Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Season of Our Joy

In Spite of Sukkot ... Issues: Yes, this is [still] the Holiday of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, which we also call זמן שׂמחתנו, the Season of Our Joy.

For after all, what are we Jews commanded to do on this holiday? Build a sukkah, invite guests, and envelop ourselves in the fragrance of the Four Species.

How hard could that be?

Here is a delightful depiction of a wonderful sukkah, decorated with an obscure reference to The Fallen Sukkah of David and a clear reference to the Western Wall addition to the Al-Aqsa Mosque - part of the Al-Haram Al Sharif, toward which we Jews have directed our prayers since ... the year 1035 CE.

As Wikipedia tells us:
The mosque was originally a small prayer house built by the Rashidun caliph Umar, but was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE. 
The mosque was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 746 and rebuilt by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 754. 
His successor al-Mahdi rebuilt it again in 780. Another earthquake destroyed most of al-Aqsa in 1033, but two years later the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir built another mosque which has stood to the present day.
But Abq Jew digresses.

Now here in the high desert metropolis of Albuquerque, we've got our own tabernacle issues. First of all - skach, the branches of living trees with which we are to cover our sukkot, is in short supply.

At least on the western side of the Sandias. Skach is not an issue at all on the eastern side (or the East Coast, for that matter) - yet another reason why we Albuquerque Jews pray toward the east.

And where, Abq Jew hears you ask, did the ancient Israelites find skach in the Sinai Desert? Very close, Abq Jew responds, to where they found the legendary תחשׁ (usually translated as "seal" or "unicorn" - you can look it up) - with whose skins they covered the Mishkan.

And then there is the problem of the sukkah falling down.

Apparently David (the king, not your brother-in-law) also had this problem. Which is why on Sukkot we add the plea

May the Compassionate One rebuild the fallen tabernacle of David

to our usual Yontif bentshing (Grace After Meals).

Way back in 2011, Abq Jew brought to you, his loyal readers, Oldest Living Jewish Parrot Tells [Oldest Known High Holiday Joke].

Well, it's five years (!) later, and Abq Jew is proud (?) to bring you the Oldest Known Sukkot Joke. No parrots involved.

A family went to the Rabbi and asked

“Rabbi, how do we build a sukkah?”

The rabbi opened the Talmud to Tractate Sukkot, found the spot she was looking for, and read aloud from the Rashi commentary some very specific instructions for building a sukkah. The family thanked her and went away.

The next week, the rabbi saw them again. This one had a bandaged head, and this one had a cast, and that one was limping …

“What happened?!” cried the rabbi.

“Well, we followed the instructions to the letter, and we were sitting in the sukkah enjoying our meal, and the first big wind came along and blew it down on our heads!”

Oy oy oy!” cried the rabbi. “I don’t understand! Rashi was so clear about how to build it!” So back the rabbi went to the Talmud and opened up to the same page, and re-read the instructions.

Then she read a little further and looked up. “You know?” she said,

“Tosafot asks the same question about Rashi.”

As we head toward Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (with a break for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot) - Abq Jew realizes that you, his loyal readers, may not get the punch line of the Oldest Known Sukkot Joke.

If that is your case ... Abq Jew strongly recommends that you review his classic A Page (or Two) of Talmud: Part 4. But in the meantime ...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Temporary Dwellings

No Sukkot Required: Now that Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe have passed, Jews all over the world turn to rejoicing.

We complete building our sukkot (booths) - with a brief intermission for Shabbat Ha'azinu - round up our lulav and etrog (the four species), and wait with eager anticipation for the Festival of Sukkot  - the Season of Our Joy - to begin.

We recite the Full Hallel for all the days of the holiday, for our joy is complete. Yet we eat meals in the sukkah - a rickety, temporary dwelling.

Abq Jew hears you ask

How can living in a booth be joyful?

Rabbi Louis Jacobs explained in a My Jewish Learning article:
The sukkah is called a “temporal dwelling,” as distinct from the “permanent dwelling” in which people normally live. 
On the basis of this the idea has been read into the sukkah of a symbolic surrender of too-close an attachment to material things. The Jew leaves his house to stay in the sukkah where he enjoys divine protection. 
Judaism does not frown on material possessions, if these are honestly acquired, but, by leaving his home to stay in the sukkah, the Jew declares that it is the spiritual side of human existence that brings true joy into life.
Here is Abq Jew's view:

The sukkah teaches us that
all our dwellings are temporary.

Here are a few examples. All of us know even more.

Retired racing greyhound Belle survived a Florida kennel fire. She got sick and almost died (and was almost put down) more than once - greyhound breeders do not spend money on more veterinary care than the law requires. Belle made her forever home with Mr & Mrs Abq Jew in 2011.

Retired racing greyhound May-May was found by the side of an Albuquerque road about a year ago; her owner could not be identified or located. She was rescued by New Mexico Greyhound Connection (as was Belle), adopted by an elderly lady who surely loved her - but who recently had to return May-May when she moved to assisted living.

Mr & Mrs Abq Jew are currently fostering May-May, and hope to adopt her soon. (This is known as a "foster fail" among greyhound rescuers.)

Great Grand Mama moved from a large, beautiful home in Brooklyn to a terrific apartment in Manhattan to a nice apartment in Hollywood, Florida to a senior apartment in Livingston, New Jersey, where Mr & Mrs Abq Jew then lived.

After a couple years of pleading, she followed Mr & Mrs Abq Jew to Albuquerque where she lived in a luxurious independent living facility. GGM has just now moved to a (truly) glorious assisted living facility in Rio Rancho.

All of the above transitions were, shall we say, difficult but manageable.

And then there is Haiti and Hurricane Matthew. tells us
When spoken in the same sentence, the words 'hurricane' and 'Haiti' often create cold sweats and an abundance of worry in the minds of the nation's residents, meteorologists and weather observers alike. 
Haiti is one of the most fragile hurricane-prone countries on the planet. 
To be clear, it does not take a hurricane, or even a tropical cyclone, to cause damage and destruction in Haiti. But hurricanes are the worst of the worst for the country ....
Even responding to a natural disaster like Hurricane Matthew - in Haita, in North Carolina - may be, shall we say, difficult but manageable. For the survivors.

But then - as Rabbi Evelyn Baz of Congregation B'nai Israel reminded us on Yom Kippur - there is Aleppo, and all of Syria, a long-term, man-made disaster that is not beyond our comprehension, for we have all seen it before.

Because all dwellings are temporary, we Jews rejoice in our sukkot during our festival.

Haven't built your sukkah yet? Need help? Abq Jew is happy to provide advice from Rebbetzin Rivka Leah Zelwig!

Hag Sameach, Albuquerque!
Good Yontif, New Mexico!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Music for the Soul

After 120: In his newest book, After One Hundred-and-Twenty: Reflections on Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in the Jewish Tradition, Hillel Halkin speaks of medieval Jewish philosophy, division of the soul into three parts.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, each of us is enjoined to conduct a חשׁבּון הנפשׁ Heshbon HaNefesh, a Soul-Accounting, of our deeds - those we did, and those we should have done but did not.

The prayers we pray on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur help us perform this task. Not only the words, of course; the music is also of supreme importance.

Here, for the three divisions of the soul, are Abq Jew's offerings for the High Holy Day prayer  אבינו מלכּנו Our Father, Our King.

נפשׁ Nefesh
Vital Soul

רוח Ru'ah
Passional Soul

נשׁמה Neshamah
Intellectual Soul

And to all of us -

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rosh Hashanah 5777

Dip Your Apple In The Honey:  It's Rosh Hashanah! And, as we begin a New Year, please remember - as Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum of Synagogue Emanu-El in Charleston, South Carolina has taught us -

There is hope for the world.
There is hope for your life.
The way it is now is not the way it must be. 

Abq Jew warmly invites you to check out
this now-classic Rosh Hashana hit from 5772:

Dip Your Apple!

No apples, pomegranates, babies, or smartphones
were harmed in the filming of this video.
Please don't feed babies honey.


Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Abq Jew knows (and knows you know), are special times for our Jewish hearts, minds, and souls.

The Ein Prat Fountainheads have touched our hearts. Now, for our minds, here is a video by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks that attempts to answer the essential questions we ask ourselves at this time of year.

How often, Abq Jew asks, do we get to hear Rabbi and Lord in the same honorific? Rabbi Lord Sacks's website fills us in:
An international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was recently named the winner of the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
Described by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant”, Rabbi Sacks is a frequent and sought after contributor to radio, television and the press both in Britain and around the world.
Since stepping down as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth – a position he served for 22 years between 1991 and 2013 – Rabbi Sacks has held a number of professorships at several academic institutions including Yeshiva University and King’s College London. 
He currently serves as the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. 
Rabbi Sacks has been awarded 17 honorary doctorates including a Doctor of Divinity conferred to mark his first ten years in office as Chief Rabbi, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey. 
Rabbi Sacks is the author of over 30 books. His most recent work, Not in God’s Name, was awarded a 2015 National Jewish Book Award in America and was a top ten Sunday Times bestseller in the UK. 
Rabbi Sacks was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009. 

But when it comes to speaking directly to our Jewish souls, the divine voice of the shofar far surpasses the human voice. This video shows (oy, please forgive Abq Jew) how our soles connect to our souls.


L'Shana Tova U'Metuka, New Mexico!
A Good & Sweet Year, Albuquerque!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flamenco and Emerods

Blessings and Curses: Here we are in Week Six of the seven prophetic readings of consolation - all from Isaiah - that comfort us after the Black Fast of Tisha b'Av and prepare us, emotionally and spiritually, for the upcoming High Holy Days.

Abq Jew was delighted to begin his week with friends for a performance of Tablao Flamenco at Hotel Albuquerque. Flamenco, it turns out has (some) Sephardic roots. The New World Encyclopedia tells us
Flamenco is a Spanish musical genre. Flamenco embodies a complex musical and cultural tradition. Although considered part of the culture of Spain in general, flamenco actually originates from one region—Andalusia ...
The roots of flamenco are not precisely known, but it is generally acknowledged that flamenco grew out of the unique interplay of native Andalusian, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalusia prior to and after the Reconquest ....
Abq Jew will, G-d willing, end his week with friends at Congregation B'nai Israel, when he will be honored but not delighted to read significant portions of the Torah portion for this week, Ki Tavo.

The first part of the parashah describes what will happen when the People of Israel enter their Land of Israel, and ends with (says Abq Jew) the most beautiful prayer in the Torah:

Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the land that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.

We of the Conservative Movement who follow the Triennial Torah-Reading Cycle will not read this most beautiful prayer aloud in synagogue this week.

Instead we will read The Rebuke, for which Ki Tavo is also known: first a series of blessings, and then a series of curses - the blessings if Israel follows the Torah, and the curses if otherwise.

The curses are traditionally read soto voce in the synagogue, and euphemisms are read in place of certain words that are considered too harsh for the congregation to hear.

Unlike when the blessings and the curses were first read from Har (Mount) Gerizim and Har Eval. Respectively.

One of the euphemisms for one of the curses is what the King James translation of the Bible calls emerods.

King James Bible - Deuteronomy 28:27
The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.

Emerods. Or, as we say in Modern English ... hemorrhoids.

And let's not even talk about
"the botch of Egypt."

Now it turns out that noted Jewish author Michael Wex, who you will (you will!) remember from his visit to Albuquerque for A Taste of Honey 2012, has just written Rhapsody in Schmaltz: Yiddish Food and Why We Can't Stop Eating It.

Here, Abq Jew must point out two things:
  1. Although Mr Wex's book is ostensibly limited to Yiddish food, it freely ranges over all sorts of Jewish topics that many if not all will find fascinating. Or at least interesting. Worth the price of the book.
  2. When we read Deuteronomy 28:27 in shul, we read the Hebrew word ובטחרים. The word written in the Sefer Torah, however, is ובעפלים - the original meaning of which has been lost over time. But whatever עפלים were - they must have been awful, worse than hemorrhoids.
But back to Mr Wex. In Chapter One of Rhapsody in Schmaltz, titled Who Says It's Supposed to Taste Good? The Prehistory of Yiddish Food, Mr Wex tells us all about That Old Time Digestion.
Although the Bible mentions hemorrhoids in passing (Deuteronomy 28:27, I Samuel Chapters 5 and 6), it took Western civilization to transform them into the Jewish affliction par excellence. Painful and bloody, chronic but not fatal, associated with sedentary occupations and confined to an indelicate, otherwise humorous, part of the body, hemorrhoids were so common as to have been taken for granted among Yiddish-speaking Jews. 
In fact, says Mr Wex,
The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 describes hemorrhoids as "more common to Jews than to any other people" and goes on to say that "among the Hasidim in Galicia and Poland a Jew without hemorrhoids is considered a curiosity."
And Mr Wex continues
A yid mit meridin, a Jew with hemorrhoids, was once a jocular way of describing  a garden variety, everyday sort of person, a Jewish John Q Public; Joe the Plumber, but with different pipes.

And about that reference to emerods in I Samuel - you don't want to know.

But golden statuettes of hemorrhoids
and golden fetishes of mice are involved.
Really. Abq Jew is not making this up.

So, recapping: Abq Jew started the week watching and listening to glorious flamenco, and will end the week quietly singing about emerods and other curses. After spending a portion of each day practicing emerods and other curses.

And then, Friday through Sunday, lehavdil, there's the first sign of the approaching High Holy Days.

Community Selichot
Scholar-in-Residence Weekend
with Dr Louis E Newman and Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Returning now to the flamenco theme with which we began, Abq Jew must (he must!) point out that Baladino
a Mediterranean folk band that offers fresh, yet deeply authentic interpretations of Sephardic and Ladino melodies and brings this tradition back into full, fresh dialogue with its trans-Mediterranean past
will be also be performing at ¡Globalquerque! 2016 on Saturday night!

Not exactly Sephardic flamenco - but you get the idea!

To a New Year of flamenco and blessings!