Bob Schwartz

Category: Holidays

A Very Short Primer on Veterans

1. When we as people of a nation order or ask others to fight for any cause, we must treat them, their service, and their families with the highest practical lifelong honor and healing, that is, with more than just symbols or rhetoric.

2. As we order or ask for that service, from the first we must study the causes that we are fighting for, in light of all our truest values, not just the values that are convenient, expedient, self-serving or inadequately considered.

3. While we will likely never be a world without warriors, we owe it to the warriors—past, present and future—to be peacemakers.

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Yom Kippur Picnic

Emma Goldman’s dislike of religion is evidenced by her participation in events such as this [Yom Kippur Picnic], scheduled on Jewish holy days.
Jewish Women’s Archive

We were invited to a picnic this Saturday. We declined. Because it is Yom Kippur, a fast day and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Curiosity led to discovering that there were once not only Yom Kippur Picnics but Yom Kippur Balls.

Eddy Portnoy writes in Tablet:

When Jews decide to chow down on Yom Kippur, it’s usually done clandestinely, sneaking tasty morsels in a dark pantry, or disappearing into a diner in some nearby non-Jewish neighborhood. But furtive noshing wasn’t always the heretical path of choice on the Day of Atonement. Just over a century ago, a range of leftists held massive public festivals of eating, dancing, and performance for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur, not only as a way to fight for the their right to party, but to unshackle themselves from the oppressive religious dictates they grew up with. What does one do, after all, when prayers and traditional customs no longer hold any meaning yet you still want to be part of a Jewish community? Eating with intention on a fast day allows you, in one fell swoop, to thumb your nose at the religious establishment and create a secular Jewish identity.

These Yom Kippur Balls, organized initially by anarchists in the mid-1880s, started in London and migrated to New York and Montreal. Smaller nosh fests and public demonstrations were also celebrated by Jewish antinomians in other locales. Unorthodox Jews in interwar Poland could pull hundreds of locals into small venues on Yom Kippur in shtetls like Kalish and Chelm; in larger cities like Warsaw and Lodz, they could sell out 5,000-seat circuses. Heresy was big business; tickets for early 1890s Yom Kippur events cost 15 cents for anarchists: capitalists who deigned to attend paid double.

There’s no suggestions here about what Jews of any religious or political stripe should do about fasting or partying on Yom Kippur. As with all such things, there is what your society or community expects you to do, what your God demands that you do, and what your heart and mind tell you to do. If there is a paradise, Emma Goldman is probably there, still railing against injustice, still noshing on Yom Kippur.

 

Ohigan, Rosh Hashanah and Autumn: The Other Shore

“The goal of our life’s effort is to reach the other shore, Nirvana. Prajna paramita, the true wisdom of life, is that in each step of the way, the other shore is actually reached.”
— Shunryu Suzuki

These days in September, three celebrations coincide: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; Ohigan, the twice-yearly Japanese celebration of the equinox; the autumn equinox itself.

One way to harmonize these is to look first at Ohigan. The name literally means “other shore”, and is taken two ways. There are the ancestors honored who have crossed over to the other shore. And there is the crossing over to enlightenment, on the path of the paramitas (perfections): giving (dāna), morality (śīla), patience or forbearance (kṣānti), effort (vīrya), concentration (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā).

Then there is Rosh Hashanah, the Birthday of the World, the start of Ten Days of Awe, during which through teshuva (turning), tefilla (prayer) and tzedaka (righteousness) we emerge by the time of Yom Kippur on the other shore as newer people in a new year.

It is autumn again. Summer is left behind again. We can live with giving, morality, patience, effort, concentration, or wisdom, or not. We hope at least to arrive safely on the other shore of winter, maybe more enlightened or newer.

Rosh Hashanah: Tashlich

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the custom of tashlich is to throw bread into a body of water, casting your sins away. (When no natural body of water is available, a well or even a bucket has been known to do.)

A passage from Micah is recited:

What god can compare with you; taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us
tread down our faults
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Micah 7:18-19, Jerusalem Bible translation

Fault, crime, anger, sins. Ourselves and others. Pardoning, mercy, pity. Hard for ourselves and others. And as delightful as ducks and fish eating bread on the lake.

Rosh Hashanah

If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.
If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)

Shana Tova! (A Good Year)

The Book of Ruth: Ivanka and Jared, Donald and Charles

It was reported that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shavuot this week, though without much other detail given. It would be interesting to know more, given the connection between the holiday and their own current situation.

Shavuot began as an agricultural festival, celebrating the “first fruits” of the harvest season. It evolved into the holiday marking the giving of the Torah. Among the traditions associated with Shavuot is reading the Book of Ruth.

The Book of Ruth is considered one of the literary treasures of the Bible. It is often referred to and analyzed as a short story or novella. What a story it is. A woman and her daughter-in-law are separated by culture and religion but bound together—forever—by family. When their men die, what connects them is stronger than any force that might tear them apart. It is about loyalty, love and faith above all else, through the hardest times. These strong women are not an ancillary sideshow; they are the main event. They alone assure continuity and the future. No wonder it is thought possible that among the biblical books, this one might have been written by a woman.

We expect that Ivanka and Jared, as faithful Jews, read the Book of Ruth this week, but we can’t know what they make of it. Do they also feel that unbreakable obligation that overcomes the greatest adversity and testing? Before the current events, each of them probably faced some difficulties with their respective fathers. Now the stories of Donald Trump and Charles Kushner are entangled through their children. Those children, Ivanka and Jared, might well believe and say to those fathers, as Ruth said to Naomi, “wherever you go, I go.”

For more about Shavuot and the Book of Ruth, see this earlier post.

Born Mothers

Born Mothers

For K, the MOAM

Those born
With a boundless heart
Give and suffer
Even as they sleep
Or don’t sleep
Vowing to make good better
Cruel less cruel
Children or none
All within reach
And the sound of her voice
Are hers.

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Refugees and the Bread of Affliction

Passover begins this evening. As part of the festival, many Jews will be eating the flat dry bread of matzo at seder tonight; some will eat it for the next eight days. Matzo is known as the bread of affliction, commemorating the hardship of slavery and the hardship of the flight to freedom.

As we break bread—flat or otherwise—we might also remember the plight of millions of refugees around the world. To help ease their affliction, we might also consider contributing to UNHCR.

חַג שָׂמֵחַ

Chag sameach.
A joyous festival.

April Is Poetry Month: Be Foolish

April is Poetry Month. April 1 is Fools’ Day.

Be foolish and write poetry
Writing poetry is a fool’s game
Be foolish and read poetry
Reading poetry is a fool’s game
Pointless like a line without a period
Like a game without a score
Start and never stop
Not in May or December
Not next year
It is always a month
For fools like us

American Freedom Seder 2017: Where There’s a Pharaoh There’s a Wilderness

It is still a while until Passover (evening of April 10), but not too early to recommend holding or attending a Freedom Seder this year. Recommended for all people—even if you’re not Jewish, even if you’re not religious. All that’s needed is faith in freedom.

Freedom Seders are a tradition that began in the 1960s, relating the Passover journey to other struggles—race, gender, justice, war, etc. It may be a long way and a long time from Egypt to the Promised Land. But we can get there.

It’s possible you believe there are some special struggles going on right now in America. Which would make it a good time to gather with like-minded friends and family, brothers and sisters, and as a community share a meal and recall that the struggle is never easy or short (and might include some flat, dry bread), but that there is a better nation at the end of the journey. One hopeful, undiscouraged step at a time.