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August 29, 2016 / 25 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

Shapiro’s Midrash

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Paintings from Midrash by Brian Shapir0

Chassidic Art Institute

November 6 – December 8

375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn (718) 774-9149

Noon – 7pm; Sunday – Thursday

 

The midrashic world is a dangerous place to inhabit.  It delves into our sacred texts to fathom their deeper meanings, solve vexing textual and conceptual problems and, finally, make sense of the holy words in contemporary terms.  Midrash is passionate and deeply creative, like the current midrashic paintings of Brian Shapiro.

Sea of Reeds (2010), oil on canvas, 12x12 by Brian Shapiro.

Shapiro is no stranger to Jewish themes; his enormous canvas, Generations, a tour-de-force of Jewish history, was reviewed in this column in August 2010.  Since then, the artist has become increasingly mesmerized by biblical subjects seen through a midrashic lens.  The lure of midrashic interpretation satisfies the need to know the details and specifics of many biblical narratives, i.e. the precise textures of how and why events unfolded in the devastatingly spare Torah text.  For a figurative artist like Shapiro, the multitude of midrashic exposition is a reassuring link with a tangible reality to anchor the text in this world.

Jacob and the Angel purports to depict the epic struggle between Jacob and a mysterious being who is either an emissary of God or the protecting angel of Jacob’s dangerous brother, Esav.  Based on a midrash in Beraishes Rabbah the artist shows the angel holding Jacob’s hand over a roaring fire.  While the midrash expounds that the angel stuck his hand into the earth and a volcano of flames erupted threatening Jacob, the painting doesn’t simply illustrate that event.  Rather, if we observe closely, both figures are indeed struggling not only between themselves, but are significantly repulsed by some unseen force off the left edge of the painting.  In fact, both angel and Jacob are aghast at what they perceive.  Indeed it is the mutual recognition that this primeval sibling struggle will reverberate throughout the millennia.   It seals the fate of soon to be named Yisrael and the nation who will descend from him with a terrible and bloody future.

The theme of sibling rivalry and conflict is of course central to many Biblical narratives, most especially that of Joseph and his brothers.  Shapiro’s Joseph and Brothersis terrifyingly on target.  The brothers, all turbaned except one, appear to be engaged in what in contemporary Israel would be called a “lynch.”   Most of the eleven have staffs that are used to threaten, push and drive the helpless half-naked Joseph off the edge of a precipice.   What is extraordinary is the ferocious compact energy of brotherly hatred revealed in bright daytime clarity.   A lone bareheaded brother is at the extreme left, looking away in concern as he holds Joseph’s many-colored cloak.  In this one bald figure is all the cunning and unacknowledged guilt of fratricide.  This figure represents none other than Reuven who pleaded with the rest not to murder Joseph and yet finally fashioned the vicious lie to his father with Joseph’s bloodied coat.  Here the artist has, by thinking midrashically, actually summoned the literal biblical text most evocatively.

Moses and the Rock (2010), oil on canvas, 24x30 by Brian Shapiro.

While much ancient midrash traditionally has the textual authority of the oral tradition transmitted by the Sages, it also must be seen in the dual contexts of the original textual “problem” and actual date the collections were finally redacted.  Nonetheless, regardless of date, all Torah commentary remains a vibrant source of contemporary understanding of sacred text.  Even a contemporary artist, passionate about the complexities of Torah narrative, can offer unique insights into the stories our tradition celebrates.   Sea of Reeds is an example of Shapiro’s contribution to midrashic exposition.  Significantly, in this exhibition the artist has explicitly offered his midrashic sources and explanations for each of the paintings.

Richard McBee

Moshe Drops Out of School

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

A few years ago, a couple, Sarah and Joseph, came to see me about their son Moshe, sixteen, who was experiencing extreme difficulty in school. Moshe did not have any serious learning problems.  In fact, he was exceptionally bright and capable of succeeding in school.  His problem was that he was frequently missing class.  Recently he had started leaving school and spending time in an unknown location. Moshe’s parents were naturally concerned for his future.

 

When I first met Sarah and Joseph I was immediately struck by how unhappy their marriage seemed to be.  Joseph was a quiet and reserved man compared to his wife. Sarah seemed extremely worried about whether everything was all right with her son.  When they tried to explain to me why they thought Moshe was in trouble, the discussion always seemed to turn into an argument. Joseph believed that his wife’s inability to nurture their son was the cause of Moshe’s behavior.  Sarah, on the other hand, believed that Joseph’s inability to communicate in a warm way with their son was the source of the problem.

 

Here is a dialogue from one of our sessions.

 

Daniel Schonbuch (DS): Tell me more about the general atmosphere in the house.

 

Sarah: Well, our family time is not very enjoyable.  I would say that Shabbos meals are the most difficult time of our week.  To start with, Joseph doesn’t run a very nice Shabbos meal. He is so tired from work that when Shabbos rolls around he goes to shul, makes kiddush and then totally withdraws into himself.

 

DS: Is Shabbos that hard for you?

 

Joseph: Look, it’s not that I don’t care about the family; it’s just that I feel so burnt out after work.  When I come home, the kids are always yelling and I just want some peace and quiet.  I guess on Shabbos I just need a break.

 

Sarah: It’s worse than that.  You never have time for the kids or for me.  When you’re home, you just surf the Internet and on Shabbos you read the newspaper. Don’t you realize that Moshe needs to talk to you?

 

DS: I guess things are hard during Shabbos. What about your own relationship outside of your children?  How well do you get along?

 

Sarah: To be perfectly honest, we don’t have much of a relationship.  Joseph isn’t very excited about talking to me and we never go on vacation anymore.

 

Joseph: That’s not true. Last Pesach we went away to Florida for the seder meals.

 

Sarah: We barely talked the entire week. I think you enjoyed your friends more than you enjoyed the family.

 

Joseph: What do you want from me?  I tried my best.  I can’t stand when everyone is nagging – your parents, the kids, you.

 

DS: Have you been having trouble relating for some time?

Sarah: Yes.  I would say for about the last three years.

 

 

DS: Why?  What was going on in your lives three years ago?

 

Sarah: Well, my husband is in computers, and after 9/11 his company started downscaling and he lost his job.

 

DS: What did you do?

 

Joseph: I was on unemployment for about four months when I found a job with another company.

 

DS: Are you happier now?

 

Joseph: Not really.  It’s an average job and I don’t really enjoy the work I am doing.  However, it does pay the bills.

 

DS: That’s a big burden, having to support your family doing something you don’t enjoy.

 

Joseph: I wish I could get out of it, but it’s not easy to switch at my age.

 

At this point I realized I had found a small opening that perhaps would help us to explore their relationship in connection to their son’s delinquency.  Sarah had mentioned that her husband lost his job about three years ago. I wondered if this also had a significant impact on Moshe.

 

DS: You mentioned before that the problems at work started about three years before.  When did Moshe start having trouble in school?

 

Sarah: About two years ago.

 

DS: Is it possible that some of the work stress started spilling over into Moshe’s life just after Joseph lost his job?

 

Sarah: Maybe, but I’m not sure.

 

DS: Is it possible that the strain on the family became greater after Joseph lost his job and this is the reason that you also are not getting along as well anymore?

 

Sarah: It’s possible.  Two years ago I started working again, and since then I have been unable to give the kids the kind of attention I used to give before things got hard.

 

During that session, I was able to refocus their energy from solving Moshe’s problem to solving their marital discord.  Over the next few sessions, we began exploring the way Relationship Theory could help their marriage.  We talked about spending quality time together, understanding each other’s needs and reducing critical and destructive language.

 

After six months of working with this family, I began to see changes in the way they related to their son.  Moshe began to feel more comfortable in their home and was more willing to give school a try and focus on his studies.

 

In general, Moshe’s family was typical of the families I see with teens at risk.  Often some type of emotional imbalance exists in the family and eventually one or more children begin to exhibit signs of distress.  When they do, the best approach is to seek out professional advice and find ways to improve the relationship with your teenager.

 

Resolving intra-parental conflict is a positive step that parents can take to help support the emotional growth of their children.  A good family or marital counselor will be able to break habitual patterns of triangling and relieve the emotional distress that may be contributing to a teenager’s at risk behavior.

 

Parenting Tips

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch

Communicating Effectively (Part II)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

You Cannot Not Communicate

A political figure refuses to comment on a current news story in which he is involved.. In the hope of avoiding a scuffle with her parents, a teenager, who has broken curfew, quietly opens up the front door. As she makes a mad dash to her room, she tries to avoid being noticed and questioned. In both situations, a lack of communication may be perceived as failure on the part of the individual to take responsibility for his/her actions, and/or an admission of guilt. In such cases when the person does not say yes, the message being conveyed to others can be perceived as noby default, and vice versa.

While we may not necessarily think about it or believe it to be true, we are “always” communicating. When we do not reply to a question, when we refuse to take part in a discussion, when we remove ourselves physically from an interaction or when we slam a door behind us, we are still communicating a message as our body language, sounds and behaviors do the “speaking.” This is what is meant by the NLP presupposition, you cannot not communicate.

Consider what happens when a communicator does not speak words to us, nor do we have any clarity of the experience or his/her behavior. Still, we do receive a message based on “our” observation of the experience or the behavior. What a powerful, yet inaccurate means of acquiring information. Now, as the observer, we are headed into a task. We will access a host of resources in order to help us develop a conclusion, including looking to our own thoughts, feelings, judgments, biases and life experiences, and utilizing them to provide us with a meaning to our observation. While these interpretations are, in fact, our reality, they can easily lead us to create beliefs which are not necessarily rooted in any truth. In the final analysis, such beliefs potentially can lead us to behaviors that fuel negativity and conflict while also hindering relationships in our lives.

In fact, for those who relate better to processing visually, the above idea can be viewed in terms of the following equation:

lack of verbal communication/clarity + observation + interpretation + belief =

negative outcome

As a way to bring more depth and understanding to this point, let us look to our ancestors in Bereishis (Genesis) and take note of their experiences in three different instances.

Picture the first scenario: Abraham has just expelled Yishmael and Hagar from his home at a point, according to the medrash, when Yishmael was weak with a high fever.  Rashi comments that Abraham provided them with minimal provisions (i.e., no gold or silver; only bread and water). And his reasoning was spiritual: he did not wish to enable Yishmael to continue living a life of tarbus ra-ah (evil behavior).

Moving forward…When, in the wilderness, their supplies ran out, Hagar threw her son under a tree and left him there to die of thirst. Her reckoning was rooted in a belief, a belief which was based on a recent experience to which she had ascribed meaning: “If Abraham expelled Yishmael from his home with limited provisions, ‘it must mean’ he hates his son. Why else would a father do such a despicable act? And if his father does not care about him, then why should I? Let Abraham take care of him!” At that point, Hagar’s intention was to abandon her son and look for another husband. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayera 21:15-16.)

The outcome was negative, and Hagar was admonished by the Torah for displaying a poor character trait.

In a second illustration, a youthful Joseph noticed specific behaviors associated with his brothers. He saw them eating that which he considered aiver min hachai (flesh from a living animal). He also saw them fraternizing with the local girls. Giving his own interpretation to these observations, he brought back accusations about his brothers to his father.

Of course having the advantage of reading the medrash, we are provided with logical and solid reasons to help explain the behaviors of the brothers. On the other hand, Joseph was not privy to that information. He lacked clarity as to the status of his brothers. Were they considered Bnei Yisrael and therefore obligated to observe the Torah’s Laws? Or were they viewed as Bnei Noach (Noahide) and therefore bound exclusively to the Seven Noahide Laws? As to the second observation, of fraternizing with the local girls, yes, the brothers were speaking to the womenfolk. However, it was within the context of a business relationship; they were buying and selling goods. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayeshev 37:2.)

Once again, the outcome in both these observations was negative. As we know from the medrash, the reports that Joseph presented to his father were a contributing factor to the ensuing jealousy and hatred the brothers felt toward him.

In the final scenario, we fast forward to the period when Joseph is Viceroy of Egypt, and his brothers are aware of his true identity.

When Joseph and his brothers were on the way to bury their father in Canaan, Joseph had stopped off at a location near Shechem. It was the site of the pit into which Joseph had been thrown years back. Being unaware of the reason for this stopover, and without any communication on Joseph’s part, the brothers’ observation led them to interpret the experience in their own way. When the brothers noticed Joseph staring into the pit, they instinctively perceived this behavior as part of a vendetta, “believing” that he was stirring up within him hatred toward them. Perhaps he was preparing to take revenge now that their father was gone.

Again, due to a lack of communication, the brothers were unaware of Joseph’s true intentions. The reason for his stopping at the pit was in order to recite a blessing for the miracle Hashem had performed for him at this location years before (“Blessed is He who performed a miracle for me in this place”).

Ironically, that same belief manifested itself a second time.

Upon their return to Egypt, after having buried their father, the brothers noticed that Joseph’s behavior toward them had changed. He had stopped dining with them on a regular basis; however, he had not communicated his intentions. With no concrete information available, and relying exclusively on their observation, the brothers assigned meaning to Joseph’s behavior. And that interpretation stemmed from the same belief they held earlier, that Joseph might be harboring hatred toward them because of their past action, of throwing him into the pit.

Once again, there was an intention behind the behavior. The medrash (Breishis Rabbah 108) explains that Jacob’s death marked the beginning of the slavery. And Joseph was concerned that if he showed favoritism to his brothers, the Egyptian hatred would increase, thereby endangering their lives. However, Joseph did not communicate to his brothers these political considerations. Since they were not privy to the information, the brothers interpreted his apparent rebuff (rejection) as a signal that he might want to take revenge on them. (Note: For more detailed information, see Meam Loez on Vayechi 50:15.)

As these examples demonstrate, in any interaction, when there is a lack of communication and/or clarification with regard to behavior, the observer will be left with nothing more than his own devices with which to interpret the communicator’s message.

So where does that leave us?

In order to be an effective communicator, it is vital for us to take note of such instances when communication is lacking or unclear, and the part “we” take in assigning meaning to our observations and interpretations. While some schools of communication say that both parties in a communication take 50% (each) of the onus for their communication, NLP suggests that we shoot a little higher and take 100% responsibility.

In the final analysis, if we wish to upgrade our communication, it is equally important to take responsibility for that which we convey when communication is lacking as we do when we verbally communicate. If that were the case, I wonder how our lives would be different!

In the next segment on Communicating Effectively, our focus will be Rapport: Establishing and Maintaining It.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com

Debbie Brown

American and Biblical Forefathers

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Malcah Zeldis: New York Artist

Through October 18, 2010

American Folk Art Museum

2 Lincoln Square, New York

www.folkartmuseum.org

 

 

 

Malcah Zeldis’ watercolor painting “Jacob’s Dream” (1982) is the only representation I know of the patriarch that represents him as bearded man with no moustache. The pink-skinned dreamer in Zeldis’ painting wears a robe that evokes the technicolored dream coat his son Joseph would wear, and he sleeps on a hill using what the Bible describes as rocks (but Zeldis renders more as books) for pillows. In the background of the work, which belongs to the genre of na?ve art, one can spot the bundles of grain and the celestial objects that would later figure into Joseph’s dream. As Jacob dreams of the changing of the angelic guard, Zeldis seems to say, he lays the foundation for Joseph’s dreams of his own rise to power. The angels that ascend and descend the “ladder” – which is very flimsy and would surely not comply with fire codes – are red-headed and blue-eyed, and their wings sag at their sides like sacks over their shoulders.

 

Malcah Zeldis. “Jacob’s Dream.” 1982. Watercolor on paper. 11

Menachem Wecker

Renaissance Rabbi

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

This essay is largely based on the book Ish Yehudi by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who over the years has served as mashgiach and rebbi at a number of Torah institutions.

The term “Renaissance man” is used to describe a person who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s biography of his father, Rav Dr. Yoseph (Joseph) Tzvi Carlebach (1883-1942), provides fascinating information about the life of a man who deserves to be described as a Renaissance rabbi.

In Ish Yehudi (Shearith Joseph Publications, 2008) a book richly adorned with photographs and documents depicting personalities and places of historical significance in pre-Holocaust Europe, the reader learns about an extraordinary man who was the respected rav of a number of prestigious communities in pre-World War II Germany, a towering Torah scholar, a talented orator, a dynamic educator, a prolific writer, an intellectual who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and philosophy from Heidelberg University, an expert in astronomy, a scientist, a connoisseur of the arts and humanities, and so much more.

When it came to acquiring knowledge, Rabbi Joseph Tzvi Carlebach was never satisfied.

* * *

Joseph Carlebach was born on January 30, 1883 in Luebeck, Germany, where his father, Dr. Salomon Carlebach, served as rav from 1870 to 1919. Joseph’s father was a talmid chacham and an outstanding orator.

Joseph obtained his early Torah education at home from his father and from Rabbi Mordechai Gumpel (a disciple of Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, the renowned chief rabbi of Altona and author of Aruch Laner), whom his father employed as a tutor for the Carlebach children.

At the age of 18 Joseph went to Berlin to study Torah at the rabbinical seminary founded by Rabbi Dr. Ezriel Hildesheimer. Simultaneously he attended the University of Berlin, where his studies focused on mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and philosophy.

While at the university, Joseph came into close contact with the world-famous physicist Max von Planck, in whose laboratory he worked, as well as with the (then well-known) astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster and Wilhelm Dilthey, a respected historian, psychologist, sociologist and philosopher.

Joseph also somehow found time to be an instructor at the religious school of Adas Yisroel Congregation.

Despite his extensive secular studies, Joseph never failed to devote several hours each day to Torah study. The Jewish community of Berlin was blessed with many unique men who left an indelible impression on young Joseph, among them such Torah luminaries as Rabbis David Tzvi Hoffman, Joseph Wohlgemuth, Jacob Barth and Ezra Munk.

Jerusalem Years

Joseph passed his state examination in March 1905, graduating summa cum laude. He was now qualified for a high school teacher’s diploma in mathematics and natural sciences.

Ephraim Cohn, principal of the Laemel Teachers’ Seminary of Jerusalem, happened to be in Berlin when Joseph received his diploma. He had come to hire an instructor in mathematics and natural sciences for his institution, and an Orthodox young man, with a diploma from Berlin University in these subjects, was exactly what he needed. He offered Joseph the position.

Joseph had some qualms about accepting the job, since Jerusalem at the time was embroiled in a battle regarding the teaching of secular subjects in Jewish schools. Indeed, a ban had been signed by many of the most prominent Jerusalem rabbonim forbidding anyone from teaching secular subjects in Jewish schools. Those who did risked being put in cherem.

Joseph turned to his father for advice. After consulting with a number of Torah authorities, his father sent him a letter urging him to go. In addition, the faculty of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary unanimously encouraged him to accept this position.

Thus it was mathematics and science that brought Joseph to Jerusalem in 1905 at the age of 22. The time he spent there was to shape his entire outlook and give his worldview a new horizon.

During his three-year stay in Jerusalem, Joseph was befriended by the chief rabbi, Rav Shmuel Salant, who made Joseph feel welcome both at his shiurim and in his home. Interestingly enough, Rav Salant was one of the signers of the secular studies ban, but he apparently put that aside when it came to his relationship with Joseph.

Joseph met a number of other distinguished rabbis, among them Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook, who in 1921 would become the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine.

While in Eretz Yisrael, Joseph acquired a good working knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

The students at the Laemel School soon realized their instructor was a man of unusual talents and methods. In addition to his dynamic classroom presentations, he would take his students for excursions around the environs of Jerusalem. They soon discovered he knew the name of every star in the sky and every plant and shrub on earth.

He knew the hiding places of the animals and would show his students how they lived and fed. He would explain how clouds were formed and he even forecast the weather. When they came upon a historic site, he would dramatize the events that had occurred there.

Furthermore, while walking he had the boys sing songs praising God for the beauty of this world and His abundance.

In 1908, when the time came for Joseph to return home to Germany, the most prominent rabbonim of Jerusalem expressed their deep appreciation for his work with their youth. Indeed, Rav Salant tried to persuade him to marry while he was in Germany and then return to Eretz Yisrael.

Back to Berlin

Shortly after returning to Berlin, Joseph was hired as an instructor for mathematics and the natural sciences at the prestigious (secular) Margareten High School for Girls. His selection for the position was a testament to his qualifications – no Jew had ever held such a post at the school, and Joseph was of course an Orthodox Jew who would be absent from classes on Shabbosim and Jewish holidays.

At the same time he assumed his former position as a rebbe in the Adas Yisroel School and also attended the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. This was not enough, however, to fill the time of the industrious young man, so, from 1908 to 1910 he worked as well on his doctoral dissertation. His thesis focused on the scientific and mathematical achievements of Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288-1344), known as the Ralbag or Gersonides.

In 1919 Joseph married Lotte Preuss, the oldest daughter of Dr. Yitzchok (Julius) Preuss, a physician and scholar of history and Hebrew literature. Dr. Preuss’s Biblical and Talmudical Medicine was an encyclopedic work that reviewed every medical reference in Tanach, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, the Midrash, and ancillary works.

During this period Joseph received semicha from Rabbi Dr. David Hoffmann, rector of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary and author of halachic responsa Melamed Leho’il as well as a number of commentaries refuting the criticisms of those who questioned the historicity of the Torah.

Joseph was now known as Rabbiner Doktor Yosef Carlebach.

Rabbi and Innovative Educator

World War I began in 1914. Serving in the German army, Rav Carlebach was charged by the German Occupation Authority in Lithuania with organizing a secondary school system. After consultations with some of Lithuania’s foremost Torah scholars and with their agreement, he founded a high school based on the principles of Torah im Derech Eretz (TIDE) that featured both Torah and secular studies in the curriculum.

The language of instruction in the Carlebach Gymnasium in Kovno (as this high school came to be known) was not Yiddish or German but modern Hebrew. Within three years the separate boys and girls schools had a combined enrollment of almost a thousand students. Two other TIDE high schools were established in Telshe and Ponevezh within a short time.

(TIDE elementary schools were also set up throughout Lithuania where they were known as Yavneh schools.)

When Rabbi Dr. Salomon Carlebach of Luebeck passed away suddenly in early 1919, Rav Yoseph was offered his father’s position. He did not know what to do in light of the fact that many of the leading rabbis of Lithuania were urging him to continue his work there. His mother pleaded with him to return to Luebeck, and her own sudden passing not long after his father’s death clinched his decision. He became the rav of the city of his birth.

In order to raise the level of Torah study in his hometown, Rav Yosef convinced Rabbi Shmuel Joseph Rabinow to settle in Luebeck. Rabbi Rabinow was an outstanding young talmid chacham who had studied at the famed Slabodka Yeshiva in Kovno. These two rabbonim laid the foundations for an advanced yeshiva in Luebeck that eventually attracted a number of outstanding students.

(When Rav Carlebach moved some years later to Hamburg to become the city’s chief rabbi, both the yeshiva and Rabbi Rabinow also relocated there.)

Final Years in Hamburg

In 1922 Rav Yoseph was offered the position of director of Hamburg’s Talmud Torah Real Gymnasium. This school had been started in 1805 by Rabbi Mendel Frankfurter, a grandfather of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

Here Rav Joseph’s full talents as a forward-thinking educator and administrator shone. Hebrew language and grammar were introduced as major subjects, as well as Hebrew literature, with special emphasis on the medieval poets and philosophers. New physics and chemistry laboratories were built. He himself gave a course in the history of the fine arts to the students in the highest grade. He was also concerned with the physical fitness of his students and made participation in swimming and outdoor sports compulsory.

One of his boldest innovations was the one- or two-week excursion to distant parts of the country. Day outings had been part of the school curriculum in the past, but Rav Carlebach took this idea to new heights. On these trips students visited museums and historical sites and were introduced to the geological and biological characteristics of the countryside.

Furthermore, each day on these excursions started and ended with physical exercise. If there was a river nearby, the day began and ended with a swim.

His students enjoyed his classes to the extent that one former student recalled, “We used to turn the clock back ten or fifteen minutes so that his classes would last longer!”

In 1926 Rav Carlebach became chief rabbi of Altona, one of Germany’s oldest and most venerated kehillos. It was here that his extraordinary oratorical powers became known to thousands. In fact, he soon acquired the reputation of being the foremost rabbinical orator in all of Germany.

Blessed with a strong, clear voice, he incorporated his many artistic talents into his delivery. His fluent use of words was enhanced by a style of delivery that employed appropriate arm, hand, and body movements coupled with relevant facial expressions.

He never, however, misused his talents for cheap or demagogic oratory, nor did he ever give an interpretation of a biblical or Talmudic text that was either forced or artificial. He had the rare ability to speak in a manner that enlightened both learned scholars and ordinary congregants. His sermons were always a stirring experience for those who heard them, and his remarks were often the main topic of conversation on Shabbosafternoons.

Rav Carlebach also somehow found the time to publish hundreds of scholarly articles on a myriad of subjects from rabbinics to mathematics, the humanities and the arts.

On April 4, 1936 Rav Carlebach became chief rabbi of the Synagoge-Verband (Synagogue Association), in the Bornplatz Synagogue. Fourteen other rabbis, more than two hundred guests of honor, and 1,500 others attended his installation ceremony.

Despite the growing threats to Jewish life from the Nazis, Rav Carlebach refused to abandon his flock even when he had several opportunities to do so. A contemporary (name unknown) of Dr. Carlebach’s described his role as chief rabbi of Hamburg:

His sermons were masterpieces of diplomacy and wisdom in the face of the increasing focus of the Gestapo. The Gestapo had frequently attended the synagogue over the years. Those who were attentive enough heard with admiration, and also often with fear, how he castigated the current situation, without provoking intervention by the Gestapo. . . .

When numerous community members were arrested in connection with the Pogrom Night of 9/10 November 1938, he asked to share their fate. The Gestapo refused as there was no order to arrest him.

The years 1936 to his deportation to Riga on December 6, 1941 became legendary. The Nazi persecution of the Jews made the Jewish community into one large family, with Dr. Joseph Carlebach as its “pater familias.” He was its courageous spokesman and its tireless religious leader: he visited civil service departments, prisons, concentration camps, and hospitals, always in danger of being insulted and thrown out, but never lost the least of his dignity.

As for Rav Carlebach’s last days, the less said the better. Far preferable to remember his brilliance and praise his achievements than to dwell on his martyrdom. Suffice it to say that on March 26, 1942, Rav Carlebach, his wife Lotte, and their three youngest daughters were murdered by the Nazis.

May his memory long be remembered.

(Rav Carlebach’s older children had been part of a Kindertransport to England before the family’s deportation. His youngest son, Rav Shlomo, the author of Ish Yehudi, survived after spending four years in various concentration camps.)

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. His regular feature, Glimpses Into American Jewish History, appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

The Tiger Woods Saga And its Jewish Lesson

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

His tragic saga was all too familiar. His mesmerizing talent rapidly captured the world’s attention. His impeccable image of integrity gained him the respect and affection of multitudes. His solid control of the media was remarkable.

Suddenly, though, reality caught up with Tiger Woods. His illustrious image exploded, his once-shining light dimmed, and all because of one singular sin: infidelity.

Tiger Woods is just one of many public figures who recently have fallen from grace for the identical reason. The question, of course, is why their hearts lead them astray. Were they miserably married? Was it the great influence they’d gained? Was it the abundant wealth they’d accumulated? Was it the national stage they’d conquered?

Why would a seemingly happy, seemingly moral, unquestionably prosperous individual consciously bring irreversible destruction to the essential fundaments of his life?

It appears the climb to power brings along a frightening yet indissoluble friend: solitude. People with power are indeed lonely. The distance they are forced to maintain by virtue of their lofty positions enwraps their world in an uncomfortable sense of solitude that is very difficult to handle.

The innate nature of a human being drives him to interact with society on a regular basis. This phenomenon is evident when children are afraid to sleep alone at night, or when adults spend an exorbitant amount of time and financial and emotional resources to create bonds with strangers for the sole reason of escaping the threat of loneliness.

Aristotle put it best: “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.”

Yet if solitude stands as a contrast to the basic human characteristic of social interaction, how can people cope with it efficiently? Should we battle it and strive to eliminate it? Should we compel ourselves to continuously engage in social activities and hope that our state of solitude eventually dissipates? Or should we embrace our inner lonely state, regardless of its sense of discomfort?

History has shown that both paths are misleading. Those who have chosen the path of social detachment have often fallen into the traps of futility, hopelessness and despair. Because when one chooses to be alone in the world, he rejects the mission God has given each and every human being: to make the world a better and more divine place, specifically through social interaction. This idea led the Talmudic Sages to exclaim (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 23b: “Either friendship and peer study or death.”

By contrast, the second path encourages a person to battle solitude by actively interacting with society. The followers of this path hold that a man must fully interact with his surroundings. Yet, despite the superiority of this approach, there lies within it two prominent dangers.

First, society can influence a person’s conduct negatively. As Maimonides wrote, “It is natural to be influenced, in sentiments and conduct, by one’s neighbors and associates.”

Second, if one is not morally and emotionally equipped, it is very easy to fall for the illusion of love offered by the opportunists in our midst. Tiger Woods’s plunge epitomizes the vulnerability of human beings when faced with seducing exploiters who wear fake masks of love and care. Unfortunately, by the time Woods and so many others discover the real faces behind the masks of their exploiters, it is all too late.

So what is the secret formula to human interaction? How can we mingle with society without being influenced or exploited by it? Perhaps the answer is found in the fascinating biblical story of Joseph.

When Potiphar’s beautiful wife tried to seduce Joseph, he hesitated. But at the last minute he overcame the immense temptation thanks to an omnipotent revelation that suddenly captured his sight: “The face of his father, Jacob, appeared before him,” Rashi’s commentary states.(According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Horayot, chapter 2) Joseph also visualized the face of his mother.)

It was the vision of his saintly father that pulled Joseph back to his roots and values. This sheds light on the exemplary education Joseph received. The image of one’s father does not appear to him by mere happenstance. It can only appear and have such miraculous effects if it has been established in a person’s mind, over a long period of time, as a loving authority that shiningly personifies God’s values and ethics.

Rabbi Pinchas Allouche

Siona Benjamin’s Blue Angels

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin


October 15, 2009 – January 29, 2010


Washington DC Jewish Community Center


1529 16th Street, NW, Washington



 

 


A blue-skinned woman with at least one wing carries a caged dove in her right hand and has just released a golden bird from her other hand. Her hair is covered by a shawl that rests over a curved dagger (like the Yemenite jambiya) with a sheath decorated with the stars and stripes of the American flag. A corner of the shawl becomes a pair of tzitzit whose strings are wrapped around a lion’s arms and midsection, perhaps restraining it. The woman, who represents a self-portrait of the artist Siona Benjamin, stands on a white ball, which unravels to reveal not string but floral patterns that border the painting. Beneath her yellow skirt, the woman wears striped pants that evoke either the uniform of a prisoner or a concentration camp inmate.

 

Benjamin’s Jewish-Arab-American take on the cat playing with a ball of string is packed with symbols that could either bear fruitful metaphorical subtexts or dead-end red herrings. The lion could refer to Judah (called a “lion cub” in Genesis 49:9) or to Samson, who killed a lion and, upon seeing honeycomb in its mane, learned the lesson: “from the powerful ensued sweetness” (Judges 14:14). Or it could just be a lion. The strings of the tzitzit could protect the figure from the ferocious cat, or they could be the woman’s undoing, if the lion is pulling the woman down by her garment. Doves sometimes suggest peace, but a caged peace symbol could be ominous. The floral borders could suggest a beautiful garden, or a barrier that keeps the golden bird enclosed in an arena with the lion.

 

The work, Finding Home #9 (Fereshtini), is part of Benjamin’s larger series called Fereshteh, Urdu for “angels.” The angels of the series are the women of the bible, whom Benjamin positions as contemporary protectors who tackle modern problems: wars and violence. Benjamin, who grew up as a Bene Israel Jew in India, was educated at Catholic and Zoroastrian schools and lived in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society. Now based in Montclair, New Jersey, Benjamin brings this hybrid identity into her works.

 

 


Finding Home #9. 2007. 9″ x 11″. Gouache and 22K gold leaf on board

 

 

Another work from the Fereshteh series is Finding Home #86 “Chavah,” which represents the world’s first woman as the symbol of her sin which led to her banishment from Eden: a tree.

 

The tree is blue (of course), and it has seven female, human heads – six attached to the branches, and one in the roots. In Benjamin’s painting, Eve has become one (or seven) with the tree. In a statement, Benjamin notes that misogynistic accounts of the biblical text often focus on Eve as “empty headed” and a “temptress.” But Eve is thus named for being “the mother of all life” (“Chava” from the root “chai,” Genesis 3:20), so she cannot be viewed as a destroyer. “The eating of the forbidden fruit can be looked upon as not negative or impulsive,” Benjamin writes, “but as a woman full of curiosity, who reaches out for the gifts of life: pleasure, beauty and wisdom.”

 

Miriam, depicted in Finding Home #73, is a very different sort of woman. She lies (asleep? dead?) in a large wine glass. She is blue-skinned and wears a golden sari. Behind the glass is a grey mushroom cloud of demonic faces, and a wire is plugged into the base of the cloud. The wire winds around the stem of the glass and emerges as part of the intravenous therapy being administered to Miriam. Two needles seem to be drawing blood from Moses’ sister, who holds a switch in her left hand. “Will she turn off the switch in time to stop the violence, the demons?” Benjamin wonders in a statement. “Is she asleep? Sick? Oblivious? Controlled?”

 


Finding Home #73, “Miriam.” 2006. 10″ x 7″. Gouache and gold leaf on wood panel

 

 

Although Benjamin suggests there is hope that Miriam might turn off the mushroom cloud – surely a reference to nuclear weapons – one wonders if the nuclear power is not also fueling the biblical character, who had the boldness to address Pharaoh’s daughter, to lead the women in song at the Red Sea, and to criticize her brother Moses (for which she was struck with leprosy). Miriam was also responsible, the midrash tells us, for well filled with water that traveled with the Jews in the desert. Instead of supplying her people with the water necessary for survival, Benjamin’s Miriam does not have control of her own bodily fluids.

 

The Miriam of Finding Home #72 is only in slightly better shape. In the triptych, Miriam lies tangled on a spider’s web. Even her wings are stuck in the web. In fact, Miriam’s wings, arms, and legs seem so carefully and intentionally tied that she could not have simply flown into the web. In the bottom right corner, a demonic figure with a tail, fangs, and sharp claws sleeps. She is flanked on either side by Jonah, who holds an American flag as he is strung upside down in front of a fish, and by Joseph, who stands on a podium dressed in bright colors. The two figures are in poses reminiscent of the soldiers tortured at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

 

 


Finding Home #72, “Miriam.” 2006. 18″ x 15.3″. Gouache and 22K gold leaf on wood

 

 

It is not clear what Miriam has in her character that makes her the patron saint of tortured prisoners, but even if she could help Joseph and Jonah, she is trapped in the demonic web. That’s what I find most impressive and exciting about Benjamin’s angels. They have been summoned to respond to modern problems – which are of course timeless problems at the same time – but it is hardly clear that they will succeed. Just because angels have been dispatched to respond to a problem does not immediately resolve the problem.


 


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

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/siona-benjamins-blue-angels-2/2009/12/23/

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