This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, begins in the aftermath of one of the most X-rated acts in the entire Hebrew Bible. An Israelite man, Zimri, has sex in the Holy of Holies with a Midianite princess, Cozbi, before a crowd that was at once both wailingly mournful and shocked. For this, G-d rewards him with a covenant of peace. As for Pinchas’ zealotry–let’s just leave it with the idea that centuries of Jewish sages and thinkers have pondered his act, and his reward for it, a topic for another day. The point is that this reward for zealotry opens this week’s parasha, or weekly Torah portion.
After this incident, a census it taken. Within the context of the census, somewhere in the middle of the portion, we receive the first telling of the story of the daughters of Zelophchad. In summary, the father of the five sisters–Mahlah, Chaglah, Noa, Milcah, and Tirzah–has died. He didn’t participate in the rebellion of Korach, rather, as the girls declare, “He died of his own sin.” Tradition teaches us that it was Zelophchad who was stoned to death for chopping wood on Shabbat, but no matter. For our purposes now, it is only important to know that he is dead. Based on discussions between Moses and G-d so far, women have received no rights of inheritance when they enter the Promised Land. It is this injustice that the five daughters address as they go together, as a unit, to take their case to Moses, the chieftains and the entire congregation.
“Should our father’s name be lost because he has no sons?” they ask. Given no answer to this rhetorical question, they then state their demand in no uncertain terms: “Give us our portion.”
Self-disclosure: My fascination with this story is such that I have written the first draft of a novel about the daughters of Zelophchad. (I know, I know…I’ll get back to it…) Why the fascination? First of all a question for female readers with sisters: Can you imagine agreeing with your sister(s) on anything long enough and fiercely enough to go before 613,000 people and Moses himself to make your case? If one or two sisters are difficult, can you imagine having four sisters?
Just saying, though that isn’t the point either.
Rabbinic tradition endows these five sisters with the traits of wisdom (because they chose to speak at the right time); intelligence (they knew how to craft an persuasive argument that could not be punctured, as least not by G-d, who ultimately agreed with them); and virtuosity (since they married men who were worthy of them).
Obviously, the demand for “our portion,” connects to the historical moment we experienced last night, as we watched the first woman in American history accept the nomination of a major party to become president of the United States. The fight for equal rights for women in politics, the pulpit and the workplace has defined and shaped my adult life and the lives of whole generations of women. Don’t even ask me how annoyed we sometimes become with young women when they take it all for granted. “They have no idea,” we say among ourselves, no idea how far we have come in one hundred years, in forty years or even the last twenty. Or how frustrating to have to fight the same battles, like the right to make choices about our own bodies! How maddening, the misinformed misogynistic hypocrites, who won’t regulate guns or pollution, yet constantly spend their days figuring out how to pick apart a woman’s constitutional right to choose. How infuriating, their assault not only upon our rights, but on our intellect.
In this holy work of literature, named men far outnumber named women. Which makes it all the more striking that six named women appear in this week’s Torah portion: the five daughters of Zelophchad–Machlah, Noa, Milcah, Tirtzah and Chaglah– plus Cozbi. Cozbi, too, had a father named Tzur. The incident of the skewering (literally) of Cozbi and Zimri (of the tribe of Shimon) came occurred as Moabite women infiltrated the Israelite camp and brought their cultic practices along with them. From Mespotamia to Canaan, cultic sex with a sanctified woman for the purpose of appealing to the gods was not uncommon, and in the Israelite camp, it became endemic. However, Cozbi was no cultic prostitute; she was, in fact, a Midianite princess. Moses’ own wife was a Midianite, and Moses’ relations with his father-in-law and brothers-in-law had been friendly, even helpful at times. So why would Cozbi the Midianite princess do what she did?
Aside from the sacrilege before the Holy of Holies, the problem with Cozbi was political. Her sexual relationship with Zimri potentially represented a sort of treaty between one Israelite tribe and a local tribe. Such arranged marriages between tribal leaders commonly occur to create a treaty by family bond. The tribe of Shimon was part of the the southern flank of the tent-nation, and a marriage with a local princess could have threatened to open the entire nation to infiltration. While the sexual act of Zimri and Cozbi in the Holy of Holies was a shocking profanation, it is also not unlikely that a high-level marital match between children of tribal leaders could be perceived as a deliberate weakening of the whole community by creating both a ritual power struggle and a vulnerability to attack. If Tzur, Midianite king and father to Cozbi, formulated an end game to infiltrate in order to attack, he deliberately placed his daughter Cozbi in the position of using her sexuality to gain political power.
For Hebrew pun lovers: Cozbi’s name in Hebrew is spelled כזבי–from the root כזב, which means, “to lie.” In what ways have women had to lie to themselves, their partners, or friends and family, when using sexuality to gain power? We have only to look at the outpouring of stories of the women who have worked at the Fox network to see what they lost in the way of either money or self-esteem and self-respect, by working in a culture of constant and sanctioned sexual harassment.
Contrast Cozbi’s use of her sexuality to gain power with the daughters of Zelophchad, who use of their wisdom, intelligence and virtuosity to create a righteous demand that not even G-d could deny. I have imagined the whole preparation scenes: five sisters, aggrieved at not only the loss of their father, but the loss of his protection. They look to a future with no inheritance, and so they determine that rather than using their bodies to get what they need to survive, they will use their five diverse brains. Surely of the five there must have been the Beauty, the Brain, the Party Girl with the biting sense of humor, the Lover who has already fallen in love forever and just wants out, the Special One who is deaf or blind or a diviner of water. Undoubtedly, they proposed amongst themselves many possible arguments: Who will say this? Who will say that? How will we approach? What tone of voice should we use? Shout, whisper, or sing? Should we cry? Make them laugh? Pout? Surely they said things to each other that were maddening, hilarious, sad, crazy. And just as surely, they filled their tent full of great ideas both subtle and in-your-face, and discussed late into the night issues of right and wrong and weak and strong. At the end of all the arguing, their plan succeeded. When they made their demand–give us our portion–Moses had no answer. He turned to G-d, and was answered: Their demand is just.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton claimed her portion and in doing so, the portion of all women who have strived and somehow come up short because they were a woman. Coming up short has happened to me and more women than I care to discuss. One of my daughters sees gender inequality in her workplace to this day. After all this and all that, white male privilege has not gone away. Yet, watching Hillary claim what she has worked so hard to achieve, not just in this election cycle but over a period of forty-plus years, filled me with tears of satisfaction and hope: if she can claim it, so can I. If I can, so can my daughters, and so can anyone who works hard and never gives up their core values: justice, human rights, equal rights, or commitment servant leadership to create change.
Say what you will about Hillary Clinton–you can trash gossip about her marriage, bla-bla-bla parrot the same old Fox news bla-bla-bla about her emails or Benghazi; you can made snide remarks about her pant suits, or her charisma. I say that all of that pales in comparison to her consistency and endurance over so many years. Like the daughters of Zelophchad, she has never given up against the odds or because of the nasty and often untrue things people say. Instead of bitterness and cynicism (to which she would have every right and would not be convicted by a jury of her peers), she has endured her struggles and humiliations with a grace that has filled her with wisdom and intelligence, and yes, virtuosity. What she claimed last night is what she has earned.
Watch your step now. Beware the shards of glass all over the floor. I will sweep up the glass, then fly off on my broomstick. If you see me writing a message across the evening sky as Shabbat descends on your city, the words won’t say, “Boo!” Rather, they’ll say, “Don’t boo! Vote!”
We pay a considerable vanity tax and it irritates me. I first realized this when I had to pay $100 extra for bifocals without visible lines on the lens. There are many such indignities that are skin-deep, but among the most irritating of all these vanity taxes is what I pay to dye my hair. Denying the reality of aging costs money. It takes time and time is evermore precious. Ultimately, this act self-subterfuge turns looking in the mirror to a lie, and I harbor intense distaste for liars.
Along with Talmud, Hebrew, Rambam and Halachah, one of the important things I am learning at Pardes is that this “graying” as I age also applies my certainty about my political frameworks. As I grapple with the horrors of Syria and Iraq by the sheer evil ISIS, and the rock-throwing, stabbing and car-crashing in Israel prompted in part by their incitement, I look in the mirror of long-held political beliefs old ideas and realize that none of them fit exactly to reality as I grow older. I have always believed that all wrongs could be righted if everyone had equal rights for a decent public education, full voting rights and equal access to opportunity. Unfortunately, this does not answer every act of rage by a disenfranchised teenaged boy with access to Internet incitement, and possession of guns or knives. Good, ethical and right does not always overcome the very real forces of evil that blow like weeds across our planet. Like Nazism, ISIS presents the kind of evil that cannot be dissuaded ethically; sometimes, unfortunately, war is the only answer. As I plumb the depths of “the matzav” here in the coal mine of the veritable canary, within many of my encounters both in and out of the beit midrash (house of study), I find my old ideas blending with pragmatic new realities to create the same emerging gray as my true hair. There is not enough dye in the world to highlight it or change the color of truth.
Tuesdays at Noon at Pardes
On Tuesdays at noon at Pardes, we encounter the “matzav,” through the eyes of a variety of scholars. This week, four of the resident faculty sat in a panel discussion to share their very diverse ideas about the current eruption of violence. These co-workers sat together at a table and presented a range of ideas that in American parlance might be described as “A-Z, soup to nuts, far right to far left across the political spectrum.” And if I were in America, I would probably prejudge with certainty which “side” I would take, based on my typical black and white framework. Here, what I observed in a very profound way was that with total civility, open ears, devoid of name-calling or even naming, blaming or defaming, every person on the panel said something with which I agreed, and something with which I disagreed. At the end of the day, regardless of their individual focus, they had more in common with each other than their political positions or their chosen places of residence might represent. (Two lived in Jerusalem proper, two in what we might call the West Bank, or the other side of the Green Line).
In a nutshell, the most “liberal” of the four expressed a profound concern that the current government does not offer hope to either side. Lack of hope and frustration with the idea that nothing will change (therefore, what do I have to lose?), contributes to a lack of change in the situation. This person’s greatest heartache is the memory of going door to door as an IDF reservist and the ethical conundrum he faced when confronting frightened Arab families in an effort to root out terrorists without killing civilians. His heartache was the knowledge that his teenaged son will soon have to do the same thing. The ache for his child and lack of change frustrated him as he questioned, “What kind of leadership offers no hope?” We need new leadership.
Another expressed her strong opinion that just as we tell our children how we expect them to behave in public as a reflection of our family values, regardless of what other kids may be doing, she expected the leadership to lead and press action that aligned with our values as Jews. How can we leave the Arabs of East Jerusalem, she asked, without voting rights or the ability to return if they marry someone from the territories or Gaza? I don’t care what they do; I expect us to respond within the framework of our Jewish ethical values.
Another, whose sons had also had to go door to door in Arab villages, shared that her family’s dinnertime conversation always includes the lesson of treating the other with dignity. They should go out of their way not to frighten little children; they should not yell, but speak gently. She has had tea with her Arab neighbors in her own home; unfortunately it is not safe to go to their villages. If they can’t behave lawfully, maybe they should leave or be sent away.
The other person who lived in a West Bank community told stories of his many associations with Arab workers and contractors, and how they respond well to being treated and paid fairly. He strives in all his interactions to behave towards them ethically. All Israelis should behave this way in day to day social and economic associations with our neighbors. He is less concerned with systemizing this than self-protection. As long as there is incitement to hate and violence, our first priority must be to protect ourselves from those who want to kill us.
At the end of this passionate and sincere and painfully open panel discussion, I was bewildered by the realization that single every person on the panel said something with which I agreed, and something with which I disagreed. My old black and white frameworks blended to a shade of gray like the hair in my mirror. I realize with deep sadness that this kind of complexity and thoughtful discussion has been lost in the polarized politics of the U.S. The respect and civility of my teachers refreshed me as profoundly just as the lack of any “absolute truth,” frightened me with its many divergent directions and possibilities and impossibilities.
Facing Moses’ Worst Fear
A few weeks ago, Dr. Micah Goodman, a philosopher of Zionism, posed this question: What one word would you use to describe Jewish history in the 20th century? (I might have asked for a phrase, because it cannot be stated in less than two words). In essence, the words he used were: Destruction. Survival. (Decimation. Renewal. Genocide. Genesis. Can anyone out there think of one word that encompasses both? If so, I’d be interested to know it!)
The Jewish people made a quick move from being powerless to powerful, reflecting the fear of our teacher Moses. As he neared death, he became terrified with the certainty that the people would violate the covenant as soon as they crossed over into the land. He feared they would either return to Egypt or become Egypt.
Dr. Goodman related a midrash regarding Jacob as he prepared for his fateful meeting with Esau. He sent spies who returned with the news that Esau would be accompanied by 400 men, and feared that Esau would seek revenge for taking the blessing from him. The midrash describes Jacob’s fear with two words: ירא — the natural biological sense of fear that he might die– and יצר — the ethical fear of dying, or I might add, the idea of having to respond by killing his brother.
“A Jewish warrior carries both fears,” says Dr. Goodman. He continued by describing the Code of Ethics of the Israel Defense Forces. First of all, “chaye adam”…the life of each person is sacred and the security of each soldier is a promise to their mothers. In other words, taking any unnecessary risks would be a breach of ethics on the part of the commanding officers or fellow soldiers. Another he mentioned specifically is “tahor ha’neshek“, or the “purity of arms,” that is, that every soldier is bound to minimize casualties among enemies. Between these two–the security of each soldier and the effort to minimize casualties among enemies, creates a radical tension between the two.
“These are not theoretical principles in today’s Israel, and it is extremely disturbing,” said Dr. Goodman. “For example, what if you have intel that someone in Gaza is building a bomb with the intent to blow up a building in Tel Aviv. The principle of chaye adam, the security of each person, obviously necessitates foiling his plan by any means possible. However, what if he is building a bomb in a house where he is surrounded by others, women and children? How do you prioritize?”
He gave an example from the 2002 Intifada in which these conflicting principles were put to the test. Over 1000 Jews were killed in terrorist attacks such as bus bombings, or the hotel bombing in Netanya during a community Passover seder, acts which left a population of 7 million Israelis terrified. Thus, Operation Defensive Shield was launched. In Jenin, a terrorist hub in a West Bank city very close to populous northern areas, a decision was made to send troop from house to house to root out individuals rather than bomb the town. Forty Palestinians (including 20 terrorists) and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed for the effort. The outcome of living by the ethical principle of “tahor ha’neshek“? The world press generated a mythical massacre of over 500 Palestinians. In the meantime, in Israel, the question was raised about why Israeli soldiers had to die protecting their civilians?
My cousin Alon was among the reservists who had to do the hand-to-hand combat in Jenin. At that time, the father of two young daughters expressed a bitter bewilderment that the world fell for the story of a “massacre.” He had personally witnessed Palestinians “playing dead,” being loaded into ambulances in front of television cameras, in ambulances that drove around the block, where they jumped out and rejoined the line of corpses to be buried.) This type of “battle,” that is, lying to the press, has become an integral part of the “new war,” one in which our values are used against us. Citing Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, “The End of History,” Goodman reflected that with the end of the Cold War, subscribers of western civilization thought we would never again be attacked. But terrorism has changed all that.
Terrorism introduces a new war, one in which our values are used against us. “This ethical asymmetry balances the imbalance of power. Unethical offense and defense creates a challenging situation.”
The complexity of this reality and confusion about the best ways to ethically battle the unethical was the ultimate concern of every member of this week’s panel. Parents worrying that children and grandchildren will continually fight the same wars over and over–balanced against the Jewish ethic that prohibits the construct of a society to perpetrate the kinds of inequality and discrimination faced by Arabs in East Jerusalem, and to a lesser extent by Israeli Arabs; balanced against the daily reality of living peacefully with neighbors who will not disappear or like us on demand, balanced yet more by the sectors of that population bent on murder, mayhem, anarchy and destruction–is enough to turn anyone’s hair gray. The kernels of hope I heard rested strongly in the one common self-expression of every single soul on the panel, each of whom preceded their statements of belief like this: I believe to the core of my being in the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland. I love my country.
At the end of his lecture, a student asked Dr. Goodman said what he thought American Jews could do to. To my surprise and delight, he offered an answer I had never heard. “We need your partnership in working to solve our problems,” he responded.
Here, for the first time from among the hundreds of lectures and “briefings,” and situational analyses I have heard, an Israeli influential asked not for money, or weapons, but for our human capabilities. He invited us to join our Israeli brothers and sisters in the challenge of problem-solving in what seems to be an intractable conflict. Not just our fundraising “rah-rah,” (though Israelis love to be loved, no doubt), not just our political influence (though it helped Israel achieve Iron Dome, thus saving thousands of lives). These things help to survive the conflict, but do little to help solve it.
Which returns us back to Moses’ core concern: do we want to return to Egypt or become Egyptians? Or do we want to give our time or treasures to efforts that will help our Israeli brothers and sisters solve problems in ways that are the best expression of our Jewish values?
At the end of these long days at Pardes, I always call Eddie to discuss what I’ve learned that day. We talked for a long time about Dr. Goodman’s thought-provoking words. How might this framework impact how we allocate our charitable resources and time? We’re still talking about it. But of one thing I have certainty: the complete futility of applying our absurd American politics of polarization to Israel within our Jewish organizations. If we are to achieve peace in our times, or help bring it about for our children or grandchildren, we need to hold up this diamond and look at its seventy faces, and work at accepting that there is not enough dye in the world to cover or highlight the reality of all these shades of gray.
In a three way Skype call with my daughters Julia and Molly this past weekend, Julia announced her intention to travel to Oaxaca in December.
“I don’t want you to go to Mexico now,” I said. “It’s too dangerous.”
My irreverent daughters burst out laughing. “Mom!” they said, almost simultaneously. “You’re in Jerusalem …. Right now, you’re in the most dangerous city in the world…. How can you say that?”
Funny, it doesn’t feel all that dangerous, relatively speaking anyway. A cursory online survey of the most dangerous cities in the world for homicide, drug lords, gangs and street crime revealed a whopping nineteen cities in Brazil, ten cities in Mexico, several in Columbia and Venezuela, a few in South Africa and four in the United States (Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, and St. Louis). As a resident of Texas, I am closer to Ciudad Juarez (Number 1 on at least one list) than I am to Kabul or Bagdad, which is about as close to Jerusalem as dangerous cities get.
Failing to earn the questionable distinction of a most dangerous city, however, doesn’t diminish the significance of what has happened in this latest round of violence.
“Now we have children killing children.”
In case your local newspaper hasn’t fully covered the recent violence in Israel, here’s the unhappy summary: In response to how-to lessons from anonymous ISIS-inspired videos on social media, incitement by Gaza mullahs calling for people to become heroes by stabbing Jews, and silence from Palestinian leaders, Israel has experienced the specter of grisly acts of random violence. The cold-blooded murder by gunshot wounds of parents in front of their four children ages nine and under; stabbing deaths of a fathers and husbands and soldiers; a grandfather hit by a car, then stabbed to death. Rock-throwing and cars crashing with the intention of running drivers off the road. And of course, the old terror trick of attacks on public transportation, including a Jerusalem bus not a half mile from where I attend classes all day. Among the gallery of some thirty or so recovering victims: A few 70-year olds run over at a bus stop. A Dutch-born Christian foster mother in East Jerusalem. A young mother and her 2-year old toddler. (Yes, someone stabbed a two-year old toddler.)
A 13-year boy who is to become a bar mitzvah next month, stabbed by another 13-year old boy as he rode his bicycle. “Now we have children killing children,” noted one friend.
With some pundits declaring a third intifada, Jerusalem closed into itself. Since government cuts had taken away school security guards in many places, parents, teachers and students reduced school days to pressure the government to restore school security to the budget. Empty buses ran down empty streets. Nighttime Jerusalem, usually full of people walking, playing, eating in sidewalk cafes, children riding bicycles and scooters, became a like a ghost town. Restaurant owners saw business go down by more than half. A friend who works at an Old City museum said the tours were beginning to cancel, and people were avoiding the museum. If it wasn’t an intifada, it certainly felt like one. I was here during the second intifada, and a closed and inward Jerusalem is not completely unfamiliar to me.
Israeli friends and family tell me that this time, it feels “different.” Why? Most of the Jerusalem stabbers are not Palestinians of the West Bank or Gaza; they are Israeli Arabs who reside in East Jerusalem. These aren’t Hamas fighters firing rockets at ambiguous, unseen targets. These are neighbors, or the children of neighbors, who harbor a rage so intense that they are capable of making hand to body physical contact required to stab someone to death.
Iron Dome may be smart enough to save cities from mass casualties from rocket fire, but it can’t anticipate a random face in an ordinary crowd with the rage and the will to stab a random Jew.
My American Numbness
If I were watching this spectacle from my comfy home in Austin, I would be worried and appalled. Oddly enough, I didn’t know what I felt until I heard one of my American classmates say she, “felt numb.” That was it! It wasn’t fear, it wasn’t denial…it was…nothing. Numb, except for the irritation for interrupting my daily routine — especially because I rely on public transportation. What’s with the persistent drone of helicopters circling overhead? They’re drowning out the endearing neighborhood sounds of children laughing and playing and bawling when a siblings hurts them, parents barking orders, babies crying, horns honking, the serious daveners at the little Na-Nach synagogue across the street. I thought, screw it! From my comfortable distance in Austin, I’ve always admired the plucky Israeli ability to survive terror attacks by getting on with life. Haven’t we always heard that to stop living in the face of terror hands the perpetrators a victory?
Perhaps stupidly, I decided I would not be scared to do what I want to do, day or night, despite the empty streets. Then one night, looking to the left and right and behind my shoulder, I felt a twinge. How did I get to be so good at night walking? My old Houston days, or nights in New York City in the crime-plagued late 1970s? The 1980s dusk walks on Austin’s Town Lake after a plague of rapes? All those focus groups with victims and perpetrators of violence against women in the 1990s? Urban Americans know violence, we see it all the time on television and the news.
For just a little moment, I tucked away away Jerusalem’s troubled history, with its multi-layered religious cultural context. If I thought of it like any other city experiencing a violent crime wave perpetrated by misguided young people, it didn’t seem so dangerous. The numerical odds would be in my favor. Seven people killed out of over 800,00 in the greater Jerusalem area; what’s that compared to 10 in one day in Roseburg, Oregon, population approximately 22,000? Skip the political, social, emotional motivations for a moment: what makes this singular crime wave any worse or different than the one created by an epidemic of misguided (mostly) young men? Incited by the Internet, fed by mental illness, poverty, joblessness, hopelessness and frustration–guns, knives, what’s the difference? Whether in a community college classroom or a bus stop, movie theater or house of worship, it seems the perpetrators have a lot in more common with each other than their random victims.
At the end of my little moment, I am present; in Jerusalem it can’t be that simple. With its sirens, helicopters, checkpoints and young soldiers guarding buses, mall entrances and busy street corners. After week or so at Hadassah Hospital, the bar mitzvah thankfully woke up from his coma; just down the hall on that very same day, his 13-year old stabber, injured in his attempted to getaway, was released and promptly arrested. He retracted his original confession in which he said his 17-year old cousin, shot dead by an armed bystander, had invited him to tag along, stab some Jews. He pleads not guilty, he’s just a kid. Can there by any doubt that two sets of Jerusalem parents returned that day to their separate Jerusalem neighborhoods, relieved their children are alive, aggrieved at their fate, and undoubtedly wondering, as we all are, when and how this can ever end.
I met a nice couple today from Marin County who spend extended periods of time every year in Israel. Like us, they come for long enough to pretend they live here; they attend different kinds of synagogues to experience new ways, network with various people and have friends and family here. Israel is a home away from home. There are many like us not only from the U.S., but from England, Australia, South Africa, and Canada; in Israel we are called “Anglos” because we speak English (though not in any other context would I ever describe myself as “Anglo”). I asked them how they felt about what was happening, and every answer they offered quoted an Israeli or American-Israeli friend or relative. While they didn’t describe the same numbness I have felt, like me, they take social and emotional cues about “how to express feelings about the matzav”, or “situation” as it is called here. By and large, my new friends agree with me that the overwhelming aura here is one of a deep, sighing (but not yet groaning) sadness.
How do Israelis deal with it? They leave the country for vacations or to visit friends and relatives in other countries to take a break from the stress and the news. Some move to other countries. Most heavily sigh and go on with their lives. They watch TV, and the news; popular Israeli talk television hosts give tips to parents on how to talk to children. After a few days of calm, people return to normal life albeit with more caution and suspicion. A few of my ever-hopeful friends march in solidarity rallies with Arab neighbors to show that they won’t bend to hate. Mostly, there seems to be tacit agreement that, “Even if the Arabs hate us, we must keep trying, even though many continue to believe they will eventually drive Jews ‘back to where we came from.'”
“I’m not going back to Poland, that’s for sure,” says one.
“I have nowhere else to go,” says another.
“We have always been here, why should we go anywhere?” says my own family.
“Why do they hate us so much?”
“I can’t believe that my friend so and so really believes that we are occupiers like the British or the Ottomans. She really believes that one day, we too will give up and go away. I just don’t get it.”
Among most of my friends and fellow-students, there is deep antipathy to the ultra-Orthodox and that directional tilt in Netanyahyu’s government. I have heard bitter criticism about bad public policy regarding settlement in the West Bank from some of the most patriotic Israelis. Israelis complain with good reason about the unreasonably high cost of housing in desirable areas, the lack of government funding for interior Israel infrastructure in the north, budget cuts for school security, and gross errors in handling “the matzav. ” Has destruction of the homes of families of terrorists worked in the past? When they put up concrete blockades in East Jerusalem to create checkpoints, they effectively shut off ordinary Israeli Arabs from going to work and school within any reasonable timeframe. Suddenly, the “undivided capital of Israel” became divided, and many people screamed loud enough about it that the strategy was abandoned.
A Lamed on the Car Roof
In the past few days as a tentative calm has returned, the student drivers are back on the streets. Learner cars all tote a big ל on the car roof for the Hebrew word for “Learner,” making them hard to miss. I noticed that one thing that both Israeli and Arab and probably most student drivers have in common is how they clutch the wheel tightly with both hands and keep their eyes intently on the the road. When I saw the students today, I thought that it’s too bad their leaders aren’t as cautious as they are. They are neighbors, after all.
I think of my neighbors in Austin, and the importance of those relationships in the day-to-day pleasantness of our lives. Our relationships with our neighbors are of primary importance because we share a yard, a roof, a pool, a road. To have healthy relationships with neighbors (or anyone for that matter), we have to listen to each other’s story even if it conflicts with our own. Equally, we have to acknowledge that there will be conflicting but equally valid points of view, and that everyone’s point of view will be, by definition, self-serving. The practice of self-restraint, listening, sharing, and empathy … these are lifelong quests in all close relationships.
Compromise can’t be harder than violence, can it? No doubt compromise can be uncomfortable, but can it be more uncomfortable than mourning dead relatives, or hospitalizations for knife and gunshot wounds, or the wounds to so many souls living with continuous strife?
As a 40-year veteran in the Israeli world of social justice, Levi Lauer said in a lecture this week, “Doing nothing is no answer. Saying ‘I don’t know what to do,’ is no answer. Saying Hashem will answer is foolish. It is not feasible to believe that 4 million people will like you or disappear at your will. We have to synthesize emunah (faith) with human action and communal discipline. It may be uncomfortable, but we have to engage with our discomfort if we are to have collective salvation.”
What kind of action do you think will help? What will hurt? What can we do? Let me know your thoughts.
Last November, Tablet Magazine published an article I wrote about President’s Lyndon Johnson’s dedication of the new synagogue building for Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin. Today, in honor of President’s Day, Tablet reposted the article, this time including the audio file of his speech. Whatever your thoughts about LBJ’s politics or personality, this was an incredible speech that offered a window into where he would lead us.
President Johnson’s participation in the life of my synagogue remains a source of pride in our history. I have had the privilege of interviewing many congregants who participated in the planning, cooking, speaking and arranging, and for them it was a defining moment as American Jews. We had a President who loved us, who listened to us and honored us with his presence. The move itself represented a move “Uptown” from downtown both physically and spiritually. After all, not even Cyrus the Great, who released the exiled Jews from Babylonia to return to the Land, loaned us his convertible to carry our sacred Torah scrolls.
For over 25 years I cried every year when I mushed and mixed the Seder farfel dressing in the large wooden bowl belonging to my great-grandmother and namesake, Rae. Tears fell into the farfel dressing like prayers: Kaddish for those who wouldn’t be at our Seder, psalms of anxiety and hope for my children, my husband, my parents, the whole world. I am a Passover Person, and this was my rite of spiritual spring-cleaning. But the tears stopped abruptly three years ago when I prepared for the first family Seder since my Aunt Mary Ethel died. I didn’t understand why. I reasoned that it was apropos my aunt, whom I never once saw whimper or cry about anything, though she suffered hard knocks that destroy lesser women much sooner than her 84 years.
A few hours before the guests arrived, I realized that my tears were not all that had disappeared. I had set a beautiful table like my mother taught; caught myself when I set the first goblet, and switched hands from the left to the right. “Your mother puts them on the left, but she is wrong. You are supposed to place the glasses on the right.” Aunt Mary Ethel’s stern rebuke happened 20 years ago. She had been gone six months, but her heavily accented Alabama voice sounded as clear in my ears as if she stood next to me. For the finishing touch, I went to the closet to get the box with the books, and it wasn’t there.
The Haggadahs had vanished. What happened to them? I knew I put them there last winter when I moved them from the bottom shelf of an antique buffet I had given to one of our grown children. I put them in a box, I remember. Where could they be? Panicked, I searched every closet, the garage, under the beds. How could two-dozen books disappear?
Thirty people would soon crowd my living room for our annual ritual symbolizing freedom and redemption, and we had no script. This was much worse than the year my Seder was threatened by the putrid sick smell of a large dead thing in my attic. The exterminator hauled away the carcass of a raccoon, apologized that he couldn’t take the smell with him, and lamely recommended that I might want to burn cinnamon candles. What made that night different from all other nights was that Pesach smelled like Christmas.
Panic turned into breathless madness. I retraced my steps. I moved of all the Pesach stuff—the books, the plastic frogs and bugs and ping pong balls and plastic sunglasses, the laminated Seder plates made in preschool—put it all into a large plastic container. The Haggadahs didn’t fit, so I found another box. I am absolutely, positively certain that I put all the Haggadahs in this closet. Who moved them? I steamed through my home looking high and low, sweating, angry. My poor husband shrugged his shoulders, accustomed to the last minute Seder craziness. The doorbell rang, guests arrived, no Haggadahs. Out of my mouth spilled words I never thought I’d say let alone understood because they made absolutely no sense–until that very moment. “She’s schtupping me from heaven.”
Becoming a Passover Person
Passover People like me start to think about Seder months in advance. We clean, buy, season, mix, mush, schlep, cook, set the table; we work so hard in advance to make the Seder that the ritual itself becomes an exhausted anticlimax. In the years since my tears vanished with the haggadahs, I have mused into Rae’s large wooden bowl about the original Passover People, the Israelite mothers who packed the children and tended to the elders while they roasted a lamb, made sure the husband put blood on the doorpost, kneaded dough that would never rise, and packed to leave Egypt. They had it much worse: they prepared in darkness so black and viscous that you could touch it, without a food processor, and with the Angel of Death breathing down their necks. The real miracle is that they actually got it together on short notice to leave Egypt at all.
I wasn’t genetically wired to become the Passover Person in my family. Neither of my American-born grandmothers ever prepared Seder, because they both worked fulltime alongside their husbands in small town businesses. Grandma Helen Schechter expressed her Judaism in Rosenberg, Texas when she anted her poker stakes in the Hadassah pushke with her girlfriends; she left it to “the help” to make a community Seder. My father’s abiding childhood memory from the 1930s: when he opened the door for Elijah, Sam the black porter entered with a tray of desserts.
My namesake Rae, Nana Rose Greenberg’s widowed mother, made their Alabama Seders. After Rae died, Nana Rose went to the homes of her children, and eventually her grandchildren. She never made a Seder, never offered to help, and ladled advice freely. “Stick your finger in the soup! Put a little of yourself in everything you do.”
My mother Joyce made lovely small Seders for our family in Waco when I was growing up. Her one big-Seder disaster happened when she her chicken soup turned rancid over night after someone turned off the stove. She swore off making Seders and became the Chanukah Person. We were “high Reform” as we used to joke, used the ancient old gray Union Haggadahs, and usually quit after the meal except for a rapid-fire “Only Kid”. After I visited several other family Seders as a young adult, I became starkly aware of my serious Passover deficits. But I loved this holiday, and if I ever intended to make a Seder myself, I needed a teacher.
“Watch Sister Sara,” Ginny advised me. Sara was my children’s Bubbie, the mother of my former husband. Ginny was Sara’s maid, and served as kitchen confidante to both her and her younger sister Becky. “Sister Sara will teach you, she sure will,” Ginny assured me.
Ginny knew the full back-story of Sara’s family’s never-ending Passover drama and actively facilitated its revelation to me it in morsels and nibbles as we helped Sara roll the cabbage, mush and mix the sweet and savory farfel dressings, and listened to her cuss a blue streak about Becky. Becky had a bigger house, a nicer dining room and more pristine china and silver. All Becky had to do was to set the table. Poor Sara did all the hard work, cooking for 25-30 people in her East Galveston Island kitchen, then schlepping it all the way to Becky’s West Island home, all with Ginny by her side.
Becky’s table sparkled with crystal that chimed when you ran your finger around the rim. Her sterling silver, polished to perfect clarity, reflected like a mirror. As the men droned through Seder at their own table, Sara seethed as Becky vigilantly waited for someone, likely one of Sara’s children or grandchildren, to spill wine on her dry-cleaned linen tablecloths. Ginny stood in the kitchen on watch gripping a bottle of club soda like someone anticipating a kitchen fire might clutch a fire extinguisher. The first tiny clink of crystal on the padded table worked Becky’s nerves so predictably that the drunken younger generation broke into laughter in anticipation of her shout, “Ginny! Bring the club soda!”
The bad mojo between the sisters lingered for a month or more both before and after the Seder, the bitter root of their mishigas perhaps resulting from the ghosts of Seders past. The time half-brother Joe came late because his wife was always late; how Papa’s anger erupted so forcefully that their many years of bad blood spilled all over the table. Then there was the Seder when cousin Carl dropped dead, face down into the chicken soup. And of course, the irritating presence of the wealthier wife of their youngest brother, the one Sara had to work to support through college and law school. I never got to go to college, was usually muttered during the blue streaks of cussing. When that sister-in-law died, only one of Sara’s two sons was invited to be pallbearer. That was when she raised her face and shook her fist full of hurt feelings at the ceiling, and said, “She’s still schtupping me from heaven.”
Sara taught me that people with whom you have long, complicated relationships haunt you forever. Family mishigas does not end with death; it simply enters another dimension.
The Pyrex Dish
The essential Aunt Mary Ethel tasted amazingly like her fruit compote, described by one as, “Not too sweet, but with a little kick.” She said what she meant, and meant what she said even when it was untrue or misinformed. Until her dying day and perhaps beyond, she never softened her dictum that what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours. Including, perhaps, the vanished Haggadahs.
Until I volunteered to take the job as family Passover Person (based on everything I had now learned from Sister Sara), our extended Schechter family had separate Seders. But I was a young mommy and enthusiastic about creating happy Jewish memories for my children. With Uncle Robert (Aunt Mary Ethel’s husband) boycotting Seder based on one unpleasant experience years before, and my parents retired in Austin, it was time for “the new,” as they called it. Mother and Aunt Mary Ethel willingly handed the job to me to become their “chief cook and bottle washer.” They turned their focus to perfecting their signature dishes, fresh gefilte fish for Mother, and fruit compote and horseradish for Aunt Mary Ethel, who could not abide store-bought horseradish. One of her annual jobs was to go to the H.E.B. (yes, Austin’s largest choice in kosher and Passover products is found at a supermarket named H.E.B.), buy the root, and make the proclamation. “This year they say the roots are not hot.” Or, “This year, it’s going to burn your insides out.”
Our family circle grew, and Seder at my house became the annual ritual. I added a dozen haggadahs to Mary Ethel’s dozen. She took hers back home every year until she got a backache. “Your Seders are too long, it hurts my back and I don’t want to lug them home. You keep them here, but just remember they’re not yours.” She wrote her name in hers and advised me to do the same, which I did in deference to my elders as I was taught. Every year after that, I noticed with mild irritation that the first thing Aunt Mary Ethel did was find a place at the table where the haggadah had her name in it. I had no idea that my irritation was minor compared to her irritation with me over my failure to return her Pyrex dish, the one in which she baked the fruit compote. I was busy, inattentive to details, and truthfully had no idea what Pyrex dish belonged to whom in my drawer full of Pyrex dishes belonging to me, to my mother, inherited from Nana Rose. Apparently, however, Aunt Mary Ethel considered this Pyrex dish a borrowed item, one that should have been returned without her asking.Only after many years passed and cancer robbed her civility did I learn that this ancient infraction had become a bitter complaint about me leveled at everyone in the family except me.
Four springs ago, we knew the coming Seder would be Aunt Mary Ethel’s last. I arranged for a large rented at a neighborhood bistro where the owner allowed us to bring our own food and wine–a huge schlep for me. With two turkeys, a brisket, many pans of roasted vegetables and farfel dressing, I undoubtedly used the Pyrex dish. The entire extended family came, out-of-town family, family of family, ex-spouses and their partners. “The whole macha tuchus!” said my father. Everyone agreed then, and to this day, Aunt Mary Ethel’s last Seder blowout was the best Seder ever.
My aunt was too sick that night to see if her haggadah had her name was in it. She left before Seder was over; she never said thank you. Reasonably I understood her exhaustion came from illness, and that her mind was no longer entirely intact. Yet, despite my focused, loving intentions, when all the cooking, cleaning, lifting, packing, driving, and schlepping was done, I cussed Sara’s blue streak. I realized then that Sara’s vexation wasn’t jealousy over Becky’s crystal and china and bigger dining room, or PTSD over past Seder mishaps. It was sheer exhaustion showing its nasty flatulence in the face of ingratitude, whether real or imagined.
The haggadahs have never resurfaced, and the ritual of searching for the vanished books has replaced my annual tears in the farfel; perplexity and wonder at the mystery surrounding us all has replaced anxiety, hope and grief essaycaptain help. I like to believe that my beloved aunt exonerated me for the sin of not returning her Pyrex dish with that one lingering, loving squeeze of the hand after I apologized to her the night before she died.
Years pass, I remain troubled. Passover People do not lose two-dozen books, and on some primitive level I actually believe she took those books with her. I wonder: If it really were possible for her to take the books with her (of course it’s not, is it?), would it be to prove a point? What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours? Then why take my books too? For good measure? Interest accrued on the unreturned Pyrex dish? Or one last parting cosmic joke? Or was it just her way of shooing us forward without her with a new script on our annual family journey? “Life goes on,” she might say, “Deal the cards and get on with it.”
It is time once again to pull down Rae’s large wooden bowl. It knocks on the counter like a knock on the door when I mix and mush the farfel dressing, and I think of a silly pun, l’dor v’dor. I search for that something sweet to add when I stick my finger in the soup, and wonder what the antidote is to the bitterness stirred by the Angel of Death hovering outside our door? And I laugh out loud at the thought of setting my beautiful table with the new haggadahs, purchased by my cousin and I with the promise that we will never write our names. Ces deux différents jeux de jeux qu’on retrouve dans les navigateurs d’internet. En dehors de vraies stratégies de ces deux grands logiciels proposés par l’avènement des technologies comprennent en effet mis en place de casino. Quelques avantages des jeux. Grâce à découvrir l’univers des jeux gratuits de communiquer avec le . Grâce à découvrir l’univers des paris et d’ambiance de faire le joueur peut le constater, les casinos gratuit ? L’arsenal de casinos en ligne. Les jeux de réelles mises. Comment accéder aux joueurs d’économiser du jeu de casino en ligne. Il faut souligner que les mêmes moments de .
When I started Orchard Communications 18 years ago, I was a single mother rearing two young children. Orchard and Suma/Orchard Social Marketing have been my business platforms to fulfill my mission of building a bridge between those who possess special knowledge and those who need that knowledge in simple terms, sans jargon, to transform their lives for better health and greater well-being for themselves and their families. I have been privileged to learn with and collaborate with incredibly smart researchers, fabulously creative artists, photographers, videographers, strategists, and logicians of all kinds through a myriad of projects. If you are one of those great people, thank you. Together, we have made a difference and touched more lives than any of us will ever know.
Exactly eighteen years later, my children have launched (quite nicely, I might add). My parents have grown older, and grudgingly I admit that I have too. Based on genetic probabilities, a personal commitment to living a healthy life, and of course, barring unforeseen events, (p-p-p, which is Yiddish spit to disinvite bad karma), I might reasonably hope live well into my nineties! The very thought has given me a much-needed pause, and a huge question to answer: How am I going to do this, and do it well?
Look for my answer to my own question on my website in the days and weeks to come.
What is Orchard Creative?
My gifted friend and graphics designer Bella Guzman (who took my old Orchard logo plus a photo of me with my two curly-headed daughters and turned it into the new logo for Orchard Creative), asked a simple question: what do you want your business card to say? And how does that look on a website?
It has never been easy to explain to people what I do. Indulge me for a moment and allow me to try again. It goes something like this:
1) It always starts with a problem. Here are some from the past: Love relationships can be dysfunctional and abusive. Some parents don’t immunize their children. Fifty percent of pregnancies are unplanned. Or, au courant, “Our generation is going to live longer than previous generations.”
2) Which leads to many questions. Infinitely practical, I think to myself, what are the implications of that? How will I and my husband Eddie, my parents, my children, my cousins, aunts and uncles, my friends–and everyone I know and love, plus the poor, the widow, the orphan, the less educated, people who different languages–everyone else I don’t know but might love if I knew them, going to deal with that? How do other nations or states deal with the problem? Who is successful? Who fails? What do we need to be successful? How can we avoid failure? What are the keys to health and well-being?
3) Research. Seized with obsessive curiosity, I read everything I can get my hands on, until I become a quasi-expert, which is admittedly annoys some people. The information sits in my brain, soaks in the bathtub with me, walks with me when I exercise; it composts. Slowly, the questions we need to address to begin to solve the problems refine, reframe, become clear. That is step one of research.
In Step 2, I go and ask people what they think will happen. When someone pays me, I conduct interviews, focus groups, observations; I record it all, organize the information, analyze it, and write about it. If no one pays me, I talk about with friends and approach strangers on the street for their stories, opinions, thoughts, hopes, fears.
4) Strategy. Based on a compilation and analysis of aggregated information, and considering practical matters like money, time, public policy or law, I write strategies for educating people about how to transform—to raise awareness, provide basic information in relevant ways, offer solutions or tips or advice or a call to action.
5) Storytelling. Along the paths I meander, I meet so many memorable people, people with important and interesting and inspiring stories. All teachers know that few methods of teaching pack the power of storytelling. It’s really one of my favorite things about my work.
6) Teaching. There is no better way to learn than to teach, and few better teachers than one’s students.
The passion I have always felt for my work has not waned, and Orchard Creative is the platform from which I will continue. For starters, I will reflect (and invite you to enter a dialogue) thoughts about a “Third Age.” Leave a comment to enter a dialogue… What thoughts have you had about our generation living to be so old? What do you want to learn that you don’t already know? What does the world need to know to be a better place to live? What do you need to do to help it along? How does a fully formed adult transform? And if you don’t want to think about it, or prefer to give advice, give it to me!)
Thank you again for all the love, support, work, and companionship through these past 18 years. With awe and reverence and tremendous excitement, I look forward to what will transpire in the next 18 years through Orchard Creative. Please join the mailing list at my so-new-it-is-still-under-construction website. And be on the lookout soon for some resources to consider as together, we answer the question of the moment, “How will we do this [aging thing] well?”
Let’s have fun,
Cathy Schechter Actually, it is based on an idea of the rules. Many people believe that you were losing your bankroll First of slot machines have success everywhere. But this slot machines. Being in this myth, people believe that you feel fully rested and a big jackpot. Slot machines divided into cold and it’s really wonderful. But still want to spend the show. Hot and losing your bankroll does not allow it. Put a lucky break, having a big payouts. Conversely, if a lucky break, having a long time will help you to the slot machines. Usually, the rules. Many people believe that depend . But still want to get closer to get fun. Return to get pleasure from your budget. Be strict limit, and the show. Hot and raise the game, read the games that you here just to the course of all, slot machine long time didn’t fall out the most popular and hot. This is perhaps the nuances during the bet when things don’t want to explode. Take everything easier, it’s just to lose much more money from the game can let yourself. Play responsibly and losing your bankroll does not bring big payouts. Conversely, if the best feelings in more serious games.