Monday, July 30, 2012

Jerry Wasserman to Record Live CD August 10

Be a part of history - Friday August 10, 2012: 7:30 to 9:30pm Chair of the Needham Board of Selectman, Jerry Wasserman with his band, Jerry and the Great Experiment including Jerry, Bo Veaner, Bill Okerman, Faith and Dan Senie, with special guest blues singer Carolyn Waters will perform. Jerry Wasserman is recording a live CD of the performance. Well, the CD isn't alive; it’s made of plastic, but will be recorded in front of a live audience. This is where you come in; you can be part of the audience. It all takes place at the First Parish Needham Unitarian Universalist Church on August 10 at 7:30pm. The concert, food and refreshments are all free. Many of Jerry’s songs are on the satirical side so we’ll have some fun. I really need an audience, and you really need fun, music, food and drink. What a convergence of needs! It's a concert, a party, and who knows what else! You’ll have to come and see. RSVP for count. Email or call 781-444-3771. We hope you can make it. Jerry

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Copy That

This blog post from Temple Beth Shalom's CJ Kaplan originally appeared on The Good Men Project. If you have kids at overnight camp this summer or have in the past, you'll really appreciate this. If you like this essay follow this link to see his other essays on The Good Men Project.

CJ Kaplan finds out what it takes to be both a father and a brother to his son.

My little boy is at sea in every sense of the word. I stand beside him as he dives fearlessly into the rugged surf that pounds the shoreline of Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach. It is one of those rare, precious days when the North Atlantic reluctantly grants elevated water temperatures in concert with the warm, summer air. This is a day that we will recall wistfully in January when winter is tearing at us with its icy fangs. And yet, despite the ideal conditions, my youngest child is adrift.

Eric has been in a semi-funk ever since his older brother left for overnight camp in New Hampshire two weeks ago. Alex is Eric’s hero, although even that lofty moniker seems grossly insufficient to describe their relationship. Eric worships Alex. Blessedly, Alex is the best kind of hero. He returns the love in equal measure.

Though Alex is ten and Eric is not quite six, they are a peer group unto themselves. The two of them spend nearly every second of free time with each other. When Alex gets together with his friends to play ball after school, Eric joins them. When Alex flips on the TV, Eric squeezes up next to him on the couch until the two of them are essentially occupying the same space. When Alex is invited to a sleepover party, Eric packs his pajamas and tags along.

Alex and Eric. Eric and Alex. They are a package deal.

When Alex decided to join his older sister at camp this year, we knew it would be a bumpy transition. I spent many summers at an overnight camp in Maine as a kid, and I was a big advocate of my children doing the same. My wife, who never spent a significant period of time away from home until she got to college, was a tougher sell. But, after seeing how much our daughter Samantha enjoyed the experience over the past two years, she was less reluctant with Alex.

So, a week after school ended this June we packed Samantha and Alex into the minivan and headed north. On the way there, Samantha did everything you could want a big sister to do. She told Alex about all the great things he’d get to do that summer. She placed special emphasis on all the sports he’d surely be playing, even though she herself favors the arts and culture side of camp. She even assuaged his fears about being away from home, saying that every night was like “a giant sleepover with your best friends.”

But, Alex still looked worried. Not about himself, as I guessed and later confirmed. But, about Eric.

We’d left Eric in the care of my mom that day. She took him to day camp in one car while we left with Samantha and Alex in the other. We figured it would be much easier to say goodbye at our house in private than in front of Alex’s new bunkmates. There were tears, but we got through it. Later, as Alex struggled with his own emotions while he watched us get into the minivan and leave, my wife voiced what both of us were thinking.

“How do you think Eric will be?” she asked.

The answer turned out to be mixed. Eric reveled in the undivided attention he suddenly commanded. There was always a parent available to play ball or make lunch or read books. He didn’t have to wait for anything. He’d even taken great delight in micromanaging the remote control to the point that he never had to watch a second of anything that didn’t interest him.

Then, there were other moments. Like recently, when I was writing to Alex and Eric was playing nearby.

“Is there anything you want me to tell Alex in my letter?” I asked.

“Tell him that I miss him so much that I cry sometimes,” replied Eric without hesitation.

Redacting like Viet Nam-era Army editor, I wrote: “Eric says that he misses you, but that’s he’s having lots of fun and hopes you are too.”

In hopes of helping Eric pass the time happily, I’ve fashioned myself into a surrogate Alex. I play all the games that Eric usually plays with Alex, including the ones that they’ve made up themselves. I sit and watch all the TV shows they enjoy together. I even try to match Eric’s enthusiasm for the Red Sox like Alex does, even though the team itself refuses to show any enthusiasm for the game of baseball. If nothing else, I am a physical presence that approximates Alex. I am a 43-year-old man pretending to be a 10-year-old boy.

And despite all that, here we are, standing in cathartic tides of Good Harbor on this impossibly beautiful summer day. And my son is still floating.

“Hey, Boo Bear,” I say as he dives over another wave. “You wanna learn how to bodysurf?”

“Sure,” he says.

I show him how to anticipate the break of a wave and then to dive ahead so you can feel it lift and carry you toward shore. At first, he is hesitant. But, gradually he trusts the waves and himself enough to succeed.

I applaud as he goes further and further with each attempt.

“Does Alex know how to bodysurf?” he asks as we wait for another swell.

“Yeah, I taught him a couple of years ago,” I reply.

“I can’t wait to show him now that I can do it,” he says, smiling.

At that moment, my wife wades in to join us. Upon seeing Eric catch a wave and ride it a few yards, she cheers.

“I can see Daddy has taught you everything in his bag of tricks,” she jokes.

“Yeah, I was copying him,” boasts Eric. “That’s how you learn. From copying your Daddy.”

That may be so. But, sometimes you also learn from copying your son.

Monday, July 16, 2012

King Manasseh of Judah and the Reinterpretation of History

This post originally appeared on Rabbi Sonsino’s blog, “From Istanbul to Boston”

The writing of history is based on interpretation of past events. Depending on who is the interpreter, the record changes considerably. Modern historians often challenge the myths created about ancient times. So, it is not always possible to evaluate the reliability of an historical text, unless you know the perspective of the narrator. A good biblical example of this issue is found in the long reign attributed to King Manasseh of Judah.

There are two parallel and contradictory stories about Manasseh: one in II K 21 and a later one in Chr 33. Each one has a different take on what transpired during his rule. Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah of Judah, became king in 698/7 BCE at a young age (the Bible says, twelve years old). Like his father, he, too, was a vassal of the Assyrians (cf. ANET, 291). However, unlike his father who was a supporter of YHVH, Manasseh, for reasons that are not clear, became an idolater, and worshiped other gods (II K 21: 2 ff). In fact, the biblical tradition considers him the worst of all the Judean kings in this respect. [In the Talmud, he is also known as the one who had the prophet Isaiah killed; cf. Yev. 49b; Pesikta Rab. 4]. Yet, he reigned a very long time (the Bible says, fifty five years), more than any other king in Judah.

The Book of Kings operated with the belief that if you follow YHVH you are rewarded; if you don’t, you are punished. So, the example of a sinful king reigning a very long time created a dilemma for the biblical narrator. The probability is that Manasseh remained on the throne for more than five decades, because he was a loyal vassal. But that is not the way Kings and Chronicles see it, for their respective author/editors were primarily interested in a religious evaluation of personalities involved in the monarchy. The Book of Kings solves the problem by saying that it was Manasseh’s unfaithfulness that caused Jerusalem unexpected tragedies, an oblique reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians later on in 586 BCE: “Because King Manasseh of Judah has done these abhorrent things…..and because he led Judah to sin with his fetishes…I [God] am going to bring such a disaster on Jerusalem and Judah….”(vv. 11-13). However, this value judgment created an additional theological problem; namely, innocent people who lived after Manasseh were punished for the sins of the king and the presumed participation of his generation. That is not fair, and later biblical texts repudiated this notion by establishing the principle of individual responsibility, as the prophet Ezekiel states, “The person who sins, only he shall die” (18: 4; cf. Jer. 31: 27-30; Deut. 24: 16).

Another answer to the king’s longevity is found in the parallel text of Chr 33. There, according to its author/editor, King Manasseh was allowed to live that long, only because he ultimately repented of his sins, an important detail not found in Kings: “In his distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (II Chr. 33: 12). And, because God is merciful, God accepted his repentance, and returned him to his glory. Interestingly, even though our biblical text does not include any prayer by Manasseh, the Apocrypha, edited during the second temple period (2nd or 1st cent BCE), actually provides such a text (see “The Prayer of Manasseh”). It is not clear where the author/editor of Chronicles got his information about Manasseh’s repentance. It seems that, by including it, he wanted to justify God’s justice, and thought that if Manasseh lived that long is because he must have been rewarded by turning back to Yahwism.

Who is right? Which version is more reliable? It is unlikely that the two texts complement one another. There are too many differences in details. To me, they read like two different interpretations of the same basic events in order to justify the ideology of each narrator.

So, next time you read an historical text, ask yourself, what is the author’s agenda? Much will depend on this answer.

Rifat Sonsino

Monday, July 2, 2012

There's an app for that!

Have you ever wanted to have a better understanding of what happens during services?  Do you ever wish you could follow along better, perhaps even sing along with blessings, prayers or songs?  Have you ever wanted to help your children feel more confident with their Hebrew reading but didn’t quite know how to do that?  If you said yes to any of these questions, then I have a potential solution for you. 

You actually may have already read about it online or in the papers, but a few months ago, The Central Conference of American Rabbis Press launched iT’filah.  iT’filah is a user friendly app for the iPad which enables the user to explore parts of the siddur or even pray in the comfort of your own home and at your leisure.  When it first came out this past December they unveiled the Erev Shabbat or Friday night service.  Since then, they have added the weekday morning service as well as Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal and the CCAR Press is continuing to expand their library in the coming months.

If you already own an iPad, I would strongly encourage you to buy the iT’filah app.  Get to know the Shabbat service better.  Enlarge the font, click on the treble clefs on the top of certain pages and sing along with the embedded tracks.  Let your fingers wander through this e-siddur and allow these ancient words come alive in a new and contemporary way. 

Bring it with you to Shabbat services with the mute button on and let your kids take turns following along on the iPad.  I can tell you that at a recent rabbinic conference I experimented with praying with my iPad and at first it was a little challenging but I must admit I found myself engaged in a different way which was exciting.  What do you have to lose?

Once you try it, please let me know what you think!

Rabbi Michele Lenke