Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
The Prinsendam 10 and Rafferty: An Encounter with Dublin Jewry
In Dublin, there are two Jewish congregations: an Orthodox one and a Progressive one. The latter is the counterpart of American Reform, though perhaps a bit right of center, as it required head coverings for the men. Having shared this information with those in attendance at the Friday evening service I ran the first week, 4 couples, one from Philadelphia, another from Portland, a third from Denver and the fourth from Montreal—and yes, in the case of 2 of them there was but one degree of separation—thought it would be a delightful idea to attend services at Dublin’s Progressive Congregation, particularly since the ship was sailing until 11 p.m.. And so it fell to me to make the contact. An e-mail went forth explaining that a group of 10 wished to attend services but we had some questions: when did they begin, where were they located, and how long would it take us to get to them from our ship? Several days passed before a response, but finally it arrived: we would all need to share information including passport numbers as well as home congregations. Security is tight. (Indeed, as we discovered there is a metal gate in front of the congregation with a security guard.)
The next challenge was finding a taxi at 7:30 p.m. to take us out to the shule for the 8:15 service. With some pleading by Sarrae, a security guard on the ship arranged for a taxi van to take all of us to our destination. Mr. Rafferty was there early waiting for us. We handed him the directions: they indicated that the congregation was 100 yards down the street from the Church of the Three Patrons on Leicester Avenue. Our driver, whose brogue was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, said he wasn’t quite sure where the congregation was located, but not to worry: he would get us there. And away we went with Rafferty talking up a storm to Elaine, our Montreal MOT who was sitting in the front seat. Kudos to her for listening. (I was sitting behind him, wishing for subtitles.) At one point, at a stop light, he hailed a fellow cab driver and asked if he knew how to get to the shule. No luck. We continued our journey and the 20-minute ride—extended in part because of traffic in the heart of Dublin—had crept to a half-hour-- and Rafferty announced that he would check with the local police. And that is precisely what he did. He pulled into a police station and left us behind in the van. 2 minutes later he came charging out with good news: we were close and he would get us there. (Meanwhile we all had a hearty laugh about our driver and our adventure.) And within a few minutes, having vouched for my fellow passengers, we were inside, warmly greeted by the leaders of the congregation. (Mr. Rafferty agreed to take us back and so he camped nearby while we were inside.)
We thought our numbers would overwhelm the congregation: not so. They had about 35 others in attendance, with some of the regulars away on holiday.
The congregation uses Siddur Lev Chadash, a prayer book issued by the Union of Liberal and Progressive Congregations in the UK. (Now re-branded as simply “Liberal Judaism.”) The translations were unfamiliar and most remarkably the volume is devoid of transliteration. However, the tunes, for the most part, were quite familiar. As part of the announcements, the chair welcomed us---I was fearful that he would call upon him to offer a few remarks; he didn’t—and then after services concluded we joined the regulars and a few other visitors, including an American student studying in Dublin, at the Kiddush, served in the back of the sanctuary
1,000 Jews remain in the city, divided 70/30 between the Orthodox and the Progressive congregations. (There are other Jews floating around who are unaffiliated: mostly Israelis in the area on 2-3 years assignments with companies such as Google). Relationships between the two congregations appear to be friendly. For example, some of the Orthodox members will visit their Progressive brethren to hear the Kol Nidre chanted by the daughter of the only person to have dual membership. The plus for the community is that every year they attract a few Garay Tsedek, righteous converts, who join the congregation. The negative is that the economic miracle of Ireland has worn off and the limited number of young Jews to date has resulted in many of the next generation not returning to the city after university, opting instead for the UK, for the US, or Israel.
Despite the security issues—and there have bene some incidents over the recent past, which has necessitated the security precautions--, and our adventures courtesy of Mr. Rafferty, it was a lovely and most memorable encounter with an outpost of Jewish life in a sea of Catholics. We left enriched and inspired.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
In Search of Good But Cheap Coffee: The 5 Shekel Store
Oh, for the days of good cup of coffee costing only $1. Even in Israel it was beginning to be an illusory dream, as coffee shops—even in the absence of Starbucks—were charging 10 to 20 shekels for a cup of coffee. Café Aroma would sometimes toss in a piece of cake with the coffee for 20 shekels. With the shekel at 3.75, even a cheap cup of coffee was well over $2.50.
But beginning 2 years ago, a new model emerged, an Israeli food counterpart to our dollar stores. Developed by Avi Katz, Cofix was launched with a very simple pricing model: everything would cost 5 shekels: snacks and coffee. (Okay, so it’s not a $1; it’s 1.30 or so.) The snacks include sandwiches, yogurts, hummus, small quiches and desserts: all for 5 shekels. And more significantly you can sit and enjoy your coffee in the store.
Katz, who was recently interviewed, admitted that he was taking a chance, because each store needed to sell at least 1,000 items a day to break even. In fact, the chain, which has grown to 80 outlets around Israel, now sells an average of 2,000 items a day in each store, with the average customer buying 2 items each. Last month the company went public. Its revenue for this year is expected to reach 200 million shekels, as it continues to expand.
The success of the chain has led to copycat shops, while some of the more established coffee shop chains have now reluctantly been forced to reduce their prices.
Recently Katz has moved into the supermarket business with Super Cofix, mini-markets were no item sells for more than 5 shekels. Meanwhile he is thinking of going global, expanding his coffee shop empire abroad, to places such as Moscow and London, though a copycat coffee ship with a similar name, Caffix, recently opened in London where items sell for 1 pound. (About 1.56.)
For veteran coffee drinkers, as well as for noshers, Katz’s success comes as good news.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 5:1-6:25) is read this Saturday, August 1st.
6:5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) take to heart these instructions with which I charge you today. (7) Impress them upon your children [l’va-nechah]. Remember them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and you get up.
The word vanehcha is inherently unclear in its gender. While the singular ben, “son,” is distinctly male, the masculine plural (banim, “sons,” or vanechah, “your sons”) can also be used to refer to a mixed-gender group. Therefore, the word can mean “your children” generically or “your sons” specifically, and it is often difficult to discern which meaning fits a given context.
The word first appears in Genesis 6:18 in reference to Noah’s children, all males. As though to further emphasize the masculinity of the term in that context, the text goes on to mention neshei vanecha, “the wives of vanechah [your sons],” thus clarifying the gender of vanecha. Similarly, another early appearance elf the word, in Genesis 19:12, is accompanied by uvenotecha, “and your daughters,” leaving little room for confusion.
And yet, the word’s ambiguity is manifest. The 1611 King James Bible, for instances, translates banim as “sons” 2,983 times and as “children” 1,570 times. The common biblical reference to the Israelites as benei Yisrael—which first appears in Exodus 1:1—clearly means “the children of Israel,” not “the sons of Israel.”
I have always been particularly moved by the Talmudic exposition of Isaiah 54:13. The verse reads: “And all your children shall be disciples of the Lord, and great shall be the happiness of your children.” In the Talmud (Berachot 64a), Rabbi Elazar says in the name of Rabbi Hanina: “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is written: ‘And all your children shall be disciples of the Lord, and great shall be the happiness of your children.’ Read not bananyich [your children], but rather bonayich [your builders].”
The implication here is quite beautiful. The interchangeability of “children” and “builders” is one that speaks to the very core of the Jewish tradition, a tradition that calls upon human beings to partner with God in the act of creation. It may well be that because I am the father of three daughters I am unwilling to accept the gender-specific rendering of vanecha in Deuteronomy 6. Yet, I believe the more inclusive reading of the charge---to teach our tradition to the next generation, both females and males—is a moral necessity. If in the Talmud Rabbi Elazar already saw the necessity to universalize the meaning of banim, we can hardly do less. We live in an age when Torah study is and should continue to be more accessible to more people than ever before. (Wayne L. Firestone, “Va’etchanah: Teach Your ‘Sons,’” in Jeffrey K. Salkin, ed., The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary New Insights from Jewish Men on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, pp.260-1. Firestone grew up in Miami where he was active in BBYO. During high school he studied for a time at the Alexander Muss High School. While in college years he spent 2 semesters at Tel Aviv University where, having learned that a Soviet refusenik had been imprisoned for teaching Hebrew, wrote a play “Trial and Error.” which was performed on dozens of American campuses in the 80’s. After graduating from Georgetown Law, he worked for a Washington, D.C. firm where he developed clients' international trade strategies under the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement. In 1995, he made Aliyah and worked in various capacities in Israel, including promoting high-tech. From 2001-2, he served as the director of the ADL’s Israel office. He returned to the States in 2002 to serve as Executive Director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a partnership between Hillel and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation that brings together 35 pro-Israel groups working on college campuses. From 2005-2013 he headed up the Hillel Foundation. In 2013 he assumed the presidency of the Genesis Prize Foundation, but apparently resigned from that post early this year. He penned the piece for this volume while he was still at Hillel.)