Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jewish History, Torah, and Rabbis in the Twitter Age

This is Jewish History Month.  As a High School student, History was always something that I loved to know and hated to learn.  What I mean by that is that I was always fascinated by the unfolding of events and the significance that one thing could have on another. I always loved social and cultural history especially - the way that people used to live.  But I've never been very good at remembering the facts.  In fact, one of my repetitive stress dreams used to be that it was just a few days from a major High School history exam (A levels - the exams in the UK that determine where you will go for University) and I am faced with two extra-thick lever files of handwritten notes that I have to memorize that consist of endless lists of dates and European wars.

We are blessed to live in an age when engaging with our history, learning, exploring, and studying, is more accessible than it has ever been.

This past week I have been having fun learning a great deal of history, and helping to share the amazing resources of the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Women's Archives.  The full archives are online but, in a wonderful, innovative project using technology at its best, a team consisting of anyone who chooses to participate have been tweeting individual entries of the encyclopedia this month.  For those already using Twitter, just follow #jwapedia and you'll be able to tune in to the entries being shared, re-tweet them to share them with your followers, and explore the encyclopedia yourself to take part in this community educational project.  If you don't use Twitter, keep reading! I want to make the case for why you might want to get into Twitter, but first, here's another great upcoming project to wet your appetite.

In the 24 hours leading up to Shavuot (which begins in the evening on June 6), many individuals are planning a mass Tweeting of verses and teachings from Torah.  As with any topic that you want to follow on Twitter, you'll just be looking up #Torah.  The goal is to Tweet Torah to the top of the things that people are sharing on Twitter, just as we prepare for the peak experience of Receiving Torah again at Sinai when we reach Shavuot.  Its a great way to be reminded of the 'greatest hits' of Torah, and be introduced to lines, stories, characters, ethics and ideas that you might have never known were in Torah.

Here's my case for why Twitter is something that might be for you (and at the bottom of this post will be some instructions to help you get started if you are new to this medium).

There are a number of organizations and publications whose materials I like to read online.  Some of them I receive via an email directly from them.  Others are things that I have 'liked' on Facebook and so, when they post something new, it will appear on my Facebook wall.  There are other great articles I am introduced to when Facebook friends post the links with words of encouragement about why others might want to read them too.  But the other way that I get great information is through the links to news, blogs, articles and TV interview clips that individuals and organizations post on Twitter.  It would be overwhelming for me to try and follow every single blog or publication that sometimes posts a particular piece that catches my attention.  But by following them on Twitter, I can log on, skim through the brief headings and descriptions that have been posted in the past couple of hours within a couple of minutes, and perhaps find 3 or 4 online articles that I'd really like to read.  Think of it as subscribing to a magazine where you are the Editor - you get to decide whose content you want to include.  Of course, as the author of a blog and local newspaper articles, its also a way to distribute things that I write more widely, but you can still get a lot out of Twitter even if you just want to be reader.

When you first open up a Twitter account, you can search for potential individuals or organizations to follow by general topic, but the best way to go is to zero in on someone who shares similar interests to you and then look at who they are following (much in the same way that you build up Friends lists on Facebook).  To make it even easier, many of us have created 'Lists' of categories of Tweeters.  So, for example, if you follow me @RabbiGurevitz, you'll see that I have a list of Jewish organizations that I follow and Jewish professionals.  I also have a list of interfaith resources.  There are also several online resources that will tell you who some of the 'top tweeters' are in a particular field of interest, helping you to build your network of individuals and organizations that are of particular interest to you.

So, give it a go! See below for more info on how to get started.  Join the Jewish Women's Archive #jwapedia project this month and learn about some fantastic Jewish Women who have done astonishing things.  Follow #Torah in the first week of June and immerse yourself in our Holy text and heritage to help get into a Shavuot state of mind.  And go and explore the great network of Jewish individuals and organizations who are sharing great ideas, great teaching, and great commentary on our community and world affairs on Twitter.

There are a number of good online tutorials for using Twitter. takes you through every aspect, step-by-step.
If 'seeing' it done via video is more helpful, then check out the video below:

How To Use Twitter on Howcast

And, if you are a 'local' at B'nai Israel, and would like a personal demo, drop me a line and I'll do what I can to help you get started.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reacting to the Death of Osama Bin Laden

This is a cross-posting of an article written by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster at the blog of Rabbis for Human Rights - North America. Many pieces have been posted online today, reflecting on the news of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Rabbi Kahn-Troster's review of these messages, and her own reflections resonated most deeply with my own thoughts today. I highly recommend her article to you. Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz
Photo by by Zola  via Creative Commons License.

I was checking my email late last night when I noticed a headline on the New York Times website: “President Obama to address the nation.” “They’ve caught Bin Laden,” I said to my husband. “There is nothing else urgent enough for an instant press conference on a Sunday night.” As I waited for the President’s speech, I realized I really didn’t know how I felt. Relief? Renewed sadness over 9/11? How are you supposed to feel when your enemy falls?

For me, as for many Americans, this is not a theoretical question. I was in New York on 9/11 and watched the Twin Towers get hit. Even though more than 10 years have passed, there is part of me that is still back on that day, under attack and scared. I’ve long viewed my work at RHR-NA fighting torture as my patriotic response to what I experienced. The best way to beat the terrorists was to uphold America values about freedom and the rule of law. I felt that the most fitting end for the search would Bin Laden would have involved a fair trial in an American court room, with the terrorist locked up for years and years. As the wrangling over Guantanamo intensified, it became clear that such an end for Bin Laden was unlikely. Rabbi Arthur Waskow described Sunday’s results, Bin Laden’s death in a firefight, as a “sad necessity.” But the scenes of unbridled celebration outside of the White House seemed at odds with the solemnity of the moment. I watched them and was deeply uncomfortable. For me, they transformed the moment into one of revenge. Maybe I am overreacting. Surely, those of us on the left tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to moments of patriotism. But I don’t think I am wrong. I cannot celebrate the death of another human being.

I’m not alone in my ambivalence. A quick survey of my friends shows that many of them are quoting the midrash about the death of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, when the angels are chastised for celebrating the death of God’s creatures. To actively celebrate over the death of another human being (sacred and created in God’s image) feels wrong, no matter how evil or how much they are our enemy. But others of my friends pressed that the celebration of the death of an individual enemy was different than rejoicing over the killing of innocents. The joy they felt was not one of revenge but of relief that evil had been overcome. As Rabbi Morris Allen posted on Facebook, he spills wine at seder for the suffering of the Egyptians during the plagues but not for the Pharaoh who caused their deaths. Osama Bin Laden was such a Pharaoh.

The President’s somber tone in his announcement should give us guidance for the national mood. It was not a time for rejoicing–the death of Bin Laden will not bring back the lives that were lost. It was our job as a nation not to pursue revenge but to seek justice. As activists, we translate tzedek as righteousness when we said “tzedek tzedek tirdof” and seek a more equitable world. But today we are reminded that justice is one of the pillars on which the world is built. God demands us to seek out justice.

Reflecting over the strange coincidence of the death of Bin Laden being announced on Yom HaShoah, Rabbi Menachem Creditor reflected:
I’m not sure what I mean right now. I’m relieved that an evil has been eliminated from the world. I’m mourning our lost Six Million. I’m watching the crowds on Pennsylvania Ave and Ground Zero, weeping at all that happened and is forever changed, aching for some healing and some small amount of hope. I’m still hearing the testimony from a Shoa survivor shared less than three hours ago echoing in my heart, proud to have joined as a large Berkeley Jewish community to bear witness to our collective pain. I’m lost right now. That’s all I think I can mean at the moment. We do not rejoice at the death of our enemy. The implementation of justice is not a joyful celebration. As Rabbi Cohen writes of watching the recording of Eichmann’s trial, “In this man’s eyes are reflected the ghosts of his uncountable victims…and also nothing at all.” I am riveted by the face of Bin Laden. I do not want to look into his eyes. Those eyes witnessed the snuffing out of so much life; those eyes remained willfully blind to the pain and loss he caused. I believe justice has indeed been served today. Joylessly, as is appropriate.

The reaction of the religious community has largely been along those lines as well. The Vatican called on Catholics to not rejoice but reflect on the death as an opportunity for furthering peace. The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good reminded us: “Our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.” Two of the major Muslim organizations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America, have framed Bin Laden’s death in terms of justice for victims of 9/11 and repeated President Obama’s call for national unity. Like the President, they also took the opportunity to remind American that the radical terrorist did not represent or speak for Islam.
My friend Rabbi Noah Farkas wrote: “It’s not the celebration on the day of the death of an enemy that exemplifies justice, but how we choose to live the day after.” Repairing the broken world is not about what someone else might do, it is about us and how we bear the responsibilities given to us. Treating every human being as created in God’s image is difficult. Feeling compassion for the stranger, because we were strangers, is not an easy choice. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 65b) insists that the responsibility for healing is in our hands, if only we could overcome our own limitations: “Raba said: If the righteous desired it, they could be creators of worlds, as it is written, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God [Isaiah 59:2].”

Today is the day after. Let us create a world of peace.