The Jewish Daily Forward reporter Paul Berger recently viewed the Lives of the Great Patriotic War: the Untold Stories of Soviet Jewish Veterans in the Red Army during WWII exhibit, which is now on display at the 92Y Weill Art Gallery. The exhibit looks at the participation of 500,000 Soviet Jewish soldiers in the fight against fascism during WWII (known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War).
Berger interviewed both Blavatnik Archive director Julie Chervinsky, who organized the exhibition, and Semeon Grigorevich Shpiegel, one of the soldiers featured in the exhibit.
The veterans’ stories are well worth the concentration it takes to explore the exhibition. But they are conveyed most accessibly by a 15-minute video of interview snippets that loops on a television screen set up on a table next to a wall.
In the film, Vladimir Ilyich Nemets recalls seeing cotton fly out of the back of the coats of the soldiers running in front of him as the men were gunned down. Dora Motelevna Nemirovskaya recalls the “tchok-tchok-tchok” of sniper fire exploding around her as she struggled to bandage a gruesome stomach wound.
Although anti-Semitism was rare in the trenches, Chervinsky said that many Jewish soldiers felt they had to fight harder and act braver “so no one would say, ‘He’s a Jewish coward.’” She said Jewish veterans also recounted how they had “an extra score to settle with Hitler” after they found out about the Holocaust.
But for the most part, Judaism played a secondary role to the veterans’ identities as Soviet citizens. Often in the exhibition, the most striking elements of their stories are not the Jewish ones but the universal ones — the senselessness and randomness of war.
Lives of the Great Patriotic War: the Untold Stories of Soviet Jewish Veterans in the Red Army during WWII is on display at the 92Y Weill Art Gallery until December 6. The exhibit features war-time diary and letter excerpts, reproductions of archival photographs and documents, as well as excerpts from contemporary oral testimonies.
Upcoming Jewish Interest Talks at 92Y include Debbie Wasserman Schulz in Conversation with Thane Rosenbaum (Dec 11); Our Movies Ourselves: Jews & Film (Dec 15); Reaching the Jewish Community in the 21st Century (Jan 8); The Hidden Jews of the Holocaust (Jan 10).
Finding A Lost Tribe of Israel: The Bnei Menashe of India
Check out this video excerpt from the Israeli TV (Ch. 10) documentary, Avudim B’Hodu (Lost in India), by Ilan Goren, about the Bnei Menashe Jewish community of northeast India. Learn more about this community by joining us next Monday, November 28, for Finding a Lost Tribe of Israel: The Bnei Menashe of India featuring community leader Yochanan Phaltual in conversation with Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund. Save 15% on tickets by using promo code RCJDPP when ordering!
This week’s Parshah (Torah Portion) describes the lives of Yaakov (Jacob) and Esav (Esau), the twin sons of Yitzchak (Isaac), the third generation of the Jewish people. Once again, the question will be; which brother will be the one chosen to be the next leader of the Jewish people? In the end it is Yaakov who is selected. The great French Medieval commentator Rashi points out on Bereshit/Genesis 25:27 that Esav was an idle worshipper, and Yaakov chose a life of Jewish learning. This is obviously why Yaakov was selected as the leader.
How could it be that Esav, the grandson of Avraham (Abraham); who was the founder of Judaism, who brought the concept of monotheism to the world, and the person who God chose to establish the Brit (Covenant); how could Esav choose to worship idols? How could it be that Esav, who had Yitzchak (Isaac) as a father and Rivka (Rebecca) as a mother, the second couple to represent the Covenant turn out this way? Lastly, as already mentioned, Yaakov ends up becoming one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people. One of the ways the Jewish people are known is as Kehilat Yaakov, (The Community of Jacob). Later, Yaakov will receive a new name from God, Yisrael (Israel), and that will become our name and the name of our homeland. Yet his twin brother Esav not only does not become the leader of the Jewish people, but he chooses a life of idol worship. Why did Esav choose this path?
Watch the video above and experience the fun of Shababa at 92nd Street Y. Then learn more online and come be a part of the Shababa community in person. You can also be a part of the Shababa community on Facebook!
Shababa The Concert - 2012 is scheduled for Sunday, February 5th 2012 at 3 pm. Mark your calendars!
This week’s Parsha (Torah Portion) deals with the death of Sarah. The Parsha begins with stating how old Sarah was when she died. Sarah died at the age of 127. However, that is not the way the Torah phrases it. The Torah says in Bereshit/Genesis 23:1 “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life”. Why does the Torah state Sarah’s age in such a strange and awkward way? Why does the Torah not just simply say that Sarah was 127?
Many people want to be a different age than what they are at any given moment in their lives. When you are a child, you dream of being a teenager. When you are a teenager, you dream of being in your twenties. Once you reach your thirties, suddenly you want be younger. Children yearn to be grownups, and grownups idealize the experiences of their youth. I think the idea being expressed by the unique way the Torah describes Sarah’s age is that whatever age she happened to be, she appreciated the value and dignity of that age. When she was 100, she embraced all that being 100 entails, and likewise at 20, at 7 and at every age and stage in her life.
While Sarah realized this, few of us today realize it, particularly when it comes to our older years. Many people today desire, as they age, to be younger. There is an entire industry that both feeds this desire and feeds off of this desire. Clothing stores, makeup companies, stylists and even the medical establishment all market themselves based on this phenomenon. Obviously, there is nothing wrong and everything right about looking and especially feeling our best. However, no one should be made to feel that looking and feeling their best in synonymous with being a certain age.
There is another problem with an obsession over youth. Over-valuing youth produces a corresponding devaluation of the responsibility of a society towards caring for people in their older years. With such an emphasis on what is positive about being young and trying to stay young, the needs of the elderly, and the value of their contribution to society, are too often overlooked. Shemot/Exodus 20:12 teaches the Mitzvah, the Commandment, to honor your father and mother. Rarely in Torah are we told of a reward for a given Mitzvah. However, for the Mitzvah of respecting our parents we are told that we will receive the reward of living a long life. Why? What does respecting your parents have to do with living a long life?
This week’s Parsha (Torah Portion) teaches through narrative the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, the commandment of welcoming guests. At the beginning of the Parsha, Avraham (Abraham) is found sitting in his Ohel (tent), which according to the Midrash, Yalkut Shmoni on Parhsat Veyera was designed in such a way that he could see visitors coming from all directions. In essence it was open on all four sides, enabling Avraham to not only to see any travelers who might be coming, but to indicate that those travelers would be welcome to food, drink or shelter.
Avraham was so committed to being open to welcoming guests that according to the Talmud in Bava Metzia 86b, he sat out in the hot sun despite the fact that this was the third day after his Brit Milah (A Jewish religious circumcision, to bring a Jewish male into the covenant of the Jewish people and God). According to Bereshit/Genesis 17:24, he was 99 years old at the time; imagine the painful state he was in, recovering from his circumcision at such an old age, without the benefit of the anesthesia we have today. The Parsha goes on to describe in detail how Avraham takes care of three travelers, (who according to Rashi, Bereshit/Genesis 18:2 were melachim, angels sent by God). He welcomes them and serves them a meal.
Obviously, this story is about Avraham’s willingness to open himself to guests. However, there is a deeper meaning as well. It is a powerful, symbolic idea that Avraham’s tent is opened up on all four sides. Perhaps we are supposed to learn something through this imagery, and through Avraham himself, a lesson about what it means to be “open.”
One of the greatest songwriters of all times is Bruce Springsteen. I still remember the first time I heard his classic song “Born To Run”. It hit me very powerfully with it’s theme of journey. That is how I feel when I hear the opening of this weeks Torah portion Lech Lecha.
Lech Lecha tells the story of the rather unusual birth of the Jewish nation. In Bereishit/Genesis 12:1, God commands Avram (Abram, who will eventually be known as Avraham/Abraham): “Go for yourself (Lech Lecha) from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” We read no theology, see no miracles and receive no proof of God’s existence. God simply tells Avram to go on a journey. The command itself is also unusual: Lech Lecha, “Go for yourself.” The Torah could have simply used the single word Lech, “Go,” and identify where Avram was coming from and where he was headed. It is unnecessary to add the word Lecha, “for yourself.” The word Lecha seems superfluous and somewhat awkward. It is more logical to say, simply, “Go.” Why Lech Lecha? Perhaps because the Torah teaches us that Avram’s journey is a journey of self, not simply of geography. God does not just tell Avram to go on a physical journey, but commands Avram to go on a spiritual journey as well. When God says Lech Lecha, “Go for yourself,” God commands Avram to begin a journey to try to understand God.
92Y Guest Blog: Connecting To The Weekly Torah Portion With Rabbi David Kalb
Rabbi David Kalb is the Director of Jewish Education for the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at 92nd Street Y. At 92Y Rabbi Kalb directs and teaches a variety of different learning programs for a range of ages. He also officiates at Jewish life cycle events and serves as a Jewish resource to the entire professional staff and lay leadership of the 92Y. Today he wrote the following guest blog for 92Y:
What is a Tzaddik? - Noach
In this week’s parsha (Torah Portion), the Torah refers to Noach (Noah) as a tzaddik, a righteous person (Bereishit/Geneses 6:9). It is very rare in the Tanach (The Bible) and Jewish literature in general to find a person who is called a tzaddik. Moshe (Moses) does not receive this title; neither does Avraham (Abraham). Why then is Noach worthy of being referred to as a tzaddik? The French Medieval commentator Rashi comments that Noach was a tzaddik in his generation, but if he had lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been given the title tzaddik.
What Is The Role Of Religion In Developing A Sense Of Morality?
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior religion editor for the The Huffington Post, recently spoke to Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks “about his understanding of the role of religion in developing a sense of morality in our globalized world.” The interview is excerpted below.
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: You said earlier this is not necessarily a religious thing. How do you talk about a moral sense if it is not the “voice of God”?
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: I’m saying that we in the religious community have taken the lead in creating a normative community of business people and financiers who have ethical expectations of one another. It’s done by creating the standards that people expect of one another if they are part of the community.
And this leads to a discovery in a different area that Robert Putnam made in his book “American Grace.” He points out that it’s not so much what you believe that makes the difference; it’s being part of a community. Science Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr had a horseshoe over his door, and he was visited by a fellow scientist, who was amazed and said: “Niels, surely you can’t believe in that superstitious nonsense.” And Niels responded: “Of course I don’t believe in it, but the thing is, it works whether you believe in it or not.”
That is what Robert Putnam was saying about community, and it is what I am saying about community: It works whether you believe in it or not. In the end, our business ethics association works because the leading business people had an influence over their peers and said: We have power, therefore we have responsibility.
The Administrative Offices and Y-Charge are closed for the Jewish Holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on Oct 20 and 21. Y-Charge will re-open at 9am on Sun, Oct 23. The May Center for Health, Fitness and Sport is open and all May Center classes and programs are being held. The Administrative Office of the School of Arts is also open, and all classes and private lessons in the School of Arts will be held as scheduled.
92Y Video: The Jewish Connection: Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah with Rabbi David Kalb
Following other videos on the High Holidays, today Rabbi David Kalb, Director of Jewish Education for the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at 92nd Street Y, discusses Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Immediately following the last day of Sukkot, we celebrate the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally, the Eighth Day of Assembly. Simchat Torah, literally, the Joy of Torah, marks the completion and restart of the yearly cycle of Torah reading. The day is one of the most joyous of the entire year. All of the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and people march around the synagogue singing and dancing with the scrolls. Children also dance around the synagogue carrying flags and miniature Torahs. These processions around the synagogue are known as hakafot.
Rabbi David Kalb and 92Y wishes all of you a wonderful Simchat Torah!
92Y Video: The Jewish Connection: Sukkot Rabbi David Kalb
The Jewish Connection: Sukkot with Rabbi David Kalb: “I think,” Rabbi Kalb said, “what it’s really talking about is the experience of journey. That’s what Sukkot is really about… A journey to transform ourselves as people.”
Tomorrow, join us for a Sukkot Open House. And after the jump below, read Rabbi Kalb’s script for the Sukkot video.
Above is great video, recorded by an audience member, featuring the “Shababa Mamas” singing Eyn Keloheynu at Rosh Hashana Family Services on September 29 at 92nd Street Y. The services were led by Karina Zilberman, Director of Jewish Family Life and Culture at 92Y. See more videos of the Shababa Mamas on the 92Y Shababa Facebook page.
In 1926, the chaplains who served in World War I erected the first chaplains’ monument at Arlington National Cemetery, dedicated to the memory of their 23 colleagues who gave their lives in that conflict.
In 1981, a separate monument was erected to memorialize 134 Protestant chaplains who died in World War I and II. Eight years later, a similar memorial to 83 Catholic chaplains who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam was consecrated on Chaplains Hill.
Now, through the efforts of many individuals and organizations of all faiths, a memorial to the 14 Jewish chaplains who died while on active duty in WWII, The Cold War and Vietnam will stand alongside those of their Protestant and Catholic brethren.
Before its formal dedication on October 24, 2011 the new monument will be displayed at different venues across the East Coast, including 92nd Street Y on October 6 from 8 am to 3 pm.
Please join 92Y, our Jewish War Veteran Community, Rear Admiral Harold L. Robinson and Rabbi David Kalb to honor our nation’s fallen Jewish Chaplains on Thursday, October 6, 12:45 pm to 1:45 pm.
This is an extraordinary event for the Jewish community, and for anyone who is concerned that proper respect be paid to chaplains who died while on active duty. The American military chaplains’ corps is unique in its dedication and commitment to the diversity of religious expression in our armed forces. - Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council.
And ye shall know me: Krause is known for gigs as an interviewer and guest-host about town. For “Backstage Pass: Values and Visions Behind the Scenes,” a series she founded at the 92nd Street Y, she conducted onstage interviews with Elie Wiesel, actor Leonard Nimoy and “Sex and the City” writer/producer Cindy Chupack. She said one of her favorite interviews so far was with restaurateur Danny Meyer. “Danny and I talked a lot about the mitzvah of welcoming guests,” said Krause. Krause’s probing conversations continue at the downtown coffeehouse Joe, with a series called “Oy Latte.”
Preparing to repent: Krause said she’s working with her cantor Josh Nelson, with whom she often leads services, to include a rendition of U2′s “All I Want Is You” into this year’s service. There’s also an electric guitar Jimi Hendrix version of penitential prayer Avinu Malkeinu on the playlist.
While being grateful for what’s ahead brings us hope, gratitude for what’s already in our midst proves a far more difficult, and easily forgotten, task. When I’m so fixated on what’s next that I’m overlooking what is, I rely on another gratitude model derived from a Jewish approach to—what else?—eating. And that’s where those rabbis of old continue to come to the rescue. Their instinct that we’re more able to offer heartfelt thanks after we’ve eaten than when we’re too ravenous to think straight predates a recently documented scientific phenomenon by thousands of years: “hanger.” A combination of hunger and anger, “hanger” occurs when we need to eat and our serotonin levels plummet. It’s the reason why, when I’ve skipped breakfast, worked through lunch and am waiting in line at the diner, I not only feel like I’ll die if I don’t get my grilled cheese sandwich, but that I might take a few innocent bystanders along with me! That’s why Hamotzi, the official opening blessing for any complete meal, is a one-liner, whereas Birkat Hamazon (the Grace after Meals) is several paragraphs long.
One of those paragraphs begins with the phrase, “Nodeh lecha —we thank you.” Yet, why not take this awareness beyond the table, using it to focus on what we already have, instead of waiting until things like illness, a close call, war or personal hardship bring us face-to-face with what we have and what we could have lost? Finding gratitude when we’re sated can help us feel less deprived, and sometimes even highlights that we have as much as, if not more than, we need. In this way, any time we take stock of what’s readily in our midst is a nodeh lecha moment.