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A shmek yidish—Lomir. . . ! ! . . .לאָמיר


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Rufus Hannah’s remarkable true story of unspeakable exploitation and redemption, and the man who saved him.

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The real crisis is that as a community we don’t value Torah education as an end unto itself.

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11 questions for you and your spouse to discuss after watching a rom-com.

Video: How to Become a Minimalist

by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon
Sometimes less really is more.

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The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman

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Addiction is a dreadful disease. As an addict, I know.

COMMENT: Owning Our World
Owning Our World
Adar I 9, 5774 · February 9, 2014
Lessons from Parshat Ki Tisa

When I was about eleven years old, one night my mother called and asked me to load and turn on the dishwasher. I really didn’t want to, but I did it anyway. After stuffing in all the dirty dishes, I reached for the detergent. It was right next to the regular dishwashing soap. I hesitated only for a moment, then poured the green liquid into that little plastic box, closed the door and pushed the button. I didn’t mean any harm; I was just curious if it would make a difference. I then went upstairs to sleep.

I hadn’t yet learned my lesson

When my mother woke me in the morning, she let me have it. She had come home after a long day at work, followed by some meeting, to find the whole kitchen filled with a foot or so of suds. After two hours of her work, our kitchen was cleaner than it had ever been.

I was smart; I denied having done anything wrong. She was smarter; she had opened the little plastic box, and found the remnants of my “experiment.” I was never again asked to load the dishwasher.

I hadn’t yet learned my lesson.

Some months later, we got a thin plastic record in the mail as an ad for a fast-food restaurant chain. Remember records? You know, back before MP3s, CDs, or even cassette tapes were popular? Anyway, I was still the curious type—my parents always encouraged curiosity—and although I wouldn’t have taken any of our records and scratched them up, I didn’t see how anyone could object to me ruining the McDonald’s jingle.

So, I pretended to be one of those “cool” DJs who would make interesting sounds with scratched disks. I had about ten minutes of fun. Somehow, the musical result that I got did not resemble anything that I had seen on the newly launched MTV. I did, however, succeed in ruining the needle on the record player. This time my mother got smart. She made me pay for the new needle. It cost forty-six dollars. That was months of babysitting money. I vowed never to experiment again.

The difference between the two incidents was that I now owned the results of my behavior. I wonder what would have happened if my mother had woken me the first time around to clean up the suds. I probably would have enjoyed the bizarre fluff on the kitchen floor, and it could have been a funny bonding experience between myself and my mother. As it was, I never even got to see the mess that I had made.

The lesson that I needed to learn was that of responsibility. As long as my mother “owned” the results of my actions, I didn’t have to. It was only when I was the one who had to deal with the consequences that something shifted. As long as we don’t feel that it is our world and that we personally will be dealing with the results of how we treat it, we will live in the moment, regardless of the long-term effects of our actions.

I now owned the results of my behavior

We see this very clearly from the beginning of time. When Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, they were told to “work it and guard it,” but at that point, they had invested absolutely nothing in their world. Everything that they saw was G‑d’s and not their own. They may not have intended for things to turn out as they did, but if they had personally invested as much in the world as G‑d had, they would have been much more careful about how they treated it.

Until we all feel a personal responsibility, and a partnership with G‑d, for how this “earth experiment” turns out, we will continue with our mistakes. We have to own a significant amount of stock in the company to care about its welfare.

This dynamic comes up again in the story of the golden calf. If you read the chapters in order, it is really very disturbing. G‑d sends ten miraculous plagues, the sea splits, enemies are destroyed. Bread falls from the sky, water pours from a rock. They come before Mount Sinai and prepare for the most momentous occasion. They hear the voice of G‑d, their Redeemer. He lays the bedrock of world morality as a gift to the Jewish people. One of the basic rules is “no other gods.” Forty days later Moses comes down the mountain with the most magnificent betrothal rock anyone has ever seen, only to find the “bride” bowing to a golden calf.

We’ve heard the story so many times that we are not disturbed by it anymore, but we should be. Can you imagine? It is as if a couple were on their honeymoon, the groom walks away for a minute, and he returns to find that his bride left him for another man! It just doesn’t make sense.

When G‑d gave us the Torah, He had invested everything in the project. We had invested very little. He had created the world; taken us out of Egypt; turned nature, the work of His hands, upside down—all to bring us to the point of accepting the Torah. We were a bunch of newly freed slaves. We had little to invest, and even less to lose. While there were other issues that led up to the calf, much of it was simply the fact that we did not feel that we owned our world.

Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, describes “awakening from above” and “awakening from below.” G‑d is always conscious, looking for ways to draw us close; but in order for us to be able to receive His gifts, we must awaken ourselves. When spiritual bounty comes into the world from an awakening from below, it can be much more powerful than the gift of an awakening from Above. It has the power of partnership.

We had little to invest, and even less to lose

This lesson of balance and responsibility is one that applies to all our important relationships. Management theories, parenting skills, marriage improvement techniques, are all based on building a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Jewish history has been a process of us growing into ownership of our very specific role in humanity. Each time we were exiled from one place to another, we made a decision. Is this Jewish commitment that I have more important than my job, my family’s stability, in some cases my life? Each time we subjugated ourselves to the spiritual path, we bought stock in the company.

The question has been asked: if two Holy Temples in Jerusalem were already destroyed, who’s to say that when the redeemer comes, we won’t goof again and lose the third Temple? I think the answer is clear. The third Holy Temple will be our own spiritual dishwasher. We will own it; we will understand its value. For this exile we are enduring is not for nothing. It is teaching us responsibility and consequences, and is making us very aware that how things are is not how things should be.

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by Shalvi Weissman    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Shalvi Weissman is a therapist and writer living in Jerus

Leah Vincent’s Cut Me Loose

Leah Vincent’s Cut Me LoosePosted: 08 Feb 2014 06:38 AM PST

Cutmeloose_finalI can’t remember how I first heard about Leah Vincent’s memoirCut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After my Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood. I suspect I read an excerpt, probably at, and on the strength of that excerpt pre-ordered the Kindle edition long before publication. (Unpious is the magazine edited by Shulem Deen — the blogger formerly known as Hasidic Rebel — which specializes in “voices generally suppressed” in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox publications. It’s worth checking out if you don’t know it already.) One way or another, the memoir materialized on my Kindle, so I read it. And holy wow, is this one powerful, painful, and ultimately redemptive story.

Many years ago I reviewed the anonymous YA novel Hush by Eshes Chayil, which told a story of sexual abuse in a Hasidic community. There are ways in which Vincent’s memoir reminds me of Hush — the trajectory from loving and comfortable religious community to ostracism; the unflinching descriptions both of what can be sweet about growing up in a deeply religious community, and also of what can be almost unthinkably bitter. Of course, Hush is fiction whileCut Me Loose is memoir. (Also one is set in a Hasidische community and the other in a Yeshivish community — though I suspect that distinction won’t make much difference to a lot of readers; the two versions of deep Orthodoxy will seem equally foreign.)

Maybe because I came to the book only having read one excerpt, without having read the back jacket copy or any reviews, the book took me frequently by surprise. A trajectory from ultra-Orthodoxy, to going “off the derech,” to some kind of new life in the non-ultra-religious world — that, I expected. But I didn’t expect the many mini-journeys along the way: to Britain, to Israel, the rastafarian “boyfriend,” the cutting and suicide attempt, each turn off of the prescribed path darker and more painful. Vincent writes about all of this with powerful clarity, and I followed her emotionally into every place her journey went.

This is a tough book to read for me as a passionate liberal religious Jew, especially as a Jewish Renewal rabbi who claims connection through Reb Zalman with Hasidic lineage. I can see in this book some of the things I envy about committed religious community — families automatically living according to our tradition’s rhythms, from choosing a perfect etrogat Sukkot to dancing at Chanukah to turning the house upside-down cleaning for Pesach, experiencing every Shabbat as a time apart from time. But I also see here the things which are most upsetting about insular religious community: control, a rigidity which has no room for personal deviation, and a system which relies upon keeping young women thoroughly uninformed about the outside world (in the name of keeping them “pure”) which, when it backfires, can be life-destroying.

It’s easy to imagine the ways in which the grass is greener on the other side of that fence — to fantasize that in a community where everyone cares about Judaism and God as much as I do, it must be easy to keep the rhythms of Jewish life; to live in constant devekut / union with God; to aspire to serve God with joy in all things. This book reminds me that there is a terrible shadow side to that kind of insularity, and that those who deviate from the community’s norms — especially women — pay an unthinkable cost.

Looking at the book with my Bennington MFA hat on, I relate to it as a gripping memoir. Vincent is a skillful writer with a keen eye for the details which will make a scene pop right off the page. That old writerly adage of “show, don’t tell” –? She does that, in spades. Several times, reading this, I thought back on Bennington conversations and panel discussions about memoir, memory, and the complicated ethics of telling one’s own story when that story inevitably involves other people who may not wish for it to be told, or for it to be told in the way that feels true to the person writing the memoir.

Looking at the book with my rabbi hat on, I relate to it as though it were a congregant’s story, and that makes my heart ache. This book isn’t a polemic against ultra-Orthodoxy or against religion. It’s just Vincent’s own story, and the story speaks for itself. I’m thankful that in the end there is redemption, as well as a community of former compatriots (seeFootsteps) who understand both where Vincent is coming from and where she’s choosing to be. Still, I come away from the book aswirl with emotions. Wonder, anger, admiration, grief, and above all gratitude that we, her readers, are privileged now to bear witness to the story she so deftly tells.

There’s a part of me that wishes I could offer pastoral care to the author of this book. I wish I could sit down with her over coffee or a glass of wine and offer her the listening ear and the loving response which her religious community didn’t give. I can’t help clinging to the hope that Vincent’s sense of herself as a spiritual being, and her connection with God, wasn’t thoroughly shattered by the ordeal of her upbringing and its aftermath. That’s my own bias as a reader, and I own that. Part of what makes me angriest about Vincent’s description of her upbringing is just how badly this religious community mis-served her — how a family and a spiritual community which should have been a source of nurturing and support became a fountain of rejection, neglect, and emotional abuse.

The author’s twitter handle, @EhyehLeah, hints both at God (Who, you may recall, named Herself/Himself/Hirself to Moshe as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I am Becoming Who I Am Becoming”) and at the author’s own becoming. Maybe that’s the best blessing I can offer: celebration of her process of becoming as it unfolds in these pages. May the Source of All Being bring comfort and companionship, self-determination and meaning, joy and gladness in the life she has chosen. And may there be many more books from this strong new literary voice. Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so!

There’s an excerpt from the book at JTA: The first step out of an ultra-Orthodox world.

With Jewish Friends Like These….writes Isi Leibler
J-Wire Jewish Australian News Service
I will start with an article published in Israel last week in our illustrious “highbrow” daily newspaper Haaretz by Josh Lambert, author of the book, ‘Unclean Lips, Obscenity andJewish Culture‘. Lambert explicitly congratulates and extolls Jews for 
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Spanish Jews: Reports of new Sephardic citizenship law, premature
Jerusalem Post
The minister also asserted that his nation owned the Sephardic community a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world. The word Sephardic comes from Sefarad, Hebrew for Spain. However, Friday saw not the passage of a new 
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Candidly speaking: With Jewish friends like these…
Jerusalem Post
I will start with an article published in Israel last week in our illustrious “highbrow” daily newspaper, Haaretz, by Josh Lambert, author of the book, Unclean Lips, Obscenity andJewish Culture. Lambert explicitly congratulates and extols Jews for 
See all stories on this topic »
Freud and the Marranos: How Yosef H. Yerushalmi Gave Voice to Jews Caught 
Tablet Magazine
With skill, patience, and sensitivity, Goldberg prods Yerushalmi to reflect on his evolution from a child, of two immigrant parents, who spoke virtually no English at the age of 5 to the most eminent and eloquent of Jewish historians of his generation 
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