At the recent Covenant Foundation symposium in Chicago, educators from around North America gathered to discuss the topic, “Assessing Jewish Wisdom in the 21st Century.” The keynote address was delivered by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, from Congregation Valley Beth Shalom in Southern California, who offered a new metaphor for Jewish identity today: The iPhone.
They might as well have called us the People of the Couch.
No, I’m not talking about living room furniture. I mean the couch used by psychoanalysts in treating their patients. Ever since an atheist Jewish doctor in Vienna helped to reinvent Western civilization with his psychological theories more than a century ago, Jews have been disproportionately associated, both as practitioners and as patients, with Sigmund Freud’s science of the mind.
I was moved to tears the other day when we visited a family with young children for Sukkot only to find that their sukkah had blown down in high winds. In their pristine back yard, on a putting green of healthy grass, a metal frame lay ominously on its side, like a giant spider carcass, or a sculpture by Louise Nevelson.
Sweating gold, the sun had risen on the last morning of a long, hot summer at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where my wife serves on staff and our children go to camp. The campers were in the Hadar Ochel (Dining Room), preparing to say an impossible, unimaginable good-bye to friends. The staff guarded the doors, to keep the campers from fleeing. As the bus to Maryland pulled up in the drive, the show tune “Good Morning, Baltimore” blasted from the PA system. The cheeky anthem from “Hairspray” instantly reduced everyone to tears. Just a month after Tisha b’Av, when the campers had mourned the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, now regret and lamentation were surging like a river.
Art lovers were horrified to read that a treasure trove of stolen masterpieces from the Dutch Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam last October were likely burned to ashes by the mother of one of the alleged thieves.
Picturing the mid-20th-century New York that my parents grew up in, I always glimpsed it in black and white. It must have been, it felt to me, a world drained of color, something in between the grainy, dark photographs of my grandparents and the lustrous chiaroscuro of Alfred Hitchcock movies — films that I knew because my family convened after dinner every night around the family television set in the living room. Indeed, in an age before the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, we watched Victor Borge concerts and Masterpiece Theatre together, just as we took it for granted that on family car trips, it was my father’s beloved classical music that was going to be on the radio.
In the 1980s, Larry Friedlander had an insight. As an English professor at Stanford, focusing on Shakespeare and the idea of performance, he saw the advent of personal computers as a boon for theater studies.
Living for more than a decade in Central Pennsylvania, where Jewish culture is not, as in my native New York, part of the air that one breathes, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to take a weeklong trip to Israel last month with other Jewish journalists from around the country. It was my first trip to Israel in almost 25 years; the last and only other time I had been there had been a short visit while I was in college.
An insightful recent article in the J. The Jewish news weekly of Northern California explored the presence and meaning of a new generation of maggids, or preacher-storytellers, working at the intersection of education, performance and the rabbinate.