Ari Shavit put it succinctly in Friday’s Haaretz:

A spirit of absolute folly – Haaretz – Israel News

Instead of being constructive elites, in the past generation the Israeli elites have become dismantling elites. Each in its own area, each by its own method, dealt with the deconstruction of the Zionism enterprise. Step by step, the top 1000th percentiles abandoned the existential national effort. They stopped doing reserve duty, they stopped sending their sons to the fighting units. They mocked those officers who warned about unilateral withdrawals. They mocked those officers who warned that the emergency warehouses were emptying out and the enemies were becoming stronger. And they deceived themselves and those around them that Tel Aviv is in fact Manhattan. Money is in fact everything. And thus they bequeathed to young Israelis a legacy of values that makes it very difficult for them to attack even when the attack is fully justified. Because a country that lacks equality, that lacks justice and that lacks faith in the rightness of its path, is a country for which it is very difficult to go on the attack. It is a country for which not many are willing to kill and be killed.

Well, not so succinctly, perhaps, but spot on.

And in the meantime, we are here burying our sons. I know I’ve grown up now that I’m reading the names of the dead soldiers for sons of my friends, and not my friends…

Yesterday, speaking with S., a reservist home on furlough to visit his father, and my son (7 and 1/2) sitting there, speaks up “Abba, what if someone from Israel goes into Lebanon to save the innocent, and gets them out, but then dies in their place. Could that happen? Do people die doing things like that?” S. and I raised our eyebrows. “It’s confusing, this war business, to a child,” said S.

“It’s confusing to all of us.” I said.

This morning’s news was mixed: 24 soldiers dead. IDF forces on the banks of the Litani.

What does my friend Alex like to say? “A Jewish state is, by definition an unsustainable proposition – you need an A-bomb to keep it together.”

So war causes tremendous environmental damage, but what should we do, just lie down and let the extremists slaughter us?

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Lester Brown | Rescuing a Planet Under Stress

Energy consultant Harry Braun points out that, since wind turbines are similar to automobiles in the sense that each has an electrical generator, a gearbox, an electronic control system, and a brake, they can be mass-produced on assembly lines. Indeed, the slack in the US automobile industry is sufficient to produce a million wind turbines per year. The lower cost associated with mass production could drop the cost of wind-generated electricity below 2� per kilowatt-hour. Assembly-line production of wind turbines at “wartime” speed would quickly lower urban air pollution, carbon emissions, and the prospect of oil wars.

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OK, so not everyone wants to find the latest biblical scholarship technology. I know. It certainly has little to do with sustainability or technology.

But it’s very cool!

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Since my rejection from HUC (number 3 – I’m a sucker for punishment!) I have been struggling with myself: I know that my performance in the interview was not charismatic, and that is the main reason the Reform Movement doesn’t want me as a rabbi. A recent post on IWORSHIP, a Reform email list, contained this lay explanation: “We search for rabbis according to their ability to lead, teach and inspire. We search for cantors according to their ability to sing and teach bnai mitzvah. Inspiration is a bonus.” – which kind of explains why a certain Rabbi on the HUC Israeli Program committee suggested that I become a cantor, not a rabbi.

On another list, there has been an ongoing discussion about charisma and leadership, following last month’s debacle, the unmasking of Bayit Chadash’s Rabbi Mordechai Gafni (with whom I at one time had hoped to study, until I heard about his shadow side).

Rabbi David Bockman wrote this very moving letter. I imagine that if I had set out to study for the Rabbinate when I first heard the call, I might be in the same place. His words speak very deeply of my own feelings:


This will not be a well thought out and crafted note. I’m not asking for a specific answer to a query, but I wanted to open up a discussion of the sort that seems to be rising in importance these days. Or maybe it’s just my personal hang-up…

It seems to me (LAD) that *personality* is becoming more important in the job/profession of a rabbi these days, or – at least – it’s gaining in prominence. Here are some of the factors that make me think this:

– when I graduated from JTS (’86), the expectation was that being a congregational rabbi was about halacha, about pastoral care and leadership (whatever that means), about programming, about education (I had learned these things pretty well)
– somewhere between then and now, there was a lot of focus on ‘systems’ (congregational cultures) and how to manage them (CEO model? – Elliot Schoenberg is very big into these ideas)
– some current trends: Mordecai Gafni, Shlomo Carlebach, etc. Personality or charisma seems to be a decisive factor in success these days, whether or not one’s music is very good music or one’s torah is very intelligent or true torah

After all, look at George W. Bush. He seems to ‘chariz’ many people (I don’t seem to be one of them), but it’s not because of his knowledge or his success in organizing the country into a system that seems stable and successful, at least from the way I see it.

Sure, he pushes his agenda through, but it’s like a baby that cries and gets its parents to give up their own aspirations for a number of years. Because it is insistant and single-minded, the baby ‘wins’. That should not be looked to as a desideratum, though. Saying that someone gets results is not – to me – anything to recommend them. Only if you say that the results are good or wise or just or legally sound do results really mean much to me.

I’ve been in the rabbinate for 20 years now. I know that I’m not much of a charismatic person, and I never will be. I also know that I’m very intelligent, creative, sweet and a deep and considerate thinker. I’ve never been extremely popular, but I’ve always stood up for people on the fringes whom celebrity types seem to disenfranchise or crush somehow. That’s who I am, and as the years go on, I become more like myself.

Should I just hang it up and pursue a different career than the pulpit rabbinate? My wife would love that, certainly. Maybe the placement commission would be happy to never have to try to send my resume to any more congregations that want mainstream rabbis.

L’idach gissa, I feel drawn to this work, because I feel I have *different* things to do and teach. My new shul president tells me about how my sermons don’t speak to the people because they don’t make them happy and aren’t topical enough or simply structured enough (“they don’t end when you think they will”). But almost every shabbat I have someone come to me and say “that sermon really spoke to me, and I needed to hear it. Thank you,” or “you really hit the nail on the head,” or “Man, I
hope that Bar Mitzvah kid listens to what you said because it was beautiful and it was just what he needed to hear.”

I’ve been compared (unfavorably) over the last number of years to other clergy people who I am told have charisma and people are drawn to them. Yet, when I see the abuses these people perpetrate and the way they destroy communities either for their personal gain or for extremist causes they support, it makes me want to cry.

I don’t believe that charismatic people are *by their very nature* narcissistic and corrupt. I just know that I’m not one of ’em. And I am foolish enough to think that by doing the work I do I can benefit Jews and Jewish communities and bring more of God’s Torah to light.

Am I deluding myself? Should I try to be surfacy and ‘pretty’ and ‘happy’ to keep a job, even though I feel I am really doing a disservice to the community? Should I focus on getting sippuk nefesh from writing, in this era when nobody reads anymore?

Has the wheel of fate rolled in such a direction that someone like me ought to get out? Might it someday soon roll another way? I know that there are few prophets these days, and of those hardly any are anywhere near accurate, but still…

Is this truly a big culture trend, or has it really always been this way?
Any ideas, eitzot, discussion?

R’ David Bockman
Bergenfield, NJ
(UJ &) JTS ’86

I pray to have the opportunity to serve.


I want to make something clear – I continued to knock down the door at HUC for 5 years, not because I have some masochistic wish to make a fool of myself, nor for any great love of the program, one to one identity with the movement, or other ideological center, but for one very meaningful reason – HUC is the only liberal movement with a Rabbinical School in Israel. (Masorti is not liberal in my book – I cook on shabbat, for one thing…)

I desperately don’t want to uproot my family forever, just to get rabbinical ordination. If I didn’t care about that, I’d be in Philadelphia or Boston already for a year.

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i wrote this comment on Shalom Auslander’s nextbook page:
Nextbook: House of the Holy

Now go write in the holy tongue. After twenty years in the Promised Land, I can’t write either English or Hebrew. Can’t, that is, but at the moment am, or should be both, but as the form and the site are probably Hebrew-unabled, I’m doing it in English to work out my block on the Hebrew side of my brain.

I hadn’t thought of the holiness fear thing. I guess that’s because I didn’t grow up catholic, er, orthodox. Interesting set of fears.

I want to add that there are some more issues involved in writers’ block, whatever it is and whether it exists at all. Some psychologists or psychiatrists or neuroscientists talk about actual physical blocks in the brain, whatever it may have been that put them there. I think Peter Whybrow, maybe, writes about it in one of his books.

Like why was it that I couldn’t remember the name of Caleb Carr as I was writing an email this morning, and only when I typed out “early 20th Century New York mystery novel with Teddy Roosevelt” and pushed the enter key on the window did his name come out. Until then I could only think of a name that -now- eludes me!

I have to say that writers writing about writing is probably pretty boring to anyone except another writer, Though.

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Desert Cities Are Living on Borrowed Time, UN Warns

Desert Cities Are Living on Borrowed Time, UN Warns
By John Vidal
The Guardian UK

Monday 05 June 2006

Climate change threatens conditions for 500 million. But report points to huge solar energy potential.

The 500 million people who live in the world’s desert regions can expect to find life increasingly unbearable as already high temperatures soar and the available water is used up or turns salty, according to the United Nations.

Desert cities in the US and Middle East, such as Phoenix and Riyadh, may be living on borrowed time as water tables drop and supplies become undrinkable, says a report coinciding with today’s world environment day.

Twentieth-century modernist dreams of greening deserts by diverting rivers and mining underground water are wholly unrealistic, it warns.

But the report also proposes that deserts become the powerhouses of the next century, capturing the world’s solar energy and potentially exporting electricity across continents. For instance, a 310-square mile area of the Sahara could, with today’s technology, generate enough electricity for the whole world.

The problem now facing many communities on the fringes of deserts, says the UN environment programme report, is not the physical growth of deserts but that rising water tables beneath irrigated soils are leading to more salinisation – a phenomenon already taking place across large tracts of China, India, Pakistan and Australia. The Tarm river basin in China, it says, has lost more than 5,000 square miles of farmland to salinisation in a period of 30 years.

The report suggests that Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia have used water from the desert very unwisely. Rather than growing staple crops such as wheat or tomatoes, it suggests that precious water should be used only for high value crops such as dates and fish farming.

The mining “fossil” water, laid down many millions of years ago, was once believed to have the potential to green deserts, but is now not thought to be a solution – except in Libya, where opinion is divided as to whether supplies may last 100 or 500 years.

But the greatest threat to people and wildlife living anywhere near deserts is climate change, which is already having a greater impact on desert regions than elsewhere. The Dashti Kbir desert in Iran has seen a 16% drop in rainfall in the past 25 years, the Kalahari a 12% decline and Chile’s Atacama desert an 8% drop.

Most deserts, says the report, will see temperatures rise by 5-7C by the end of the century and rainfall drop 10-20%. This will greatly increase evaporation and dust storms, and will move deserts closer to communities living on their edges.

The problems of more heat and lower rainfall are being compounded by the melting of glaciers in mountainous regions. These waters sustain life in deserts but would be perilously close to drying up if global warming continued as expected.

The glaciers in the mountains of south Asia are expected to decline by 40% to 80% in the next century with profound effects on large populations in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and China.

Much of the water used for farming the south-west US, central Asia and around the Andes is drawn from rivers that originate in snow-covered mountains, says the report.

Development in the next 100 years is largely contingent on what happens to the climate. However, the report envisages that deserts will become more popular tourist destinations and that some of the plants that grow there could be “crops of the future”.

“Deserts are threatened as never before by climate change, overexploitation of water and salinisation,” said Professor Andrew Warren of University College London, one of the report’s authors.

“We risk losing not only astounding landscapes and ancient cultures but also wild species that may hold keys to our survival.”

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Pessach Hagadot

April 6, 2006

I haven’t posted here for ages, but here are some funky Hagaddot available on pdf to add to the pot:HAGGADAH ZINE

Are you looking for a politically progressive, anti-racist haggadah that includes beautiful writing, ritual, humor and reflection? Wish you could find a haggadah that is in solidarity with Palestinian liberation, and also rich with multicultural Jewish traditions and history?

Then there’s Velveteen Rabbi�s Haggadah for Pesach

Several years ago I became dissatisfied with the haggadah my family had always used for Pesach. I wanted something that moved freely between traditional texts and contemporary poetry, written and assembled with a progressive spirit but usable by Jews (and non-Jews) across the political spectrum. I wanted something that would draw seder participants in, offering opportunities to speak singular fears and dreams as well as chances to sing together and pray together.

Out of that liturgical longing arose what has come to be one of my favorite recurring projects: writing, editing, and assembling a haggadah for Pesach.