Thursday, March 31, 2005

My Father, My Teacher

How did I get where I am today?

I didn't grow up religious. The story of how I ended up religious is an important one as far as understanding who I am, but I won't go into it in this post. What I'd like to discuss here is how I arrived at my hashkafa within my religious observance, my worldview, my Weltanschauung.

I got involved in Orthodoxy by way of Bnei Akiva. Now for me Bnei Akiva was a social thing at first, so I guess had my social outlet been NCSY, or Chabad or whatever, then my hashkafa would have reflected that. But for many of you, Bnei Akiva's hashkafa is not terribly specific. Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy. But that's a wide range of views, and most Bnei Akiva members aren't pinned down too much within that.

Now you can certainly see extremism in Bnei Akiva today, particularly politically, but also religiously - chardal and all that. But the Bnei Akiva education that I received in the States in high school and later in yeshiva in Israel was a moderate, old style Bnei Akiva. I'll get more to that later, but what's important here, is that I didn't become a typical baal teshuva - no going off the depend or acting "too weird", although I'm sure there was some of that. I even remember my rabbis noticing that I wasn't a typical baal teshuva, and within a short amount of time, I doubt anyone could tell me apart from someone raised religious. Had I become a baal teshuva in NCSY - I'm not sure my newly found religious fervor would have found its place in moderation, such as it was.

In any case, I was lucky that my process began when it did. The summer after 11th grade, I went to the Bnei Akiva program TVI - where I first became highly exposed to issues in Tora V'Avoda - as part of Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism - that I highly doubt have been taught so well since. We learned issues about a mixed society, studying secular subjects, the value of labor, etc. But even more importantly, we had great teachers like Zvi Weiss and Mitch Heifetz, who really believed what they were teaching.

And again I got lucky that Bnei Akiva started a new year program in Israel my year - Midrash U'Maaseh. And that the yeshiva that hosted that program was Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati in Ein Tzurim. And that the Rosh Yeshiva at the time was Rav David Bigman, and the rest of the staff was also exceptional. And that the guys who I studied with were serious and also believed in what we were learning. All this, together with other factors - made me very lucky.

During my time in the yeshiva - two years, plus some of the time while I was in the army - I started to develop what I guess would become my particular hashkafa. And I continued this throughout the following years. A lot of it was based on the teachings of Rav Bigman, others from studying the works of Rav Soloveitchik, Shmuel Chaim Landau (Shachal), Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Rabbi David Hartman, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz and others. I won't go into it in detail now - although I assume that I will touch upon it in the future in this blog. But the basic idea is that Torah Judaism is unique amongst religions because it doesn't promise paradise, but rather paradox, as Rav Soloveitchik wrote. The very challenge to make this world better, as part of an active covenant with God, is the primary "reward" of the Torah. Who could ask for anything more?

I've written about or given shiurim that relate to this issue in many fields - the concept of blessing God, what is "olam ha'ba", the significance of sleep, and many more. I could always see my influences as well as what I thought was some degree of chiddush of my own.

But recently, I've come to a fascinating revelation. My father is a "teacher of teachers." He has developed a very significant, effective approach toward discipline, classroom management and motivation. It involves teaching children responsibility, treating them with dignity, making them part of the decision making process and emphasizing intrinsic motivation instead of external rewards and punishment. I've heard his talks for years, read his books, and of course experienced his raising me.

But I never really thought about just how similar his educational approach and my religious hashkafa are. I don't know which came first - did my upbringing lead me to follow this path in Judaism? Or did my Jewish return lead me to identify more with my father's approach than I otherwise would have?

I'm not sure. But this is something I'll be certain to return to in the future.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Who lost Gush Katif?

In yesterday's news we learn that Effie Eitam is planning on moving to Gush Katif. And there are many others planning on going as well, perhaps thousands.

Now to me - this is the root of the problem. Why are they only moving now? In thirty years, only 8,000 Jews have settled there. Had twice the number come, the disengagement wouldn't happen. But now it's like someone who didn't brush their teeth for years, finally going to the dentist, and when the dentist says the teeth need to go out, he suddenly starts brushing his teeth.

Now to be honest, I can't blame the left for not coming to settle. They aren't the ones who wanted to be there. But for the Right, for those of us who believe in settling all of Eretz Yisrael, this was a failure.

Now, I'm sure there are those who would say, I'd love to move to Gush Katif on a permament basis, but it doesn't work for me because:

- I can't work in agriculture
- It's too far from my current job
- Too far from my family
- I need the city life

etc. etc.

All of these are reasonable arguments. I can't force anyone to relocate against those arguments. But they come with a price. If everyone says that, then no one comes. And maybe we simply can't hold on to a piece of land that not enough people believe in keeping enough that they're willing to live there.

That's the way it's worked throughout the history of Zionism. Whereever we've been willing to settle, we've kept. Where we haven't - we don't stay.

It's like the game of Risk. If you leave only one piece on a territory for too long - you can't keep it.

I don't know if we can keep Gush Katif. I hope so, but it might be too late.

But the lesson is clear for the future. If we want to keep other parts of Yesha we need to actually live there. Although that doesn't seem to be nearly as much of a problem as other areas. Look at the Golan - 75,000 residents is very likely not enough to prevent a good deal with Syria. And we are already now losing the Galil and the Negev. And perhaps the most acute example - Har HaBayit. The permanent status agreement will be determined on whether or not Jews are willing to go there now. Perhaps this is the time for some rabbinic courage.

And of course, all of this applies seven-fold to our brothers and sisters living in Chutz L'Aretz, many of whom in the Orthodox community, are very opposed to Sharon's plan. As the diplomat Chaim Shacham wrote over 10 years ago (I'm still looking for a site), if 100,000 American Jews had moved to Hebron, there would be no talk of giving it up. Their willingness to remain off the stage, is a terrible error. The Rabbi Resh Lakish said as much 1700 years ago, when he said that had the Jews of Babylon made aliya, the second Temple would never had been destroyed.

May no rabbi need to make a similiar accusation today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Law and Order - L'Chaim!

Last night there was another "new" Episode of Law and Order on Channel One. We don't have cable, so all we have are channels One and Two. And there's really not that much to watch. It's a bit of a change for me from other points in my life where I watched much more TV. But I don't mind so much, there's much more to do than just TV. But Law and Order - that's the stuff. It's on at 11 PM (and SVU is on at 11:45 PM on Sat. Night) and I'll be exhausted the next day, but I don't want to tape it. I want to watch it now - my little bit of instant gratification.

Now I work in the Israeli equivalent of the DA's office (although I am not a lawyer). So that gives the show another perspecitive, and I sometimes ask the lawyers about what they think about the show. Sometimes realistic, sometimes not, sometimes could happen here, sometimes only in the US.

But one thing that I don't think I'll ever see here is the free flowing liquor in all the offices. Jack McCoy is always drinking Single Malt Scotch. I've never seen anyone in any office here with any alcoholic beverage. It's a big difference in culture I guess.

That's it for now - and remember, don't call between 11 PM and 11:45 on Tuesday nights!

Monday, March 14, 2005

the advantage of Mincha Gedola...

30 Muslim workers fired for praying on job at Dell - Thursday, 03/10/05

Sunday, March 13, 2005

a (sugar) shock!

Let's start from the beginning...

I grew up not religious and certainly not keeping kosher. And like any other normal American boy, I enjoyed Hostess. Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Fruitcakes, you name it.

Now as I came in contact with religious Jews, particularly when I went to an Orthodox day school, I not only learned about the laws of kashrut, but also started getting acquainted with the culture. Part of American Orthodox culture is pining for whatever kosher food you can't get where you live. The Canadians always want Entenmann's. And in San Francisco, where I lived, the ex-East Coasters missed Drake's Cakes. I had no idea what they were, except that my rabbis really wanted them. Me - I was happy with my Hostess.

As I started becoming religious, I naturally had to drop the Hostess. They had Lard! (Now they're much better - only beef fat .) And so it was until I moved to Boston after a few years in Israel.

Here they had Drake's Cakes! And they were good. Devil Dogs, Yodels, Ring Dings. All good. I never had to look at Hostess. This was the Jewish version.

And even here in Efrat, we can - and sometimes do - buy Drake's Cakes. And last week, when we bought a box of Yodels, I happened to look at the box. And I saw they had a web site, which I decided to visit.

And what exactly did I find on the website? And end to my innocence. Hostess and Drake's Cakes are made by the same company!

Now I'm not generally terribly naive about these things. I was a mashgiach for the OU, so I saw all sorts of behind the scenes kashrut things, where treif and kosher products were made in the same factory, and where occasionally I was privy to information that stuff that many people thought was treif was actually kosher.

But somehow this is different. I can't quite explain it. It's just that Hostess was so treif, and Drake's not just kosher, but somehow Jewish. It would be like finding out that the Pope is actually a Lubavitcher and Jackie Mason a practicing Catholic priest - and they live in the same house!

Anyway, I'll leave with a couple of very funny ratings of Hostess products: