How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

April 25, 2007

2007 is actually 1984.

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Commentary,News — howdoyoujew @ 12:03

Newspeak, courtesy of Reuters. (Thank you, Andrew Sullivan.)

April 11, 2007

Nancy Pelosi comes from good stock.

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,history,Israel,News,Politics — howdoyoujew @ 12:14

The JPost tells us about Pelosi’s father and the Holocaust. I look forward to seeing good things from her and her colleagues in terms of foreign policy this term.

January 29, 2007


Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict — howdoyoujew @ 22:40

Teach Kids Peace is a group worth noting.
I’m going to try turning off my filter and post every time I think to myself “Hey, that’s cool!” (normally I bookmark or add stuff to my list).

August 21, 2006

Tuesday in Tel Aviv

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Blogging,Commentary,Israel,News — howdoyoujew @ 09:14

This morning, Michael J. Totten, writing in Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, mentions something I haven’t heard a whit about, which is exactly the point of the article.

Meanwhile, the Opinion Editor in the Daily Aztec, Veronica Rollin, begs for an education by directly comparing the US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Israel-Hezbollah war, concluding that they are equally ineffectual. I’ll be composing my letter to the editor on my breaks today.

August 1, 2006

The Bitter and the Sweet

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Blogging — howdoyoujew @ 08:33

Life is conspiring against me at the moment and preventing regular updates (not an excuse, merely a statement of fact).

But in the meantime, please take a moment to sweeten the day of some of my comrades in arms defending Israel: Send a chocolate bar and a greeting to IDF soldiers.

July 24, 2006

Commentary on the Torah portion and current events

I delivered this drash this past Shabbat, Saturday, July 22, at Ohr Shalom. I’m proud to say that the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, shares my sentiments, as evidenced by his speech to the Knesset [Hebrew, English] on July 17 (which I had not read until today [hat tip, AbeJ]).

There are some terribly difficult passages in our sacred texts that force us to struggle fiercely to find meaningful lessons for our lives.

In parashat Matot, the nascent Israelite people – still strongly identified by their tribal affiliation – are commanded to exact retribution on behalf of God upon the Midianite people. Leading the Israelite warriors was Pinchas, son of Elazar the Priest. So, a Middle-Eastern nation led by a religious cleric goes out to make war on another nation for real or perceived wrongs, claiming to act on behalf of God.

Sound familiar at all?

It gets better: after the Israelites kill all the military-age males of Midian in battle, they take the women and children captive (along with all the livestock and cattle). When they return with this booty, Moses berates the army and orders them to KILL all the prisoners except for the virgins (who themselves would become servants, slaves or wives to the Israelites).

Despite some commentators’ dancing around this issue, there is no gray area here: regardless of the justification for the war on the Midianites, what the Israelites did afterwards was heinous and inexcusable to our modern sensibilities. Living as we do in a world beset by Islamic fundamentalist terror and all manner of violence rationalized by religious extremism of all stripes, we must unequivocally reject and uproot such behavior from our midst.

At the same time, we must – just as passionately and fervently – stand up to attacks on our being and do everything in our power to ensure that our rejection of senseless attacks on civilians isn’t taken advantage of by our enemies. As we have witnessed over the last week and a half, the IDF WILL take the fight to those who threaten and harm us, regardless of where they hide. And we will not quit until the job is done.

As my friend and teacher Rabbi Daniel Gordis said this week in his dispatch from Israel, “We know why they attacked [this time and in previous wars].  And we know why they’re still attacking.  And we’re determined to hold on for the same reason that they’re so determined never to stop.  There’s one reason, and one reason only:
The Jewish People has nowhere else to go.”

Ecclesiastes famously opined, “(There is) a time for war and a time for peace.” Make no mistake, my friends: we ARE at war, and we will give no quarter. Yet we will continue to seek peace and pursue it with those who wish to share it with us.

For generations we have taken the lessons of our texts and sages and applied them to our daily lives, trying to make our existence more holy and bring healing to a troubled world. But we have learned other lessons from our history, as well: we will never again allow ourselves to be enslaved; we will not again be forced out of our homeland, exiled and made to wander in the wilderness. We will stand up and fight, and those of us who cannot fight should make our voices heard in support of those who can and do.

As this day of rest continues, please join me in praying for the health and safety of the soldiers of the IDF who are defending Eretz Israel, and the successful completion of their mission. And please join me tomorrow at the rally in support of Israel at the JCC.

Shabbat shalom.

May 15, 2006

News about/from Israel, without the politics, the conflict, etc.

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Israel,News — howdoyoujew @ 12:47

Impossible, you say? Israel21c (Israel 21st Century), I respond. My dad sent me a link to a Fox News story (Flash video) from April about a futuristic military defense development that could help the American forces in Iraq (not to mention Israeli forces in their own work), and I found the story on Israel21c.

May 14, 2006

Good news, bad news… just news.

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Commentary,Israel,News — howdoyoujew @ 15:47

Life & death in Israel:
U.S. teen hurt in Tel Aviv suicide bombing in April dies of wounds, while on the same day, The terrorist who planned the attack is killed by the IDF
One of the things I want to encourage with this blog (and the discussion I hope will ensue shortly) is a well-informed audience. To that end, I want to reccommend news sources about Israel that the general public (and even some of the Jewish public) may not take advantage of regularly or even be aware of (I’ll put these in the sidebar, as well):


  • Ha’aretz – Israel’s newspaper of record, available in English and Hebrew.
  • The Jerusalem Post – An English-language daily published in Jerusalem.
  • Galei Tzahal – Israeli Army radio; the web site, in Hebrew only, is updated often with breaking news. Two radio feeds are available as free Windows Media streams: 1) Galgalatz, an all-music station, the only broadcast radio I listen to any more (it is usually on all day at work), and 2) the original Galei Tzahal, which includes a lot of talk shows and interviews, as well as music programming.

I’d like to list more sources, including new media. I’m open to suggestions. Please send them to howdoyoujew @ gmail dot com (remove the spaces and replace the word “dot” with… well, you know).

May 8, 2006

Our Difficult Texts

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Commentary,Israel,Shabbat,Torah Commentary — howdoyoujew @ 22:50

בראש השנה, בראש השנה…

On Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) 5766/2005 I had the honor of delivering a d’var Torah at Ohr Shalom Synagogue here in San Diego. I first met Rabbi Scott Meltzer in 1998, and our relationship has evolved and progressed quite a bit in the near decade since. I am proud to consider him a friend as well as a teacher, and I’m grateful for the repeated opportunities I’ve had to address his congregation.


Shana Tovah! First, I want to thank Rabbi Meltzer for this opportunity to speak about our Torah reading today. Several years ago, Rabbi Meltzer taught me that a good Dvar Torah should be brief, it should be personal, and, of course, it should teach some Torah. I hope I fulfill these conditions today with my 18-page thesis.

The story we read each Rosh Hashana, about the expulsion of Hagar & Ishmael from Avraham’s house, is a difficult one. I thought long and hard about how to spin the story positively. I considered the “new beginnings” and new home Hagar & Ishmael were forced to find and the connection to the new year, but I believe that would have been disingenuous and evasive. The bottom line is, this is a distressing, intensely disturbing story, and I wanted to tackle it head-on. (Incidentally, if you find it hard to believe that the Torah treats us to challenging tales at seemingly inopportune times, you should come to shul more often (wink & nudge to Rabbi).)

Seriously, though… If we take this time of year – well, seriously – it shouldn’t come as such a shock that each year on Rosh Hashana we’re forced to read a story that compels thorough introspection and self-reflection. Let’s recap: Avraham and Sarah failed to conceive children; Sarah gave Avraham permission to sleep with her handmaiden Hagar; the resultant offspring was Ishmael. In the portion we will read today, it is years later. Husband and wife are well into their golden years, and God tell Sarah that she will, in fact, have a child of her own. She laughs this silliness off, but then carries and gives birth to Isaac. She then experiences what is arguably one of the most severe bouts of post-partum depression in human history, and orders Avraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael. The father of the Jewish people initially protests, but then none other than God the Almighty tells him to listen to Sarah and accede to her wishes, whatever she says. Of course, as we know from reading ahead (or recalling from last year), Avraham tends to be the “follow God’s orders first, ask questions later (or not at all)” kind of guy, so the forced evacuation of Hagar & Ishmael is carried out. They are sent out into the desert with some bread and a skin of water.

Here’s the thing: Hagar, as previously mentioned, is a “handmaiden” – essentially a slave. So this expulsion is explained by some commentators, based on the laws of slavery at that time, as her being granted her freedom. What could be better than freeing slaves?! They live happily ever after, end of story, right? We now return to Avraham, Sarah, and Isaac, already in progress.

That doesn’t sit well with me. Hagar was an integral, even intimate member of Avraham and Sarah’s household for a very long time. Her relationship with the ancestor of our people was clearly more than slave and master, so the whole “you’re free now!” argument holds about as much water as the skin Avraham gave her and their son when he sent them out to the middle of the desert.

There are many possible moral lessons hidden in this tale. Many commentators view Ishmael unfavorably. With or without this prejudice, he is considered the father of the Arabs, with whom the Israelites of course have a long and, er, shall we say complicated history (I’ll refrain from getting into political or historical details here; maybe I’ll tackle those next year, if I get invited back).

Rather, I want to stay with Hagar & Ishmael on their journey. One particular turn of phrase, highlighted in the Etz Chayim chumash commentary on page 115, struck me this year.

After wandering in the desert for some time, their provisions run out, and Hagar leaves her son under a tree and goes to sit at some distance so as not to see him suffer and die. In chapter 21, verse 8, God speaks to her, saying,

קומי שאי את הנער והחזיקי את ידך בו – Get up, lift up the boy, and (as the translation has it) hold him by the hand.

But my familiarity with modern Hebrew (and, conveniently, the Etz Chayim commentary, as well) tells us that the literal meaning of “hachaziki et yadech bo” is “make your hand strong in his” – that is, draw strength from him! In contemporary Hebrew, we still use this phrase, although almost exclusively in parent-child relationships. In Hebrew-speaking households, “tachzik li et ha-yad” – hold my hand, or make my hand strong in yours – is the phrase invoked by parents and children for protection when crossing the street or walking in a crowded, potentially threatening place.

Hand-holding is relegated mostly to parents and children, and additionally to couples in love who aren’t afraid of “public displays of affection.” When we hold each others’ hands, literally or figuratively, we are capable of acts of courage or strength we wouldn’t be able to accomplish on our own. Thus the sense of protection and safety we feel crossing the street. But this strengthening extends beyond the personal realm, to the communal and the global levels. Our Jewish community organizations serve as financial, social, and spiritual hand-holds for needy individuals in our midst. And, at times, our entire community together can extend its hands in aid to other communities in need, as we just did in gathering aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and in response to previous disasters.

It is powerful indeed for me, as an Israeli-American Jew living in the 21st century, following centuries of conflict and bloodshed, to take such a potent lesson for strength and cooperation from the mother and son whose descendants we are trying to make peace with today. I pray that this year and always, we will be empowered by the example of Hagar & Ishmael, and remember that it is with our hands held that we strengthen each other and are able to accomplish the greatest acts of chesed and tzedek – lovingkindness and justice.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. Shana tovah u’metukah – a sweet, healthy, and happy new year.

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