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Pardes Yehuda: November 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Change is in the air...and it's pretty funny

Yay for Stephen Colbert.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear President-elect Obama--a message from

Dear President-Elect Obama

It’s official. The U.S. has decided who its next president will be.

The inauguration of a new president promises to provide new opportunities to bring protection and peace to the people of Darfur. Even better, these promises are supported by strong statements of commitment from President-elect Obama:

“I will make ending the genocide in Darfur a priority from Day One. It is a collective stain in our national and human conscience that the genocide in Sudan, now starting its sixth year, has gone on for far too long.” (April 2008)

“We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again. As President of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon the people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” (April 2008)

President-elect Obama’s opportunity to turn his promises into action is coming soon. And our opportunity to hold him accountable has already begun.

Send a postcard urging President-elect Obama to make Darfur a day one priority. Together, our combined voices cannot be ignored. Together, we can help end a genocide.
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Votes have been tallied, results are in, the people have spoken and history was made. America wants change.

The enormousness of what we have just witnessed, the election of a black man as the President of these United States, cannot be underestimated. My fiance expressed something incredible last night as we watched President-elect Obama address the world; he was positive, he did not resort to fear-mongering--change has truly blessed our nation.

We have been stifled for years in the fear and the threats, in the warring and the unilateralism. Now we have the prospect for a different future. We have been worn down by militarism and exclusivism, and now we hope for a different future. All the fear, all the threats, all the extremism has numbed our populace, and we are now rubbing our eyes and awaking form the slumber that has entrenched us in apathy and complacency. But, as a nation, we joined together and said "enough is enough." We decided to vote for change.

The future only knows how history will judge George Bush's rule in office. But it is clear that now we have expressed that whatever mandate he believed he once had, and those who think governance in his form is a virtue, that mandate has been revoked. A new mandate has been issued by the American people, and even the world, a new mandate to seek understanding and dialogue. A new mandate to rely on hope, rather than fear. A new mandate to go into the world with pride, and not with hubris.

Individuals may disagree, politically, with Obama's election, but we all need to stand together and honor and recognize the greatness, and the importance, of the moment. History was made November 4, 2008. America stepped out of the closet of its past and into the wide-open field of its future.

In the Jewish tradition, the ability to repent, in Hebrew to make "t'shuva", is sacrosanct. It is believed that every person, no matter how wicked or misguided, has the ability to repent, to return to a more balanced and upright life. Our nation has made a major step towards collective repetence. When the United States acknowledged that freed slaves deserved compensation, they were promised forty acres and a mule. That compensation was never awarded. When descendents of slaves in America stood up to begin the conversation about reparations, few took those conversations seriously. Mr. Barack Obama has gotten his forty acres and mule, and in achieving the unthinkable, he has symbolically received forty acres and a mule for all of black America.

We all have reason to be proud, irrelevant of politics, at the shear enormousness of the historicity of the event. But the black community in America has all the more reason to elate right now. An office once thought reserved only for the powerful, rich and white is now going to be occupied by a black man, with diverse upbringing, who until four years ago was virtually unknown to anyone outside his immediate surroundings. Now, he is a household name worldwide.

The world will surely look upon our nation with new, bright eyes. Eyes filled with hope for the prospects of progress and togetherness. The world looks to America now and sees a nation that is possibly beginning to right its wrongs. The world looks to America now and sees a nation that stood up and has demanded change.

Let's deliver.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Election Day story from '04

While standing in line to vote in 2004 I was reminded what makes democracy special. In ‘04 I lived in in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. I went to the polls before work. At the time, I wore a white Breslover style kippah (the big, cranium sized ones). I was standing behind a middle-aged black man who I learned was named Jerome. He turned around, and upon seeing my skull-cap, he said, “Asalaam Aleikem.” I pulled back my trenchcoat, revealing my tzitzit, and responded “Aleikhem Shalom.” We proceded to have a wonderful, uplifting conversation about the Qu’ran and Torah, the democratic process and the first four Bush years.

Over the next six months, until I left Boston for LA, I would see Jerome around the neighborhood, and we’d stop and chat. Were it not for that election, a Jew and a Muslim would never have forged that friendship. In my mind, THIS is what democracy is all about, and why Election Day is such a special and meaningful time. It allows all of us the opportunity to see who lives in our neighborhood, and to forge bonds that might otherwise not be formed.

No matter who wins at the end of this election, let us all hope and/or pray that the true victor is the democratic process. After two questionable elections, our country deserves to see true democracy in action. Let’s all make that a reality and get out and vote! When you’re in line, talk to your neighbor for a minute–that is community, and THAT is what democracy is made of.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conservative Movement appoints woman to chair Rabbinical Assembly

cross-posted to Jewschool

Last Wednesday the Conservative Movement announced Rabbi Julie Schonfeld will succeed Rabbi Joel Meyers as Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly--she has previously been functioning as the Director of Rabbinic Development for the movement. Rabbi Schonfeld is the first woman to be appointed to the head of a rabbinic body--she said to the Forward, “I think that my rabbinate is really defined by the ideals that I share with all of my colleagues and with all Conservative Jews worldwide, regardless of my gender.”

This announcement, to me, is a welcome surprise. Some personal thoughts after the jump... (click below)

I did not grow up in the Conservative Movement (or any movement). I did not grow up in a synagogue; and when my family did join a synagogue it was a breakaway shul with 80 families and no synagogue--monthly Kabbalat Shabbat potlucks were held at the rabbi's home, which was also used for B'nei Mitvah lessons and ceremonies and perhaps a wedding or two; high-holiday services were at the JCC, and featured the aging male rabbi and a middle aged female part-time cantorial soloist, part-time Opera singer (in my imagination). My female Jewish role models were my mother, grandmothers, great-aunts, aunts... and I guess Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand...

Today I have many female Jewish role models in my biological and spiritual families, including many rabbis whom I am blessed to have as guides and teachers. I remember a discussion my first semester of rabbinical school in my halakhah class (taught by one of said rabbis who have been instrumental in shaping what will be my rabbinate). We were discussing the practice of including the imahot (the Matriarchs--Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah). We were maybe three weeks into school, and I built up the hutzpah to ask this rabbi why she did not include the imahot when she was the shlihat tzibur (prayer leader). Her response was unexpected and it has helped me understand the movement which I chose to affiliate with. She said, more or less, that it gave the appearance that something had changed and been fixed, when in fact it hadn't.

What I understood her to be saying was that adding the imahot may be enhancing to one's prayer and a beautiful act (albeit questionable in Jewish law, in my opinion) it does not help bridge a very wide gender gap which manifests itself in name (we have "rabbis" and "female rabbis," it is a bizarre and uncomfortable phenomenom which can only be remedied by having "male rabbis" and "female rabbis" or, preferably, "rabbis"), in pay, in appearance, opportunity and so many other ways.

Rabbi Schonfeld's appointment as Executive VP of the RA is a much more meaningful testament to working towards gender equality in the Jewish establishment. As I've been writing this article, I've been thinking about how gender has played into my rabbinical school experience as I enter my fourth year, and I am surprised to be feeling (maybe I'm candy coating it) that I don't feel like the school I attend has "female rabbinical students" and "rabbinical students." (Ladies, gentlemen, what do you think? Am I nuts?) I'm thinking this may be, in the likes of homosexual inclusion and minority inclusion, a generational issue. That progress towards this end is inevitable in the near future.

As Rabbi Elliot Dorff, of whom I'm proud to have as a teacher and role model, said in the Forward that "It’s 23 years after the first woman was ordained in the movement. That’s a generation, basically. We’re finally at the point at which woman could be appointed to a major administrative post within the movement.” Likewise, it was around as long ago that the issue of homosexual inclusion was first brought up and it took around as long to begin to make meaningful change.

As I think of those that I have met who, in the next 1-10 years, will make up the field of American rabbis across the movements (beyond the "three"), I think we are in for a lot of progress in American Judaism. We love to shower ourselves with a dismal outlook on the future of our people in its spiritual expression. We bemoan intermarriage as our death, and in the wake of tears, we forget that people desire to be moved and engaged. We go back and forth over "legal" minutae for months on end, as if the title "rabbi" gives us true jurisprudence to dictate people's lifestyles. Again, maybe I'm looking through rose-colored glasses, but I want to believe that as this current generation of new rabbis grows and evolves into leadership positions amongst the administrative wings of the movement there will be much progress in our spiritual expression towards melting some of these cultural barriers that tend to erode and divide community.

I don't know Rabbi Schonfeld, or anything about her, but I look forward to meeting her, which I suppose is inevitable either in her capacity as Director of Rabbinic Development or otherwise. I trust that she can guide the Rabbinical Assembly for the next 20 years as ably as Rabbi Meyers has done for the previous two decades. Obviously, having a woman functioning as the chair of the RA does not mean that gender issues in the Conservative Movement will disappear. Nonetheless, it is a powerful symbol of the advancement of women in the Jewish establishment. I think it is also representative of a sentiment rising for more substantial moves towards justice and equality issues (a la Hekhsher Tzedek and Uri L'Tzedek).

It's not that I expect Rabbi Schonfeld to wave a feminine wand and fix everything, but I hope her appointment holds true as an example of a shift towards more true egalitarianism, "beyond the bima," so to speak.

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