Alike, But Different


I am one of three totally different children, and my parents have assured me that none of us is adopted.

I find this hard to believe.

I am not sure if my siblings have thought about this, but it has certainly crossed my mind a few times. How could three such radically dissimilar children, with varying temperaments, tastes and tendencies have the same parents?

This is a question I hear from many of my friends and congregants with more than one child. Sometimes it is said with chagrin, sometimes with delight, but always with a mixture of surprise and resigned acceptance. This is just the way it is.

However, far greater than the biological mystery of unlike offspring from the same parents is the challenge of parenting these children. Many siblings have different temperaments and personalities, and they respond to the same things in widely divergent ways. A technique honed over years with one child might prove totally ineffective with another.

For instance, I have one child who is very susceptible to bribery. When he was young, I could threaten to take away dessert and often I would get the desired result. My power to deprive him allowed me some semblance of control.

But I have another child for whom deprivation means nothing. When he was young, I could take away every single video, game, toy, stuffed animal, food or anything else that gave him any pleasure, and he would shrug it off as if he were flicking schmutz off his shoulder.

Into this maelstrom of frustration comes a teaching on this week’s Torah portion with a very simple yet profound observation: “You shall not plow with an ox and ass together” (Deuteronomy 22:10).

On the surface, the commandment expresses straightforward agricultural advice: do not pair animals together of unequal strength. According to professor Jeffrey H. Tigay in the “Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary” (Jewish Publication Society, 2001), if yoked together, the stronger one (the ox) might exhaust the weaker one (the ass), leading to potential harm and injury of that animal.

However, going deeper we see that this could also apply to how we parent our children. Whether they have the same birth parents or just grow up in the same home, each child is different. They have different ways about them — different strengths, skills and interests. They have innate talents with certain tasks and natural gifts in other areas. And they have their very own shortcomings and weaknesses as well.

Each child is a unique manifestation of God, and we cannot lump them together blithely. We cannot place them under the same yoke, burden them with the same expectations, and assume we will get the same results. As with other human beings, different offspring should be considered as individuals. We need to see them for who they are and not bind them to someone else.

The Torah’s insight makes parenting both more difficult and easier at the same time.

On the one hand, parenting requires that we know and are sensitive to each child as he or she presents himself or herself to us. We cannot be on automatic, assuming that what worked for one will work for all.

On the other hand, the Torah releases us from the unrealistic expectations that we place upon ourselves and our children. Understanding that our children are not alike, we can free ourselves and them from the pressures of being like their siblings — or other children for that matter — and get down to the business of learning and enjoying who they are.

I’m now the father of three very different children with very different temperaments, tastes and tendencies. I wonder if they sometimes think that one of them must have been adopted. It is only natural, I suppose.

But personally, I just hope and pray that every day I am up to parenting them in the way that fits each of them best.

Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard is the incoming senior rabbi at Adat Ari El.

For the Kids


Watch Your Words

In this week’s Torah portion, which tells the story of King Balak, the sorcerer Bilam and Bilam’s talking donkey, we learn two important lessons:

1. Words are very powerful. Be careful about what comes out of your mouth. If it is a put-down or is mean-spirited, think many times about what you are saying and why you are saying it. Turn your negative words into encouraging ones.

2. Animals often sense things humans can’t. The donkey saw an angel of God that Bilam could not see.

Flower-
Power
Flag

Create a beautiful American flag. Find red, white and blue flowers (roses, tulips, camellias, gardenias, gentians, forget-me-nots or any other flowers of those colors you can find at the flower shop).
Use a large cookie sheet as your canvas on which to create your stars and stripes. It will make a great centerpiece for your family barbecue.

Is History Repeating Itself?


"If I am not for myself, who will be for me"? — Rabbi Hillel

Can we learn from history? Is the past a succession of meaningless, unrelated events? Does the rise and fall of nations in the past have

anything to do with today’s world? Are people that much different than they were then? Do they strive after different things, have different desires?

These questions came to mind recently as the similarities between Israel’s geopolitical situation increasingly resembled that of the Jews during the first Roman War. (Some would argue that it more closely resembles 20th-century Czechoslovakia, but that’s another article.)

Huge armies were assembled in ancient Judea. Pitched battles were fought throughout. Great plunder and destruction followed, and Jerusalem was destroyed, its people brutally murdered or sold into slavery. The dispersion of the Jews among their enemies began.

There were those who counseled moderation in those days: These were collaborators, wealthy men and nobles who benefited from the Roman occupation and wanted it to continue. They preferred expansion and trade to a foolish rebellion that could only end in disaster.

The war began in spite of their efforts. Menahem the Galilean conquered the Roman fortress at Masada and then entered Jerusalem in triumph.

Other nationalist movements began to stir throughout the Roman Empire, and Jews in the Diaspora were also moved to send material aid.

But the resources of these Jewish rebels were infinitely smaller than their oppressors, and they were tragically disunited. Their greatest energies were used in fighting one another, further weakening them against the powerful Roman army that had conquered Galilee and stood poised to attack Jerusalem.

The city was now the center of the rebellion, with Jews from all over the country rallying there. Zealots, an extremist organization adamantly opposed to Roman rule and the high priesthood, occupied the Temple precinct and forced the priests to withdraw into the sanctuary.

Things were made more confused by the arrival of many Idumaeans in the city. These men were great fighters, but they were not accepted as Jews, because they were converts. The three principal factions — Zealots, Idumaeans and the elitist collaborationists — now used their time to terrorize one another, creating the contagion of civil war.

Vespasian, the Roman general, twice prepared to attack Jerusalem but hesitated when the Emperor Nero died suddenly. Besides, it was evident by then that the Jews were destroying themselves by their extraordinary disunity. And indeed, the three basic factions in the capital were reduced to two by their fierce internal struggles that persisted, even though a Roman army was just north of the city and poised to attack.

Significantly, the remaining Jewish forces in Jerusalem had a misplaced confidence in their military capabilities. Partly, this was due to religious beliefs; partly it was because of Vespasian’s failure to attack the holy city for three years, even though its gates had been wide open and defenseless. As a result, when the long siege of Jerusalem began, there was no real hope for the defenders.

Ancient Judea lost its bid for freedom when it divided itself into factions and fought one another, instead of the common enemy. Its forces were caught up in their visions of the world, its fighters too certain the real enemy was within.

The result was the fall of the city, followed by a massacre and burning of the Temple and the city. The numbers of Jews killed or taken prisoner was astounding. Thirty-thousand prisoners of war were sold at auction, while many others perished in gladiatorial games.

Writing of those times, Josephus spoke thus: "…. Weary of slaughter, Titus issued orders to kill only those who were found in arms and offered resistance … troops slew the old and feeble, while those in the prime of life and serviceable they drove together into the Temple and shut them up in the court of the women."

Israel today stands imperiled much as she did in Roman times, surrounded by enemies that again threaten her existence. Jews everywhere have formed themselves into factions, unable to see any good in the policies of their political opponents.

There is little uproar over the left’s blindness, no outcry about the right’s dreams of a greater Israel. None of these factions sees anything good about the other, and some would rather demonize or talk down the elected government of Israel than present a united front against the nation’s enemies.

Should we be concerned that history is tragically repeating itself today? Should these happenings frighten those who value liberty and the survival of the Jewish state most?

That is the most important question for Jews to think about in these perilous times.


Stanley William Rothstein is professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton.

Nanny & Me


“Ana,” a Catholic Latina nanny working for a Jewish family
in Studio City, was afraid to ask her employers whether she could buy a holiday
gift for their young son. She was torn between wanting to give the child a
present and worrying about insulting the family. Like many foreigners, Ana (not
her real name) was unsure of proper holiday protocol.

“It’s hard for these women to know where to draw the line,”
said Davina Klein, who teaches a class at Adat Ari El in North Hollywood for Latina
nannies working for Jewish families. “They don’t want to ask questions because
they don’t want to rock the boat. I think that comes from a different
mentality.”

The working relationship between Jewish families and Latina
women who care for their children often presents a unique communication gap —
and it’s not just the language.

Nannies or maids care for just under 10 percent of Jewish
children ages 5 and under — some 2,400 children — according to a 1997 survey of
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles service area (which does not
include the San Fernando Valley, Long Beach or East Los Angeles), said Pini
Herman of Phillips & Herman Demographic Research. Herman estimated that
more than 90 percent of the women who work as caregivers for this group of
children are Latina. While many speak fluent English, cultural differences and
stereotyping between Jews and Latinos often create conflict in their
employer-employee relationships.

Klein, a young Jewish mother with Cuban roots and a
doctorate in educational psychology, teaches “Me & My Nanny,” a pilot
program at Adat Ari El’s early education center. The 12-week, one-hour class is
like a Spanish version of “Mommy & Me,” only with Latina nannies and Jewish
toddlers. In the first half of the class, Klein leads the nannies and children
in playtime, art, singing and Jewish holiday celebrations. In the second
half-hour, she holds a discussion in Spanish where the nannies get to ask
questions and compare experiences. Topics vary from week to week, focusing on
toddler development, fostering self-esteem, setting limits, toilet training,
sleeping, eating and playing. The goal of the class is the bridge the cultural
gap.

An expert in early education and the Latino culture, Klein
said that some of the most common issues between Latina caregivers and their
employers revolve around setting limits, eating, sleeping and gender roles.

“Americans in general have an idea that kids should be
independent, while the Latino culture is much more nurturing,” she said, adding
that many Latino families sleep in the same bed, rather than encouraging a
child to sleep by himself. This closeness, she said, fosters security. Along
the same lines, the Latino culture favors holding and comforting a child
whenever he or she cries, while many Americans view the ability to self-soothe
as an important step in becoming more independent.

Gender roles are more skewed for Latinos. The idea that
little boys shouldn’t cry and the concept of hitting a child as punishment are
widely accepted. Rina Gonzalez, a 35-year-old nanny from Valley Village, has
worked for a Jewish family for the last seven years and has noticed the
difference in mentality.

“Instead of spanking,” Gonzalez said, “[Jewish families] let
the child use more words. [In Guatemala] we tend not to let them express
themselves.”

When one 34-year-old Jewish mother from Santa Monica was
hiring a Latina nanny to care for her then-infant son, she had certain concerns
because of her childhood experiences with housekeepers and nannies.  As a
result, she was very specific in instructing her employee to limit her son’s
intake at mealtimes.

Esther Matalon, the owner of Nana’s World, an agency for
caregivers in Sherman Oaks, said that 50 percent to 60 percent of her clients
are Jewish and that many of the women she employs are Latina. As a Sephardic
Jew from Chile, Matalon feels that many Americans are uninformed about the
Latino culture.

“People are so ignorant here,” she said. “When they say
‘Latin,’ they think it only means Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”
Many of her nannies come from the “European countries” within South America,
including countries like Argentina, Chile, Spain and Portugal. These women, she
says, are often highly educated. As a result, many clients are happily
surprised.

On the other end of the spectrum, many nannies have
predisposed beliefs about Jews. Sandy Algaze, owner of Family Matters, an
agency in West Los Angeles, said that 60 percent to 70 percent of her clients
are Jewish. While many of the caregivers embrace Jewish customs, Algaze admits
that some request to not be placed with a Jewish family.

“This is a very prejudiced business where people are quite
honest about who don’t want to work for,” Algaze said. “I think there are some
stereotypes that Jewish people are more demanding. They know exactly how they
want the children to be raised and they’re very into education. They’ll set a
certain agenda of what they expect of the nannies.”

Matalon has had similar experiences with her own business.
“Some of these women hate Jewish people,” she said, explaining that she’s
gotten complaints of poor sleeping quarters, low pay and leftover food.

“If [someone is] good enough to take care of your family,
they’re supposed to be good enough to live a normal life with you and not get
treated like [they are] three steps down,” Matalon said.

Still, many nannies have great relationships with their
Jewish employers.

Annemarie Raizman, a mother of three, has nothing but
positive feedback about her nanny, Gonzalez.

“She feels like part of the family,” said the former teacher
from Valley Village. Because she worked with a Jewish family before the Raizmans,
the family was impressed with her knowledge of their traditions.

“She knows the Shabbat prayers and my son is teaching her
Hebrew right now,” Raizman said. “She’s very open to [learning about Judaism]
and enjoys doing that with my kids because it’s part of who they are.”

Rhea Turteltaub of Encino has had a similar experience with
Silvia Virula, who has worked for her for almost five years.

“I’ve learned a great deal from her and she tells she learns
from me,” said the mother of two, who works at UCLA. In fact, the Turteltaubs
have attended Virula’s family celebrations, including her daughter’s Quinceanera
(Sweet 15) party. Virula, who is affectionately called “Bibi” by Turteltaub’s
young sons, has embraced the Jewish holidays and songs.

Gonzalez and Virula spend time together each week at the “Me
& My Nanny” class.

While both the nannies and parents involved rave about the
new class, Matalon is skeptical that sooner or later the nannies might compare
notes regarding pay and opt to leave for higher-paying gigs. Still, it’s hard
to put a price tag on what, for many, can deepen from an employer-employee
relationship to a family relationship.

After discussing Jewish holidays and the concept of
gift-giving in class, Ana decided to give the child she cares for a holiday
present during Chanukah. In addition, the idea of open communication with the
parents is a little less intimidating.

Cultural barriers aside, some parents still feel that
actions speak louder than words. Turteltaub notes that Virula was the least
proficient in English of the nannies she interviewed to take care of her
newborn four years ago. “No one else came close to [Silvia] in the amount of
love they had in their eyes when holding our son,” she said.

For information about the “Me & My Nanny” class at Adat Ari
El’s Rose Engel Early Education Center, call (818) 766-6379.   

‘Girl Meets God’ — Again and Again


“Girl Meets God: On the Path to Spiritual Life” by Lauren Winner (Algonquin Books, $23.95).

Lauren Winner’s spiritual memoir, “Girl Meets God,” is a passionate and thoroughly engaging account of a continuing spiritual journey within two profoundly different faiths.

Winner, the child of a Reform Jewish father and a “lapsed Southern Baptist” mother, was raised as a Jew in the South. Told she was not really Jewish, since Jewish law dictates that Judaism passes through the blood of the mother, she chose to convert to Orthodox Judaism at the end of high school, following her parents’ divorce. By the end of her senior year at college, she decided that while in graduate school in England she would convert again, this time to evangelical Christianity.

One of the fascinating things about “Girl Meets God,” beyond the seismic shifts in Winner’s affiliation, is the degree to which faith and practice have formed the underpinnings of her life. As a teenager, Winner immersed herself in the activities of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Va. She “traded in lacrosse practice and ballet lessons and field hockey sticks, awkward dates at the movie theater and Friday night football games and many other normal teenage activities for more hours, more afternoons and weekend at the synagogue.” As a college student, now an Orthodox Jew, she was drawn to Christianity through diligent study, constant questioning and careful, nearly obsessive attention to spiritual teachings.

She explains herself in this way: “What draws me to a religion is the beliefs, the theologies, the books, the incantations, the recipes to get to God, and I like to imagine that they work in the abstract, that they are enough, that they exist, somewhere, pure and distinct from the people who enact them.”

The great strength of “Girl Meets God,” though, is not purity of theology but force of personality. Winner is insatiable, and dauntless, in her search for religious truth, at whatever personal cost. The sheer energy of her quest, combined with her refreshing honesty and flashes of wild humor, give her story its edge. The book follows the arc of a liturgical year, opening with Sukkot in the fall, and then dividing into sections named according to the ecclesiastical calendar — Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Eastertide — with subchapters, some only a page or two, on varying topics. There are commentaries on subjects like “Family Reunions” and “The Bible I Use,” the author’s reading of the Book of Ruth and a discussion of the similarities between Christian and Jewish festivals. Yet, Winner’s thinking is so wide-ranging, in scope and in time, that the organizing principle seems imposed, almost too decorative.

Early on, she refers to her increasing love for Jesus in terms of marital infidelity, and compares her abandonment of Judaism to a wrenching divorce that has caused her to lose friends and distress family members. She does not deviate from her path, though, once converted to Christianity for good by a powerful dream. “I knew, as soon as I woke up, that the dream came from God and it was about the reality of Jesus,” she writes. “The truth of Him. That He was a person whose pronouns you had to capitalize. That He was God. I knew that with more certainty than I have ever known anything else.”

The book is, in fact, a curious mixture of certainty and searching, from beginning to end. Nor is it clear even at the end that Winner’s journey is over. Having given away her entire collection of Jewish books at the time of her second conversion, Lauren later finds herself buying the old familiar texts again, missing Judaism and rebuilding her library even as she works to build and sustain her Christian life. “Now I am reading Ruth again,” she writes. “I find I am reading her differently. Ruth is still my favorite. Not because she is a convert, but because she is a bridge, genealogically and literally, to Jesus.

“It is no surprise, I guess, that I read Ruth differently than I used to. All the stories look different, through Christian glasses.”

Skeptical friends have suggested that Winner may convert again, perhaps becoming a Buddhist next time. She insists that she will remain a Christian, albeit one who has been formed and trained by Judaism. “Judaism and Christianity have something to do with each other,” she writes. “Judaism and Christianity make a path.” Most readers of this thoughtful and highly entertaining book will be moved by her journey.

Reeve Lindbergh has written “No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh” (Simon & Schuster, 2001) and “On Morning Wings” (Candlewick Press, 2002) an adaptation of the 139th Psalm for children.

Israel Stands Firm on IDF Campaign


In the Byzantine politics of the Middle East, even a suicide bombing is subject to differing interpretations.

After a suicide bomber detonated his explosives aboard a bus near Haifa on Wednesday, killing eight Israelis and wounding 14, Palestinian officials said the attack proved that Israel’s military operation in the West Bank was ineffective in halting terror. The Bush administration said the attack reinforced the need for Israel to withdraw its forces. Yet, Israeli officials countered that the attack proved the necessity of continuing the operation until the entire network of Palestinian terror is eradicated.

It was at least the fourth Palestinian suicide attack to take place since Israel launched Operation Protective Wall on March 29 in an attempt to round up terrorists and collect illegal arms in Palestinian-controlled cities.

Hours after the bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to press ahead with Israel’s military operation — a promise he made several times this week despite growing U.S. pressure to withdraw. For days, President Bush and other U.S. officials have been calling for an end to the operation.

Sharon gave a mixed response to the U.S. pressure early Tuesday morning, when he had the Israel Defense Force (IDF) withdraw from two West Bank cities, Tulkarm and Kalkilya, but at the same time, ordered his troops into the town of Dura, near Hebron. Israeli and American observers had speculated that Sharon would order a full-scale withdrawal before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Israel by the end of the week.

But a deadly suicide bombing Tuesday in Jenin — the West Bank city that has witnessed the fiercest fighting since Operation Protective Wall began — may only harden Sharon’s resolve to press on. Speaking after he received word that 13 Israeli reservists had been killed in a Palestinian ambush in Jenin’s crowded refugee camp (the total dead is now 15), Sharon sounded a defiant tone. "This battle is a battle for survival of the Jewish people, for survival of the state of Israel."

Clashes continued in Jenin on Tuesday evening, when another Israeli soldier was killed and 12 were wounded while searching a building. On Wednesday, Sharon spoke at an army command post overlooking the Jenin refugee camp and vowed to stay in the West Bank until the anti-terror campaign is finished. If Israel withdraws now, "we will have to return," he said. "Once we finish, we are not going to stay here. But first, we have to accomplish our mission."

On Wednesday, armed Palestinians in Jenin began surrendering to Israeli forces. Reports said some 200 Palestinians, including civilians, had given themselves up.

More than 100 Palestinians are believed to have been killed during the Israeli operation in the Jenin camp. Among those reported killed was Mahmoud Tawalbeh, 23, a leader of Islamic Jihad who masterminded a number of suicide bombings in Israel.

Since the start of Operation Protective Wall, 22 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Jenin. The refugee camp is a stronghold for Islamic terrorists, and dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombers have been dispatched from there.

On Wednesday, the United States, United Nations, Russia and European Union issued a joint statement calling on Israel to pull out immediately from Palestinian cities. The statement also called on both sides to implement a cease-fire, and urged Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to do everything possible to prevent terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued the statement following a meeting in Madrid on Wednesday with Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Josep Pique, the foreign minister of Spain, who currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency.

Meanwhile, attempts were continuing on the diplomatic front. Powell said he would meet with Arafat later this week as part of efforts to reach a cease-fire. Powell made the announcement Tuesday in Cairo, the second stop in his Middle East peacemaking mission. He was in Morocco a day earlier. Speaking Wednesday, Powell denied speculation that the suicide bombing near Haifa had derailed his peace effort even before arriving in Israel.

Also Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would "remain persistent" in efforts to get Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. Fleischer also told reporters that Bush has no plans to withhold U.S. aid to Israel if Sharon refuses to withdraw troops. When a reporter spoke of Sharon’s refusal to heed Bush’s repeated demands for a withdrawal, Fleischer said, "Welcome to the Middle East." Fleischer also reiterated that the United States sees Palestinian suicide bombers as terrorists, not freedom fighters.

A similar view was voiced Wednesday by the European Union, which called on Arafat to stop describing suicide bombers as martyrs and clearly condemn them as terrorists. However, E.U. lawmakers also voted for new measures to pressure Israel to stop its military operation.

Meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution calling on E.U. governments to impose an arms embargo on Israel and suspend the E.U. association agreement with Israel, which governs trade and political ties between Israel and the European bloc.

Israelis, however, are giving Sharon widespread backing for the offensive. A recent Jerusalem Post poll found that 72 percent of Israelis support the wide-scale military operation, and 36 percent favor the expulsion of Arafat.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they believe the reoccupation of Palestinian cities should be permanent.

Can We Find the Golden Mean?


In the opening book of his monumental code of Jewish law, Maimonides declared, "We are bidden to walk in the middle paths which are the right and proper ways…." The great medieval sage was articulating the golden mean, the principle that we should avoid extreme behavior, ethical or physical, at all times. The person who succeeds — indeed, who navigates between indulgence and self-denial — is, by Maimonides’ standards, the wise one.

Wisdom, alas, has not always been present in the still-swirling Wolpe affair. At times, the two sides have vied to outdo one other in a cyclical game of delegitimization. Each side would do well to lower the rhetorical volume and adopt the golden mean in its behavior toward the other.

But this does not mean that the competing perspectives on whether the Exodus took place can be reconciled. Rather, it means that we in the Jewish world must tolerate radically divergent ways of understanding the world. The fact is that those who believe in the veracity of the Exodus account exist in a parallel universe to those who question it. The two can acknowledge one another, but they are unlikely ever to reconcile their distinct views.

Many noble and great thinkers have tried their hand at reconciliation. Medieval philosophers labored mightily to achieve a harmonious position between the truths of revelation and reason — before more modern figures like Spinoza overturned the cart. Undaunted, their Modern Orthodox descendants offered up a modified version of this reconciliation, insisting on the compatibility of Torah and science (Torah uMadah).

I am dubious about the prospects for success. The critical historical sensibility that Rabbi Wolpe invoked submits every event, actor or text — without exception–to the scholar’s scalpel. In this approach, evidentiary support and contextual corroboration are the essential tools of the trade. These tools are notoriously, even deliberately, indifferent to claims of sacredness.

And they have been applied to the Exodus story for some time now. It is in this regard that adepts of the modern historical approach found Rabbi Wolpe’s lecture anything but newsworthy. The Jerusalem Report, hardly the first word in archaeological research, devoted its April 8, 1993, cover story to the theme: "Did the Exodus Really Happen?" The author, Felice Maranz, canvassed a large number of historians and archaeologists with an intense interest in the Exodus story. Maranz’s conclusion, which drew upon scholars ranging from Jerusalem’s Benjamin Mazar to Toronto’s Donald Redford, was that "there isn’t a shred of hard evidence … to prove that the Israelites were ever slaves in Egypt or that they ever wandered in the Sinai desert."

But does this necessarily consign Exodus to the resting place of false legends? I believe not. The religious believer understands a sacred event as resistant to historical dissection. Such an event, by definition, assumes mythic proportions. This is not to say that it is false or illusory. On the contrary, myth connotes a truth that transcends a particular historical context. Its function, as Mircea Eliade wrote in "Myth and Reality," is "to reveal the exemplary models for all human rites and all significant human activities." It is precisely in this regard that Exodus has served and continues to serve as a grand myth. It is a sacred narrative of the creation of Jewish peoplehood, as well as an exemplary model for all who are intent on liberation. As such, it is true in ways that can not be disproved by historical analysis — much like Jesus’ divinity or Muhammad’s ascent can not be refuted for most believing Christians or Muslims.

Contrary to the fears — and hopes — of many, the advent of modernity has not put an end to such mythic thinking. Religion lives on — in fact, thrives — in much of the world. At the same time, many have embraced the contextual logic of the critical historical sensibility. Sometimes, those who maintain their faith and embrace history are the same people. I suspect that they maintain equilibrium between the two more by compartmentalizing than by reconciling. For this is the way of the bifurcated modern world that we inhabit. To the extent that most of us contend with competing sensibilities within us, we would do well to respect the divergent views of others — if only as a way of honoring ourselves.

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