Israeli forces raze structures at two outposts

Israeli security forces razed several structures at two illegal West Bank outposts.

Israel Defense Forces troops, Border Guard forces and police razed a building late Wednesday night at the Ramat Migron outpost, and then razed other structures at the Oz Zion outpost located nearby, according to reports.

The Ramat Migron outpost, located next to the Migron outpost, has been demolished and rebuilt several times. Migron has been ordered razed and its residents relocated by August 1.

Five women reportedly were arrested during the operation.

The Many Dimensions of Jewish Education

After a year’s sabbatical in Boston, my family (a husband who is a Conservative pulpit rabbi, myself, and our three children aged 6, 11 and 14) returned to our home in Victoria, British Columbia. The sabbatical year had a profound experience on us — one that we had not anticipated. We decided that after 16 years living in a small Jewish community, where we found ourselves stretching in ways we never intended, where open-mindedness and adaptability were the ultimate virtues, and teaching religious parameters and structure to our children was viewed as parochial, it was time to move to a larger and more engaging Jewish community.

Returning to Boston this past summer, our primary focus was immersing the children in Jewish schools that would nourish their souls and give them a more formal route to Jewish education. We wanted our three children to have the opportunity to be students at the table of great Jewish books and inspiring Jewish teachers. We wanted our children to organically weave Hebrew into their consciousness and feel rooted in Jewish texts alongside their secular studies.

Now that the three children are in day schools, we have a new view of the Jewish educational experience, and new questions to ask educators and administrators of Jewish learning. While we are thrilled that the children are studying in a Jewish milieu and that they are learning Hebrew as naturally as English questions arise, especially in terms of how Judaic subjects are taught in the upper grades. For example, how do we measure a relationship to Bible or the impact of studying Jewish thought? Is our goal to produce children who say they hate the Tanach because a teacher failed to inspire them or they tested poorly in that subject?

I’ve been saddened to see Jewish children turn away from limudei kodesh, the study of Jewish subjects, because the material is treated like general studies — with grades and tests — and is taught without passion. It is also disheartening to witness the lack of kavanah, of intentional thought, children give to the morning prayer service in many Jewish schools. Who sets the tone for prayer and who teaches them to pray? Who inspires them and challenges them to look into themselves and outwards at the larger world as they grow and develop Jewish identities?

Our three children, while content in their new schools, are stretched and overwhelmed with school work. Balancing this new dual curriculum is a daily (and due to homework, nightly) challenge. One of my primary roles has become the encourager — each night assisting the children, rewarding their incremental gains and helping them see the whole picture — the Jewish in the Jewish school, the enormous strides they’ve made, their incidental accomplishments, because the level of discouragement they feel is often immense. I often feel saddened that the sheer amount of work they have discourages them from taking the time to appreciate the content of what they are learning.

Children are attending Jewish day schools in record numbers. This growth certainly indicates the strong desires of parents who want their children to be Jewishly literate and secure in their Jewish identities. But increasing the numbers of students in day schools is not enough. We must address the issues of how these schools teach Judaica and what impact these experiences have on the blossoming of Jewish identity; we must evaluate the relationship between impassioned teacher and student, between learning and living.

Susan Berrin is the editor of
Sh’ma, a Jewish journal of ideas, and the mother of three children. Reprinted
with permission

On Huts and Hospitality

“You shall live in booths seven days in order that future generations may know I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:42-43).

It’s not enough commemoration that for eight days of Pesach we eat matzo, which grows exponentially more afflictive every year. No, six months later, to celebrate Sukkot, God commands us to dwell in flimsy, temporary huts that shake in the wind and sport leaky roofs.

Never mind that while we Jews move into sukkahs, with their often nippy alfresco ambience, most other people, cognizant of the shorter days and cooler temperatures, are putting up storm windows and firing up their furnaces.

Of course, that’s precisely the point, to re-create and re-experience the fragile and unsubstantial structures that housed the Israelites for 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness. We reconnect to our peripatetic and uncertain beginnings and to our historical homelessness, once again putting our faith in God’s protective powers.

But the frailness eludes my children. “Sometimes I’d rather live in a sukkah than a house,” says my son Danny, 8. “A sukkah is holy, and God watches over holy places.”

“Having a sukkah makes me feel like I’m really celebrating the holiday,” says Gabe, 12.

Until last year, however, we had to rely on the kindness of friends to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah.

But thanks primarily to Gabe, who lobbied long and hard for a sukkah of our own, we are the proud proprietors of a 10-foot-by-10-foot wood lattice-work tabernacle that fulfills our basic requirements: easy-to-assemble, no tools needed.

It also fulfills Judaism’s requirement of three walls at least 7 handbreadths long, 10 handbreadths wide and 10 handbreadths high. That translates to a minimum size of 17.5-inches-by-25-inches-by-25-inches, assuming the width of your four fingers is closer to 2.5 inches than 4 inches, but barely accommodating a family of small vertical weasels.

The other requirement is that the roof be covered with s’chach, a natural material in its natural state, such as bamboo or palm leaves, that cannot be eaten. The covering must provide more shade than sunlight but allow one to see the stars at night. Of course, successfully viewing the stars through the clouds and smog of the Los Angeles Basin constitutes an even greater miracle than liberation from Egypt.

We are instructed not only to build, decorate and dwell in our sukkah, with “dwelling” roughly and most commonly translated as “eating,” but also to welcome in ushpizin, Aramaic for guests, who traditionally include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.

This year, in addition to these celestial celebrities from the Bible, we have a special guest from the land of the Bible, from a village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. He is Ya’ir Cohen, 15, an enthusiastic participant in an exchange program, now in its second year, between Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple and Tichon Chadash High School in Tel Aviv, that is part of a broader Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership 2000.

Ya’ir, along with 18 other Israeli students, is enjoying an American Jewish experience that is academic, cultural, entertaining and religious, as he observes Reform and Conservative Judaism firsthand. He is living with us for the months of September, October and November, from the High Holidays through Thanksgiving.

The 38 American and Israeli 10th-grade students in the exchange program, speaking to each other in a comfortable mix of Hebrew and English, are all cosmopolitan, cyber-savvy, curious and indefatigable. They study, sightsee and prowl malls together, sharing secrets, slang and CDs. They play football and baseball and, this week, build sukkahs and bridges of friendship.

“Ya’ir’s cool,” my son Jeremy, 10, says proudly, and not only because Ya’ir plays basketball with him and helps with his Hebrew homework.

Already, after only a few weeks, I can see that my son Zack’s life will be forever expanded and enriched — with a life-long attachment to Israel and his new Israeli friends.

In the spring, Zack will live with Ya’ir and his family, attending Tichon Chadash High School, touring Israel and celebrating Pesach, Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut as a “sabra.”

The Bible tells us that Sukkot, even more than the other pilgrimage festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, is the season to rejoice. We rejoice that we have completed the difficult and introspective work of the High Holidays. We rejoice that my husband, Larry, and his crew of five boys succeeded in assembling the sukkah — perhaps not hastily, like the Israelites’ huts, but certainly challengingly and congenially.

And we rejoice that, although the sukkah is intentionally flimsy and temporary, our love of family, Judaism and our new Israeli “sibling” is solid and enduring.

Sukkot is indeed the season to rejoice.

An Early Face Lift

On the north side of the Skirball Cultural Center, two dozen construction workers shout to each other over the roar of the 405 Freeway. They handle jackhammers and operate bulldozers amid huge piles of building materials. A crane several stories tall towers above the construction site, where steel pilings rise from concrete foundations.

Mammoth changes are afoot at the Skirball, where the current space will be more than doubled, to 325,000 square feet — rendering “the largest Jewish cultural center in North America,” center founder and president Dr. Uri D. Herscher said.

By November 2000, a three-level, subterranean parking structure, designed to add 600 parking spaces to the facility’s existing 200, will occupy the construction site.

Above the parking structure, an airy, domed Great Hall, reminiscent of Lincoln Center and also to be completed by November 2000, will seat some 600 people for plays, lectures and concerts; it will also double as a banquet hall. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows will open out onto a courtyard of pale-gray stone and an informal outdoor stage.

To the south, the tentatively named Winnick Family Heritage Museum, largely funded by a $5 million grant from Gary and Karen Winnick, is slated to be completed within the next three years. The museum will feature two 3,500-square-foot children’s galleries and an 8,000-square-foot changing gallery, which, Herscher said, is larger than the Getty’s. Behind the Winnick Museum will be two children’s archaeological digs and a large outdoor amphitheater that will seat 500 people.

The price tag on the additions, which will be drawn up by renowned Skirball architect Moshe Safdie, is $50 million.

More immediate changes are set to begin Sept. 7 with the extensive redesign and renovation of the Skirball’s museum galleries, which will close to the public for three months. Herscher said the goal is to make the museum more accessible and to further emphasize “how we as Jews intersect with the American democratic tradition.” Funding for these renovations was drawn from a California Arts Council $2 million grant.

During construction, visitors can still attend special events, conferences and programs, such as the Oct. 3 Neil Simon film retrospective and lecture. Audrey’s Museum Store, Zeidler’s Cafe, the Resource Center and the Ruby Changing Gallery (now showing the “Latinos in Hollywood” photograph exhibit through Oct. 18) will remain open.

The galleries will reopen Sunday, Dec. 5, to coincide with the center’s annual Chanukah Festival.

So why is the Skirball redesigning its core galleries just three years after the $65 million center opened in April 1996? It’s part of the Skirball’s strategic plan, Herscher said.

“Prophesy is for fools,” he said. “We started out with specific priorities, and we knew we would have to refine them when we saw who actually showed up to the center.”

While only 60,000 visitors were expected the first year, the center drew 300,000 visitors, one-sixth of them children and up to one-third of them seniors. Thus the redesign includes an improved traffic flow through the galleries as well as more interactive displays for students and oversized print for the elderly.

The first major change will be evident upon entering the holiday gallery, where displays of each festival will emphasize the Jewish values immigrants brought to America. In the center of the space will be a comprehensive work of Jewish ritual art, encased within the form of a shtender — the humble study desk once found in many traditional synagogues. The shtender has been transformed by artist David Moss and woodcarver Noah Greenberg into a compartmentalized treasure chest for Jewish ritual objects, commissioned by the Skirball.

The more than 25,000 students who annually visit the Skirball (the majority of them non-Jewish) will learn about Jewish and American values in two new “gallery classrooms.” One will depict a cheder, a Jewish classroom from Eastern Europe, with wood-clad walls, benches and tables. The other will suggest a turn-of-the-century American public school classroom, complete with period artifacts, presidential portraits and a vintage American flag.

There will be an interactive exhibit of trunks that immigrants brought with them to America; displays on baseball star Hank Greenberg and actress Molly Picon; and a detailed replication of the ark of the 19th-century New Synagogue of Berlin, to be added to the existing replica of the synagogue’s ark pavilion. For the first time, viewers will be able to approach the ark, open its doors and examine the vintage Torahs inside.

The biggest changes will take place in the American galleries, where a large case resembling a turn-of-the-century storefront will house some 200 artifacts that depict the material culture of American Jews. On display will be objects such as canned goods with labels in English and Yiddish, an egg basket once used by Jewish farmers from Petaluma and tools once wielded by immigrant tailors on New York’s Lower East Side.

The exhibits on Presidents Washington and Lincoln, who helped ensure constitutional liberties for Jews, will include impressive artifacts on loan from private collectors: an early copy of the Declaration of Independence, signed by George Washington, and Lincoln’s quill pen and black stovepipe hat (one of only two in existence).

“It’s all part of the story we’re here to tell: The story of the Jews from antiquity, with a special emphasis on Jews in America,” said Dr. Robert Kirschner, the Skirball’s program and core exhibition director.

Ask Herscher about why a Jewish museum should house non-Jewish Americana, and the rabbi’s response is swift. “We wouldn’t have any opportunities to live as Jews in America if it wasn’t for the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “I am devoted to Jewish continuity, but I get concerned when people try to push the Jewish part without the context … What I hope this redesign and renovation will provide is an even better understanding of how important the Jewish moral conscience is to the American community in which we live.”