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The Leib Tropper Affair and the Divine Justice

December 26, 2009

In the past few days, the US Orthodox community has been shaken by reports of outrageous behavior by Rabbi Leib Tropper, the former head of Eternal Jewish Family (least you think this is yet another piece of Haaretz venom against the charedim, Tropper’s own statement speaks volumes). In recent years, EJF has become a self-professed accreditor of conversion courts, playing an active part in undermining the validity of Rav Drukman’s conversions, which eventually led to his removal from the conversion court, as well as wreaking havoc in the lives of innumerable converts.

Read more…

A Light for Greytowers – Movie Review

December 23, 2009

On the first night of Chanuka, I took my 13-year-old daughter to the Jerusalem Cinematheque screening of A Light for Greytowers. Although the Jewish-themed musical was advertised as playing for women only, several men did make their way into the audience (most of them left fairly quickly – the movie was clearly made with women in mind).

First of all, I was thrilled to have an opportunity for a cultural outing with my daughter. In the past, I used to take my girls to ballet productions, but eventually stopped because of the halachic mixed message the girls were receiving. Unfortunately, “kosher” quality cultural events geared to children and teens are very scarce, so just the thought of a “girls’ night out” with her made me happy.

A Light for Greytowers was unlike any other movie I have ever seen. I had a hard time taking in the religious message when conveyed through the medium of professional cinematography. The music, the camerawork, the sets were very Hollywoodian and seeing them at the service of a Jewish ideas took getting used to.

On the other hand, since the main characters of the movie were children, I feel it was more geared to teens than adults. However, the movie did include scenes of corporal punishment and nightmares, which my daughter found terrifying, despite her overall maturity.

I have searched high and low on the Internet for a clip from the movie, until it dawned on me that since it is for women only, the producers probably did not want to broadcast it to the world. However, the movie includes several scenes played by men and sharing them with the public would go a long way in showcasing the quality of the film.

I sincerely hope that Kol Neshama and other companies will continue making new productions for our enjoyment.

The Gilad Shalit Deal as a Mirror of the Israeli Society

December 22, 2009

The discourse over the anticipated deal with Hamas to free Gilad Shalit has become the center of Israel’s public agenda in recent weeks. Although I oppose the release of some one thousand terrorists, which will only serve to whet Hamas’s appetite and encourage additional kidnappings, the very fact that the Israeli government would even consider such a deal as well as the extent of public interest in the fate of a single individual, is yet another remarkable sign of our society’s unprecedented humanity and the value it places on human life.

This understanding has become especially poignant against the backdrop of my grandmother’s recollections of her life in communist Russia, which she shared with me during my recent trip to Moscow. The following clip from The Gift to Stalin, in which the Soviet authorities test the first atom bomb without evacuating or warning the local population,  is an excellent example  of the utter disregard for the fate of ordinary people on the way to realizing the grand (or not so grand) goals set by a society (hat tip to Vicky Boykis for drawing attention to the movie on her blog).

In both our personal and public lives, G-d grants us challenges, which facilitate inquiry and clarification of our most basic character traits. Thus, Avraham was tested in situations, requiring him to show a measure of cruelty (the exile of Hagar and Yishmael from the family and later the binding of Yitzhak). Both of these tests were meant to crystallize Avraham’s underlying trait of loving kindness. So long as Avraham was unable to express cruelty, his charity was devoid of meaning.

In a similar vein, the Israeli society is called upon to define boundaries for the value of freeing its POWs, a fundamental part of its national ethos.  As we continue to argue over the pros and cons of releasing terrorists in exchange for Gilad, the discussion never strays into a debate of ideology vs. pragmatism. Both sides are guided by their understandings of the best way to uphold the value of human life. Like any value, this too needs to have identifiable boundaries.

At this hour, it is still unclear whether the deal will go through. But whatever the outcome, I feel extremely privileged to live in a society, which has these as its moral challenges.

Twitteleh – Twitter for Jewish Children (and their Moms)

December 21, 2009

As a proud Jewish mother (whose kids aren’t old enough to use Twitter yet), I highly recommend Twitteleh (thank you to Itamar for sharing this).

More on cholent cloth bags

December 20, 2009

Following my post about cholent, I have received inquiries about buying muslin bags in Israel.

From my experience, these sakiyot lebishul mebad are available  at most health food stores. You can also order them online, for example here and here.

As to care, I have found the dishwasher to be the best way to clean the bags (just be sure to wash off whatever food has gotten stuck to them under running water before placing them in the machine).

Bon appetit!

Chanuka in Russia

December 11, 2009

This Chanuka, I’ll be going to Russia to visit my 96-year-old grandmother. If the book of Job were to be staged in the 20th century, my grandmother would have been the perfect candidate for the role. Widowed at the age of 23 (her husband was put to death by the Stalin regime for “sabotaging” the work at his factory) and loosing her first child as a result of negligence, exiled by the Communists and bombed by the Nazis, she endured everything without becoming bitter or loosing her faith in people. Even years of “regular” financial hardships, such as living with a family of six in a 10-square-meter (100 sq. feet) room in the same apartment with 9 other families (sharing a single kitchen and a single bathroom) did not affect her good humor.

Rashi in this week’s parsha (Vaeshev) observes that the story of Yosef came as a result of Yaakov’s wish for some peace and quiet. Often, we feel that life is a constant stream of challenges. Why can’t things just work out, we think. Rav Reuven Fireman once observed that since Hashem brings each person into the world in order to enable him to achieve a change and realize his full potential, He constantly gives us opportunities for growth. Life can be compared to playing chess with a world champion. There is no way in the world that He’ll let you get away from pursuing the path of development. For this reason, peace and quiet are incompatible with our task in life.

My grandmother is a tremendous source of inspiration to me. Whenever I think of everything she has gone through in life, I feel great appreciation to Hashem for sending me my small trials and problems. I admire her ability to withstand all the difficulties life has thrown her way and still retain her joyous personality.

Chanuka coincides with the darkest and coldest time of the year. Yet, it is exactly at this time that we light the lights and celebrate. As Chanuka approaches, I wish us all that the happiness of the holiday should stay with us even as we work our way through both personal and national challenges ahead of us.

Twitter Challa

December 8, 2009

It has become a routine. Each Thursday my neighbour calls to ask whether I’ll be baking challa come Friday. I usually answer in the affirmative and in return get a name of a sick person to pray for while separating challa. The whole project of organizing 40 women each week is spearheaded by an amazing lady, who literally came back from the dead after giving birth to her last child.

Ever since I began baking challa in earnest a couple of years ago, it has become a cherished spiritual experience. And while at it, I take the time to say a short prayer for all the people I know could use a break in life.

This got me thinking. With so many potential challa backers on Twitter, wouldn’t it be a great medium to match them with those in need of a prayer? I know that some people are averse to segulot, but the mitzvah of challa, like any other mitzvah, creates a merit, which we could share with others by praying for them.

So, if this is up your alley, here is the deal:

  • The hashtag for this scheme is #twitchalla
  • To post a name for a prayer, tweet the name and problem with #twitchalla (for example: Itzhak ben Sara – refua shlema – #twitchalla). Note that most people bake their challot on Thursdays or Fridays, so time your messages accordingly.
  • If you bake challot and would like to help out, use the search function  to find tweets with this hashtag and include a prayer for as many people as you can when separating challa.
  • If you don’t tweet, feel free to post the names as a comment to this post.
  • Pass along.

As always, I welcome suggestions and comments.

Happy baking.