March 31, 2009

Shawarma: A taste of pure Israel

At Manah va-Khetzi [Hebrew: portion-and-a-half], loyal patrons join a fast-moving line to order shawarma, the house specialty, with trimmings of their choice — served with signature local hospitality and blaring radio.

Manah va-Khetzi is sandwiched among small low-cost fast-food shops on Yohanan Ben Zakai Street, on the edge of Jerusalem's southwest Katamonim (neighborhoods built in the 1950s for Jews who made aliya [ascension] to Israel from Arab countries and Iran).

My friends Judith and Jeff drove us straight to the kosher certified eating place after we left the joyous, deeply moving 90th birthday celebration for Rabbi Jack J. Cohen at its conclusion. They were hungry (at 11 PM!) for a taste of pure Israel, for better or for worse — shawarma.

I had no desire for food of any kind at that hour. Yet I quickly developed a hearty appetite to capture the scene, and aimed my camera at the black and red decor, brown and red meat, and mostly silent eaters exchanging token words on selections, condiments, and payment.

A perfect ending to a perfect evening.

Watch the video (2:33 minutes).

March 29, 2009

Happy 90th birthday, Rabbi Jack J. Cohen

Dearest Jack,

I was not yet twelve years old when my beloved father, Dr. Israel S. Chipkin, died. Minutes before his funeral, I stood in your study with my mother and sister, and my father's siblings. Your kind face, gentle manner, and soft voice helped soothe my shock, turmoil, and pain.

And then, you recited the blessing:
"Baruch... dayan ha-emet" [Blessed is the judge of truth]. I had never heard anyone say these words or discuss the blessing. 

Frozen and bewildered, my inner voice demanded, How could this wonderful rabbi, my father's beloved friend and student utter words so stinging, so cruel? Minutes later, the funeral — a word soup of eulogy and "el maleh rachamim" [God full of compassion] prayer for the dead was a bad blur even while "Baruch... dayan ha-emet" stayed stuck in me
. A decade passed before I could begin to understand the blessing, and I have been wrestling with it continuously to this day. 

Thank you, Jack, for your enduring guidance, kindness, friendship, and example. Mazal tov and happy birthday!
Who is Rabbi Dr. Jack J. Cohen?
And why did I share with him this earliest memory?
Nearing his 91st year, Jack's family and friends celebrated last week, in Jerusalem, his rich life and long distinguished career as a spiritual leader, educator, author, public servant, and champion of religious pluralism and social justice in Israel and the USA. Jack's children invited guests to share personal memories for inclusion in an album they presented him during the celebration. (The photo at the top of this post captures Jack and me during the celebration.)

Today, Jack is the Emeritus Director of the Hillel Foundation of the Hebrew University. Before making aliya in 1960, he was Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), in New York City, where he was a disciple of Rabbi Dr. Mordechai M. Kaplan. (Dr. Kaplan, who founded Reconstructionist Judaism and cofounded the SAJ, opened his eulogy of my father, a pioneering American Jewish educator — "He was dearer to me than a brother.")

NOTE | Writing this post, I found most helpful Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman's scholarly and creative discussion on "Baruch... dayan ha-emet"the "el maleh rachamim" prayer for the dead.

UPDATE April 17, 2012 |
.קהילת מבקשי דרך מרכינה ראש ומודיעה בצער רב על פטירתו של הרב דר' יעקב (ג'ק) יוסף כהן, יקיר הקהילה
ההלוויה תתקיים היום, יום שלישי, כה' ניסן תשע"ב, 17/04/12 בשעה 17:30 בבית העלמין "ארץ החיים" ליד בית שמש. הסעה תצא מהקהילה בשעה 16:00 בדיוק. השבעה תתקיים בבית של ירמי וגילה כהן, רח' בר כוכבא 45/10.

יעקב כהן היה רב ומורה מן הדגולים שבדורו ובן אדם שרוח הבריות תמיד היתה נוחה הימנו. לפני כשנה, כשגיל הגבורות היה עשור ויותר מאחוריו, פרסם עוד שני ספרים מקוריים וחדשניים. לזכותו תעמוד גם העובדה שעלה לארץ לפני 50 שנה -- חלוץ אמיתי בין שורות הרבנים המסורתיים בארץ ומחשובי הרבנים הרקונסטרוקציוניסטיים בעולם. יהי זכרו ברוך.

In deep and profound sorrow, Kehillat Mevakshei Derech mourns the passing of our dear friend Rabbi Dr. Jack J. Cohen. The funeral will be held today, April 17, at 5:30 p.m. at Eretz HaHayim Cemetery near Beit Shemesh. A bus will leave from the Kehillah promptly at 4 p.m. The Shiva will take place at the house of Yermi and Gila Cohen at 45/10 Bar Kochba St.
‫ ‬
Jacob Cohen was among the great rabbis and teachers of his generation; he was an easygoing man with whom everyone felt comfortable. About a year ago, when he was already past age 90, he published two more original and innovative books. To his credit, he made Aliya 50 years ago — a true pioneer among Masorti rabbis in Israel and leading Reconstructionist rabbis worldwide.

May his memory be for a blessing.

March 23, 2009

Rabbi Y.M. Lau on Purim in the Nazi camps

During the recent joyous open-air Purim celebration in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau spoke to the whimsically-costumed multigenerational crowd. At a pause in the Megilla reading, he described an amazing occurrence in a Nazi camp on Purim, and then drew parallels between the ancient Purim story and modern-day challenges.

Watch the video (6:08 minutes).

Note While Rabbi Lau speaks in Hebrew, I added occasional captions in English to guide non-Hebrew speakers.

I dedicate this post and video to dear friends Yehudit Liman (Tel Aviv) and Rabbi Dr. Michael Berger (Atlanta) whose enthusiasm for Rabbi Lau's depth and accessibility inspired my efforts.

My previous Purim posts

March 07, 2009

Reading Amos Oz — אל תגידי לילה, No digas noche

אל תגידי לילה in one hand and No digas noche in the other

My friend Elisheva/Isabel is visiting me in Tel Aviv for a few days. She arrived by train from Haifa, where she's completing a degree in Hebrew Language and Literature at Haifa University. (There, the native French speaker who is also fluent in Spanish has been polishing her Hebrew and learning Arabic and written Aramaic.)

During infrequent pauses in our itinerary, my polyglot friend has been reading Israeli writer, novelist, and journalist Amos Oz's novel Don't Call It Night in the original Hebrew. Rather than check dictionary translations of the occasional word or phrase she doesn't know, she holds the Hebrew volume in one hand, and the Spanish translation in the other.

We have been enjoying marathon conversations (reminiscent of happy hours among Israelis discussing Hebrew literature class), Kabbalat Shabbat services at Beit Tefilah Israeli (a Jewish spiritual community that combines Jewish and Israeli identities), a spontaneous Shabbat dinner (complete with a guest!), and a sing-along of Israeli Golden Oldies led by Nachum Heiman (one of Israel's most beloved composers of popular songs) at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.

Despite my linguistic limitations (our conversations are restricted to Hebrew and English), we communicate perfectly.