Seven hundred newly homeless people from the Rockaways found shelter on the campus of Queens College with help from the Jewish Community Relations Council. As the Kings Bay Y has been struggling to deliver food to homebound seniors in their adult daycare program, many volunteers from Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope answered their call for help.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of the most influential books in the history of science, Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” In addition to describing how new ideas overtake the old, the work also coined the term “paradigm shift,” which, to Kuhn’s dismay, became a sort of over-encompassing management buzzword.
But despite its overwhelming relevance, Kuhn’s lesson hasn’t been fully internalized, and the world of Jewish communal organizations is no exception.
Twenty-four years ago, in December 1988, a group of us, women from the diaspora, carried a Torah scroll to the women’s side of the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, and began chanting from it. We had been attending a conference about women held by the American Jewish Congress, and represented a cross section of Jewish denominations. Soon after our service began, a haredi woman nearby started shouting that women were not permitted to read from a Torah scroll.
On the night Hurricane Sandy roared in, as two giant trees sandwiched my house and pierced the garage roof, it felt like the world itself was crashing down. We were seeing before our eyes an undoing of the primordial act of order. In Genesis, a wind brought about a separation of earthly and heavenly waters, and then a separation of water from dry land. But with Sandy, the waters of the deep appeared to be reclaiming that coastline and undoing that initial act of separation.
Decades ago, when I worked with several Jewish outreach organizations, the emotional highlight of every weekend Shabbaton was the Havdalah ceremony, the termination and climax of the Sabbath. As in summer camp as well, there was the flame from the candles illuminating our faces in a timeless light; there was singing and swaying together arm in arm and inevitably, our moist cheeks reflecting both the joy of what we had experienced together, and the sorrow of losing it.
With national attention riveted in recent weeks on factors swaying voting decisions — the impact of debates, the effectiveness of television advertisements, the marketing of candidates and the spinning of news and pseudo-news — one key influence tends to be overlooked: political scientists have demonstrated just how important peers are in determining our decisions to go to the polls and which lever we actually will pull.