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Parshat Va'era -- Living Through the Chain Reaction

Greta Hort notes that one thing that stands out about the Egyptian plagues is their relationship to natural phenomena that occur in Egypt’s ecosystem.  And Professor Ziony Zevit tells us that using this theory the first six plagues can even be explained in their sequential order. The naturalistic account is connected initially with the violent rainstorms that occur in the mountains of Ethiopia, to the south of Egypt. 1. The first plague, referred to as dam, blood, was caused when red clay swept down into the Nile from the Ethiopian highlands coloring the river and rendering its water undrinkable. 2. The mud affected the aeration of the water that lead to the death of fish. Bodies of dead fish clogged the swamps inhabited by frogs. The rotting fish crowded the frogs out from the swamps. They left the Nile and sought cool areas in people's houses: the second plague. But, the movement of frogs occurred only after they had become infected by some communicable disease. 3-4. Since the
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Beating the Drum of Our Heart

A few years back, I was talking with someone I just met and they insisted on talking about someone we both knew in a manner that seemed to be equally disrespectful and gossipy. I mentioned to them that I was actually uncomfortable with where the conversation was going and their response was, "it's okay, we only have a few more days until we say the Al Chet, while symbolically beating their chest. Despite my urge to yell, "THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS!, " I reiterated how and why it was uncomfortable for me to stay in the conversation and I walked away.    This interaction has troubled me ever since, especially since I think that the Al Chet is one of the most powerful parts of the Yom Kippur service. I was unnerved with how easily this person was able to disregard what they were saying because in their mind, they will "make up for it" saying a few words during service. I believe this liturgy we have inherited from our ancestors is such a blessing, givi

Breathing in Pesach

(Illustration by Sarah Quinter) Tomorrow, when Pesach begins, we will tell the exodus story. To be sure, there are many reasons we engage in this ritual. It is one that is rich with drama, curiosity, family interaction and revelry. It is also fraught with myths about how it got started and the many traditions that have  developed over the years. However, we are commanded to take our time, lean back in our chairs, eat and drink heartily, yet, there is so much pain, sadness and death all around us. It seems increasingly harder each year to step away from what is happening and breathe a little. But that is what we are supposed to do --- breathe. Breathe. BREATHE. Breathe into the notion that there is freedom on the other side of this reality we are living in right now. Breathe knowing that as we move away from oppression, towards liberation, we leave as an erev rav, leaving no one behind. Breathe knowing liberation is our default, our birthright. Full Stop. We lean i

Solidarity Sukkot ---- Tales of Solidarity: Sophie Scholl

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action? --- Sophie Scholl From The Holocaust Research Project :  Sophia Scholl was born on May 9, 1921, the daughter of Robert Scholl, the mayor of Forchtenberg. Her full name was Sophia Magdalena Scholl. The family lived in Ludwigsburg, Germany from the summer of 1930 till spring of 1932, after which they moved to Ulm and finally to Munich where Sophie attended a secondary school for girls. At the age of twelve, she was required to join the Bund Deutscher M├Ądel (League of German Girls) as most young women at the time, but her initial enthusiasm gradually gave way to strong criticism. She was aware of the dissenting political views of her father, of friends, and also of some of her teachers. Political attitude had bec

Solidarity Sukkot ---- Tales of Solidarity: Dr. Traian Popvici

“As far as I am concerned, what gave me strength to oppose the current, be master of my own will and oppose the powers that be, finally to be a true human being, was the message of the families of priests that constitute my ancestry, a message about what it means to love mankind." ---Dr. Traian Popvici From  Yad Vashem : When Germany signed its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, it took Besserabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania and gave it to the Soviet Union. In July 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union with Romania at its side, the two territories were returned to Romania. For three days the returning Romanian soldiers carried out a massacre among the local Jewish population. Born in 1892, Dr. Traian Popvici was the son of a Romanian Orthodox priest. He studied law in Czernowitz (Cernauti – the former capital of Bukovina – and today Chernovtsy in Ukraine) and earned a doctorate. When Soviet Russian annexed his town he moved to Bucharest. At first he suppo

Solidarity Sukkot ---- Tales of Solidarity: Niuta Teitelbaum

"I am a Jew, my place is in the struggle against the Nazis for the honor of my people and for a free Poland!" ---Niuta TeitelBaum Niuta Teitelbaum, aka Little Wanda With the Braids, was one of the earliest volunteers for the Polish underground soon after Warsaw fell to the Germans in October 1939. The petite twenty-two year old devout Jew wore her blond hair in pigtails, which made her look like a sixteen-year-old girl, effectively disguising her real role – assassin. She parlayed her innocent looks to gain entrance to Gestapo headquarters, and silently shot an SS officer as he sat at his desk. The episode is but one of her daring moves. Niuta avoided capture for nearly three years, but in July 1943, two months after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising ended, the Gestapo burst into her room before she could swallow a poison pill. After weeks of torture, she was executed at the age of twenty-five years old. To the Germans, she was Little Wanda with the Braids; to the Poli

Solidarity Sukkot

According to the Jewish calendar, it is 5778 and what a year it has already been here in Saint Louis, MO. After 6 long years, Anthony Lamar Smith's family was let down yet again by the state issuing a not guilty verdict in the case which has led to daily/nightly protests. The mayor has largely been silent and the police have been incomprehensibly violent and inhumane in their response to the protest against continued state violence and white supremacy. This Yom Kippur , September 30, 2017 coincided with the commemoration of the lives lost and families destroyed during the Elaine Massacre  which was one in a long history of pogroms against Black people in the early 1900s. In fact, the violence of white mobs spread across the US in the summer of 1919 with no less than 33 incidents and was later coined Red Summer by James Weldon Johnson. Now it is Sukkot . Our tradition says that after we have spent time in meditation, prayer, fasting and reflection we must remember the vul