Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sura in the lounge

The 10th grade Jewish History curriculum has a unit on the Talmud, that focuses on the differences between the Mishna and the Gemara. Estee Fleischmann and I cam up with a little improv play a few years ago that we involved the class in.

Basically, the two teachers play Ravina and Rav Ashi. They are asking their students to brainstorm how the Torah she'beal peh should continue to be written. The former wants to just make a new document similat to the Mishan, and the latter disagrees. To make a long story short, they brainstorm with the students, who sort of reinvent the wheel in designing how the new structure should look and come up with the Gemara. The major insight is that while the Mishna recorded the product of discussions, the Gemara must record the process. This will create a work which must be learned and studied, and opposed to just read. Anyone who studies it becomes, over time, part of the oral tradition and a living carrier of the Torah.

Now, we also want to shtick it up. So you have to put out middle eastern food, smells and sounds to create atmosphere. When I put on the little play with the current 10th grade Jewish History teacher, Rabbi Ari Spiegler, we turned the student lunge into ancient Sura in order to have our discussion. My favorite prop was an old school oil lamp that I made from a kit. I mean, how cool is this thing? Just check out the video below, and let me know what you think.


Forwarded conversation
Subject: Article: Sura in the lounge

From: N
nice- good stuff. btw-  i really like the new layout design of your blog

From: A
I love it-
Although, I kept expecting the carpet to catch on fire or something. If you want a video to go viral, it needs a bit more pizzazz.
Seriously though, how do the kids react? Do they get the point? Do you think it impacts how they feel about gemara in general?
Is the play full of really hard words and difficult syntax?

From: Michael Unterberg 
Thanks, N. Yeah, I like that the viewer can choose to alter it using the sidebar. Way interactive.

Apropos, A, since as you know, Fire is a Virus. (see link) Pizzazz, on the other hand, is a local restaurant. (nuch a link. nerd jokes abound)

The play is improv, so that avoids the annoying syntax. The kids like it. They are sitting on the floor on pillows and noshing, and their teachers are wearing robes. So that's fun. Many get the point, and have fun with it. Some don't and need more classroomy reinforcement. The idea is that this positive fun time will both help them remember it and give a good taam to it. That's harder to measure though. It should provide a reference point for Gemara teachers to provide occasional motivation, I would hope. 


Friday, October 28, 2011

Good for Gordis

So well said. Yashar Koach to Daniel Gordis.

A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness | Daniel Gordis - Dispatches from an Anxious State

A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness
Posted By Daniel Gordis On October 28, 2011 @ 2:40 am In Featured Articles,Uncategorized | 14 Comments
Mr. Prime Minister,
Before the Shalit deal fades entirely from view, many of us are hoping that you have noticed what you unwittingly unleashed.  I don’t mean the next wave of terror or the terrible decisions that Israel must make before the next kidnapping.  We knew about those even before last week.  But last Tuesday, all of us – those opposed as well as those in favor (and there were persuasive arguments on both sides) – rediscovered something magnificent about this country.  It would be tragic if we returned to business as usual without pausing to take note.
In addition to Gilad Shalit, we got one more thing in return that few of us could have expected; we got a reminder of the abundant goodness that still resides at the very core of this society.  You could see it everywhere.  Compare the speeches on our side, celebrating life and freedom, to the blood-thirsty Palestinian harangues calling for renewed terror and additional kidnappings.   Compare the respectful restraint of our press to Shahira Amin’s immoral and abusive interview in Egypt.  But more than anything, we saw this reservoir of goodness in the streets – in the people so moved that they could hide neither the tears in their eyes nor the lumps in their throats.  We saw it in the throngs along the roads, people who wanted Shalit to know that they, too, celebrated his long overdue freedom.  And we saw it in the hundreds of people in Mitzpe Hila who continued dancing long after he’d entered his house and closed the door.  
We all felt it – it was innocent, pure and thoroughly decent.  We were witness that day to an entire country believing in something again.  Those young people outside the Shalit home were singing not only about Shalit, but about this land, this people, and about a future in which they still believe.  Did you see them?  Women and men, religious and secular, dancing with abandon in celebration of freedom?  Did you hear them singing anachnu ma’aminim benei ma’aminim …. “We’re believers, the children of believes, and we have no one on whom to depend, other than our Father in heaven”?  You didn’t miss it, did you?  Hundreds of people of all walks of Israeli life, proclaiming without hesitation their belief in something bigger than themselves?
The reason that the trade was wildly popular, Mr. Prime Minister, wasn’t ultimately about Gilad Shalit. It was about Israel.  About a country desperate to transcend the cynicism, that still wants to believe that it’s worth believing in.  Shouldn’t we – and you – therefore ask ourselves what can we do next to justify people’s belief in this place?   What will it take to make this a country that its citizens can love even when we’re not freeing a captive?
How about if we start by eradicating evil?  Take but one example and deal with it.  There’s a small but vicious group of kids living over the Green Line who bring inestimable shame on the Jewish people.  They burn mosques, tear down olive trees and sow fear everywhere – all with the implicit support of their rabbis.  And they make many young Israelis deeply ashamed of this entire enterprise.  Last week, you showed us that you do know how to take decisive action.  So do it again.  Rein them in.  Arrest them.  Cut off funding to their yeshivot.  If you show this generation of Israelis that your government stands for goodness even when that means making tough domestic decisions, you’ll unleash a wave of Zionist passion like we haven’t felt here for a generation.  It wouldn’t be any harder to do than what you just did, and it would actually do even more good for Israel than getting one soldier back.
And beyond goodness, there’s also Jewishness.  No, we shouldn’t make too much of that anachnu ma’aminim benei ma’aminim song, but admit – it’s not what you expect to see lots of secular people singing.  Yet they did.  Because this is a strange and wondrous country; not so deep down, even “non-religious” people aren’t “non-religious.”  Just like their observant counterparts, they’re searching, struggling, yearning – and at moments like that, they know that the well from which they hope to draw their nourishment is a Jewish well.
That’s why it was wonderful that you quoted from Isaiah (the Haftarah for Parashat Bereishit) in your speech.  It was your suggestion, I hope, that at its core, this society must be decent, but it must also be Jewish.  You know what the main problem with the summer’s Social Justice protests was?  It wasn’t the naïve embrace of high school socialism, or the utter incoherence of the demands.  It was the fact that there was simply nothing Jewish about their vision for Israel.  Dafni Leef and her comrades could have given the same vacuous speeches at Occupy Wall Street.  Or in Sweden, for that matter.  Those inane speeches were testimony to the failure of our educational systems and of Israel’s religious leadership.  The Yoram Kaniuk affair and the court’s willingness to let him declare himself “without religion” is a reflection not on him, but on the appallingly uninteresting variety of Judaism that the State has come to represent.  Can you – or anyone else – name even one single powerful idea that’s come from any of Israel’s Chief Rabbis in the past decade or two?  Me, neither.
But lo and behold, it turns out that Israel’s young people still want to believe in something.  We haven’t given them the tools to articulate it, but they still intuit that whatever we become, it’s got to be Jewish.  So ride that wave, too, Mr. Prime Minister.  What would it take to shape a country where the profundity at the core of Jewish tradition became once again the subject of discourse in our public square?  Does Judaism in the twenty-first century suddenly have to become dull and backward, or can we restore the intellectual and moral excellence that once characterized it?  Can you take this on, too?  Appoint the right people?  Build the right schools?  Can you help make this a country encourages those young people now searching for Jewish moral moorings?
For or against, hardly a single one of us is not thrilled that Gilad Shalit is home.  He deserved his life back.  But so, too, does this country.  Shalit, hopefully, will now get better and stronger with each passing day.  Israel must do the same.  It needs to get better – we need to be honest about the evils lurking in our midst, and we must exorcise them.  And we must become stronger, which we can do only by engaging with the roots that brought us back home in the first place.
Can you do this?  Many of us hope so.  Because if this fails, it will in the long run have made no difference that Gilad Shalit came home.  But if it succeeds, we might just come to see his liberation as the turning point in our collective return to believing in ourselves.

Article printed from Daniel Gordis – Dispatches from an Anxious State:
URL to article:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Long Road Home

In many ways, Gilad Shalit's journey home has barely begun.

Obviously, we all know that spending years of 19 to 24 in a Hamas bunker is going to leave terrible scars. There will be so many difficulties in his reentry into normal life, and many of them are so hard to anticipate.

Could he have known that he has become an international celebrity and front page news? He must have known that his family would be advocating for him. But what could prepare him for the public persona he now has? Celebrities often complain about the down sides of fame, although they worked hard to earn it. What if it is thrust on you through happenstance? It must create a Harry Potter like sense of confusion. Can he ever have the kind of privacy in public that we all enjoy?

Will he possibly feel guilt? Don't forget that other soldiers were killed during his capture. Will he fear running into families of the victims of the released terrorists? (I don't even want to consider future terrorist actions, God forbid, and what that would make him feel)

I was just watching an interview with the hero Dennis Fitch. It was for Errol Morris' "First Person", and it is riveting. He saved dozens of lives by landing an impossibly out of control plane. It is an amazing story. In the interview, he talks about meeting the mother of a young woman who didn't survive the crash. This mom walked up to him and said, "You killed my daughter!" The injustice of it gave him no consolation. Here was a hero made to feel guilt for what he could not control rather than what he accomplished.

Will Gilad fear such meetings? Will they happen? They could. And what positive accomplishments can he use to attempt to console himself?

I wonder who is even qualified to help Gilad through these times. Who has had an experience like his? Other prisoners of war in Israel may yield some aid and understanding.

I hope it goes as well as it possibly can.

Did the government do the right thing? Its too hard for me to say. Were the potential concerns of strategy and the abstract concerns of justice worth this young man's life? How does one decide?

I keep thinking about a scene from Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel, "The Dark Knight Returns". The new commissioner asks the retiring Commissioner Gordon how he could have sanctioned a vigilante like Batman. The panels below are his response.

"You will," he answers.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Still the Long Now

The op-ed below presents it in a nutshell. In the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the Israeli left's limit of compromise and Abbas' lies the impossibility of moving forward with any peace deal. See for yourself on the Haaretz website, or just read it below:

  • Published 12:56 07.10.11
  • Latest update 12:56 07.10.11

Open letter to Mahmoud Abbas for Yom Kippur

The two-state solution is running out of oxygen, if it is not implemented soon, it will die; it is time for Abbas to take the step Anwar Sadat took by coming to the Knesset, recognizing Israel as the Jewish people’s homeland.

By Carlo StrengerTags: Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian state Benjamin Netanyahu 1967 borders
Dear Mr. Abbas,

Generally I write to my fellow Jews and Israelis for our high holidays. For you Yom Kippur is, of course, not a day of reckoning, but I hope you will accept these words from an Israeli who has sponsored your cause for years with all his heart. I have done so no less for the sake for my country than for your country that has yet to come into being. 

Because a State of Israel that oppresses another people is an affront to my Jewishness, and that of the majority of Jews worldwide for whom human rights are an inviolable value – precisely because our people has suffered immensely from bigotry and racism. 

Given my sympathy for your cause, I hope you will listen to my call to you; you know, as well as anybody else, that the two-state solution is running out of oxygen. If it is not implemented soon, it will die. 

You will not get a viable Palestinian state from Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s against his ideology. Your success depends on convincing Israelis that they must elect another government, and there is only one way you can do this. 

In your speech at the UN you spoke to your own people. Now you must speak to Israelis. You must take the step Anwar Sadat took. You must come to the Knesset and tell Israelis that you recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s homeland. 

Tell Israelis that the Palestinian people demand that their tragedy of 1948 be acknowledged and recognized, but that you do not demand physical return of refugees to Israel; that individual Palestinians can claim compensation for the loss of their homes, but that, as was the case in Europe after WWII, you recognize that physical return is no longer an option. 

You certainly know that for at least a decade, seventy percent of Israelis have believed that two states for two people is the only way to peace, and that the same proportion thinks that in this generation there is no Palestinian partner for peace. The main reason is the second intifada. Less than two years ago you admitted that this uprising was the greatest mistake Palestinians ever made, and you are right - Israelis, ever since, have no longer trusted Palestinian intentions.

The other reason is that Israelis believe that for most Palestinians the two-state solution is but the first step in a two-stage process to abolish Israel as a Jewish state; that once Palestine is recognized along the 1967 borders, your people will continue to attack Israel physically and diplomatically; that you will insist that every Palestinian refugee around the world has the right to return to the lands and houses of their forefathers; that you will never accept Israel’s legitimacy as the homeland of the Jewish people. 

As a result they ask, why take the security risks involved in implementing the two-state solution in which Tel Aviv and Ra'anana are within the range of Palestinian rocket attacks? And you know very well that this is not just a paranoid fear - the South of Israel has been shelled for years following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

I believe that Israel must take the security risk involved, that it has the military strength to deal with these risks if your Palestinian brethren decide to return to the path of violence. I believe that Israel must take this risk because this is the only way that Israel can remain the democratic homeland of the Jews; because a democratic Israel can only exist if Palestinians have their own state. 

But here comes the crucial point. I know that the Palestinian right of return is firmly etched into your people’s ethos; that this right has been at the core of your people’s history, songs, books and stories. 

You, Mr. Abbas, know that Israelis will never accept the right of return. This, for them, is a red line they will never cross. Today, the vast majority of Israelis were born here. In the last six decades, a vibrant culture has come into being here. They have nowhere to go – and they don’t want to go anywhere. This is their home, and they will fight for it without compromise. 

This is not the just the view of people like Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, for whom, as you know, I have little sympathy. It is the view of Tzipi Livni, of Shaul Mofaz and Shelly Yechimovich. You need to realize that it is even the view of the three remaining MKs of Meretz, Israel’s party most committed to liberal values. 

You are faced with a terrible dilemma, Mr. Abbas. Your legitimacy as leader of the Palestinian people seems to depend on not renouncing the right of return. Your success in establishing a state for your people depends on convincing Israelis that you accept Israel as the homeland of the Jews. 

It will also help you gain support from EU countries, who would be more inclined to support your bid for UN recognition if it were connected to recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. You may remember that Spain, the country spearheading support for your UN bid, also just recognized Israel as a Jewish state – and you might take this as a lead for a fruitful line of action. 

Mr. Abbas, I know that this proposal is very difficult for you to accept. I write to you on the eve of Yom Kippur, because my heart is weary and full of sorrow, because I see the two-state solution slipping away, and along with it the State of Israel as I had hoped to see it – and the State of Palestine that I believe your people deserves. 

I hope you will find the strength to make this historic step. For the sake of your people, and mine. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jobs' jobs

A combination of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Tony Stark and the Beatles. He changed technology, business, culture and formed the future with his vision. Apple is one of the few things left that brands America with images of success, innovation and elegance. 

This is a fundamental element of what it takes to become a light unto the nations. 
Who will be Israel's Steve Jobs?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Long Now

Have you wondered what Abbas is thinking?

His speech at the UN GA was his explanation of why after 63 years of post Nakba Palestinian suffering Israel must immediately be forced by the world to behave morally. It did not acknowledge any Israeli narrative or concerns, and restated his policy of demanding a stop to all building in the West Bank before he will resume negotiations.

Why would he do this? If he wants a state for his people, and a stop to settlement building, why would he not rush into negotiations? The Palestinians now have the momentum to push Israel into maximum concessions. This has got to be the perfect moment for him to aggressively negotiate in order to achieve his state.

Say what you want about Netanyahu, he acknowledged Palestinian (and Arab) concerns and aspirations in his speech. He called for immediate, vigorous negotiations to get to an end game. It is reasonable to ask if his government could hold together while pulling 100,000 Jews out of their homes after a signed agreement. Heck, its reasonable to ask if anyone could muster the political will from a majority within the Israeli population to support such self-inflicted trauma. And let's accept the, for now, the argument that Netanyahu has deliberately dragged his feet to stall the possibility of finding a deal.

The question is, who would he make it with? Abbas is making it impossible to have the discussion. And I am left wondering why he would make a choice like that. To a reasonable outsider, it would seem to not be in his best interest.

It is tempting to pull out Eban's "[they] never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" quote. But that is a description, not an explanation. It is also tempting to think of your opponent as crazy and irrational and let it go at that. But its usually a strategic blunder to underestimate that way. Israel made that mistake in 73.

It is possible that Abbas is taking a rational gamble. Perhaps he has accepted the popular Arab narrative that the West is in decline. With Europe and America in dire economic straits, and protests in the streets of major cities, they see our hegemony coming to an end. If the 20th century saw the falls of Fascism and Communism, it is possible that the 21st will see the fall of capitalist Democracies. While praying to God that this will not be the case, it is certainly a real possibility.

It may be that Abbas et. al. are banking on this. A decline of the West leaves a desperately unprotected Israel. If this is so, then the PA is stalling in order to hold off until they can achieve their ultimate goal. Its a frightening thought.

Let me leave off with two videos, one downer and one upper. The first shows a Fatah official explaining what the ultimate goal of the PA really is. He is speaking in Arabic, so its worth paying attention:

The other is an argument in Arabic about their culture today. It is some little cause for optimism that media culture means things like this are broadcast there. Enjoy.