Monday, August 22, 2005

The Soul of Judaism?

Read this article (click on the heading of this post). It's an Op-Ed piece from today's Jerusalem Post online edition. In it the author, Nathan Lopes Cardozo, dean of the David Cardozo Academy in Jerusalem, argues that in Israel today there is a deep void in the fabric of Israeli society, which presents itself as a lack of sprituality, when in fact, according to Cardozo, there is a lack of Menchlichkeit, or manners, and proper treatment of one's fellow Jew. He goes further than I would (he states that there are too many Yeshivot, for example), but he makes some very good points about the direction in which Israel is headed.

But isn't all of this true here as well? Isn't it true everywhere? Is it just Israelis who are reaching for some sense of spirituality, something that is intangible, yet Hollywood makes us think is easy to obtain by following their simple steps toward self-fulfillment? In his book, Twersky on Spirituality, Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky, M.D., defines sprituality as humanity - the state of being a person. Thinking, feeling, working, having a goal. Animals lack the ability to deny their own physical needs, hence they are not free to choose. Man, who can supress his desires based on morals or ethics, without any fear of retribution or punishment, is uniquely free, and this is what makes him human. All things that are uniquely human make up the human spirit, and therefore humanity is spirituality.

All mankind looks for some form of personal fulfillment, and, in doing so, we tend to trample on one other's humanity/spirituality (yes, sometimes inadvertently). What we need to focus on is not so much our own selfish needs, like animals, for giving in to our desires is the opposite of spirituality. We need to focus on the needs of our society as a whole, by ensuring that we take care of each other's needs one at a time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Comic Relief

Oy, as hard as everything involving the Disengagement has been on everyone involved and tens of thousands (more?) around the world who have been focusing on it so closely lately, it's sometimes nice to have some comic relief.

I found the following article posted this evening on a fairly strange blog, which I had never seen before, and I found it very interesting. Unfortunately I was unable to find the actual, original article, supposedly disseminated by the Associated Press, after several Google searches. But I did find a press release about the same topic on the website of the organization mentioned.

Here's the "article" as I found it:

Animal rights group awaits permission to enter Gaza to save strays
By The Associated Press

An Animal rights group is trying to rescue dogs and cats left behind by settlers being evacuated in the Gaza Strip.

Hakol Chai (Everything Lives) is awaiting permission to bring in a mobile veterinary clinic replete with cages, traps and trained staff.

"Cats and dogs left behind by departing settlers have no ability to survive under the extreme conditions that will exist during and after the disengagement," said Merav Barlev, the group's director. "Without our help, when all that remains is dust and ruins, those who escape the massive bulldozers will die of hunger, thirst, and injuries."

Art and the Metric System

Sometimes, I hear a snatch of a song a couple of times, and it recurringly pops up in my head months later, often triggered by a word or tone that sounds like something in the song. So it is with some songs by various contemporary Israeli artists. I don't listen to them regularly (though I'd like to start buying some of their work one of these days), but I occasionally hear them played at a Yom Ha'atzma'ut party, in someone's car, or on Internet radio.

Recently, my cranial DJ has been periodically spinning a theme from what Google tells me is an Achinoam Nini (aka Noa) song. It goes:
(Transliteration of Hebrew): baMEEliMETter shebeiNEE l'veinCHA
(Translation): In the millimeter between me and you

Now, it's occurred to me that this line could never work in an American song. In the US, a word like "millimeter" has overtones of scientific specialization, and there's no equivalently tiny measurement in the common parlance. "Sixteenth of an inch"? Too difficult to fit in a song, and anyway, makes it sound like a carpenter's singing. We just don't have an occupationally unladen way to express such a small distance.

An additional exploitation of the Metric System comes in a variant of this theme at the beginning of one of the verses:
baKEEloMETter shebeiNEE l'veinCHA
In the kilometer between me and you
This works well in Hebrew because "millimeter" and "kilometer" are pronounced therein in a way that lets them fit into the same, ah, meter. In addition, because mm and km share a basic unit, the contrast between the two variants of the line is stronger than if "inch" and "mile" were in their place.

So, interestingly (to me, at least), a particular artistic idea -- in this case one that achieved a great deal of popularity -- was enabled only because of a country's choice of standard measurement system. You don't normally expect decisions of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for example, to impact the art world, but there it is.

Actually, the affect on art is indicative of a more general affect on what thoughts are available to people. The use of the Metric System by the general public allows everyone to conceptualize many different scales, from milli- to mega- (and beyond), and to understand intuitively how they relate to each other.

Ironically, the effect here is the opposite of what you might expect after reading George Orwell. The Newspeak he invented for Nineteen Eighty-Four would have approved heartily of the Metric System, since it uses one basic word per concept and forces all related words into modifications of that word (e.g. "doubleplusungood" instead of "horrible"). However, the intent of this feature of Newspeak was to limit the kinds of thoughts people can think, while, as I've demonstrated, the Metric System actually enabled an artistic expression that the more varied vocabulary of inches, feet, and miles hampers.

** Cross-posted from Mosi

Monday, August 15, 2005

Purpose of This Blog

I just realized this morning that I have to accept the fact that New York is currently, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the hub of the worldwide Jewish community, at least in the eyes of most Americans. Even though Israel has the largest concentration of Jews in the world, and is predicted to surpass the US in Jewish population by next year, your typical American Jew still thinks that NY is the New Jerusalem (a title formerly held by Berlin). There is also a belief among most New Yorkers, Jewish and non-Jewish, that New York is the center of America, and among many Americans that America is the center of the world (hence, to New Yorkers, NY is the center of the world). Therefore, especially to NY Jews, NY is the center of the Jewish world.

It is because of this belief that NY Jews tend to refer to all other Jews as "out of towners". This is true even when they are not in NY. When I was in Israel for the year to study in Yeshiva, a NYer in my Yeshiva brazenly referred to non-Americans in this predominantly Israeli Yeshiva, located in Israel, as "foreigners" and to non-New Yorkers as "out of towners". This is not new and it will not end soon. The "Jblogosphere" is also dominated by NY Jews and American 'Olim. This is slightly different from the rest of the Jewish world, in the sense that Israel gets more or less an equal voice to the New Yorkers', and there are in a sense two equal halves of the "Jblogosphere". But I am sad to say that we, the non-New Yorkers, who are stuck in Shmutz LaAretz, have to struggle for our voice. We sometimes have a different perspective on issues facing Jews and Judaism than the NY Jews or the American 'Olim. That is why this blog was started. It should have been started much earlier, but I guess this is a case of "better late than never".

Below are some stats I found on Jewish population this morning (I'm not sure how accurate they are - the WJC numbers at the bottom seem awfully high to me, but those numbers are from nearly a decade ago, so who knows?):

US population = 6,155,000 jews, acc. to; 5.2 million acc. to UJC in 2001
NY = 1.4 million jews (UJC)

WJC 1998:
US 5.8 million
Israel 4.847 million
France .6 mil
Russia .55 mil
Ukraine .4 mil
Canada .36 mil
UK .3 mil

City populations (WJC 1998):
NY 1.75 mil
Miami 535,000
LA 490,000
Paris 350,000