Friday, June 29, 2007

Facing One's Fears, Becoming Who We Are

I once attended a class with a rabbi in New York who once spoke about how every person, and every ethnic group on the planet has a destiny. For a Jew this means that we are not the only people on the planet who have a divine mission. Needless to say we do have a mission, to know and walk according to the will of God. Never to bow down in our faith, and to be an example i.e. a light to the nations.

Once when I was speaking at a High School about Judaism to a class who was reading a book called the Color of Water, a student asked me, "How do Jews spread Judaism to the world?" This was an interesting question for me to answer since the class was made up mostly of Christians, and a few Muslims. My response to her was:

"In Judaism we don't have a commandment to spread Judaism to the world. There is no requirement for Jews to make more Jews, and there is no concept that the entire must become Jewish. It is not our job to make the world believe that the One we worship is The One and only God, blessed is He, whose name is יהוה. It is only our job to be an example, and to live our lives based on the Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible)."

Note: Of course I didn't pronounce God's Name, just visually trying to make a point in differences between Judaism and other religions.

Often major world religions are pictured with the concept of vying for new converts under the belief that the world will become a better place once the world accepts their theology. If one wants to receive some form of afterlife then one must subscribe to their theology to be safe. In Judaism we don't exactly see it that way. In our faith there are two tracts that lead to God in the exact same way.

Path #1 is as a Benei Yisrael (Descendant of Jacob) or a Jew. A Jew is anyone who comes from an accepted ancestry from either descendants of Jacob of Geirim (non-Jews who live amongst Jews and accept the commandments of God like Jews). A person who "converts" is the same as a Jew, just without the ancestry, yet they have the same rights as anyone born Jewish.

Path #2 is that of a Ben-Nochri/Benei Noach. These are non-Israelite or non-Jewish people who have accepted The God mentioned in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and who live a life based on 7 things.

  1. Do not murder.
  2. Do not steal.
  3. Do not worship false gods.
  4. Do not be sexually immoral.
  5. Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal.
  6. Do not curse God.
  7. Set up courts and bring offenders to justice.

Rabbi Moshe Maimon aka Rambam (1135 to 1204) explains that any human being who faithfully observes these laws earns a proper place in heaven. So you see, the Torah is for all humanity, no conversion necessary. As well, when King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he specifically asked God to heed the prayer of non-Jews who come to the Temple (1-Kings 8:41-43).

As a Jew, it is not my job to go out and conquer the world, or force Judaism or the Noachide Laws on non-Jews. Yet, it is my responsibility as a Jew to be an example and to be able to explain the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) to any non-Jew who wants to know about it.

It is this part of destiny that at times has been hard for some religious Jews to grapple with. Mainly due to the treatment that Jews have faced from the 2nd Century CE till recent history. How can on one hand a person look back and see the persecution of his ancestors, just for them trying to follow the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) within their own community. Now, they have to turn around and teach it to people who in many cases could care less, and in other cases descend from the people who persecuted those Jews from Europe to the Middle East to Africa to America.

It may sound strange, but it is a part of the Jewish destiny. The Torah was given for our benefit, but the Torah also had instruction for the non-Jewish nations. The reason is because every nation has a purpose and every nation has a mission. Is is clear, but we live in a time where it is more beneficial for a Jew to not live a life based on Torah. It is easier to simply throw off this responsibility because it is perceived to have failed us. Why did we have to suffer, why did we have to loose so much, why does it seem like God has abandoned us?

Maybe, the answer is both a mystery and a given. On some level we don't know why suffering exists in every nation, and not just our own as Jews. Maybe, we have something to share with the world, without using the methods that others have used to get their points across. Maybe it is time for us to stand up against evil and fight it with our defense being our spiritual, mental, and physical awareness peaked. Maybe, the world is trying to tell us that we can't throw away our ancestry and our faith and expect sympathy from the world. What would be the point of the Land of Israel without the faith of Israel?

The only reason we have a right to the Land of Israel is because of the Bible that not only we accepted, but also millions of non-Jews accept. Could it be that the more we run away from our destiny we fall further and further into the hate of nations who are crying out for sane dialog when it comes to faith matters? Maybe the world is crying out for the Torah we posses, so that the may know the ways of God. Though it is not our job to beat the world upside their heads with our faith, maybe in this time where we more freedom than our ancestors from about 600 BCE until 1948 the world is waiting for us to stand for something.

This isn't just a call to all of us who are Jewish, but is also a call to all non-Jews who believe in the God described in the Bible. He is not the token for only the Jewish people, and we know this because Adam was not a Jew, Noah was not a Jew, Abraham was not a Jew, Job was not a Jew, etc. Those who came before Jacob were not Israelites and they weren't Jews. Abraham was the father of Jews, certain Arabs, and a number of other Semitic people, but his faith in God preceded the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Noah and Job are seen in Judaism as examples to both Jews and non-Jews of how to walk with God.

This is a call for us all, face your fears, become who God created you to be, and stand for something!

"Only the strong ones travel this deep!"
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World Music: Zap Mama Videos

I have loved the sounds of Zap Mama for some time since I first heard of them when I lived in California. The below videos two of my favorite Zap Mama songs.

Bandy Bandy

Sweat Melody

Zap Mama is a Belgian musical group headed by Marie Daulne. They sing in French and English with deep African roots. Founded in 1990 by Daulne, Zap Mama have released five full-length albums: Adventures in Afropea, Sabsylma, Seven, A Ma Zone, and Ancestry in Progress. They received a Grammy nomination for Adventures in Afropea, and two of their albums, Adventures in Afropea and Ancestry in Progress, reached #1 on the Billboard World Music Album chart. Zap Mama’s songs have been featured in numerous films and television shows including So You Think You Can Dance?, the Mission Impossible II soundtrack and the Wired CD. They have toured globally, including performances at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Coachella Festival, Austin City Limits Festival, the Blue Note Festival in Tokyo, and numerous WOMAD festivals. Zap Mama's next album, entitled "Supermoon", is scheduled for release August/September 2007.

There official web-site can be view from here.‎ Read Entire Post!

Returning to the Land of Israel Part 2

At the moment I am taking a break from packing. I am getting ready to go to Israel permantly in order to live and to work. I have been sensing for some time that my time in New York was coming to a close, and changes that have been taking place around me confirm this feeling. People have asked me am I afraid to go back, and I can say that I don't have any fear. They ask if I am going to Israel to die, because of all the violence they hear about on the news.

When I was a kid my grandmother, Elnora Lyons-Ever of blessed memory, made me believe that I had some grand destiny. She talked me as if I was meant to be something more than what I ever saw for myself. I have felt for some time that Israel is a part of this, and that living there is a part of something that God set in motion before I was born.

The Israel that I have seen in the past is a place that I know will test me. It will cause me to become more than I am. It will force me to live up to the standards of Judaism that I always talk about and not simply live in the shadow of my own rhetoric.

The Judean Desert-View from Massada

I miss the deserts in Israel, and I miss the ocean. When I first went to Israel I remember sitting at the edge of the ocean in Tel Aviv for hours just staring into the distance. It was as if I did not need to think, I did not need to worry or second guess myself. When I sat there I knew exactly who I was. When I traveled through the Judean Desert I saw a glimpse of who I could be, and I felt the need to gather myself. Living in Israel won't be easy, but I am not going back because I believe it will be. I am going back because I believe in something higher than myself. I believe that God is doing something there, and I want to be a part of it.
So in the end I am not going to Israel to die, I am going back to Israel to see if I am really alive.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Returning to The Land of Israel: Part 1

In late 2004, I got to point where my entire life was falling apart. It especially got worse around the anniversary of my father's death. His death was hard for me because I had only found out two years earlier how he died (suicide because of post traumatic stress from Vietnam). In 1978, he killed himself after several years of battling his personal demons after Vietnam. I didn't know this until 2002.

Gong back to 2004. Financially things were going bad, personally things were falling apart, my job was stressing me, and I felt alone. This after a major victory in my life. I got to the point I where I told God that I would not pray again unless he did 5 things before the end of Hannukah. At that point I stopped praying and I went about my life.

After a few weeks I felt a strong feeling saying, Go to Israel...NOW! I thought to myself, I don't have the money to go to Israel. Yet, every day it kept getting stronger. To make a REALLY long story short. I went to Israel initially with the intent to go to Jerusalem to the Kotel (The Western Wall) and tell God that I was giving up on being a Jew. I planned on giving up on anything to do with God. Now mind you, I knew He existed, and I knew He was somewhere cognizant of my thoughts, but I like a child I wanted to show Him I was tired of Him letting me down.

Yet, even the best laid plans can fall apart when you face something as daunting as the Kotel with the knowledge that the Temple of Elohim (God) once stood there. What I found in Israel was that God did not abandon me, He only backed away to make me go to Israel so that I could seek Him in a place where my destiny belonged. Yet, I was also afraid to take on such a concept with all the strife that exists in the Middle East, and with all the surrounding countries that hate or want to destroy Israel.

Dune by Frank Herbert: The Litany Against Fear
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

While I was there, by chance, or at least by human chance, I met people who spoke to my situation and gave me sound advice. Several times it became clear that my destiny belonged in Israel, and that God would guide me on how to get there. It was then that I knew that when I returned to the US in 2005 I had to face my problems and my fears and OVERCOME THEM ALL.

The Sleeper Must Awaken

Sometimes, not all the time, we have to challenge God in order to truly find ourselves. There are times when our lives start to fall apart in order for us to be moved to really grapple with who we are and our destiny. There is a saying from Rabbi Salomon Breuer that when the Bible says, "let us make man" this means that God makes us 50% and the other 50% is up to us to make ourselves and be active participants in our own creation and self-development. When we don't live by the will of God for humanity, it is almost as if we un-create ourselves.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

World Music: Kel Tamashek Music of Niger

This music is of the Kel Tamashek (Touareg) Berbers, they are inhabitants of various parts of the Sahara. I have loved Berber music for some time time now. Enjoy.

The Music of the Kel Tamashek of Niger
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Saturday, June 23, 2007

The One Time I Was Sent to Detention

The video below brought back memories of the one time I ended up in detention when I was in high school. The story went like this. A guy I knew was talking back and being confrontational to a female teacher and as a joke, due to his behavior, I decided to make a funny statement. I said, "Hey Jason why don't you just fight her?" I said this because Jason was really being indignant with her, and I couldn't believe his behavior. I didn't mean anything by it, and afterwards I went to class. About an hour later I got called into the principles office and was told that I threatened a teacher. I couldn't believe it. I didn't threaten her, I was being sarcastic. Yet, they would not listen. I was sent to apologize and the teacher told me, "I knew you were being sarcastic and you didn't mean it." What! Well why am I getting detention? Of course no one listened and I got in trouble at home.

So the next day when I had to go to detention it reminded me of this video below.

Dexter Detention

I of course never returned to detention, especially since the worst part of detention is how boring it was. I could never imagine what it would be like to have detention for more than a day, and I never desired to have such an experience again. I learned to be careful what you do and what say, even in jest, because it can cost you. I also learned to be careful of who you associate with because they can also be the cause of your downfall.‎ Read Entire Post!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Book Review: Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality

Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality: The Inner Life of Jews of the Ottoman Empire
By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

I began reading this book thinking that I was going to read only a few chapters. Yet, I found that I could not put the book down. Rabbi Angel does a wonderful job at describing the environment of Turkish, Spanish, and Roman Jewish interaction and the effects on their spiritual life. This work goes into many of the cultural nuances that place because of internal and external situations such as the inquisition in Spain and Portugal, the Shabbatai Svi movement, and the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

I really enjoyed how the book explained both the good and bad that resulted from the increase in Qabbalistic thought. He also covers the traditions, poetry, and music that came out of the Ladino culture. All and all, this is one of the best and most straight forward books that deals with the need for Sephardim to preserve the culture.

I think this book should required reading in all Yeshivot and Jewish schools.‎ Read Entire Post!

Book Review: Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Black Rednecks and White Liberals
by Thomas Sowell

I picked this book up when I happened to be at a book store in Texas. Of course the title was very flashy and I decided that I needed to find out what this book was about. What I found was this book was very interesting in its approach to several topics of importance to me. As someone who is Jewish and African American, this book has several articles that are pertinent to me personally.

Thomas Sowell does a wonderful job of providing a balanced approach to topics such as, "Why are Jews hated" and is that hate generic in nature. He also covers the history of what he calls Black Rednecks, i.e. an attitude of ghetto-ness in certain inner cities blacks. One of his most controversial will can be the real history of slavery.

All and all, I found this book to be well researched and an attempt at a balanced approach to the topics by looking at it from both human and multiple standpoints. It may be a difficult read for some and it may be better to read in sections at a time. Yet, I think this book should be a part of discussions in the cultural and educational segments of American society. I would really say this book is 4 and half stars.‎ Read Entire Post!