Varied community/congregation at the Western wall

Two Jews, Three Opinions by Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan


Two Jews, Three Opinions by Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

There’s an old joke that underscores our almost impish impulse for our streams of Judaism to deviate no matter what: One pious Jew was stranded on a desert island and built two synagogues. When rescued, the crew members asked, “There was only you and your limited resources, so why two  places to worship?” The Jew answered, “One was for me to pray in. The other one I wouldn’t be caught dead in.” Hmm, maybe the “other congregation” had a different way of handling the Mourner’s Kaddish. I have been reciting it for my father who died last December. In some synagogues, only the mourners rise to recite it, while in others everyone stands and says it to support the mourners or to say it for those who passed but have no survivors to say it for them.

I have said this prayer in both kinds of congregations, and I have mixed feelings about each procedure. On the one hand, if a few other people and I rise to say it, I feel acknowledged that yes, I am stepping through the peculiar passage of my first year without my father. Anyone who still does not know I had lost an immediate family member can later ask who I am mourning for and potentially become an additional source of support. On the other hand, I feel self-conscious drawing such attention to myself, like a scarlet “M” has sprouted on my forehead.

In the “other” synagogue, I feel more protected and less vulnerable as mourners and non-mourners alike participate in this ritual. But I feel that this dilutes my feelings or minimizes them as they are “distributed” across the group. What do you non-mourners know about my feelings and those of the others grieving? The intention, of course, is fine, but it reduces the significance of the ritual for me. If everyone is carrying it out, then I am not doing anything special to mark my relationship with the deceased or to drive home yet again to myself the reality of the loss. I feel deprived of the power of this ritual.

If I and some other hapless survivors of another ship wreck had joined the Jew stranded on that desert isle, as a rabbi I would have instituted the following compromise: Everyone rises but only the mourners actually say the prayer.

But wait, I hear an objection from the Chair of the Board of Trustees: “That’s not the way to do it! Everyone recites, but only the mourners rise.” Alas, we will need two synagogues after all.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. For more details including reviews, you can go to the publisher’s page or to amazon.com. There is also an audio version of Encountering the Edge: the Audiobook. Comments to the author are welcome by email or via her blog, Offbeat Compassion. She has recently authored a second book, Curiosity Seekers which is gentle science fiction about an endearing couple in the near future (Paperback or Kindle).

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

____________________

Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Words Matter…Dammit!


The violence in Charlottesville was scary, upsetting, vile and – unfortunately not surprising. 

The United States has become a country deeply divided by wealth, education, color, religion, opportunity and politics. It should not be surprising that people feel threatened by the stranger they do not know. The more separate we are from each other, the more fearful and suspicious we have become of the other.

It doesn’t help when our President spends so much time defining what is real and what is fake news, rather than condemning obvious hatred. He is better than this and this is a distraction we can ill afford. The stakes are too high for us to make a mockery of justice and the freedoms that our constitution guarantees us.

The book of Genesis teaches us to be like Abraham and embrace the stranger – whatever the price.

Our Jewish legacy is that we are a people of the book, a book that reminds us that words matter. The beginning of the book (i.e. Genesis) teaches us to be like Abraham and embrace the stranger – whatever the price. Today is the day to break down the boundaries between us and them.

When we started the Pico Union Project four years ago, I sensed it was time to bring multiple faiths and cultures together under one roof. I had no idea how critical it would be to create a space for people to get to know each other, without judgement or fear. This is what I’ve learned:

  • We can do better
  • Anything is possible.
  • We can say yay when everyone else is saying nay
  • It’s better to focus on service than ‘serve us’
  • Upward mobility is not just a dream, it’s achievable.
  • We are honored when we honor all of creation.

The American way – the Pico Union Project way, begins with YOU and includes all of US.  If you have yet to check us out, The PUP doors are always open -and our eternal light is always on!


Craig Taubman

The Pico Union Project is a multi-faith, multi-cultural center committed to living the principle to “love your neighbor as you want to be loved.” We recognize that in order to love, you must first get to know your neighbor.  We use spirituality, arts, and a deep commitment to community activism as tools to draw individuals together, deepen a sense of self-awareness, and open eyes, minds, and souls to the value and potential of our community.

 

Losing to Gain: The Central Paradox of Death Rituals – The Break that Binds by Isaac Pollak


[Ed. Note: This is a reprise from 2014. — JB]

Central to religious practice, rituals may often seem intentionally obtuse, to the point of irrationality. This, in fact may be their very purpose. By devising rituals that at times seem to make little or no sense to the uninitiated, those who learn to perform the rituals – if not understand them, become part of a distinct community. The fact that rituals often don’t make practical or rational sense is exactly what makes them useful for social identification. The cognitive psychologist Christine LeGare has done a number of studies showing that rituals declare that you are a member of a particular social group. Lewis Mumford, the social philosopher, historian, and greatest urbanist of the 20th century, makes a clear case that what sets humans apart from other animals is not the use of tools, but rather our use of language and ritual, and those are what makes us “Community”. Sharing information and ideas among participants was the foundation of all societies, and “community is the most precious collective invention.”

Although there are rituals designed for every aspect of the human life cycle, the rituals surrounding “DEATH” are often the least understood, yet the most often performed. Even the irreligious may insist upon death rituals for themselves or their loved ones. Matthew Frank in his book Preparing the Ghost speaks about “our need to mythologize, ritualize, and spin tales about that which we “fear.”

The greater the lack of comprehension, the increased the amount of the rituals with DEATH, by far the most ritualized of any aspect of a society’s life cycle in every culture. The more rituals there are, the stronger the bonds of community and social identification. The life cycle events the least understood emerge in ritual earlier and are more deeply rooted.

Witness the recent tragic murder of three young Israeli teenagers which bought every dimension of Judaism – and beyond – into a unified community – from the Ultra-Hassidic to Messianics. Everyone adopted and prayed for these young men in accord with the adage ”kol Yisrael Arevim zeh l\L’zeh”, all of us are responsible for one another. Death brought us a sense of unified community as nothing else ever could.

A life broken, an individual link lost, paradoxically strengthens the group unity and identity. Rituals give us a sense of control over an area where we have none. Mundane actions are suffused with arbitrary conventions, and that makes it important to us and gives us a sense of “being in charge”. Rituals engage members of a community in the collective enterprise of building and sustaining a “PEOPLE.”

Jewish death rituals have a foundation that travels back in time 3000 years and has made us a community like none other. In fact, a new developing Jewish community has an obligation to set aside ground for a cemetery before setting aside land for a synagogue. How wise were our Rabbis.

Let us preciously value these so vitally irrational traditions and hoary rituals that bring us together to pray, to improve ourselves, and to elevate ourselves in response to mysteries we don’t comprehend.

Let me conclude by paraphrasing the German poet Rainer M. Rilke in his letters to a young Poet:

“I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

 

Isaac Pollak

Isaac Pollak

Isaac Pollak is President and CEO of an international marketing business for almost 4 decades at this point. He holds graduate degrees in Marketing, Industrial Psychology, Art History, and Jewish Material Culture from City College, LIU, JTS, and Columbia University. He has been a student in the Gamliel Institute, and serves as a consultant to the institution. He has been the rosh/head of a Chevrah Kadisha on the upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC, for over 3 decades, and is an avid collector of Chevrah Kadisha material cultural items, having several hundred in his own collection. He serves as chairperson of the Acquisition Committee for Traditional Material Culture at the Jewish Museum in NYC. Born and raised in NYC, married, with 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free Preview/Overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. You are welcome to join us to decide if this course is one in which you would like to enroll. Contact info@jewish-funerals.org or  j.blair@jewish-funerals.org for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the online platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

____________________

Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly.

If you are interested in offering a teaching, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

____________________

Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have complete three or more Gamliel Institute courses are invited to be on the lookout for information on a series of “Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (in three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first two series tentatively planned will be on Psalms and on the Death & the Zohar. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge to attend (more information to be sent soon). Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact them, register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

_____________________

DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

___________

MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

_____________________

Survey: Jewish men more likely to marry non-Jews; Wives more likely to convert to Judaism


A detailed study of non-Jewish-born spouses in mixed marriages has confirmed that Jewish men are much more likely to marry non-Jewish women than the reverse and that women are more likely to convert than men.

The study, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, was released at a press conference here Wednesday. It also found that most non-Jewish-born partners found it easy to integrate into the Jewish community, though few had been exposed to community “outreach” efforts. But they felt that born Jews lacked understanding for the converts’ particular situation.

The study was conducted by Dr. Egon Mayer, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, and Dr. Amy Avgar, assistant director of the AJCommittee’s William Petschek National Jewish Family Center.

They based their findings on responses to questionnaires mailed in 1985 to a nationwide sample of born non-Jews married to Jews. Of the 309 respondents, 109 had converted to Judaism and 200 had not. Mayer reported that while 74 percent of the respondents were women, a higher proportion, 86 percent of the women, were converts.

EDUCATION IS INCOME CORRELATED

The study found that converts tended to have somewhat more education and higher income than non-converts and appeared to have been more favorably disposed toward Judaism than non-converts. Women were more likely to convert if they considered religious affiliation important to begin with and felt conversion to Judaism would be important to her husband.

About two-thirds of the converts and approximately one-third of the non-converts viewed the Jewish family into which they married as being “very” or “moderately” religious. According to Mayer, “This might imply that many of them were actively encouraged to convert to Judaism by their Jewish families.” Conversely, converts were more likely than non-converts to perceive their own parents as being “not at all” religious or “anti-religious.”

More than 70 percent of the marriages involving a convert were performed by a rabbi compared to 21 percent of those involving a non-convert. But nearly 84 percent of the converts and 45 percent of non-converts said they had approached a rabbi to officiate at their marriage.

The study found that the Jewish behavior and attitudes of converts resembled born Jews affiliated with Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Judaism in America.

More than 68 percent of the converts, compared to 34.8 percent of non-converts, described themselves as “very” or “moderately” religious. Similarly, 84 percent of converts and 44.8 percent of non-converts thought it was “important to have a religious identity”; 73.8 percent of the converts and 59.5 percent of non-converts felt a “personal need to pray”; and 78.7 percent of converts and 62.2 percent of non-converts expressed belief in supernatural forces.

Glorious Living


We are a product of our environment, we cannot change.  

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Our circumstances have been set in motion from the beginning.

We are failures.

We are stuck.

We are worthless.

These sentences are belief systems. They are only real by the conviction that our own minds have set for them. But they are figments of our imaginative minds that lack true imagination, yet ache for invention.

To change our made up voice that thinks these negatives, we must only look inside our own truths that exist underneath, that are drowning, that are aching to be seen.

Try hearing the self that speaks to you quietly, under the loud voice that screams these false beliefs and see how quickly your life becomes alive.

True courage comes from hearing the whisper of your own voice emerge through the sea of the negative rattle.

Today become alive.

See what happens.

It is glorious.

 

Ban champ Tyson Fury from boxing over anti-Semitic comments, ex-titlist Wladimir Klitschko says


Former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko called for his successor to the crown, Tyson Fury, to be banned from boxing over anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist comments.

On Thursday, Klitschko described the remarks in May by Fury, who took the Ukrainian’s title in November, as “Hitler-like.”

Fury, 27, of Britain, was filmed warning viewers not to be “brainwashed” by Zionist Jews, who he said own all the banks and media. He later apologized for the remarks.

“I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people he sounded like Hitler. The man is an imbecile. Seriously,” Klitschko told the British media. “You cannot put it all together as a representation of the sport of boxing. He’s an imbecile champion.”

Fury and Klitschko will meet in a rematch for the world championship next month in the British city of Manchester.

#myLAcommute These are my friends


ZACHARY TAYLOR

I work at a day center for developmentally disabled people. I hang out with them, we do arts and crafts. I feed them lunch. Sometimes I change diapers. I help them throughout the day. It definitely takes a lot of patience and is pretty taxing, but all in all is very rewarding as well. Sometimes they have bad days and sometimes they have pretty good days, like any of your friends, and these are my friends.

Holly Street to Rodeo Road

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

#myLAcommute Sometimes I just close my eyes


SHANNON L.

I’m a student at a dance school in Hollywood. It’s a foundational program for jazz, ballet, choreography, and hip-hop. When I’m on the train, I review dance video for my classes. I wish I could read, but I get motion sick. Sometimes I just close my eyes.

Hollywood Blvd. to 1st Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

Hebrew word of the week: Kasher/kosher


When one hears or sees the word “kosher,” one immediately thinks of Jewish food. However, the original meaning of the root k-sh-r is “to be fit (in general),” as when Esther asks Ahashverosh if it is kashér, meaning “agreeable,” with him to annul Haman’s plan (Esther 8:5).

Hence, in Israel, Hadar kósher is a “fitness room, gym”; hakhsharah is “making kosher,” as well as “preparing, training (someone for a skilled job, aliyah to Israel, etc.); makhsir is “makes kosher” (verb), or an “instrument” (noun) (a gadget that makes something fit for use); kisharon means “talent, ability”; and mukhshar “talented, very fit.”

*The Israeli (Sephardic) kashér (with kamats) has the same meaning as the American (Yiddish) “kósher,” which coalesces with the Israeli kósher (with Holam), meaning “fitness.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Hebrew word of the week: Miriam


Thanks to Miriam, Moses’ sister, the prophetess and singer-dancer, as well as Mary, the mother of Jesus in the New Testament, this name (with its varieties) is one of the most common in the world. The name’s origin seems to be Egyptian, meaning “wished-for child,” derived from myr (“beloved”) or mr (“love”).

More traditional explanations (as by Rashi) include the Hebrew mar (“bitter”) or meri (“rebellion”), signifying the bitter slavery in Egypt and the wish to rebel.

Variations of the name include Maryam (Greek-Christian; Arabic-Islamic), Maria (Latin), Maliah (Hawaiian), Mary (English, Christian, but occasionally Jewish, as well), Mira/Miri/Mimi (Israeli), Mirele (Yiddish) and combinations such as Marianna, Mary Kay, etc. Even Mayim (best known for actress Mayim Bialik) is a variant of Miriam.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

#myLAcommute I wish the city would help the homeless


DOLORES APARICIO

I sell leather accessories in the Fashion District. My commute is long, but I wouldn’t want to live in the middle of L.A. It’s too polluted and everything is too fast-paced. Arcadia is beautiful. We have lots of tree-lined streets.

I wish the city would do something to help the homeless. I walk by Skid Row every day, and it breaks my heart to see children growing up around drugs, prostitution, and so much violence.

San Pedro Street to Santa Clara Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

Hebrew word of the week: Pistachios


The spelling with the initial “f” sound suggests a borrowing from Arabic.* However, the original name is preserved better in the English pistachio, from the Italian pistacchio, from the Latin pistacium, from the Greek pistakion, from the original Persian pestah — the original motherland being Iran’s mountainous regions. Iran is still the most prolific grower of pistachios in the world (producing about 200,000 tons per year). The original, academic Hebrew name is elah amittit (Latin: pistacia vera) or elatboTnah (plural boTnim;** as in boTnim ushqedim, Genesis 43:11). The Persian name is retained in talmudic pisteqa.

*Arabic does not have the p sound (it becomes f), as pepper, related to Hebrew pilpel, is in Arabic filfil, plural falafel, “falafel.”

**In modern Hebrew, used for “peanuts.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA

#myLAcommute I sketch people on the train


JAMIE FERGUSON

I’m a graphic designer, but I really want to be a children’s book illustrator. I didn’t go to art school so I’m teaching myself life drawing, figure drawing, perspective, that kind of stuff. I’m getting a lot better. When I’m on the train, I sketch the people in front of me. Sometimes they notice and I feel embarrassed, but I secretly wish they would ask me for their drawing.

Halstead Street to Marmion Way

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute I want to see it all


LEA DAVIDSON

I’m originally from Washington D.C. I moved away from home because there is so much to explore in the world. I want to see it all.

Grand Ave. to Jefferson Blvd.

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute Aquafaba is magical


BRITNEY L.

I run my own vegan catering business. I like to cook curries. I make vegan sausages and cookies with chickpea brine—or aquafaba. It whips up like meringue. It’s so magical. I’ve been vegan for 11 years. I was in the punk rock scene and a lot of my friends were hippies. So I decided to try being a vegan. I lost a lot of weight. My skin cleared up. I felt amazing. I stick to what works!

8th Street to Long Beach Boulevard

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute I never get bored in class


ERNESTO SANTIZO

I’ve been doing this commute since August 24th. I remember the exact date because it was the first day of school. I’m a kinesiology student—that’s the study of body movement. It’s so interesting. I never get bored in class. Today, I learned that once you get a concussion, you’re never the same again. You can actually lose a learned skill. So don’t play football or rugby! It’s bad for your head.

Nordhoff Street to Normandie Avenue

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute I drink Folgers all day


KEOKA TURNER

I pray for an open seat on the train so I can read the Bible and listen to music. I work as a telemarketer, so I talk to people all day long. When someone is angry, I don’t even try to diffuse the situation. I just wish them a nice day. I can’t turn their day around, and I don’t take it personally. To do my job, I need to have a lot of spontaneous responses, enthusiasm, and cheerfulness. I drink Folgers all day to get me hyper.

88th Street to 6th Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square

#myLAcommute My job brings out my inner detective


JEFF T.

I monitor clients’ bank accounts. You know when you get that email about unusual activity in your account? That’s me looking out for you and making sure you’re not a victim of fraud. I really enjoy my job. It brings out my inner detective.

Arroyo Parkway to 1st Street

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

#myLAcommute I find my zen on the train


JACKIE P.

It’s better to find your zen on the train than to sit in traffic. I work as a secretary for a doctor. I like being busy. I never have time to get bored. I make sure that everything runs smoothly. When a patient isn’t happy, I speak to them in a very soft and gentle voice, like a whisper.

Larchmont Blvd. to Monterey Road

#myLAcommute is a project of Zócalo Public Square.

WATCH: 50 Reasons to love Tel Aviv (and never, ever leave)


A video version of Simone Wilson's ode to Tel Aviv: 

Drawing new interest to the Talmud


This story originally appeared on JNS.org.

Last August, in conjunction with the beginning of a new seven-and-a-half year cycle of “daf yomi”—the daily study of a double page of the Babylonian Talmud that is observed by tens of thousands of Jews worldwide—Nicholls inaugurated an online “Draw Yomi” project that day-by-day results in a hand-drawn response to what she has studied.

“Here I go. Full of optimism and hope that I will not be defeated by the daily discipline of learning,” the London-based Jewish artist wrote on her blog to initiate the project.

With drawings of a human heart, a scorpion, and the Hebrew word “Amen,” Nicholls introduces and explicates the often-arcane world of the Talmud.

“Drawing is a way to slow down and get the brain to take a different path,” she told JNS.org.

After several months, that path—which is available for view on her website, http://drawyomi.blogspot.com/—has illuminated with graphic and thought-provoking drawings a world of Jewish law, storytelling and contemplative thought that had previously been limited mostly to the word and textural study.

In Nicholl’s illustrations—each illustration is accompanied by a reference to the text from which she bases the illustration—Talmud study shifts to the visual as Hebrew letters anthropomorphize into fists, and a human skull helps to illustrate “the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things in the world.”

As a kind of warm-up to Draw Yomi, Nicholls had earlier created a drawing a day for the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. As it turned out, she missed the ritual of sitting down to draw every day. “I like the immediacy and deadline,” she said.

To create her illustrations, Nicholls, who describes herself as a traditional Jew, first studies the double page portion to get a “sense of what’s up on the daf (page)” and to search for a theme she can illustrate.

With raised fists, Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretive Talmud drawings also take on social issues. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

Sitting in her studio, she limits her time for the drawing to thirty minutes. “I use a kitchen timer,” she explained. “The drawings are not a finished piece of art–more like a sketchbook,” added the artist, who in September had a showing of her previous artwork at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in Manhattan.

Nicholls said she has found that drawing is not only a process of study, but also a “way of taking the daf out of the yeshiva.”

Moving even further from the yeshiva, Nicholls, who studied anatomical art and medical drawing, does not shy away from illustrating the female form. For example, to illustrate a daf that she interprets as being “all about life and babies,” she illustrates a pregnant woman in position for childbirth.

Each week, to further explore the text, Nicholls invites a learning partner to add another voice to the ongoing Talmudic conversation by engaging in chevruta—the time-honored method of Talmud study where two students bounce ideas, questions and interpretations off of each other.

“She has changed the medium for commentary,” said Rabbi Deborah Silver, who has been one of Nicholls’s chevruta partners. “She holds up a particular kind of mirror to the text,” added Silver, the assistant rabbi at Temple Adat Ari El in Los Angeles who studied with Nicholls before she began the Draw Yomi project. “I know her for along time, and this is her language,” she said.

Silver explained that the drawings are a “springboard” serving to “take the conversation deeper, quicker,” showing a more concentrated view of Nicholls’s thought process.

Depending on the Talmud daf (page), Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretation can take a whimsical approach. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

For instance, to illustrate a daf on what it means to forget, and specifically to forget Shabbat, Nicholls shows a woman missing the top of her head. “Is forgetting the same as never knowing?” she asks.

To capture a Talmud page on waiting for Shabbat to be over, Nicholls shows a clock overseen by three stars. On the belief that crying can cause blindness, she draws a tearful smoldering eye.

If there is humor in the text, Nicholls shows that, too. To illustrate a page that likens a city to a person with limbs, we don’t see a serious city with “Broad Shoulders,” as we might imagine from Carl Sandberg’s  “Chicago,” but an animated town with bent arms, cartoony fingers, even a couple of feet.

But to illustrate another page of Talmud that speaks of “cities that are dangerous to enter if you are from the wrong neighborhood,” Nicholls’s buildings grow angular, and with raised arms, look ready for a fight.

After more than half a year of the project, Nicholls has received interest from several quarters, including “a fairly right-wing chasidic chap,” and others who are approaching daf yomi using social media and international conversation. There has even been interest from those wanting to buy the drawings.

A woman with the top of her head missing in a depiction of a daf (page) from Tractate Shabbat in the Talmud by Jacqueline Nicholls. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

In May, Nicholls was also invited to serve as a scholar and artist-in-residence at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, where she presented the Draw Yomi project and heard comments from people who had been learning daf yomi for years. She said she was “pleasantly delighted” by the feedback she received.

At this stage of the Draw Yomi project, Nicholls knows “a couple of people who like my art, check in and see my drawings quite regularly and have now started learning daf yomi themselves.”

“What she does is jump the language barrier,” said Rabbi Silver.

Food, inspired by Israel


Sandy Leon, 42, grew up Catholic, but she never connected with the religion. Three years ago, she took a trip to Israel to see if, perhaps, Judaism was right for her. 

“When I got there, I wanted to embrace everything in Israel, like the food, the culture and the people,” she said. “I went to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall; it was huge for me.”

During the two and a half weeks she spent in Israel, Leon, who works as a hospital chef, took frequent trips to Jerusalem’s Arab shuk (market) in the Old City and shopped for local produce. She immersed herself in the culture, visited King David’s Tomb and explored Tel Aviv. “I traveled before, but Israel was calling to me,” she said. “It was the most beautiful experience. … I loved it.

“As soon as I came back, I knew for sure that I wanted to convert.” 

She took simple steps to start the conversion process. Leon bought a Star of David necklace in Israel and wore it every day thereafter. She also purchased a mezuzah and hung it in front of the door of her Arleta home. 

Leon started her formal conversion process in the summer of 2012. After studying initially at House of David bookstore in Valley Village, she was referred to the Judaism by Choice program, run by Rabbi Neal Weinberg — who formerly ran a conversion program at American Jewish University (AJU) — and his wife, Miri. Following a class about the Holocaust that she dropped in on, Leon realized she had made the right decision. “It was a very moving class,” she said. “I knew this was something that I wanted to do that same day.”

She studied Jewish history, prayers and rituals. She celebrated Shabbat and holidays, shul hopped, and decided to attend Temple Beth Am regularly and live a Conservative Jewish life. Her kitchen was kashered, and she started to learn Hebrew with the Beverly Hills Lingual Institute. “I was converting little by little,” she said.

During the conversion process, Leon also decided to investigate a family rumor that her ancestors were Jewish. “For years I knew, and it was always a question,” she said. “On my mother’s side, my ancestors came from Spain. I always wondered why they went to Mexico, of all places.”

Leon contacted FamilyTree.com, took a DNA test and within three months, found out she has Sephardic Jewish roots. 

Alhough her Catholic family has no intention of converting, Leon said they are very supportive of her choice. “My parents wanted to know more and why I wasn’t spiritually fulfilled as a Catholic. They told me, if you’re happy, we’re happy. They saw the positive in me during my conversion. Now they want to go to my synagogue. It’s great to be so open and not be discriminated or judged at all.”

After speaking with her family about it, and taking classes for seven months at Judaism by Choice, Leon completed her conversion by meeting with the beit din, a group of rabbis, at AJU this past March. Her sponsor was Rabbi Ari Lucas of Temple Beth Am. “I’m still shocked,” she said. “I was extremely nervous, but the rabbis made me feel so comfortable in the process. They were really good to me. Emerging [from the mikveh immersion] was such a beautiful spirit moment. I was relaxed, at ease, and I cried like a baby. The whole experience was amazing.”

To make the transition, Leon has started a home library of Jewish books, eats at kosher restaurants in Pico-Robertson, speaks as much Hebrew as possible, attends synagogue and spends time with the friends she made through the conversion program. She chose the Hebrew name Yanah Danit, which means “He (God) answers” and “God is my judge,” respectively. For fun, she explores the outdoors, sees her family, boxes, and cooks Middle Eastern and Israeli food. One of her favorite activities is reading on Shabbat, because, she said, it allows her to “disconnect from the world completely.”

Throughout her three-year endeavor, Leon was able to come back to family traditions and start new ones of her own. Looking back on her journey, she said that she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “I would not change a thing. My conversion was a memorable experience. I was blessed to have shared my journey with good, positive people around me. I have made longtime friends, and Rabbi Weinberg and his wife, Miri, made me feel like family.”

Leon has taken on a new identity, but she said that she is “proud to be a Latina Jew. It’s a great feeling to be part of two beautiful cultures and celebrate both traditions.”

Talmud Study


How do you measure anything —
count your deaths, who loves you, who loves you knot.
Today you are the ox, tomorrow the victim
of the gorging ox.
 
You build a house, you are holy,
but your walls are shaky.
Inside there is wine to be drunk.
Outside there is a plague.
You are on the wrong page.
 
Someone is coming to town on a donkey.
He will insult your intelligence
then ask for forgiveness.
Everything is a ratio, parts of the whole.
 
You watch the ants as they crawl across your plate.
You snuff out every third one with your pinky finger.
Years later they will say, blood, frogs, boils,
but what are they remembering
Your house is falling —
who is the protagonist and what is it that he wants?
 

Carly Sachs is the recipient of the 2012 Charlotte Newberger Poetry Prize; “the stream sequence” is her first collection of poetry.

Yankees offer Youkilis $12 million


The New York Yankees reportedly offered Jewish free agent Kevin Youkilis a one-year, $12 million contract.

Youkilis, a three-time All Star for the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in June, was leaning toward accepting the offer, a source told The New York Times.

The offer would have Youkilis play third base, replacing Alex Rodriguez, who is expected to be sidelined until next June because of hip surgery. The Cleveland Indians are also said to be interested in signing Youkilis, according to the Times.

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