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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘cultural’

‘Cultural Intifada’ As Artists, Celebrities Cancel Israel Plans

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010


JERUSALEM – Actress Meg Ryan’s decision to cancel her appearance at this week’s Jerusalem Film Festival didn’t garner the same attention in Israel as British rocker Elvis Costello’s nixing his Israel concert this spring.


Both, however, were a reminder to Israelis that in the eyes of much of the world, Israel’s politics and culture are inseparable.


The cancellations were part of a string that Israel has experienced over the past few months, including appearances by the indie rock band The Pixies, singer Devendra Banhart, alternative rockers Gorillaz, the British band the Klaxons and American soul singer Gil Scott-Heron.


In February, rock legend Carlos Santana withdrew from a sold-out performance reportedly due to pressure from pro-Palestinian groups.


Israelis have taken to calling this a “cultural intifada” – borrowing a term used by the Palestinians to describe their uprisings against Israel.


“Intense pressure is being applied to foreign artists not to come to Israel,” prominent Israeli promoter Shuki Weiss, who has brought such top-name acts to Israel as Madonna and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, told the Israeli business daily Globes.


After The Pixies canceled last month, Weiss called it “cultural terrorism.”


“I am full of both sorrow and pain in light of the fact that our repeated attempts to present quality acts and festivals in Israel have increasingly been falling victim to what I can only describe as a form of cultural terrorism which is targeting Israel and the arts worldwide,” Weiss wrote in a statement.


The most recent high-profile cancellation, by Ryan, came right after Israel’s deadly May 31 interception of the Gaza-bound, Turkish-flagged aid flotilla, which left nine passengers dead. A day later, Ryan’s staff e-mailed the Jerusalem Film Festival to say she would not be able to attend. Reports that actor Dustin Hoffman also canceled an appearance at the festival were unfounded; Hoffman had never been scheduled to attend the event.


When Costello canceled his two concerts in Tel Aviv at the end of June, he said the decision was “a matter of instinct and conscience.”


In a message posted on his website, Costello wrote, “There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.”


The cancellations have frustrated Israel’s music lovers, producers and friends.


Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar, whose 2007 movie “Beaufort” received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, told JTA that the refusal of artists to perform in Israel is a kind of collective punishment of the culture-loving public – often the very public that is “extra critical of Israeli policies.”


Cedar said that while he believes a boycott is “a legitimate way for an artist to express his political views,” they should be political views the artist has consistently and publicly held.


Some artists appear to be concerned that their performances in Israel will be perceived as a political endorsement of Israel’s policies.


When Banhart canceled a pair of Tel Aviv performances two days before their mid-June dates, a message posted on the artist’s website read: “We were coming to share a human and not a political message but it seems that we are being used to support views that are not our own. We will be overjoyed to return to Israel on the day that our presence is perceived and reported on as a cultural event and not a political one.”


Asked what the Israeli Sport and Culture Ministry is doing to stem the tide of cancellations, a ministry spokesman said “nothing.”


The cultural boycott of Israel has spread beyond the borders of the Jewish state. Last month, a popular Bob Dylan fan site began blocking users inside Israel in what the Danish site operator called a “cultural boycott” in response to the flotilla incident.


Israel has faced similar situations in the past. During the second intifada in the early 2000s, numerous artists canceled appearances in the country due to security concerns.


Still, many acts are going through with their scheduled performances. Some, like the British rock group Jethro Tull, are taking pains to draw distinctions between culture and politics.


After coming under pressure from pro-Palestinian groups such as the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Jethro Tull reaffirmed that it would be playing three concerts in Israel in early August.


Front man Ian Anderson said in a statement linked to the concert dates that he has “long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship and a distance kept between them.” Anderson also said he would donate his concert proceeds to charities promoting coexistence.


Others have been more unabashedly warm toward Israel. In mid-June, Elton John, who has donated money to Israeli causes, played before an enthusiastic crowd.


“Shalom, we are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby,” the singer told the crowd. “Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.”


Musicians Rod Stewart and Rihanna also performed in Israel last month. And on Sunday, Ynet reported that American singer Missy Elliott announced that after pressure to cancel her July 15 show in Tel Aviv, she will arrive in Israel a day early to tour the country with her entourage of dancers and crew.

(JTA)

‘Cultural Intifada’ As Artists, Celebrities Cancel Israel Plans

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

JERUSALEM – Actress Meg Ryan’s decision to cancel her appearance at this week’s Jerusalem Film Festival didn’t garner the same attention in Israel as British rocker Elvis Costello’s nixing his Israel concert this spring.

Both, however, were a reminder to Israelis that in the eyes of much of the world, Israel’s politics and culture are inseparable.

The cancellations were part of a string that Israel has experienced over the past few months, including appearances by the indie rock band The Pixies, singer Devendra Banhart, alternative rockers Gorillaz, the British band the Klaxons and American soul singer Gil Scott-Heron.

In February, rock legend Carlos Santana withdrew from a sold-out performance reportedly due to pressure from pro-Palestinian groups.

Israelis have taken to calling this a “cultural intifada” – borrowing a term used by the Palestinians to describe their uprisings against Israel.

“Intense pressure is being applied to foreign artists not to come to Israel,” prominent Israeli promoter Shuki Weiss, who has brought such top-name acts to Israel as Madonna and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, told the Israeli business daily Globes.

After The Pixies canceled last month, Weiss called it “cultural terrorism.”

“I am full of both sorrow and pain in light of the fact that our repeated attempts to present quality acts and festivals in Israel have increasingly been falling victim to what I can only describe as a form of cultural terrorism which is targeting Israel and the arts worldwide,” Weiss wrote in a statement.

The most recent high-profile cancellation, by Ryan, came right after Israel’s deadly May 31 interception of the Gaza-bound, Turkish-flagged aid flotilla, which left nine passengers dead. A day later, Ryan’s staff e-mailed the Jerusalem Film Festival to say she would not be able to attend. Reports that actor Dustin Hoffman also canceled an appearance at the festival were unfounded; Hoffman had never been scheduled to attend the event.

When Costello canceled his two concerts in Tel Aviv at the end of June, he said the decision was “a matter of instinct and conscience.”

In a message posted on his website, Costello wrote, “There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.”

The cancellations have frustrated Israel’s music lovers, producers and friends.

Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar, whose 2007 movie “Beaufort” received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, told JTA that the refusal of artists to perform in Israel is a kind of collective punishment of the culture-loving public – often the very public that is “extra critical of Israeli policies.”

Cedar said that while he believes a boycott is “a legitimate way for an artist to express his political views,” they should be political views the artist has consistently and publicly held.

Some artists appear to be concerned that their performances in Israel will be perceived as a political endorsement of Israel’s policies.

When Banhart canceled a pair of Tel Aviv performances two days before their mid-June dates, a message posted on the artist’s website read: “We were coming to share a human and not a political message but it seems that we are being used to support views that are not our own. We will be overjoyed to return to Israel on the day that our presence is perceived and reported on as a cultural event and not a political one.”

Asked what the Israeli Sport and Culture Ministry is doing to stem the tide of cancellations, a ministry spokesman said “nothing.”

The cultural boycott of Israel has spread beyond the borders of the Jewish state. Last month, a popular Bob Dylan fan site began blocking users inside Israel in what the Danish site operator called a “cultural boycott” in response to the flotilla incident.

Israel has faced similar situations in the past. During the second intifada in the early 2000s, numerous artists canceled appearances in the country due to security concerns.

Still, many acts are going through with their scheduled performances. Some, like the British rock group Jethro Tull, are taking pains to draw distinctions between culture and politics.

After coming under pressure from pro-Palestinian groups such as the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Jethro Tull reaffirmed that it would be playing three concerts in Israel in early August.

Front man Ian Anderson said in a statement linked to the concert dates that he has “long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship and a distance kept between them.” Anderson also said he would donate his concert proceeds to charities promoting coexistence.

Others have been more unabashedly warm toward Israel. In mid-June, Elton John, who has donated money to Israeli causes, played before an enthusiastic crowd.

“Shalom, we are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby,” the singer told the crowd. “Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.”

Musicians Rod Stewart and Rihanna also performed in Israel last month. And on Sunday, Ynet reported that American singer Missy Elliott announced that after pressure to cancel her July 15 show in Tel Aviv, she will arrive in Israel a day early to tour the country with her entourage of dancers and crew.

(JTA)

BT Parents/FFB Kids (Part II)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

In Part I (10-30-09) I responded to a question posed by a ba’al teshuvah (BT) who wanted to ensure that his frum-from-birth (FFB) children become well-integrated, healthy and normal, frumJews.

I discussed the distinctions between a mitzvah, minhag and chumrah, and something that does not fall into any of those categories – but rather is a cultural practice.

Some examples given were:

Putting on tefillin is a daily mitzvah (mandated commandment) incumbent upon all Jewish males above the age of 13.

Refraining from dipping matzah in liquids on Pesach (commonly referred to as gebrokts) is a minhag (a custom only observed in some communities).
Not using an eruv that has been approved by the vast majority of your city’s rabbanim is a chumrah (stringency) that many accept upon themselves.
Wearing a black fedora is a cultural practice prevalent in some communities.

It is of utmost importance that you fully understand the difference between these categories of Jewish practice – in your personal life and especially as you guide your children. It may be helpful to think of these categories as spiritual “needs and wants.” Mitzvos are mandatory practices. Chumros need not be observed, especially when one is first beginning Torah observance.

In reality, the harm caused by blurring the lines between these four components of Torah life is not limited to ba’alei teshuvah. It is something that many FFB parents engage in as well. Here’s an analogy that might shed light on this matter:

Imagine if you were talking about safety with your six-year-old child and you used the same tone of voice to describe the dangers of crossing the street without looking, taking a ride from a stranger, forgetting to brush one’s teeth and eating too many snacks. While you may wish to impart all these values to your child, lumping all four of them together will not give him/her the context necessary to prioritize them.

As noted in Part I, the complexity of these issues only underscores the need to find and maintain contact with a rav who understands you well and can guide your family with wisdom.

Maintain ties with your family: It is very important for the stability of your family life and your level of personal menuchas hanefesh (tranquility) to maintain ties with your non-observant parents and in-laws. I am well aware that there are those who advise ba’alei teshuvah parents to sever their ties with non-observant family members for fear of confusing their children. However, I feel that this thinking is fundamentally flawed in theory and practice.

In theory, what kind of message does it send when you walk away from your parents and siblings once you begin Torah observance? Shouldn’t the Torah teach you an enhanced level of respect for your family members?

In practice, as it relates to your children, severing relationships with your family unnecessarily robs your children of the unconditional love that grandparents have to offer. It will be difficult enough for them to watch their FFB family friends celebrate their simchahs with large extended family members. Why compound the pain by having them feel that they are rootless?

Here is a final point on this subject – one that may not be evident at first glance: When you exhibit tolerance for family members, you are making the profound statement that family bonds run deep and they override any differences that you may have with each other. Over the years, this unspoken lesson will serve your children well and enhance the respect that they will have for you.

You never know how things will turn out with your children. What if one of them decides to take a different path in life than the one you charted for him/her? If you send clear and consistent messages over the years that “family matters,” that child will, in all likelihood, remain close to your family members. However, if you decided that spiritual matters are grounds for severing ties with parents and siblings, how do you know that this logic will not be used against you in a different context one or two decades down the road?

To be sure, there are many challenges that you will face regarding kashrus (kosher food requirements), tzniyus (modesty), and other matters. But they are very manageable, provided that an atmosphere of mutual respect is created and nurtured. Over the years, I have attended hundreds of lifecycle events of ba’alei teshuvah where their non-observant family members were active and respected participants.

Find a community and schools for your children that are tolerant and understanding: It is of the utmost importance that you find a community that will accept you with welcoming arms. That means one where you will not cringe with the “what-will-the-neighbors-think” thought process when your non-observant brother comes to visit. If you feel that way in your community, you may not be in the right one.

As for selecting schools, see to it that the school’s educational philosophy is in general sync with yours. I often get calls from parents who are put off by certain policies (dress codes, media exposure regulations, etc.) that their children’s schools maintain, or the culture of the institution (i.e. what will the rebbe say about Thanksgiving, and does it match how you feel about it?). And equally often, these guidelines were in place when the parents originally enrolled their children. One cannot blame a school for enforcing their stated policies.

Generally speaking, ba’alei teshuvah parents should not enroll their children in Yiddish-teaching yeshivahs. I am aware of the cultural reasons that people are inclined to do so, but in the case of ba’alei teshuvah, I think that this is simply a bad practice – unless you are fluent in Yiddish yourself. It will be difficult enough to do Judaic studies homework with your children as they grow older without compounding matters by adding language barriers that will virtually guarantee that you will not understand what your child is learning – let alone be in a position to help him or her.

In sum, when raising your FFB children – as with all other areas of life – follow the timeless advice of Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) and stay on “the golden path” of moderation. It is the quintessential road map for success.

BT Parents/FFB Kids (Part I)

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

What is your advice for ba’alei teshuvah (BT) parents raising frum-from-birth (FFB) children in terms of ensuring that the children are well-integrated, healthy and normal frum Jews? It is sometimes easy for us, as BT parents, to be very strict because of insecurities from our own upbringing and lack of family minhagim. It would be helpful if you offered a few pointers, to be explored with rebbe’im and suited for our family needs.

Thank you.

Dear Parents:

Your excellent question practically answers itself, and leads me to believe that you already have a deep understanding of the opportunities – and challenges – that you face in raising your FFB children. You hit the nail on the head when you noted that you wanted to raise “well-integrated, healthy and normal frum Jews.” That balance is exactly what you ought to be striving to achieve.

If you regularly read my columns, you may know where my suggestions will start. One of my mantras is that most of the issues that we face when raising our children are reflections of our own struggles. In order to raise well-integrated, healthy and normal frum Jewish children, you need to begin with well-integrated, healthy and normal frum Jewish adult parents. That means adhering to the timeless advice of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) and remain on the golden path of moderation. After all, if you don’t want your children to be raised in an overly strict environment, the best way to achieve that goal is not to go overboard in your personal lives.

Here are some practical tips:

Grow slowly: Many meforshim (commentaries) suggest that the dream of our patriarch Yaakov (see Bereishis 28:12), where he envisioned angels climbing up and down a ladder, is a profound analogy to our spiritual pursuits. The Torah describes how the legs of the ladder were placed on the ground while its top reached the very heavens. The correlation is an insightful one for everyone, but is all the more relevant for ba’alei teshuvah. We ought to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground – all the while reaching for profound spiritual heights.

The reason that the image of a ladder was used in the dream (as opposed to, for example, a road leading to heaven) is that you simply cannot run up a ladder. So, too, spiritual growth needs to be a sustained and steady process.

Find a rav who truly understands ba’alei teshuvah issues: Not all rabbanim have a deep understanding of the complex mix of halachic and social issues where ba’alei teshuvah need individualized direction. Finding a rav who understands those complex issues – and you – will provide your family with an invaluable resource. Similarly, it may be helpful for you to find a ba’al teshuvah couple 10 years or so older than you who can mentor you as your family passes mileposts and lifecycle events. Those include enrolling children in school, bar/bat mitzvah, high school placements, shidduchim, etc.

I recommend checking out http://www.beyondbt.com/ for ba’alei teshuvah men and women. I am proud to serve as one of the rabbinic advisers of the website, and it has provided advice, camaraderie, and spiritual guidance for ba’alei teshuvah around the world over the past few years.

Be yourself: Ba’alei teshuvah may be concerned that they are poor role models for their children since they are following their less-than-perfect Torah and mitzvah observance. I think not. You are setting a wonderful example for your children by seeking to grow spiritually throughout your lives.

I encourage you to read a terrific article (available by running a search for “Kokis” on my website, http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/) by my dear chaver, Rabbi Bentzion Kokis, shlita, titled “Integration: Helping Ba’alei Teshuvah Be Themselves.” Rabbi Kokis is an outstanding talmid chacham with decades of experience guiding ba’alei teshuvah, and his advice is equally outstanding. He advises refraining from jettisoning your personality, hobbies, interests, education, career – and sense of humor – as you embrace Torah and mitzvos.

Distinguish between mitzvah, minhag, chumrah, and culture: In your question, you noted that, “It is sometimes easy for us, as BT parents, to be very strict because of insecurities from our own upbringing and lack of family minhagim.” In order to gain a better understanding of when to be firm and when to be flexible, you must distinguish between a mitzvah, minhag, chumrah, and something that does not fall into any of the three categories – namely a cultural practice. Here are some examples:

*Putting on tefillin is a daily mitzvah (a mandated commandment), incumbent upon all Jewish males above the age of 13.

*Refraining from dipping matzah in liquids on Pesach (commonly referred to as “gebrokts”) is a minhag (a custom only observed in some communities).

*Not using an eiruv that has been approved by the vast majority of your city’s rabbanim is a chumrah (stringency) that many accept upon themselves.

*Wearing a black fedora is a cultural practice prevalent in some communities.

It is extremely important that you fully understand the differences between these categories of Jewish practice – in your personal life and while guiding your children.

More on this issue, with additional practical tips, in my next column.

On The Passing Of Victor D. Sanua

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

   Victor D. Sanua, Ph.D., z”l, a pioneer in cross-cultural studies of mental illness, was also known for his studies on American Jewish communities and the Jews of Egypt, passed away July 12, at the age of 88 in Brooklyn, New York.

 

   At the time of his death Dr. Sanua was research professor in psychology at St. John’s University in Queens, from which he had officially retired in 1990. However, he continued publishing papers in psychology and conducting research on the history of the Jewish community of Egypt until recently.

 

   During his career, he published hundreds of articles, often focusing on familial and cultural factors in mental illness, particularly in depression, schizophrenia, and autism, and in the measurement of intelligence. He led and was active in many professional organizations.

 

   However, a significant portion of his papers dealt with topics related to Jews. Most prominently, as director of research at the Associated YM-YWHA’s of Greater New York from 1960-1965, he conducted studies that led him to predict correctly that the Jewish intermarriage rate, then no more than six percent, would skyrocket in succeeding generations.

 

   Dr. Sanua was born to a prominent Sephardic Jewish family of Turkish origin in Cairo, Egypt. One cousin, Jacob Sanua (Ya’qub Sanu’) was a prominent literary man and Egyptian nationalist; another, Moise, served as secretary to the chief rabbi of Egypt, Rabbi Nahum Effendi; and Edmund, Moise’s brother, was active in the Lehi (Stern Group) and fought in Israel’s War of Independence.

 

   As did most such families in Cairo, the family spoke French, the language of commerce, and the Judeo-Spanish dialect known as Ladino. Dr. Sanua also spoke Italian, the language of his citizenship. He learned English as a teenager and obtained two undergraduate degrees from the American University of Cairo in 1945 and 1949, where he developed his interest in psychology.

 

   Dr. Sanua immigrated to the United States in 1950, and received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1956, where he wrote his dissertation on differences of personality adjustment among different generations of American Jews and non-Jews.

 

   His first faculty appointment, in 1960, was at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, followed by stints at CCNY, Adelphi University and finally St. John’s. He spent his sabbatical year from 1973-1974 in Israel at Tel Aviv University and Tel Hashomer Hospital, where he treated initial psychiatric casualties during and after the Yom Kippur War, and produced studies on war, bereavement, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

   In retirement, Dr. Sanua focused on retrieving the heritage of the Jewish community of Egypt, which reached 80,000 in the early years of the past century and then was dispersed in the wake of the Arab-Israeli wars in the 1940s and 1950s. In publishing a series of newsletters devoted to the historical legacy of this community, he established a worldwide network of correspondents who contributed to this publication.

 

   The newsletters, along with other publications by Dr. Sanua on the history of Sephardic Jewry, were collected in his book, Egyptian Jewry: A Guide to Egyptian Jewry in the Mid-Twentieth Century. The newsletter was greatly enriched by Dr. Sanua’s unique trove of photographs of the Egyptian Jewish community he had smuggled out upon leaving Egypt in 1950.

 

   He was married for over 50 years to Stella Sardell Sanua, who passed away in 2006. He is survived by his sister Odette Benjamin, his children David and Marianne, and two grandchildren. The shloshim in honor of his memory will be held at his house at 2416 Quentin Road, Brooklyn, NY on Sunday, August 9 at 5:30 p.m.

 

   May his memory be for a blessing.

Title: The Sun’s Special Blessing

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Title:The Sun’s Special Blessing


Author: Sandy Wasserman


Illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky


Publisher: Pitspopany Press


 

 

            Jewish day school and yeshiva classroom around the world are buzzing with excitement as children are being taught the special meaning and significance of Birkas HaChama.

 

            On Erev Pesach, the 14th of Nissan (April 8, 2009) Jewish people will recite the blessing for the sun that is said only once every 28 years. Marking the exact time that Hashem created the sun during the six days of creation, Birkas HaChama has captured the imagination of both children and adults.

 

            In this cogently written and beautifully illustrated book for children, entitled The Sun’s Special Blessing, author Sandy Wasserman takes her young readers along on an inspirational journey with a class of third graders who learn profound lifetime lessons; namely, that as much as things change with time, certain things always remain the same.

 

            Through the sensitive and creative lessons of their teacher, Mr. Jacobs, Adam, Talia and the other children gain a deeper appreciation for the world that they live in and Hashem‘s glory and majesty.

 

            When Adam asks why we bless the sun once every 28 years, Mr. Jacobs replies that, “Hashem created the sun on the fourth day of Creation. Even though the sun is in the sky daily, it’s only in the exact spot it was at Creation every twenty-eight years.”

 

            The inquisitive young minds yearn to delve deeper and Mr. Jacobs tells them of his experience reciting Birkas HaChama back in 1981 when he was their age and a student at that very school. At a class project at that time, Mr. Jacobs and his fellow classmates brought in items from that period to place in a time capsule that they placed in the ground to be unearthed 28 years later. Since he remembers where it was buried, Mr. Jacobs distributes shovels and leads his students outside near the school flagpole. The children roar with excitement when they find out that whoever taps the time capsule first gets to keep what is included in it. Brimming with great interest and exuberance, each child takes his or her turn until they have located the buried capsule.

 

            Talia is the lucky one who finds it and the children learn about a past world. Memorabilia from the early 1980s such as a Rubik’s cube, a VHS movie tape, a New York Times photo of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and cassette tapes of Uncle Moishy songs are among the items of a bygone era that they find.

 

            Mr. Jacobs gives them a brief history lesson on each item and the popular cultural trends of the time. He then suggests that the class mark the special 2009 Birkas HaChama by dedicating time to learn about the history of the blessing, the Hebrew calendar and to collect items for their own 2009 time capsule to be dug up in 2037.

 

            Mr. Jacobs asks the class to think about how 2009 will be remembered in Jewish and secular history and to select items to be placed in the polyethylene time capsule that reflect the religious, cultural and political norms of the time. Talia decides to write a letter to include in the time capsule addressed to the students of 2037, and imagines their excitement as they too learn about Birkat HaChama and are equally amazed at the events of 2009.

 

            This thoughtful book makes a great bedtime story for elementary-aged children and an invaluable educational tool for day schools and yeshivas. No Jewish home or library should be without it.

Title: The Sun’s Special Blessing

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Title:The Sun’s Special Blessing

Author: Sandy Wasserman

Illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky

Publisher: Pitspopany Press

  

            Jewish day school and yeshiva classroom around the world are buzzing with excitement as children are being taught the special meaning and significance of Birkas HaChama.

 

            On Erev Pesach, the 14th of Nissan (April 8, 2009) Jewish people will recite the blessing for the sun that is said only once every 28 years. Marking the exact time that Hashem created the sun during the six days of creation, Birkas HaChama has captured the imagination of both children and adults.

 

            In this cogently written and beautifully illustrated book for children, entitled The Sun’s Special Blessing, author Sandy Wasserman takes her young readers along on an inspirational journey with a class of third graders who learn profound lifetime lessons; namely, that as much as things change with time, certain things always remain the same.

 

            Through the sensitive and creative lessons of their teacher, Mr. Jacobs, Adam, Talia and the other children gain a deeper appreciation for the world that they live in and Hashem’s glory and majesty.

 

            When Adam asks why we bless the sun once every 28 years, Mr. Jacobs replies that, “Hashem created the sun on the fourth day of Creation. Even though the sun is in the sky daily, it’s only in the exact spot it was at Creation every twenty-eight years.”

 

            The inquisitive young minds yearn to delve deeper and Mr. Jacobs tells them of his experience reciting Birkas HaChama back in 1981 when he was their age and a student at that very school. At a class project at that time, Mr. Jacobs and his fellow classmates brought in items from that period to place in a time capsule that they placed in the ground to be unearthed 28 years later. Since he remembers where it was buried, Mr. Jacobs distributes shovels and leads his students outside near the school flagpole. The children roar with excitement when they find out that whoever taps the time capsule first gets to keep what is included in it. Brimming with great interest and exuberance, each child takes his or her turn until they have located the buried capsule.

 

            Talia is the lucky one who finds it and the children learn about a past world. Memorabilia from the early 1980s such as a Rubik’s cube, a VHS movie tape, a New York Times photo of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and cassette tapes of Uncle Moishy songs are among the items of a bygone era that they find.

 

            Mr. Jacobs gives them a brief history lesson on each item and the popular cultural trends of the time. He then suggests that the class mark the special 2009 Birkas HaChama by dedicating time to learn about the history of the blessing, the Hebrew calendar and to collect items for their own 2009 time capsule to be dug up in 2037.

 

            Mr. Jacobs asks the class to think about how 2009 will be remembered in Jewish and secular history and to select items to be placed in the polyethylene time capsule that reflect the religious, cultural and political norms of the time. Talia decides to write a letter to include in the time capsule addressed to the students of 2037, and imagines their excitement as they too learn about Birkat HaChama and are equally amazed at the events of 2009.

 

            This thoughtful book makes a great bedtime story for elementary-aged children and an invaluable educational tool for day schools and yeshivas. No Jewish home or library should be without it.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books//2009/03/26/

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