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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘imagine’

Empowering Israelis To Express Themselves

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Imagine if 100 million Americans participated in the Tea Party movement. And then imagine that the movement had no impact on American politics. Finally imagine that in the wake of the Tea Party movement, Republicans embraced President Obama’s positions on spending and taxation.

 

These scenarios are of course, unimaginable. Anywhere from a million to ten million people participated in Tea Party protests in the U.S. over the past year. At best that’s perhaps three percent of all Americans.

 

Yet this was sufficient for the citizens’ movement calling for fiscal restraint, spending and tax cuts to have a defining impact on the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. The Republican establishment is being challenged and in many cases unseated by Tea Party politicians. Owing in large part to the Tea Party movement, just two years after Obama was elected president the American political map has been transformed. The American people are abandoning leftist socialist domestic policy formulations in favor of supply side Reaganomics.

 

Now look at Israel. Seventeen years ago the Rabin government adopted the radical policy of appeasing the PLO. Since then, around two million Israelis – that’s approximately 30 percent of the country’s population – have participated in protests against this policy. In four of the six elections since then, the Right has won by pledging to abandon this policy. And in one of the two elections won by the Left, Ehud Barak triumphed in 1999 by running on a rightist platform.

 

The resistance Israelis have demonstrated to the government’s policies toward the Palestinians is arguably unprecedented in modern history. And yet, the unimaginable scenarios for the Tea Party movement in the U.S. have been the glum reality in Israel for 17 years.

 

Presently, Prime Minister Netanyahu is implementing the Left’s appeasement policy toward the Palestinians with as much enthusiasm as Shimon Peres before him. On Monday Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s most trusted adviser, told Politico.com that a leader is defined by the contempt he feels for his voters. As Dermer put it, “The test of leadership is doing things that are not popular with your base.”

 

There are many explanations for what is going on. The most cited are Israel’s indirect elections system in which leaders are unaccountable to voters, the weakness of Israel’s politicians, and the poor quality of their advisers.

 

While all are true, another explanation is more compelling. In Israel the Left exerts almost complete control over the political and social discourse. Unlike the situation in the U.S. – particularly in the era of Fox News – there are no significant communications outlets in Israel that are not controlled by the Left. Even Yisrael Hayom, the free newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson that has eroded the market shares of Israel’s leading tabloids, is not a rightist newspaper.)

 

The Left’s monopoly over the public discourse is not only expressed in the media. In the worlds of culture, academia and entertainment, all the leading figures are leftists. They cultivate one another in an elite universe that is affected neither by reality nor by the convictions of most of their countrymen.

 

This has led to a situation in which a small minority of Israelis behaves as if it were a large majority. They use their control over the public discourse to present the sentiments of the majority of Israelis as if they were the views of a small, fanatical minority.

 

This distorted presentation of the convictions of most Israelis has induced a number of pathologies within Israeli society. Most pertinently, it has caused leaders of the Right to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to win the support of a ft that despises them. And as Dermer made clear, motivates men like Netanyahu and former prime minister Ariel Sharon to betray their voters in favor of the leftist agenda they were elected to reject.

 

In a bid to begin contending with this dismal reality, in early 2009 I launched a Hebrew-language media satire website called Latma. Latma is an Arabic term for “slap” that has been adopted in Israeli slang.

 

Latma combines short, pithy blog posts ridiculing the daily media coverage of events with a weekly television show on the Internet called The Tribal Update. The show parodies the broadcast media in Israel while exposing the absurdity of the leftist political and cultural narratives they trumpet.

 

The insight guiding Latma is that people do not fear what they laugh at. By exposing the failure of Israel’s cultural elites in a humorous way, Latma empowers the majority of Israelis to express their views without fearing leftist demonization.

 

While Latma is only one small voice, entirely funded by charitable donations, its impact has been enormous. It is one of the most visited websites in Israel today with close to a million page views per month. Our broadcasts are eagerly awaited by tens of thousands of Israelis. Week after week, our shows become viral within hours after we post them on YouTube.

 

Our work is doing more than making the case for a strong Zionism. It is undermining leftist stereotypes about the nature of the Israeli Right and making it cool to be Zionist again.

 

Latma’s greatest international success to date was our clip “We Con the World,” which we produced three days after the IDF takeover of the Turkish-Hamas terror ship Mavi Marmara. “We Con the World” was seen by more than a million viewers in one week and has been viewed over five million times since we produced it. The song changed the tone of the media coverage of the operation. Perhaps most importantly, it empowered Israel’s supporters to stand up to anti-Zionist intimidation throughout the world.

 

Building on that success, and subsequent successes with English language clips like “The Three Terrors” and “The Iranian Bomb Song,” we are recruiting a team of English-language satirists to produce clips directed at an international audience on a regular basis.

 

Liberal media outlets and other cultural institutions in the U.S. went to enormous lengths to belittle and demonize the Tea Party movement. They failed because over the past generation American conservatives have developed alternative media outlets and cultural institutions to which the general public and politicians alike pay attention.

 

I believe Latma’s success must serve as a springboard for cultivating an alternative elite in Israel whose members reflect rather than demonize the convictions of the majority of Israelis. Given the massive dimensions of the public’s rejection of the Left’s worldview, if these alternative media outlets and cultural bodies are properly conceived and managed, I am certain that, like Latma, they will not only be rapidly successful but also have a profound and salutary impact on the behavior of Israel’s political leaders – who will finally recognize that the true test of leadership is standing up to a hostile world and keeping faith with the Israeli people.

 

  

Caroline Glick is senior contributing editor at The Jerusalem Post. Her Jewish Press-exclusive column appears the last week of every other month. Look for her next column in the Jan. 28, 2011 issue.

The Yom Kippur Miracle

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

My treasured parents loved Yiddishkeit. Their belief in Hashem was unwavering. My darling Daddy used to tell me that if I was ever afraid, I should recite the Shema. Whenever I was troubled, my precious Mommy would reassure me, “Gott vet helfen!” (God will help!).

Those who knew my Daddy were privileged to hear his army stories. The most profound event that he recounted was his Yom Kippur miracle.

Both my parents passed away last year. I was overwhelmed with grief. How could something so terrible happen? Taking my Daddy’s advice, I said the Shema many times. Hearing my Mommy’s voice, I waited to see how God would help. When my faith wavered, I thought about Daddy’s Yom Kippur miracle. That story confirmed what I knew deep within my heart – that there is a God and He knows what is best, even if we cannot understand His actions.

A short time ago, I found a folder containing my Daddy’s handwritten account of his Yom Kippur miracle. I am sharing it in the hope that it will provide solace and hope to those in need. Here are his words:

The year was 1944. I was in the Burmese jungles along the Irrawaddy River. We had just captured the Myitkyina stronghold from the Japanese. Our only contact with the outside world was the radio.

Suddenly, a call came out to all Jewish servicemen to gather under a large tent at sundown. I couldn’t imagine why. It wasn’t Friday. That is when we would gather for services.

I started to wonder. Then it dawned on me that it was the month of September.

Oh, I said to myself. It must be Rosh Hashanah! I went to the tent. It was early. I was the only one there. I took out my Jewish Welfare Board prayer book, and as the sun began to set, I started to say Minchah with a heavy heart. Gradually, more and more soldiers began to arrive. It wasn’t too long before the tent was filled to capacity. Then I found out that it wasn’t Rosh Hashanah. It was Yom Kippur. I had lost Rosh Hashanah. You can imagine how I felt.

My friend Murray Fox was the cantor. He began the Kol Nidre prayer with such a strong voice that I knew the Japanese heard him because voices carry far in the jungle. We were all highly emotional. There we were, in full battle gear, unashamedly crying, the tears rolling down our faces.

When he finished singing Kol Nidre the third time, there was a moment of silence. Then, suddenly, we heard the most devastating bombardment imaginable. The Japanese had gotten a beam on us and were able to gauge our exact location. The bombardment went on for almost half an hour. When it stopped, we immediately started calling names to see who was wounded or killed. You know, not one of us even received a scratch! Miracle of miracles!

The bombs fell everywhere, but none reached our location. The Almighty, Blessed be He, looked after us.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my father, Refael Chaim Sholom Feivel ben Meir Shlomo, and my mother, Chaya bas Yitzchak. May their neshamos have aliyos.

Would the Real (And Kosher) Sukkah Installation Please Stand Up?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

About half a year ago, my friend Miriam asked if I knew of any artists or architects whose repertoires included sukkahs. My thoughts immediately turned to the gorgeous sukkah my grandfather designed and built every year and to the retractable roof in the dining room at the Bostoner Rebbe’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Pinchas. But for the life of me, I couldn’t think of any artist who had developed an interesting aesthetic approach to the sukkah, which is the only Jewish experience (save mikvah perhaps) that completely surrounds us.

 

Although I remembered potentially playful fodder for aesthetic sukkahs from the Mishnah and the Talmud – with the pillars from a bed holding up the sch’ach, on the deck of a boat, on a wagon or on the back of a camel – I couldn’t think of a single artist, Jewish or otherwise, who had taken the legal questions of the Mishnah as a design challenge.

 

Log

 

I asked myself if artists had decided the sukkah, which commemorates the clouds of glory that protected the Israelites in the wilderness and thus symbolizes impermanence and vulnerability, was an object that one couldn’t beautify without making it too permanent – even though noi sukkah, decorating the sukkah, is one of the rabbinic commandments of the day.

 

Then I read about Sukkah City. The international contest, sponsored by the non-profit Reboot and author Joshua Foer, called upon contestants to “re-imagine” the “ancient phenomenon” of the sukkah and to “develop new methods of material practice and parametric design, and propose radical possibilities for traditional design constraints in a contemporary urban site.” The 12 finalists exhibited their designs Sept. 19 and 20 in Union Square Park.

 

The Sukkah City website has a rotating header that reveals that the sukkah: must admit more shade than sunshine, must have a roof that doesn’t obscure views of the stars, needs at least an incomplete third wall, must be 10 handbreadths tall, must not be made of utensils or “anything conventionally functional” when it’s not part of the sukkah and must have a roof made of something that grew in the ground but is currently detached from the earth.

 

In Tension

 

 

But however halachic the Sukkah City website’s conditions are, many of the finalists opted to take artistic liberties, to say the least.

 

“Repetition Meets Difference,” by German artist Matthias Karch, is not the sort of sukkah one could ever actually use, and it is not immediately clear that it would satisfy the Mishnaic requirements for walls. Karch modeled the structure on an invention by German-Jewish architect Konrad Wachsmann and the structure is made of a mixture of wood from American walnut and maple trees and olive trees from Israel.

 

Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan’s “Fractured Bubble” looks a bit like a cross between a haystack and Carrot Top’s hairdo. Though the marsh grass is affixed to plywood and bound in twine in a manner that evokes the lulav, the structure itself, which contains sch’ach which comes from marsh grass harvested from Corona Park in Queens, might require a creative interpretation of the notion of the diagonal wall – dofen akumah­ – to actually validate it as a kosher sukkah.

 

Fractured Bubble

 

 

SO-IL’s design, “In Tension,” could double as a sukkah and a screened-in tent to repel mosquitoes. The structure gets extra points for its portability – one person can carry it – which would certainly be useful for a desert wanderer, but the minimal foliage on the roof precludes the requirement to have more shade than sun.

 

“LOG,” by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams, takes the exact opposite approach. Lugging this sukkah through the desert would be like traveling with a suitcase full of rocks. As the name suggests, the sch’ach covering “LOG” is a large log from a cedar tree. The walls of the structure are glass – no stone throwing from this sukkah.

 

Repetition Meets Difference

 

Other finalists interpreted the sukkah in even more theoretical ways. Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello’s “Sukkah of the Signs” responds to the artists’ interpretation of the commandment to eat and sleep in the sukkah for a week as a political statement. Rael and Fratello built their submission out of cardboard signs they purchased from homeless people and they see it as a project that relates to homelessness. (Interestingly, there is no specific requirement on Sukkot, as there is on Passover, to invite the needy to a holiday meal.)

 

“P.YGROS.C” (Passive Hygroscopic Curls), by THEVERYMANY, is sort of the Shabbat-clock of sukkahs. As it gets more humid outside, parts of the wooden structure move and create curly shapes. It’s hard to imagine that such a natural process would be a violation of the spirit of the holiday, but a sukkah that is perpetually in motion could either be an ingenious response to the nomadic experience in the Sinai desert or dangerously close to a violation of the laws of the holiday.

 

It will always be an uncomfortable aspect of Jewish art criticism to require functionality – that is adherence to halakhic requirements – of ritual objects, particularly because many artistic projects are intentionally resistant to being practically usable. But many of the Sukkah City submissions try to align themselves with halacha.

 

Sukkah of the Signs

 

Volkan Alkanoglu’s egg-shaped “Star Cocoon” purports to exhibit the Talmudic minimal requirement of two-and-a-half walls. But the requirement – which can be seen in the typography of the Hebrew word sukkah – is classically formulated with respect to a rectangular sukkah. If the structure is rounded, as “Star Cocoon,” who is to say that it actually has two-and-a-half walls?

 

Looking through the submissions that didn’t make it to the final round one is struck that most of the artists focused their attention on architecture and only considered halacha as an afterthought – “Adam’s House on Union Square” by Alexander Gorlin and Daniel Schuetz is one of several exceptions. That artists are so publically engaging a holiday like Sukkot is undoubtedly great for Jewish art and for Judaism.

 

But one wonders if artists who also take the halachic side of their projects seriously couldn’t be impressed upon to tackle this Jewish aesthetic design challenge.

 

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Have Artists Condemned The “Wayward Wife” To Oblivion? Richard McBee

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

At the risk of being crude, the narrative in Numbers 5 of the Sotah, the so-called “wayward wife,” ought to be a goldmine for biblical painters. It is hard to imagine a biblical punishment more vivid and aesthetically fertile than the adulterous woman’s belly bursting after she drinks the “bitter waters” into which the priest has erased the Divine Name – a violation of the third commandment so reprehensible it is clear how serious the Torah sees this issue. Forget the shyness of Esther before Ahasuerus, which has so fascinated artists for centuries. The Sotah is on trial for her life, literally exposed and alone in front of a host of men in the holy Temple. Numbers 5 devotes 21 verses to the Sotah; by comparison, Numbers 20 only gives 13 verses to Moses’ sin of striking the rock, which prevents him from entering the Holy Land.

But the only representation I knew of the episode (until recently) is disappointingly tame. There are no bloated bellies, and barely even an action shot. The miniature comes from a Christian book — a History Bible from Utrecht dated 1443, in the collection of The Hague. In the miniature, the suspected wife kneels before the priest, as another man – her jealous husband? – looks on. The priest hands the Sotah a golden vessel (though Numbers 5:17 prescribes earthenware), which surely holds the bitter waters with the Divine Name. Ironically, whereas Numbers 5: 18, where the priest uncovers the woman’s hair, is one of the sources for the practice of women modestly covering their hair, the miniaturist depicts the Sotah with a veil (or wimple) over her head.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sotah Exposed” (2009).

Marc Michael Epstein, professor of religion and Jewish Studies at Vassar College, shared another image with me from Christian Hebrew scholar Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s 1674 Latin translation of the Mishnaic tractate of Sotah. In the image, two groups of observers watch as three priests restrain a woman under an arch, adorned with the Hebrew inscription, “This is the gate of the Lord; pure women might pass through it” (a feminized adaptation of Psalms 118:20). On the floor in front of the woman, lie a jug and a piece of paper, presumably the cup of bitter waters and the scroll with the divine name. Through the gate, the temple is clearly visible. The woman’s hair is bare, and she is partially unclothed.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sotah Drinks the Bitter Waters” (2009).

Why have Jewish artists entirely neglected this important biblical episode, and why have Christian artists nearly avoided it altogether? It is hard to imagine that they were aware that the episode might never have been enacted. (See for example Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s article on Sotah at MyJewishLearning.com.) And even if Numbers 5 is meant to put forth a law that was never practiced, why should that have stopped artists?

I will save speculations about why artists avoided this narrative for other venues. Instead, it is worth examining a new series on the Sotah by Richard McBee, co-author of this column. In my opinion (and it is incumbent upon me to disclose that Richard has been a colleague and great friend for six years), McBee’s series is nothing short of revolutionary.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sin” (2009).

All images oil on canvas, 24 x 24, and courtesy of Richard McBee.

The four paintings (each 24 inches squared) in the series show the sin (here seclusion, not the actual obscene act), the exposure in the Temple (where the Mishnah in Sotah 1:5 says the woman is actually unclothed by the priest), the drinking of the waters and the woman’s return home with her husband after she is found to be innocent.

McBee sets the ancient narrative in a contemporary urban setting. The “Temple” where the Sotah is charged and tried becomes McBee’s own synagogue on the Lower East Side, and the Sotah and her husband’s apartment is part of a building that could be just about anywhere in a major city. The characters wear contemporary Orthodox and Chassidic garb – black hats, coats, shtreimels and dresses.

In the series, McBee manages to represent the narrative in an almost theatrical or cinematic manner, and it is easy to imagine his designs working for an operatic set. Although the palette is overwhelmingly dark and ominous – as is to be expected given the grave plot of the material – the divine presence, which is so apparent in the narrative, can be sensed in areas of intense light in each painting.

Although each of the four paintings merits careful examination, the final image, The Sotah Returns Home, is perhaps the most provocative. All the biblical narrative offers by way of resolution to the story is that if innocent, the woman, who nonetheless undergoes a humiliating public trial, is blessed with a son. “And the husband shall be clean from sin,” declares verse 31, “and the woman shall bear her sin.”

In McBee’s painting, the man and wife sit in opposite rooms in an apartment, the only lit room in an otherwise dark, cityscape at night. The woman sits on a bed in the dark, looking back over her shoulder at her husband. The man sits on a chair under a light, which passes through a curtain and shines a spotlight on the woman. The woman looks shy and helpless, while the man holds up his hand, as if explaining himself for his jealousy that subjected her to humiliation.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sotah Returns Home” (2009).

McBee’s painting overwhelms the viewer with the realization that life will never be the same for the man and woman, who will have to get to know each other all over again. Perhaps there is an occurrence of PTSD – post-traumatic Sotah disorder.

I’m not sure why artists have shied away from the Sotah as if she were the plague. Maybe the story is so intense that it is hard not to caricature it. Maybe Christian artists found new episodes in their scripture that conveyed the same messages, and they chose to represent those narratives rather than Numbers 5.

Either way, McBee’s series not only tackles a long-neglected motif, but also examines it through very modern eyes. When private sins are so regularly broadcast publically on the news and on YouTube, contemporary bible readers might be equipped in an unprecedented way to grasp the statement of Rabi Yochanan the son of B’rokah in Avot 4:5, “Whoever desecrates the divine name in private is punished publically.” McBee has the brilliant insight to realize the desecration and the public humiliation is not the end of the story. In many ways, the reconstruction and the rebuilding that must follow the calm after the storm is the most interesting element of the narrative.

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Have Artists Condemned The “Wayward Wife” To Oblivion? Richard McBee’s new Sotah series

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

At the risk of being crude, the narrative in Numbers 5 of the Sotah, the so-called “wayward wife,” ought to be a goldmine for biblical painters. It is hard to imagine a biblical punishment more vivid and aesthetically fertile than the adulterous woman’s belly bursting after she drinks the “bitter waters” into which the priest has erased the Divine Name – a violation of the third commandment so reprehensible it is clear how serious the Torah sees this issue. Forget the shyness of Esther before Ahasuerus, which has so fascinated artists for centuries. The Sotah is on trial for her life, literally exposed and alone in front of a host of men in the holy Temple. Numbers 5 devotes 21 verses to the Sotah; by comparison, Numbers 20 only gives 13 verses to Moses’ sin of striking the rock, which prevents him from entering the Holy Land.


But the only representation I knew of the episode (until recently) is disappointingly tame. There are no bloated bellies, and barely even an action shot. The miniature comes from a Christian book — a History Bible from Utrecht dated 1443, in the collection of The Hague. In the miniature, the suspected wife kneels before the priest, as another man – her jealous husband? – looks on. The priest hands the Sotah a golden vessel (though Numbers 5:17 prescribes earthenware), which surely holds the bitter waters with the Divine Name. Ironically, whereas Numbers 5: 18, where the priest uncovers the woman’s hair, is one of the sources for the practice of women modestly covering their hair, the miniaturist depicts the Sotah with a veil (or wimple) over her head.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sotah Exposed” (2009).

Marc Michael Epstein, professor of religion and Jewish Studies at Vassar College, shared another image with me from Christian Hebrew scholar Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s 1674 Latin translation of the Mishnaic tractate of Sotah. In the image, two groups of observers watch as three priests restrain a woman under an arch, adorned with the Hebrew inscription, “This is the gate of the Lord; pure women might pass through it” (a feminized adaptation of Psalms 118:20). On the floor in front of the woman, lie a jug and a piece of paper, presumably the cup of bitter waters and the scroll with the divine name. Through the gate, the temple is clearly visible. The woman’s hair is bare, and she is partially unclothed.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sotah Drinks the Bitter Waters” (2009).

Why have Jewish artists entirely neglected this important biblical episode, and why have Christian artists nearly avoided it altogether? It is hard to imagine that they were aware that the episode might never have been enacted. (See for example Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s article on Sotah at MyJewishLearning.com.) And even if Numbers 5 is meant to put forth a law that was never practiced, why should that have stopped artists?


I will save speculations about why artists avoided this narrative for other venues. Instead, it is worth examining a new series on the Sotah by Richard McBee, co-author of this column. In my opinion (and it is incumbent upon me to disclose that Richard has been a colleague and great friend for six years), McBee’s series is nothing short of revolutionary.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sin” (2009).

All images oil on canvas, 24 x 24, and courtesy of Richard McBee.

The four paintings (each 24 inches squared) in the series show the sin (here seclusion, not the actual obscene act), the exposure in the Temple (where the Mishnah in Sotah 1:5 says the woman is actually unclothed by the priest), the drinking of the waters and the woman’s return home with her husband after she is found to be innocent.


McBee sets the ancient narrative in a contemporary urban setting. The “Temple” where the Sotah is charged and tried becomes McBee’s own synagogue on the Lower East Side, and the Sotah and her husband’s apartment is part of a building that could be just about anywhere in a major city. The characters wear contemporary Orthodox and Chassidic garb – black hats, coats, shtreimels and dresses.


In the series, McBee manages to represent the narrative in an almost theatrical or cinematic manner, and it is easy to imagine his designs working for an operatic set. Although the palette is overwhelmingly dark and ominous – as is to be expected given the grave plot of the material – the divine presence, which is so apparent in the narrative, can be sensed in areas of intense light in each painting.


Although each of the four paintings merits careful examination, the final image, The Sotah Returns Home, is perhaps the most provocative. All the biblical narrative offers by way of resolution to the story is that if innocent, the woman, who nonetheless undergoes a humiliating public trial, is blessed with a son. “And the husband shall be clean from sin,” declares verse 31, “and the woman shall bear her sin.”


In McBee’s painting, the man and wife sit in opposite rooms in an apartment, the only lit room in an otherwise dark, cityscape at night. The woman sits on a bed in the dark, looking back over her shoulder at her husband. The man sits on a chair under a light, which passes through a curtain and shines a spotlight on the woman. The woman looks shy and helpless, while the man holds up his hand, as if explaining himself for his jealousy that subjected her to humiliation.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sotah Returns Home” (2009).

McBee’s painting overwhelms the viewer with the realization that life will never be the same for the man and woman, who will have to get to know each other all over again. Perhaps there is an occurrence of PTSD – post-traumatic Sotah disorder.


I’m not sure why artists have shied away from the Sotah as if she were the plague. Maybe the story is so intense that it is hard not to caricature it. Maybe Christian artists found new episodes in their scripture that conveyed the same messages, and they chose to represent those narratives rather than Numbers 5.


Either way, McBee’s series not only tackles a long-neglected motif, but also examines it through very modern eyes. When private sins are so regularly broadcast publically on the news and on YouTube, contemporary bible readers might be equipped in an unprecedented way to grasp the statement of Rabi Yochanan the son of B’rokah in Avot 4:5, “Whoever desecrates the divine name in private is punished publically.” McBee has the brilliant insight to realize the desecration and the public humiliation is not the end of the story. In many ways, the reconstruction and the rebuilding that must follow the calm after the storm is the most interesting element of the narrative.

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 9/29/06

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Dear Rachel,

I find your advice smart and insightful, and I hope you can help me as well. My wife and I took a much needed get-away. Our five beautiful children went to sleep-away camp, so I suggested that we spend some time away together.

Don’t even ask! I didn’t recognize my wife. She looks like a shmatte. I don’t know what happened to her. At this stage of the game, I am not asking for a super model, but she totally ignores herself! I told her numerous times lovingly to take care of herself, and that approach isn’t working. I’m at my wit’s end.

She used to take such good care of herself, but somehow along the way, she stopped. As for me, I work in an office with very sophisticated girls. They dress to kill – from sheitels down to shoes.

I know she works hard and has issues. So do I, and so does this whole world. That’s no excuse for total neglect. I can’t stand the fact that she has become extremely obese. She has a closet full of clothes that don’t fit. I constantly tell her to buy new clothes and she just refuses, saying that one day she’ll fit into them. Baloney!

I hate to say this, but I’m embarrassed to be seen with her, especially when she is among my friends. To be quite frank, I never realized how turned off I am of her. At home she somehow looks the same every day, with her robe and snood and the kids always around her. So after a long day at work I never realized how neglected she became. Since this trip when we were together and I saw her daily wearing the same attire, I can’t stand to look at her or be with her in every possible way.

I love fancy women. I love women who wear make-up, long sheitels, who exercise and take care of their bodies, and my wife knows that. Every man wants a good-looking woman. You can deny it if you want, but men want someone who, when she walks on the street, other men should say “wow.” That’s in every man’s heart. (I’m sharing with the world what men really crave.) Ask any man who is totally truthful, and they’ll say that I’m right.

As for me, we have a membership in the gym and I go there all the time. Unfortunately, only I do.

I’m not joking. My wife turns me off, and that’s not good at all! How can I help her?

A disappointed husband

Dear Disappointed,

Allow yourself a pat on the back for thinking enough of your wife to spirit her off on a mini vacation while your “five beautiful children” were away at summer camp. But don’t overplay the self-praise.

Do you suppose your wife (the mother of your five beautiful children) has had any hand in shaping their delicate personas in molding their fine character traits in consistently ensuring their physical and emotional wellbeing – thus rendering them “beautiful” children?

Do you imagine in all your wild fantasies that the “fancy” woman who turns your head would manage to retain her picture-perfect facade while filling the demanding role of wife, mother and homemaker to you and your brood? (Dream on.)

So your wife, by your own admission, escaped your notice until recently. Until you had the opportunity to place her in a setting where you could compare her – like a slab of meat – to the wives of your friends, whom the Torah explicitly forbids you to focus on. Apparently, you have been taking your wife’s presence (and chores) for granted – not very conducive to motivating her to want to please you.

“She works hard and has issues,” you say. Are these issues in the process of being resolved? Have you made yourself available to her in every way to help her overcome these issues?

“She works hard” – while you revel in daydreams and in your daytime superficial surroundings. Your big-heartedness in urging your wife to purchase new clothing is admirable. Have you dispensed equal generosity in your quest to ease her workload, by hiring household help to give her a respite and by spending as much time as you can in being her helpmate, both in a physical and emotional sense?

You lament that your wife refuses to update her wardrobe. Has it dawned on you that she may be none too pleased with the extra weight she has amassed and would rather not “enhance” the image she projects? You should be encouraged by her aspiration to fit into the clothes she once wore – once, when she still caught the eye and admiration of her spouse – and oh, how good it made her feel about herself and her ability to please him!

Ideally, with time and the sharing of life experiences, initial attraction (at the start of a relationship) turns to true love and appreciation. A woman immersed in the caring and nurturing of her dependent young ones is susceptible to “forgetting” to pay attention to herself. By neglecting to maintain an attractive appearance for her husband, she runs the risk of having him drift away, mentally (if not physically as well). The resultant anger and feeling of emptiness on her part can lead to the overindulgence of sweet-tasting foods for comfort.

A husband is duty-bound to work on himself to remain loving, supportive and attentive to his wife – while a woman needs to find a balance between being a devoted mom, having expectations that her husband will be totally understanding and patient, and with being able to give him some emotional attention.

Surely you recall that electrifying time when you embarked on your life together, when you were there for one another mentally and emotionally. To retain that positive energy and attain a lasting fulfillment, a husband and wife must constantly strive to be number one for each other – for always.

Overwhelmed Comes In Different Packages

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

(Names changed)




It is very hard for most of us to understandsomeone else’s experiences. We know how our lives may create difficulties for us and what a hard time we have coping with those experiences. Many of us, in our depression, feel that no one can have it as hard as we do. That attitude limits us in what we can learn and what we can give to others. It may even make us totally blind to what is right in front of us.


Atara had a large family. Most of her children were born very close in age to each other. Before she knew it, it seemed to Atara that she had gone from a newlywed to a mother of eight. She found herself overwhelmed by her rambunctious, healthy children. Don’t get me wrong, Atara loved her husband and her children. As a matter of fact, she was sure that no one else’s children were as smart, cute or precious as her own. She had no regrets about the size of her family or that they were all close in age. She just had great difficulty coping. She was often tired, and couldn’t remember the last time she slept through the night. In general, she loved her life but felt that her situation was very difficult. As a matter of fact, she felt that only people with large families could possibly understand the exhaustion she felt. She was convinced that anyone with fewer children had an easier life.


Yehudis was a bit older then Atara. She had only three older children. In the last two years Yehudis’ husband had been diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease. His deterioration was swift, and Yehudis was in agony over how to help him and yet leave him his independence. To make matters worse, her husband refused to acknowledge his own deterioration and so, did nothing to help himself. Any care he needed fell to Yehudis to look into and put in place. A few months after his diagnosis, Yehudis’ mother and mother-in-law, both widows, started to show signs of dementia. It became harder and harder for Yehudis to care for them and her husband. (Oh, did I mention, that she was also holding down very responsible job?) Yehudis began to go through the agony of looking for a proper facility for both mothers and, once found, try to convince them that it would be the best and safest place for them. The stress of all that was going on in the home exacerbated Yehudis’ son’s bi-polar condition. In the middle of everything, he had difficulty holding his job, became fearful of leaving the house, had memory lapses and other problems. Just to finish off the family dynamics, Yehudis’ daughter started to date a non Jew.


Rose was a friend to both Yehudis and Atara. Rose was a well spouse. She thought about both woman a great deal. She called Yehudis to check up on her. The first time, Yehudis just reported on how everyone in the family was doing – everyone except herself, that is. Rose told her she was concerned about her and how she was managing. The comment opened a flood gate of tears. It seems no one had ever asked her how she was, or acknowledged what she was going through. She was “the healthy one,” after all. Rose began to direct her support toward Yehudis. She occasionally dropped off flowers for Shabbos or a little gift or mailed a “Thinking of you” card. Yehudis hung on to these objects as if they were her life-line.


The community in which these women lived was young and supportive. Atara’s situation was reflected in many homes, each housing many children and young – sometimes overwhelmed – couples. Fortunately for Atara, she found much verbal support and understanding, if not actual physical help. Her friends easily understood the difficulty of her situation. Not so for Yehudis. Chronic illness was, thank G-d, not frequent among these young families, and so the ordeal of coping with it had not been experienced up close and first hand. Rose would often be asked by people how Yehudis’ family was. How was her husband? Her son? The mothers? Rose told me she cannot recall anyone ever asking about Yehudis. One day when Atara ran into Rose, the conversation turned toward Atara’s family. Rose was told how hard things were for Atara and how just leaving the house was a major event . Atara asked after Yehudis’ family and the health of everyone who was ill. Rose responded and then added that Yehudis was really having a hard time. “Why? Is she ill too?” asked Atara. When she was told she was not ill, Atara couldn’t quit grasp what the matter was.


It is not my purpose in any way to minimize or make light of Atara’s difficulties. I have great respect for parents with large families and can’t even imagine how one gets the cereal box around the table in the morning. What I am trying to illustrate is that everyone’s challenges, though different, should be acknowledged and supported. Even if the experience is foreign to you, think for a minute, what the other person must be going through. Imagine what your emotions would be in the same situation. Acknowledging someone’s plight may be the most supportive act we can do. It can help them beyond what we realize, and give them the strength they need to continue.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/overwhelmed-comes-in-different-packages/2006/03/29/

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