Text Context

Text Context January 2012

Our essayists look ahead, guided by Jewish texts, memory and personal experience, from the futurism of the 1964 New York World's Fair to new ideas about messianism, prophesy and the afterlife.

01/24/2012
Text Context January 2012

Searching For Moses

A case against leadership by default.

11/29/2011

A  review of Jewish leadership programs reveals that a significant portion of their curricula is dedicated to literacy education. Courses such as “basic concepts of Judaism” and “surveys of Jewish history and thought” dominate their educational agenda. Numerous adult education programs, some of them consisting of just a few weeks of learning, add the highly coveted term “leadership” to their name in order to attract participants and donors. In this milieu, it is difficult to distinguish a student of Judaism from a leader in training.

ARCHIE RAND, Moses, from “Sixty Paintings from the Bible,” 1992, acrylic and marker on canvas, 18” x 24.”

Journal Watch

11/29/2011

Plato, in “The Republic,” famously asked, “What distinguishes a leader?” No easy answer to that one. Indeed, philosophers, historians, political scientists, religious thinkers, have long quested those traits that characterize leadership. Is it, in fact, the singular trait of the leader that makes leadership? Or are societal and other situational dynamics more important in shaping leadership?

In Search Of Charisma

The magnetic power of leaders to attract and inspire is hard to define and hard to control.

11/29/2011

Charisma is hard to define, but you know it when you feel it.

Some snapshots. When he was young and we were even younger, my best friend and I went to Lincoln Center to see Tennessee William’s incomprehensible “Camino Real,” starring the still unknown Al Pacino.

DIANE BRAWARSKY, Ruler Girl, 2004; oil, paper, fabric, nails, found objects on canvas; 32 x 48 " .

One Percent

Anti-Semites are a tiny fringe at the Occupy Wall Street protests. But an inability to quiet them shows the limitations of a leaderless movement.

11/29/2011

Last month, the Emergency Committee for Israel, a conservative pressure group co-founded by Bill Kristol, put out a video designed to scare Jews about Occupy Wall Street. It begins with clips of President Barack Obama and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, expressing support for the protesters’ message.

GROUP. The artist Marc Chagall (front row, right) with teachers and children at a JDC- funded children's colony, Malakhovka, Rus

Rav Kingfish

The problem with ‘dynamic’ rabbis.

11/29/2011

I’m a traditional Jew. I like my religion straight up, neither shaken nor stirred. I’ve been saying Yizkor, and seriously, for years, but when rabbis don’t trust the power of Yizkor and feel the need to add an English call-and-response, they lose me. At the Passover seder, I’m thinking about the leaving of Egypt; I don’t need dynamic rabbis comparing the seder to the Civil Rights movement, the Arab Spring, or global warming.

LEADING. Leonard Bernstein at a concert at a displaced persons camp, Munich, Germany, 1940s. Courtesy of the American Jewish Joi

Listening To Lead

Rabbis need to step out of their comfort zones and talk to the people they seek to serve.

11/29/2011

This September, I found myself standing in a tomato field in southwest Florida with a group of 17 rabbis. The ground had been plowed into rows, each covered by a strip of thick plastic designed to keep in the pesticides and fertilizer planted along with the saplings. As we watched, workers guided tractors to plant seedlings — along with an impressive spray of white chemical mix. I coughed, felt my eyes water and stepped away to catch my breath.

“When did we cover this in rabbinical school?” I wondered. 

Pivotal Moments

Israel's president reflects on the nation's founding father.

11/29/2011

The Basel Congress of 1946 was the scene of high drama, great rhetoric, and fateful decisions. But for me the most memorable moment was when David Ben-Gurion’s wife, Paula, flustered and fuming, strode into the basement of the convention hall where Mapai was holding its caucus. She marched over to Arieh Bahir of Kibbutz Afikim, a loyal Ben-Gurionist, and said in Yiddish, “Arieh, er is meshugge gevoren!” (Arieh, he’s gone mad.)

“Where is he?” Arieh asked.

“In the hotel,” Paula said.

Ben-Gurion with Chaim Weizmann in Switzerland in 1945.  Courtesy of Government Press Office, State of Israel.

The Narrows

Ben-Gurion repeatedly faced down crises by fearlessly rejecting retreat and useless compromise. Obama would do well to follow his model.

11/29/2011

Now an international airport and a university, as well as any number of boulevards in Israeli cities and towns, David Ben-Gurion — the man — was born in Płońsk, the Russian-ruled part of Poland in 1886. When he read Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, thereby inaugurating the first government of the first Jewish state in two millennia, he was already 62. In the years since, some 150 new states have been established.

ARCHIE RAND, Shelah Leha, from “The Chapter Paintings,” 1989, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 36” x 24.”

In Memoriam: Sam Fink, 1916 - 2011

11/29/2011

He brought together text and context in inimitable ways, in his love and mastery of lettering and his deep curiosity about the ideas created by letters and words.

Sam Fink, 1916 - 2011
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