Posted on February 20th, 2013 2 comments
Jews have long used humor to cope with difficulty. At Purim time the Jewish jokes are especially apt. Here are a few to get you started. We hope you will share some of your favorites with us! Please post your offerings in the comments section below!
Winning the Race
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion decided to field a rowing team. Unfortunately, they lose race after race. Even though they practice and practice for hours everyday, they never manage to come in any better than dead last.Finally, the team decides to send Morris Fishbein, its captain, to spy on Harvard, the perennial championship team.So Morris schlepps off to Cambridge and hides in the bushes next to the Charles River, where he carefully watches the Harvard team at its daily practices. After a week, Morris returns to HUC-JIR.“Well, I figured out their secret”, he announces.“What? Tell us! Tell us!” his teammates shout.“We should have only one guy yelling. The other eight should row.”-Paul Kipnes
Purim Comes Calling
The Esther bunny!
Vashti! Vashti who?
Vashti dishes and I’ll give you a hamantaschen!
Haman Haman who?
Haman whatcha doing tomorrow, it’s Purim!
Orange you glad it’s Purim?!
The difference between Jews and non Jews at a party? Non Jews leave without saying goodbye, Jews say goodbye and never leave. – Eric Siroka
A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Chanukah cards.
She says to the clerk “May I have 50 Chanukah stamps please.”
“What denomination?” says the clerk.
The woman says “Oy vey, my god, has it come to this? Okay, give me 6
Orthodox, 12 Conservative and 32 Reform!”
-Josh C. Perlman
Out and About
What does a waiter say to a table of Jewish women? “Is anything all right?” -David Young
I first heard from one of my favorite professors, Chanan Brichto, of very blessed memory: A congregant comes up to her rabbi at the Oneg Shabbat and says: “Rabbi that was the worst sermon I ever heard. You insulted our intelligence and rambled on and on.” A congregant who overheard then approaches the rabbi and says: “Oh don’t listen to her. She has no mind of her own! She just repeats what everyone else is saying.” -Stephen Fuchs
Moishe Goldberg was heading out of the Synagogue one day, and as
always Rabbi Mendel was standing at
the door, shaking hands as the congregation departed. The rabbi
grabbed Moishe by the hand, pulled him aside and whispered these words
at him: “You need to join the Army of God!”
Moishe replied: “I’m already in the Army of God, Rabbi.”
The rabbi questioned: “How come I don’t see you except for Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur?”
Moishe whispered back: “I’m in the secret service.”
-Josh C. Perlman
It Is No Bother
Once a rabbi was speaking and a baby started to cry. His embarrassed Mother hastened to remove him. The rabbi called out to her. “Please, you don’t need to take him out. He wasn’t bothering me.” The woman answered, “Rabbi I wasn’t taking him out because he was bothering you. I am taking him out because you were bothering him!” –Stephen Fuchs
The Blessing Of ShabbatWhat do you get from bad chicken on Friday night? ……..
Moishe is driving in NYC . He’s late for a meeting, he’s looking for a
parking place, and can’t find one. In desperation, he turns towards
heaven and says: “Lord, if you find me a parking place, I promise that
I’ll follow all of your commandments and live my life as an exemplary
Miraculously, a place opens up just in front of him.
He turns his face up to heaven and says, “Never mind, I just found one!”
-Josh C. Perlman
Adam and Eve on the Bus
A devoutly religious Israeli man is sitting on a bus when a scantily clad
secular Israeli woman takes the seat next to him. Saying nothing, he reaches
into his bag, pulls out an apple and places it in front of her.
“What’s this?” asked the woman.
The man replied, “In the Garden of Eden, after Eve ate the apple she had to
The next day, this scene repeated itself as the same woman took a seat next
to the same man. This time it was her turn to pull an apple from her bag and
place it in front of him.
“What’s this?” asked the man.
The woman replied, “In the Garden of Eden after Adam ate the apple, he had
to work for a living!”
Posted on November 28th, 2012 No comments
I write to you from the football-crazed city of Houston. (The Texans are currently ranked number one. Just saying.) So please excuse the following sports analogies. When the player reaches the end zone, he may make a gesture of celebration (e.g., “the pose” of Desmond Howard in 1991, look it up). Or it is common for climbers who reach Mount Everest’s summit to raise their hands in victory. So what does this have to do with Hannukkah?
The Jewish equivalent of “spiking the ball”, doing a touchdown dance or raising one’s hands in victory is to…light some lights, sing and give to charity. And “our” Hannukkah is only one of many such moments of triumph. Pesikta Rabbati contains an extensive midrashic examination of Hanukkah’s meaning, one of which enumerates seven different Hannukkahs:
- The Hanukkah of finishing creating the heaven and earth, which God observed by “turning on” the two great lights (the sun and moon) in the sky (Genesis 2:1, 1:17).
- The Hanukkah of completing the wall enclosing Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:27), observed with lots of singing.
- The Hanukkah of the successful return from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:17), observed with lots of singing and offerings.
- The Hanukkah of the Hasmonean priests, for which we kindle the Hannukkah lamps, symbolizing their complete victory. The original menorah in this case was probably fashioned from spearheads turned into torches, since the original menorah had been taken away. (See Daniel Sperber, Magic and Folklore in Rabbinic Literature, “An Early Meaning of the Word Shapud”, Bar Ilan, 1994, pp. 34-39.)
- The Hanukkah of the World to Come (Zephaniah 1:12-1), in which the wealthy and unjust are utterly annihilated by God, accompanied with the sound of crying, this time cries of sorrow, not joy.
- The Hanukkah of the princes’ anointing the altar (Numbers 7:84-89). After all twelve princes finished bringing their offerings of silver and gold items, the whole array, clanging mightily, we might suppose, accompanied by the bellowing of the sacrificial oxen, was followed with what one might call, “the still, small voice” that Moses hears from beyond the ark’s cover.
- And the Hanukkah of the First Temple’s dedication (Psalm 30:1), celebrated with this psalm. (Pesikta Rabbati 2:3)
So these seven Hannukkahs are logical: each celebrates the finishing of some important work. But why didn’t the midrash name eight Hanukkahs? There are certainly enough occasions in Jewish history to have made for “8 great finishings”, e.g., the rededication of the first Temple after King Josiah’s reforms were completed (II Kings, chapter 23). So why did the midrash stop at seven?
Perhaps the midrash is allowing us to supply our own, personal Hannukkahs. The hallmark of a Hannukkah is that it marks the finishing of a large project. So one way to observe Hanukkah would be to make a commitment to a project that can be finished in a year, so that, next year, it will become the eighth Hanukkah. We can personally dedicate ourselves to enrich our practice of Judaism, to lead healthier lives, to pay off debt, to wrestle addictions to the ground and so forth. Or perhaps you have recently finished a large effort. If you have made it to the end zone, the summit, make your own personal triumph the eighth Hannukkah.
May your Hanukkah be filled with light and may your own dedicatory candle burn with joy this year, next year and in every year!
Posted on September 11th, 2012 No comments
It is a busy time of year, a Hebrew school classes, choir rehearsals, service plans and sermons. Yet no small number of Youtube videos with holiday themes keep popping up and demanding my attention. There are the inevitable holiday parodies and pop songs that can’t be missed, the video instructions for braiding round challot, and numerous holiday greetings from that of President Obama to that of our very own President Ellenson. But among these types of popular holiday videos are also those put out by synagogues to help connect with community and prepare for the season. Here are a few of my favorites with an explanation of what I think they are doing well.
While it is easy to imagine a synagogue based video as a sort of infomercial for their community all my favorites moved beyond the most obvious approaches and broadened out the message. Temple Emanuel of Beverley Hills for example, embraced the message that a new year is like a new book. This fairly somber effort set the tone for the holidays but the inclusion of clergy as well as staff including the custodial workers serves as a reminder that this message is for everyone and the video quality suggests a well run professional place.
Temple Judea in Tarzana took a more light hearted and direct approach. Carrying on their tradition of musical riffs on popular songs, they redid one of the summer’s most popular hits with a parody that hits on many important holiday themes –family, shofar, the challenge of services- while not being shy about promoting their approach to Jewish life. The impression left by the video is of a place that is open and playful about modern Jewish living.
Ikar the non-affiliated community in Los Angeles forsook the direct branding almost completely. I was not wowed by this video, it is simply a series of shots of a person in a hoodie blowing shofar. But it made my shortlist because it took the Jewish action out of the synagogue and engaged many different people in different settings in the actions of Jewish life. Without explicitly saying so, it offers an inclusive and expansive vision of community.
Lastly, I came across this video by Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel outside of Philadelphia. Yanoff has a whole series of videos that feature him talking straight on camera hoping to engage the community. In this edition, he invites the community to help him crowd source one of his High Holiday sermons. He does a good job of succinctly explaining the concept and providing concrete instructions on how to get involved. Did it work? I don’t know, as of this writing I had yet to reach him for comment but maybe he is just too busy sorting through the myriad of submissions.
Finally, a bit of fun. This offering from the Aliyah department for France is a Jewish take on the summer hit Call Me Maybe. Even with my limited high school French, it is a catchy tune, with familiar themes, beautiful people and beautiful views.
Posted on August 22nd, 2012 2 comments
Much of the work that we do during Elul is practical as we get ready for the new school year and for the mechanics of the High Holidays. But even the most busy among us can and should take some time to reflect on where we have been and where we hope to go in the year ahead. Originally, I developed an earlier version of this meditation to be done with a group as part of tashlich, but I have found that it is helpful to enter into this kind of reflection ahead of the holiday season as part of my personal preparation. I do it as a silent reflection and have provided instructions for this approach. One should allow at least 25 minutes at minimum to make one’s way through the whole thing so that you have at least two minutes of thought on each topic but you might take more time if that is what feels right. Alternatively, this meditation can serve as a prompt for journaling or reflective conversation. Let me know how it works for you! -Ruth Abusch-Magder
Sit or stand as you feel most comfortable. Place your feet comfortably apart, firmly feel the ground below you. This meditation takes you through the months of the Jewish year. After the instructions for each month, take at least two minutes to reflect and consider.
Tishrei: Think back to last Rosh Hashana, recall the sound of the shofar. What has cried out to you in this last year? What moved you from the routines of your life?
Heshvan: Sometimes we are awakened for good and sometimes we are awakened to that which is bitter. We cannot overlook that which is difficult or hard, reflect on the pain and suffering that has been a source of challenge this last year.
Kislev: Recall the candles that burned last Hannuka. Light can transform darkness. Miracles can happen. Consider one or many of the rays of light that have given you hope this past year.
Tevet: The winter rains are that which later bring forth possibilities. What have you done in this last year that will create changes in the future? Reflect on the work that you have done that has not yet born fruit.
Sh’vat: This is the month where we celebrate the trees. Each year they add a ring to the strength of experience that they already posses. Focus on one way in which you have added to your own strength this year.
Adar: We all hide elements of ourselves from the world. Consider what part of yourself you are keeping hidden, ask yourself what you risk by revealing it and what might you accomplish if you shared it.
Nissan: Sometimes freedom comes in grand moments, other times in small steps. What have you managed to let go of in this last year? Who or what helped you in that process? What did you learn or gain?
Iyar: Even when times are good there is often grumbling and it is only to be expected when times are tough. Focus on some of the complaints that have recurred during this year, ask yourself if they are warranted,
Sivan: Revelations can change the way we see or act. What new things have you discovered about yourself this year, how have you grown in your understanding? Consider something that you have learned about yourself or something that you hope will be revealed soon.
Av: Baseless hatred can be the source of much destruction. Where have you been quick to judge in this last year? Consider the implications of your negative judgments, for yourself, those close to you, and your community. How might you repair damage done or shift your approach in the future.
Elul: Where are you now? Consider the year that lies ahead. What work do you want to do, need to do, so that you can be fully present?
End with the singing of a niggun or meditative song such as Hashiveni or with the blowing of the Shofar.
Posted on May 31st, 2012 No comments
When a good teaching session crosses over and becomes a good study session then it sticks with you.
According to the description in the brochure, I was teaching about the ancient view of non-Jews, and I did. But it was also much more than that. With the caveat that recent scholarship has brought into question the theory that book Ruth was written as a counter polemic to the book of Ezra, I set out for the group the ways in which the books are both similar and different. Addressing the similar theme of exile and redemption, return to the land, geneology and proper inheritance there is much in common between the two.
Yet stylistically they could not be more different. Ezra is a book of history, dry and systematic. Ruth is a family story that focuses primarily on the experiences of women.
Making my theological point, that the choice to read Ruth on Shavuot, speaks to a welcoming vision of community that is not a modern Reform choice, but an ancient rabbinic one, was simple.
But we did not stop there. Building on the comparison that I had introduced the group moved into a conversation about policy and personal experience. As, they saw it, Ezra portrays the reality he sees from a bird’s eye view. Not once does he stop to look at the effect his directives will have on individuals. Nowhere does he consider the emotional devastation that being sent back to their mother’s houses will have on the women he demands be divorced. He sees all the foreign women as one common threat, not as individual women with stories and varying degrees of commitment or connection to Judaism.
By contrast the book of Ruth focuses on the personal, getting to know the real story and understanding the complexities that lie below the assumptions of the selfishness, debauchery, and malevolence associated in the Bible with the Moabites as people.
In endorsing gay marriage, President Obama cited his personal relationships with LGBT couples as essential to helping him make the transition. As a rabbi working with an organization that celebrates racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community, I meet Jews have encountered Ezra’s approach when they attempt to access the Jewish community. But I also meet Jews, who have been seen by rabbis, educators, teachers and congregants as full people with complex stories and experiences. The former need much reassurance and often question their place as part of our people. The latter wear their Judaism with pride, often like Ruth, they become leaders and spokespeople for our community.
As I write there are riots going on in Israel against African and foreign workers. In the United States there are still those fighting against gay marriage. Big ideas and policies are important, but listening to the stories of the individuals affected by those policies is important too. If we really listen, it will likely complicate our assumptions and challenge our hatreds.
Posted on May 22nd, 2012 No comments
With Shavuot upon us, Jews around the world prepare for reading the biblical story of Ruth. For Rabbi Seth Goren the biblical story and the message of the holiday have a highly personal meaning.
The story of Ruth resonates strongly with me in part because of its similarity to the account of how part of my family left Eastern Europe. My paternal grandfather was born in the village of Obodovka, then a part of the Russian Empire. His father ran the town’s general store and was relatively well off. After the Russian Civil War broke out in 1917, the central government ceased paying its employees, and the local postmaster, who was not Jewish, could not afford food for his family. Nevertheless, my great-grandfather allowed him to make purchases on credit so that the postmaster’s family would not go hungry and starve to death in the frigid Ukrainian winter of 1918-19.
One day in May 1919, just a few weeks before Shavuot, word spread that a band of Cossacks was riding toward the town bent on attacking the local Jewish population. My great-grandfather loaded the family onto a wagon and began heading westward. They were intercepted by the postman, who informed my family that they were heading in the precise direction from which the Cossacks were coming. “Come with me,” he said, “I’ll hide you in the basement of the post office.” My grandfather and his family remained hidden for the next two days, during which time they heard the postman repeatedly ward off Cossacks, telling them that there were no Jews in the building. When they finally emerged, all of the other Jews of Obodovka were dead, with my grandfather and his family being the only survivors. In this way, my great-grandfather and the postman, strangers to each other’s traditions as surely as they were neighbors, had saved each other’s families.
Looking back, the histories of both my family and our people hinge on relatively small acts whose broader implications could not have been appreciated at the time. Had Ruth and Naomi not taken responsibility for each other, King David’s genealogical line would have foundered, and the entire course of Jewish and world history would be completely different. On a more personal level, if not for the relationship between my great-grandfather and a Ukrainian postman nearly a century ago, my family line would have ended in an Eastern European shtetl like so many others did. In both cases, it is difficult in retrospect to imagine events unfolding any differently. Nevertheless, these episodes show how even a small act of caring for a stranger can reverberate generations later and thousands of miles away.
We cannot always anticipate how we will welcome others emerging from their isolation or where we ourselves will stumble upon sanctuary when we are lost among the unknown and unfamiliar. The unexpected twists in the lives of Naomi, buth and my grandfather could not have been predicted in advance. There will be times when we will be strangers, as we were in Egypt, and times when there will be strangers among us. Nevertheless, deliverance, both for ourselves and for those whom we help, is possible when we take care of each other and provide a haven to the stranger who seeks shelter among us.
Posted on May 8th, 2012 1 comment
Jewish mothers often get a bad rap. Comedians, movies, books portray Jewish moms as the biggest impediment to the development of healthy Jews. Yet, when I started to ask around, there are lots of us out there who see our mothers -Jewish or not- as essential to our growth into the proud Jews we are today. What follows are three moving tributes to three wonderful moms.
We would love to hear more, feel free to share your comments on what values or teaching that you learned from your mom and how they made you into the person you are today. -Ruth Abusch-Magder, editor
Lessons from Estelle
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my mother, Estelle or Essie as every one called her, was really a lesson in feminism although she wouldn’t characterize it that way, but it really was. My Mom had me later in life. She was already in her forties. My older sister was in college and she felt her child bearing days was over. She grew up in an era before the Great Depression and got married soon after high school. She worked as bookkeeper from the age of 16 out of necessity not having the luxury of a college education. Even after she married, she worked in the family business, was active in the life of the community, as Hadassah president, Sisterhood president, temple fundraiser and took care of her parents as well. She raised my sister and ran a household.
She was active in National Council of Jewish Women and so she taught me by example to be involved Jewishly. But my mom would also say to me, “Don’t be any man’s schmatta.” By that she was trying to tell me to be my own person. Go to School. Find a career. Be self supporting. It wasn’t a dig at men or marriage (My parents were happily married 58 years until my father’s death!). But it was her way of conveying the importance of being your own independent woman! And she taught me well. I was the first to graduate college in my family and then of course to go on to seminary and the blessings of a Rabbinic calling! I am no one’s shmatta today. I am my own person and I treasure my mom’s advice and encouragement to grow and learn and embrace the world. –Denise Eger
Learning to be a “mom”
I came out to my mother as gay when I was 27. While I’d like to say that this particular step out of the closet took superhuman levels of courage on my parts, that’s not exactly (or even remotely) true. More accurately, my comfort sharing who I am flowed from many of my mother’s attributes; because of her nurturing love, her subtle kindness and her perseverance in the face of challenge, it was far more natural to share than to withhold.
Getting older, I find that I, too, carry these qualities that allowed me to be open with my mother. They enable and strengthen my rabbinical life, from pastoral conversations to community building. For this reason, perhaps my mother’s greatest ability was how she was able to mold me into the kind of person she is.
About a year ago, I became a father to a daughter. Since then, I’ve been struck by how many people have asked me, “Since you’re a single man, how are you going to make sure she has good female role models?” I suppress my urge to give a snarky response, smile politely and say, “I think we have that covered.” -Seth Goren
What I Learned From My Mom
One of the most important things I learned from my mom was to tune into and value feelings. My mom would always say to me, “Don’t keep it in, it will fester.” Even though I didn’t know what “fester” meant, I understood by her statement that she not only saw me, but felt me. I was always a little surprised that she was aware, often before I was, that I was hurt or concerned about something. (She’d also say “mother’s always know…”) She intuitively knew that experience was layered and that there was more going on than what appeared on the surface. She taught me pay attention to what lies below. This skill has profoundly influenced
my work as a rabbi. I’m not afraid of feelings and teach that becoming aware is a first step toward wisdom and change. Also, this was probably why my love and enthusiasm for Torah study has been so deep. I teach that the surface layer is only one part of reality and by delving deeper into the nuances and multiple meanings of the text, we can learn more and more about our own souls. –Jill Zimmerman
Posted on April 30th, 2012 No comments
-by Ruth Abusch-Magder
Usually it is candy that is the source of friction between children and parents at the grocery checkout. This time it was a grapefruit. Not even a good looking one at that. It was a somewhat wrinkled grapefruit that had come from the seconds bin. It had been part of the basket of goods the mother had gathered, but now paying for the groceries, she had put the sad grapefruit aside.
The child pleaded, the cashier looked pained, so did the mother. But there was no room for giving in. The family had reached capacity on their food stamps.
This scene, which I witnessed nearly twenty years ago, has been playing on a loop in my head lately. As I prepare for Shavuot, I have been thinking about leket, peyah, and shichicha, our obligations to leave the gleanings, the corners and the forgot fruits of our fields. That grapefruit in its sad wrinkly state would definitely have fallen into the category of a forgotten fruit, and yet there it was holding out promise for this child.
On that day, I did not know what to do. I could have easily have spared something from my own heavy basket for the child, or paid for the grapefruit. After all the Mishna on Pe’ah (1:2) says that a sixtieth of the field is the minimum amount and as a portion of my purchases it would not have much more than that. But I hesitated and did not act; worried my interference would have caused shame or embarrassment. The following Shabbat I dined at the home of friends and when the girl and her mother showed up, I was even less sure what the right course of action ought to have been.
According to Rashi, the concept of Pe’ah, the practice of leaving the corners of your field uncut, is really about placing part of your harvest in every corner of every field. Building on the Sifra (Kedoshim 1:10) Rashi stresses that we cannot choose who gets the support that is given in the form of Pe’ah, it must be available to everyone so they can reach it with ease it should be placed where it is most easily accessed on the corners.
Food stamps, it strikes me, are our modern American form of the ancient agrarian Jewish traditions for caring for the poor. In line with Rashi’s stress on access, in recent years, policies by the Bush and Obama governments have made it easier for people to qualify for food stamps. But there is also greater need. 1 out of 7 Americans, 43 million people, rely on the program each month.
But it is likely that the extravagance of a sad grapefruit would still be out of reach for most food stamp recipients. The average payout of the benefit is $133/month. This stands in comparison to the USDA assessment that the average family of four spends between $771 and $916/month on food. There is now talk in Washington of cutting significantly reducing the eligibility and benefits of the food stamp program. Not only would that mean the end of grapefruits, but for many the rest of the shopping basket all together.
If there is meaning in the confluence of the two strands of Shavuot, that of the harvest holiday and the celebration of revelation, it may be found in the link between the equality of revelation and the need to share our bounty with everyone.
Posted on April 20th, 2012 38 comments
Volumes have been written about the State of Israel. But in honor of Israel Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, this week we are looking for just six words about what you love about Israel, what makes it special, extraordinary!
Add your own thoughts by replying in the comments section. The more the merrier. Send in more than one! Encourage your friends to share their own.
Here is some of what we have so far: - Click on comments to read more!
Bowls of humous with warm pita – Josh Weinberg
Feel more at home than anywhere -Lori Sagarin
Cool water, warm people, hot neighborhood -Lori Sagarin
Too important to leave to Israelis -Lisa Levenberg
Nearly Zero emissions on Yom Kippur - Josh Weinberg HUC-JIR Jerusalem
Like family. Not perfect, but loved. - Lisa Koppel
My son lives in Tel Aviv. Mindy Portnoy
להיות עם חופשי בארצינו ארץ ציון – Josh Weinberg HUC-JIR Jerusalem
The Dry Bones live in Israel – Reuven Werber
Three faiths in one holy city – Ruth Abusch-Magder
Hebrew alive, Torah real, people real-er -Paul Kipness
I love Israel’s flaws and aspirations – Jeremy Burton
Israel my second home. Libi bamisrach – David Young
Jews in every size shape color -Kari Hofmaister Tuling
Lo yisa goy el goy herev – Laura Novak Winer
Walking in Israel I found myself -Anonymous
National Liberation Of The Jewish People – Mark Hurvitz
Land, peoples, histories, emotions, hopes - Amy Greenbaum
ההרים,החול,הירק והים במקום אחד -Lori Sagarin
Eretz zavat chalav u’dvash. Oooh Ah. -Jason Miller
Gave my grandparents renewed life post-war -Yonah Kliger
SEE COMMENTS FOR MORE WONDERFUL SIX WORD ENTRIES!
(Keep it short, keep it simple. We are serious that missives of more than six words will not be included. And as it is a day for celebration we are focusing on the positive. We reserve the right not to post all entries.)
Posted on April 18th, 2012 5 comments
In the normal course of things, stuff happens, good stuff, bad stuff, fun stuff, difficult stuff. Then it passes and we forget most of it. We remember what is meaningful, or useful, or hard to let go of. Those memories inform our actions, which in turn create new stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, fun stuff, difficult stuff.
But when something catastrophic happens, when the stuff is beyond words, imagination, or of a scope that cannot be imagined, this regular chain of stuff, remembering, forgetting and incorporating is disrupted.
Growing up in a family that was, as my mother now calls us, second hand Holocaust survivors, I lived with the effects of catastrophic disruption. No one in the family that went to the camps survived but many did escape. It was not easy, (you can learn about how my family was interned in United States at the Holocaust Museum) and it left long and lasting imprints. Hitler and the Holocaust were ever present and our extended family ever absent.
On my path to figuring out how to cope with this legacy, I became a Jewish historian. My initial goals were purely feminist, but when I settled on the study of German Jews, I had to confront my sense of disruption, memory and family history.
The focus of my graduate work was the period from 1848-1914. I looked at the rythms and flow of domestic life. As I read diaries, letters, and cookbooks, the mundane elements of daily life came to life. There were joys and frustrations, aspirations and limitations. It was stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, fun stuff, difficult stuff –normal stuff.
Somewhere in between the Anschlus and the liberations of 1945, my namesake, Razel Lowy Brody known as Rufi was murdered. My mother never knew her grandmother. Never got to experience her cooking, her drawing, her singing. She never had a chance to get annoyed with her grandmother, bored that she told the same old stories, or argue with her about the way she dressed. She missed out on all the stuff. She never got to remember, forget and incorporate the way one normally does in the ebb and flow of life.
It goes without saying that we can never forget the brutality of the Nazis and the callousness of the millions of bystanders. That is what Holocaust Remembrance day is for.
But if we only remember that, we are in danger of handing Hitler a posthumous victory. Reducing the memories of those who perished to their final helpless moments robs them of the complex legacies they would have passed on if the richness of their lives had been lived out in the proper order of things.
When the candles go out at the end of Holocaust Remembrance day, take some time to engage with the past. Learn about Jewish life in Greece, the complexities of ethic Jewish identity in Yugoslavia, or domesticity in Germany. Take some time to get to know the people who did not live to share their stuff.