Irrational Theological Yoga (with Maimonides)

It’s that time of year, folks. The time when Jews get really sad and stop eating. The time when we cry about our past that we can’t seem to let go of and spend all day avoiding each other’s eyes.

No, it’s not the family reunion.

We’re coming up on Tisha b’Av, my favourite of the religious practices avoided by Reform Judaism. I say avoided because we haven’t really expunged it from the realm of “normative” Reform Judaism (a concept that I acknowledge is itself highly specious), we’ve just pushed it to the fringes of what we do. I imagine that part of the reason for it’s relegation to the land of tznius and shatnes is that Tisha b’Av always takes place during the summer, when attendance at shul is down and most of the dedicated member base aren’t around. I would be curious to see what a Reform observance of Tisha b’Av would look like if it were in September, right after Simchat Torah.

In any case, it seems that many Reform Jews have a fragile relationship with Tisha b’Av. Most Reform Jews don’t do anything at all to acknowledge the day. At many of our camps, there is some sort of ceremony that is largely tied to the creation of Israel and it’s successes in light of our history of persecution. And then there are those Reform Jews that try and engage with the central meaning of the day – the destruction of the Temples. I would be willing to wager that out of those who observe some form of rememberance – either through fasting, prayer, study, or the such – none actually wish to see the beit hamkidash restored. For those Reform Jews that do observe Tisha b’Av, the day is about something else. So what is it about?

The URJ’s Jewish Holidays website has this to say:

“Reform Judaism has never assigned a central religious role to the ancient Temple. Therefore, mourning the destruction of the Temple in such an elaborate fashion did not seem meaningful. More recently, in Reform Judaism Tishah B’Av has been transformed into a day to remember many Jewish tragedies that have occurred throughout history.”

Ok, fine. Fair enough. We’ve got Rememberance Day in Canada, and there’s Memorial Day in the USA. But collective historical memory is nothing new to Jews. It’s no Reform innovation to say that we need to recall our past tragedies. So what’s going on?

Rabbi Lewis M. Barth, professor emeritus of midrash and related literature at Hebrew Union College, posits a modern Reform approach to the day in this week’s Reform Voices of Torah:

“Tishah B’Av could be a day that we spend in self-reflection and self-examination regarding (1) the legal, economic, social, moral, and religious issues of our own time, (2) the ways our congregations and communities might measure ourselves and society against our commitments to social justice, and (3) the obligations we have to take responsibility for helping to make this a better world.”

Ok, that’s good, too. Great, actually – a perfect model of Reform Jewish practice. But it’s also no Reform innovation to suggest that we need to think about how to better our socity. Ever heard of tikkun olam? Do we need Tisha b’Av to highlite the importance of tikkun olam in Reform Judaism?

This past week, Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman responded to Rabbi Barth’s drash, with the following question:

“How far should we be willing to go in re-adopting what so many of us believe to be antiquated and outmoded observances, beliefs, and rituals? How far ought we be willing to stretch ourselves ideologically when it comes to these concepts which our Reform fore-bearers jettisoned?

Things in Jewish blog-land are never dull. I’ll respond to the idea of “stretch[ing] ourselves ideologically” in a moment. First, here’s an excerpt from David A.M. Wilensky‘s response to Rabbi Shwartzman’s response:

“Does mourning the loss of the immense and rich culture of European Jewry that existed before the Shoah mean that we desire to return to a ghettoized, isolationist shtetl lifestyle? Obviously that’s not what is meant when we mourn the loss of that culture. We accept that a Jewish way of life, full of culture, came to an end and we mourn its loss.”

I’m not sure how much unpacking David’s reponse needs – it’s pretty straightforward. I recommend reading the rest of what he has to say. I happen to agree (mostly) with him on this one. For Reform Jews, Tisha b’Av is not about tying ourselves down to an Orthodox conception of the holiday, nor is it about re-establishing a caste system. In that light, and going back to Rabbi Shwartzman’s posting, I do think that the holiday can be about stretching ourselves ideologically. I also happen to think that that’s what all of Reform theology and practice should be about – stretching ourselves.

I (and I don’t believe I’m alone on this one) have always believed that Reform Judaism is verbular – it is a dynamic movement. Indeed, we are a movement. We’re unsatisfied with stagnant practices and beliefs solely for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Why then should we be afraid of stretching ourselves on Tisha b’Av? How about some theological yoga? Hell, even Maimonides knows that observances are useless unless they direct us towards the greater good:

“There are days when all Israel fasts because of the troubles that happened to them, in order to awaken the hearts and open the pathways of repentance… so that in the memory of these matters we will return to doing the good.”

~ Mishneh Torah, (Ta’anit 5:1)

Even some members of the Modern Orthodox world seem to be acknowledging that Tisha b’Av doesn’t have to be about a restoration of any sort, but is more about fighting against political and societal corruption:

…But by 70 CE the whole [Temple] thing was probably looking a bit dated. How long could the [Beit Hamikdash] have gone on for anyway? Certainly by the middle ages the notion of having a temple and sacrificing animals would have been totally ridiculous, and even by Chazal‘s time I think it was just not feasible… By the end, the Temple had become a totally corrupt institution. (Actually even near the beginning). And the Priests were a political power base which Chazal didn’t care for too much.”

As for me, I think within Reform Judaism, the “raging” debate over observance of Tisha b’Av is part of the greater debate on the inclusion of rational vs. irrational practices. As I’ve noted earlier, I think Judaism (and religion, really) isn’t an inherently rational institution, so to try and square everything out is like trying to push a square block through a triangle hole. At some point, you’re going to distort the square a little too much. Is it rational to observe Tisha b’Av when we have no desire to see the Beit Hamkidash restored? Nope. In no way. Why mourn something you don’t want back. The reason we mourn things is because we lament their loss, and I think it’s completely irrational to mourn the destruction of the Temple. But I also think that’s ok.

I think we should be irrational. I think we try way to hard too rationalize everything, and we are worse off for that. Let Tisha b’Av be a time when we embrace the irrationality that exists within our traditions and stretch ourselves a little. When we mourn the destruction of the Temples, what is hidden behind the irrationality of that mourning? It is the opportunity to think about political corruption and the ways in which we can better society, not for the inherent worth of doing so, but for the sake of embracing a hugely significant part of our history.

This Week’s Amazing, Stupid, F’d up, and Just Plain Odd Things

Make sure you get down to the last one on the list. It will change the way you look at the world. Or maybe just the way you look at America.

1. The RIAA list of the Top 100 Selling Music Artists of All Time.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by most of the artists on this list. Turns out the factory-made, genetically engineered pop music that seems to be so pervasive since the Spice Girls were manufactured in a defunct cold-war weapons factory is not actually as successful as it appears to be. At least not when compared to the other bands on the list. I was, however, disappointed that Brittney Spears has sold as many albums as Dave Matthews has. And more than Pearl Jam and Tom Petty. She doesn’t work nearly as hard as they do. And the output isn’t exactly on par. Isn’t it a little ironic (Alanis Morisette was further down the list) that the capitalist society which has propelled the likes of Brittney to the top is the same one that is so adamant about the notion that you have to work hard to be deserving of money? Judgement: AMAZING

2. Reform and Chabad are Friends!… in China…
Read the article. It’s enlightening. Perhaps there is something that America and Canada can learn from China. Judgement: AMAZING

3. Anti-Islam film ‘Fitna’ draws Dutch Jewish condemnations.
The newly-released anti-Islam film by right-wing Dutch legislator Geert Wilders drew condemnations from the Netherlands’ Central Jewish Board, which Friday called the film’s focus on anti-Jewish preachings by Muslims “counterproductive” and “generalizing.” Just one question: When was the last time we heard a reciprocal condemnation of pervasive anti-Jewish propaganda? Judgement: a tie between AMAZING and FUCKED UP

4. Stuff White People Like
If you’re a wordpress-er like me, then you’ve likely already seen this blog. If not, you must head over to it immediately. It is a humourous and surprisingly (perhaps frighteningly) accurate portrayal of white society. Some of my favourites from the list: #88 Having Gay Friends, #75 Threatening to Move to Canada, #68 Michel Gondry, #67 Standing Still at Concerts (I dance like hell, though), #26 Manhattan (now Brooklyn too!), #87 Outdoor Performance Clothes. Judgement: Overall it’s AMAZING. Some of them are STUPID or JUST PLAIN ODD

And the Kicker… the piece de resistance, the one that floored me tonight…

5. The Quantum Sleeper
“What is the Quantum Sleeper?” you ask… While you must go to the website and look at the pictures to truly appreciate the absurdity of this item, here’s a quick rundown of the features it contains:
– Protection from bio-chemical terrorist attack
– Protection from natural disasters (earthquakes…?)
– Protection from kidnappers / stalkers (“What’s that giant object in the bedroom…?”)
– Toiletry system
– CD Player & AM/FM Radio

JUDGEMENT: The Quantum Sleeper is the culmination and supreme iconic indicator of post-9-11 society. It is simultaneously amazing, stupid, f’ed up, and just plain odd. Mostly though, it’s a piece of shit.

Shout out for the Mishnah

One of the URJ’s most successful and admirable efforts to get people more engaged in daily Talmud Torah is the Ten Minutes of Torah initiative. For those not familiar, it’s an email study programme where each day of the week is devoted to a different aspect of study: Torah, ethics, history, Israel, and so on.

Just recently, a new weekly topic was added. (Actually, it replaces the weekly Hebrew lessons… not sure why they couldn’t have kept all of them… not enough days in the week for study? Ahh well. The new addition to the roster makes every Tuesday “Mishnah Day.”

This is fantastic. Truly a leap forward for Reform Judaism. Delivering weekly drashes on the Mishnah into thousands of people’s inboxes is a phenomenon whose significance shouldn’t be underestimated. To quote a certain Texan… “The Reform movement has been traditionally pretty allergic to Talmud, excepting catchy aggadot (for which we needn’t turn to Talmud anyway because of Sefer Ha-Aggadah).” This is another step in paving the Derech Torah. For more on my thoughts on the unpaved road to Torah, see my most recent post.

For many, this will be the first time that they are introduced to the Mishnah. For others, it provides some much needed sustenance to fill in what has been a glaring lacuna in Reform Judaism’s overall pedagogy. For those of you who have been keeping track, in the past two days I’ve used the words zeitgeist, lacuna, and pedagogy.

What’s in a name?

This week’s parasha is a story of blockbuster proportions. We’re getting into the heat of the Exodus narrative. It’s a story of treachery, captivity, leadership, and the launching of Charlton Heston’s career. And of course, it all begins with a few simple personal introductions:

And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: I am the LORD and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as אל שדי but by My name יהוה I made Me not known to them.

Sh’mot 6:2-3

In Torah study at my shul, we never get beyond the first few verses, so we spent the better part of two hours dwelling on these few lines. Of course, the question came up as to why God has more than one name, and why they are used at various times. For some, the natural response is that there are multiple authors/editors of the Tanakh, and so they use different names. For me, resorting to the Documentary Hypothesis whenever there’s a perceived inconsistency in the Tanakh is a little too easy and logical. Setting aside for the moment that it is – by definition – merely a hypothesis, I believe that sometimes the desire to find logic in the Bible detracts from the more mystical elements of the text that can have great importance. Check out this article for more insight on this topic.

The fact that Moses is the only human ever to know God’s proper Name, and the fact that we can’t just go find him and ask him what it was is a deeply important part of Jewish theology. There is something mystically wondrous about God having one singular unknown name, but having a plethora of titles to be approached with. It means that no person is more entitled to speak to God than another; it means that we all can find a personal way to address God; it means that God isn’t limited by our human necessities to label everything and everyone.

The different titles we have for God is also an important part of Jewish monotheism. While each of the other gods of the ancient pantheon had their own name and their own job (meet Ra the sun god, Thor the thunder god, and Neptune the sea god), יהוה has many appellations, and many jobs, but remains singular. Other peoples needed to assign different names to each of their gods, but our God’s singularity encompasses all of these names.

So we can say that the presence of El Shaddai, El Roi, Elohim, and YHVH are the result of different people putting together different texts. Or perhaps – if we can allow our minds to surpass the need to rationalize everything in a scientifically logical manner – we might find that these names are part of the awesomeness of Jewish monotheism. One God with just one title leads to fighting in the name of God, and the possibility that other people are given limited access to God. One God with many titles ensures that all can approach God with equal access and no superiority.

May we all strive to find the Holiness in God’s name, and bring that holiness out in each other.

Shabbat Shalom!

The “Rainbow Family Movement”

Responding to Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s speech at the Biennial this past week, Shmuel Rosner at Ha’aretz had much to say in his blog. Drawn to Rabbi Yoffie’s assertion that “if there’s no Reform movement in Israel, there’s no Reform movement,” (Rosner’s paraphrasing of Yoffie’s words) he writes about how the Reform movement should stand up in Israel.

As usual, the most colourful and provocative comments were not found within the article itself, but rather in the public responses to the article. Here’s my favourite response – one from an Israeli Reform Jew:

…as a Reform Jew, I see the inherent weakness in our structure. We are like hippies, wondering why the Rainbow Family movement doesn’t have better organization or funding…

…Many Jews who arrive in Israel suddenly discover their lack of identity and become Ba’al T’shuva in any case….

Is that the crux of the problem? Is it that simple? Is a religiously organized structure completely antithetical to the foundation of autonomy that Reform Judaism stands upon? Is that why we have such a hard time defining ourselves? Is it akin to anarchist hippies writing a political platform?

I don’t have the answers, although I try to look for them. The question is posed tonight. The attempted answers will come later this week.

*I also realize, that it has been 4 months since Rabbi Yoffie posted a response to my writings, and that I still not have responded in kind. What with moving cities and signing my life over to a new school, I have literally not had a free weekend to sit down and think it through. Because of the heaviness of what I wrote, I wanted to dedicate an entire weekend to formulating a proper, thoughtful, and respectful answer to him. I’m now on winter break, and intend to get that taken care of. So be on the look out for that.

When a Kippah is not just a Kippah

This article popped up in my inbox today, courtesy of KOACH, the Conservative Movement’s college arm. It’s by KOACH associate at U of Florida Sherri Vishner. It’s part of a series of articles on gender in Judaism, but as I read it, I couldn’t but help have a reaction to it that had nothing to do with gender.

… while we are in fact in the ‘21st Century’, it is still not common for women to wear kippot.

Like many girls who are currently growing up in the Conservative Movement, I was given the opportunity to wear a tallit and kippah when I celebrated becoming a Bat Mitzvah. About five years ago, I made the decision to wear my kippah all the time- minus showering and sleeping of course. I made this decision because I believe I should have my head covered while praying. I didn’t want to limit my prayers to a few times a day and I didn’t want to keep taking my kippah on and off, which I had been doing for a while…

…As immediately as the first day I wore my kippah, Jews and non-Jews alike approached me asking me what I was wearing and wasn’t that something that men wore. I continue to explain that while the kippah has traditionally been worn solely by men, it need not be a ‘man’s garment’. I wear the kippah for the same reasons a man wears one- to show that God is above us and to remind them that I am a Jew. I believe that these concepts are not limited to men. I believe in God and appreciate the daily, visible reminder of my Judaism.

I know a lot of women who by other people’s standards would be considered feminists but don’t put themselves in that camp. I have a hard time putting myself there as well, especially when it comes to my wearing a kippah. I don’t wear my kippah because I want to be a man and I also don’t wear one because I think all women should- though it would be nice to have some company!

The article resonated with me in such a different manner. While I read the words, my mind was already replacing them with my own narrative. This is how it read to me:

while we are in fact in the ‘21st Century’, it is still not common for Reform Jews to wear kippot [all the time].

Like many Reform Jews who are currently growing up in the Reform Movement, I was given the opportunity to wear a tallit and kippah when I celebrated becoming a Bar Mitzvah. About five years ago, I made the decision to wear my kippah all the time- minus showering and sleeping of course. I made this decision because I believe I should have my head covered while praying. I didn’t want to limit my prayers to a few times a day and I didn’t want to keep taking my kippah on and off, which I had been doing for a while…

…As immediately as the first day I wore my kippah, Jews and non-Jews alike approached me asking me what I was wearing and wasn’t that something that Orthodox Jews wore… I wear the kippah for the same reasons an Orthodox Jew wears one- to show that God is above us and to remind them that I am a Jew. I believe that these concepts are not limited to the Orthodox. I believe in God and appreciate the daily, visible reminder of my Judaism.

I know a lot ofReform Jews who by other people’s standards would be considered “Orthodox” but don’t put themselves in that camp. I have a hard time putting myself there as well, especially when it comes to my wearing a kippah. I don’t wear my kippah because I want to be aOrthodox and I also don’t wear one because I think all Jews should- though it would be nice to have some company!

I’ve wrestled with wearing a kippah full-time in the past. After returning from my first Jewish camp experience, and then from my first trip to Israel, it felt appropriate and I donned one each morning. But then the assumptions of my orthodoxy got in the way of the connection I was trying to forge through the garment. And yet, as I wear one at all times when doing something Jewish, it still feels a little contradictory to assume that I can just walk away from parts of my Jewishness. Sure, you go to shul and pray at specific times, but it’s not like you can compartmentalize your Jewishness. The emancipation is long gone, those ideals don’t stand any longer.

Even this past Shabbat, as I had on my knit “religious zionist / modern orthodox” kippah, surrounded by others who were wearing polyester kippot (no doubt collected from many a bar mitzvah), I was asked if I wore my kippah all the time. Just the fabric and design of my head-covering was enough to elicit assumptions.

I would like to find a way to wear a kippah without having people pigeon-hole me into a category based on it. While that sounds a little like I’m being too focused on image and what other people think of me, it’s an important factor. It’s an outward display of one’s Jewry, and it needs to be considered carefully. If I’m displaying something, I don’t want to display what I’m not.

Perhaps something similar to eco-kashrut needs to arise to deal with this issue. If Reform Jews want to wear kippot all the time without automatically being assumed to be Orthodox, does something need to be done? Or is this an internal, self-defining issue?

This also all rests on the assumptions that the highly definitive nature of the Movements is something that is important and necessary. I still haven’t figured that one out yet.

Apparently neither have these people.

Or these.

In the meantime…

On Friday, hours before Shabbat was to arrive, I dumped some thoughts out of my head and onto this blog. Knowing that they were provocative and not merely some light reflections, I expected some sort of reaction from people. But I had no idea the kind of response it would elicit. But then, that’s the whole point of this internet thing, isn’t it.

I spent Shabbat mulling over it all. I’m still mulling. Obviously, a response is on its way. In the meantime, for those that are interested in the topic of commandedness, I recommend the following:

  • Duties of the Soul: The Role of Commandments in Liberal Judaism,” edited by Niles E. Goldstein and Peter S. Knobel.
  • Various articles in “The Reform Judaism Reader,” specifically Emil Fackenheim’s Nothing is More Important (1954), Jakob Peteuchowski’s Experiencing the Commandment (1961), and Arnold Jacob Wolf’s The Need to Be Commanded (1967). Obviously, the entire chapter on The Halachah of Reform, with notable articles by Rabbis Mark Washofsky, Herman E. Shaalman, and David Polish, is of great importance.
  • Liberal Judaism and Halakhah” edited by Walter Jacob.
  • BZ’s article on Limmud NY’s Reform Halakah panel is also insightful.

    As for me, a response is coming… very soon.

    And I’m still very much a Reform Jew, as I indicated in my previous post.
    Take a look at the last paragraph.

    Well, I guess I’m out…

    After years of being questioned by various family members, friends, and confused strangers as to whether or not I really was a Reform Jew (apparently believing that washing your hands before eating is a thoroughly un-Reform concept), the answer is in folks.

    It has been decided that I am, in fact, not a Reform Jew.

    Yes, the confusion is over, and thankfully so. Interestingly, the one who made the life-altering decision is none other than Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of our movement. I am simultaneously honoured and flabbergasted that he takes such an interested in my personal beliefs. This life-altering information was disclosed to me in a fascinating article in The Jewish Week written by Debra Nussbaum Cohen. In it, Rabbi Yoffie makes the following assertion:

    There are limits to what Reform Judaism can encompass… If you take [Jewish Law] upon yourself as an obligation rather than as a choice, you’ve reached the point at which you’re no longer a Reform Jew.”

    Well. I’m glad he spelled it out so clearly. So much for theological pluralism.

    While the article itself is quite thought-provoking, and will most certainly be the topic of a future blog post, Rabbi Yoffie’s assertion remains front and centre for the time-being. In all seriousness, I am angered and somewhat frightened by this revelation.

    Such an exclusionary statement is not only antithetical to the so called pluralistic values of Reform Judaism, it is also contradictory in and of itself. To be sure, every act and belief that we take upon ourselves has some element of choice in it. I am not forced to believe that there are certain things that God requests of us, nor am I forced to perform any acts. Even for those of us who believe in aspects of Divine commandedness, choice is still central. Moreover, Reform Judaism’s principles of inclusiveness and pluralism teach me that not everybody understands God and Judaism in the same way that I do. So while I may believe that God commands certain things, I also understand that other Jews do not experience commandments in the same way.

    It seems to me that Rabbi Yoffie’s statement is thoroughly un-Reform itself. And that troubles me. Certainly, the notion of commandedness is not foreign to Reform Judaism. Rabbi Gunther Plaut has the following to say about it:

    Mitzvah is an indigenous part of Judaism; there can be no Judaism without mitzvah. And there can be no Shabbat observance without definable and therefore observable מצוות עשה (positive mitzvot) and מצוות לא תעשה (negative mitzvot).”

    ~The Sabbath in the Reform Movement (1965)

    My chief concern is not the notion of a Judaism devoid of elements of Divine command (although I strongly disagree with such a supposition). What troubles me the most is the notion of a Judaism that doesn’t even allow for the possibility of the opposite. We’re Reform Jews, aren’t we? We value religious pluralism, don’t we? We stand for diversity of thought and practice, don’t we?

    This is not an isolated issue, either. In the current edition of Reform Judaism (the magazine), Yoffie writes the following:

    … a certain number of our congregational leaders… [urged] the Union to focus on spirituality, not politics. It is more important, they said, that we Reform Jews concentrate on Jewish education, worship, and Outreach than on issues of public policy.

    I understand this argument, but I cannot agree. Reform Judaism came into being as a protest against those who insisted on limiting Judaism to matters of ritual and study… For Reform Jews, worship and study must always lead to active engagement with the world.”

    Always? Praying to God must always lead to political action? Nu? Isn’t that a very limiting statement itself? Doesn’t that limit Judaism to matters of politics? Why can’t it be both? Why can’t worship and study be for some a way to communicate with God, for some a way to engage with our rich history, and for others a way to change the world? PEOPLE! This is what we claim Reform Judaism to be. It’s what we tell others that we are. We know that in action, it’s not always the case, but at least pluralism had a home on paper for a while. It seems now that even on paper we’re become less pluralistic.

    This orthodoxy of Reform continues to trouble me. It is so frighteningly contradictory, and it shakes me to the bones. Make no mistake, I am a Reform Jew, and I will continue to be one. But I will not box myself into a definition of Reform Judaism that excludes others.

    Things that make us shvitz

    David Shneer, in a new collumn at Jewcy, has some interesting critiques of Reform Judaism. They’re given within the context of an analysis of RJ and Chabad in Russia and the FSU. What he has to say about RJ seems to be an academic analysis and is free of some of the vitriol that often accompanies other such critiques. Here’s an excerpt that resonated quite strongly with me:

    Reform rabbis are trained to be educators and to give pastoral care, but ultimately many of them see their primary role as CEOs of the Jewish community, appointed by wealthy boards of donors, and charged with the operations of the community. For Reform Judaism, at least in its American and British forms [and might I (Jesse) add, Canadian], the rabbinate is a job, not a calling.

    I should note that this article was brought to my attention via the blog of a Rabbinical student friend of mine. I suspect that it might have resonated similarly with him aswell, although I leave that to him to confirm or deny.

    While there is a danger in over-generalizing about the Rabbinate, there is certainly a strong element of truth in what Shneer has to say. So what to do with it? More to the point…

    – How do those of us that aren’t in Rabbinical school respond to this?
    – How do those of us that aren’t Rabbis respond to this?

    Tossing the ball around in the dark

    The youth group that I’m an advisor for is having it’s annual shul-in (sleepover) tonight.

    As I write in the dark, one group of teen girls is giggling at picture on facebook. One boy has spilled Sprite on himself. The rest of the group is enjoying watching Garden State. This evening we’ve eaten pizza, tossed a football around, listened to good music, discussed how it’s depressing that most young people don’t know who Bob Dylan and Neil Young are, and laughed when the football hit someone in the head. (He’s ok).


    During this evening’s programme on Israel’s security wall/fence/call it whatever you want, it’s an ugly eyesore and a hassle either way… I wound up having to do a bit of educating. Turns out the kids didn’t know much about Israel’s changing borders, what the security wall is, how the conflict started, or much else. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. They sure as hell won’t learn it in school, and I’m pretty sure these things aren’t discussed much in religious school. Most of them don’t watch the news regularly, and if they do, there’s too much misinformation.

    So where are they supposed to learn about this? Youth group? Camp?

    That’s fine and dandy, and I love teaching about Israel in an informal setting, but it seems to me that with something this important, there needs to be a bit more importance and imminence emphasized, and youth group alone won’t do that.

    So where can they turn?… The dinner table? Do I pray that they pick up newspapers, read on their own, and draw educated conclusions based on what they’ve read? Do we burn them out with Israel programming at youth group?

    I think it’s important that the kids discover the importance of remaining in touch with what’s going on, while at the same time not feeling that they’re being force-fed.

    So was tonight a successful evening? The kids are having a good time right now, watching an amazing movie. They learned a little bit, and I experienced more of the angst that is common to all youth group advisors. The girls have tired of facebook and are now going back to Garden State. Two of the guys are now tossing the ball around in the dark.

    But that’s not the point. Or is it?

    Toss the ball around in the dark.