Tag Archives: Eliezer Ben Yehuda

Ani Ma’Amin: This is what I believe

בה

Rabbi Horowitz

אני מאמין

 

Let’s start with first principles.

I believe in God. Specifically, I believe in the God who appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush. Moses asks: “Who are you?” God says: “I am who I am.”

As a mystic, not much more can be said about God with this exception. God is not a He nor a She. God is genderless. Given my contrarian nature, I have taken to refer to God as She in no small part because doing so upsets some people. E.g.:

Kaddish: Prayer for the Dead

English

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which She has created according to Her will.

http://www.joelsolkoff.com/kaddish/

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One of my heroes is Edward R. Murrow. The great North-Carolina-born journalist instituted a series of radio programs ( which on NPR continue to this day) on what prominent people believe.

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I am not prominent, but I am old (71j and am so dyed-in-the-wool Jewish that what I believe is equivalent at least in my own mind to what Judaism is or ought to be.

I can readily trace the conceit of my own rectitude to my mother who was an impressive woman and educator. Despite a lifetime of self-doubt, Mother never doubted that to be a proper Jew one must do what she insisted upon.

Here is my mom.


http://www.joelsolkoff.com/my-mother/

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For me,  my belief in God is the least import aspect of being Jewish. I would argue it is irrelevant to what truly matters; namely, “If I am for myself alone, what good am I.”

One consequence of my going to Israel to fight in the Six Day War ( where I arrived at Lodd Airport on Day Four) was that despite the Israeli government’s understandable 1967 assertion (that the impending War was the 1948 War of Independence all over again) was my surprise upon being asked by the military official in charge of the airport,” Why are you here? “ My response (after kissing the tarmac and saying the requisite bracha):
“Whatever you want.”

Had it been 1948, I would have been handed a Stenn gun and sent to the Syrian front where the IDF troops scaling the Golan Heights suffered the worst deaths of the War.
Instead, being untrained naive and young, I was sent to a dairy farm in the South where I was badly needed to shovel the manure that had been built up while the farmer I had partially replaced was off in the Sinai reinventing tank warfare.
https://forward.com/author/joel-solkoff/
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My Israeli experience as a migrant agricultural worker resulted in my becoming an agricultural policy expert ( of sorts):
https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-01-26-bk-0-story.html

 

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Most recently, my “expertise” has resulted in my efforts to affirm Eli Weisel’s insistance that being a Jew ( surrounded as I had been  in the 1950s by tattooed survivors of the Holocaust) requires us as Jews to end genocide of whatever form; specifically in Yemen, the Mayanmar region of what used to be Burma, Venezuela ( most especially on the Western border in Colombia) the Sudan, and ….
Here is the book I am most eager to complete and publish:

DEVELOPING A BLUEPRINT FOR FEEDING THE 20 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO ARE STARVING TO DEATH

Here is a relatively recent expression of what I regard as my primary life’s work:
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http://www.joelsolkoff.com/playing-politics-with-food-exports/
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Fortunately or unfortunately my rotten health ( which is to blame for my not being in shul yesterday) has required me to pay attention to a pressing reality(intervening in what I regard as my primary work).
For the past two  years, I have been suffering from one of the many consequences of radiation treatment that cured me of two of the three cancers I have survived and which resulted in my losing the ability to walk and stand 25 years ago.
The radiation has badly damaged my GI tract which has resulted in an inability to swallow, required that I relearn how to eat, and which most recently is manifesting itself in a severe cough. Last week, I was seen by the Digestive Diseases clinic at UPMC and with any luck I will receive surgery in June to put me on the road to recovery.
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In February, by impulse or necessity, I moved to Williamsport after over 15 years in State College. Here I am receiving medical treatment unavailable in State College. And here, as a result of Larissa Simon’s efforts, that of Ohev Shalom and you, I have been rescued. Details available.
How I am able to write and write and write despite the failures of my body surprise me. The image that comes to mind is that my mind is in fifth gear; my body in second.
Clearly, it is time to stop this seemingly endless e-mail but I must first mention the following Yiddishkite issues of importance to me:
1. The revival of the Hebrew language. Eliezer ben Yehuda and Bialik,  Bialik, Bialik.
2. The understanding that the killing of Jews in Pittsburgh and Southern California makes clear that, as Jabotinsky expressed it,  in the Diaspora even the rocks are anti-Semitic.
3. The shameful way in which the elderly and disabled are treated in our society.
4. My reverence for the late Rabbi Heschel, Professor of Mysticism and Theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary who marched with Dr. King as did I.
“Leaders of the protest, holding flags, from left Bishop James Shannon, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath.” Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Cemetery, February 6, 1968. Published February 7, 1968. (Photo by Charles Del Vecchio/Washington Post/Getty Images)

 

 

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Copyright  2019 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

 

Teach It Diligently to Your Children


Background for the ongoing story, did I return from the Democratic Convention and Tokyo in time to coach when my first child Joanna was born? See Part 1: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/?p=604

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I remember clearly that astonishing first visit to the obstetrician, the one where I saw for the first time a sonic image of my first child inside her mother’s womb and heard the heartbeat. This was over 26 years ago and I remember it as clearly as if it were happening right now between the strokes on my computer keyboard.

I brought a cassette tape recorder to the obstetrician’s office and from then until Joanna’s birth, I rode around Washington DC where I lived for 17 years and where I often drove with the kind of automatic pilot that comes with familiarity. While the automatic pilot was driving, the rest of me was listening to the sound of life, primitive and vital coursing through the internal consciousness of my mind.

The heartbeat sound was surprisingly fast. There were times I heard it and remembered with clarity the sonic image of a creature who swam and looked like a frog and who would shortly be my child—the person whose umbilical cord I would cut.

What could I teach such a person? How could I flaws and all (and I was often overwhelmed by the specificity of my flaws) be a father commanded to teach, commanded to teach it diligently, commanded to teach what? This much I knew. After years of repeating the phrase from the shima, in Hebrew and in English often-multiple-times-a-day that God was not simply commanding me simply to teach my children the story of the Exodus from Egypt–unless you regard the deliverance from slavery a story that transcends that specific historic occasion and becomes a story of the universal quest for freedom and holiness.

It is germane that I have always been perplexed by the words of the havdalla service at the end of the Sabbath, lighting the multi-wicked candle, smelling the fragrence, consuming the booze (my stepfather preferred substituting 120 proof slivovitch) and recognizing that we were marking the difference between the holiness of the Sabbath and ordinary quality of the rest of the week. “Hamavdeel bein kaddish lechol.” How can we make such a distinction? Isn’t everything holy? Is there really a dividing line?

Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about being a good father—not with the intensity that drove me to drive sometimes aimlessly through the streets of DC listening to the heart beat, wondering whether I would measure up to being a good father. It is not that Joanna is 26 and Amelia is 20. We parents know that there is no end to being a parent.

I am, of course, gratified that my daughters have read Hemingway, believe strongly in the majesty of the 14 amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the promise The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing side by side with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (a great theologian in a century of great theologians), gave us—a promise of equality and the perception that no one is free until all human beings are free.

But what about being Jewish? Did I teach Joanna and Amelia what it means to be a Jew? For me especially being Jewish has been very complicated. As I contemplate the recent death of my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler, who was a Hebrew educator, I understand that some Jewish issues have always been clear and simple (as clear and simple as it is possible for Jews to let things be):

1.      We Jews are a very old people. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “Most scholars agree that the texts now found in Genesis began to be written down sometime after the establishment of the monarchy in Israel in the tenth century B.C.E.” These documents were part of an oral tradition that traces back farther than history itself. We are not only an old people; we are a clan; landsmen, people who have an obligation to each other and the world too often obscured by disagreements less important than they seem at the time.

2.      Theodore Herzl was divinely inspired when, after witnessing the Dreyfus trial in what was believed to be progressive France, Herzl concluded that our people require a Jewish state located in the holy land. Today’s Middle Eastern problems may seem insoluble, but in my lifetime I have seen the fall of the Berlin wall, majority rule in South Africa, and a palpable harmony in Northern Ireland to the point where Joanna spent her junior year abroad in Belfast and her parents did not fear for her safety.

3.      The revival of the Hebrew language was one of the great miracles of the 20 century, accomplished despite opposition by the Orthodox community which stoned Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his children for speaking God’s language outside the synagogue. Not only is the majesty of the Hebrew language in the Bible—our book; we are the people of the book—better understood today than ever before. But a new, vital language has sprung up in Israeli soil. Nobel Prize committees sometimes err in their choices. The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Shmuel Yosef Agnon for using the Hebrew language to demonstrate the human ability to communicate on the highest level can be compared equally to the award to William Faulkner, kindred souls despite worlds of difference.

4.      Being the “chosen people” means we have been chosen to have an often confusing relationship with God. I have been reading James L. Kugel’s brilliant How to Read the Bible. Kugel, a former Harvard professor of Hebrew, reconciles modern Biblical scholarship, which has done so much to make the Bible accessible, with traditional Midrashic interpretation, ending in about 200 AD.

Kugel says the following about God: “As for where He is normally, He is simply elsewhere, behind the curtain of everyday reality, but from time to time He crosses into the world.”

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[Note: This posting appeared in slightly different form in Brit Shalom of State College, PA’s quarterly publication The Center Scroll, January/February 2011. Copyright © by Joel Solkoff, 2011.]

Self: Cultural identity Judaism

The following appeared in Brit Shalom of State College, PA’s quarterly publication The Center Scroll, January/February 2011

Teach It Diligently to Your Children

               I remember clearly that astonishing first visit to the obstetrician, the one where I saw for the first time a sonic image of my first child inside her mother’s womb and heard the heartbeat. This was over 26 years ago and I remember it as clearly as if it were happening right now between the strokes on my computer keyboard.
I brought a cassette tape recorder to the obstetrician’s office and from then until Joanna’s birth, I rode around Washington DC where I lived for 17 years and where I often drove with the kind of automatic pilot that comes with familiarity. While the automatic pilot was driving, the rest of me was listening to the sound of life, primitive and vital coursing through the internal consciousness of my mind.
The heartbeat sound was surprisingly fast. There were times I heard it and remembered with clarity the sonic image of a creature who swam and looked like a frog and who would shortly be my child—the person whose umbilical cord I would cut.
What could I teach such a person? How could I flaws and all (and I was often overwhelmed by the specificity of my flaws) be a father commanded to teach, commanded to teach it diligently, commanded to teach what? This much I knew. After years of repeating the phrase from the shima, in Hebrew and in English often-multiple-times-a-day that God was not simply commanding me simply to teach my children the story of the Exodus from Egypt–unless you regard the deliverance from slavery a story that transcends that specific historic occasion and becomes a story of the universal quest for freedom and holiness.
It is germane that I have always been perplexed by the words of the havdalla service at the end of the Sabbath, lighting the multi-wicked candle, smelling the fragrence, consuming the booze (my stepfather preferred substituting 120 proof slivovitch) and recognizing that we were marking the difference between the holiness of the Sabbath and ordinary quality of the rest of the week. “Hamavdeel bein kaddish lechol.” How can we make such a distinction? Isn’t everything holy? Is there really a dividing line?
Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about being a good father—not with the intensity that drove me to drive sometimes aimlessly through the streets of DC listening to the heart beat, wondering whether I would measure up to being a good father. It is not that Joanna is 26 and Amelia is 20. We parents know that there is no end to being a parent.
I am, of course, gratified that my daughters have read Hemingway, believe strongly in the majesty of the 14 amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the promise The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing side by side with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Shmuel Yosef Agnon(a great theologian in a century of great theologians), gave us—a promise of equality and the perception that no one is free until all human beings are free.
But what about being Jewish? Did I teach Joanna and Amelia what it means to be a Jew? For me especially being Jewish has been very complicated. As I contemplate the recent death of my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler, who was a Hebrew educator, I understand that some Jewish issues have always been clear and simple (as clear and simple as it is possible for Jews to let things be):
1.      We Jews are a very old people. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “Most scholars agree that the texts now found in Genesis began to be written down sometime after the establishment of the monarchy in Israel in the tenth century B.C.E.” These documents were part of an oral tradition that traces back farther than history itself. We are not only an old people; we are a clan; landsmen, people who have an obligation to each other and the world too often obscured by disagreements less important than they seem at the time.
2.      Theodore Herzl was divinely inspired when, after witnessing the Dreyfus trial in what was believed to be progressive France, Herzl concluded that our people require a Jewish state located in the holy land. Today’s Middle Eastern problems may seem insoluble, but in my lifetime I have seen the fall of the Berlin wall, majority rule in South Africa, and a palpable harmony in Northern Ireland to the point where Joanna spent her junior year abroad in Belfast and her parents did not fear for her safety.
3.      The revival of the Hebrew language was one of the great miracles of the 20 century, accomplished despite opposition by the Orthodox community which stoned Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his children for speaking God’s language outside the synagogue. Not only is the majesty of the Hebrew language in the Bible—our book; we are the people of the book—better understood today than ever before. But a new, vital language has sprung up in Israeli soil. Nobel Prize committees sometimes err in their choices. The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Shmuel Yosef Agnon for using the Hebrew language to demonstrate the human ability to communicate on the highest level can be compared equally to the award to William Faulkner, kindred souls despite worlds of difference.
4.      Being the “chosen people” means we have been chosen to have an often confusing relationship with God. I have been reading James L. Kugel’s brilliant How to Read the Bible. Kugel, a former Harvard professor of Hebrew, reconciles modern Biblical scholarship, which has done so much to make the Bible accessible, with traditional Midrashic interpretation, ending in about 200 AD.
Kugel says the following about God: “As for where He is normally, He is simply elsewhere, behind the curtain of everyday reality, but from time to time He crosses into the world.”
–Joel Solkoff
[Note: Congregation Brit Shalom is a reform synagogue. The article above appeared in slightly different form (ishorter than this blog posting). Material Copyright © by Joel Solkoff, 2011.