Wednesday, July 27, 2022

One Week in Portsmouth

With Family: With great joyMr & Mrs Abq Jew hereby (again; see last week's Welcome Home!) announce that they recently completed their first visit to the new home and second visit to the new home town of their son Dov the Film Editor; their daughter (in-law) Jessica the Surgeon; their grandchildren Vera and Chuck; and their granddog Dave (see Portsmouth Parking and The Jews).

Inner Harbor
Inner Harbor     Kirk Carter

Portsmouth is the home of the New Hampshire Art Association, founded in 1940, the oldest statewide art association in New Hampshire and one of the oldest in the country. 

Who presented their New England Printmakers Open-Juried Exhibition, of which the above is but one example of many exemplary works.


Mr & Mrs Abq Jew were not exactly thrilled to ride on jetBlue's ABQ-JFK Midnight Clipper, After all, they said - how many people could possibly want to fly from ABQ to JFK in the middle of the night, to arrive at daybreak?

Bunches, as it turned out. A full flight. But less than 4 hours in the air. Mr & Mrs Abq Jew had just enough time at JFK for breakfast - then a quick hop to BOS, where their son Dov the Film Editor picked them up and drove them to Portsmouth.

Leonard P Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge
Leonard P Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge

After passing near but not over the wonderful Leonard P Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge (see 2020's The Bridges of Christian Menn). Which was, of course but not without controversy, named after the Jewish-American religious and civil rights leader Leonard Paul "Lenny" Zakim.

And which the inimitable John McPhee called "pure magic with its optical pyramids of cables coming down from its towers directly to the deck (a so-called cable-­stayed bridge)."

On the way, in beautiful downtown Peabody, Massachusetts - 20 minutes from BOS, and 40 minutes from Portsmouth - we stopped at Larry Levine's Kosher Meat & Delicatessen.

Where we stocked up on enough chicken (yes, they had chicken!) and other supplies (they had kishka! see 2018's Kosher Kishka Comes to Querque!; it has since left) to feed a small army for well more than a week.

Portsmouth Home

And so Mr & Mrs Abq Jew hung out for one delightful week, with lots of family - Dov & Jessica; Vera, Chuck, and Dave; machetonim David and Kicki (who now also live in Portsmouth, just around the corner from D&J&V&C&D); plus Jan (Jessica's sister) & her husband Justin, who drove up from Long Island.

Add to that the joy of meeting - yes, for the first time, in person - Abq Jew's remarkable second cousin Allison, of the famous (well, to Abq Jew) Rogers family of Portsmouth.

Zerrissenheit VI
Zerrissenheit (Inner Turmoil) VI     Barbara van Buskirk

And more art. Zerrissenheit (Inner Turmoil) VI, from the New Hampshire Art Association's Printmakers Exhibition.

How I Looked in Auschwitz in 1941
How I Looked in Auschwitz in 1941     Diane St. Jean

Where was also displayed How I Looked in Auschwitz 1941, one of the most intriguing artworks Mr & Mrs Abq Jew have seen in a while. And mysterious - NHAA provided no information about the print or the artist. Nor is there much on the Web - Abq Jew looked. Perplexing. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Oy. And then there was Sue Johnson’s Hall of Portraits from The History of Machines, at the very contemporary 3S Artspace. Which -
constructs a disquieting satire that proposes an alternative pictorial history in which two objects of desire become one — the household convenience object and the emergent female form. 
The artist looks back to the commercial culture of mid-20th century America that championed progress, new technologies and a pursuit of the latest model.
Mining the archive of material culture from advertising to the mass-produced objects that the artist collects, photographs, and ultimately transforms in her work, labor-saving domestic machines merge with the body – or vice-versa. 
The surreal, hybrid forms created by Johnson seem familiar yet at the same time we know they are actually a highly fictional, patriarchal fantasy.
Temple Israel

And Mr & Mrs Abq Jew finally got to see
the beautiful sanctuary of Temple Israel!

Road Signs

When Mr & Mrs Abq Jew's wonderful vacation week was over, their son Dov the Film Editor drove them back to BOS. Then a quick hop to JFK, where - due to a surprise 3-hour 4-hour 5-hour layover, Mr & Mrs Abq Jew had more than enough time for a 6-course dinner. Departure delayed from Gate 2 30 25 26 - then a 5-hour flight to ABQ that arrived way after midnight.


Just follow the sign.

Sandias Monsoon
Yes, this is Albuquerque, looking north. Stu Ostro via Grant Tosterud.

And then home.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Welcome Home!

Traveling: Yes, this is the season for travel. And we all know - the best part of traveling is returning home. 

Which Mr & Mrs Abq Jew have just just done, following their first visit to the new home and second visit to the new home town of their son Dov the Film Editor; their daughter (in-law) Jessica the Surgeon; their grandchildren Vera and Chuck; and their granddog Dave (see Portsmouth Parking and The Jews).

My Son

So here is Mark Cohen's version of the classic Alan Sherman song, Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max, which appeared on Mr Sherman's debut album - My Son, the Folk Singer. Presented by - who else? - Allan Sherman's mother.

For those too young or too old, Wikipedia tells us:

Allan Sherman (born Allan Copelon; November 30, 1924 – November 20, 1973) was an American singer, actor, producer and writer who became known as a song parodist in the early 1960s. 

His first album, My Son, the Folk Singer (1962), became the fastest-selling record album up to that time. 

His biggest hit was Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, a comic novelty recording in which a boy describes his summer camp experiences to the tune of Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours.

Mr Sherman's Shake Hands, it turns out, was a Jewish parody of the Irish (can you tell?) Dear Old Donegal, aka Shake Hands With Your Uncle Mike. A fact that Abq Jew had no means of discovering before the invention of The Internet.

Anyway - here's another version of Shake Hands.

And, to top it off, here is Shlock Rock's Lenny Solomon's version!

So, Abq Jew must ask you, his loyal readers -

What's Wrong?

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Here's what's wrong - as many of you know. 

What's wrong is that, in the old days, you could always find your family and your friends along (Brooklyn version) Ocean Parkway. Now - you have to travel, sometimes long distances, often to more than one world location.

And when you get there - you may only see one small portion of your family. Everyone else, including your friends, is scattered all over - which means a separate trip. 

Abq Jew notes that this is not fair.

Lego Scream

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

David Weiss Halivni, Talmudist, Dies at 94

The Chosen: Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, a theologian, beloved teacher, and pioneer in the field of academic Talmudic scholarship, died Wednesday [June 29] at age 94 in Israel.

David Weiss Halivni

Amanda Borschel-Dan of The Times of Israel reported:

David Weiss Halivni, pillar of Talmudic scholarship, Holocaust survivor, dies age 94

A prodigy, Halivni received rabbinic ordination at 15, won the Israel Prize and molded generations of scholars in US and Israel, teaching well into his 90s

Prof. David Weiss Halivni, a theologian and pioneer in the field of academic Talmudic scholarship, died Wednesday at age 94.

Born in today’s Ukraine, Halivni was raised in Sighet, Romania, by a Talmudic scholar grandfather who fostered his evident genius with rabbinic texts. In Sighet, he studied alongside Elie Wiesel, who remained a close, lifelong friend.

Halivni was ordained as a rabbi at 15, but by the age of 16, he was captured by the Nazis, and, like Wiesel, was sent to Auschwitz and a series of Nazi camps.

“We were in the ghetto together. He was on the last transport. I was on the first. I left on Monday, he left Thursday,” said Halivni in an obituary for Weisel.
“So we came to Auschwitz at different times.”

Halivni was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust....

Orphaned, Halivni started life in New York, where his scholarship began anew, eventually at the Jewish Theological Seminary under Rabbi Saul Lieberman. Halivni taught at JTS until 1983 and left over the issue of the ordination of women, moving to Columbia University from where he retired in 2005.

After his retirement, he moved to Israel, where he continued to teach at Hebrew University and Bar Ilan University well into his 90s. In 2008, Halivni was awarded the Israel Prize for his Talmudic work.

Halivni was a daily presence at the National Library in Israel, where he continued his research until just before the coronavirus pandemic. 

Halivni Two Books

In his autobiography The Book and the Sword, Halivni writes that he taught in the concentration camps and even risked his life to save a scrap of paper from a sacred book. However, he recoiled from those who attempted to explain the Holocaust through theological terms.

Later, in his collection of essays Breaking the Tablets: Jewish Theology After the Shoah, Halivni radically proposes that God revealed Himself to the Jewish people twice: once at Mount Sinai with the revelation of presence, and once at Auschwitz with the revelation of utter and complete absence, in which humans were given total and complete free will.

Wikipedia offers a few interesting details:

When he arrived in the United States at the age of 18, he was placed in a Jewish orphanage where he created a stir by challenging the kashrut of the institution since the supervising rabbi did not have a beard and, more importantly, was not fluent in the commentaries of the Pri Megadim by Rabbi Yoseph Te'omim. This was a standard for Rabbis in Europe. 

A social worker introduced him to Saul Lieberman, a leading Talmudist at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in New York, who recognized his brilliance and took him under his wing. Weiss later studied with Lieberman for many years at the JTS.

[Halivni] earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Brooklyn College, and a Master's Degree in philosophy from NYU; he wrote his Doctorate in Talmud at JTS.

And this:

Halivni was involved in the 1983 controversy at JTS surrounding the training and ordination of women as rabbis.

He felt that there may be halakhic methods for ordaining women as rabbis, but that more time was needed before such could be legitimately instituted, and that the decision had been made as a policy decision by the governing body of the Seminary rather than as a psak halachah within the traditional rabbinic legal process. 

This disagreement led to his break with the seminary and with the movement of Conservative Judaism, and to his co-founding of the Union for Traditional Judaism and its yeshiva, the Institute of Traditional Judaism.

But wait

The Chosen

The Connection with Chaim Potok's The Chosen

For those who are too young to remember or too old to recall, Wikipedia reminds us:

The Chosen is a novel written by Chaim Potok. It was first published in 1967. It follows the narrator, Reuven Malter, and his friend Daniel Saunders, as they grow up in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1940s. 

A sequel featuring Reuven's young adult years, The Promise, was published in 1969. The Chosen was made into a movie in 1981.

One of Potok's major themes is the struggle between holding on to the traditions of one's culture in an ever-changing world and taking on the culture of the adopted home country. And his main character is Reuven (Robert or Bobby) Malter: a Modern Orthodox Jew, and a teenage boy. 

Reuven is smart, popular in his community, and has a head for mathematics and logic. His father wants him to be a mathematician when he grows up, but he desires to become a rabbi.


When Abq Jew studied at JTS, everyone "knew" that
Rabbi David Weiss Halivni was Reuben Malter.

In 2017, on the 50th Anniversary of The Chosen's publication, Aaron R Katz published his reflections on the novel in  Tablet Magazine.

Some Reflections on Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’

The novel, published 50 years ago today, shaped the American Jewish encounter with Hasidism and Orthodoxy, while giving a pretty good play-by-play account of a baseball game

Fifty years ago today, on April 28, 1967, Chaim Potok’s first novel, The Chosen, was published. It would stay on The New York Times best-seller list for 39 weeks and become a finalist for a National Book Award in 1968. 

Despite the passage of time, the novel has continued to stay in the public eye ... Like many Jewish day-school graduates, I first encountered the novel as a reading assignment in the eighth grade some 20 years ago. I could not put it down.

Potok crafted a marvelous story in which the worlds of two Williamsburg boys from two distinct communities, one Hasidic and one Modern Orthodox, collide due to a chance meeting on a baseball diamond.  

Katz continues, going deeper:

In evaluating the novel’s impact on my own life, I’m most drawn to the personal religious struggle of the protagonist, Malter. Perhaps Malter’s struggle is meant to autobiographically reflect the real tensions Potok himself experienced. 

Indeed, the similarities between Potok and Reuven Malter are readily apparent throughout the book.

And then there's Rabbi David Weiss Halivni:

One of the people whom Potok thanks on the opening page of The Promise is professor David (Weiss) Halivni, a Holocaust survivor and longtime Talmud professor at JTS and Columbia University who is universally acclaimed as one of the pioneers of the academic Talmudic approach.  

And, Katz tells us:

Halivni lives in the Shaarei Chessed neighborhood in Jerusalem, and I recently saw him one Shabbos morning at the Kahal Chassidim synagogue. 

While it may seem strange to run into one of the foremost academic Talmudists davening at an Ultra-Orthodox shul in Jerusalem, where the congregants would not generally support his scholarly approach, in praying there, Halivni is true to the sentiments he expressed in his 1983 resignation letter to JTS: 

“It is my personal tragedy that the people I daven with, I cannot talk to, and the people I talk to, I cannot daven with. However, when the chips are down, I will always side with the people I daven with; for I can live without talking. I cannot live without davening.” 

After davening that Shabbos morning, I went up to Halivni to ask him about his relationship with Potok. After exchanging warm greetings and expressing his joy in being recognized, Halivni discussed the many ways the fictional Malter and the Talmudic methodology he uses in The Chosen were modeled after him and his own personal work. 

With a warm smile and a wink, Halivni told me: 

“I am Reuven Malter.” 

Blessed Memory

Monday, July 4, 2022

An Attempted Coup

Last Shabbos, Korach: Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman joined Temple Israel of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (see last May's Portsmouth Parking & The Jews) as spiritual leader in July 2020. 

She is dedicated to the development of meaningful Jewish community rooted in our Jewish wisdom traditions and inspired by the contemporary call for tikkun olam — repairing the world.

Temple Israel

Rabba Kaya writes and publishes a blog, Water From the Well. An Attempted Coup is Rabba Kaya's post from last week, Parashat Korach. Provided here in toto without Rabba Kaya's knowledge or permission. Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman's got the copyright; all rights reserved.

Abq Jew recognizes that this is in complete violation of an entire plethora of US copyright laws, UN resolutions, and international conventions. But this is important, and Abq Jew agrees with just about everything Rabba Kaya says.

Rabba Kaya

An Attempted Coup

A Water from the Well blog post, Parashat Korach
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman

In this week’s Torah portion a man named Korach, from the tribe of Levi, a first cousin to Aaron and Moses, leads a rebellion against their authority and rouses 250 men to join him. Korach challenges Aaron and Moses, saying,

“You take too much upon yourself, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. The whole community is holy — all of them! Why do you, Moses and Aaron, raise yourselves above them?” (Num. 16: 1-3.)


Korach, whose name means “frozen,” suggests here that since everyone is holy, he is just as fit to lead the Israelites as his cousins, Aaron and Moses. To understand this challenge a little better we need to understand what Korach means by being holy and what God intends for the people when they are told they are to be a holy nation.

At the very end of last week’s portion, just before we are introduced to Korach, Moses relates to the Israelites the mitzvah of wearing Tzitzit. This section is selected for the third paragraph of the Sh’ma. It says the following:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them that to make fringes at the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put within the fringe a thread of blue; …that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; …That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. (Num. 15: 37-40)


By claiming “aren’t we all holy?” Korach twists the meaning of the verse in order to challenge the selection of Aaron as the High Priest. The high priest wears a golden head band on which is engraved the words: Holy unto God. He has been set apart from the people for holy service and the entire garment and headdress he wears indicates this. 

The Israelites, on the other hand, wear Tzizit- to remind them and us to aspire to holiness. As it says in the Torah:

“And you shall wear fringes, to see them, that you may remember my mitzvot, and do them all and then become holy to your God.” (Num. 15:39-40) 

In other words, we are not holy because we are chosen. We must work at it. Holiness is a perpetual aspiration, not an established fact. It is achieved by living an ethical life based on mitzvot. According to Korach, holiness is like a prize. It is static and given to the people as a birthright. But this is frozen thinking.


Democracy, like holiness, is aspirational. 

America is in a 200-year process (some say experiment) with a goal to give freedom and dignity to all people. A totalitarian government, on the other hand, is not interested in this. It is interested instead in enriching those in power and maintaining power at the cost of the liberty of all others. 

The United States Constitution gives us the aspirations for creating the conditions for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every individual. And yet today, it appears that our liberties, our safety, and our constitution itself are threatened.

In our Torah portion, Korach speaks from pure self-interest, entitlement and self-indulgence. He uses rhetoric to reverse and subvert God’s intention. Saying “aren’t all the people holy?” he justifies a power grab for himself in the name of “equality.” 

This archetypal story of a man who cannot accept the fact that he has NOT been chosen for leadership, but intends to take it by force, echoes today.


We should all be on guard against
twisted rhetoric that subverts truth. 

What Torah shows us is that pure self-interest can be dressed up in the language of liberty and freedom, but it cannot lead anywhere except to sink the entire ship. It is ungrounded and cannot support community. 

In our narrative, the ground literally opens her mouth and swallows Korach and his family. The other 250 rebels are consumed in a fire.

Korach Swallowed

This catastrophe, however, is not the end of the story of Korach and his lineage. Within the longer biblical narrative of our people, the line of Korach will emerge in the future as the finest musicians of the First Temple days- the B’nei Korach. In the book of Psalms we see 24 psalms attributed to the Sons of Korach. 

They are love songs of devotion to God, of seeking and longing for God, of finding the Divine in even the darkest places. They speak as witnesses to the existence of the beauty and power of the Divine that emerges even from the darkness.

What can we learn from this outcome? What is our tradition trying to teach us here about holiness and about redemption?

Planting Seed

Arthur Waskow points out that true holiness is like a seed, for a seed carries potentiality. 

Holiness is not an end in itself or a pre-condition. It is an eternal aspiration. Korach, the frozen one, inevitably returns to the womb of the earth, to thaw and become like a seed from which holiness will sprout forth in future generations.

And so we ask, what is the work that lies before us? As we face the current challenges in our society, let us remember that our democracy was built on holy aspirations. 

Democracy, like holiness, is a process. 

It is a verb. It is our task to remember, to engage and to strive to fulfill that vision of dignity, liberty, and justice for all. The democratic process requires constant vigilance and engagement. 

Engagement means speaking truth, doing all we can to maintain and create true representation by the people in government and voting.

May we find the strength to continue the work
of supporting liberty and justice for all, that is,
bringing holiness into our world.

And may we be aligned with God’s will.
Ken Yehi Ratzon.