Sunday, September 30, 2018

Shemini Atzeret: Stay A Little Longer!

And Play Some Bluegrass! The Holiday of Sukkot is almost behind us. Today we celebrate Hoshana Rabba (see The Great Hosanna), which is technically the seventh day of the Festival of Booths.

And tomorrow is the Holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly. In the Land of Israel, it's also Simchat Torah; here in חו״ל (the Diaspora), Simchat Torah follows Shemini Atzeret.

We all know what Simchat Torah means. But what about Shemini Atzeret?

As it turns out - חז״ל (Our Sages, of blessed memory) also had a problem with Shemini Atzeret.
  • In some ways, Shemini Atzeret is the Eighth, Concluding Day of Sukkot. Why else would 'Eighth' be its very name? But Pesach also has concluding days - known simply as Pesach 7 (and in the Diaspora) Pesach 8.
  • And in other ways, Shemini Atzeret is its very own holiday. For example: we are not required to eat / dwell in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret. We are allowed to (of course) - but we don't have to. And we already wrecked our Lulav and Etrog on Hoshana Rabba. As Chabad tells us:
The day after the seventh day of Sukkot ...  is a mysterious Jewish holiday. In some respects, Shemini Atzeret is considered as part of Sukkot, but in other respects it is a distinct holiday unto itself. 
The enigmatic nature of the day is perhaps most overt in the way the Torah introduces it. 
After Sukkot, during which all nations, Jews and non-Jews, celebrated and brought sacrificial offerings to the Temple, G‑d makes a special request of the Jewish people (Leviticus 23:36):
On the eighth day [from the start of Sukkot], it shall be an atzeret to you . . .
The commentator Rashi elaborates that the term atzeret, literally “holding back,” is one of affection, as a father would say to his children who are departing him: 
Your departure is difficult for me. Please stay with me for just one more day!
After all the other nations have gone home, G‑d asks the Jewish people to “hold back” for one more day of celebration—Shemini Atzeret.

Which of course brings to what is left, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind - the Bob Willis-Tommy Duncan Western swing song Stay A Little Longer.

Here performed by the award-winning bluegrass band The Grascals (formerly Dolly Parton's back-up band and opening act).

Featuring (on banjo, of course) Kristin Scott Benson, this year's winner of the Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) Prize of Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

“My family and I are overwhelmed with gratefulness! Getting to know my banjo heroes, many of whom are on the board, is prize enough, but Steve Martin’s graciousness is a huge blessing. We don’t know how to adequately say thank you for something like this!”
Kristin Scott Benson, 2018 Steve Martin Prize
for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Recipient

Hag Sameach, New Mexico!
Good Yontif, Albuquerque!

and next week ... 5 days of work!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Still Livin' In A Booth

The Season of Our Joy: Remember The Fountainheads? Abq Jew knows, because he has been told: It wouldn't be Rosh HaShanah without their performance of Dip Your Apple in The Honey.

With advice from Rebbetzin Rivka Leah Zelwig, you have undoubtedly completed Building Your Sukkah. All it takes is unionized construction labor, unrestricted financial resources for materials, a rented storage locker (or a three car garage), a degree in Exterior Design, hours of fervent prayer, and a mechona. Or a kit.

So - kick back and relax for three minutes and six seconds before you have to start cooking for Sukkot, aka the Festival of Booths!

Yes. That’s right. ANOTHER Jewish holiday. Sunday evening (TONIGHT) begins the Festival of Sukkot - the Season of Our Joy.

United With Israel reminds us:
Sukkot is one of the three Torah festivals on which Jews everywhere were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  
It is a seven day holiday with the first day being observed as a holy day, similar to the Sabbath, upon which no work is permitted. Outside of Israel the first two days are observed as holy days.
The remaining days of the holiday are referred to as “Chol Hamoed.” The Chol Hamoed days are not outright holy days but they are treated with more sanctity than regular weekdays complete with elaborate meals and nicer clothing.  
Originally, Sukkot was more of an agricultural festival, as the Torah itself calls it: The Feast of Ingathering… when you gather in your labors from out of the field. (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:40-43; Deuteronomy 16:13). It was a thanksgiving festival to God for the year’s harvest. 
Today, it is observed more as a holiday of rest and reflection for the miracles that God did for the Jewish people when He led them in the desert for 40 years.
 To help us celebrate - here are The Fountainheads with Livin' In A Booth:

No etrogim were harmed in the filming of this video.
Lemons are a different story.

Hag Sameach, Albuquerque!
Good Yontif, New Mexico!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Take a Knee on Yom Kippur

Police Accountability - The Rod and the Whip: Engagement; Jewish Literacy; and Jewish Identity are at the heart of every ELI Talk.

As we approach Yom Kippur - when all Jews 'take a knee' - Abq Jew presents one ELI Talk that he found especially meaningful during these Days of Awe.

First, an introduction. This ELI Talk deals with the shooting of Laquan McDonald. To refresh our memories -
The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place on October 20, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. McDonald was fatally shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke from approximately ten feet away.  
McDonald had been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and was holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. He did not obey police commands to drop the knife. After the shooting a police union representative told reporters that Van Dyke had acted in self-defense as McDonald lunged at him and his partner.  
Initial police reports described the incident similarly and ruled the shooting justified. However, when a police dash-cam video of the shooting was released thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald walking away from the police when he was shot. The knife he was carrying was found to be closed.  
That same day Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and initially held without bail at the Cook County Jail. He was released on bail on November 30. The city reached a settlement with McDonald's family.
Mitch Smith of The New York Times today reported:
Officer Van Dyke’s long-awaited trial is underway, with opening arguments possible on Monday, and Chicagoans are watching intently. Here are some of the reasons this case is so significant:
  • Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times.
  • The video was kept secret for 13 months.
  • No Chicago police officer has been convicted of murder in nearly 50 years.
  • Only one black person was chosen for the jury.
  • Chicagoans are worried about the aftermath of an acquittal.
And most significantly:
  • This case has changed Chicago.
Mr Smith explains:
Laquan’s death overturned this city’s leadership, causing or contributing to the downfalls of a Chicago police superintendent, the prosecutor who waited more than a year to bring charges and, now, the mayor. 
Mr. Emanuel, once one of the country’s most powerful big-city mayors, announced a day before jury selection in the Van Dyke case that he would not seek a third term as mayor. His staff has said that the decision had nothing to do with the trial; still, Laquan’s death left its mark on the mayor’s nearly eight years in office. 
The case against Officer Van Dyke has led to policy changes here. All patrol officers have been equipped with Tasers and body cameras, rules for when officers can shoot have been tightened and, on Thursday, city officials agreed to a court-enforced consent decree that would require an overhaul of the Police Department. 
Trust in the Chicago police remains elusive, though, and new police shootings continue to lead to protests. Activists say that even if Officer Van Dyke is convicted of murder, which could lead to a life sentence in prison, systemic problems remain unsolved. 
“I don’t think the buck stops with one officer going to jail,” said William Calloway, who has helped organize protests outside the courthouse, “not when you have hundreds of police shootings through the years.”

And then there is Albuquerque.

And our own Albuquerque Police Department. To refresh our memories -
In November 2012, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into APD’s policies and practices to determine whether APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141”). 
As part of its investigation, the Department of Justice consulted with police practices experts and conducted a comprehensive assessment of officers’ use of force and APD policies and operations. The investigation included tours of APD facilities and area commands; interviews with Albuquerque officials, APD command staff, supervisors, and police officers; a review of numerous documents; and meetings with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, residents, community groups, and other stakeholders. 
At the conclusion of its investigation, the DoJ issued a scathing report that uncovered a "culture of acceptance of the use of excessive force", frequently not justified by the circumstances, causing significant harm or injury by APD officers to people who posed no threat. The DOJ recommended a nearly complete overhaul of the department's use-of-force policies. Among several systematic problems at APD were an aggressive culture that undervalued civilian safety and discounted the importance of crisis intervention. 
As result of the report the city and the DOJ negotiated a court-enforceable agreement, which included among its 106 pages provisions to dismantle the Repeat Offender Project and rein in the SWAT team, which had operated outside the command structure for years. 
An April 2016 Fault Lines investigation found that change was only scratching the surface and that the corrupt and violent culture of the police department continued unabated.

In the months since Mayor Tim Keller took office, things have begun to change - Abq Jew believes, for the better.

Any institutional change is slow; nevertheless, see the Progress and Status Summary of the USDOJ Settlement Agreement Entered Into by the United States of America and the City of Albuquerque Regarding the Albuquerque Police Department; Eighth Report; February 1, 2018 – July 31, 2018. Which states:
In December 2017, APD and the City of Albuquerque had major changes in administration and began directing efforts to address the CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement]. 
Throughout the reporting period, APD continued to make major changes within the Police Department to include the creation of an Implementation Unit (renamed the Compliance Division) to focus on the CASA and the long-term sustainability for Department-wide improvement, as well as reorganization and movement throughout Command Staff positions.

But APD's road trip to repentance is a long one.

Now let's get back to ELI Talks.
At the heart of every ELI talk is Jewish religious engagement (E), Jewish literacy (L), and Jewish identity (I) with Israel and peoplehood at the core. 
Our work is driven by the values of ahavat yisrael (love of fellow Jews and the land of Israel), chidush (innovation within tradition), and machloket l’shem shamayim (argument for the sake of Heaven). 
Our online presence provides a platform for ideas and sources to be shared, and a home for wide-ranging voices to converse skillfully and compassionately with one another.
ELI talks are not meant to be relics on a digital shelf, rather, they are conversation catalysts intended to be turned, questioned, and contradicted, in prayer spaces and offices, around boardroom tables, and in the intimacy of our own homes. 
Our speakers span the depth and breadth of the Jewish experience, but they aren’t individual and independent voices: they are all connected to each other and to our collective tradition.
If we want a vibrant Jewish future, we need inspired Jewish ideas.
Aryeh Bernstein is a fifth-generation Chicago South Sider with extensive experience in Torah education and organizing progressive Jewish communities. 
His primary employment is with Avodah, as Director of its Justice Fellowship and Yo'etz Ruach of its Service Corps in Chicago. He is also Educational Consultant for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, where he organizes on police accountability, Founding Director of the Hyde Park Teen Beit Midrash, Staff Educator for Farm Forward's Jewish Initiative for Animals, and Coordinator and Teacher of Mishkan Chicago's Social Justice Beit Midrash. 
He was previously Mechon Hadar's Director of Recruitment and Alumni Affairs and an Editor-Translator for Koren Publishers' English edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud. He has taught at Drisha, the TAKUM social justice beit midrash, and campuses, communities, and organizations around Israel and the U.S., especially Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where he co-founded and co-directed the Beit Midrash Program and Northwoods Kollel. Aryeh is a Senior Editor of
In this ELI Talk, Aryeh Bernstein explores what the Torah has to say about accountability for law enforcement, how the existing police contract is antithetical to it, and why it's so vital according to our tradition that we get this right.

Albuquerque! Get this right!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

I Love You, Rachel Maddow

A Song by Marc Black: Yeah, yeah, yeah. As Abq Jew has ... ahem ... mentioned a few times before: Songs are dangerous. So it's like every week now?

This week (including Rosh HaShanah) starts the Top Ten Days of Repentance, and Abq Jew is sure there must be good news out there somewhere.

Hurricane Florence, with or without sharks, ain't it.

And then there's Rachel Maddow. Most nights of most weeks, for more than ten (10) years, Rachel has brought us her take on the important events of the day.

Oh - in case you don't know -
Rachel Anne Maddow (born April 1, 1973) is an American television host and political commentator. A liberal, Maddow hosts The Rachel Maddow Show, a nightly television show on MSNBC, and serves as the cable network's special event co-anchor alongside Brian Williams.   
Maddow holds a doctorate in politics from the University of Oxford, and is the first openly lesbian anchor to host a major prime-time news program in the United States.  
Asked about her political views by the Valley Advocate, Maddow replied, "I'm undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I'm in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform."
Oh - in case you were wondering -
Maddow's paternal grandfather was from a family of Eastern European Jews (the original family surname being "Medwedof") who self-identified as Polish and Russian at the time of their arrival in the United States. 
Her paternal grandmother was of Dutch (Protestant) descent. Her Canadian mother, originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, has English and Irish ancestry.  
Maddow has stated that her family is "very, very Catholic" and she grew up in a community that her mother has described as "very conservative".

The best thing about The Rachel Maddow Show - in Abq Jew's not-terrifically-humble opinion - is Rachel's nightly 'opening monologue'.

During which Rachel explains - in a careful, step-by-step, easy-to-understand, and - dare Abq Jew say it? - entertaining way, exactly what's going on and why it matters.
She has been called "America's wonkiest anchor" who "cut through the chaos of the Trump administration – and became the most trusted name in the news."  
Maddow has stated that her show's mission is to "Increase the amount of  useful information in the world."
Rachel also asks very good questions.

Yes, Rachel would ask a lot of questions about singer-songwriter Marc Black. To which Abq Jew (after some investigation) would respond
Marc plays a finger-style blues in the traditions of Mississippi Hurt and the great Tim Hardin. Inducted into the New York Chapter of the Blues Hall of Fame in June of 2014, Black has performed and recorded with the likes of Art Garfunkel, Taj Mahal, Richie Havens, Rick Danko and Pete Seeger.  
He was recently named "Folk Artist of the Year" on ABC Radio, and was a winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival.  
Marc's song "No Fracking Way," recorded with John Sebastian, has become a worldwide anthem for the movement, and his Pictures of the Highway disc has reached #6 on the Folk DJ Chart.  
He has been deeply involved in social and environmental justice struggles, including his multimedia "Sing for the Silenced" campaign and his current call for political engagement, "We Will Sing and Beat the Drum."
Marc Black will be soon be performing
in the Land of Enchantment!

Click here for Santa Fe tickets!

And while we are all waiting with bated (not baited) breath to see what wonders our dear friend Bobby Three Sticks reveals next - here (here) is Marc Black's tribute to the one and only Rachel Maddow.

And while we await Hurricane Florence with hope and fear, prayers and trepidation, canned food, flashlights, and bottled water -

These are the headlines we want to see!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rosh Hashanah 5779

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 Abq Jew's (and everyone's) Talmud teacher Mayim Bialik that tells us 4 Things Jews Do on Rosh Hashanah.

A bit more about Mayim Bialik:
Mayim Chaya Bialik is an American actress, author, and neuroscientist.  
Bialik was born on December 12, 1975, in San Diego, California, to Barry and Beverly (née Winkleman) Bialik. Her family were Jewish immigrants who lived in The Bronx, New York City, and three of her four grandparents migrated from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. 
Bialik was raised as a Reform Jew, but now considers herself to be Modern Orthodox Jewish. Bialik has also described herself as a "staunch Zionist". 
Her personal name, Mayim ('water' in Hebrew), originates in a mispronunciation of Miriam, her great-grandmother's name. [The poet] Hayim Nahman Bialik is her great-great-grandfather’s uncle. 
Bialik attended Walter Reed Junior High School (now Walter Reed Middle School) and graduated in 1993 from North Hollywood High School in North Hollywood, California.  
While completing filming on Blossom she received acceptance offers from UCLA, Yale, and Harvard. In acknowledgment of her acting commitments, she was granted a deferred acceptance and attended UCLA. She stated that she wanted to stay close to her parents and did not want to move to the East Coast. 
Bialik earned a B.S. degree in neuroscience, with minors in Hebrew and Jewish studies, and went on to study for a doctorate in neuroscience. She took a break from studies in 2005 to return to acting.  
Bialik returned to earn her Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, in 2007. Her dissertation was an investigation of hypothalamic activity in patients with Prader–Willi syndrome.

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