Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
World Zionist Congress Elections.
Including registering with Mercaz USA, which is not required, the entire process took me under 5 minutes. Quite easy and painless and important. Go to www.mercazusa.org.
Here is one part of the Mercaz platform:
MERCAZ Stands For:
An Open Pluralistic Jewish Society — A vote for MERCAZ is a vote for an Israeli society that celebrates Jewish values without limiting itself to one particular stream of Judaism. We insist on the acceptance and registration of all conversions, weddings and divorces performed by Conservative/Masorti rabbis in Israel and demand that all non-Orthodox rabbis functioning as community spiritual leaders receive State-funded salaries as do their Orthodox colleagues. We applaud the campaign to provide alternatives for marriage and divorce for all Israelis and support the concept of redeveloping the entire Western Wall plaza to answer the legitimate demands of the Conservative/Masorti Movement, the Reform Movement, the Women of the Wall and others who seek to pray according to their egalitarian and pluralistic traditions.
Here is a link to the entire platform:
“Selma” and the Missing Rabbis
There is considerable controversy swirling around the movie “Selma.” Although it received a nomination as “Best Picture,” its director Ava DuVernay wasn’t nominated for the Academy Award, a year in which a “whites only” policy seemed to be in place. But aside from the Hollywood politics, there are a couple of more serious issues with the movie, specifically how it treats the history of the time and its players.
For example, President Johnson, who proposed the Voting Rights legislation a few days before the historic march—and that would ultimately transform the South from a Democratic stronghold to a Republican stronghold—is portrayed as a reluctant and occasionally hostile ally of the civil rights movement. I leave that to historians of the period to sort through the competing views of Johnson. Rather I call attention to not only the marginalization of white allies down in Alabama but the banishment of Jews from the film.
Who can forget the iconic picture that shows in the front row of the march, with just one person in-between, of Dr. King and Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel. (Type in “Picture Heschel and King in Selma”, and you will readily find the picture, along with several others.) There is no sign in the movie of Dr. Heschel, who was personally invited to join the historic third march by King. (I am told there is a fleeting image of a man with a yarmulke; more time is given to King and a Greek Orthodox priest.) A lesser known picture from the end of the march, taken in Montgomery, shows Dr. King flanked by Dr. Heschel on one side and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, the head the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations holding a Torah scroll. And what about the other rabbis who walked along U.S. Route 80 and the yarmulkes they wore? They, too, are absent from the film. The rabbis, Reform rabbis included, adopted the yarmulke as their counterpart to the clerical colors their Christian counterparts were wearing. The yarmulkes became so popular that supplies of them were distributed to other walkers and they became known as freedom caps. (The segregationists labeled them as “Yankee Yarmulkes.”) Well over 20 rabbis participated in the march, many of them Reform, but several Conservative colleagues such as Rabbis Saul Leeman of Cranston, Rhode Island and Matthew Simon, then in LA , and even a couple of Orthodox rabbis, notably, young Rabbis Steven Riskin—of the Lincoln Square Synagogue—and Saul Berman, later his successor, but then serving a congregation in Berkley. (One article I read listed a little over 20 rabbis. My Conservative colleagues, however, have added significantly to that number. Another participant was Rabbi Everett Gendler, who is to be seen in a picture—on the top of the web page of the Gendler Grapevine Project-- standing next to Rabbi Eisendrarth.)
Rabbi William Braude, a prominent Reform rabbi from Providence, shared his reflections in a sermon, now available on-line as “What I Learned in Alabama about Yarmulkes”: From all sides, white and black alike, men and women greeted us with, “Shalom, Shalom.” Young Jews, their eyes aglow, came up: “We are glad to see Rabbis with us.” A professor of philosophy from Berkeley who did not look Jewish came up: “It means so much for one of my background to see Rabbis participating in the March!” And Dr. Heschel, for his part wrote: "For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."
Moreover, rabbis had been prominent in some of the events leading up to the Selma march. In 1963, 16 members of the Rabbinical Assembly left the annual convention to join King in Birmingham. Later that year, in the summer of 1963, Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke at the great Washington rally immediately prior to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” In 1964, King asked Rabbi Israel Dresner of New Jersey to recruit colleagues for a protest down in Saint Augustine, Florida. 16 rabbis went down and were all jailed.
Moreover, the absence of Heschel is extremely puzzling, since King and Heschel had bonded 2 years earlier at a conference in Chicago and one of King’s last speeches was at the Rabbinical Assembly convention in April, 1968 when Dr. Heschel was honored.
Film directors of movies purporting to represent history, of course, have the right to emphasize specific individuals and episodes. But it would appear that director DuVernay in doing so has unfortunately tossed away what a significant role was played by rabbis (and other Jews) from across the religious spectrum. It is a shame that the role that these Jews played could not have found acknowledgement in this latest cinematic tribute to Dr. King.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Morphing Factory Waste Into Useable Energy
Transforming carbon dioxide emissions from industrial production into a useful product has been an industrial goal for many years. Now, an Israeli company, NewCO2Fuel (NCF), has developed a technology that is on the edge of making this a reality. The young company—it is only 3 years old—won the international prize in the corporate energy category at the 2014 World Technology Networks Awards in New York sponsored by Fortune and Time. And the Australian government recently chose NCF syngas as one of 19 fuels of choice for the coming half century.
The complex technology takes waste water and CO2 and produces two streams: one is syngas, which can then either be used as a fuel or transformed into products ranging from fertilizer to plastics, and a second stream of oxygen.
Pioneered by Professor Jacob Karni of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, NCF has already created small-scale prototypes proving the concept. It has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with one of the world’s largest steel companies and two international engineering firms to build a pilot unit at European steel plant, with the project to be completed before the end of 2016. NCF units are soon to be tested in Israel at the company’s facility and at an Israeli Electric Company Power plant. Additionally, companies in Israel, Australia and China are seeking to have NCF create demonstration projects, especially in gasification and gas plants which emit large quantities of high-purity CO2, as a byproduct.
Though the technology can run on industrial waste heat—great example of limiting environmental impact--, the dream of CEO David Bennett is that solar energy will power a plant producing fuel from CO2 in the atmosphere.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Bo (Exodus 11:4-12:28) is read on Saturday, January 24th.
12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: (2) this month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.
12:2. this month shall mark for you the beginning of the months. Why was this the first commandment given to the Israelites when they left Egypt? It is known that the early Egyptians who invented the calendar, ordained it per the solar year, and not according to the lunar months, unlike the pattern which was adopted by other nations. The counting of the days of the years were linked to the calculations of the festival day on which the Nile would rise to water the land, and the day on which the Nile rose was the New Year for them. [This is historically correct, though in the 3rd millennium they used a lunar-solar calendar.]
Hence, because the invention of the calendar was considered as one of the great achievements of Egyptian civilization, the first commandment given to the Israelites was “this month shall mark for you the beginning of the months!” As a free and independent nation, first of all you should not celebrate the Egyptian New Year; rather you should mark your own Jewish months. (Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz in B. Yeushson, Meotzarenu Hayashan: Sh’mot, Vayikrah. Born in 1847, Ze’ev Jawitz—the spelling in the Encyclopedia Judaica—was born in Kolno, a town 100 miles northeast of Warsaw. After failed efforts in business, he turned to writing and scholarship. He gained public recognition with an article in Hebrew, published in 1887, in which he surveyed Jewish history from the death of Moses Mendelssohn in 1786 to the death of Moses Montefiore in 1886: the article demonstrated his command of sources in Hebrew and European languages. In 1888, he moved to Palestine and settled in Zikhron Ya’akov where two years later he went out with his students to plant trees on Tu B’Shevat—the origins of linking the day with tree planting. [This year if falls on February 4th: still time to donate to JNF.] He was the author of a number of Hebrew textbooks and several other works, including Mekor Berachot, a volume on prayers and blessings. He was active on the Va’d Ha-Lashon, the committee for developing Hebrew as a modern language. For example, the Hebrew word for “culture,” “tarbut” was one of his contributions. In 1894, he moved to Vilna, subsequently living in Germany and later London. He was a founder of Mizrachi, the Orthodox Zionist organization, and edited its monthly journal for a short time. He wrote the organization’s first statement of purpose: “Zion and Torah are two holy vessels which complement and need one another… There is no other force that can protect and strengthen the Zionist ideal except for the observance of true Judaism in all its aspects and in all its purity.” His magum opus was a 14 volume history of the Jews, Toledot Yisrael. The first part was published in Warsaw during his lifetime; the remaining volumes were published in Tel Aviv from 1932-1940. He died in London in 1924.)