What Being An Artist Means

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Waiting on a bench in the Jerusalem Central Station, I met a girl who was an alumni of my University. She was in Israel for the month and she was on her way to visit her aunt and uncle who lived in the Yeshuv , Itamar.

We spoke about our experiences at Boston University, our recent adventures in the Holy land, and our shared status as artists.

Then she got to politics.  My new friend had entered into dangerous territory.

“You know, I’m an artist and all, and you, being an artist, you probably have similar ideas…but, since I’m an artist, I just don’t really feel comfortable with my aunt living in a settlement.  What do you think?”

Last time I checked, your creative abilities were not supposed to determine what you considered right and wrong.

I am an artist. I paint. I take pictures. I make films. I write.

The fact that I can put paintbrush to canvas does not have any impact on what I think about Jews living in our homeland.  That I can write out a poem does not mean that I am opposed to idealists and dreamers. That I can pick up a camera does not mean I deny the rights of my own people.

If you are an artist, you should be putting your creative energies into defending this land you blindly condemn because of your vocation.  There are artists in this land. There are artists painting pictures and there are artists painting reality. They create the world that they want to live in. They fight for their art, they die for their art, and you oppose them for their art.

Do not tell me you oppose them because you are an artist.

Yes, it is encouraged in society to hide your beliefs, to not stand up for what is right…but to believe in something simply because it fits a label you place yourself into? No wonder the world is upside down.

The Jewish people living in Yesha are artists. They create, they give, they fight.  If you are going to oppose something, let it not be because you are an artist.  If you are going to oppose something, let it be because this something is wrong.  However, In this case, this something…is right.

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A Nation of Our Own

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In the period between 1935 and 1938, Entjudung (removal of Jews from Germany), although not official policy, was a strategy used by the SS to rid the country of it’s Jewish population. Organizations meant to increase emigration to British Mandated Palestine were encouraged by the SS and articles in the Jewish press encouraging Jews to stay in Germany were suppressed. The SS divided Jews into two major categories: assimilationists and Zionists.  The assimilationists encouraged German Jewry to remain in Germany and pursue recognition as Germans while the Zionists urged their communities to get out of the country.  

Those who chose to listen to the Zionists were lucky, because in the coming years, what would be known as the “Final Solution” was to take place. Six million Jews would perish and those who chose to leave would escape the tragedy of what was later to be termed “The Holocaust”.  It is strange to imagine what the Jewish world would look like if all of us had listened to the Zionists.

The Jewish people never do well when we imitate other nations.  German Jewry attempted to remain in Germany as “Germans with a Jewish religion” while the German people would never accept them as anything other than Jews.  In Biblical times, we asked for a king so that we could be like “all other nations”.  Although some of our kings had redeeming qualities, overall the institution of monarchy did not prove positive for the Jewish people.  When King Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with the other nations,

(Here’s the text from Isaiah Chapter 39 of the interaction)

ב  וַיִּשְׂמַח עֲלֵיהֶם, חִזְקִיָּהוּ, וַיַּרְאֵם אֶת-בֵּית נְכֹתֹה אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף וְאֶת-הַזָּהָב וְאֶת-הַבְּשָׂמִים וְאֵת הַשֶּׁמֶן הַטּוֹב וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית כֵּלָיו, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא בְּאֹצְרֹתָיו:  לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-הֶרְאָם חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּבֵיתוֹ–וּבְכָל-מֶמְשַׁלְתּוֹ.  {ס} 2 And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them his treasure-house, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. {S

the Nation that Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with and showed the Beit Hamikdash to, the Babylonians, would eventually destroy the temple and send us into exile.

Today, the Jewish people face a difficult question, but one that by now should be easy to answer: Do we act as the Jewish people or do we act to appease and strive to become like other nations?  History has shown that when we refuse to accept who we are, nothing good comes of it.  It has also shown us that when we choose to appease other nations with our actions, it is an exercise in futility.  When thinking of the Holocaust, we like to say “Never Again”, but we need to begin to look at the details and realize that there are steps that need to be taken in order to prevent another catastrophe.  Israel, our nation, should strive to actualize it’s potential as the Jewish State and not try to be the mini-me of the United States.  It should make decisions based on what is best for the nation and not what is best for the governments of other nations. Jews should strive to reclaim their cultural identity and embrace it.  Maybe it’s time that the we, the Jewish people, took a hint from the messages that hundreds of musical artists and writers have been telling us for years, and finally be “True To Ourselves”.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War against the Jews: 1933-1945. 10th Anniversary ed. New York City: Bantam, 1986. Print.

A Lesson on Sukkot

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“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hand.

They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see;

they have ears, but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell;

they have hands, but cannot touch, feet, but cannot walk;

they can make no sound in their throats.

Those who fashion them,all who trust in them shall become like them.”-Psalms 115:4-6

 

As I flipped through the pages of my Siddur on Sukkot, this particular psalm stuck out to me.  There was something about it that was haunting, something relevant, something real.  I wanted to analyze it.To know what it meant.  To connect it to my reality.  

Walking home with my friend Davina, my thoughts became clear as we discussed the passage.  

What are the idols that people construct and worship today? Are they statues made out of gold and silver, or are they something more subtle?  The idol of today is hidden behind advertisements and ideas of glamour. The idol of today is what to get next and how to get it. The idol of today is what to buy and what to wear. The idol of today is materialism.  

In a society that worships objects, do the people themselves become objects?  In a world that is so focused on items, are people defined by what they own?  How many  define themselves based on the new brand name that they wear and the car that they drive? By worshipping items, our society has become one that labels it’s people by what they buy. A man must have the latest basketball shoes.  A woman must have that brand name purse.

On Sukkot, we forsake our homes to live in temporary structures.  We leave physicality behind and enter into a dwelling place where our experience is largely shaped by our company and not by the comfort afforded by our normal abodes.  On Sukkot, we leave the trappings of materialism and enter into a reminder of what is truly important in life.  We realize that our houses are only temporary.  That everything could be swept away in a second. We realize that we must not identify ourselves by the clothes we wear and the things we own, but by our actions and the way that we impact others.  Only then can we truly break free from the shackles of idol worship.

 

Chag Sameach ve Shana Tova Am Yisrael

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diaspora, a poem

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Sometimes exile cuts like a knife

Away from my home is just a half life

Don’t know if feeling this lost is worth the cost

How long can my soul stand

to be away from the Holy land?

From Boston I can clearly see, it’s Am Yisrael that calls to me

And my greatest fear, do I betray my people while I stay here?

Friends lay down their lives on the front line

And I am in college biding my time

Is this for them, or is this for me?

Will the nation benefit from my degree?

I  come to terms with reality

Exile means I am not yet free.

Generation Consumer

All under the assumption

that consumption

satisfies the soul

while it takes it’s toll

on the free world

 the “all about me” world

How can you rise

against an Idol in disguise

It grows like a tumor

among generation consumer.

Learning from Tremps

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After a weekend on the Yishuv, I had several options to get back to Jerusalem.  I could climb on a bus and join fifty other people and their kids, sad to leave the hills and Shabbat behind.  I could see if the family I had stayed with was heading into the city and join them. Or I could take a tremp.

I remember when a good friend of mine first taught me the rules.  Don’t talk on the phone. Don’t play music. Get out when you get to your stop.   To be on the safe side, all of my tremps were drivers coming out of the Yishuv I had just spent the weekend on.  They were usually either women or families.  

I loved coming back to Jerusalem in a tremp.  It was a peek into another person’s world. The music they listened to, the conversations I could have if they started speaking to me.   The connections I made all over the Shomron as I was driven through the mountains under the stars and toward my destination.

Now that I am in Chutz La Aretz and away from my home, I don’t take tremps anymore.  Not only is it dangerous, but it is also out of the question. No one driving out of my neighborhood will offer me a ride if I am heading elsewhere.  That is not in their mentality. They have their cars, they’re comfortable. I can get there myself.  

When did the American mentality become so me me me and less we we we?  Judaism teaches that we are all one, part of the greater whole of existence.  Perhaps that is why strangers were so willing to give me rides back to Jerusalem on those Saturday nights.  If we are here to connect, then surely we should have no problems offering rides to, if not strangers, at least acquaintances and friends who are in need of transport.  We were not put on this earth to acquire, but to give.  Perhaps America could take some cues from people who pick up strangers in cars.  You have 5 seats built in for a reason.

Exile, a poem

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How do you wake up a sleeping nation 

When it’s pillows are made of the finest silks

They sleep with the enemy

wrapped in luxury

shrouded in darkness

Chasing dreams that can’t bring them satisfaction