Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Devil Went Down to Georgia...

…was actually the first song we heard on the radio when we entered Tennessee. It was a drive that passed through such sites as Hungry Mother State Park, and a vending machine selling live bait. But those 18 hours passing through parts of the US stirred within me the most patriotic feelings I’ve ever experienced. This is such a beautiful country, and I’m so glad I was able to travel and appreciate it.

This week’s Yeshivat Hadar Blog will be brought to you from Koinonia, an intentional Christian community in Georgia devoted to nonviolence, anti-racism, and environmental sustainability. The adventure was organized and is being led by Dr. Steinmetz.

Some thoughts from day one of living in a Christian community:

Among the graffiti on the doorpost of my room is the command: “Pray before you walk out this door.” Every time I pass it, it strikes me that forcing me out of my own headspace and compelling me to think about God as I walk out the door is pretty much what a mezuzah is supposed to do. I find this to be a much more effective method; whether that’s because I respond well to more direct reminders or that obnoxiousness is some kind of motivator for me is a question for the ages.

I haven’t gotten used to having someone tell me matter-of-factly, in the midst of relating their life story, when they found Jesus. And being totally serious. And not having a tale of angst and/or woe when describing their past or current relationship to Jesus. It’s the casual religious devotion without all the torment that I find so alien.

And finally, on my vacation, I’m still waking up at 7am so I can make it to minyan. Except this time it’s Christian minyan.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Empowered Judaism in Action (Updated!)

After an unanticipated, too-long hiatus, I knew I had to come back with something spectacular. Luckily, on Friday morning I had the opportunity to host shmura matza baking in my apartment, under the supervision of Rabbi Ethan Tucker. It was a surprisingly powerful experience to actually be able to connect with the essential part of this chag in a physical way. We may have had more technology, but it was the first step in recreating the Exodus experience, which is such an important part of what Pesach is. It’s not just telling the story, but living it. And demystifying some of the scary Pesach preparations in the process.

One of the most intense parts of the process—aside from the constant fear of doing something to render everything into chametz, and attempting to avoid the 550-degree oven while maneuvering the matzah within it—was how all-consuming it needed to be. For each stage in the process there were instructions to ensure that the matzah would be made properly. We had to constantly manipulate the dough so that it wouldn’t ever be left unattended and start the dreaded 18-minute countdown. Each finished piece had to be checked for folds and soft bubbles. Hands had to be constantly washed with cold water to prevent the proliferation of chametz from the dough that was on our hands and fingernails. But the most important part was having to keep in mind the purpose of the baking. Before each batch was kneaded, and at various intervals through the process, we declared “L’shem matzas mitzvah” (depending on who was saying it, the phrase was more or less Hebraisized). We sang niggunim, pieces of Hallel. Every moment was a reminder that we weren’t engaging in any kind of baking experiment, but that this was something important, and even a little spiritually transcendent.

I hope everyone who was there enjoys their matzahs, and feels proud of seeing the matzahs they made themselves on their seder tables. And regardless of where your matzahs come from, may you all have a chag kasher v’sameach!

UPDATE: We are famous!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Git Shabbos!

Today's pre-Shabbos singing was led by Avram Mlotek, an heir to quite the Yiddishist legacy. In addition to the numerous beautiful niggunim, Avram taught two Yiddish songs.

Shnirele Perele:

Zol Shoyn Kumen di Geule:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New York Times on Redefining Manhood

A really interesting NY Times article that touches on some of the issues raised during our Snow-Day Sicha. In the article, which I mentally filed under “Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too,” Dana Jennings discusses dealing with the sexual side effects of his treatment for prostate cancer. He discusses what it’s like to live in a society that promotes a certain sexualized ideal, while dealing with the physical inability to engage in sexual activity. During the course of the sicha, Rebecca Ennen made the point that we live in a culture that assumes everyone is sexually available all the time and that she found the concept meaningful that there are certain times when that assumption cannot be the reality, and couples have to find other ways to relate to each other. It was a comment I kept in mind as I read the article, as he describes the ways in which he has redefined intimacy in his relationship with his wife.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of reading my entire bat mitzvah parsha, Parshat Bo, in celebration of my second bat mitzvah. Reminiscing about the festivities the first time around, it was always nice when I was practicing and actually layning, to come across 10:8-11, which I wrote about for my bat mitzvah d’var torah. In what perhaps was, in retrospect, a sign of my budding egalitarianism, I was drawn to the negotiations between Pharoah and Moshe, when Pharoah finally begins to give way. Yet while Pharoah is ready to let Moshe go with the men on a “3-day jaunt” into the dessert, Moshe emphasizes that he expects to be able to take everyone: men, women, children, and cattle. This is unacceptable to Pharoah, and the deal is off the table. Ever since fifth grade, when I first saw these psukim and decided to write my bat mitzvah speech about them, I’ve found the philosophy of those psukim to be extremely compelling; none of us are free, until all of us are.

An organization that I’ve recently become involved with in an effort to put this ideology into practice is ATZUM. ATZUM is an organization that, among other things, aims to end human trafficking and sex slavery in Israel, an issue that is not often discussed, but is a major issue there. What these trafficked woman experience is nothing short of horrific, and by educating ourselves and taking action, we can make real progress on this front. With Pesach coming up, we are about to commemorate the utterance of those words that I chanted, and to celebrate the society that was able to be created because of Moshe’s insistence that it was everyone or no one. It is worth thinking about the slavery that currently exists in the world, and working to create a world (Jewish or otherwise) where we are all truly liberated.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Remember That Time We Went to Yeshiva During the Blizzard and it Was Awesome?

Some highlights from the day:

1. Sitting with a cup of hot cocoa in front of a Talmud knowing that I had an entire day of independent study to work on it (the hot cocoa and the Talmud).

2. The lunchtime sicha about creating an egalitarian taharat hamishpacha ethic. While I can’t exactly bring myself to shout for joy about the idea of mikvah, it was interesting to hear the various thoughts being floated around. And starting conversations is generally more interesting than sitting and stewing.

3. Rav Elie’s book, Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities, has just been published! We received the first shipment of shiny new books today (UPS, I will never doubt you again), and had a proper celebration. Songs were sung, cake was eaten, speeches were made; it was a moment for us to show our appreciation for Rav Elie and this major accomplishment of his. Snowballs may or may not have been thrown in celebration.

As they say at the YU Sforim Sale, "snow does not stop Torah."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Learn More, Love More

As the year has progressed, we are at the point when, as individuals and as a group, we’ve pretty much settled into a routine. We have our learning projects, and know what we need to do for our classes. This past weekend, our comfortable yeshiva habits were upended, to make way for the sudden influx of over sixty other fellows from past summers. Those of us involved with the yeshiva will sometimes joke about the “Hadar Bubble,” and how isolated we sometimes feel from the wider world. This weekend I sat in a roomful of people who converged on Manhattan from across the US and beyond, each of whom had dedicated one summer to Torah study, and spread their experiences throughout the world. We shared Torah, compared our different versions of the same private jokes, and debated which summer had it rougher. If I may be so alliterative, it was a weekend of reverence and of revelry.

In his closing remarks, Rav Shai reminded us that the biggest form of heresy is to see the world as it is, and in response shrug your shoulders and say “well, that’s just how things are.” Hadarniks came together this weekend to remind each other that together we are working to create something big. The bubble popped.