Blog #8: Jews Driving German Cars
Emily, Josh, and Debbie hanging out.
In the song and music video by Sarah Silverman she sings and questions, "What the *%$! is up with all these Jews driving German cars?!" Well, what is up with it? It is a common sentiment heard by Jews all over the world. Don't buy German products, and certainly don't visit Germany! "Oh, I could never go to Germany... it's just too painful," a woman on my connecting flight said to me upon hearing where I was traveling.
Even more than 60 years after the Shoah, there is something doubtful and uncomfortable about having a relationship with Germany. In this simple, silly sounding question, what are we really expressing when we don't want to drive German cars? I believe we are saying: Germans are the enemies of the Jews. You betrayed us when we felt affiliated with you; we trusted you and you blamed us. You murdered us. Now it is over. We will certainly not contribute to the country that betrayed us. We will have no relationship again.
But is this sentiment still relevant? Is it healthy? Could it, and should it change?
The Shoah, the victims that it took, and their stories, should and always will be remembered by Jews. It cannot be forgotten. I believe the Holocaust has left a dark spot on the soul of every Jew, reminding us of our fragile state. We carry the burden of memory in a tradition where Zacor is a commandment. We would never want to betray the memories of our ancestors. However there is also a role that Germans must play in remembering the Holocaust, which is equally as strong and painful to the German national psyche. It is the burden of being the enemies, the perpetrators, of the worst evil known to humankind. Germans also carry the burden of memory, and here we find a complicated commonality between Jews and Germans.
Me and Molly
After spending 10 days on a program called Germany Close up, sponsored by the German government and the Marshall Plan, I feel that Jews and Germans are ready to forget the past. Not the history of course, but the sentiment that Germans once harbored towards Jews and the deeply rooted emotions that are hard for Jews to forget about Germany. On this trip I was exposed to the strides Germany is making to pay tribute to the Jews of the Shoah. This is not only done symbolically through memorials or museums (although we saw plenty of these!), it is happening at a personal and national level. Young German students are studying Judaism in their universities, German teachers are teaching students about Germany's role in the Shoah. Germany's politicians are securing relationships with the state of Israel. Germany is not just paying tribute to the past, but working hard to move forward and build new relationships with Jews that are beyond but not outside the shadow of the Holocaust. This relationship between two peoples who share the burdens of memory and pain, can perhaps work together to be the best teachers of peace and tolerance.
Me at Sachenhousen, a concentration camp we visited outside of Berlin
As I explained my trip to a friend, she joked around by calling the Germany Close Up program a "Guilt Trip." But I would argue that it is not guilt that is driving either Jews or Germany to participate in this program. As a German student expressed, "The Shoah it is not our guilt, it is the guilt of our grandparents and great grandparents. But it is our responsibility. It is our responsibility not to forget, not to teach hatred and racism in Germany, to support the state of Israel, to learn about other religions and cultures, and to teach tolerance to our children. We are responsible for remembering the Shoah as perpetrators and not as victims. It is a very hard position for us and can be felt deeply in the German culture."
Our group at shabbat services Saturday morning.
On our last day in Berlin, our group walked around the famous Jewish Museum, newly redesigned by Daniel Libeskind. As we were touring and seeing our German history come alive, my friend and Rabbinical student Molly G. Kane turned to me and said, "I'm really glad we came here right before Shavout. Counting the Omer has been really meaningful here." We processed this thought together. Counting the Omer is the time when Jews spiritually re-cleanse ourselves in order to re-accept the Torah on Mount Sinai. In reaccepting the Torah this year and its values, we can think about what teachings we want to confirm, and what we are ready to leave behind. We will always Zacor- remember the past. History for Jews is what has shaped who we are, and the Shoah no doubt has confirmed that identity, so much so that German philosopher Emile Fackenheim even wrote a 614th commandment, to not grant posthumous victories to Hitler. Yet the Judaism also teaches us to treat others with compassion, do teshuva, and accept an apology. Germany, its polices, it's academics, and its people are all working hard to deal with a moment in history that is painful for all who think about it. Yet there is hope that this dark spot can be the history that is of the past and not the driving force of a relationship today. When my Aunt Paula turns the key to her BMW, that's not a backlash against her Jewish heritage or an insult to victims of the Shoah. It is time for healing to begin and for Jews and Germans to see each other as partners in the spreading of peace and tolerance.
Thanks to everyone who read my blog this year! I had a great time writing it! Good luck to all applicants and students and have a great summer!
Posted by Lisa at 3:26 PM
Blog #7: Passover: My family's Journey
Seder-Masochism at the Kingston's - We LOVE the Bread of Affliction!
Passover Seder at the Kingston household is anything but "traditional." My family always laughs at the part of the Passover story that recalls "Moses taking his rod in hand" and this year my grandma asked the burning question of the haggadah, "What is camel-toe?" Yet despite your average functioning dysfunctional family, it feels great to be home for the holidays and back together as a family.
My younger sister Beth, the baby of the family, will be graduating from SUNY Albany in just a few weeks. For one of her last projects at school she needs to create a family tree going back as far as our great-great grandparents. The Seder meal was the perfect time for my sister to begin her project. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and parents were all sitting around the same table with our fragmented memories and stories. She asked some general questions which led all of us to go back and search our "records." Together we were able to recreate my family's history.
Before my Grandpa Morris died in 2005 my oldest cousin Caryn asked him to write down the story of his family. He took the assignment to heart writing down every little detail he could remember. I opened my email the day after Seder to find a 16 page scanned version of his story! I spent the morning reading about how my great-great grandfather Phillip was dragged away from his mother in the streets of Lodz at the age of 13 to be enlisted in the Russian Army. How my great-grandmother Bessie arrived in NY on the 4th of July 1910, during the 100-year anniversary celebration of the Steamboat. And how my Grandpa Morris, while growing up in Spanish Harlem, was represented by (at the time a young Italian lawyer) Fiorello LaGuardia, in order to protest the increase in rent when their heating system was switched from coal to steam heat.
me and grandma dorothy
The next day, I spent the morning at my other grandparents' house. My living grandpa, Henry, was able to find documents of his family's journey from Poland to America including their naturalization papers, train tickets, and pictures. His father Morris had come to America in order to find work as a bricklayer leaving behind his wife with 3 small children in Poland. It wasn't until thirteen years later that he was finally reunited with his wife and children. My great-grandmother Rose entered the US via Canada and settled in Brooklyn. It was in this joyous reunification that my Grandpa Henry was born- their "little Yankee baby" as they called him. My Grandma Elaine took out her wedding album to show me pictures of everyone I was learning about.
Needless to say, my sister got more than enough information for her senior project and I got an unexpected history lesson! The lesson could not have come at a more appropriate time. I recently attended the AJA Kutz seminar at HUC in Cincinnati. The seminar was designed to help education students incorporate the primary documents and resources available through the American Jewish Archives into curriculum and lesson planning of American Jewish History. We began the seminar by sharing documents and artifacts from one's own family and using them to ask questions about the broader Jewish American experience. Since coming upon these newfound pictures, documents, and stories, I plan to soon make copies in order to donate them to the AJA. I hope other historians will find my family's stories useful in better understanding American Judaism.
Additionally, I am reading a book called The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn for my history class with Dr. Jonathan Krasner. It is about a man who tries to recreate his family's life in Bolechow before the war through old pictures, letters, interviews with relatives, and a journey back to Bolechow. While reading, I came across this quote. It refers to the author missing the opportunity to ask his relatives about their stories before they died. While there is much that my grandparents do not remember because of age, and there are things that they choose to keep private, I feel lucky to have taken time this vacation to ask my family about their history. I felt this very strongly while reading:
beth, grandma Elaine, mom
I'm pleased with what I know, but now I think much more about everything I could have known, which was so much more than anything I can learn now and which now is gone forever. What I do know now is this: there's so much you really don't see, preoccupied as you are with the business of living; so much you never notice, until suddenly, for whatever reason- you decide, suddenly, that it's important to let your children know where they came from-you need the information that people you once knew always had to give you, if only you'd asked. But by the time you think to ask, it's too late.
If an outsider had visited my Seder (Elijah perhaps?), one would never guess that this was the home that produced an HUC student, future Jewish leader. I'm ok with that. We don't have to have the poster-Reform Seder in order to make it meaningful. It was hysterical teaching my grandma what camel-toe is and it was interesting to learn something new about my family's history as well. It was not the history of my ancestors leaving Egypt, but it was the story of my ancestors becoming and creating the family that was sitting around our table. It was our history; and Passover was the perfect time to talk about it.
Posted by Lisa at 4:47 PM
lisa on the tayellet
Asking an HUC student about their first year in Israel is always a weighted question. In the past my various nuanced answers to the question, "how was Israel?" have included:
"This is the best year of my life!"
I guess I should begin this journey at the beginning- my HUC interview. Education students in NY do not suffer nearly as much as their rabbinical and cantorial counterparts. We do not have to audition, and a psychologist does not examine us. My interview was very straightforward. We interview with Jo Kay the director of the school and she asks questions relevant to being a Jewish Educator and a Jewish leader. Later that evening, I received my acceptance to the school over email. It was months of nervous anxiety, over in 24 hours. Practically painless.
"I hate Israel and want to come home!"
"I'm learning so much about Israel and Judaism"
"I suck at Biblical Grammar!"
"HUC is such a warm community."
"ANOTHER HUC program?"
"I would consider Aliyah."
"Israel is dirty, people are rude, there are so many societal problems, and I can't speak Hebrew...what is Arnona tax!?"
"I feel so Jewish here."
"Why is nothing open on Shabbat!??"
lisa and daniel (my roommate in Israel)
I do remember being asked at my interview if there was anything preventing me from going to Israel? I still wonder what would have happened if I had said yes. I was very much looking forward to studying there, but it is not a requirement of the NY School of Ed at this time. (We are all expected and encouraged to go). All of my classmates from my year began their studies with me in Israel. We take an extra class called Education Seminar with Sally Klein-Katz with the LA students. It is a great introduction to the historical context and basic ideas of Jewish Education.
But school and classes is not what really what comes to mind when I think about my year in Israel. Just thinking of getting there still overwhelms me. There is the apartment search, the visa application, the vonage-phone set up, the shipping, the saying-goodbye. I can't explain what it was like to get everything done. You feel like you are forgetting something; you are worried you won't get it all done in time, but you will. Somehow.
For me, it wasn't until my flight that I had my first panic attack. My bags were only about 20 pounds overweight, and I had already said goodbye to my family. I found my seat (thankfully not next to a Shomer Negiah!) took a pill and woke up about 7 hours later for breakfast realizing..."OMG! What the ^&*% am I doing here!?" The nice flight attendant brought me into a private curtained area and gave me water while I cried to her,
"I don't speak Hebrew! I don't know where I'm going!" "I don't know anyone!"
Despite all the anxiety that goes into beginning HUC, beginning one's year in Israel is really quite simple. The workload is fair, people are helpful, and experiencing the culture of Israel is something for one year is an experience I would never trade. My apartment was a beautiful place to live (even with its cat problem). My Hebrew improved so much. I met wonderful friends, classmates, professors, and Israelis. Ate great food. Traveled. Of course I got frustrated, was homesick, felt marginalized, and had days were I wanted to be anywhere else in the world. Yet despite all this, I would do it all again.
"What is your reason for coming to Israel?" She asked me.
"I am going to study for a Master's in Jewish Education" I said between deep breaths.
"How old are you?" She asked.
With that, she gave me a piece of chocolate and sent me back to my seat.
friends in israel
If you are going through the application process now, best of luck to you. Be confident and be yourself. One day in Israel, you and your classmates will share your personal stories of getting into HUC and everyone will be laughing, saying, "Zeh lo big deal!"
Posted by Lisa at 2:28 PM
Molly, Jess, and me in the Vagina Monologues
Although I did not list this among my interests when my blog was first created, I love horror films. I remember seeing an old film called "The Dentist" about a dentist who finds out his wife is having an affair, and viciously takes his anger out on his innocent patients. A more recent favorite of mine is Rob Zombie's "House of 1,000 Corpses," in which your average teenagers have an unfortunate car-breakdown in the town where the infamous experimental surgeon Dr. Satan still lurks! These films usually have bad acting and horrible dialogue, but they often play out on screen, our real, yet unmentioned fears. Most recently, I saw film called "Teeth." This film played on an urban myth in which a young woman grows an extra set of teeth as a defense against male sexual domination and power. Although this movie would be considered by most nothing more than a B grade horror film, for me, the movie actually brought up some powerful ideas about the ways we use stories to express our most interesting questions.
Myths are often symbolic stories that help a culture express origins, ideas, questions, fears, values, and more. By reading the myth of a particular culture, we can learn and piece together the ideological struggles of the people. Even a myth as silly as "Teeth," most likely sought to answer some essential questions about the nature of male and female sexuality. According to Erich Nuemann, author of, The Great Mother, the myth can be found in several cultures, most notably in North American Indian tribes. Among their stories there is one in which, "A fish with teeth inhabits the Terrible Mother; the hero is a man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth, and so makes her into a woman." The most important thing to remember about myth is that the categories of "true" and "false" do not apply. The stories being expressed in myth are symbols of the questions they are trying to answer and do not necessarily have anything to do with the actual content of the story.
Now, I would like to talk about my class called "Certain Women in the Midrash" taught by Rabbi Bernard Mehlman. This jump may be a stretch, but please bear with me as I think there may actually be a connection between the myths expressed in the horror films I love, and the function of certain midrashim. Midrash is not a term that should be confused with myth, however they serve similar functions. Simply, a midrash is an exegesis on any biblical text. While there are many ways to classify midrash, the most popular form is aggadic midrashim, also known as legends. We began the class by reading two short passages from Torah. The name Serach Bat Asher is mentioned only twice. The first time is in Genesis 46:17, in a passage that begins "These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt," and continues to mention all of Jacob's sons, his daughter Dinah, his grandsons, and one granddaughter–Serach. One would suppose that, since the Torah mentions 53 grandsons and only one granddaughter, she was a person of significance.
The second time Serach is mentioned is in the Book of Numbers 26:46, in the listing of Israelites who escaped from Egypt, where it simply says "And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serach." Since Serach is mentioned both as Jacob's granddaughter and also as one of the people who escaped from Egypt about 410 years later, her name begs our attention. How could one woman alive in the time of Jacob, stay to see the redemption from Egypt and why Serach!? In order to answer this troubling question, a number of midrashim have been written about her.
In Sefer HaYashar 109b-110a, we learn that when Joseph's brothers discover he is alive in Egypt, they were afraid to tell their father Jacob because the shocking news about his favorite son would kill him. Instead, they play on Serach's special relationship with her grandfather as well as her sweet voice. We are told that while Jacob is standing and praying, Serach sits next to him with her harp and begins to sing, "My uncle Joseph lives!" The pleasantness of her voice and words brought joy to Jacob and he knew the words were true. Rather than frighten him, the words please him and Serach receives a special blessing from her grandfather that allows her to transcend time. She is therefore placed in a category with Elijah the prophet and Enoch- two other Biblical figures that do not die, but rather are assumed to Gan Eden. In this way, Serach becomes an important figure that can transcend time.
The first significant Midrash in this category is from Exodus Rabba 5:13, known as "Serach's Secret." We learn that Serach learns a sort of "secret password" from the time of Abraham and Isaac that will identify the true redeemer. Generations later, when Moses comes and says these key words, Serach is the woman who affirms that he will lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Later during the time of Yohanan ben Zakkai, Serach enters an all male yeshiva in order to correct their interpretation of text. While they debate over what the walls of the parted Red Sea looked like, she enters and affirms, "I know what the walls of the Red Sea looked liked because I crossed the Red Sea, and they looked like shinning mirrors (Pesikta de Rav Kahana 11:13)." And perhaps Serach's most important role was her ability to help Moses carry "the bones of Joseph with him (Ex. 14:19)." How did Moses know where Joseph was buried? Serach of course was present at his funeral and informs Moses that Joseph's coffin was sunk into the Nile (Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Beshallach 24a-25b).
When the rabbis saw the name of Serach in two distinct places in the Torah, they needed a way to explain its seemingly impossible possibility. Their minds raced in order to connect the name Serach Bat Asher to her uncles, to Moses, and even to the coming of the Messiah. Are the stories of Serach true? Absolutely not- But remember, just as in myth, the categories of true and false do not apply to midrashim. However, these stories, just as myth, do help to answer some of the most essential questions about our culture. Serach's character and the legends that surround her, help us to figure out the role females can play in our tradition, what to do with discrepancies noticed in text, address questions of authorship in the Torah, and even help us understand our contemporary relationship to our biblical ancestors. Serach Bat Asher may not have eaten any men, nor performed gory medical procedures, but she does help us understand how the rabbis thought about our tradition. For this reason, the stories about Serach Bat Asher continue to be told, and modified, to answer our most essential Jewish questions.
More to come: AJA Kutz Education Seminar in Cincinnati, Vagina Monologues–see photo, and Primaries in NY (Obama '08!)
Posted by Lisa at 12:32 PM
"Ready, Steady, Go...to Israel!"
hiking in mitzpe ramon
Although completing seven finals my first semester at HUC in NY seemed like an insurmountable task, I prevailed. The motivation driving me to finish all my work was not grades, and not even the satisfaction of completion. I was returning to Israel on December 26th and it would be the first time returning since my time abroad last year. I had mixed emotions about returning to Israel, but I mostly just wanted to go!
My confusion about Israel began before I lived in Jerusalem last year. Like many American Reform Jews, relating to Israel throughout my lifetime has been a challenge. Why should I call Israel my homeland if I live in NY? Why is Israel a country for all Jews when Reform Rabbis and Reform ceremonies are not recognized by the chief rabbinate of Israel? Where are my options to pray as a female who wears a tallit? Living in Jerusalem last year affirmed many of these challenges for me. I didn't always feel comfortable or welcome as a Reform Jewish woman on the streets of Jerusalem, and Israel never really felt like home to me.
I was going back to Israel as part of the MARE Students Beit Midrash in Israel trip with ten students from the NY School of Education including our professor Dr. Lisa Grant, Shelly Kedar from the Lokey International Academy at the Leo Baeck School in Haifa, and our tour guide Naomi. Our trip's intent was to help us personally experience a multilayered teaching approach of Israel in order to best promote a meaningful and ongoing relationship with Israel's land and people. The trip was structured around a three-part question under the phrase, "Ready, Steady, Go!"
Ready: How can we prepare ourselves and our students for a loving relationship with Israel?
To answer some of the questions we met with Israeli educators, visited schools, sang songs, prayed at Reform synagogues, toured the security fence, met with diverse communities, and learned so much through mifgashim and study opportunities with different students and teachers in various programs. This was not your average birthright trip! Instead of viewing the beautiful Israel that tourists see, we were diving into major social issues of Israel society, the questions of pluralism, and the difficult relationship between the Diaspora and Israel. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the trip was a short visit we took to Yerucham, a development community in the south. This is a town originally known for its poverty, social problems, and lack of resources. However, after a major effort from the Israeli government, the town is changing its image primarily through education. Through public funding, the school we toured had computers, music programs, resources for special education, and after school enrichment programs. This town is truly an example of how education can build up a community, and literally change a reputation and spirit.
Steady: How do we frame Israel for our students and ourselves?
Go: What are the memory-making actions that create a meaningful relationship with Israel?
piano playing at the school in Yerucham
But more personally, this trip changed my perspective on Israel. I realized that for me, living in Israel last year forced me to face my personal challenges with Israel and Judaism on a daily basis. Loving Israel unconditionally is not easy. Seeing Israel with its social problems exposed doesn't make my relationship with Israel any less complicated, but it does make it more real. On this trip I appreciated the true meaning of the word "Yisrael," to struggle, and appreciated the various experiences that forced me to struggle with Israel on this trip. For the first time in my life, I didn't go away to Israel; I went home. Returning to familiar places, running into friends, speaking a language that I finally know, and engaging in the challenges of Israeli education made Israel relevant for me personally and professionally.
Posted by Lisa at 9:26 AM
Me and my sister Beth, Sam, and of course, Mr. Met!
It had been a long time since I last attended a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but the one I attended this past weekend was unlike any I had ever been to. Sam was always the friendly, funny, outgoing child of my home synagogue. On every Shabbat, Sammy would say hi to you by name, say "Shabbat Shalom" and ask you whatever question was on his mind. Yet although Sam's family was actively committed to synagogue life, they were never certain that Sam would be become a Bar Mitzvah. Sam is a child with special needs, yet with the support of his family, the religious educator, school, teachers, clergy, and community members, Sam became one of the most proud and celebrated Bar Mitzvahs at our temple.
Sam chanted about 12 lines of Torah and 5 of Haftorah almost perfectly, and gave a drash. He taught us about the sibling rivalry found in the parsha Toldot, but if you ask him what the most important part of the story is, he will tell you, "the stew!" Yet the most inspirational part of the ceremony was when his religious school teacher honored him with the Kiddush cup that all B'nei Mitzvah receive. In her speech to him we learned that it was Sam's decision to have a Bar Mitzvah and he was not pressured to make the decision by parents or clergy. Unlike many 13 year olds, Sam understood the importance and meaning of a Bar Mitzvah and he wanted to make that commitment to Judaism and Jewish learning, even if it required more studying and harder work than his classmates.
In a class called "Teaching and Learning" with Dr. Lisa Grant, we studied Multiple Intelligences. Following this model, teaching happens according to an understanding that different children learn best through different methods. These include but are not limited to learning through music, logical/mathematical comprehension, visual/spatial learning, or bodily/kinesthetic learning. Religious school classes are often so focused on the goal of B'nei Mitzvah, it is forgotten that the ceremony is not the same for everyone. Every child does not need to accomplish the same thing at his or her B'nei Mitzvah, and not every child arrives to the occasion the same way. I will suggest that by teaching something even as uniform as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in many different ways, more young children will be able to be successful at their ceremony. This means that they not only know the prayers and their Torah portion, but also truly have the desire to want to celebrate their Jewish identity and want to make a public commitment to Jewish life.
As I am not Sam's teacher, I am not sure how Sam learns best, but I am confident that it is not the same as the traditional religious school teaching model. Although Sam attended a regular religious school class he also worked with a Special Ed tutor who enabled him to learn the best way he could.
We often comment in our education classes that Special Education is a downfall of the synagogue religious school model, but Sam truly proved this wrong. In a school with no formal special education program, one child succeeded in having a "traditional" Bar Mitzvah ceremony. I want to suggest that it shouldn't only be a student with special needs who receives this personal learning attention. By integrating different teaching approaches into a traditional classroom, more students at once will learn according their best, individualized, intelligences.
Posted by Lisa at 10:35 AM
Lisa and Beau, fellow HUC classmates
Being in NY is exciting. Not only do we get great art exhibitions, theater, sports, and music, we also receive internationally renowned academics, speakers, and politicians, whether we want them or not. Even if you aren't from NY, you have most likely heard about President Ahmadinejad's recent visit to the U.N. and Colombia University, where he was given a platform to represent Iran and his ideas about the Middle East, Israel, America, and his association to the U.N. Of course, there was outrage expressed from the Jewish community in many forms, but I was surprised to read in many newspaper articles Americans of all backgrounds expressing disgust at the fact that this man was offered a public forum to speak at all.
The hot question of the week in NY was, "Should we deny Ahmadinejad a platform? I believe the answer here is no. Ahmadinejad may question the reality of the Holocaust or the right for Israel to exist, and through his speeches (that we may consider propaganda) he may well persuade other people to join his cause, but that is part of the burden of freedom that we are blessed with here in America. As American Jews, we exercise daily, the right to openly practice our religion, the right to speak our own minds, and the right to challenge the words of any academic, member of the media, or politician. So how do we express our disgust for one man's ideas while maintaining the right for him to share them?
In this instance, we have the opportunity to join in the debate rather than the dialogue. Rabbi Ellenson recently had to defend his choice to not join Ahmadinejad in "dialogue." In his recent article in The Sun, Ellenson rejects dialogue with Ahmadinejad because he believes that no genuine relationship would occur and therefore no true exchange would happen. I agree with this, but also offer some more ideas about the nature of dialogue.
This semester I am taking a class with Rabbi Jan Katzew, the director of Lifelong Learning at the URJ, called "From Other to Brother." In this class, we spend our time learning about interfaith dialogue, how to enable it, and what to expect as a result. Rabbi Katzew teaches that there is such a thing as "a bad dialogue partner," who is someone only hoping to convince the other party of their cause, someone who is looking to be the "winner" of a debate, or someone who cannot give the other party the mere notion of authenticity. In a dialogue, participants should be both learners and teachers, meeting on a foundation of respect, in order to find shared meaning. There should be more questions made than statements. Minds could be expanded and hearts opened. There are people who do not fit this description of a dialogue partner and Ahmadinejad is such a person.
Still, in the lack of dialogue, there are things we can and did do. On the morning of September 24, HUC students received an email from HUC Dean Shirley Idelson inviting any students who were available, to join together in rallying against Ahmadinejad's UN visit. The email asked that we come to "demonstrate our moral disgust and outrage for this man and all he stands for: nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, a lack of cooperation with the very organization he will be addressing, disdain for human rights in general and the rights of women in particular, disrespect for international law expressed in the arrest of academics, anti-Semitism in its most direct and ugliest form, and ongoing threats to wipe the sovereign nation of Israel from the face of the earth." While I could not personally attend, in this instance, HUC students were respecting the right of Ahmadinejad to speak, but by our presence, we sent the message that we do not believe or agree with what Ahmadinejad had to say. As his lone voice spoke out against Israel and the holocaust, our community of voices was there to remind him, and America, and whoever else was listening, that we don't agree.
Posted by Lisa at 11:42 AM
No one likes a vegetarian.
Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I love McDonalds. I've eaten McDonalds on birthdays and have even asked dates to take me there. In fact, I avoided seeing the movie "Supersize Me" because I was afraid it might convince me to stop eating it! Now I know McDonald's is far from healthy, and I'm embarrassed to admit that the rest of my daily diet isn't that much more sophisticated. I have tried diets in the past in attempts to become healthier, to no avail. But this week, I have learned something about my diet that from now on I will never abuse. This is the fact that I have the ability to buy my own groceries and make my own dietary choices.
Let me first take you back about 3 weeks: Part of the excitement of starting HUC was moving to Park Slope, Brooklyn. Not only was I lucky to find a nice roommate and a great apartment, but I also happened to move right near the Park Slope Food Co-op, where you can shop for local and organic food, in exchange for your time as a working member. I went to take my first informational tour of the store. A member about my age showed me the various types of produce, and explained the system. One of the things he mentioned was that the Food Co-op accepted food stamps.
"I should go on those..." I muttered. At the time I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed with my new expenses of New York living. I was paying rent, buying furniture, books, and my student loans wouldn't arrive for another month!
"You shouldn't joke about that." He looked sternly at me. "I've been on them. They are not cool."
I left feeling really ashamed.
Fast forward about five weeks: I am happy to be home for Rosh Hashanah. I survived the beginning of school, and can enjoy being back together with my family after being away from them last year in Israel. At services Rabbi Billy Dreskin is giving a sermon about poverty and hunger in America.
"I'm going on a diet!" He announced to the congregation. To make his frightening facts about hunger come alive, he will attempt to live on the budget equivalent to food stamps for one week. A food stamp participant receives $87 for the month, which translates into $21 for the week, which averages to less than $1 per meal. Now, I don't know how many Rabbis can claim their sermons really inspire their congregants to act, but I immediately knew that I had to take the challenge and try this too.
Below are some of my experiments and experiences on "Food Stamps." Although they can never really represent the choices or lifestyle of a real food stamp recipient, they have shown to me first hand, the dire situation that many people live with daily. My Rabbi informed us that 26 million Americans (13 million kids) struggle every day to survive on an average combination of income and grant of $1 per meal. I hope I can spread this message beyond my community to awaken us to a situation that we can help improve. I encourage you to learn from my experience, but also to do something! If you find what you read below troubling or disconcerting, write to your government in support of increased food stamp vouchers, help to encourage a more nutritious diet for food stamp recipients, keep donating healthy food to distribution programs, and maybe even bring this experiment to your community so they too can become aware first hand of the necessity for food and assistance. You can check out www.foodstampchallenge.org for more information.
DAY 1: WHEN TO BEGIN?
In choosing a day to begin my experiment, I already realized how fortunate I was. I had holiday dinners and parties to attend, all which centered around overeating! Could I consciously participate in this experiment where everywhere I went, I was surrounded with food? I realized how isolating it could feel to someone on a food budget during holidays. At first I considered that parties are a great place to find tons of free food, but I soon realized how many people's restrictive budgets also affect their social lives.
DAY 2: MAKING A SHOPPING LIST
Knowing that one can hardly find a full meal for one dollar, I decided to plan a shopping list for the week, from which I would prepare the rest of my meals. In making this list, I tried to balance food groups, but items like fresh fish, produce, meat, and poultry got very expensive quickly (and kosher or organic choices were out of the question). While making the list I checked local listings for sales. I also realized that cooking for more than one person at a time can actually save money by buying in bulk. I attempted to disregard any previous food that I had in the house before the project. While I bought new milk, cereal, and peanut butter, I did not include many staples for cooking like spices, oil, salt or pepper. Its amazing how you can find free condiments if you know where to look. Salt, pepper, butter, mayo, sugar, honey, and ketchup can be found in a number of fast food places and coffee shops.
WHAT I BOUGHT
12 oz sliced packaged American cheese - $2.99
1 package of whole wheat Bread - $1.89
8 oz package of store brand bologna - $1.99
1 dozen eggs - $1.99
1 can white albacore tuna - $1.40 per can
3 apples - 1.00 @ .33
16 oz store brand Peanut butter - $1.99
Box of spaghetti - $0.75
1 jar of tomato sauce - $2.50
16 oz white Rice - $ 0.69
1 can of red beans - $1.00
20 oz. box store brand Raisin bran - $3.50
½ Gallon skim milk - $2.19
I was at first very unhappy that my total did not even come to the $21.00 I had allotted for myself before tax. However, I was also proud of my list in that it had a lot of potential for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even snack combinations. Yet looking over at the list I notice many variations from my usual purchases. Things for example that I did purchase that I normally buy: prepackaged salad, baby carrots, yogurt, soda, orange juice, turkey, Munster cheese, chicken cutlets, snack foods, and frozen meals. Also noting that I spent all of my allotted money for the month, means that I had no money left over to go to a restaurant, pick up a pre-prepared meal, buy anything that I may have forgotten, or even buy a soda or a candy bar on the street, all things which I often do.
In terms of eating, this day was also difficult for me to get the hang of because I had not done my shopping yet. I ate a bagel with butter for breakfast that was a little over a dollar. I had a bag of chips for lunch for under a dollar, and frozen cheese tortellini for dinner, which cost me one dollar.
DAY 3: EATING
Breakfast: Raisin bran and milk
Lunch: bologna sandwich on wheat bread
Snack: ½ apple with peanut butter
Dinner: Egg and cheese with toast
My first day on the project, I experienced more psychological deprivation than actual hunger. I went to study with friends at Think, a coffee shop near HUC. I packed my food with me because I knew I could not afford to buy anything there. Taking out my smelly sandwich in the midst of people eating great looking soups, salads, and pastries is not only unappealing, but also embarrassing. The apple that I kept with me for a snack turned brown and unappetizing. I appreciate that they have free water and some samples. Also, the time seems to move by slowly because I cannot eat dinner until I get home to prepare it. I realize how little freedom one has on a tight budget. I keep a Nalgene bottle of water with me and refill it from any public sink or water fountain.
Breakfast: Raisin bran and milk
Lunch: ½ can Tuna with cheese
Snack: ½ apple with peanut butter
Dinner: Spaghetti with tomato sauce
My food was a slight variation from yesterday which was good. The meal is fairly balanced with fruit, protein, and carbs. I guess tomato sauce can count as a vegetable...unless tomatoes are a fruit? My psychological deprivation is better than yesterday, although I went to sleep last night and woke up feeling hungry. I also woke up with a bad cold. I debated whether I could spend more money on medicine. Since it isn't food, I figured it was ok, but it's amazing how these small expenses come up after I have spent all of my food stamp money. Now I just wish I would have bought some soup!
Breakfast: Raisin bran and milk
Lunch: Bologna on wheat bread
Snack: ½ apple with peanut butter
Dinner: rice and black beans
Dessert: Raisin bran with apple and sugar
I am feeling bored with my food choices. It feels redundant, making me crave for anything besides what I bought from the supermarket. Because of my cold, I stayed home for the day and rested, which made it a lot easier to stick to my diet. After dinner I really crave something sweet and dessert like so I poured sugar over the raisin bran, cut the remaining half of my apple and stuck it in the microwave- it was kind of like an apple crisp of some sort.
Breakfast: Eggs with toast and cheese
Lunch: triple-decker Peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread
Snack: Dry cereal- Raisin bran
Dinner: ½ tuna with spaghetti
Drinks: Water and...?
It felt great to switch up my foods a little today. I had eggs for breakfast, which left me a little more hungry than the raisin bran (I normally eat cereal for breakfast anyway). Today I was out of the house for a long time which made things really difficult. It is hard to pack enough food to take with you for the day. I hadn't even considered that the ziplock bags I am using to pack my food in were not part of my budget! I agreed to meet a friend for happy hour but one is not allowed to buy alcohol on food stamps and I had no money left in my budget. I let my friend buy me a beer (which I looked at as a donation). The beer tasted so good (compared to water) and even filled me up. When I got home the leftover tuna mixed with the spaghetti was pretty gross. It could have used salad dressing to give it some flavor.
Breakfast: Eggs with toast and cheese
Lunch: bologna sandwich on wheat bread
Snack: ½ apple with peanut butter and dry raisin bran
Dinner: Rice, beans, tomato sauce
By the end of the week I am craving meat! I try another bologna sandwich for lunch which is just salty and leaves me more hungry and thirsty. My last half an apple looks disgusting from being in the fridge all week and the peanut butter is salty as well. The tomato sauce doesn't really go well with the rice and beans but I wanted more flavor than last time. I haven't been weighing myself at all but I feel heavy and weighed down even though I am sure that I have lost some weight. I don't have as much energy as usual and I am always craving sugar or something sweet. I am feeling hungry and desperate for food all the time. My portions seem too small and I feel unsatisfied after every meal. I keep on persuading my boyfriend to give me tastes of his meals whenever he is eating. I am all out of apples and beans and I am running very low on bread and milk. But, I do still have a lot more peanut butter, sauce, and cheese, which means if I continued this diet through the next week I could possibly, splurge on more vegetables and chicken.
Last meal: McDonalds!
As my week comes to an end, I am craving none other than my favorite food. Figuring that the food stamp average is $1.00 per meal, I know I can afford a cheeseburger off of the dollar menu at McDonalds. But as I step up to the counter, smelling the wonderful french fry aroma that fills any McDonalds you enter, I hear myself ordering my favorite value meal, including the large fries and coke. I paid about six dollars, equivalent to all of my lunches of the week. It tastes great and feels guilty.
I couldn't last for more than a few days on "food stamps." Yet I don't think about food, or myself in the same way. My student loans have been processed and I realize that just because I have to budget my expensive NY lifestyle, this in no way puts me in the same category as the people who are uncertain about their next meal, or their next paycheck. I also am lucky that when I return home for Yom Kippur, my parents will have stocked the fridge with food I love for break-fast. When you consider your fasts this year, think about the people who may be eating, yet still feel the pangs of hunger everyday.
Shana Tova and g'mar tov
Posted by Lisa at 10:19 AM