September 2009 Archives

Why They Ate On Yom Kippur

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In the late 1800's, Judaism was transitioning in America. The religious were more observant than ever, and the "secular" Jews were finding new ways to connect to their faith while shunning religious traditions. One of their methods, popularized around 1880, was to eat during Yom Kippur. Not only did they eat, but they had huge festivals to celebrate the fact that they were eating.

A new article from Tablet Magazine explains the motivations behind such blatant and intentional heresy. "A range of leftists held massive public festivals of eating, dancing, and performance for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur," the article reads, "not only as a way to fight for the their right to party, but to unshackle themselves from the oppressive religious dictates they grew up with."

Moreover, the events were important community bonding opportunities for a wide variety of Jewish groups. The socialists and the anarchists used the meals to discuss matters like God, atheism, and politics, and the Free Thinkers and the Bundists undertook actions specifically designed to solidify their ranks while angering the religious Jews.

Most importantly, though, this institutionalization of Yom Kippur food represents an important trend in Jewish thought. Traditions change. Rituals evolve. Dramatically few religious components have made it through 3,000 years without changing. In fact, it's a uniquely Jewish perspective to allow such evolution. Most branches of Judaism encourage participants to adapt their religion to their modern lives. "Follow the spirit of the law, not the letter." "The past has a vote, but not a veto." "Interpret the ancient tradition in the context of our modern society." Although this particular Yom Kippur innovation has since fallen away, it made sense at the time, and it was a valid way by which one set of Jews chose to connect with their heritage.

Party in the Shul!

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Shalom, shalom! Tonight at Temple Emanuel in San Francisco, the Sway Machinery is presenting a special Rosh Hashanah concert. My dad nearly had a conniption when he heard that the concert is on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, but I explained to him that it's a critical opportunity to unite the young Jewish adults of the Bay Area, at a time when a growing number are increasingly disconnected from the religious establishment.

Look for more on the Sway Machinery after I've seen the show, but the preview on their web site sounds way cool. It's also fun to see who I know at the event, since Bay Area Jews tend to attend large-scale events in huge numebrs to represent their organizations. (When I went to a similar party celebrating Chanukah last year, I saw way many people from Camp Tawonga, Midrasha, and other groups.) By the way, if you're free tonight, open bar at 9 and free show at 10. See you there!

Speaking of Rosh Hashanah, this from Moment Magazine's blog:


Funny of the Day: Legal Advice from the ADL

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The Anti-Defamation League publishes a "Know Your Rights" guide with detailed instructions for how to handle encounters with the police. That's not the funny part. It's handy, and it has dedicated sections for walking down the street, getting pulled over in your car, police knocking at your door with a warrant, and situations like that. It also has a section for airline travel, and that's where it gets more interesting.

The opening is about security searches in airports, and it covers fascinating questions like whether the TSA screeners can force travelers to remove their religious head coverings. So far, so good. And then, the guide arrives at the following question: "What if I've been listed on the government's no-fly list?" It lists all the ways to complain to the government, and then it contains the following line: "If you think there may be some legitimate reason for why you have been placed on a list, you should seek the advice of an attorney." Yes, if you're a terrorist and the government knows about it, you're probably gonna need a good lawyer.

Unrelated Rosh Hashanah funny, from the synagogue's informational e-mail about services: "The Public Health Department believes this will be a special year for influenza." As in, influenza is turning 16, and we're all very happy for her. We hope you'll be able to attend her party...

What a Mensch of a President!

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I love that President Obama made such a nice Rosh Hashanah message. Even if he did pronounce the "Yom" in Yom Kippur like he was tasting something delicious (him and every other American non-Jew outside of New York), it's nice to know that he's thinking of us. I don't even mind that he got political toward the end, because that's his job, and what he's saying makes a lot of sense. (See J Street for more info.)

Most importantly, I like the genuine sense of joy that I see in the President's eyes when he talks about the holiday. I think he actually knows what he's talking about when he discusses the theology, which makes me miss the east coast, and it's nice to be reminded by the guy in charge to forgive people and reassess our lives.

Next steps: Inviting President Obama to our Passover seder... I think he'd particularly enjoy the part where we read aloud about the oppression of the Soviet Jews, and the responsibility of the international community to help them. I can dream, right?

Not Just a Show, but an Experience

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I experienced a slam poetry event tonight, but the word "show" or "performance" doesn't accurately describe it. Rather, I was overtaken by the punch of the entire experience. Not just the people on stage, but the audience and their interaction and the vibrant energy of the room.

The performances themselves were incredible. I saw a wide range of talent, from rappers and beatboxers to poets and a stand-up comedian. The acts were rather raw, which (I was warned in advance) is too intense for some people. But, after growing up as I have in the American Jewish summer camp system, I'm accustomed to such honest exposition (just kidding), and I really enjoyed the show. Not kidding.

But the thing that struck me most about the evening was the audience's total commitment to participation. An embodiment of the "go with the yes" that we talk about in Camp Tawonga's training. Between each act, the host invited up members of the audience for various gross challenges, and everyone was clamoring to participate. Mid-way through the first act, the host even invited audience members up on stage to perform their own poems. Some were better than others, but the important thing was the participation. It totally magified the energy of the event, and changed it from a performance into an actual experiential evening.