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A Sense of Awe

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The New Year brings a sense of awe,
As we examine our every flaw.
Our sins highlighted and recited;
Hebrew sounded, chests all pounded.

We pause a while to think, reflect;
Wondering what we might expect
As the New Year daily unfolds,
Revealing secrets that it holds.

Then, Yom Kippur our time engrosses.
As the Gate of Heaven closes.
Are we sinners in or outside?
Shall we be lucky or denied?

This is a cosmic mystery;
Not to be solved, but ever be.
We humans try and do our best;
To meet the needs of the daily quest.

Irv Justman
Los Angeles

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Sights and sounds of Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–Anyone venturing into the shuk or even a local supermarket in Israel this week could be forgiven for thinking that a famine was imminent in the land.

Shoppers laden with huge nylon bags bulging with every kind of produce, fish, meat and bread may be seen staggering under the weight of their purchases, secure in the knowledge that they have sufficient provisions for the three days when stores are closed for the holiday and Shabbat.

Certain foods are traditional to eat on Rosh Hashana, and the markets are full of the most beautiful pomegranates, succulent dates and crisp apples. All the produce is local—pomegranate trees grow everywhere, even in private gardens; dates are from the Jordan Valley and apples from the Golan.

For some, the three-day Jerusalem shutdown of entertainment and shopping is a little much. One of my more secular neighbors informed me she’s running off to a hotel in Tel Aviv for the duration. Tel Aviv’s beaches are generally packed on every holy day.

Other secular Israelis, however, are intrigued by the pre-Rosh Hashana traditions, and join 3 a.m. tours of the selichot (forgiveness) services at Jerusalem synagogues in the old neighborhoods. It’s mostly the Sephardic congregations that host the melodic recitation of penitential prayers in the month before Yom Kippur. Late at night, the Old City is jammed with visitors making their way down to the Kotel for selichot, and taking a walking tour of the back alleys along the way. At 11:30 p.m in the square in front of the renovated Hurva Synagogue, industrious groups of young yeshiva guys feverishly unload panel after panel of plywood and 2 by 4 poles to construct the sukka there.

[See the You Tube video ]

Newspaper polls report that only 47 percent of Israelis plan on attending synagogue services to pray during Rosh Hashana, but hotels all over the country report 95 percent occupancy rates. The traffic jams generated by all that coming and going are truly monumental. In the hours leading up to the leyl Rosh Hashana family dinner, it seems as if the entire country is on the road. Roads anywhere near shopping centers have been packed for days now, so we should be used to it.

A uniquely Israeli tradition is the “haramat cosit” literally, “lifting of the glass”, in honor of the New Year. Government ministries, corporations and municipal offices all host toasts where wine and good cheer flow. The fleet of diplomatic vehicles double-parked outside the official presidential residence in Jerusalem is an indication that President Shimon Peres is hosting the diplomatic corps for the traditional New Year bash.

No doubt, the foreign emissaries were discussing the tensions of the day, which this year, once again include the Iranian nuclear threat and the current direct peace talks.

So as we prepare to sign off for a few days of introspection and stocktaking, we take this opportunity to wish Jewish readers and their families a year of health, fulfillment and success—oh yes, and peace and quiet.

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Judy Lash Balint is a freelance writer whose posts may be found regularly on the blog: Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times

San Diego Jewish World will pause for Rosh Hashanah

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO—Along with most of our readers, the staff and contributors to San Diego Jewish World will pause for Rosh Hashanah on Wednesday evening (U.S. Pacific Coast time), September 8, and will resume their work after sundown Thursday, Sept. 9.  (Some of us will observe a second day of the Holy Day as well.)

Co-publishers Donald and Nancy Harrison extend to all their readers, to fellow writers and contributors, and to the Jewish community at large a fervent wish that this new year will bring peace in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, and that, on a more personal level, the New Year will be for all of us—Jew and Gentile alike–healthy, happy and prosperous.

L’shana tova!

Poetry abounds in Jerusalem as Rosh Hashanah approaches

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–One of the great things about living in Israel is how easy it is to really “feel” any upcoming holiday. Just take a walk through the shuk and the stacks of honey jars, piles of perfectly ripe pomegranates and barrels of shiny Golan apples all make it easy to anticipate the High Holydays. Radio & TV ads are full of New Year wishes and mailboxes full of heart-wrenching holiday appeals. But paradoxically, all that can be a downside, because it’s just too darn easy to take it all for granted.

In the old country, where you had to finagle time off from classes or work and explain the intricacies of why you were living in a booth for eight days in the chilly autumn rain, getting ready for the high holidays was a more deliberate and serious endeavor. Here in Israel, it’s too easy to take things for granted and can sometimes become just a matter of anticipating a week off work and deciding which trips to take during chol hamoed–the intermediate Sukkot days.

That’s why events like the Festival HaPiyut are just the right antidote.

It’s hard to explain piyutim. Essentially they’re the poetry that adorns various prayers throughout the year. The pre-High Holyday piyutim are the verses Jews recite at this time of year to butter up God. They’ve evolved over the centuries and are generally sung as a community, not by the individual, and for some reason Sephardim have a more finely developed sense of using piyutim than Ashkenazim.

Piyutim are experiencing a revival here in Israel with young paytanim (singers of piyutim) commanding large audiences; a website devoted to the genre as well as a wealth of scholarly research and concert halls filled with devotees.

In the delightful walled courtyard of the Beit Avichai Center on King George Street, several hundred mostly religious people gathered for the opening of last year’s Festival.The event was billed as encompassing three generations of paytanim from Nachlaot, the old Jerusalem neighborhood not more than 7 minutes walk away.

Indeed, the all-male performers range in age from 10 to 80, each one chanting one of the soulful but lively piyutim to the accompaniment of an outstanding group of musicians.

Many of the piyutim are from the 19th and early 20th century–mostly originating in Tunis or Egypt. The music is amazingly complex with changing rhythms and odd beats with darbuka drums, the oud and violins all playing major roles.

The two hour concert draws to a close after two veteran paytanim were honored. One, Rabbi David Raichi, who immigrated from Tunis in 1956, was a long-time piyut practitioner at the renowned Ades synagogue in nearby Nachlaot.

As Rav Raichi drew out his final notes, I couldn’t help thinking of Rev. Samuel Benaroya the late chazan of Sephardic Bikur Holim, my congregation in Seattle, who was a world-renowned expert in every kind of Sephardic makam, and whose personality and ability to pass on those traditions is legendary. His special knowledge of the Ottoman style maftirim would have been a worthy addition to the evening.

Walking home with the melodies and the poetry of the piyutim still in my head, I realize that the journey toward the High Holydays will no longer be so easy to take for granted.

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Balint is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.  This is reprinted from her website, Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times

National reflection sought by 10Q during Days of Awe

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release) — The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a traditional period of reflection. But that ritual is often lost in the flurry of today’s fast-paced 21st Century world. Now, 10Q, a national project that asks people to answer a question a day online for 10 days during the High Holidays in September, offers a new way for Jews and people of all backgrounds to slow down and reflect.

Beginning on September 8th, a series of ten questions will be projected each day on the PRNewswire Jumbo-tron in Times Square in New York City, on PRNewswire’s screens on the Las Vegas Strip across from the Wynn and the Palazzo hotels, and on a roving billboard from San Francisco to Silicon Valley and Sonoma. The questions, about life, goals, the future, relationships, your place in the world and more, are designed to stop people in their tracks, and direct them to the website, www.doyou10Q.com, where the questions are hosted.

“For thousands of years, the Jewish High Holy Days, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, have been a time of introspection and reflection,” says 10Q co-creator Ben Greenman. “But it has a broad appeal because everyone needs time to pause and think. We want people, all people, to reflect on the present because that will help to bring the future, everyone’s future, into focus.”

10Q is an ambitious online effort to reverse the trend of living only for the moment that has crowded out that ancient ritual. It is an experiment to see what happens when these questions of reflection are brought to the frenetic life in places like New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

10Q, is a partnership between Nicola Behrman, an LA-based screenwriter, Greenman, a New Yorker editor, and Amelia Klein, program director of Reboot, a Jewish cultural organization that seeks to reinvent and re-imagine Jewish rituals and traditions. The website, launched in 2008 has already become a national sensation. The site garnered more than 30,000 visitors during the ten days in 2009 and drew press coverage from the likes of The New York Times and USA Today. With the questions projected in Times Square, it even caught on with the governor of New York, and the president of New York University. This year, such luminaries as Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler and University of California President Mark Yudof have already signed on.

The answers go into a secure, digital vault after the 10 days and are returned via email to participants one year later when the process begins again. The idea is for participants to make an annual tradition out of answering the questions, building up an archive for future years to come.

10Q attracts an ecumenical, multi-generational audience with participants ranging from teenagers to grandparents. Although the project is rooted in the Jewish idea of ethical wills and reflection, teshuvah and occurs during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it has attracted people of all backgrounds and denominations, including Catholics, Episcopalians and Buddhists. One anonymous participant commented: “I’m Jewish, but more culturally than theologically and so I found this resonated perfectly with my trying to draw meaning and significance out of the rituals in ways that apply to my life.”

The 10Q questions are not religious in nature; they are for anyone interested in pondering their world. They are about your place on the planet, and the planet’s place within you.

“Sifting through the public entries from last year, we realized that 10Q is the complete antithesis to facebook,” Behrman said. “Instead of trying to prove that life is wonderful, that everything is going great, people are incredibly honest in their 10Q entries. Fears about work, sense of self, loneliness all come out through their answers to the 10Q questions and it’s surprisingly uplifting to see. You read them and think, “Wow, I’m not the only person in the world who feels nervous when I walk into a room of people or criticizes myself too much. It’s utterly liberating,” she commented.

This year’s questions range from the personal to the communal, from family issues to global events.

Last year, New York Gov. David A. Paterson responded to a question about what he would have changed from the previous year, saying: “I would have embarked on a campaign to educate the public about how stimulus money affects the state budget, so that all New Yorkers would understand how we were able to keep state spending flat when it appeared that there was a substantial increase due to the addition of federal stimulus dollars.”

The 10Q project resonates with a wide variety of people and was used by a documentary filmmaker, who asked the 10Q questions as a transformative exercise for death row inmates (and their families) before they were executed, and by a social worker with a mental health group she runs at her clinic. The project can also facilitate intergenerational dialogue with families organizing conference calls to discuss their daily responses.

“Our attentions have been fractured, scattered and divided across so many channels, apps and tweets that it’s virtually impossible to stop and take it all in,” said Lou Cove, Executive Director of Reboot. “The 10 Q project is an invitation to slow down and reflect on what really matters to you.”

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Preceding provided by Reboot

Jimmy Carter says an ‘Al Het’ if any of his words stigmatized Israel

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

ATLANTA (WJC)–Former US President Jimmy Carter has asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for any offense he may have caused when criticizing Israel. In a letter release by the news agency JTA, Carter sent season’s greeting and wished peace between Israel and its neighbors.

He concluded: “We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.”

“Al Het” refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God forgiveness for sins committed against God. In modern Hebrew it refers to any plea for forgiveness. Carter has angered some US Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peacemaking on Israel, that likened Israel’s settlement policies to apartheid, and that blamed the Israel lobby for inhibiting an even-handed US foreign policy. Earlier this year, Carter met with Hamas leaders in Damascus.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress