A persistent undertone of angst at this week’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans centered on international efforts to delegitimize Israel. Many of the 4,000 delegates witnessed that effort firsthand when a tiny group of hecklers from Jewish Voice for Peace, a group the Anti-Defamation League has accused of consorting with the delegitimizers, disrupted the keynote address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — hardly the kind of protest likely to change hearts and minds.
Economists may proclaim the Great Recession over, but a great many people in our community are still hurting. And for large numbers of them the health and human service programs funded through the Jewish federation system are an indispensable lifeline.
We pride ourselves on being “the people of the book,” though literacy in our sacred texts increasingly eludes too many of us. Perhaps no holy book in the Jewish canon has been more impenetrable than the Talmud, with its encyclopedic scope, elliptical layout, jazz-like literary free form, esoteric legalities and a musical but muddled dead language — Aramaic — at its core, let alone the lack of punctuation.
Matthew Lazar, director of the Zamir Chorale, attributes this notion to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: when two people speak at the same time, the result is cacophony, whereas when two people sing at the same time, it’s harmony.
With passion and commitment, Lazar has been getting Jews to harmonize — beautifully — for most of his life, and this Sunday afternoon the chorale will celebrate its 50th anniversary of performing modern Hebrew music with a gala benefit concert at Carnegie Hall.
In recent months we’ve have had critical things to say about a Tea Party movement that’s long on anger yet short on knowledge and analysis. But we also understand where that anger is coming from. We, too, are deeply frustrated by a Congress that seems more interested in partisan bickering than legislating, a befuddled administration that seems unwilling or unable to lead and a gridlocked political system that seems unable to respond to the critical challenges facing our nation and our world.
On a spring night in 2009, four men whose friendships were forged in prison and later in a Newburgh mosque, drove down to Riverdale, that quiet Bronx neighborhood, with the intention of blowing up two synagogues. That their bombs were fake and Jews didn’t die was the singular doing of the FBI, which infiltrated that Newburgh mosque, kept tabs on the four and arrested the men before their evil — there is no other name for it — could come to its explosive conclusion.