Topic: Reflections

The World Turned Upside Down

(A slightly different take on Tom Friedman, the meltdown, quantitative easing, the Age of Awareness, Jewish history, Purim, Pesach, Zipcar and birkat hachamah.) Dear All, Tom Friedman’s piece in the New York Times this week (The Inflection Is Near?) provides a clear summation of how most environmentalists understand our current financial crisis, and if you haven’t yet read it I recommend it – You can read the article here. My one sentence precis: we’ve been overconsuming the world, and our behaviors are no more sustainable, in aggregate, than Bernie Madoff’s investment strategy. I want to argue that he’s right, but that we’re not properly following what should be the policy implications of what he argues; and, further, that Jewish history provides a particularly cautionary note on some of where we now might be headed. (more…)

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Second Thoughts on the New Millennium

We entered the new millennium as planned, hosting a shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. We went to synagogue – in black tie – and afterwards had eighteen friends for a more-lavish-than-usual but nevertheless recognizable Friday night dinner. We made kiddush over the wine (champagne, in this case) and the traditional blessing over the bread. We had a great dinner, looked back, looked forwards, played one or two games, sang songs. At midnight we began the traditional bensching, the grace after meals, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, and included a prayer for peace in the future. All in all it was a great evening. The following morning the house was devastated. We had plates and debris everywhere; streamers and balloons, leftover pudding, candlesticks, washing-up stacked in heaps. We had wine glasses and champagne flutes and little shot glasses from those important impromptu l’chaims. By contrast with how beautiful it had looked when we first returned from synagogue, it indeed seemed like terrorists had wandered in during the night and done their worst. (more…)

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Pushing ourselves to be the best we can be

Nigel Savage Published in The New Jersey Jewish News’ segment, The Next Big Think March 16, 2006 I love the famous line from Robert F. Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” It’s in that spirit that I want to address this topic. This is more about what might be than about what is. Here are three things that already exist within Jewish life — but which I’d like to see grow dramatically in the next five years. (more…)

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New strategies for an ancient tradition

At the emotional high point of one of the central prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we say “teshuva, tefilla and tzedakah avert the evil decree.” Ahead of the prayer marathons of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I wanted to write something about tefilla, prayer, the second of these three things. It is in many ways the least accessible of the three. Teshuva – returning to our best selves – segues easily into a contemporary neo-therapeutic perspective. We may struggle to improve ourselves, but the desirability of doing so seems clear. (more…)

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2005 New York Ride Keynote Address

 by Ariana Silverman This summer, my uncle, a middle-aged working father of three, volunteered to be a Little League Umpire. As many of you know, the difficulty of this particular job is not the physical exertion, or the danger of being confronted by a player, or even that there are that many pitches that are too close-to-call, but having to face the genuine wrath of a parent who feels that his or her child, or even his or her child’s team, has been wronged. During one particularly heated game, my uncle’s calls were repeatedly followed by yelling from an offended mother in the stands. Trying to keep his cool, when, in the middle of the forth inning, she asked for the count, he obligingly held up his hands . My uncle was stunned by her temporary silence, and then it came: “Ump, you’re gonna hafta yell-out the count-I don’t have my glasses on!” Tonight I invite you to join me in a conversation about seeing. Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins with the command to see: Re’eh. Re’eh Anochi Notein L’ifneicheim HaYom Bracha U’klalah. See, this day I set before you blessing and curse (Deuteronomy 11:26). This theme is not […]

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Sitting On An Aeroplane, While Grandma Dies

By Nigel Savage Originally posted at – http://www.zeek.net/fict_0411.shtml I’m writing this on Tuesday 26th August 2003, on a plane en route back to New York. I came back to Manchester last Thursday to see Grandma and to say goodbye to her. She’s 95, has liver cancer and, according to the doctors, she has at most “weeks rather than months” to live. So when I said goodbye to her last night that will almost certainly have been the last time I see her. My other grandparents died more suddenly that this, when I was younger and at a different stage in life. I’ve never had this experience of “saying goodbye” to someone in this way. I don’t know how I feel. Sad, certainly, though I’ve only really felt the feelings, as opposed to thinking the thoughts. (more…)

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Reframing Jewish tradition in an era of ecological challenge

Jewish tradition is so old we easily take it for granted. But it’s quite an incredible thing: to have been one of the world’s indigenous peoples, more than three thousand years ago, to have maintained since then a continuous historical identity and existence, and still to be here, in the postmodern age. We have gathered, in that time, what I think of as “treasures in the garden” – traditions and teachings of immense beauty and value, which we easily fail to notice, or take for granted, or perhaps never knew of in the first place. In this short piece, I mention seven of them. For those who are from religiously observant backgrounds, these seven concepts will be mostly familiar; yet contemporary environmental challenges place them in a new light. For those not from a traditional background, these ideas may be new, or newly framed. In either case, I believe that they’re well worth a fresh look. Though these are central ideas within Jewish tradition, the context in which we discuss them has often become stale. Yet these ideas truly are treasures. They have been at the heart of Jewish life for three millennia, and they bear every possibility of enriching […]

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Jews in the Woods

In the summer of 1998, I led a group of Jewish teenagers on a two week hiking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This is the story of how awful it was – the miserable weather, the arguments, the religious problems, the midpoint mutiny – and why, nevertheless, I think we should all get out in the woods a lot more often… This is the group: nine Jewish teenagers: seven girls and only two boys. Religiously most are observant, but not all: of those who are there is some difference between the strictly halachic and the conservadox. At the other end of the spectrum is a girl who attends a Conservative dayschool but has a Turkish Moslem father and and is proud of her Turkish heritage. Most are from the Boston area, but one is from the Midwest. The strongest character is a sixteen year old girl; the youngest, a thirteen year old boy who is big for his age and who seems to be present in consequence of familial “encouragement” – his cousin really wants the trip to happen and says that without him there’ll be too few people. (more…)

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The Queen and the Messenger

Once there was a Queen. She was a wise and kindly Queen, and she loved her subjects. Saddened at the pain and suffering of her people she decided to send messengers to help them in their lives. To each messenger she said: “You are my chosen messenger and the message I shall give to you is a special message. The future peace and happiness of my land and its people depends upon you. My message is simple and complex; timely and timeless; personal and universal. Guard my message; never forget it; teach it to your children, lest anything happen to you and my message be lost.” The Queen gave roughly the same message to each messenger; but she met with each messenger individually, and inevitably the Queen would vary the message slightly each time. To be honest, we don’t know whether this was deliberate or accidental. Perhaps she felt that it would be dangerous to entrust the entirety of his message to just one person. Perhaps she really wanted to transmit messages that were slightly different from each other, thinking from the very beginning that each messenger and each message would contribute something unique to the welfare of her people. […]

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