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Why Donniel Hartman sees a brighter Israeli future — in 2026



(JTA) — When Israel’s parliament on Monday passed the first plank in a series of reform proposals meant to curb the power of Israel’s judiciary, it set off alarms among Israel’s supporters abroad.

Liberal and centrist Jewish groups said weakening the judiciary would undermine Israeli democracy. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote an open letter to President Joe Biden saying that he must save Israel “from being destroyed from the inside.” Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin welcomed news that Israel’s Supreme Court would review the legislation, saying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will have endangered the country for nothing.”

Rabbi Donniel Hartman is urging critics of the judicial reforms and Netanyahu’s government to take a deep breath. Not because he supports the proposals — he agrees they would “undermine the systems of checks and balances necessary to protect Israel’s democratic identity.” But he warns that the bill passed on Monday represents one of the least controversial planks in Netanyahu’s reform plan, and that the massive demonstrations against the proposals have united an Israeli consensus around what he is calling a “new social coalition.”

Hartman is the president, along with Yehuda Kurtzer, of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank that promotes pluralism and liberal values in Israel and beyond. Hundreds of North American rabbis and Jewish lay leaders have cycled through Hartman programs, which promote diversity, civil discourse and what it calls the “democratic character of Israel.” 

Hartman recently spoke to a group of rabbis about the public backlash to the reform proposals, and the political implications between now and the next scheduled Israeli elections in 2026. On Thursday, he shared some of those same ideas with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, explaining why he thinks Netanyahu is playing a weak hand, why the Palestinian issue is on the back burner and why North American Jews should channel their gloom over the current legislation into support for its opponents. 

A note on the judicial proposals: The legislation passed Monday would end the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government decisions and appointments judges deems “unreasonable.” Other proposals include changing the law to allow ministers to install political appointees as legal advisers in their ministries — which critics say would remove an important check on corruption — and one that would give the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority. Another proposal would give more power to politicians in appointing judges. 

For now, those proposals are on pause. 

Our conversation was edited for length and clarity. 

I’ve been thinking of the “day after” fear and anticipation after some recent watershed events – Trump’s election, the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, maybe the Brexit vote. Did Monday’s vote on the “reasonableness” clause mark a before and after?

No. It doesn’t feel like a Brexit moment, because the vote on the reasonableness clause is not big enough. The election itself was more significant. The proposal of the reform was more significant. The “reasonableness” clause was the perfect issue for Netanyahu to pick, because it’s the most reasonable of the judicial reform proposals. Overall there are five big reform proposals, including the way the Israeli Supreme Court is selected, the power of the attorneys general and the “override” clause. The last is the one the haredi Orthodox want because no matter who is on the Supreme Court or what they decide they could just cancel it out. That’s just the end of democracy.  

So Netanyahu pushed the right one for a first victory, but in order to stop the slippery slope process, [the opposition] had to pretend as if this was very big. It was a tactical game, to claim that the override clause was the end of democracy. Tom Friedman overplayed his cards. Nope. It’s far from the end.

This was just the beginning of a three-year war. This is going to go on until 2026.

Why 2026?

That’s when the next elections are.

Assuming the government doesn’t fall before then. 

It can’t fall. Because unless there’s an internal split in Likud [Netanyahu’s party], neither [far-right government ministers Itamar] Ben-Gvir or [Betzalel] Smotrich or the haredim will ever join with the Joint List [an Arab coalition] or Avigdor Lieberman [a nationalist opposition member] to vote this government out. They’ll kvetch, they’ll complain, they’ll threaten, but they can’t leave and that’s what makes it so strange that Netanyahu seems so intimidated by them. Because he holds all the power. They have no power. Where are they going to go? Who are they going to sit with?  If they vote against the right-wing government, their careers will be over.

You said the 2022 election was the real watershed moment. In what way? 

The consequence of the election was the judicial reform proposals, which raised a fundamental question: What is the nature of our country? Trump wasn’t the end of America, but his election asked the question, What is America?  

Can Israelis right the ship as they see it in the next election? 

I believe this is the last Likud-led government and it certainly is the last right-wing government. That’s assuming that Netanyahu is not going to be prime minister. This whole reform issue has created an awareness that there are different coalitions being formed in Israel, which aren’t being  formed around the right-left wing divide. That divide doesn’t really exist anymore. There is a broad centrist camp that agrees on Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and economic theory. And there is no possibility of a two-state solution anyway — I just don’t know how to implement it. On the fringes, there is a left-wing socialist camp, let’s call it, and there is a right-wing settler group. Other than that, 80% of Israel is not divided under the left wing-right wing categories. You see at the demonstrations and in the polls that 20 to 30% of those who used to be on the right or are still on the right no longer want to vote for Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. They want to find alternative expressions for their identities. 

“If you fight and you stand up and you don’t walk away, there are partners in Israel who are looking at you and who feel encouraged by you,” said Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. (Courtesy)

What we need to do over the next three years is to frame a new social coalition in Israel, around internal values of liberal Zionism and liberal Judaism, which 80% of Israelis accept. Then we can win and that’s where 2026 is going to change. 

You said “assuming that Netanyahu is not going to be prime minister.” How does he keep this new social coalition from happening?

As long as he runs, the center and the left won’t join a coalition with him. They’re like never-Trumpers. They despise him. They don’t trust him. The Likud kept Netanyahu because he gave them 32 seats [a formidable bloc in the 120-seat Knesset, where 61 seats are needed to form a government]. But if he goes down to 26, there’s a whole bunch of people who are just waiting to replace him. 

You used the term “liberal Zionist” before. I think you use it differently than an American Jew might. Here it means someone who is pro-Israel but is desperate to see a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   

It’s very interesting how the category of liberalism has been reclaimed in Israeli society. While in America the term is very divisive, actually in Israel it is becoming much more inclusive. It’s the old liberalism of liberties — a belief in Zionism and the right of the Jewish people to a state but one that  believes in human rights and a diverse public sphere and that respects law and the Supreme Court. It’s the old Likud. It’s the old [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky [the pre-state leader of Revisionist Zionism]. It’s the old [Likud Prime Minister] Menachem Begin. It’s not Smotrich or Ben-Gvir, and it’s not the haredi parties. 

But it doesn’t extend to the Palestinian issue.

Liberal Zionism in Israel recognizes that we don’t want to be an occupier of another people. But for the vast majority of Israelis, “the Palestinians want to murder me.” There is no Palestinian Authority today. The Palestinian Authority controls the Mukata [the P.A. headquarters in Ramallah] and three upper-middle-class towns in Judea and Samaria. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would run away with any election.

It’s very hard to even have a conversation about Palestinian rights in Israel, when you feel you’re talking about a society that wants to kill you. 

I just finished a book that is getting published in November, and I have a whole section on it challenging North American liberal Jews to recognize that they have liberal partners in Israel, even though they don’t agree with you on Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, or what you even call it.

And yet, for a lot of American Jews — as well as for American anti- Zionists and a lot of progressives — Israel is judged only to the degree that it solves the Palestinian problem. Liberal Zionists define themselves around their commitment to a two-state solution, but you’re asking them to see common ground around other liberal issues.

I distinguish between tolerable occupiers and intolerable occupiers. Intolerable occupiers are those who believe that we have a right to all of Israel, and that Palestinian lives don’t matter. It’s a combination of ultra- nationalism, fascism and messianism. That’s one group. Then there’s a whole massive group for whom the only reason why the occupation continues is that they believe that there is no peace partner and that Israel’s survival is in danger if we do anything. 

People think I’m liberal. I’m more or less liberal. I’m for a two-state solution. I just don’t know how to implement it. Tell me what I could do now? I’m willing to stop settlements. I’m willing to curb settlements. I’m willing to do everything. I used to be for unilateral withdrawal. What would happen if you had unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria?

Now, when you have a government that is not willing to admit that Palestinians have rights, or is not yearning for a peaceful solution, then of course we lose. That’s what Netanyahu’s doing since he sits with these [far-right] people. He has quieted all moral conversation when it comes to Israeli political life. So when that happens, of course, people with a moral voice would say, “What’s going on here?” Because it’s true, as you said, Zionism has ceded the moral conversation to the anti-Zionist camp.

Still, I think we can create a unified liberal Zionist conversation even though North American Jews and Israeli Jews might have a different opinion on what is the most viable solution right now.

Since we’re talking on Tisha B’Av, I went to services last night and the person who led the services gave a scorched-earth lament for Israel, basically saying his dreams for Israel are dying and he tied the week’s events, as a lot of people have, to the cataclysms that we acknowledge on the fast day, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples. What are you telling either Israelis or Diaspora supporters of Israel who are talking in apocalyptic terms about this week’s vote and the push for judicial reform by this government?

We mourn the destruction of the Temple. We learn from the destruction of the Temple. But we don’t declare the Temple destroyed before it’s destroyed.

Everything in Jewish history is about hope. It’s about working under impossible conditions. And Israel is now working under impossible conditions. That’s true. There is a government which is advocating for an Israel that half of Israel and 90% of North American Jewry wants nothing to do with. But Israel is not defined by its government alone, as you discovered when it came to Trump.  People have a voice. What the demonstrations make clear is that the vast majority of Israelis do not support these proposals.  

It’s one thing to turn your back on the Israeli government. But we’re out there marching. We don’t embrace destruction before it happens, but we get to work. There is a blueprint forward. The vast majority of Israelis now are embracing a liberal Zionism of the type I mentioned. North American Jews now have partners. They might not be perfect partners, but they have partners. Why walk away from Israel, when the majority of Israelis are now saying things they never said before: “I care about the Supreme Court. I care about human rights. I care about the rights of minorities”? This is what they’re talking about at every demonstration.

So I would go back to your [prayer leader] and say to him, “We waited 2,000 freaking years to have this country. Could you wait three more years? And could you fight for three years?” Because if you fight and you stand up and you don’t walk away, there are partners in Israel who are looking at you and who feel encouraged by you. We can build it.

The post Why Donniel Hartman sees a brighter Israeli future — in 2026 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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25 years after opening, Yiddish Book Center overhauls its core exhibit for a wider audience




AMHERST, Massachusetts (JTA) — Since its opening in 1997, the Yiddish Book Center has wowed visitors with its architecture. A Jewish village resurrected on a college campus in sylvan Amherst, Massachusetts, the building conveys the Center’s mission: to rescue and revive a language spoken for over 1,000 years by Ashkenazi Jews in German-speaking lands, Eastern Europe and wherever they migrated. 

On Oct. 15, the Center is unveiling a new core exhibit, meant to flesh out and deepen the story told by its building and the treasures stored inside. Arriving at a moment when Yiddish is experiencing one of its periodic revivals, “Yiddish: A Global Culture” is a major Yiddish institution’s answer to a question without easy answers: How do you tell the story of a language without a country, and of a culture that lost a majority of its purveyors in a little over a decade of madness?

In response, the new exhibit depicts the “secular” Yiddish culture that arose in the mid-19th century as a distinctly transglobal, modern movement that includes theater, the press, mass market publishing and intellectual ferment in big cities from Warsaw to New York to Shanghai.

The exhibit is “foregrounding a story of creativity, tremendous accomplishment and tremendous diversity of a culture that has migration built into its DNA,” David Mazower, the Center’s research bibliographer and the exhibition’s chief curator, told me when I visited Amherst last month.

The displays in the exhibit will surround and weave in and out of the Center’s book stacks, another striking architectural feature of the building. The stacks offer duplicates of the Center’s collection of 1.5 million Yiddish books and periodicals, for sale and browsing. I couldn’t be the first visitor to be reminded of the closing scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which reveals a colossal government warehouse filled with, in the words of the screenplay, “crates and crates. All looking alike. All gathering dust.” 

What a casual visitor might not see is all that is happening at the Center to blow the dust off those books, including translator workshops, summer fellowships, conferences, an oral history project, a busy publishing program and a riotous summer music festival.

Interest in all of those activities has been helped along by young Jews interested in the language and culture and a pandemic that created a demand for online Yiddish classes. The Yiddish Book Center has been drawing 10,000 visitors a year since its pandemic shutdown. The New York Times made the latest revival official (to non-readers of the Jewish media, anyway) in an essay last month by the Jewish polymath Ilan Stavans, declaring that “Yiddish Is Having a Moment.” Stavans notes a flurry of new translations of obscure and classic Yiddish writers, the all-Yiddish staging of “Fiddler on the Roof” and the Yiddish dialogue in three recent Netflix series: “Shtisel,” “Unorthodox” and “Rough Diamonds.”

A mural featuring key moments in the global history of Yiddish is a central feature of a new core exhibit at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. (JTA photo)

(More controversially, Stavans also reports that Yiddish is appealing to those — presumably young anti-Zionist Jews — for whom Hebrew “symbolizes far-right Israeli militarism.”)

Such a revival also challenges keepers of the flame — not just the Yiddish Book Center, but the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, The Workers Circle, publications like In geveb and the Yiddish Forward, academic departments plus a host of regional Yiddish organizations — to define a language and culture that means many different things to many different people.

Is it a language of a decimated past? A progenitor of the Jewish left? A tongue, still spoken daily by haredi Orthodox Jews, that continues to grow and evolve? Is it an attitude — a Jewish way of being and thinking — that survives in humor and cooking and music even if those who appreciate it can’t speak the language? For European Jews of the Enlightenment, the Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler reminded me a few years ago, “Yiddish represented the resistance and inability of Jews to enter the cultural mainstream. It represented something atavistic, a way of holding Jews back.” For Zionists, meanwhile, it represented a weak Diaspora and everything associated with it (a clash explored in a current YIVO exhibit, “Palestinian Yiddish:  A Look at Yiddish in the Land of Israel Before 1948”).

Goldie Morgenthaler, herself the daughter of the Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb, has written that she teaches Yiddish literature to mostly non-Jewish university students in Alberta, Canada because “studying what is specific to one culture is often the first step to understanding many cultures.”

At YIVO, an institution founded by scholars in Vilna in 1925 and transplanted to New York in 1940, Yiddish is regarded as an expression of and vehicle for “Jewish pride,” according to its executive director and CEO, Jonathan Brent.

“For Jewish people in the Diaspora to understand that they have in fact a future as Jews,” he said last week, “they have to take pride in their heritage. For all kinds of historical reasons, many Jews felt that [Yiddish] was somehow a shameful or devalued heritage. It was ‘zhargon’ [jargon], and it had been basically eliminated from public discourse in the land of Israel. YIVO from the very beginning wanted to study Yiddish as a language among languages, the same way you studied Russian or Spanish or French. It was a language with a history.

David Mazower, the Yiddish Book Center’s research bibliographer and the exhibition’s chief curator, shows off a samovar to be used in a recreation of the Warsaw literary salon of writer I.L. Peretz. (JTA photo)

“What Yiddish does,” he continued, “is help anchor us in the language in which our grandparents and great grandparents communicated their deepest thoughts and feelings. And that has real implications for the survival of the Jewish people.”

Aaron Lansky, the founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, said the story he wants to tell goes back to his days as a graduate student in Yiddish at McGill University in the 1970s, when he first started saving the discarded books that would become the core of the Center’s collection.

“People think of [Yiddish] as this nostalgic creation,” he said. “But the truth is, it was a profound, multifaceted and really global literature that emerged in the late 19th century, and then just took off throughout the 20th century…. It wasn’t long before writers were using every form of literary expression — expressionism, impressionism, surrealism, eroticism. It all found expression in this very short period of time, and even the Holocaust didn’t destroy it. “

Lansky admits his own vision is more literary than the core exhibit’s, and thanked Mazower for creating a broader view of Yiddish as a global culture.

That view is represented in a 60-foot mural that serves as an introduction to the exhibit. Cartoons by the German illustrator Martin Haake depict key historical vignettes in Yiddish history, from nearly every continent. Glikl of Hameln, a German-Jewish businesswoman, writes her diaries at the turn of the 18th century. Women call for a strike at “Yanovsky’s Cigarette Factory” in Bialystok, Poland, in 1901. A nursery scene honors the leading Yiddish activists who were born in Displaced Persons camps after World War II. And tubercular Yiddish writers are seen recovering at the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society in Denver, Colorado, which operated from 1904 to 1940. 

The mural lines the ramp that leads to the bookshelves, where displays (some of which Mazower calls “wedges”) use artifacts and wall-mounted photos to talk about the breadth of Yiddish culture. There’s a display about Yiddish celebrities, including writers, such as Sholom Aleichem and Chaim Zhitlowsky, who would draw tens of thousands of mourners to their funerals. Another display honors those who preserved and studied Yiddish culture, from YIVO (described here as “The Mothership”) to the monumental “Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry” undertaken between 1959 and 1972 by the linguist Uriel Weinreich. A Yiddish linotype machine, rescued by Lansky, anchors an exhibit about the Jewish press.

Michal Michalesko (center) and chorus appear in a publicity photo from an unidentified production, ca. 1930. Michalesko (1884–1957) made his name in the 1910s as a star of the Warsaw Yiddish operetta stage. (Yiddish Book Center)

A centerpiece of the core exhibit is a recreation of the Warsaw literary salon of the writer and playwright I.L. Peretz, a leading figure of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. While few actual artifacts belonging to Peretz survive, the room will include contemporaneous objects and photographs to immerse visitors in the literary scene of the day. 

“You’ll step through his doorway the way that so many young writers did, clutching their first manuscripts to show them either in Hebrew or in Yiddish,” Mazower explained. “His name, his address was known throughout the Russian Empire at that time. People would come thousands of miles in some cases to Warsaw to try and get entry into this alchemy-like space where extraordinary things happen.”

One of those pilgrims was Mazower’s great-grandfather, the famed playwright Sholem Asch. When Asch showed Peretz a draft of his notorious play “God of Vengeance,” whose lesbian subplot would shock audiences and rile religious leaders, Peretz reportedly told him to burn it. 

“My hope is that through the exhibition as a whole you see Jewish history through a Yiddish lens and in a different way from the Holocaust-defined story that so many of us have been educated with and that popular culture feeds us,” said Mazower. 

A Yiddish book features a stamp for a bookseller in Cairo, demonstrating the global reach of the language. (JTA photo)

The exhibit treats the Holocaust as one part of the Yiddish story, not its culmination. The original Yiddish edition of Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” published as part of a memorial project in Argentina shortly after the war, rests in a wedge about individuals who rescued Yiddish culture under the Nazis. The same section features a tribute to Rokhl Brokhes, a writer murdered in the Minsk Ghetto in 1945. A still from a recent animated adaptation of one of her stories by Alona Bach, currently a PhD student at MIT focusing on the “intersections of electricity and Yiddish,” affirms one of the Center’s aims: to bring young Yiddishists into conversation with the past.

The story of Yiddish theater will wrap around the auditorium, starting with a large photo of the audience at the opening of the Grand Street Theatre in New York in 1905. A memorial section remembers the probably thousands of actors, playwrights and musicians who were killed in the Holocaust.

“Had Yiddish theater not suffered a rupture, which it did, it would have continued to evolve and borrow and expand,” said Lisa Newman, the Center’s director of publishing and public programs. “What’s so important about this exhibition is that it places Yiddish in this context of language no less than any other country’s, except it’s not a country.” 

I asked Mazower what kind of stories he did not want to tell about Yiddish culture.

“It’s not a story about Yiddish humor,” he said. “It’s not a story about the Holocaust. It’s not a story about the state of Israel. It’s not a lachrymose story about Jewish persecution through the ages.”

Other Yiddishists told me much the same thing (Brent said that the story of Yiddish “shouldn’t be told as a collection of jokes, or Yiddish curses, or as a cute language that connects you to Bubbe’s gefilte fish”). 

And yet, said Lansky, “We’re not feinschmeckers, we’re not elitist when it comes to Yiddish. Yiddish was a vernacular language, and I am happy to embrace that. I love the humor and social criticism that’s embedded in it. It’s the aggregate that’s so impressive. To see all of this literature and culture in a lively and accessible way can be quite transformative.”

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San Francisco Giants fire Jewish manager Gabe Kapler after disappointing season




(JTA) — The San Francisco Giants have fired Jewish manager Gabe Kapler after four seasons.

Kapler joined the Giants in November 2019 and led the Giants to a 295-248 record during the 2020-2023 seasons, highlighted by a 107-win 2021 campaign that earned Kapler the National League Manager of the Year award. The team rewarded Kapler with a two-year contract extension that was set to run through 2024.

The Giants were eliminated from postseason contention this week, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

In addition to his 2021 accolade, Kapler’s tenure in San Francisco was punctuated by his unorthodox style both on and off the field. The 48-year-old Hollywood, California, native is a fitness geek with an active social media presence and his own blog. ESPN deemed him “the most interesting man in baseball” in May 2022. Kapler also has a Jewish tattoo on each leg: a Jewish star on his left leg and “Never Again” — a reference to the Holocaust — on his right leg.

On the field, Kapler in 2020 became the first MLB manager to kneel during the national anthem amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. In 2022, in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Kapler announced that he would begin skipping the pregame national anthem to protest the “state of this country.” He frequently used his platform in the sport to share his political beliefs.

Kapler played for six teams during his 12-year major league career, largely as a role player and backup outfielder. After retiring in 2010, Kapler played and coached for Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He previously managed the Philadelphia Phillies from 2018-2019 and worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

With Kapler’s firing, San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin becomes the league’s lone Jewish skipper.

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Flash floods put a dangerous damper on the first night of Sukkot in NYC




(New York Jewish Week) — Mark Vogel, who lives in Riverdale and runs a website about Jewish and kosher travel, spoke for many of his neighbors when he posted a video on Instagram of his sukkah being pounded by rain, standing forlornly in the middle of his flooded backyard.

“I built a Sukkah,” he wrote in a caption. “I should have built an ark.”

Vogel, and many of the other millions of Jews in the tristate area, have been coping with the reality that Sukkot, the most outdoor holiday on the Jewish calendar, has coincided with heavy rains that have flooded highways, shut down subway lines and triggered a state of emergency in New York City. More than 8 inches of rain had fallen at John F. Kennedy airport by Friday afternoon, and more is expected into Saturday.

New Yorkers should expect heavy rain and flooding to continue throughout the night tonight,” Gov. Kathy Hochul posted on social media on Friday afternoon. “To our Jewish neighbors celebrating the beginning of Sukkot, please take steps to stay safe during this severe weather event.”

Sukkot begins Friday night, and on the weeklong holiday, Jews traditionally eat their meals and even sleep in the sukkah, an outdoor hut with a roof generally made from tree branches that recalls the Israelites’ biblical sojourn in the desert and emphasizes the need for divine protection.

But rain makes those observances close to impossible — leading most would-be sukkah-dwellers in New York to accept that they’ll be eating indoors on the holiday’s first night, and sparking a wide variety of theological and practical responses from rabbis and rank-and-file Jews alike. For others, it has complicated travel plans hours before the holiday’s start, backing up traffic and making the subway especially hard to navigate.

“I once heard that if it rains on [the] first night of sukkoth, it’s some sort of sign that God is displeased with us,” Linda Gisselle Roth, who splits her time between New York City and Connecticut, wrote on Facebook on Friday. “And it’s been raining for days. And I’ve never felt like this before.”

She added, “I want to spend [the] first night of sukkoth, in my sukkah. So for right now, I’m asking, please let the rain stop.”

While the rainy season in Israel traditionally begins right after Sukkot, rain is a common occurrence on the holiday in the United States and even inspired the title of a children’s book from the 1990s, “Why Does It Always Rain on Sukkot?”

Mark Vogel, a Riverdale resident, posted a picture of his sukkah in a flooded yard to Instagram on Friday. (Screenshot)

Observant Jews have varying customs when it comes to dealing with rain on the holiday. Many avoid their sukkah entirely, while others will quickly recite blessings over wine and challah in the sukkah and then eat the rest of the meal indoors. Adherents of Chabad, the Hasidic movement based in Crown Heights, try to eat in the sukkah under nearly all circumstances.

One resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, a heavily Jewish suburb, posted a single-spaced, two-page guide from his local rabbi on what to do if it rains on the holiday. (The rabbi, who is not named in the document, recommends saying blessings over wine and challah in the sukkah and then continuing the meal inside.)

Rabbis on social media, meanwhile, explored the theological dimensions of the weather. Some cited a passage from the Mishnah, the ancient code of rabbinic law, that compares rain on Sukkot, following the effort of building a sukkah, to a servant bringing his master a jug of wine, only for the master to throw water back in the servant’s face.

“Nasty weather on sukkot is a sign of God’s displeasure with us,” Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who teaches at the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah seminary, wrote on Facebook. Then, referencing the recent High Holidays and addressing God, he wrote, “If all we did the last few weeks is not good enough for You, what’s left for us to say?! We did the best we can. If You want more, You will have to let us know what that more is.”

Rabbi Ethan Tucker, the president of the Hadar Institute, an egalitarian center of Jewish study based in Manhattan, also cited the passage and encouraged people to focus on the experience of the servant in the parable. He added that because the first day of the holiday falls on Shabbat, the other central commandment associated with Sukkot, praying with four species of plants, is also deferred a day. (Sunday is expected to be sunny.)

“What does it *feel like* when you have prepared for something and then you cannot execute it as planned?” he wrote on Facebook. “It feels like rejection, as in the parable. The weather may in fact just be the weather, but it doesn’t necessarily make the feeling of loss less palpable. Is there a way to make this Sukkah rainout an opportunity to sit with rejection? To empathize with other such experiences, even if they are not our own?”

Some New Yorkers tried to stay positive. “It might be flooding and we might consume a lot of rain water with our food lol but Sukkot Dinner under the Stars is still on even if we might end up eating indoors under a roof instead!” a Facebook user from Queens posted on Friday, advertising a meal that night.

Nina Jochnowitz, a State Senate candidate in New Jersey, cited the rabbinic idea that Sukkot is considered a time of joy, and referenced a Hasidic saying that “‘joy breaks all boundaries,’ transforming even the most negative occurrences into blessings!”

And others reached for seasonal parallels: “If only sukkot came with rain dates like baseball,” one person posted.

For Vogel, the travel writer and Riverdale resident, the rain was especially unfortunate, as he has built a smaller sukkah in recent years to limit capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first year he had gone back to building a larger one.

“Well, I was looking forward to eating in a large sukkah this year with friends and family,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “But we can’t control the weather, so we will make the best of it.”

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