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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘High Holidays’

Dancing A Holy Neshamah Back Home

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

We had just finished celebrating the High Holidays in Boca Raton. With the intensity of those days behind us, we were looking forward to visiting my family in New York. The kids were so excited and counted down the days until they would see their Bubby and Zayde, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Never did I realize that while I was deciding what clothes to pack for the Yom Tov of Sukkos, I would also be packing clothes for my father’s levayah.

The first days of Sukkos were so beautiful – all the family together, the long meals, my children fighting to sit next to their Zayde. Even the weather was perfect. The topic of conversation was my dad telling my bechor, Yoni, how happy he was to buy him tefillin for his upcoming bar mitzvah. My son would joke around with him that he should buy him a car instead. My dad would say, “A car will get you far, but tefillin will get you much further.”

My father loved shul; he would always talk about the importance of place and time in Judaism. He was saddened when one of my sons didn’t show up at shul on Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed. I explained to my father that he was just tired from staying up late the night before; my father responded, “Would he have been able to wake up on time if he was going to the Giants game, instead of to shul?” The truth is, my boys were scheduled to go to the Giants game the next morning, and I knew there is no way they would have missed it, no matter how tired they were. “Well,” said my father, “shul is more important than any Giants game where we just watch a game of players. In shul, we participate as the players. The real “Giants” are those steeped in prayer.”

The next couple of days of Chol Hamoed where amazing; we spent so much time together. We went to Hershey Park, bowling, a simchas beis hashoeva – every minute was jam-packed. Even when we got rained on at Hershey Park, my dad was able to turn it into fun. We have so many pictures and memories from that week.

I will never forget the night going right into Simchas Torah. I brought my children to shul with their flags, anticipating the highest high of the year, when we celebrate completing the Torah. My father davened mincha, followed by the rav’s shiur which was about our renewing our love for Torah constantly; even if we just completed it, there are always more levels to attain. Right after the shiur ended, my father collapsed right into my eldest son’s arms. Within seconds, Hatzolah was there. The entire shul started saying tehillim for him.

Everything after that become such a blur: my mother, my husband, and my sister went to the hospital. I went back to my sister’s home with the kids. I didn’t stop saying tehillim. I divided the chapters among everyone so we could complete the entire sefer. I didn’t give up hope. I kept telling Hashem to change the decree.

When my husband came back, I saw it was bad from the look in his eyes. I ran away from him, I didn’t want to hear him say the words. Blindly, aimlessly, I ran right into the sukkah in my sister’s backyard. I cried so hard. All our lives we learn about the sukkah being a symbol of faith in Hashem. We shake the lulav in all direction to show Hashem is everywhere, in the lows and in the highs. In my pain, I realized that I was surrounded by Hashem’s shade. I felt Hashem sending me a message, telling me not to worry, that everything happens for a reason. There, in the sukkah, I made the brachah dayan emes.

After hearing words of Torah on earth, my beautiful father went to learn Torah in the Upper World. The tefillin he so longingly wanted to give his grandson would be his own pair of tefillin.

At first, I didn’t understand how it would be possible for the shul to have hakafos in the place where my father died. But then I realized how beautiful it really was. My father was always filled with simchas hachaim, always cheering people up. He was the candy man in shul. No other day would be more appropriate for his soul to return to his Maker than Simchas Torah.

We are always so happy when a new neshamah comes down to this world and sad when it leaves when, really, it should be the opposite. My father’s neshamah was so holy–he was born on Pesach night and left on Simchas Torah. Such a wonderful neshamah deserved to be danced all the way back home. We danced for him, as his mitzvos danced for him in the Next World.

The next morning, my children danced for the Torah that my father loved. They were embraced by the whole community.

I’m so happy I had this time with my father. Even while his death has been so shocking and the pain is so raw, I pray that Mashiach will come soon. I keep getting messages from Hashem that my father is in a good place. These past weeks, the media has been talking about the rescue of the miners in Chile. Such a miracle, where people arose from underground, alive, after many days and weeks, could only parallel the real techiyas hameisim. I daven that the real techiyas hameisim be soon and that we may all be united with our loved ones again. In the meantime, I will think of my father and everything he taught me. I miss you, Daddy. Thank you for touching so many people’s lives.

May my father, Yehuda Alter ben Zion, have an aliyas neshamah.

What’s New with Prague’s Old-New Synagogue, And Old Jewish Cemetery?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

House of Life: The Old Jewish

Cemetery in Prague

A film by Allan Miller and Mark Podwal

First Run Features, 52 minutes, $24.95

www.houseoflifefilm.com/

 

Built by Angels: The Story of the

Old-New Synagogue

By Mark Podwal

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 48 pages, $16

www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/

 

 

When on April 5th, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod, a senior White House advisor, she expressed particular interest in the synagogue’s collection of drawings by children from the concentration camp of Terez?n, which they created under the tutelage of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944). When the group viewed the Old Jewish Cemetery, they were following in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton, and the more than half a million tourists who come each year, according to a recent article by Mark Podwal in The Jerusalem Post.

 

Podwal should know, having visited Prague 15 times – often to spend the High Holidays and Passover at the Old-New Synagogue where he has his own seat with a Hebrew-and-English plaque bearing his name. Podwal has designed a poster celebrating 100 years of the Jewish Museum in Prague, and his Hamsa bookmarks and pins were sold in the Metropolitan Museum’s store in conjunction with its exhibit “Prague, The Crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437″ (2005-2006). More recently, he is also the author and illustrator of a new book on the synagogue, and co-producer with Allan Miller of a new documentary on Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery, which aired on PBS earlier this month.

 

 

Allan Miller (right) and Mark Podwal

 

 

If the documentary must be summed up in one sentence, it would be Professor Vladim?r Sadek’s statement early on in the film, that Rabbi Judah Loew – the Maharal – was “traditional, ancient, and modern.” Indeed, the city that “House of Life” captures is one of juxtaposed opposites: cars, buses, and McDonalds logos, with tourist shops selling Golem dolls and candles, alternating with camera shots of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, with stones half-blank for Holocaust victims.

 

“House of Life” is no travel agency pitch for Prague, though it is jam-packed with fascinating historical facts and beautiful landscape shots. The first time a Star of David was officially used as an emblem for the Jewish community was on the tombstone of Rabbi David Gans (1541-1613), the author of the “Tzemach David.” On the stone, a goose symbolizes the surname, while the star, allegedly the shape of King David’s shield, reflects the historian and astronomer’s first name.

 

Other decorations on tombstones include: hands arranged a la [Star Trek's] Spock (for a Cohen), a pitcher and washbasin (Levi), scissors (tailor), grapes (fertility), and various animals like lions (for those named Judah) and deer (for someone named Hirsch). There are even human figures (including nudes) on the tombstones, which may surprise some readers. But the film also has a journalistic touch when it interviews people who complain about being forced to pay to visit the cemetery. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the film are a series of paintings detailing the activities of the burial society, from preparing the body to the rabbi’s eulogy to washing the hands after leaving the cemetery.

 

The story also addresses the magic surrounding the Maharal, and in so doing overlaps with “Built by Angels.” Both the film and the book tell of white doves miraculously flapping their wings to extinguish fires that threatened the Altneuschul, the Old-New Synagogue. Both also tell of the synagogue’s stones, which were on loan from the Temple and which were to be returned for the next Temple, and of ghosts filling the synagogue after hours to pray when all the people had left. 

 

 

Interior of the Altneuschul

 

 

Podwal explains early on in the book that the Altneuschul, which has “as many stories as stones,” was said to have been constructed by angels, but was later forgotten. A thousand years later, the Jews came to Prague and found a beautiful city with many churches, but no place for them to pray. An angel, posing as a beggar, showed them a hill, and when they dug upon the hill, they uncovered the synagogue – “Although old, it mysteriously looked new.” As the beggar-angel prepared to leave, he told the people that the stones derived from the Temple, and they must not be moved at all, lest the entire structure fall.

 

The synagogue evoked the Temple in other ways too. On the High Holidays, when congregants were so tightly packed in that “no one could force a finger between them,” the stones expanded so there was room for everyone to bow down. This recalls a similar statement about the Temple in Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:5, in which the Temple was said to, have “opened up” on certain holidays (for the “regalim,” or “feet,” when all Jews living in or near Jerusalem flocked to the Temple) so that every person had enough room to bow on the ground.

 

Podwal’s book – which includes a wide range of Jewish and mystical symbols in its drawings, including angel’s wings, Torah pointers (yads), Hebrew letters, and Kabbalistic motifs – details others sorts of miracles that graced the synagogue. Congregants had to bang on the doors in the morning to let the ghosts know it was time to leave, and a piece of matzoh (the Afikomen, in fact) hung in the building all year. With Passover immediately behind us, a year-round matzoh might not sound particularly appetizing or miraculous, but this piece had special powers to protect the Jewish community.

 

 

Praying on the High Holidays. Image from “Built by Angels”

 

 

In many ways, the book makes a good companion guide to the film. The gouache paintings of “Built by Angels” are so bold and playful that they seem to suggest a dream sequence. They are realistic, and yet they also contain abstract elements. In that sense they resemble the most prominent element of “House of Life”: the tombstones in the cemetery. Through rain and snow, light and shadows, the stones seem to be both living things and inanimate objects that only point to people who once lived.

 

 

Old Jewish Cemetery. Still photo from “House of Life”

 

 

I have never been to Prague so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of its representation in the book and in the documentary. But I am fairly certain that if I ever get the chance, I will be well prepared for both the surfaces of the landmarks I encounter, as well as the mystical and magical aspects that lurk beneath.

 

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

What’s New with Prague’s Old-New Synagogue, And Old Jewish Cemetery?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

House of Life: The Old Jewish

Cemetery in Prague


A film by Allan Miller and Mark Podwal


First Run Features, 52 minutes, $24.95



 

Built by Angels: The Story of the


Old-New Synagogue


By Mark Podwal


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 48 pages, $16



 

 


When on April 5th, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod, a senior White House advisor, she expressed particular interest in the synagogue’s collection of drawings by children from the concentration camp of Terezín, which they created under the tutelage of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944). When the group viewed the Old Jewish Cemetery, they were following in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton, and the more than half a million tourists who come each year, according to a recent article by Mark Podwal in The Jerusalem Post.

 

Podwal should know, having visited Prague 15 times – often to spend the High Holidays and Passover at the Old-New Synagogue where he has his own seat with a Hebrew-and-English plaque bearing his name. Podwal has designed a poster celebrating 100 years of the Jewish Museum in Prague, and his Hamsa bookmarks and pins were sold in the Metropolitan Museum’s store in conjunction with its exhibit “Prague, The Crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437″ (2005-2006). More recently, he is also the author and illustrator of a new book on the synagogue, and co-producer with Allan Miller of a new documentary on Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery, which aired on PBS earlier this month.

 

 


Allan Miller (right) and Mark Podwal

 

 

If the documentary must be summed up in one sentence, it would be Professor Vladimír Sadek’s statement early on in the film, that Rabbi Judah Loew – the Maharal – was “traditional, ancient, and modern.” Indeed, the city that “House of Life” captures is one of juxtaposed opposites: cars, buses, and McDonalds logos, with tourist shops selling Golem dolls and candles, alternating with camera shots of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, with stones half-blank for Holocaust victims.

 

“House of Life” is no travel agency pitch for Prague, though it is jam-packed with fascinating historical facts and beautiful landscape shots. The first time a Star of David was officially used as an emblem for the Jewish community was on the tombstone of Rabbi David Gans (1541-1613), the author of the “Tzemach David.” On the stone, a goose symbolizes the surname, while the star, allegedly the shape of King David’s shield, reflects the historian and astronomer’s first name.


 


Other decorations on tombstones include: hands arranged a la [Star Trek's] Spock (for a Cohen), a pitcher and washbasin (Levi), scissors (tailor), grapes (fertility), and various animals like lions (for those named Judah) and deer (for someone named Hirsch). There are even human figures (including nudes) on the tombstones, which may surprise some readers. But the film also has a journalistic touch when it interviews people who complain about being forced to pay to visit the cemetery. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the film are a series of paintings detailing the activities of the burial society, from preparing the body to the rabbi’s eulogy to washing the hands after leaving the cemetery.

 

The story also addresses the magic surrounding the Maharal, and in so doing overlaps with “Built by Angels.” Both the film and the book tell of white doves miraculously flapping their wings to extinguish fires that threatened the Altneuschul, the Old-New Synagogue. Both also tell of the synagogue’s stones, which were on loan from the Temple and which were to be returned for the next Temple, and of ghosts filling the synagogue after hours to pray when all the people had left. 

 

 


Interior of the Altneuschul

 

 

Podwal explains early on in the book that the Altneuschul, which has “as many stories as stones,” was said to have been constructed by angels, but was later forgotten. A thousand years later, the Jews came to Prague and found a beautiful city with many churches, but no place for them to pray. An angel, posing as a beggar, showed them a hill, and when they dug upon the hill, they uncovered the synagogue – “Although old, it mysteriously looked new.” As the beggar-angel prepared to leave, he told the people that the stones derived from the Temple, and they must not be moved at all, lest the entire structure fall.

 

The synagogue evoked the Temple in other ways too. On the High Holidays, when congregants were so tightly packed in that “no one could force a finger between them,” the stones expanded so there was room for everyone to bow down. This recalls a similar statement about the Temple in Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:5, in which the Temple was said to, have “opened up” on certain holidays (for the “regalim,” or “feet,” when all Jews living in or near Jerusalem flocked to the Temple) so that every person had enough room to bow on the ground.

 

Podwal’s book – which includes a wide range of Jewish and mystical symbols in its drawings, including angel’s wings, Torah pointers (yads), Hebrew letters, and Kabbalistic motifs – details others sorts of miracles that graced the synagogue. Congregants had to bang on the doors in the morning to let the ghosts know it was time to leave, and a piece of matzoh (the Afikomen, in fact) hung in the building all year. With Passover immediately behind us, a year-round matzoh might not sound particularly appetizing or miraculous, but this piece had special powers to protect the Jewish community.

 

 



Praying on the High Holidays. Image from “Built by Angels”


 

 

In many ways, the book makes a good companion guide to the film. The gouache paintings of “Built by Angels” are so bold and playful that they seem to suggest a dream sequence. They are realistic, and yet they also contain abstract elements. In that sense they resemble the most prominent element of “House of Life”: the tombstones in the cemetery. Through rain and snow, light and shadows, the stones seem to be both living things and inanimate objects that only point to people who once lived.

 

 


Old Jewish Cemetery. Still photo from “House of Life”

 

 


I have never been to Prague so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of its representation in the book and in the documentary. But I am fairly certain that if I ever get the chance, I will be well prepared for both the surfaces of the landmarks I encounter, as well as the mystical and magical aspects that lurk beneath.


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Expectations

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

(Names and situation changed)


 


While I’m on the subject of expectations…

 

         The last two weeks of articles told Bob’s story; how he developed a clearer vision of what his family needed from him. He saw his adult family emulating the example he had set for them (by his intense community involvement and workaholic behavior) when they were children. Though as children they resented their always-busy father, as adults they emulated his behavior without seeing that their children were feeling the same resentment they had felt when they were the same age.

 

         As a young man, Bob was sure that his behavior as provider was correct. He had little understanding of men who put their family ahead of their work or the needs of their community.  As a grandfather, Bob was sure his new insights were correct and had little patience for fathers who put their family last, after job and community.

 

         Whatever we feel is correct at the time is what drives our behavior and controls how we relate to others. We are, of course, right. Other people’s ways of dealing with family, work and community are, of course, wrong. And so when others treat us in a manner in which we would not treat them, we take it personally. We are hurt and upset, and can’t understand how they could behave this way to us. But in truth, it is not personal or meant to be hurtful. They are merely doing what they feel is right for them in the situation.

 

         When Abe lost his job as the synagogue rabbi without cause or justification, it affected his entire family and split the community. Since it was just after the High Holidays, finding another position for that year was almost impossible as most rabbinic positions are filled by September. Abe’s synagogue was the only one in their town, and so merely attending the services was torturous for Abe, his wife and their children. Going to children’s clubs were equally uncomfortable.

 

         It pained both Abe and his wife to see their son, Eli, stop attending the clubs he loved going to so much and distance himself from former friends. They began to get really desperate, as Eli seemed to isolate himself more and more. And so they accepted one of the many offers of support they received from neighbors and friends – the “anything you need, just ask” offers. Eli would go to the clubs only if his friend Josh went with him.

 

         And so they asked Josh’s dad, Jack, to include Eli when he walked his son to clubs. This worked well for a while, and Eli’s parents felt relieved to see their son returning to normal activities. Then, Abe got a call from Jack. He said that he was sorry but Eli couldn’t accompany him and Josh to clubs anymore. Nothing had happened, but this was the only “alone time” he had with Josh, and he felt it was important to them. If Eli shared it, it just wasn’t a special father-and-son time.

 

         Abe was beyond devastated. He would never have done this to someone else’s child, especially when the child was as alone and hurt as Eli. Abe would have been the first one there to offer help, whatever it entailed. In the same situation, he would have put his “alone time” with his son aside for the needs of the other boy. What happened to “anything you need, just ask?” As Eli’s isolation increased, Abe’s pain multiplied, and his anger toward Jack grew.

 

         Meanwhile, Josh’s dad felt he had done the right thing. He felt terrible about Eli. He liked him, and hated to see him go through such a rough time. But the walks to clubs were the only “alone time” he had with his son. He had a large family and a time- consuming job, and those walks to clubs were their only time to bond with each other. He just didn’t want to give it up.

 

         Looking at this situation as outsiders, some of us will side with Abe while others will feel that Josh’s dad did the right thing. I’d like to suggest that neither did right nor wrong. Each just acted in the manner he felt was right for his family at the time. As a rabbi, Abe had always put his community first. He felt it was the right thing for everyone to do. To him, it was a simple case of right and wrong. He was right and Jack had been wrong.

 

         Jack, on the other hand, always felt it was right to put the needs of his family ahead of the needs of others. He acted in a manner true to his beliefs. It wasn’t personal. He felt badly by excluding Eli. But the right thing was to put his son’s needs first.

 

         We often get hurt by the behavior of others toward us – and especially toward our children – when it doesn’t match what we believe is right and how we would act in the same situation. Yet aren’t both parties doing the same thing by acting in a manner that they feel is right, based on their priorities at the time? No hurt is intended. The solution is to not be offended by someone who is doing exactly what we are doing. They just see their priorities differently. Don’t take the behavior personally.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

When Religion Comes Between Husband And Wife

Wednesday, July 11th, 2001

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

Last year, I read your book, “The Committed Life,” and ever since, nothing has been quite the same for me. I don’t even know where to begin… everything is so convoluted and confused in my mind. I will try to be as brief as possible. I really don’t want to burden you with my problems, but I need guidance, so I guess I should start at the beginning.

My husband and I were married six years ago, and we have one child, a four year old little boy who is the joy of our lives. We both come from Reform backgrounds, although I think that my parents are even more secular than my husband’s parents. We had X-mas trees and Easter eggs, but, to be fair, we also had a seder and went to Temple on the High Holidays.

Bobby and I met in graduate school. We both studied at Wharton, and after two years of keeping company, we were married and settled in Dallas, Texas. Religion and G-d were never a part of the equation of our lives and although, as I said, our families went to synagogue on the holidays, we even gave that up, because we saw it as pointless and hypocritical. But then, two years ago, from nowhere, I was hit by a major trauma. At a routine examination, my doctor found a lump which he told me looked suspicious, and as you can imagine, I became somewhat hysterical. Among the people I called in my time of trouble was an old school friend who lives in New York and attends your Tuesday night classes at Kehillath Jeshurun. To give me strength and hope, she sent me your book, “The Committed Life?” as a gift.

At first, I resisted reading it and put it aside. I couldn’t imagine that it would have a message for me. But then, on the night before I was scheduled for surgery, I had difficulty sleeping and I picked it up. From the moment I started to read, I couldn’t put it down. I cried, I laughed, I identified with your stories – but most important, I felt an awakening in my heart, a yearning for G-d, a desire to connect with the Jewish people. The next morning, on my way to the hospital, I shared my feelings with my husband, and he attributed them to my condition.

“It’s not the book,” he insisted. “You’re just very vulnerable right now. Anything will get to you.”

In vain did I try to convince him that, while it was true that I was vulnerable, the truths that emerged from your book were unrelated to my vulnerability. But there was no talking to him, so I gave up. For the first time in my life, I prayed to G-d. I didn’t know any Hebrew prayers, but your chapter on prayer had such an impact on me that I just cried and beseeched G-d to help me, and I just know that He was listening.

The procedure was successful – the growth was removed and it was not malignant! I know that this was an open miracle. Prior to surgery, I had consulted three physicians who all seemed to feel that the tumor was cause for concern. My husband however, feels that we were just lucky, and all this talk about G-d and miracles is a lot of poppycock, without substance.

When I came home from the hospital, I knew that I could not go back to my old way of life. I asked the friend who gave me your book to get me some literature on Judaism, and she did, and she also sent me your Torah tapes, as well as your articles from The Jewish Press which, by the way, I love. They keep me going from week to week. And thus began my journey back to G-d. But I am in a very lonely and painful predicament. As my relationship with G-d intensifies, my relationship with my husband is dissolving. My husband refuses to join me on this journey, and what is worse, he has the support of my parents and in-laws as well. I feel like the ‘odd man out.’ I would like to keep Shabbos, but how? For my husband, Friday night is a time to play cards, watch TV, or go out for dinner and a movie.

To make things even more complicated, he loves seafood and mockingly told me that if G-d measures people by whether they eat shrimp or salmon, it’s pretty sad.

Our little boy is four years old. I would love to enroll him in some sort of Jewish program, but again, Bobby refuses to hear of it. He wants him to go to a private, but secular school. I am truly tormented, Rebbetzin. I know that G-d saved me. I feel it with such intensity, yet I cannot make my husband understand. I have tried to get him to read your book, but he categorically refuses to as much as look at it. “I wouldn’t waste my time reading that stuff,” he says.

Our marriage is definitely in jeopardy. We are fighting more than ever before. My husband says if that’s what religion does to a marriage, who needs it. I have tried to reason with him in a cool logical manner, but that hasn’t worked either. His favorite argument is that when we were married, we were not religious, and I have no right to change horses mid-stream. “I didn’t bargain for a religious woman, and I’ll be damned if I will agree to all this craziness,” he argues.

When he goes on one of these harangues, I don’t quite know how to answer him. I sense that he is wrong, but what do I say? In all honesty, I sometimes think there is some validity to his argument. After all, it is true that I wasn’t religious when we were married, and it’s understandable that he resents being pushed into a different life style. So you see, Rebbetzin, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Should I get a divorce and break up my home, or should I stay married and abandon my commitment to Judaism? In either case, it’s a no-win situation. I know how very busy you are, but I hope that you will be able to answer this letter through your column. Perhaps if my husband sees the story in print, it will make an impression on him.

Many thanks for having taken the time to read my letter.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/when-religion-comes-between-husband-and-wife/2001/07/11/

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