Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Lag B’Omer

As anyone who lives in Israel knows, Lag B’Omer is only a few days away.

You can always tell when Lag B’Omer is coming as supermarkets lock down their trolleys and anyone with anything made out of wood makes sure that it’s bolted in place lest hoards of young teenagers “borrow” it for their bonfire and carry it off in a trolley that they “borrowed” from a supermarket.

Even the non-Jews in the area know that Lag B’Omer is just around the corner. My son has strict instructions to only take wood from construction sites with the permission of workers at the site. He told me that last week one of the Arab asked him מתי חג האש (when is the “Fire Festival”).

A few points about Lag B’Omer:

  • The Holiday is about Rabbi Akiva and ואהבת לרעך כמוך (Love you neighbour as yourself), damaging property, or stealing is certainly not an appropriate way to express this important principle.
  • Similarly, anyone with teenagers know that they become very “clicky”; who gets invited to which bonfire is a major social issue for both of my older kids – if you have teenagers, you should remind them that excluding people from a bonfire is also against the whole concept of ואהבת לרעך כמוך
  • Fire Safety and Road Safety are both more important than a large bonfire or travelling to Meron. I’ve been very pleased to hear ads on the Radio stressing the importance of driving safely, and I’m told that the Charedi neighbourhoods have Peshkevalim about Fire Safety. I don’t remember this in previous years, so it’s good to see that the education system is moving in the right direction.

If you’re looking for a tiyul on Lag B’omer, here are 2 suggestions which I probably wont get to this year, but would like to in the future:

Rachel, Wife of Rabbi Akiva

Rachel Just outside Tivireya is the Grave of Rachel, Rabbi Akiva’s wife. (Directions available here or here). This “grave” was only relatively recently discovered, but has an interesting story:

Until a few decades ago, this spot was neglected and full of litter. Then, one day, a hazy figure rescued a young man about to drown in Lake Kinneret. That night, Rahel appeared to him in a dream, told him that she had saved his life, and revealed the site of her grave. Armed with this new knowledge, the swimmer built this impressive monument.
Source: Jerusalem Post

With Kivrei Tzadikim, I always found the historical accuracy of the site less important than the story around the site, and as far as stories go, I love this one.

Mevasseret to Ramot (or Lifta)

The valley between Mevasseret Tzion and Yerushalayim is fascinating. I did it a many years ago with some guys from Yeshiva.

What is amazing is that right below the highway, there is a quiet peaceful valley with wildlife and caves to explore.

The connection to Lag B’Omer is that in several of the caves you can see water dripping onto rocks where the water has created a hole in the rock, just as described in the well known legend of Rabbi Akiva, definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Jew and a Taliban Walk into a Tie shop

The Internet is abuzz with a Joke about a Jewish merchant outsmarting a Taliban guy as told by told by the National Security Advisor, General James L. Jones at a pro-Israel think tank.

Many people have accused Jones of telling an Anti-Semitic joke (or worse, representing an Anti-Semitic president).

Ha’artetz quoted a “prominent think-tank source” as saying that the joke was "wrong in so many levels" and that it "demonstrated a lack of sensitivity."

YNet quotes Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman as calling the joke “inappropriate," saying, "It's stereotypic," he said. "Some people believe they need to start a speech with a joke; this was about the worst kind of joke the head of the National Security Council could have told."

I am bothered by prominent Jewish figures who look for anti-Semitism in places where it clearly doesn’t exist.

If as a community we scream “Anti-Semitism” every time someone tells a joke, makes a speech, directs a movie, or writes a magazine column that includes Jews or criticizes Israel, what are we supposed to do when we see real anti-Semitism (like attacks on Synagogues or Jewish schools, attacks on people dressed like Jews, or calls to attack or kill Jews).

We have got to the point where anti-Israeli columnists open columns with a statement like “‘Some Jewish groups go so far as claiming any criticism of Israel is fuelled by anti-Semitism”, and then feel free to say whatever they want about Israel or Jews, because if they are accused of being anti-Semitic, that just proves their point.

However, I think that DovBear accurately summed up the joke affair:

  • The joke isn't funny.
  • The joke is poorly told.
  • The joke isn't offensive to Jews. It merely depicts us as smarter than a Taliban warrior. I'd like to meet the Jew who does not consider himself brighter than any Taliban.
  • The fact that Jones told a joke starring a smart Jew is no proof that his boss, the president, hates our guts. My dear GOP Jews, I know its tempting to make this leap of logic but the conclusion doesn't follow.

But, if you really feel that the joke is in bad taste or reflects badly on Jews, you should contact the people that told it first, that known anti-Jewish website: Aish HaTorah.

(Hat Tip: DovBear Comment from JustAJew)