, and the process of creating my own haggadah is a large part of the reason why. Good liturgy is like good poetry; it requires good words and good intent, and when it works it's more than the sum of its parts. And there's no story like the Passover story: rich, powerful, endlesssly resonant. I love working on my haggadah, and then I love leading a seder with it, the words I've collected and crafted coming to life in the mouths of my friends and family.

Because I have so much fun with this thing, it's hard to declare it done for the year. I'd like to add more sheet music. I'd like to redo the whole thing in NisusWriter (I've been using Word, which requires me to type Hebrew laboriously left-to-right) so I can more easily edit the Hebrew text. But Pesach is coming up, and I want folks to have plenty of time to download and read the haggadah before deciding whether or not to use it. And, as my own text reminds me, if I wait until I feel fully ready...

2020 Edited to add: you can always find the most up-to-date version of the VR Haggadah by going to velveteenrabbi.com and clicking through to the haggadah page.

Praise for earlier versions of the haggadah:

"It is a beautiful haggadah. Worth reading and studying and using," said Rick of Jewish Current Issues.

My friend Lorelei reported, "it's the first time I've ever heard anyone ask, 'When do we get to read more? After we eat?'"

And my friend Sandy of Number Five Looks Just Like You said the haggadah is "incredibly well-honed and interesting and real."

My endless thanks go to everyone who's helped with this project, especially the six illustrators who donated original artwork to this year's edition. Download, read, enjoy, share it far and wide. And if you have reactions, responses, questions -- if you use the haggadah, or if it inspires you to create your own -- let me know!


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This week's portion: perceiving God

This week's Torah portion is a double-wide: Vayekhel-Pekudei, the end of the book of Exodus. At the very end of the portion, and the end of the book, we get a description of the Presence of God resting over the Mishkan, a cloud by day and fire by night.

In this week's d'var at Radical Torah, I focus on that cloud -- how it enabled the ancient Israelites to be aware of the presence of God, and how its absence shapes our spiritual lives:

Today we, too, strive to create our lives so that the Source of All that Is will dwell among us. But we don't have the luxury of seeing God's presence. We have no cloud of smoke or nightly fire. Like our ancestors -- freed from lives of constriction into lives of wide-open possibility -- as we mature we too are continually freed into the occasionally terrifying freefall of our spiritual lives. Our ancestors had to broaden their understanding of God from something they could touch (the Golden Calf) to something they could sense but not directly encounter (the cloud over the Mishkan). We are called to broaden that understanding even further: from something intangible but perceptible to something omnipresent but beyond our ken. We are asked to free ourselves even from dependence on physical manifestations of holy Presence.

Read the whole thing here: Perceiving God. Enjoy!

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An opening in the body

Some of you may already read quarrtsiluni, the edited group blog / literary journal / "experiment in online literary and artistic collaboration" to which I occasionally contribute work. (I posted about it last when the theme was finding home.)

I've just accepted a stint as guest editor, along with an anonymous blogging friend. Our theme is "an opening in the body" -- interpret that however you wish. (Physical bodies, orifices both natural and artificial, or corporate bodies, or communal bodies, the body of the church, a body of work, any kind of body that can open in any kind of way...)

Here are the submission guidelines, reprinted from the blog's sidebar:

Contributions of non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, reviews, or interviews (with a maximum word count of 750) are welcome, as are photographs or digitized artwork. Submissions should not have been previously published (or blogged) elsewhere. All text submissions should be in Word or RTF format sent as an attachment to your e-mail. Potential contributors should contact the Managing Editor, K., for more information at qarrtsiluni at gmail dot com.

Meditate on "an opening in the body," see what arises, and send us what you've got. I look forward to reading your work!

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In sickness and in health

My last on-call shift at the hospital was ten days ago, and on the eve of that shift I was diagnosed with a minor infection. No big deal; I got myself some antibiotics and assumed that was the end of it. I wasn't contagious, so I figured I could still live up to my responsibilities as hospital chaplain for the night. As I drove the hour to Albany, I was aware of some discomfort. I told myself it would be good for me, would help me respond with full compassion to the patients I was there to serve. Being sick, I thought, could make me a particularly good chaplain.

I couldn't have been more wrong. By the time I got to the hospital, I was fighting off panic: ministering to others seemed impossible in the face of my own situation. I had a good cry in the bathroom when I got there, and resolved to pull myself together. I made my early rounds, and followed up on one request for a chaplain's visit. But by early evening the hospital's long halls stretched into infinity as I shuffled slowly from one wing to another. I spent most of that evening in the pastoral care office, drinking water and trying not to fall apart.

I prayed fervently for a quiet night. "Please, God, don't give me anything I can't handle," I said, over and over, as I made my way to U511, the little room where the on-call chaplain sleeps (if sleep is in the cards). My prayers were answered; the pager didn't beep, and there were no mid-night codes to roust me from bed. Still I couldn't really rest. I dozed, fretful, waking every hour to see if it were morning yet. When my supervisor arrived just before 7am for our meeting, he took one look at me and sent me home.

Continue reading "In sickness and in health" »

This week's portion: on Shabbat rest

In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we're given a set of injunctions about observing Shabbat. "You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin..."

In this week's post at Radical Torah, I use that passage as a jumping-off point for an exploration of how we, as liberal Jews, might choose to think about Shabbat... and to interact on our own terms with traditional Shabbat halakha:

Prizing work above all else is a kind of hubris. It asserts that our goals and achievements, our flow charts and to-do lists, are more important than relationships (either with others or with God). One who cares only for work may not be literally put to death, but she is certainly deadened. This text may also have literal resonance -- someone who works all the time may be shortening her or his lifetime with stress -- but over and above that literal meaning, it speaks to me on a symbolic level. Work all you want the rest of the week, Ki Tisa tells me, but take time away from worldly concerns to breathe, relax, sing, learn, connect with community and with God. This is the way to be the sanctified people God wants us to be.

Read the whole post here: A Mishkan in time.

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Purim homily

Chag Purim sameach -- a joyous festival of Purim to you! In my CPE class we take turns offering the "opening," which is sometimes prayer and sometimes a meditation or homily, drawn from our own religious traditions. I think of it both as a way of setting our collective kavvanah (intention) for the day and a way of educating one another about our respective traditions.

Last time I had the opening I led us in the birchot ha-shachar, a series of blessings from the Jewish morning liturgy, and in the asher yatzar blessing (for the body) and the elohai neshama blessing (for the soul). I'm "on" again today, and this time I'm offering a meditation -- a (roughly) thousand-word d'var on Purim, its history and celebration, and how it can speak to us as chaplains in the work that we do. I share it here, for you as well.

Continue reading "Purim homily" »

An artful haggadah

It's been two years since I last released a version of the Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach; this year a new edition will arrive on the scene, definitely by the end of the month and hopefully sooner.

I'm really excited about it. Some of the revisions and additions -- readings, prayers, poems, and songs -- were inspired by my experience last spring celebrating Pesach at Elat Chayyim; some have been accumulating in my "add to haggadah" folder over the last couple of years; and some are brand-new, created just for this haggadah.

Perhaps the most exciting change, and the most immediately-visible one, is that this year several wonderful artists donated their time and their work to beautify the haggadah's pages. With their help, the physical artifact of the haggadah is becoming as pleasing to the eye as its words are to the mind and heart. Here's brief introduction to each of the artists who contributed work:

Beth Budwig is a visual artist who works in a variety of media, and also does web design; a few years ago she did a large-scale commissioned painting for Inkberry, the arts nonprofit I co-founded.

Emily Cooper is a science illustrator with a light hand, an eye for detail, and a delightful sense of whimsy. Read about her here.

Howard Cruse is a comix artist and graphic novelist, best known for Stuck Rubber Baby, whose unmistakeable style works equally well for serious subjects and for comic hijinks. Read about him here -- or check out his blog, where he recently made a fascinating post showing how he created the illustration he made for the haggadah.

Allan Hollander and Alison Kent often post their illustrations to their joint blog, Feathers of Hope.

Yaron Livay is an Israeli-born printmaker whose prints exemplify the dialectical tension between solidity and joyfulness that Judaism holds so dear. Read about him here.

I'm at a loss to express my gratitude to these wonderful people for their kind and generous donation of artwork for this haggadah. If you download the haggadah and you like what you see, please tell them so; and please browse their sites, spread the word, and buy their work!

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New Orleans Purim

The moon is waxing; Purim will be upon us soon, beginning on Monday evening when the sun goes down. In honor of the coming festival, I want to point folks toward an essay that offers a fairly unique perspective on Purim: the view from New Orleans.

Though Mardi Gras, like Halloween, has become a thoroughly American holiday, I like to think of it as Catholic Purim, especially this year, when the holiday falls between the full moon of Tu B'shevat-- the Jewish New Year for Trees--and the full moon of Purim. Both Purim and Mardi Gras involve masking, both celebrate turning the world upside down, both encourage inebriation: The two holidays are in many ways soulmates.

That's from Mardi Purim, an essay by Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus (among many other titles) who blogs at talkingdream.

As you might imagine, Purim in New Orleans is like nothing else. Rabbi David Bockman used to lead a Purim service at the old Chevra Tehillim synagogue, which included a stuffed gorilla on a string, flashing lights and sirens, and at appropriate moments, a traditional New Orleans marching band, complete with caps and uniforms and doubloons marked "Krewe of Tzedekah." (A krewe is a Mardi Gras marching club, and tzedakah is Hebrew for charity; there's that cultural gumbo again...)

The essay was written, he says, a few years ago -- 2002, maybe. That its provenance is pre-Katrina is evident; I imagine if he were writing the essay today he would mention what changes the events of last fall have wrought. Still, the piece doesn't feel dated. Mardi Gras happened this year in New Orleans despite the ravages of the hurricane -- I imagine Purim will be celebrated there, too. Anyway, the essay is good stuff; read it here.

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Progressive Faith Blog Con Carnival!

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006 Carnival

It's been a fantastic week in the progressive religious blogosphere, and we've got a great carnival for you today: reflections on worship, practice, religious visibility, social justice, politics, poetry, and more. Here's a sampling of what folks in our extended community have been saying.

(A quick note on how this carnival post came together. Only a couple of people sent me links to posts, so I spent some time reading my aggregator and browsing the Progressive Faith Blog Con blogroll. I wound up choosing eighteen bloggers to highlight this week. In Jewish tradition, the number eighteen represents life; I wish long and happy life to all who read this! And if you'd like to be featured next time, don't forget to email a link to the carnival host...)


Nacho of Woodmoor Village considers watching the Oscars because of Jon Stewart.

Will of Think Buddha offers reviews of Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism and Sam Harris's The End of Faith, "two diametrically opposed surveys of religion, morality and history."

The Feminarian reflects on the nature of Christian worship. "Two concepts in particular 'fence' Christian worship for me," she writes. "[I]t must be Trinitarian, and it must be about, to, and for God."

Reverend Mommy posts about wearing a cross: the whens, wheres, and hows.

This is the first full week of Lent for those in Christian traditions, and that manifested in several blog posts. Even though his post went live a couple of days before this week, I can't resist linking to Real Live Preacher's Ash Wednesday post, which describes how everyone in his church administered ashes to one another (and how his kids clowned around when the service was through). Beautiful and funny and wry.

On a related note, Chris of Even the Devils Believe posts his Homily for the First Sunday in Lent, which is beautiful. He has some powerful things to say about what to give up, and what not to give up, in order to open oneself to the radical teachings of the season.

And Beth of The Cassandra Pages posts about finding hot cross buns in Montreal, and the meaning of Ash Wednesday for her.

Poor Mad Peter of Another Country posts about feeding the hungry, and about need, in Of Hunger. Of Loss. And he continues to explore themes of worship experience, Biblical literalism, and liberal theology in in Strugglng, Part 2.  

Dave at Via Negativa explores litter, found objects, and the natural world in Why I Love Trash. Don't miss the photos that illustrate the post -- I especially like the one of the little toy pony.

Rev. Scott of Boy in the Bands explores Helping small non-Christian congregations with some hymnal suggestions.

The folks at No More Apples explore the increasingly common practice of claiming that God backs one politician or another in Speaking For God.

Andrew of Semitism.net celebrates the spread of progressive values with Jewish Voice for Peace Goes National. You'll find here his usual smart and cogent analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian situation, as well as excitement about the possibility of a new chapter of JVP...in my neighborhood!

Junaid Afeef at An American Muslim Journal shares A Muslim Layer's Defense of Publishing the Muhammad Cartoons, which was also published at Beliefnet:

I am a Muslim. As a Muslim I am offended, disturbed and dismayed by the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and subsequently in numerous European publications. I am also offended by the whole brouhaha that erupted after the cartoons’ publication... Despite my personal feelings about the cartoons, I am helping Acton Gorton, the young man who reprinted some of these same cartoons in the Daily Illini, a newspaper that serves the University of Illinois community in Champaign, Illinois. I am Acton’s attorney...

On a semi-related note, Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam posted recently (not quite within the last week, but it's a great post, so I'm happy to include it) about the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest. "Why can’t we talk about it like we talk about any other subject that is important to us? Why can’t we poke fun at the anti-Semites using their own graphic weapons (big noses, horns, the works)? And most of all, why can’t we poke fun at ourselves as Jews have done for millenia?"

And over at Radical Torah, Daniel Burstyn's post Mitzrayim explores how modern liberal Jews can find resonance in the current string of Torah portions despite their challenging subject matter:

It might seem to us that they don't deal with anything having to do with us today, without a sacrificial cult. Most of us don't really pray for the restoration of that cult. It seems primitive, messy. Nevertheless, these parashot are Torah, so we must learn from them, we must find in them points to cling to, stepping stones, just one small outcropping that we can then stretch and shape, until we have found our way inside them and taken ownership. We must examine them until we have found something within them that speaks to us.

The folks at Healing Hagar have posted By the Rivers of Babylon, the latest installment in a series of essays about "recovering from fundamentalism."

Tiel Aisha Ansari of Knocking from Inside posts a poem she describes as "thoughts on the sufficiency of inspiration."

And of course, here at Velveteen Rabbi, I posted a call for panel ideas. If you have thoughts about what we should discuss at the Progressive Faith Blog Con, hop over to that post and let me know!


That's this week's Progressive Faith Blog Con Carnival; thanks for reading. Next week's iteration will be hosted over at Blue Texas, so if you've got posts to submit, let the Blue Texans know.

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Seeking panel ideas

I've just volunteered to be in charge of collecting panel ideas for the Progressive Faith Blog Con. We're working on roughing out a schedule for the weekend now; I'm guessing we'll probably have space for four or five 60- or 90-minute panels, and we'd like to ensure as much topical diversity as we can.

We're operating on the unconference model (here's a good definition); though we hope to put together a Saturday night roundtable with featured guests, most of the con will be planned, led, and created by we who attend. We're all bloggers, after all; we all have things to say, and we know the best conversations arise out of dialogue! Here are some of the panel ideas I'm planning to suggest:

  • Is our religious blogosphere open or closed? Is there communication and community across denominational (or faith) lines, or are we circling the wagons and conversing only with our own?

  • Deep ecumenism in the blogosphere: how can we ensure that our connections with one another go beyond blogrolling and into real dialogue? Do we agree that we want to broaden our religious worlds by connecting with bloggers of other traditions, and if so, how can we enact that in reality? How about connecting with bloggers who share our religious labels, but don't share our approach to our traditions?

  • Scripture study: Many of us use our blogs for scripture study and text discussion. How can we learn from and with one another?

  • Getting larger, getting louder: Too often the blogosphere seems dominated by liturgical, theological, and political conservatives. How can we get more progressives blogging, and blogging in a way that makes a difference?

Our aim is to collect as many panel ideas as we can, and then choose a handful of them to use at the con. So my question for you is, what would you like to discuss? What panels would make you want to be there? What sounds fun to you?

Submit panel ideas as comments on this post; or, if you'd prefer, submit them to me via email.  If you know you can't make it, feel free to chime in anyway. And if you think you might be willing to help moderate one of your suggested panels, let us know that too...

On a semi-related note: though the Progressive Faith Blog Con Carnival usually goes live on Sundays, this week's edition -- hosted here -- will go live tomorrow before Shabbat begins. I've been trawling the blogs on the PFBC blogroll for interesting posts, but if you have a post you want to include, email me soon!

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Two interesting Israel blogs

Two interesting Israel-focused blogs recently came to my attention, arising out of progressive Israel-related organizations. Meretz USA -- "a US non-profit organization that supports a genuine peace between the State of Israel and its neighbors (including the Palestinian people) based on a negotiated land-for-peace solution" --  has a new blog. And the New Israel Fund -- "[a] fund dedicated to religious pluralism and civil rights in Israel" -- also has a blog, NIForum.

Both of these blogs tackle current events. The Meretz folks have dedicated a series of posts to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's plan to build a museum of tolerance on what was once a Muslim cemetary. In this post, Lily Rivlin denounces the plan in strong language. "I am a 7th generation Jerusalemite," Rivlin writes. "Jerusalem lives within me. I write to tell you that I am surprised, if not shocked, to learn that the Wiesenthal Center intends to build a Museum for Tolerance at a site that was once an Arab Cemetery..."

And a recent post at the NIF blog offers a firsthand account of the protests against the recent attack at the Church of the Annunciation, ending with the observation that "Against a backdrop of inequality, economic injustice and discrimination, not to mention election fever, incidents such as these will continue [to] serve as painful sources of friction and anger."

Continue reading "Two interesting Israel blogs" »

This week's portion: on holy garments

In this week's Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we read elaborate descriptions of the garments made for Aaron and his sons when they took on the priesthood. In my d'var this week at Radical Torah, I draw connections between the purpose of Aaron's holy vestments and the purpose of the tallitot we wear in worship today:

Without my tallit, I'm more easily distracted in prayer. And if the little sounds and sights of my shul can tug my attention away from the Holy Blessed One, how much more so might the bellowing of yearlings or the thick odor of incense have distracted Aaron? Wearing something special, a consecrated garment or family heirloom tallit, doesn't guarantee perfect kavvanah (focus/mindfulness) -- but it's a good step in that direction. We're human; we're flawed; we forget. Aaron's fancy vestments, so lovingly described in this week's portion, reminded him of what mattered -- just as our tallesim remind us, today.

Read the whole thing here: Holy garments.

Edited to add: If you're looking for excellent commentary on this week's portion, I recommend Parashat Tetzaveh: Jewels and Seeds by alto artist, which is simultaneously a smart d'var Torah and a beautiful essay. I'm also fond of Rabbi Judith Abrams' short piece A Seriously Beautiful Phrase. I'll be using both of those in our Torah discussion at shul this Shabbat...

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A snapshot of the lefty Jewish blogosphere

A while back, I did an email interview for an article about progressive Jewish bloggers, to be published in the UK journal Jewish Socialist. I'm not a socialist, myself, but I'm always happy to talk about blogging -- and it was fun to do an interview with someone I could safely assume was at least as lefty as I am!

Jewish Socialist is a print journal, but selected articles from the current edition are online -- including the one about J-bloggers:

Online but off-message

Dissenting Jews are finding a direct way to broadcast their views without being censored. Clifford Singer reports from the Jewish blogosphere.

The Jewish and Israel Blog Awards announced its winners on 7th February. Despite promising to 'showcase and increase awareness of the community's vast spectrum of bloggers', dissenting, left-wing or even moderately liberal sites were scarce among the nominees. This was perhaps unsurprising, since the awards were sponsored by the Jerusalem Post and the right-wing blog israellycool.com, but some progressive bloggers have taken to their keyboards to challenge the bias and the inclusion of anti-Arab hate sites...

The JIBs are something of a framing device for the article. In the body of the piece, Clifford talks about (and with) several terrific J-bloggers, about their work and their words. Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam is in here; ditto Andrew Schamess of Semitism.net, and of course Daniel Sieradski of Orthodox Anarchist (and Jewschool and Radical Torah.)

When the question of the JIBs arises again toward the end of the piece, Dan has smart things to say about why the awards trend rightward:

Sieradski says the real problem isn't bias in the awards, but in the online Jewish community. He told Jewish Socialist: 'I get riled up because I have a hard time accepting that the Jewish community - which is primarily liberal and progressive - should appear to be so overrepresented by the religious right...'

"Religious right" is a loaded term, but I think he has a point that the J-blogosphere has a right-ish skew (both liturgically and politically). There are more conservative Jewish blogs than there are liberal Jewish blogs; it makes sense that, on the whole, folks vote for sites that share their perspective. (I'm honored to have been nominated in the JIBs' "best religion blog" category the last two years, but I wasn't surpried when I didn't win, for exactly the reason Dan cites.)

I also think the J-blogosphere's liberal/conservative balance is shifting, gradually, but we've got a ways to go before the blogosphere fully reflects the range of Judaisms. That's one of the reasons I'm pleased to see this article; it's written for a progressive audience, and at the end of the piece Clifford urges readers to begin blogging themselves. What better way to celebrate the progressive Jewish blogosphere than to add your voice to our chorus?

Though only one anecdote from our email conversation (about this post) made it in to the article, I'm delighted to be a part of it. It's a nifty piece; read it here. Thanks for the good press, Clifford!

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Prog Faith Blog Con miscellany

Good news; it looks increasingly likely that I will be able to attend the Progressive Faith Blog Con (which I blogged about last week). I'm really looking forward to seeing this idea turn into reality. So expect a handful of PFBC posts from me; now that we have a date and a venue (and I think I can make it), my excitement about the con has ratcheted up a few notches!

We'd like to make the conference free to participants (aside from the costs of room and board). With an eye to that goal, we're trying to raise $630 (the cost of the conference space and the free wifi we'll be making available to bloggers there over the weekend); if we can raise that money, the con can be free to all comers, which I think exemplifies the all-are-welcome, no-bar-to-entry ethos of the blogosphere.

If you'd like to donate toward that worthy cause, ping Thurman and let him know. We haven't jumped through the hoops of setting up a tax-exempt corporation for the con yet; if it's the success we're hoping for, and becomes an annual event (moving around the country; since Thurman and I are both expatriate Texans we're already contemplating holding the second one there in '07), we'll probably incorporate. For now, donations go to Thurman, who's handling the con's finances.

On a related note, there's a roving blog carnival attached to the Progressive Faith Blog Con, called (predictably) the Progressive Faith Blog Con Carnival. (Here's the current edition of the carnival; a list of previous installments is available here.)

I'm this week's host, so I'm collecting links to include in the next edition of the carnival (which usually goes live on Sundays, though my edition will go live on Friday before Shabbat begins). If you have a post you'd like to see included, email me by Thursday (with "carnival post" in the subject header.) Please include the post's title, URL, and a line or two of description; thank you!

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006 Carnival

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