Israel's great writer, reader, dreamer

By Liam Hoare, January 13, 2019, Times of Israel

Susan Sontag once defined herself as ‘a writer, reader, and a dreamer’ who dwelt upon ‘how things could be better, deeper, more intense, more wonderful.’ A better summation of a life could not be found for Amos Oz, who died on 28 December at the age of 79 and without whom, as David Grossman told the Guardian, the world has diminished and narrowed down. Israel’s great writer, reader, dreamer.

 Oz wrote in precarious times. Early stories like Where the Jackals Howl and Elsewhere, Perhaps saw the kibbutz’s fragility, while My Michael and The Hill of Evil Counsel conjured Jerusalem, the city of Oz’s birth, as few others have. His finest novels – Black Box and especially Fima and Don’t Call It Night – encompassed the whole of Israel while keeping human relationships at the centre of restless and uncertain narratives.

Oz’s 2002 masterpiece A Tale of Love and Darkness, one family’s tumult wrapped in historical saga, unlocks the rest of his novels. Later stories returned to places and pathways he had walked before in his novels and dreams: Jerusalem and the kibbutz. Between Friends, interwoven stories set on a kibbutz in the 1950s, is perhaps my favourite of his novels. With time his prose became more succinct and economical, saying more with less. He did not suffer the fate of so many other novelists: the loss of literary gift before the loss of life. 

Oz served in wars of life and death and remained a committed public intellectual. His essays, especially 1967’s The meaning of homeland, stood for a form of socialist Zionism, centred on the redemption of people and not land that was muscular yet humanistic, forward-facing but rooted, both visionary and realistic. His metaphors for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have become part of popular discourse, most famously, that a divorcing couple who nonetheless must find a way to cohabit the same house. I feel fortunate not only to have read Amos Oz but met him too. His daughter, the historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, first suggested the idea. I was trepid, for one should never meet one’s heroes – a fool’s caution, as it turned out. 

On a January afternoon in 2016 with the sun setting beyond the Mediterranean’s edge, Oz and I sat in his study discussing his life and work for almost two hours. Oz was warm and generous, more than happy to indulge my curiosity but at the same time, as any teacher should, willing to correct when necessary – for example, when I used the word ‘fiction’, which he hated. This conversation was one of the great pleasures of my writing life. We met a final time a year later at an event in Tel Aviv for a book of conversations, What Is in an Apple? Awaiting the English translation, I’m life with a deathly silence. As we go through life trying on writers like outfits, Oz was the one that fit. I often thought that no one could have derived greater pleasure from a new Amos Oz novel than I did. 

Writer, reader, dreamer, Oz’s prose did indeed make life better and deeper, more intense and wonderful. Now the world seems denuded – deprived not only of his perceptiveness and moral clarity but the opportunity to hear it pronounced. Yet the end is not quite the end. Amos Oz witnessed the birth of Israel, fought twice to defend it, loved it even when he didn’t like it, and shaped its rich and ever-evolving language. And from my desk I can see a half metre of paperback books bearing his name that will be a source of truth, beauty and wisdom forever. 


Is Israel a product of the Holocaust?

By Moshe Arens, Haaretz, 02/02/2010

The United Nations has declared the day the Auschwitz death camp was liberated as International Holocaust Memorial Day. It was only appropriate that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was invited to address the ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation by the Red Army of that place of horrors. In the minds of some, the establishment of the State of Israel is linked to the Holocaust, or even seen as a direct result of the Holocaust. U.S. President Barack Obama, probably unaware of the history of the Zionist movement, implied as much in his speech in Cairo last year. But the truth is almost the exact opposite. The extermination by the Germans of six million Jews during World War II came close to putting an end to the dream of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. The reservoir of Jewish immigrants to Palestine was decimated. Vladimir Jabotinsky, in his testimony before the Peel Commission in London on February 11, 1937, spoke of the aim of Zionism as the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River in which there would be room for "the Arab population and their progeny and many millions of Jews." At that time, the Jewish population of Palestine was no more than 400,000.

By the time the war had ended, millions of Jews had been exterminated in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor and the killing fields of Russia. To Zionist leaders, it became clear that not only were there not enough Jews to constitute a solid Jewish majority, which was the condition for establishing a Jewish state, on both sides of the Jordan River, but that Jewish immigration would not even suffice to establish such a majority in the entire area west of the Jordan.

It was the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who grasped the full potential of the destruction of European Jewry for ending Zionist aspirations, and therefore allied himself with Hitler. Arab leaders in Egypt and Iraq similarly found good reason to hope for Hitler's victory. Yet after the war, the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-Palestine) and the remnants of European Jewry, who overcame British efforts to block their way to Palestine, had enough vitality and strength to bring about the establishment of the State of Israel in part of the territory that the League of Nations had originally mandated to Britain for the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. In Israel, we commemorate the Holocaust every year on the day the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt began. It is significant that we pay homage to the Jews of Europe who were exterminated on the day the Jewish survivors in the Warsaw Ghetto rose up to fight the Germans and their Ukrainian henchmen. It was the first uprising against the German conqueror in Europe.

The Warsaw ghetto fighters knew they had no chance of defeating the far superior German forces. They received neither help nor encouragement from Washington, London or Moscow. It was only a year later, after the Germans had laid waste to the ghetto and killed and deported the remaining inhabitants, that the world began to appreciate the full significance of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Today, it is seen as an integral part of the history of World War II. It is a lasting testimony to the few hundred courageous youngsters who dared to challenge the German conqueror. Although defeated in the ghetto, their victory is written in the pages of history.

It was on the eve of the uprising, on April 18, 1943, that Leon Rodal, Pawel Frenkel's deputy in the Betar-led resistance, the Jewish Military Organization, said to Ryszard Walewski, who with a group of his fighters had joined Frenkel's organization: "We will all fall here. Some in battle, weapons in hand, and others as vain victims ... Maybe someday, after many years, when the history of the struggle against the Nazi conqueror is written, we will be remembered, and, who knows, we will become like small Judea that fought mighty Rome in its day, the symbol of man's spirit that cannot be suppressed, whose essence is the fight for freedom, for the right to live, and the right to exist."


Domestic Religion
(Excerpted from Barbara Myerhoff, Number Our Days, 1979)

"Now I did not like to wipe the dishes because the towel was so rough, it didn't feel good, and I did not know how to explain this to Grandmother....So I rebelled against that. The job was not well done. I'll never forget that, how my grandmother, she took me aside one day....She began first all around with praises. "Rucheleh," she says," know you are carrying a holy name. And according to your name, you have to be perfect." Well, she gave me all that until when I looked at her, my spirit was rising and rising, higher and faster until I forget all about that sturdy towel and my hatred for it....after that speech, I was transformed into a different person. The towel became soft as fine linen and I loved to wipe the dishes. And always before me, when I was wiping the dishes was the name of the holy mother Rachel, and I thought, 'She's right. I am that woman.' That, that is what I call domestic religion....

"I think the boys didn't have it that way. They knew what the sacred words meant so they could argue and doubt. But with us girls, we couldn't doubt because what we knew came without understanding. These things were injected into you in childhood....When it goes in this way, I describe, Jewish comes up in you from the roots and it stays with you all your life."


Millions of Jews traced to four women
Study identifies genetic signatures for 3.5 million Ashkenazi Jews
The Associated Press
updated 8:10 p.m. ET Jan. 12, 2006

NEW YORK - About 3.5 million of today’s Ashkenazi Jews — 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population — are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates.

Those women apparently lived somewhere in Europe within the last 2,000 years, but not necessarily in the same place or even the same century, said lead author Dr. Doron Behar of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

He did the work with Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and others.

Each woman left a genetic signature that shows up in their descendants today, he and colleagues say in a report published online by the American Journal of Human Genetics. Together, their four signatures appear in about 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews, while being virtually absent in non-Jews and found only rarely in Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin, the researchers said.

They said the total Ashkenazi population is estimated at around 8 million people. The estimated world Jewish population is about 13 million.

Ashkenazi Jews are a group with mainly central and eastern European ancestry. Ultimately, though, they can be traced back to Jews who migrated from Israel to Italy in the first and second centuries, Behar said. Eventually this group moved to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and expanded greatly, reaching about 10 million just before World War II, he said.

Maternal lineages traced
The study involved mitochondrial DNA, called mtDNA, which is passed only through the mother. A woman can pass her mtDNA to grandchildren only by having daughters. So mtDNA is “the perfect tool to trace maternal lineages,” Behar said Thursday in a telephone interview.

His study involved analyzing mtDNA from more than 11,000 samples representing 67 populations.

Mike Hammer, who does similar research at the University of Arizona, said he found the work tracing back to just four ancestors “quite plausible ... I think they’ve done a really good job of tackling this question.”

But he said it’s not clear the women lived in Europe.

“They may have existed in the Near East,” Hammer said. “We don’t know exactly where the four women were, but their descendants left a legacy in the population today, whereas ... other women’s descendants did not.”

Behar said the four women he referred to did inherit their genetic signatures from female ancestors who lived in the Near East. But he said he preferred to focus on these later European descendants because they were at the root of the Ashkenazi population explosion.

© 2010 The Associated Press. URL:


Vanessa Hidary, the "Hebrew Mamita"

by Rebecca Weiner
(From The Jewish Virtual Library)

The descendants of Jews who left Spain or Portugal after the 1492 expulsion are referred to as Sephardim. The word “Sephardim” comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad, that is stated in the Bible.

It is believed that Jews have lived in Spain since the era of King Solomon (c.965-930 B.C.E.). Little information can be found on these Jews until the beginning of the first century. We do know that in 305 C.E., the Council of Toledo passed an edict forbidding Jews from blessing the crops of non-Jews and prohibiting Jews and non-Jews from eating together.

Visigoth Rule
In 409 C.E., the Visigoths conquered Spain. The Visigoths were Arian Christians, followers of Arius who reasoned that Jesus could not logically co-exist with God and must therefore be subservient to him.

In 587 C.E., King Reccared, the Visigoth king in Spain, converted to Roman Catholicism and made it the state religion. Subsequently, the Church was to exert powerful influence on all aspects of social life. Almost immediately, in 589 C.E., a canon was passed forbidding the marriage between Christians and Jews; and in 612 C.E., the Council of Gundemar of Toledo ordered that all Jews submit to baptism within the year.

In 638 C.E., the Arian Visigoths declared that “only Catholics could live in Spain.”

The Golden Age
The situation improved in 711 when Spain fell under the rule of the Muslim Moors. Both Muslims and Jews built a civilization, based in Cordoba, known as Al-Andalus, which was more advanced than any civilization in Europe at that time. Jews were able to coexist peacefully with their neighbors; however, they were still treated as dhimmis, "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians) who are protected under Islamic law. Jews did not have complete autonomy and had to pay a special tax, the jizha , but were able to freely practice their religion.

The era of Muslim rule in Spain (8th-11th century) was considered the "Golden Age" for Spanish Jewry. Jewish intellectual and spiritual life flourished and many Jews served in Spanish courts. Jewish economic expansion was unparalleled. In Toledo, Jews were involved in translating Arabic texts to the romance languages, as well as translating Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. Jews also contributed to botany, geography, medicine, mathematics, poetry and philosophy.

A number of well-known Jewish physicians practiced during this period, including Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (915-970), who was the doctor for the Caliph (leader of Spain). Many famous Jewish figures lived during the Golden Age and contributed to making this a flourishing period for Jewish thought. These included Samuel Ha-Nagid, Moses ibn Ezra, Solomon ibn Gabirol Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides.

Jews lived separately in aljamas (Jewish quarters). They were given administrative control over their communities and managed their own communal affairs. Jews had their own court system, known as the Bet Din. Rabbis served as judges and rendered both religious and civil legal opinions.

Islamic culture also influenced the Jews. Muslim and Jewish customs and practices became intertwined. For example, Arabic was used for prayers rather than Hebrew or Spanish. Before entering the synagogue, Jews washed their hands and feet, which is a practice done before entering a mosque. Arab melodies were used for Jewish songs. Jews wore the clothing style of their Moorish neighbors, although they were not allowed to wear silk or furs.

Jews lived peacefully in Al-Andulus for 400 years. The Golden Age for Jewry in Muslim Spain declined after the Almovarids gained power in 1055 and continued to deteriorate after the Almohads came to power in 1147. Jews continued to work as moneylenders, jewelers, cobblers, tailors and tanners, however, they had to wear distinguishing clothing, such as a yellow turban.

Christian Rule, the Inquisition and the Expulsion of 1492
The Christians conquered Toledo in 1098 and the Jews in Christian Spain prospered, while those in Muslim Spain suffered under the Almohad dynasty. Both Jews and Muslims were involved in the cultural, economic, intellectual, financial and political life of Christian Spain. By the mid-13th century, the Christians controlled most of Spain and increasingly forced Jews to convert to Christianity. Those who converted became known as Marranos or New Christians. Marranos are also known as crypto-Jews because they taught their children and practiced Judaism in secret. During this period, Jews were forced to participate in "religious" disputes with Christians counterparts.

Anti-Jewish riots broke out in 1391 in several Spanish cities and the situation worsened for the Jewish community. New Christians were tortured or killed in the Spanish Inquisition during the 15th century. Father Tomas de Torquemada felt that if the Jews remained in Spain, then they would influence the new converts to Christianity. After the capture of Granada from Muslim forces, Father Torquemada convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the Jewish community was expendable. In 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand commanded that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity be expelled from Spain. The Jews were given four months to leave Spain and were forced to sell their houses and businesses at low prices. It is estimated that 100,000 Jews left Spain at this time. The expulsion from Spain is commemorated every year by all Jews on the holiday of Tisha B’Av.

Many Spanish Jews settled in Portugal, which allowed the practice of Judaism. In 1497, however, Portugal also expelled its Jews. King Manuel of Portugal agreed to marry the daughter of Spain’s monarchs. One of the conditions for the marriage was the expulsion of Portugal’s Jewish community. In actuality only eight Jews were exiled from Portugal and the rest converted, under duress, to Christianity.

In the first Sephardi Diaspora, a large number of Jews settled in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire, especially, Turkey and Greece. Spanish exiles brought with them a unique culture, language (Ladino) and traditions. Many of these immigrants continued to speak Ladino until the 20th century.

A Marrano Diaspora took place a century later. Some Marranos had settled in Portugal and eventually moved to Holland, where they were allowed to outwardly practice Judaism. Many settled in Western Europe and moved to the Americas. Marranos who settled in Latin America continued practicing crypto-Judaism for many years because Spain began an inquisition in its New World colonies. Fear of persecution led Crypto-Jews to settle in remote villages. Today, descendants of crypto-Jews can be found in Colorado and New Mexico.

Exiled Sephardic Communities

Large Sephardic communities were founded in Venice, Leghorn, London, Bordeaux, Bayonne and Hamburg. These immigrants spoke Portugese and Spanish and many adapted mainstream Western European culture. Successful business enterprises were started by the Sephardim and their trade networks became famous worldwide.

Throughout the medieval period in Europe, the Sephardic Jews were treated as elites among Jews. Many times they had a secular education and often had great wealth. In the 18th century, the Sephardic Jews who lived in Amsterdam and in London, tended to discriminate against non-Sephardic Jews who wanted to pray at their synagogues by forcing them to sit separately from the rest of the congregation.

North Africa and the Arab World

For hundreds of years, Sephardic Jews lived, as dhimmis, in relative peace with Muslim neighbors and rulers in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire. They were considered second-class citizens, but were free to practice their own religion and participate in commerce. Similar to Spain and Portugal during the Golden Era, the Sephardic upper class in the Ottoman empire were employed as translators.

The Sephardic communities in the Arab world were more receptive to modernity than their Ashkenazi counterparts in Europe. The Zionist movement became popular among Sephardic Jews in North Africa. Many Sephardic rabbis in the Ottoman Empire supported Zionism and the Zionist movement spread to many Muslim countries in North Africa, such as in Egypt and Tunisia.

World War II - Present
In World War II, Sephardim in Europe suffered the same fate as other Jews, and most perished during the Holocaust. In a few places, such as Holland, they received some preferential treatment, meaning they were among the last to be liquidated.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, conditions for Jews in many Islamic countries grew increasingly uncomfortable and, in some cases, their lives were threatened. In the 1950's and 1960's, tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews fled from North Africa and other countries in the Middle East to settle in Israel, usually being forced by the Muslim authorities to leave behind most of their worldly possessions. Once they came to Israel, most of the Sephardic immigrants were put in transit camps and became dependent on welfare. The conditions in these camps were very bad and it was difficult for the newcomers to work their way out of the lower rung of Israeli society because they had less education than the established Ashkenazic community. Consequently, many worked in blue-collar professions.

Today, tensions remain between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Israel because of the poor treatment the latter received and the long, difficult road Sephardic Jews have had to travel to approach parity in society. Though they have not yet achieved equality, Sephardic Jews increasingly occupy positions of prestige and influence. Moroccan-born David Levy, for example, has served as foreign minister and, in July 2000, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav was elected president.

Besides Israel, other large Sephardic communities developed in Central and South America, Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. Meanwhile, the existing communities in New York, Paris and London grew. One of the most famous Sephardic synagogues is Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in North America, and the only Jewish congregation in New York from its founding in 1654 until 1825.

The Sephardi Jews preserved their special language, which was a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, known as Ladino. Ladino is still spoken by some Sephardic communities, such as those in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, France and Latin America. Today the largest Ladino-speaking community can be found in Israel. One can also read Ladino in Sephardic literature.

When Jews left Spain and Portugal they continued to speak Ladino, in the same grammar and vocabulary of 14th and 15th century Spanish. The Sephardic exile communities of Amsterdam, London and Italy were still in contact with Spain and hence they continued to speak Castillian Spanish.

Exile communities in the Ottoman Empire, however, retained the 14th and 15th century Spanish and borrowed words from Hebrew, Arabic Greek, Turkish and French and diverged considerably from Castillian Spanish. There are many different Ladino dialects. An Oriental Ladino was used in Turkey and Rhodes, while a Western Ladino was spoken in Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Rumania.

Ladino is written using Hebrew letters and often uses the Rashi script. In fact, Rashi script was originally a Ladino script; however, after Rashi’s death, this script was used to differentiate his commentary from others ones. More recently, in the 20th century, Ladino has been written using the Latin alphabet.

Religious Practice
Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews share the same tenets of Judaism, follow the Babylonian Talmud and the Shulkhan Arukh. Differences arise in customs and in liturgy. For example, on Passover, Sephardic Jews eat kitnyot, rice and corn products. Also, at many Sephardic sedars, the father will reenact the experience of gaining freedom by circling the sedar table and holding a symbolic bag over his shoulder.

Other differences exist in the way Sephardic Jews wind their tefillin straps outwards, whereas Ashkenazi Jews wind the tefillin inwards. Sephardic grooms are honored with an aliyah to the Torah on the Shabbat after their wedding, whereas Ashkenazi grooms are called up to the Torah the Shabbat before the wedding.

Sephardic Torah scrolls are usually stored in a large wooden cylinder, which stands erect when opened. The parchment is in an upright position when read, whereas, Ashkenazi scrolls just have an embroidered cover and the scrolls are read while lying flat on a table.

Sephardic liturgy uses the same basic prayers, but add different psalms and poems. The prayer, Ein Keloyheinu, is recited at the Saturday morning services for both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, however, it is also read daily by Sephardic Jews. Sephardim also use a different cantillation for reading the Torah and different melodies for prayers. All Sephardic synagogues are traditional, women are seated separately, typically in a balcony.


Congregation Shearith Israel
Golden Age of Spain. Sephardic Adventure.
Marks, Scott Alfassa. "The Jews in Islamic Spain." Sephardic House.
Sephardim. Encyclopedia Judaica. CD -Rom Edition 1995.
The Sephardim or Spanish Jews
Stillman, Norman A. The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times. The Jewish Publication Society of America. 1991.
Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History. William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1991.
Ward, Seth Dr. Sephardim and Crypto-Judaism: Definition of Terms and Brief History.


Spain bans Ariel U. from int'l contest
Sep. 22, 2009
Abe Selig and Jpost staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

The Spanish Housing Ministry has disqualified Ariel University Center from the international Solar Decathlon contest, on the grounds that the university is "located in occupied territories."

In a letter sent to the University Center, Javier Ramos Guallart explained that his ministry was forced to make the decision to ban the Israeli academics from the biannual competition to design a self-sufficient solar house, citing "European Union political guidelines" and the institution's location in Samaria.

The delegation from Ariel, which together with 20 other universities had reached the competition's final round, worked for two years designing and building a self-sufficient house that uses solar power as its only source of energy, and uses only half of the amount of energy needed to operate a regular house.

Despite their efforts, the institution received the letter from the Spanish government last Friday, effectively disqualifying their team from the competition.

"We would like you to know that an Israeli university would always be welcome to participate in this competition," wrote Guallart in his letter to the college.

"However, the fact that your center is actually located in the occupied territories, and being obliged to respect the European Union position in relation to this matter, we are forced to inform you that the continuation of your center in this competition will not be possible as from this date on," continued the letter.

"As much as we regret this situation, we have no alternative but to observe the European Union political guidelines as far as occupied territories are concerned," the letter concluded.

The team had been given a grant of 100,000 Euros to subsidize the project, which they called the "Stretch House." Team members said the concept was inspired by the "tent of Abraham", as the biblical dwelling was able to expand to meet its owner's wishes.

The competition, which includes the participation of engineers, architects, solar experts and other students from universities around the world, is organized by the US Department of Energy and has been held, until now, in Washington, DC. Due to the terms of a 2007 agreement between the US and Spain however, the upcoming decathlon is scheduled to take place next month in Madrid.

A UK-based group called Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, who campaigned for the Israeli team's disqualification, said they had done so as part of the academic boycott against Israel led by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) - an umbrella campaign aimed at "building and strengthening a global BDS movement."

In a statement regarding the matter, the BDS said that it would continue to intensify its boycott of Israel and its institutions, including all its universities, "until the occupation ends and Israel enables the fulfillment of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their original homes."

For its part, Ariel University Center issued a sharp response denouncing the decision.

"We reject with contempt the one-sided announcement that was received in our office from the Spanish Housing Ministry on the eve of theRosh Hashanah holiday, regarding the cancellation of our participation in the final stage of the Solar Decathlon 2010," the response read.

"This anti-academic decision harms some 10,000 students who study at the University, including the 500 Arab students who study here, and particularly the Jewish and Arab students of the School of Architecture. This decision, which is an expression of an illegitimate political struggle, blatantly violates international law and charters regarding academic freedom, which are being violated by this one-sided decision. The Ariel University Center, together with the Foreign Ministry will use all means at our disposal to put an end to this spectacle."

The university did receive one unlikely supporter - Professor Pascal Rollet from the Ecole Nationale Superieure d'Architecture, in Grenoble, France - who sent a letter to Ariel's staff in which she expressed her support for the institution.

"I want you to know that I personally disagree with the Spanish decision since Ariel University agenda is clearly oriented toward academic excellence for peace," Rollet wrote. "Please receive all my support in this difficult situation."


Rosh HaShanah - New Year's Day in September
by Judy Mandelbaum, Open Salon, September 18, 2009

You don't have to be Jewish to know that every once in a while you need to make some changes in your life. The only difference is that we've actually got a day when we make these changes happen.

In America, people usually refer to the festival of Rosh HaShanah as “Jewish New Year,” but in reality it is everybody’s birthday. It marks the day when G-d created Man in the Garden of Eden. Thus it is appropriate that what Jews call “the head of the year” is celebrated on this special day.

When Rosh HaShanah does not fall on a Shabbat, it is celebrated like other Jewish holidays. Shofars are sounded to awaken humankind from its slumber. On the first evening, following prayer services, we utter a special greeting that is unique to this night: “Leshana Tova Tikoseiv Veseichoseim Le'Alter LeChaim Tovim U'Leshalom: “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Genesis records that Man was created on the sixth day. In Leviticus 23:24 G-d says: “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.” Rosh HaShanah is not only a day of rest, but also a transition point, the beginning of a new year for human beings, their animals, and their legal contracts. It is also a day when the book of our deeds is opened before G-d and can be viewed by all who pass by. We ourselves are asked to imagine that we shall pass before G-d like sheep before the shepherd. This is thus the day when G-d decides whether we have earned another year of earthly existence. And yet his judgment is signed but not yet sealed. We still have another ten days to change our ways and bring about a different judgment. G-d does not seal his book until Yom Kippur.

How can we then change our ways and ensure a better life? Jews say that “repentance, prayer, and charity can remove a bad decree.” Three areas are of particular importance during the critical Ten Days of Repentence between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. If we do t’shuvah (repentance), pray faithfully, and extend charity to others with a generous spirit, we can wash away our ill deeds and improve the judgment to come. But those who do not pass judgment are “blotted out of the book of the living.”

The holiday lasts for two days, a forty-eight hour period that is regarded as a single long day of celebration. The shofar or ram’s horn is blown one hundred times on each of the two days, and it is blown again at Yom Kippur. As Leviticus 25 states: "Then you shall transmit a blast on the horn; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, the day of Yom Kippur, you shall have the horn sounded throughout the land...And proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

On the afternoon of the first day of this festival we practice tashlikh, a ceremony that takes place near flowing water where we symbolically cast our sins into the water. If we have a stream or river handy, we can physically throw bread or stones into it. In this way we rid ourselves of the many shortcomings and emotional burdens we have accumulated over the past year. As Rabbi Moses Isserles said, “The deeps of the sea saw the genesis of Creation; therefore to throw bread into the sea on New Year's Day, the anniversary of Creation, is an appropriate tribute to the Creator.”

My favorite Rosh HaShanah greeting is: Shana Tova Umetukah: “A Good and Sweet Year.” Thus it is only natural that the new year should begin with sweet dishes, such as apple slices dipped in honey, that also symbolize blessing and abundance. Other foods in the Ashkenazi tradition include beef tongue (to represent “the head of the year”), gourds, dates, spinach, black-eyed peas, challah bread, fish heads, matzo balls, gefilte fish, carrots and pomegranates, along with lekach (honey bread). Favorite dishes in our family were chicken soup, kreplach (meat-filled dumplings), and apple strudel.

Rosh HaShanah

This probably all sounds pretty solemn, but I remember it as a normal family holiday, with lots of good food and socializing. Still, wondrous things can happen on this day. On Rosh HaShanah we recite Psalm 24, where it is written: “Who shall ascend into the mountain of the LORD? and who shall stand in His holy place?” Clearly this represents a challenge to climb new peaks, to make both old and new dreams a reality. What better time than Rosh HaShanah to begin new projects and make new commitments for the betterment of life on this planet?

The first day of Rosh HaShanah begins at sundown on September 18 of this year. Here’s wishing everyone a happy holiday and excellent new beginnings to all your heartfelt endeavors. Mazal tov!


Nobel Prize facts

The following are true facts and verified statistics:

The Global Islamic population is approximately 1,200,000,000, or 20% of the world population. They received the following Nobel Prizes:

Literature 1988 - Najib Mahfooz.

Peace: 1978 - Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat 1994 - Yaser Arafat

Physics: 1990 - Elias James Corey 1999 - Ahmed Zewail

Medicine: 1960 - Peter Brian Medawar 1998 - Ferid Mourad


The Global Jewish population is approximately 14,000,000 or about 0.02% of the world population. They received the following Nobel Prizes:

Literature: 1910 - Paul Heyse 1927 - Henri Bergson 1958 - Boris Pasternak 1966 - Shmuel Yosef Agnon 1966 - Nelly Sachs 1976 - Saul Bellow 1978 - Isaac Bashevis Singer 1981 - Elias Canetti 1987 - Joseph Brodsky 1991 - Nadine Gordimer World

Peace: 1911 - Alfred Fried 1911 - Tobias Michael Carel Asser 1968 - Rene Cassin 1973 - Henry Kissinger 1978 - Menachem Begin 1986 - Elie Wiesel 1994 - Shimon Peres 1994 - Yitzhak Rabin

Physics: 1905 - Adolph Von Baeyer 1906 - Henri Moissan 1910 - Otto Wallach 1915 - Richard Willstaetter 1918 - Fritz Haber 1943 - George Charles de Hevesy 1961 - Melvin Calvin 1962 - Max Ferdinand Perutz 1972 - William Howard Stein 1977 - Ilya Prigogine 1979 - Herbert Charle s Brown 1980 - Paul Berg 1980 - Walter Gilbert 1981 - Roald Hoffmann 1982 - Aaron Klug 1985 - Albert A. Hauptman 1985 - Jerome Karle 1986 - Dudley R. Herschbach 1988 - Robert Huber 1989 - Sidney Altman 1992 - Rudolph Marcus 2000 - Alan J. Heeger

Economics: 1970 - Paul Anthony Samuelson 1971 - Simon Kuznets 1972 - Kenneth Joseph Arrow 1975 - Leonid Kantorovich 1976 -! Milton Friedman 1978 - Herbert A. Simon 1980 - Lawrence Robert Klein 1985 - Franco Modigliani 1987 - Robert M. Solow 1990 - Harry Markowitz 1990 - Merton Miller 1992 - Gary Becker 1993 - Robert Fogel

Medicine: 1908 - Elie Metchnikoff 1908 - Paul Erlich 1914 - Robert Barany 1922 - Otto Meyerhof 1930 - Karl Landsteiner 1931 - Otto Warburg 1936 - Otto Loewi 1944 - Joseph Erlanger 1944 - Herbert Spencer Gasser 1945 - Ernst Boris Chain 1946 - Hermann Joseph Muller 1950 - Tadeus Reichstein 1952 - Selman Abraham Waksman 1953 - Hans Krebs 1953 - Fritz Albert Lipmann 1958 - Joshua Lederberg 1959 - Arthur Kornberg 1964 - Konrad Bloch 1965 - Francois Jacob 1965 - Andre Lwoff 1967 - George Wald 1968 - Marshall W. Nirenberg 1969 - Salvador Luria 1970 - Julius Axelrod 1970 - Sir Bernard Katz 1972 - Gerald Maurice Edelman 1975 - Howard Martin Temin 1976 - Baruch S. Blumberg 1977 - Roselyn Sussman Yalow 1978 - Daniel Nathans 1980 - Baruj Benacerraf 1984 - Cesar Milstein 1985 - Michael Stuart Brown 1985 - Joseph L. Goldstein 1986 - Stanley Cohen [& Rita Levi-Montalcini] 1988 - Gertrude Elion 1989 - Harold Varmus 1991 - Erwin Neher 1991 - Bert Sakmann 1993 - Richard J. Roberts 1993 - Phillip Sharp 1994 - Alfred Gilman 1995 - Edward B. Lewis

Physics: 1907 - Albert Abraham Michelson 1908 - Gabriel Lippmann 1921 - Albert Einstein 1922 - Niels Bohr 1925 - James Franck 1925 - Gustav Hertz 1943 - Gustav Stern 1944 - Isidor Issac Rabi 1952 - Felix Bloch 1954 - Max Born 1958 - Igor Tamm 1959 - Emilio Segre 1960 - Donald A. Glaser 1961 - Robert Hofstadter 1962 - Lev Davidovich Landau 1965 - Richard Phillips Feynman 1965 - Julian Schwinger 1969 - Murray Gell-Mann 1971 - Dennis Gabor 1973 - Brian David Josephson 1975 - Benjamin Mottleson 1976 - Burton Richter 1978 - Arno Allan Penzias 1978 - Peter L Kapitza 1979 - Stephen Weinberg 1979 - Sheldon Glashow 1988 - Leon Lederman 1988 - Melvin Schwartz 1988 - Jack Steinberger 1990 - Jerome Friedman 1995 - Martin Perl

The Jews are not demonstrating with their dead on the streets, yelling and chanting and asking for revenge, the Jews are not promoting brain-washing the children in military training camps, teaching them how to blow themselves up and cause maximum deaths of Jews and other non Muslims. The Jews don't hijack planes, nor kill athletes at the Olympics, the Jews don't traffic slaves, nor have leaders calling for Jihad and death to all the Infidels.

The Jews don't have the economical strength of Petroleum, nor the possibilities to force the world's media to see "their side" of the question. Perhaps if the world's Muslims could invest more in normal education and less in blaming the Jews for all their problems, we could all live in a better world.


Israel-Style Kufta Kebab
Grilled lamb skewers with deep roots in the Middle East.
By Adeena Sussman

Like so many foods on Israeli menus, kebab has its roots in the Arab kitchen. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the name "shish kebab" is derived from an Arabic term for any type of fried meat. Only during Turkish dominance of the region did the term come to consistently refer to small chunks of meat (usually lamb) marinated, then skewered with vegetables and grilled.

The kebab that Israelis are familiar with is actually a variation of Kufta kebab, which comes from the Syrian term kooftah, or pounded meat. This favorite appears in early cookbooks from the region. Every country, from India to Afghanistan, has its own variation.

These lamb kebabs are easy to throw together, and they make a crowd-pleasing dish for a summer barbecue. Make sandwiches for your guests, or create a stuff-your-own-pita bar with fresh-baked pitas, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, spicy harissa or schug (hot pepper sauce), and a drizzle of tahini.
Serves 6

1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb

1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/3 cup finely chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

4 cloves garlic, minced

Spray 8 metal skewers with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and incorporate well with hands. Form meat mixture into about 18 to 20 equal-sized oval or round patties, and thread 3 patties onto each skewer. Preheat a clean grill or well-seasoned grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill skewers until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and slide off skewers. Serve warm.

Adeena Sussman is a food writer and chef based in New York. She writes the bimonthly food column "Season to Taste" for Hadassah Magazine.


Applesauce Kugel

Recipe Ingredients:
1 lb wide noodles
4 eggs
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
2 cups applesauce
cinnamon and sugar

Cook noodles until nearly tender and drain.
Beat eggs , add remaining ingredients except sugar and cinnamon, mix well. Add noodles and mix well.
Pour into a 9 x 13 greased baking dish. Combine 1/4 cup cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar and sprinkle on top. The amount of cinnamon and sugar can be adjusted to taste.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until browned on top


Curried Sweet Potato Latkes Recipe

12 Servings Prep: 20 min. Cook: 10 min./batch
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
4 cups grated peeled sweet potatoes
Oil for frying
In a small bowl, combine the first nine ingredients. Stir in eggs and milk until blended. Add sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into oil; press lightly to flatten. Fry for 3-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown, adding oil as needed. Drain on paper towels. Yield: 24 latkes.

Nutrition Facts: 2 latkes equals 241 calories, 20 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 36 mg cholesterol, 218 mg sodium, 14 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein.


Actress Lizzy Caplan

By Shira Schoenberg
(Source: The Jewish Virtual Library) 

The name Ashkenaz was applied in the Middle Ages to Jews living along the Rhine River in northern France and western Germany. The center of Ashkenazi Jews later spread to Poland-Lithuania and now there are Ashkenazi settlements all over the world. The term "Ashkenaz" became identified primarily with German customs and descendants of German Jews.

In the 10th and 11th century, the first Ashkenazim, Jewish merchants in France and Germany, were economic pioneers, treated well because of their trading connections with the Mediterranean and the East. Jewish communities appeared in many urban centers. Early Ashkenaz communities were small and homogeneous. Until Christian guilds were formed, Jews were craftsmen and artisans. In France, many Jews owned vineyards and made wine. They carried arms and knew how to use them in self-defense. The Jews of each town constituted an independent, self-governing entity. Each community, or kahal, established its own regulations made up by an elected board and judicial courts. They enforced their rulings with the threat of excommunication. The Ashkenazim generally shied away from outside influences and concentrated on internal Jewish sources, ideas and customs.

Ashkenazim focused on biblical and Talmudic studies. Centers of rabbinic scholarship appeared in the tenth century in Mainz and Worms in the Rhineland and in Troyes and Sens in France. Ashkenazi scholarship centered around oral discussion. Sages focused on understanding the minutiae of the texts instead of extracting general principles. The most famous early teacher was Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz. Some of his decrees, such as that forbidding polygamy, are still in existence today. The first major Ashkenazi literary figure was Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes, 1040-1105), whose commentaries on the Bible and Talmud are today considered fundamental to Jewish study. The tosafists, Ashkenazi Talmudic scholars in northern France and Germany, introduced new methods and insights into Talmudic study that are also still in use. Early Ashkenazi Jews composed religious poetry modeled after the fifth and sixth century piyyutim (liturgical poems). While prayer liturgy varied even among Ashkenazi countries, the differences were almost insignificant compared to the differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi liturgy.

While Ashkenazi Jews occasionally experience anti-Semitism, mob violence first erupted against them an the end of the 11th century. Many Jews were killed in what Robert Seltzer calls a "supercharged religious atmosphere." Many were willing to die as martyrs rather than convert.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, many Ashkenazi Jews became moneylenders. They were supported by the secular rulers who benefited from taxes imposed on the Jews. The rulers did not totally protect them, however, and blood libels cropped up accompanied by violence. In 1182, Jews were expelled from France. Ashkenazi Jews continued to build communities in Germany until they faced riots and massacres in the 1200s and 1300s. Some Jews moved to Sephardi Spain while others set up Ashkenazi communities in Poland.

The center of Ashkenazi Jewry shifted to Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia and Moravia in the beginning of the 16th century. Jews were for the first time concentrated in Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe. Polish Jews adopted the Ashkenazi rites, liturgy, and religious customs of the German Jews. The Ashkenazi mahzor (holiday prayer book) included prayers composed by poets of Germany and Northern France. In Poland, the Jews became fiscal agents, tax collectors, estate managers for noblemen, merchants and craftsmen. In the 1500-1600s, Polish Jewry grew to be the largest Jewish community in the diaspora. Many Jews lived in shtetls, small towns where the majority of the inhabitants were Jewish. They set up kehillot like those in the Middle Ages that elected a board of trustees to collect taxes, set up education systems and deal with other necessities of Jewish life. The Jews even had their own craft guilds. Each kahal had a yeshiva, where boys over the age of 13 learned Talmudic and rabbinic texts. Yiddish was the language of oral translation and of discussion of Torah and Talmud. Ashkenazi scholars focused on careful readings of the text and also on summarizing legal interpretations of former Ashkenazi and Sephardi scholars of Jewish law.

Ashkenazim focused on Hebrew, Torah and especially Talmud. They used religion to protect themselves from outside influences. The Jews at this time were largely middle class. By choice, they mostly lived in self-contained communities surrounding their synagogue and other communal institutions. Yiddish was the common language of Ashkenazi Jews in eastern and central Europe. With the start of the Renaissance and religious wars in the late 16th century, a divide grew between central and eastern European Jews. In central Europe, particularly in Germany, rulers forced the Jews to live apart from the rest of society in ghettos with between 100 and 500 inhabitants. The ghettos were generally clean and in good condition. Eastern European Jews lived in the shtetls, where Jews and gentiles lived side by side.

In the 1600s and 1700s, Jews in Poland, the center of Ashkenazi Jewry, faced blood libels and riots. The growth of Hasidism in Poland drew many Jews away from typical Ashkenazi practice. After the Chmielnicki massacres in Poland in 1648, Polish Jews spread through Western Europe, some even crossing the Atlantic. Many Ashkenazi Polish Jews fled to Amsterdam and joined previously existing communities of German Jews. Sephardim there considered the Ashkenazim to be socially and culturally inferior. While the Sephardim were generally wealthy, the Ashkenazim were poor peddlers, petty traders, artisans, diamond polishers, jewelry workers and silversmiths. As the Sephardim became poorer in the 18th century, the communities became more equal and more united.

The Jewish community in England also changed in the 1700s. It had been primarily Sephardi throughout the 1600s, but it became more Ashkenazi in culture as growing numbers of German and Polish Jews arrived.

By 1750, out of 2,500 Jews in the American Colonies, the majority was Ashkenazi. They were Yiddish-speaking Jews from Holland, Germany, Poland and England. The first Jews were merchants and traders. Since then, Ashkenazi Jews have built up communities throughout the United States.

By the end of the 19th century, as a result of Russian persecution, there was massive Ashkenazi emigration from Eastern Europe to other areas of Europe, Australia, South Africa, the United States and Israel. Ashkenazim outnumbered Sephardim everywhere except North Africa, Italy, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Before World War II, Ashkenazim comprised 90% of world Jewry.

The destruction of European Jewry in World War II reduced the number of Ashkenazim and, to some extent, their numeric superiority over Sephardim. The United States became the main center for Ashkenazi Jews.

Over time Ashkenazim and Sephardim developed different prayer liturgies, Torah services, Hebrew pronunciation and ways of life. Originally, most Ashkenazim spoke Yiddish. Ashkenazi and Sephardi tunes for both prayers and Torah reading are different. An Ashkenazi Torah lies flat while being read, while a Sephardi Torah stands up. Ashkenazi scribes developed a distinctive script. One major difference is in the source used for deciding Jewish law. Sephardim follow Rabbi Joseph Caro’s Shulhan Arukh. The Ashkenazim go by Rabbi Moses Isserles, who wrote a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh citing Ashkenazi practice. There are differences in many aspects of Jewish law, from which laws women are exempt from to what food one is allowed to eat on Passover. Today, many of the distinctions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim have disappeared. In both Israel and the United States today, Ashkenazim and Sephardim live side by side, though they generally have separate institutions.

In Israel, political tensions continue to exist because of feelings on the part of many Sephardim that they have been discriminated against and still don’t get the respect they deserve. Historically, the political elite of the nation have been Ashkenazim; however, this is gradually changing. Shas, a religious Sephardi party, has become one of the most powerful in the country and individual Sephardi politicians now hold powerful positions. Moroccan-born David Levy, for example, has served as foreign minister and, in July 2000, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav was elected president.


Ausubel, Nathan. Pictorial History of the Jewish People. New York: Crown Publishers, 1953.
Dimont, Max. Jews, God and History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.
Encyclopedia Judaica. "Ashkenaz". Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972.
Seltzer, Robert. Jewish People, Jewish Thought. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980.


What Judaism means to me
By Gertrude Weil (1879-1971)

This is a statement of my personal experience, which may be egotistical. I make no apologies: it will be personal.

Our early ancestors, in their search for a god, moved from what they knew into the unknown - from the fruits finite of their experience to the fascinating region of speculation. Their conception of God was a god made in their own image, with human emotions: love, hate, jealousy, etc. We call it anthropomorphism. Finally, we come to see God as the impersonal creative power, the universal cause. Thus God may be called the Cosmic Cause, the Cosmic Law, or the Cosmic Force. I personally can conceive of God only in this universal cosmic sense.

What is religion? In many people's code religion is limited to the area of theology: their idea of God, God's will, obedience or disobedience to His laws, etc. I recall reading recently a criticism of the Rev. W.W. Finletter, of Raleigh, for concerning himself with social conditions. The writer thought a minister should confine himself to matters of "religion", that is theology, church creed, church attendance, the prospect of heaven or hell. In my definition, religion includes the whole of life: one's beliefs, one's attitudes to society, one's behavior. It is significant that our leaders - or our prophets and priests - enjoined on their people not only a belief (faith) in God, but an ethical code of behavior: strict honesty in commerce, fair treatment of employees, kind consideration of the dependent (the widow, the orphan, and slaves). It even takes care of animals and their humane treatment. One's religious duty included - and includes - the whole range of life and its activities. They made us make the no distinction between the things that are God's and the things that are Caesar's - the "sacred and the profane" - all things are God's. There is a modern tendency to divide life into compartments and to impose different codes of morals in our various relationships. There is a business code, a political code, a family code, a religious code, etc. I am all against such departmentalisation. Life is one and whole. My religion demands the same honesty, fairness, reliability, in all one's relations.

In the long history of the Jewish people we find a gradual evolution in their ideas. The record tells us that their early god - or gods - were pleased, and appeased, with human sacrifices. We are told of the custom of sacrificing infants in fire, (in Judges 11:29-35) of Jephtha's vow to sacrifice as a thanks offering the first person to appear after his victory in battle. (Unhappily, as we know, it was his own beloved daughter.) (A parallel story is found in Greek legend involving the sacrifice of Iphigenia.) Human sacrifice was evidently a form of worship among many, or all, primitive peoples, including our own forbears.

Through the centuries of Jewish experience there was a moral evolution, leading up to the prophets, whose teaching represents the highest conception of spiritual and moral attainment. They no longer believed in the efficacy of sacrifice as a road to divine favor. Their stress was on moral conduct. Thus Isaiah (in chapter 1:13-17): Bring no more vain oblations: it is an offering of abomination unto me; new moon and Sabbath, the holding of convocations - I cannot endure iniquity along with your solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed seasons my soul hateth; they are a burden unto me. I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Our prophets and teachers are absorbed in the idea of righteousness as the ideal. And only through righteous behavior can they obtain blessedness. This is not a mere highflown ideal, but a practical program of behavior, specific in the enumeration of duties - in business dealings (honest weights and measures), in relation to slaves, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among them, even the far off alien (as in Jonah's responsibility for the Ninevites). Hear the familiar words of Micah (Ch. 6:6-8): Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?… It hath been told thee. O man, what is good, and what the Lord doth require of thee: only to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God".

The most extreme example of formal and institutional emphasis on moral behavior is probably found in the Society of Ethical Culture, founded in this country and long led by Rabbi Felix Adler. Here the emphasis is entirely on ethical behavior.

But is ethics the whole of religion? Acting uprightly and generously? Is there not another element, something that raises our spirit above the level of duty? The psalmist felt this when he exclaimed “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork” and (Pslam 107:8) “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, for His wonderful works to the children of men”. And in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”. Each of us in our own personal experience must have felt certain moments of exaltation, a sense of wonder. Sometimes it may be a light in the psalmist’s heavens. It may be inspired by a sudden and unexpected burst of bloom. We feel something beyond the physical phenomenon. The English poet of nature, Wordsworth, has expressed it: “And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns and the round ocean and the living air and the blue sky and in the mind of man, a motion and a spirit that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things.”
There is a third element in my conception of Judaism and that is my relation to the Jewish people. Much time has been wasted in discussing whether Jews are a race or an ethnic group or a tribe. Traditionally, according to our recorded history in the Bible, we are descended from one family. Abraham, with his nephew Lot, came from Ur of the Chaldees and finally settled in Canaan.

According to Biblical tradition, the Jewish people are the descendents of his family and their associates. But, however close or distant the blood kinship, there is an identity of Jews as Jews. As you cannot let your brother starve in the street or go neglected when he is ill, so Jews have a sense of a kinsman’s responsibility for other Jews. That is why we have a United Jewish Appeal. That is why we buy Israel bonds and contribute to the poor old man who comes around representing this orphans' home or that. It is our common identity as Jews and hence our common responsibility. There is an obligation based on our kinship. This is so particularly in consideration of the Jew's position in the world, often precarious, in many places tragic. There is a special obligation on all Jews for loyalty and support. An extreme and dramatic example of what I mean was seen just before and during the 1967 six-day war. As Arab-Israeli relations became more and more tense anxiety was felt throughout the Diaspora as well as on the scene of confrontation. Jews flocked - voluntarily - to buy Israel bonds, to add to the funds of the United Jewish Appeal and other agencies to meet the needs of fellow Jews.

And it is not only in such extreme cases of Jewish distress and need that we see evidence of what I call a sense of identity and obligation. However detached we may think ourselves from the life and fate of the Jewish people, there is often a natural reaction to the lives and achievements of other Jews. We exclaim with pride, "Look at all the Jewish authors on the best-seller list this week" and "Did you see that the hero of the latest world series was a boy named Guinsberg?" "The Nobel prize was just awarded to the Jewish poet Agnon." There is an automatic reaction of pride in these accomplishments of our fellow Jews.
So I say there are four relations in which I feel my identity as a Jew. (1) In my freedom to find God as creator and ruler of the universe without a prescribed theology from outside myself; (2) In our traditional inclusion of morals in our religious conception; (3) In my sense of an informing, super sensuous spirit in the universe; and (4) in my kinship with all other Jews.