Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Rosh Hashanah Really Rosh Hashanah?

Yesterday I wrote about Yom Kippur so today, naturally, I am going to talk about Rosh Hashanah. What fun is it to go in order. The more I celebrate this holiday, the more of an anomaly I find it. First of all, the holiday combines the theme of repentance, of starting the ten days of awe, or asking and praying for forgiveness, with the joyous aspect of celebrating the new year, of trying to get the year off on the correct foot. That dichotomy has always fascinated me.

A second aspect that I find interesting has to do with the fact that biblically, we do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Before you think I am not aware of the biblical reference, hold your comment. Certainly there is a reference to this holiday in the Torah. The Torah, however, references the first day of the seventh month. According to the Torah, Nissan (the month of Passover) is the first month. I am aware of all the different commentaries that explain how Tishrei (the month when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah) is really the first month, but the Torah never refers to it that way.

In addition, the Torah never refers to this day as the “New Year”, as Rosh Hashanah. The day is referred to as “Yom Hadin” (Judgment Day), Yom Hazikaron (The Day of Remembrance) and Yom Teruach (Loosely translated as the Day of Blowing the Shofar, since the Teruach is one of the notes blown on the shofar). Never is this day called the New Year.

It is fascinating how different customs, practices and beliefs come into being. Of course this is an important day and has significance. Still, there appear to have been some changes of the centuries that have been made to this holiday. It is just interesting to consider how things came to be.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Intense Versus Sad

Now that the Jewish Holidays are over, hopefully life can return to normal. I enjoy the Holidays but it is a bit much. I do have some reflections on the different holidays that I will be posting over the next few days (or weeks). Today I will start with Yom Kippur.

It is amazing to me how many people misunderstand the significance of this day. I was planning a lesson for Hebrew School and was looking at some YouTube videos. I look at the discussion that surrounded one of the videos about Yom Kippur. The comments were indicating that this was the saddest day on the Jewish Calendar.

Yom Kippur is intense, it is serious and it is important, but it is not a sad day. Judaism does have such a day, that day being Tisha B’Av. Yom Kippur, however, actually has a positive tone. The idea of Yom Kippur is purification, asking G-d for forgiveness so we can start the year with a clean slate. It is like the student who begins fresh at a new school. Instead of having the baggage follow you, you begin anew. That, certainly, is not a sad day.

It is true we deprive ourselves on this day in a number of ways. We are even told to afflict our souls. Still, a shehechayanu is made on this day (and it is only made on joyous occasions. We are told that we will be forgiven. So, I certainly disagree with the idea that Yom Kippur is the saddest day of the Jewish year, or even just a sad day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

You Can Come To Israel... But Don't Bring The Family

My sister, her husband and their family recently returned from Israel. Their oldest son was studying in Israel for the year and wanted to stay another year. Arrangements were being made and what I recently found out was, the yeshiva where my nephew was studying was putting pressure on him telling him according to halachah (Jewish Law), he was not allowed to return to the States. With finances being an issue, the Yeshiva was willing to help with financial aid.

The fact that my sister and the whole family went to Israel complicates this. This is the first time they have been to Israel as a family although both my sister and brother-in-law were there over 20 years ago. Due to the settling of my father’s estate, they were all able to go and my youngest nephew got an aliyah at the Kotel in honor of his Bar Mitzvah.

While traveling the Holy Land, my sister and brother-in-law received a call that the head of my nephew’s yeshiva wanted to talk with them and it was important. Apparently it is policy, as best my sister could determine, that they do not offer any financial aid to people if their family comes to Israel. I guess the thinking is, if they can afford a trip, they can afford the ridiculously expensive tuition of such institutions.

When my brother-in-law got in touch with the head of the yeshiva, they basically told him that if he interrupted, they would simply end the conversation. After listening to them go on for awhile, telling him that they no longer would accept my nephew because they were in Israel, my brother-in-law said, “But,”.

I assume the next step was to tell them how my father had recently passed away, it was the first trip they had taken since they were married, etc. He never got a chance to say any of it. As soon as he said, “But,” the person on the other end of the phone, the head of the yeshiva, hung up.

Personally, I think this is ridiculous and unscrupulous. First, trying to convince him that according to Jewish law he needed to stay, I think is unethical. Beyond that, instead of being willing to engage in a dialogue and hear what others have to say, the approach is to hang up, that they can have their say but no one else is allowed.

I think it is unfortunate that my nephew is caught in the middle and he is trying to find a way he can get back there. Personally, I think the yeshiva should be told exactly what they can do with it. By the way, my sister agrees but respects the wishes of her son and will allow him (as if she really has a choice) to try and find another way to pay for the schooling.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning An Aliyah

Have you ever wondered what ever possessed you to do something? In one more week I begin classes yet I have inquired about reading Torah in Mid-September. Unlike some people who are very talented, it takes me a number of weeks to prepare. As a result, right as the semester starts hitting the busy season, shortly before I will be taking time off for the Jewish Holidays, I will be busy preparing an aliyah.

Fortunately I was smart enough to only “Volunteer” to read one aliyah, and fortunately, it is not that long. Yes, it will take some preparation but it could be much worse.

So why is it that I am looking to chant this aliyah? Well, my Mom’s yahrzeit is coming up and I have always tried to mark the anniversary of her passing on the Jewish calendar by chanting at least one aliyah. She had the opportunity to hear my chant a few Haftorot but, other than my Bar Mitzvah, I don’t think she ever heard me chant Torah. Certainly she always knew and, more importantly, believed, I could do it but I never did. Now, as a way to honor her memory, I try to follow the custom of being able to read from Torah on the Shabbat before her Yahrzeit.

Certainly, when it comes to parents, they do (or in my case, did) a lot for kids so it is important to me to do the things I can to keep their memories alive and to honor them. So, putting in the time to learn the aliyah will certainly be worthwhile.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jewish Holidays And Teaching

I am currently in the process of devising my course syllabus for the upcoming semester. While I am only an adjunct, and I am only teaching on Tuesday/Thursday classes this year, the Jewish Holidays certainly pose a challenge. For the first time since I have been teaching, I am actually going to need to take off one day for each holiday. Usually because Yom Kippur is 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, (unlike the other holidays which are weeks apart, so they fall on the same day of the week), I don’t need four days. In fact, due to holidays on the weekends, there have been times I have been able to avoid taking days off.

I used to feel uncomfortable, bad, maybe even slightly guilty when I had to take classes off. I understand that class needs to be in session for a certain number of hours each semester and I felt I had an obligation. In addition, being an adjunct, it is not as easy as one might think to find someone to cover your classes.

I no longer feel guilty. The fact is, when the College wants something out of me, they do not hesitate to ask and I try to accommodate them. Still, and yes I am going back a couple of years, when I applied for a full-time teaching position at the College, I was not even brought in for an interview. So, they are willing to use me for what suits there needs but I am not good enough to even be considered for something full-time.

My feeling now is, I do what I need to. I make the necessary arrangements. Either I will send in a video tape, give them an in-class writing assignment or give them out of class time to research their speech. This will fulfill the needs of the college, and allow me to do what I need to do.

Still, with four days off over a month period, it does make it difficult to get into a routine. I’m sure, however, I will manage.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All Systems Go

Three weeks ago I posted an entry about the trials and tribulations of trying to get in and sign a contract to continue teaching in the computer lab of the religious school where I have taught the past two years. After having the scheduled meeting cancelled numerous times (once by me and four or five times by them), the meeting finally took place. Everything went smoothly and I will be back there again come September.

In the meeting, I found out about plans to purchase additional software for the computer, upgrades that they want to make and some purchases for some computer accessories. They did ask for my input, which pleased me. I couldn’t help but think, “Good things come to those who wait.”

While I would like to get started, in terms of planing for the first few sessions, things have not yet been finalized. They still have to decide which teachers will be coming to the lab when. Obviously, until I know the age of the students and the subject the teacher is covering, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to prepare a lesson plan.

Still, I am looking forward to preparing the plan and to the year ahead.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I know that it is not supposed to be easy but I am glad that the Tisha B’av fast is over. For me, I find this the toughest fast of all the ones on the Jewish Calendar. Although this one and Yom Kippur are both full 25 hour fasts, since this one takes place during the heat of summer and goes longer into the evening, meaning you have longer to go after you wake up the next morning, I find it tougher.

Perhaps if I brought my weight back under control, that might make it easier. While logic would seem to suggest that the more you eat heading into a fast, the easier it will be, the truth is that if you eat less, you slow your metabolism and that makes it easier to fast.

There was a time when I had my weight under control, I took off a lot of extra pounds. It is time to do that again. Will power, the help of others and maybe some diet pills will make it easier.

Regardless, I am glad this fast is now behind me.