Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’


Want to Advance understanding of American and Israeli Jewry? Think Networks!

Posted on: April 28th, 2014 by Hayim Herring


I returned from Israel a week ago after spending Passover in Jerusalem. It’s not so bad to be able to purchase kosher for Passover take-out food for Seder and have the option of eating out at restaurants during that week! Those are very different experiences than I would have in Minneapolis or most other Jewish communities in the United States. But within only 24 hours of my return, Israel was brought right back into my living room in three powerful ways:
1. A very close friend of mine described the terror of being in Sederot in Southern Israel with his family, when a “Red Alert” rocket warning sounded. He described the immediate anxiety of knowing that Hamas-fired rockets hit, and the general anxiety of not knowing when the next ones would.
2. A news story described a program called Dancing in Jaffa in which young Palestinians and Israeli children were learning how to dance together, and the positive social impact this initiative was having on them and their families But as a part of the story, one of the interview clips that they showed was a 10-year-old Israeli girl saying, “My father would kill me if you knew that I was friends with a Palestinian.”
3. And the news that wasn’t news to anyone following: The collapse of “peace talks” between Israelis and Palestinians, with Palestinians blaming Israelis for continued West Bank settlement expansion (correctly) and Israelis stating a powerful truth: a unity government of Fatah and Hamas, with Hamas’s avowed destruction of Israel, is a deal-breaker.
Israel_and_Palestine_PeaceHow do you ever convey to American Jews the vibrancy and complexity of Jewish life in Israel, and is there a way to help Israelis understand that while the American Jewish community is clearly confronted by demographic challenges, Jewish life in America is thriving in many ways?
Here’s my take away from my visit: don’t only think “programs,” think networks. It’s time to do a network mapping project of the existing groups of Jewish Israelis and Americans who spend or have spent decent chunks of time in one another’s respective communities. Currently, we don’t have visual maps of just how many different networks there are of Israelis who get to know American Jewish communities, and Americans who get to know Israel on the deeper level.
Who are the Americans who regularly visit Israel and who are the Israelis who visit America regularly? For example, from the American side, businesses people and investors (who may or may not be Jewish), academics, students who spend a gap year in Israel, families who host Israeli scouts or develop deep relationships with community shlichim, and of course, those with family in Israel. And on the Israeli side, journalists who who cover American jewelry, former Israeli citizens who still visit Israel regularly, community shlichim who work in a number of communities over a period of years, doctors who trained in the States and practice in Israel and to stimulate thinking about the existence of hidden networks–groups of individuals who exist already but don’t appear on any organizational chart–even Israeli airline personnel whose routes take them to the States frequently.
We have Israeli advocacy, educational and political organizations. We have programs. But we don’t have a clear understanding of the the likely large number of community bridge spanners, people who move between the Jewish American and Israeli communities. What would happen If we could identify these networks, create spaces for them to connect and nurture (not control) their interests? I have a feeling that these networks of bridge spanners are an asset waiting to be tapped that can help add a dimension of nuance to the often blunt, one-dimensional pictures that are used to describe our respective Jewish communities. Any thoughts? Please send them to me by clicking Contact on my website.



What Life Holds in Store for Us

Posted on: September 11th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


Have you ever have one of those, “Something must be in the water moments” – you know, those times when independently, a group of people seem to be talking about the same thing? That’s what happened to me right before Rosh Hashanah. I went to see a good friend and colleague of mine, Rabbi Norman Cohen, to wish him a shana tova. Naturally, I asked him what he was planning to speak about on the holidays. Norman said that he was speaking about a line from the liturgy, “Do not cast us out in our old age, at the time when our strength fails us, do not abandon us.”


I was astonished because a few days before, I had lunch with my mentor and rabbi, Kass Abelson. He is Rabbi Emeritus of Beth El Congregation in Minneapolis, where I served with him for ten years. He still gives a sermon on Rosh Hashanah (he estimated that he has been doing so for 60 years give or take – certainly an accomplishment that should be in the Guinness Book of Records). He also was speaking on the same line! That’s when I had my first surprise, because I was in the middle of writing a blog post titled, “Don’t confuse old with obsolete,” based on that very prayer!


Fast-forward now to my meeting with Rabbi Cohen…That was when I had that, “There must be something in the water that we’re drinking” moment. All three of us, at different ages and stages of life, decided to write about the experience of the increasing number of elderly people in our society, and the difficulties, challenges and blessings of this reality. And that same text informed our thoughts on how we relate both to the relatively well elderly and the more frail elderly.


With their permission, I have included Rabbi Abelson’s and Rabbi Cohen’s sermons and my most recent post in one PDF, which is available for you to download. I know that if the three of us are have been thinking about these issues it’s likely that many more people must be as well. You can use these resources:



Make all of us be sealed in the book of life and good health in this new year.


A Call to Action: Make Jewish Learning a Global Seder

Posted on: March 21st, 2013 by Hayim Herring

One of the characteristics of free people is their ability to ask questions. The more free we feel, the bigger the questions we’re able to ask. In the spirit of Pesach, the quintessential celebration of freedom, here are a few big questions that seem appropriate for a holiday in which learning about our identity as a people is so central.


What would happen if we created a true revolution for adult learners who want to learn about the Jewish civilization – those who are Jewish and those who are not Jewish? What are the implications for the global Jewish community and for the world if we created universal access to Jewish learning? Theoretically, we actually have the technologies to do so. We can take the model of massive online open courses (MOOCs) to create a revolution in learning about Judaism, for anyone who is interested. Academics and qualified instructors who teach Judaics around the globe, from topics as varied as Jewish medieval history to Jewish mysticism, could be recruited into the ranks of MOOCs teachers. We know that there’s an interest in learning about things Jewish. Just look at the phenomenon of daf yomi (those who commit to studying a page of Talmud daily), or websites as diverse as to Jerusalem Online University. (more…)

Tisha b’Av: What is it Good For?

Posted on: August 1st, 2011 by Hayim Herring

Image courtesy of

Tisha b’Av is the most significant day of national mourning on the Jewish calendar. Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and the forced exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. Traditional Jewish practice requires a full day of fasting (no food, no liquids), foregoing pleasures and reciting the book of Lamentations (Eichah), which vividly recounts the destruction of the Temple. From a Jewish legal perspective, although the last Jewish Temple was destroyed almost 2,000 year ago, the destruction of the Temple is given greater weight than the destruction of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust in contemporary times.

If you’re an Orthodox or traditional Jew, Tisha b’Av is straightforward. You observe its laws either because you believe that God commands you to do so or because you recognize that when you adopt an Orthodox or traditional Jewish life, you commit to practicing all of it and not some of it.

But I admit to having problems with Tisha b’Av. If I want to return to Israel, I can. If I don’t want to live there permanently, I can visit there. If I can’t afford to visit there, I can follow the daily news of Israel and view pictures and videos of a beautifully rebuilt Jewish State. And, I think that rebuilding the Temple and offering sacrifices would be a theological leap backwards-not to mention the political and military fallout that would occur by rebuilding a Temple on the current site of the Dome of the Rock, which has tremendous religious significance to Muslims. Besides, I don’t want to support Jewish religious fundamentalists who are serious about rebuilding the Temple, another reason that I have problems observing Tisha b’Av traditionally.

Some of my rabbinic colleagues try to reinterpret Tisha b’Av by lightening the laws or reinterpreting them with a contemporary twist. That works for some, but not for me. Neither approach acknowledges these fundamental shifts in Jewish history or the dangers of supporting fundamentalists. Sure, I’m inspired by Tisha b’Av’s message of renewal after devastation, and I believe that Jewish history and Jewish memory are essential to fostering Jewish peoplehood. But can’t we find another way to make this point?

If not, does that mean that Tisha b’Av is no longer relevant?  Or should this day take on new significance?  How do YOU connect to this day? Please share your comments below.


Rabbi Hayim Herring