Tu BiShvat – blog post by Rabbi Karen Soria

It is difficult to believe that in Israel the ground is thawing and the tree sap is rising. While (so far) this winter has not been as cold or snowy as last, our season is a long way from spring. And yet, every year, we tie ourselves again to the calendar in Israel with Tu BiShvat, the New Year for trees.
Preparing the Seder for the festival, I thought a great deal about similarities and differences with the Pesach Seder. The number four is an easy parallel, with four cups of the fruit of the vine at each, but the four children was the image that intrigued me.
Do you know only four kinds of children? I know many kinds – and each of them incorporates many kinds of traits. I know no children that are only ‘wise, wicked, simple, or silent.’ Every one I know combines those traits, depending on situation and circumstances (plus many others). And so, I put a selection of more than one child’s voice in our Temple Shalom Seder.
Of course, we are all called “b’nai Israel – the Children of Israel” throughout our Scripture, TaNaKh, because we all are, in some ways, always children. Are not we all wise in some things, and so ignorant in others that we are silent? Do we not all have that urge on occasion (some more frequently than others) to be the troublemaker, the one who either asks the impossible questions or the one who likes to ‘stir the pot’ and get a rise out of someone? Aren’t we all ‘simple’ about some things, wanting only a succinct or even cursory answer, or altogether leaving the issue in the “too hard box”? By putting several additional voices in our TuBiShvat Seder, I wanted to emphasize that there are, and we each have, many voices.
Along with the new growth of trees in Israel and the promise of spring, may this time of waiting hopefully for it to arrive in our more wintery climes be a time when we listen to our innermost voice, treasure it, and ready ourselves for it bursting forth with new buds and blossoms!

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The Penn Torah

The Penn Torah Scroll

The Penn Torah – photos copyright 2012 by Erwin Huebner:  Click here for more

Not every young artist dreams of becoming a Torah scribe, but Irma Penn did.  After 40 years, Irma has fulfilled her lifelong ambition to become a Soferet and has created the first Torah scribed by a Canadian woman.  It will be dedicated at a special ceremony to be held at Temple Shalom in Winnipeg on Shavuot, 5772, (May 27th, 2012.)

Irma is a valued member of Temple Shalom.  Irma Penn, studied to be a soferet STaM, learning the practices of writing script for sacred texts in the Mea Shearim district of Jerusalem in Israel.  She has written several Megillot Esther, (the story of Purim,) as well as the Holocaust Scroll in both Hebrew and English which was read for the first time last year at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.  She is currently working on writing the strips for a set of tefillen.

Irma was selected to participate with five other women, scribes from around the world, in writing the first Torah scroll every created by women, for a congregation in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.  She is an artist, a former archivist with the Jewish Heritage Centre in Winnipeg, a poet, calligrapher, teacher and genealogist.

The Winnipeg Jewish community has a unique opportunity this winter to participate in the completion of a Torah, by the mitzvah of helping Irma to write the letters on the final page of the scrolls which are now being woven together.  It is said that to help write one letter is as if you had written the whole Torah.  You can be part of this amazing project.

You can make donations celebrating members of your family, a simcha, the memory of loved ones, an anniversary, b’mitzvah or other life cycle event. You can make donations on your own or with a group.  Look for more information and our video, on our website: http://www.templeshalomwinnipeg.ca

For further information please email penntorah@gmail.com .

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What do you think? Ma khosh’vim?

What right do we have to personal information about others? Where is the line between public and private? Who decides?

Let me tell you about the moment when I realized that the media had (nearly) sucked me into thinking I had an intimate relationship with someone. (To be honest, what I really realized was how I had always been sucked in before and why that was wrong.)

It was through a scene on a television show, whose star was a high school classmate of mine. You see, I graduated high school with David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff. We worked together on The Fantastiks. But we didn’t socialize; I couldn’t even say we were friends. Knowing what our relationship was and was not, when the television camera moved in for those close up shots of his character’s face, I was taken aback. And I thought, “I have no business seeing him this close. I’m not this close to him!”

Where is the line between public and private? The movie and television cameras tell us we have intimate relationships with people we have never met and will never know. The tabloids titillate us with details of celebrities’ and politicians’ lives and homes, where we are strangers and which we will never enter. Often we expect public figures to be ‘perfect’ (whatever that means), and when they don’t for whatever reason – divorce, badly behaved children, adultery, messy hair and unfashionable outfit, etc. – the media is quick to condemn them. If each of us were expected to maintain appearances constantly, most of us would fail miserably.

But what about being a “role-model”? Do those of us who may be (or are) seen as role-models have an obligation to tell details of our private life because of others who may be (or are) discriminated against?

That question has been seriously raised following the death of Debbie Friedman, singer, songwriter, feminist, and – apparently, per the 18th paragraph in her NY Times obituary – lesbian. Voices have been raised condemning her for her sexuality, and voices have been raised condemning her for being private about her sexuality. For the former, her music is now ‘different’ because written by a lesbian. For the latter, her life work is now diminished because she didn’t ‘come out’ as a lesbian.

Is Stephen Hawking’s understanding of the universe less brilliant because he divorced his first wife? Is Percy Grainger’s music less beautiful because of his pedophilic writings? Is Debbie Friedman’s music less spiritual and Jewish because she loved a woman? Or ~ on the other hand ~ is anyone whom we admire a less admirable whatever because we don’t know about part of his or her ** (fill in the blank). In short, does the worth of someone’s life work depend on the personal information we know about him or her?

Debbie Friedman said, “People are more uptight talking about God, more uptight about God language and God concepts, than they are about sex.” That was from a conversation with Jonathan Mark, as reported in The Jewish Week, Jan 13.

What right do we have to personal information about a person? What does it matter? Ma khosh’vim ~ what do you think?