Saturday, November 15, 2008

Avraham Avinu and Obama Malkeinu

One of the most moving things about Barack Obama’s historic win in the US elections was his incredibly powerful victory speechdelivered to thousands in Grant Park, Chicago. It happened on the week of Parashat Lech Lecha, where the great forefather of monotheism, Avraham Avinu, set out on another very different journey of his own, which was, like Obama’s, full of promise. I wondered what a discussion between Avraham and Sarah would sound like, if he decided to take a leaf out of the President Elect’s speech writing school. Here is Bibliodrama I came up with:

Avram: Sarah, I believe our lives can be better. I believe that change is possible.

Sarai: How?

Avram: I think about all that I have seen in the last 99 years of my life– the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that Hebrew creed: Yes we can.

At a time when people were swept up in the idolatry of Ur Casdim, where Faith in one God was scorned, I left the affluenza of Haran, and travelled to the new land. When there was despair and famine in Canaan, you God saved us from the wrath of pharaoh and set us free to be man and wife yet again. Yes we can.

Then we returned to the land, and had to divide it up with my nephew lot, who got himself into many a troubling situation both in Sodom and with the four kings. It took great diplomacy, and God by my side to keep the peace. Yes We Can.

And Hagar became my wife, and brought unhappiness between myself and you, and I had to choose whether to throw them out where they would surely perish. You told me to abandon my first born son, and my handmaiden wife. I listened to you Sarah, and your words were proved right. Yes we can.

Then God made with me a covenant, saying that our offspring will be strangers in a strange land, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed 400 years, but He, God, will execute judgement, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. Yes we can.

I look up to the stars and God said to me “count the stars, if you can count them, so shall be your seed” . My child-less wife found this funny, but I told her “Yes We Can”

I finally got my coveted heir, my beloved Yitzchak, and as my wife lay in labour for hours at age ninety, she screamed “ Yes Yes Yes Yes We Can”

We have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So this morning, let us ask ourselves – if our children Issac and Ishmael should live to see the next century; if they can put their hatreds which they’ve inherited from us aside and be so lucky to live as long as we have, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to rise up, walk about the land through its length and its breadth, for god has given it to us. To reclaim the Hebrew Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of one, we will be many, like the stars of the sky and the dust of the earth. That while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless Am Yisrael. And let us say Amen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Senior Educators Program - Final Update

,וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ. וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ, וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם,
בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ
Deuteronomy 6:6

I have been working in the field of informal and formal Jewish education for over ten years. Of all the subjects I teach, I have the greatest passion and interest for the teaching of Tanach. It is a book that never ceases to enthrall me in its characterization of the human condition, its sparse narrative, the special obligation it outlines for the Jewish people and the real and imagined history it tells of my nation. In addition to a book of religious instruction, I also read the Tanach as the central text of Jewish collective memory. After touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell, Tanach opens me to my sixth sense, memory. Jonathan Safran Foer elaborates on this idea in his book Everything is Illuminated:

The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks – when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather's fingers fell asleep while stroking his great-grandfather's damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain – that the Jew is able to know why it hurts.When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?"

Over the past year I have had a first class tutorial in Jewish memory through living and studying in Jerusalem as a fellow on the Melton Centre's Senior Educators Program. Each day I woke up, ate, read, traveled, socialized, studied, questioned, rested, prayed, wrestled and hugged. The fact that I was doing all of this in the State of Israel provided a constant commentary to each of my activities. I encountered people from across the globe who love this land because of, and in spite of, what it is. I encountered a contemporary spoken language revived from the bible, sounds and songs of deep longing, food flavored with a rainbow of spices and a culture of deep searching for meaning, ritual, money and peace. Being in this most dynamic of societies, everything I learnt this year entered my mind through one of its many filters. After absorbing hundreds of lectures, websites, books, religious and secular shiurim, films,
concerts and tiyulim, I strove to find a medium for professional expression from these encounters.

From Tree of Knowledge to Tree of life, the project I worked on for the past year, is one product of this encounter. For the rest of what I have learnt this year, I invite you to join me at a Shabbat table, class, living room, or lecture theatre in the future.

Thank you very much to The King David School, Melton Mini-School, VUPJ, UPJ and the Jewish Agency for Israel who made this experience possible.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Meaning of Israel: יום העצמאות ה60‎ ערב

“What is the meaning of the state of Israel? No single answer can exhaust its meaning. One fact is clear. In no other community do we witness such an intense, ongoing search, such an effort to understand itself in terms of a higher vision as in Israel.
–A. J Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity

From the time I was born here, and through my education in Australian Zionist schools and youth movements, I remember repeatedly hearing two contradictory answers to the question of what the purpose of the Israel should be, The first is that we should aspire to be a nation like all other nations. We will know that this purpose has been fulfilled "when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew." The second is that we have been selected by God to be different from other nations, and with this chosen status came a special responsibility. “To be a light unto the nations.” Both statements were always attributed to David Ben Gurion.

On the eve of our sixtieth birthday, we are both. Like most other western nations we value money and materialism too much, our inept political leadership generates more apathy than hope, and we struggle to treat our minorities with the same dignity afforded to our majorities. More specifically the way we have dealt with the question of Palestinian nationalism has tarnished our image in the world more than any other event.

Avashai Margalit suggest’s there perhaps is a third, more realistic option between these two ideals. Margalit’s ideal is a society whose institutions do not humiliate the people under their authority, and whose citizens do not humiliate one another. He calls this a “decent society.”

This coming week is not one for these questions. It is a time for honoring and celebrating the great people and achievements of the only Jewish State. But once the smoke from the fireworks has cleared way, and the flags have come down, it would be nice to know where we are headed.

עד 120 יום הולדת שמח יִשְרָאֵל!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ma Nishtana? Pesach 1960 and 2008

I'd like to share my thoughts in this, the moment before the full moon of Nisan that marks our exodus from Egypt.
In 1960, David Ben-Gurion caused a storm in the Knesset suggesting that only 600 people actually left Egypt in the famous Exodus which we will all celebrate tomorrow night (it's an amazing story).

This year, a controversy has again been caused in the Knesset after Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Zaban ruled that it is permitted to display chametz during Pesach inside business establishments, despite the arguments of the religious establishment that this violates the "Festival of Matzot Law, 5746-1986", better known by the paradoxical name 'the Chametz Law'. She concluded that the interior of a business is not considered a public place according to the legal code, and therefore displaying chametz inside does not violate the law, whose intent is not to offend the sensibilities of observers of Torah and Mitzvot.

And what was the response of the religious establishment?
Shas warned that their party would consider leaving the coalition if the cabinet did not intercede immediately to overturn the ruling. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yonah Metzger voiced sharp criticism in a Saturday sermon when he linked the decline in motivation for service in the IDF to a decline in the State's Jewish values.
"If the court, with its own hands, crushes a sacred Jewish value like the prohibition of chametz on Pesach, it is crushing the Jewish symbol of freedom and we are to blame for the results," Metzger told the congregation.

And the secular?
Here's one opinionated stance

Why do I share this with you? Whether one is for or against the ruling is interesting, but not of great relevance to me. What is important is the question. And the fact that both in 1960, and again this year, significant time is devoted in the Knesset to these types of questions that only a chag like pesach could raise, is for me one of the best reasons to have a Jewish State. Because not only does it provide me with a forum to answer these questions, but more importantly, it forces me to ask them.

Happy Questioning.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Today the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on behalf of the Australian government and people, delivered an apology to the Indigenous people of Australia. Watching it online from my temporary home in Jerusalem, I could not help but have mixed feelings. Pride and shame.

In a government motion passed unanimously, Kevin Rudd said, "We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."

Hearing this, I felt proud. Acknowledging the cultural genocide that we now know as the Stolen Generations is an incredibly important symbol. In his Laws of Teshuva, Rambam states that the first step to complete reconciliation must be acknowledging that you have done something wrong. Aboriginal children were removed from their parents from 1869-1969. For finally taking this first step in admitting the consequences of this policy, I feel proud of the Australian government.
But I also feel shame. That Aboriginal life expectancy is 17 years shorter than that of the of the average Australian; that indigenous unemployment is three times the rate of the country as a whole; that crime and alcoholism are more prevalent in indigenous communities.

This leads me to reflect on the country where I am living now. What would reconciliation look like in Israel? To whom would the government apologize?
To the Yemenite children whose children were removed from their parents when they arrived in the 1950's? To the Palestinians who lost their homes and homeland in 1948 and 1967? To the many Israelis who have not yet known a year without violence? To the young IDF soldiers who spend the best years of their youth at isolated checkpoints? To the families of Gush Katif who lost their homes and livelihoods for no apparent gain? To the Bedouins whose villages are still not recognized? To the many Holocaust survivors who live below the poverty line? To the parents who lost their sons in the last Lebanon war? To the people of the southern Negev who have been living between their homes and bomb shelters for the past seven years? To the people of Gaza who are bearing the brunt of a cruel collective punishment? Or to today's Ethiopian immigrants who are suffering from same absorption mistakes of the past in terms of social discrimination and peripheralisation?
How would a reconciled Israel look? How would the process begin? The Australian opposition leader Brendon Nelson responded to today's motion with this,
But in saying we are sorry - and deeply so - we remind ourselves that each generation lives in ignorance of the long term consequences of its decisions and actions. Even when motivated by inherent humanity and decency to reach out to the dispossessed in extreme adversity, our actions can have unintended outcomes.

The very short but incredibly tumultuous history of the State of Israel is filled with so many decisions that were motivated by inherent humanity, but have ended in suffering. When I look at this country's history, I feel both pride and shame. Perhaps, on this historic day, the Jewish State can take a eucalyptus leaf out Australia's book and begin the process of reconciling its past because maybe that is the best thing she can do for her future. I can't think of a better gift that Israel could give herself on this, her 60th birthday year.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mechanchim Bechirim Update

Shalom from Jerusalem,
The flags from Bush’s visit are back in storage, Annapolis is only a city in Maryland, the snow has passed, professors are no longer striking and Winograd is just the name of a retired judge again. Life in Israel has gone back to normal, i guess?

From a personal perspective I really enjoyed visiting Jordan with a few close friends and telling them “on a clear day, you can see Israel from here.” It’s important to visit the neighbors once in a while. From my impression, the folks in Jordan don’t need sugar or eggs, but would love some water and an end to siege on Gaza. They were quite unhappy about us not providing that last item. I guess that’s why we don’t visit each other so often.

In terms of my academic studies, I have been exploring Shwab's common places of curriculum construction, reflecting on Alick Issac's antidote to war called 'Weak Theology,' thinking about how to apply 'blue ocean strategy' to a new field called Educational Entrepreneurship and been challenged by Michael Rosenak's tensions between Authenticity and Relevance(more on Rosenak's theory in the next post).

With reagrd to the major project that I will be completing by May, in conjunction with my stutor Roni Magidov, I have decided to focus on the relationship between human stories and biblical stories, and how they can complement one another within the Jewish Studies classroom. The specifc text I will be focusing on for this task will be Chapters 14-16 of the Book of Samuel (see attachment for more detailed project outline). May the new school/academic semester that begins in Australia this week be filled with an education that not only teaches students how to make a living, but also how to live. (John Adams)

Keep smiling


The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda. ~ Martin Buber