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‘It’s a place where they try to destroy you’: why concentration camps are still with us – The Guardian

Posted By on April 2, 2020

At the start of the 21st century, the following things did not exist. In the US, a large network of purpose-built immigration prisons, some of which are run for profit. In western China, political education camps designed to hold hundreds of thousands of people, supported by a high-tech surveillance system. In Syria, a prison complex dedicated to the torture and mass execution of civilians. In north-east India, a detention centre capable of holding 3,000 people who may have lived in the country for decades but are unable to prove they are citizens. In Myanmar, rural encampments where thousands of people are being forced to live on the basis of their ethnicity. On small islands and in deserts at the edges of wealthy regions Greeces Aegean islands, the Negev Desert in Israel, the Pacific Ocean near Australia, the southern Mediterranean coastline various types of large holding centres for would-be migrants.

The scale and purpose of these places vary considerably, as do the political regimes that have created them, but they share certain things in common. Most were established as temporary or emergency measures, but have outgrown their original stated purpose and become seemingly permanent. Most exist thanks to a mix of legal ambiguity detention centres operating outside the regular prison system, for instance and physical isolation. And most, if not all, have at times been described by their critics as concentration camps.

We tend to associate the idea of concentration camps with their most extreme instances the Nazi Holocaust, and the Soviet Gulag system; genocide in Cambodia and Bosnia. But the disturbing truth is that concentration camps have been widespread throughout recent history, used to intern civilians that a state considers hostile, to control the movement of people in transit and to extract forced labour. The author Andrea Pitzer, in One Long Night, her recent history of concentration camps, estimates that at least one such camp has existed somewhere on Earth throughout the past 100 years.

The definition of a concentration camp is sometimes fuzzy, but at root, such camps represent a combination of physical and legal power. They are a way for modern states to segregate groups of civilians by placing them in a closed or isolated location via special rules that are distinct from a countrys main system of rights and punishments. Many have been set up under military jurisdiction by the British during the Boer war, for instance while others, such as the Soviet gulags, have been used in peacetime to deal with social undesirables.

Cruelty and the abuse of power have existed throughout human history, but concentration camps have not. They are little more than a century old. The earliest began as wartime measures, but on numerous occasions since then they have become lasting features. They are a product of technologically advanced societies with sophisticated legal and political systems and have been made possible by a range of modern inventions. Military technologies such as automatic weapons or barbed wire made it easier for small groups of officials to hold much larger groups of people captive. Advanced bureaucracy and surveillance techniques enabled states to watch, count and categorise civilians in ways they couldnt have done in earlier eras. As Pitzer writes, such camps belong in the company of the atomic bomb as one of the few advanced innovations in violence.

This innovation haunts the political imagination of liberal democracies. The concentration camp is a symbol of everything such societies are supposed to stand against: the arbitrary use of power and the stripping of peoples rights, the systematic removal of liberty; dehumanisation, abuse, torture, murder and genocide. When it is used to refer to contemporary places, the term concentration camp is often reserved for the locations of the most serious human rights abuses, as when Amnesty International used it in a 2017 report estimating that 13,000 people had been murdered by Syrias Assad regime in the Saydnaya military prison outside Damascus. But politicians, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among them, have also used the term to describe camps such as the ones the Trump administration has been running on the US border with Mexico.

To some, these comparisons minimise the use of concentration camps by Nazi Germany in its effort to exterminate Jews. For others, the comparisons are a necessary warning, not least because one kind of camp can easily transform into another. Pitzer gives the example of a refugee camp: if people are not allowed to leave, and are systematically denied their rights, then it starts to resemble more sinister creations. As authoritarians and rightwing populists reach positions of power in various parts of the world, liberals are voicing fears that history is repeating itself.

Surveying what he called a century of camps in the mid-90s, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman warned that the temptation for governments to use them would always be strong when certain humans are declared redundant or forced into a superfluous condition. There is no shortage of threats in the current century from environmental catastrophe to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic that are creating such conditions. The question is how to ensure that the concentration camp is not the states inevitable response.

It is tempting to regard the concentration camp as an anomaly, but for some observers, such camps are a grim reflection of the way modern states work. After the second world war, as knowledge of the Holocaust became widespread, leading theorists sought to offer explanations for the genocide that had taken place, and the methods used to carry it out. Writing in 1950, the Martiniquan poet and politician Aim Csaire argued that the Holocaust applied to Europe colonialist procedures that until then had been reserved exclusively for people of colour.

Concentration camps were indeed colonial in origin. Their earliest uses came at the turn of the 20th century by the Spanish in 1896 to put down a rebellion in Cuba, by the US in 1899 to do similar in the Philippines, and by the British empire in southern Africa during the Boer war of 1899-1902. The first use of concentration camps for a deliberate policy of extermination was not in Europe but in German South West Africa modern-day Namibia between 1904 and 1907. (Germany only recently officially acknowledged its treatment of the Herero and Nama tribes as genocide.)

For Csaire, the appearance of camps in Europe itself was a direct result of the way in which Europeans had attempted to dehumanise their colonial subjects in order to exploit them, but ended up dehumanising themselves. Colonisation, he wrote, works to decivilise the coloniser, to brutalise him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred and moral relativism.

The German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt also turned her attention to camps after the war. Like Csaire, Arendt drew links between the behaviour of European powers in their colonies and their conduct at home, but she also highlighted how some of the tools wielded by authoritarians had been put in place by democracies before the rise of fascism. In her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt pointed out that when France was occupied by Nazi Germany, for instance, the Gestapo was able to make use of draconian police powers already in existence to round up and detain civilians. These existed because France, like many other states in Europe, had been unable to deal with the mass displacement of people in the aftermath of the first world war and had instituted harsh measures to deal with unwanted migrants.

In 1940, Arendt had her own direct experience of this relatively novel form of containment. After fleeing Germany for France, she was placed in an internment camp at Gurs, near the Pyrenees. The camp had been established a few years earlier to detain republican refugees from the Spanish civil war; it was repurposed in 1939 for enemy aliens a practice instigated by the British in the first world war and subsequently copied by many countries. The inmates had to endure overcrowding, disease and insufficient food rations, and were made to live together regardless of the fact that some were Nazi party members and others, like Arendt, were Jewish refugees. It was partly the memory of this that led Arendt to place internment on a continuum with the Soviet gulags and the Nazi death camps as she saw it, the Hades, Purgatory and Hell of state violence.

That the British, Americans, Spanish, French and Germans, among other nations, had all used concentration camps led some thinkers to ask whether such camps were inevitable features of the modern state. Perhaps the most provocative answer comes from the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, whose ideas have grown in prominence in the past two decades. For Agamben, the existence of the concentration camp reveals something fundamental about power who holds it, and what gives them the authority to wield it. His work is dense, ranging across ancient Greek and Roman law, Biblical texts and Renaissance literature, but it has been influential on a generation of scholars and activists in the past two decades particularly among those who wanted to understand the camp established by the US at Guantnamo Bay, under an emergency policy after 9/11, or the growing phenomenon of immigration detention at the borders of the rich world.

Sovereignty, as Agamben sees it, is founded on absolute power over human life, and has been since ancient times. The sovereign has the power not only to kill, but to strip people of rights through forms of banishment, reducing them to a state of what he calls bare life. In the past, sovereignty would have been concentrated in the figure of the monarch; modern states are supposed to have improved upon monarchy by restraining the arbitrary use of power through democratic checks and balances. But, according to Agamben, the tendency to banish and dehumanise keeps on coming back in the form of the concentration camp: a space where people are outside the law, yet more subject to its power than anywhere else.

For Agamben, this reveals the basis on which power is exercised by modern states. In his words, the concentration camp is the nomos or fundamental principle of modern societies, the hidden matrix of politics in our age. While they may only sometimes use it, governments retain the power to declare emergency measures a state of exception in Agambens words to strip us of rights, and confine us to spaces in which we live a kind of exile. The camps logic, he implies, pervades seemingly free societies through modern state techniques of surveillance, bureaucracy, violence and other forms of coercion.

Grand theories such as those of Csaire, Arendt and Agamben are valuable, but risky. By seeking to identify common patterns across specific societies, at different moments in history, they warn that all modern states have the potential to set up concentration camps. Misconstrued, however, they can end up obscuring crucial differences such as the distinction between camps used in a deliberate policy of extermination, and those where people die through neglect. Holocaust deniers, for instance, or people who seek to downplay the severity of colonial massacres, often try to muddy these distinctions.

When theory becomes dogma, it can also limit our understanding of the present. Agambens own recent trajectory offers a cautionary tale: in late February 2020, he published a short essay in the leftwing Italian newspaper Il Manifesto criticising his governments draconian restrictions on public freedoms aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus. The piece referred to the invention of an epidemic, and went further than merely questioning the long-term impact of these restrictions; it condemned them as frenetic, irrational, and entirely unfounded, arguing the virus was not too different from the normal flu. The piece has been widely criticised, and provoked a retort from the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy that had he listened to Agambens advice not to have a heart operation 30 years ago, he would now be dead.

Agamben is hardly the only person to have underestimated the threat posed by the coronavirus in recent months. As more governments pass emergency laws to deal with the pandemic, in some cases including draconian surveillance measures and the establishment of segregated quarantine camps, it is right to ask where these might lead, and whether states will be willing to give up their new powers once the immediate danger to public health has passed. But that shouldnt obscure the fact that some emergencies are real: in these situations, the most important question is whether societies can respond to them without permanently destroying peoples rights.

Concentration camps are uniquely dangerous spaces. Their effects may vary considerably, from the horror of Auschwitz to the more mundane misery that Arendt experienced in Gurs, but the people caught up in them almost always end up being treated as less than human. And if the political and technological innovations of the late 19th century made them possible, does the 21st century make them any more likely?

In 2014, the Chinese government launched an initiative it called the Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism, focused on the province of Xinjiang, in the countrys far west. In the English-speaking world, details of the programme remained scarce until 2017, when reports started to filter through that thousands of people from Xinjiangs ethnic Uighur population, most of whom are Muslims, were being detained. The following year, researchers who trawled through Chinese government procurement documents and satellite imagery pointed to the existence of a vast, newly constructed complex of internment camps, which they estimated had the capacity to hold anywhere between several hundred thousand and 1.5 million people. Former inmates have given testimony to journalists and researchers that they were forced into education programmes, made to eat pork and drink alcohol, and given compulsory sterilisation and abortions.

This is just one example of how globalisation and technology have added a new dimension to an old problem. China has a long history of running camps the political re-education programme launched by Mao in the 50s was one of the worlds most extensive gulag networks. But the latest crackdown has new features. First, the Xinjiang camps are backed up by state-of-the-art digital surveillance methods provided by leaders in the global tech industry: a computerised CCTV network developed by a state-run defence manufacturer, designed to apply the ideas of military cybersystems to civilian public security, which tracks individuals and analyses their behaviour to anticipate potential crime; a tracking app that visitors to Xinjiang are obliged to install on their smartphones; DNA analysis equipment partly supplied by US biotech firms. Second, China has justified its crackdown to the rest of the world by adopting the same rhetoric that the US and its allies used after 9/11. In 2014, the Communist party launched its so-called peoples war on terror in Xinjiang. Chinas methods may be extreme, but it is by no means the first country to have introduced policies that subject Muslims to collective suspicion and punishment, in response to violent Islamic fundamentalist groups.

What else could tempt states to open camps? In her 2014 book Expulsions, the sociologist Saskia Sassen argues that the particular form of globalisation the world has experienced in recent decades driven by a new form of laissez-faire economics has unleashed a dangerous new dynamic that excludes large numbers of people from economic and social life. The global shift to privatisations, deregulation and open borders for some has brutally punished the vulnerable and accelerated environmental destruction.

In richer countries, Sassen argues, this leads to low-income workers being forced out of established welfare and healthcare programmes into more punitive systems (such as the UKs universal credit scheme), the impoverishment of sections of the middle class through austerity policies, and more and more people being locked up in prison. In poorer parts of the world, this means mass displacement and the warehousing of migrants as they try to move elsewhere.

One result of these global pressures has been the rise of political movements that promise to shore up national, religious or ethnic identities. But identities are ambiguous, and when governments start using the tools of state power to reinforce the line between insider and outsider, there are always large numbers of people who get caught in between. In India, the government of Narendra Modi has been trying to reshape the country along Hindu nationalist lines, undermining the secular and pluralist principles that have held sway since independence. The emerging camps in Assam, a north-eastern state on the border with Bangladesh, are a result: they target thousands of mainly Muslim residents who may have lived in India for decades, but because they originally came from across the border in Bangladesh a legacy of partition have never been registered as citizens.

The understandable response when confronted with injustice is to look for someone to blame. Its easier to do so when oppression is perpetrated by villainous leaders, or in other peoples societies. But particularly in liberal democracies, the chains of responsibility can be complex. Who, for instance, is responsible for the arbitrary imprisonment, torture and slave-labour conditions that migrants and refugees in Libya are subjected to? The immediate answer seems fairly simple: the state officials and local militias, some linked to trafficking networks, who run the detention centres. Thousands of people, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, are imprisoned in a network of these centres where they are regularly subjected to starvation, disease, torture, rape, and forced labour.

But the reason those detention centres exist is because a range of European governments have been trying to get Libya to act as a block on unwanted migration across the Mediterranean for almost 20 years. The system was built with European support, both from national governments and at EU level first through agreements with the government of Muammar Gaddafi, then, as the country collapsed after he was overthrown by a Nato-backed uprising, a patchwork of arrangements with state officials and local militias.

There is no shortage of information about what happens in Libyan detention centres and European governments frequently profess their horror at the atrocities committed there. Yet the system persists, because those governments broadly agree that the goal of limiting migration is more important than dismantling Libyas detention system. The political consensus in most European countries, including the UK, is that limiting unwanted migration is a reasonable and desirable aim, and large numbers of their citizens have voted in support of it.

When Zygmunt Bauman turned his attention to camps in the 90s, he argued that what characterises violence in our age is distance not just the physical or geographical distance that technology allows, but the social and psychological distance produced by complex systems in which it seems everybody and nobody is complicit. This, for Bauman, works on three levels. First, actions are carried out by a long chain of performers, in which people are both givers and takers of orders. Second, everybody involved has a specific, focused job to perform. And third, the people affected hardly ever appear fully human to those within the system. Modernity did not make people more cruel, Bauman wrote, it only invented a way in which cruel things could be done by non-cruel people.

When something today is described as a concentration camp, it almost always provokes an angry dispute. If camps arent being used to exterminate people, as they have been in their worst instances, then the comparison is frequently condemned as inappropriate. But condemnation can be a way for governments to shield themselves from criticism of their decisions, and from criticism of the legitimacy of state power itself.

In 2018, Donald Trumps government responded to a rise in the number of undocumented migrants many of whom were asylum-seekers fleeing violence in Central America crossing the US-Mexico border by drastically increasing the use of long-term immigration detention. Reports of overcrowding, filthy conditions and the denial of due process for asylum claims soon followed, accompanied by measures that seemed intended to make a symbolic display of cruelty, such as the separation of young children from their parents. In June 2019, amid the outcry from opponents of this policy, congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez recorded a video for her Instagram followers: The US is running concentration camps on our southern border, she stated, and that is exactly what they are I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that never again means something.

This was a political intervention intended to shock people into challenging the Trump governments immigration policy and in the row that ensued, some commentators objected that Ocasio-Cortezs reference to concentration camps and her use of the phrase never again was an inappropriate Holocaust analogy. As the historian Deborah Lipstadt commented, something can be horrible and not be like the Holocaust.

But much of the response from Ocasio-Cortezs Republican opponents was to downplay the extent of abuses happening as a result of Trumps policies, or to portray what was happening as normal and routine. Some pointed out, for instance, that Trump was only making modifications to a system built by his predecessors: deportations of undocumented immigrants, for instance, reached their peak under Barack Obama. These sorts of equivocations have accompanied the use of camps from their inception, and they always try to give the same impression: that whats being done is normal and legitimate, that criticisms are overblown, marginal and extreme; and that states have the right to behave this way.

The story of Britains concentration camps during the Boer war illustrates how a society that thinks of itself as liberal can make excuses for a mass crime. In 1899, when the British empire went to war against two breakaway Afrikaner republics in South Africa, it set up a network of camps that quickly expanded to detain several hundred thousand people. At first the camps were justified as protection for Boer civilians who had signed an oath of loyalty; later, they were used to imprison Boer undesirables who had not signed the oath, as well as black South Africans who the British forced off their land to make them act as lookouts for troops. Due to poor sanitation, meagre food rations and overcrowding, diseases such as typhoid and measles frequently ripped through the camps; at least 28,000 white people and 20,000 black people were killed by this system in just a few years.

The two most prominent critics of Britains camps the feminist campaigners Emily Hobhouse and Millicent Fawcett both had to struggle against political and public opinion that initially saw the camps as a wartime necessity, and both fought hard to alleviate suffering. But the grounds on which they did so were radically different, as the author Vron Ware has recently argued. Fawcett, who visited South Africa with the governments approval to produce a report on the camps, saw her concern for the welfare of vulnerable civilians as compatible with the wider aims of the camps. Saving the children, for her, was as true a service to the country as that which men were rendering by going into the armies to serve in the field. But for Hobhouse, who was the first prominent activist to visit South Africa and expose conditions in the camps, British military values and the nationalism that underpinned them were the fundamental problem. She was challenging the legitimacy of state power itself.

Hobhouse, who in her day was derided in sexist terms as a mad old lady, is now largely forgotten, while it is safe to say that Britains concentration camps are not well remembered: last year the Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg defended their use on an episode of Question Time, erroneously claiming that their mortality rate was only the same as that of Glasgows at the time. But without Hobhouses radical critique, it would have been harder to oppose the harm done by Britains camps a century ago, and would be harder to understand why camps still appear in the world today.

The point of historical comparisons should not be to find identical situations no two events in history are identical but to alert us to potential dangers in the way states exercise power. Not everyone, for instance, reacted with outrage to Ocasio-Cortezs comments last year. While she drew criticism from some Jewish organisations, including a rebuke from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the row also energised a US protest movement against Trumps immigration policy led by leftwing Jewish activists. The movement calls itself Never Again Action, explicitly drawing on a collective memory of persecution.

In his final book, The Drowned and the Saved, the Auschwitz survivor and author Primo Levi reflected on the conditions that had made the Nazi camps possible, and wondered what lessons, if any, could be applied to a world that had moved on. The unique combination of factors that had unleashed the horror of Nazism was unlikely to return, he thought, but that should not obscure the danger of violence in our own time, or the politicians who seek to wield it. Violence, he wrote, is there before our eyes it only awaits its new buffoon (there is no dearth of candidates) to organise it, legalise it, declare it necessary and mandatory and so contaminate the world.

If the state as we know it is here to stay, then what can people do when governments start building camps? The history of the concentration camp has also been a history of peoples resistance to camps, from both inside and out. Even in the most seemingly hopeless situations there are stories of people who have fought back against their treatment. The uprisings in the Nazi death camps of Sobibor and Treblinka are among the most famous; and the Soviet Gulag system was beset by strikes and revolts. On their own, these may not have been enough, but camps work by enforcing a rigid distinction between people on opposite sides of the barbed-wire fence. Those inside are kept silent and invisible, while those outside are encouraged to ignore or accept what is happening. Successful resistance aims at breaking down this distinction: governments know this, and even states that operate relatively mild forms of mass detention make significant efforts to obscure the conditions inside, and to deter their own citizens from prying too closely.

One evening in February this year, I watched the Kurdish author Behrouz Boochani give a talk by video link to an audience at Birkbeck, University of London. Boochani, who currently lives in New Zealand, spent four years in Australias regional offshore processing centre for asylum-seekers on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Australia has pioneered a type of long-term detention for unwanted migrants that is now becoming more common elsewhere in the world. Boochani and his fellow detainees were not merely being held for processing, but in harsh conditions intended to act as a deterrent to future travellers. The Australian government forbade journalists to report on the full extent of these conditions, which included the beating and abuse of detainees, and introduced a law threatening doctors and social workers with up to two years in prison if they spoke in public about what they had witnessed.

Boochani, however, smuggled out accounts of life in detention, via text messages sent to his translator by WhatsApp, that were turned into articles for the Guardian and other outlets as well as a memoir, No Friend But the Mountains. Boochani explained to us how he saw his detention as part of Australias and Britains longer history of treating non-white people as disposable. Its worse than a prison, he said of the Manus camp. Its a place where they take your identity and freedom from you, and try to destroy you. Detainees were given numbers, he said, which the guards used instead of their names; his was MEG45.

The camp on Manus Island was eventually shut down by the Australian government, after widespread public criticism, although its broader asylum policies remain largely the same. For Boochani, writing was not simply a way to expose his conditions and link up with campaigners against detention on the outside, but to challenge the very basis on which the treatment of people like him was justified. I never use the language and the words that the [Australian] government use, he said. I say systematic torture, I say political prisoner. One of the things that gave him hope in confinement, he said, was the fact that animals could wander in and out of the spaces where human freedom was limited a reminder that the structure which held him was built by people, and could therefore also be dismantled. Nature, he said, always tried to reimpose itself on the prison.

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'It's a place where they try to destroy you': why concentration camps are still with us - The Guardian

Divrei Chizzuk During the Time of Corona – Touro College News

Posted By on April 2, 2020

Divrei Chizzuk During the Time of CoronaInspiration from Members of the Touro Family

April 01, 2020

As all Americans face the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jewish community has the added stress of the upcoming Pesach holiday, a time normally shared with family and friends that many of us must now celebrate quietly and alone. In this series of videos, noted lecturers and rabbis from across the Touro family provide inspiration, chizuk and Pesach resources to better help you and your family remember hope during this bewildering time.

Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Psychologist and Lucille Weidman Chair of the Graduate Program in Jewish General and Special Education at the Touro College Graduate School of Education.

How do we make the most of our seder? Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman offers advice on ensuring that your seder is a positive and meaningful experience. The seder is quintessentially about the children, explains Dr. Lichtman. This is the time for us to transmit to them the pride in our heritage and the history of our people. Dr. Lichtman encourages you to tailor the seder to your child. Less is occasionally more. Relate the seder to your children in ways they can understand and rememberthat they have limited attention spans. But Pesach allows you to set the springboardfor learning for the entire year.

Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies at Lander College for Womenthe Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School.

In this video, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser notes that as we deal with the coronavirus weentered the Jewish month of Nissan, which is a time for renewal in the Jewish calendar. If theres something the entire world needs right now, its renewal, says Rabbi Goldwasser. Nissan symbolizes new enthusiasm and new powers; the month means that we are ready to meet the challenges of the future. Rabbi Goldwasser describes the blessings that are made typically during the month of Nissan on blossoming fruit trees and how the blessings function as a larger acknowledgement of the good and beauty in the worldand how we should appreciate those qualities even during difficult times.

See the article here:

Divrei Chizzuk During the Time of Corona - Touro College News

Coronavirus in New Jersey: What concerts, festivals and shows have been rescheduled, canceled. (4/1/20) –

Posted By on April 2, 2020

So you can’t find a shankbone? – Washington Jewish Week

Posted By on April 2, 2020

By Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky

Online ordering and expedited shipping have prevented COVID-19 from stymying all Passover preparations. Still, the procurement of fresh products is not as easy without significant lead time and now that window is just about closed. Worse yet, the contents of the seder plate are predicated on those fresh ingredients.

Two of those items traditionally represent two ancient sacrifices: The zeroa represents the Korban Pesach (the paschal offering) and betzah represents the Korban Chagigah (what the rabbis conceived of as the generic Holy Day offering). Because these two food items are merely symbolic, we dont actually eat them.

Many use a roasted shankbone for zeroa, likely cemented by the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayyim 473:4). About 150 years ago, the Mishnah Berurah clarified that one can take any meat, even without the bone, as long as theres some meat there. Chabads interpretation, for example, is to use a roasted chicken neck (with most of the meat peeled off).

The kosher butcher (or grocer) often has shankbones ready during the pre-Passover season. Right now, that may seem like a fantasy.

How might we fulfill the mitzvah of zeroa without a shankbone this year?

There are two Talmuds the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. Likely, the shankbone dates back to the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:3), suggesting that an egg and a shankbone fulfill the mitzvah. Most interesting, however, is the discussion in the later Babylonian Talmud notably on Pesachim 114b detailing the rabbis opinions about what can symbolize the two sacrifices.

For 25 years, my vegetarian family has used a blood red roasted beet for the zeroa, based on Rav Hunas teaching. Some 1,700 years ago, Rav Huna was known as a financially comfortable and generous leader. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Taanit 20b), Rav Huna would throw his doors open wide at every meal, proclaiming the words we recite at the seder: Let all who are hungry come and eat.

It makes sense then that Rav Huna teaches that a beet and rice could serve as the symbols. Rav Huna had in mind the less fortunate, who did not have access to fresh meat. Perhaps this is the year when even carnivores will again use a beet.

Rav Hunas rice suggestion is more challenging, since Ashkenazim have not eaten rice on Passover for nearly 800 years. Rabbi David Golinkin suggests that Ashkenazim still abstain out of a desire to preserve an old custom. Recently some Ashkenazim have begun to eat kitniyot and rice on Passover. Provided one purchases bagged or boxed rice inspected before Passover for chametz (with any chametz removed), then this could be an option.

But there are still other non-red-meat alternatives. Unlike Rav Huna who lived in Babylonia (modern day Tikrit, Iraq), Chizkiya emigrated from Babylonia to Israel, with a study hall located in Tiberias. Chizkiya taught that one course made of two ingredients suffices a fish and an egg, fried or cooked atop.

It is fitting that Chizkiya would suggest fish as a symbol for zeroa. Fish was a regular staple around the Sea of Galilee. Following Chizkiya, the Babylonian Talmud presents Rav Yosefs position what I call the meat-lovers solution. Rav Yosef implies theres no need to overthink this: Just use two types of meat (one cooked and one roasted).

This is peculiar, because Rav Yosef (also of Babylonia) was blind. One might assume that the way something looked would not be important to him. But dont be fooled. Maybe this was really about smell. Perhaps it was important to Rav Yosef that symbolism calls upon our sensory memory of the offerings. If, as my father taught me, we are meant to stimulate the memory of our time in Egypt, then perhaps the smells will bring us back to the tabernacle as well.

And last, but certainly not least, Ravina. Ravina often known for his leniencies teaches that one can use a bone and its broth/gravy. If you have very little, you can still have a complete seder plate.

The rabbis proactively considered what was available to them. Today, we are reactive and have some challenging and yet creative decisions to make. Most important is for us to remember is that this is all symbolic. We play with our Passover foods in order to tell the story and generate questions. These are props for our collective narrative.

We are not the first generation to have trouble procuring our Passover staples. However, our creature comforts may have blunted our creativity over time. And now it is time to revisit our history and teach anew, likely with a seder plate and contents that do not look like last years. Because it doesnt need to.

Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky is rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minn.

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So you can't find a shankbone? - Washington Jewish Week

Siyum for Firstborns in the Age of Corona –

Posted By on April 2, 2020


There is an ancient custom for Jewishfirstborns to fast on the day before Passover (read why here)until they participate in a siyum(the completion of a tractate of Talmud) or another mitzvah celebration. It iscustomary to arrange a siyum in thesynagogue after morning prayers to allow the firstborns to eat for theremainder of this very busy day.

With most synagogues shuttered and communitiesin lockdown, how is a firstborn to proceed?

StudyTalmud: The best idea would be for every firstborn tostudy a tractate of Talmud, concluding the final lines on the morning of theday before Passover. No minyan isrequired and kaddish need not be said.

On a practical level, Tractate Tamid (whichdeals with the daily routine in the Holy Temple) is quite short and easy tolearn (it is mostly Mishnah, but contains some Gemara as well). If you are notsuper comfortable in Hebrew/Aramaic, you can learn it in English online(including our video classes, which you can watch here(starting at minute 18).

Also note that one may make a siyum afterlearning a portion of Maimonides Mishneh Torah, which can beaccessed in English.

StudyMishnah: If this is beyond your grasp, under thecurrent circumstances we can rely on those who rule completing a tractate ofMishnah warrants a siyum celebration.A familiar tractate is Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), which you can learnonline.

Note that it is not enough just to read thewords. You must actually understand what you are reading, something easilyachievable with the plethora of study aids available these days.

Overthe Phone or Internet: While this is surely not ideal,if you cannot study a tractate (and do not have a household member who can doso for you), our rabbinical advisors have ruled that you may participate in a siyum over the telephone or streamedover the Internet, and then break your fast. [1]

Wishing you a kosher, happy, and healthyPassover!

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Siyum for Firstborns in the Age of Corona -

‘Unorthodox’: The vagaries of victimization – People’s World

Posted By on April 2, 2020

Shira Haas in Unorthodox

Esty Shapiro is being persecuted for being a Jew. Her rights are taken away. Shes denied education, subject to sexual abuse, cut off from the larger society, routinely humiliated and turned into a breeding machine. Everything in her environment reinforces discrimination and a second-class role.

Esther Shapiro, granddaughter of Holocaust victims, is clearly being persecuted for being a Jew. But this time it is not the Nazis: Its the Jews doing the persecution.

Deborah Feldmans new Netflix miniseries Unorthodox is a finely calibrated, superbly written and acted, understated look at victimization. Feldman tells her own story through the case of Esty Shapiro. Feldman mined her memoir, The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, to sketch Netflixs brief four-part narration of how a young woman broke free of Williamsburg, Brooklyns Satmar religious cult to reclaim life on her own terms.

Founded in Hungary in 1905, the Satmar sect of Hasidism re-established itself after the Holocaust in New York City. The group uses Yiddish as their principal language and adheres to their own strict messianic interpretation of the Talmud to rule their lives.

At their core is the strict subjugation of women. Satmars force women to shave their heads after marriage and cover their bodies almost completely. They consider higher education dangerous for women and demand subservience to husbands, as well as to religious teachers and older family members.

We see the results of this cruel ideology play out as Esty enters her arranged marriage at 17 years old. She is repeatedly humiliated by an array of older relatives who routinely attempt to control her every move. Since womens major role in Hasidic life is to breed, her in-laws are particularly critical of her failure to produce. She needs to provide as many offspring as possible to help replace the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

But the inexperienced 17-year-old painfully fails her bedroom obligations. Less joy or even pleasure, sex becomes a physical abuse and humiliation. As she is degraded for failing to produce Holocaust replacements, she is also undermined by her well-meaning but feckless young husband Yanky.

Esty flees Williamsburg to seek out her estranged mother in Berlin. Through force of her own personality and talents, she begins to forge a new life with vibrant friendships and the promise of an actual career.

When her husband and his family learn of her whereabouts, the Satmar Hasids mount a pursuit. The sects authoritarian rabbi authorizes Yanky and his low-life, gambling-addicted, violence-prone cousin Moishe to bring her back or at least settle scores.

The dramatic tension of Jews traveling to Berlin to threaten the life of one of their own provides a sad historic counterpoint. But Feldman abjures direct reflection on ideology. Her central concern is culture and character development. The cast of very young and new actors carries off their roles with depth, color, and sensitivity. Of particular grace are Shira Haas as Esther and Jeff Wilbusch as Cousin Moishe, a complex, looming presence.

Unorthodox has well re-created the stultifying world of the Hasids. But there is more to be learned than from a still life. As this group of religious zealots has turned from being victims to being perpetrators, there is a cautionary that needs to be attached to this kind of fundamentalism. We have seen where it leads.

The trailer can be viewed here.

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'Unorthodox': The vagaries of victimization - People's World

Why is this Passover different from all others? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on April 2, 2020

As the world is besieged by a spreading virus, our thoughts focus on our own health, the health of our loved ones, and the health of an ailing economy, and we experience fear, loneliness and isolation. For some, the nightmare began just as the holiday of Purim was celebrated, which unwittingly helped to spread the virus.For the past few weeks as the Passover holiday inched toward us, preparations for the commemoration and celebration of the holiday have given rise to growing angst. What in other years seemed simple packing our bags to spend the holiday in the home of family or friends or in a hotel, or cleaning, shopping for and preparing holiday treats has suddenly become immensely complicated. For many residents of Jerusalem, shopping in the crowded, bustling Mahaneh Yehuda market is a cherished pre-holiday tradition, an essential element of the preparations. This year, hotels are closed, travel plans have all been cancelled and the markets are desolate, patrolled by police to keep shoppers away and protect the publics health. For most of us, Passover is family time. In other years, the familiar teaching of the Haggadah regarding the four sons served as a wonderful rhetorical tool to describe the disparate views often present in large families, which nonetheless meld together for celebration of the holiday, a celebration punctuated by the familiar holiday smells, tastes and tunes. But this year is different. This year, even the four sons analogy has a different texture.The patriarchs and matriarchs of our families, who always have a seat of honor at the head of the table, are fearful of contamination; the elderly and immune-compromised cannot risk exposure. How, then, will this Passover be celebrated?Some of us will share the Passover Seder with unusually small family groups who will need to sing, tell the story, share insights and compensate for the small numbers with even greater enthusiasm. Some Seders will be a dialogue between two people, as it will for my own parents. After immigrating to Israel more than 20 years ago, my mother decided she would no longer be hosting a Seder. With all of the children and grandchildren here in Israel, my parents merely needed to keep track of whose turn it was to host Bubbie and Zaydie. This year, their Seder will be a table for two. There will also be many people, old and young, who will be completely on their own for the first time for the Passover Seder. This is not an easy task, but for many, there seems to be no choice. How should one conduct a Passover Seder such as this?Running a proper Seder, even when its a monologue, requires preparation. A Seder is a multi-sensory experience, a combination of unique and special foods, wine, and content the Haggadah. Choosing the right Haggadah can be a crucial decision.There are many elements to the Haggadah itself, and different people connect to different facets. Some of us are engaged by the art that traditionally accompanies the text; others connect more readily with the commentaries that accompany the text; while some find the text itself engaging. THERE IS no perfect Haggadah, however, especially if you are in a smaller group, its best to have one or two different Haggadahs on hand that speak to you personally. Although many people try to purchase a new Haggadah each year, this may prove difficult under the present circumstances. There is a wealth of Passover-related resources available online for those who plan ahead.If your Seder will include younger participants, take the time to plan how you will engage them with questions, prompts, tasks and even props. At the Seder, each and every participant should be both a teacher and a student.For those who will be alone for Seder, the challenge may seem particularly difficult, but the Haggadah itself seems to address this situation. Regarding the four questions which are usually asked by the youngest participant, the Talmud notes that even the responsive sections of the Haggadah may be adapted to a monologue format.The Sages taught: If his son is wise, his son asks him. And if he [the son] is not wise, his wife asks him. And if not, he asks himself (Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 116a).Maimonides (Sefer HaMitzvot, positive commandment 157) cites a rabbinic interpretation of this Talmudic instruction: The words and if not indicate that if a person is alone, and has no child, spouse or friend to ask or conduct a dialogue, nonetheless he or she should conduct the Passover Seder by asking the questions of the Haggadah and spending the evening delivering the answers and singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.This may not seem simple, but we all need to focus on the reality that even if we spend the Passover Seder by ourselves, we are not alone. Millions of Jews will be performing the same service at the very same moment, and we are all connected to the millions of Jews who did the same throughout history. We are not alone; we are connected with our people, with our extended family past, present and future even as we sit by ourselves.And when we consider the past, we should remember how our people celebrated the Passover Seder in all types of situations. At times, the taste of the matzah and the bitter herbs helped them recall the suffering of the past; other times, they drank the wine to forget the present. Passover has always been a time of hope, and Passover has evolved. The practice in Egypt was not the same as the commemoration of liberation when the Israelites entered the Land of Israel. The practice during the exile after the destruction of the first holy Temple must have been particularly tragic; I have no doubt that those Jews wondered how they could celebrate freedom when they had returned to exile. This cycle was repeated during the Second Temple period, and again during the long years of the subsequent exile. Yet Passover has always been about more than merely recounting the past; it has always been about anticipating our glorious future. The end of the Haggadah celebrates that eschatological future, a time of full physical, spiritual, personal and national redemption. Throughout history, Jews have believed in the past while simultaneously believing in the future.We are blessed in so many ways, yet the events of the past month have shaken us. We should realize that Passover has arrived at the perfect time, to help us shake off any sense of depression or hopelessness that our current situation might have allowed to creep up on us. Passover is a celebration of freedom. In a very real way, many of us have lost some of our most basic freedoms over the past few weeks. But this puts us in a relatively unique position to better understand the messages of Passover: The slave in Egypt had no freedom of movement, no control over time or place. We have long taken our freedom for granted. We must draw strength from this holiday and distill its core message. Near the end of the Haggadah we sing, Next year in Jerusalem. For many in recent years that ancient prayer became an expression of a choice. This year, for the first time in recent memory, this choice is not available. The airports are closed, and Israel is (temporarily) out of reach. Perhaps everyone should invest some special consideration and conviction in their declaration of Next Year in Jerusalem at this years Seder, and pray that when the day arrives, we will use our newly re-acquired freedom with wisdom, sanctity and joy.The writer is director of the overseas student program at Bar-Ilan University, where he also is a senior lecturer in Jewish studies. He is the rabbi of the Mishkan Etrog community in Givat Zeev, and the author of more than 10 books on Jewish thought.

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Why is this Passover different from all others? - The Jerusalem Post

Creating Resilience in the Age of COVID-19 – Jewish Journal

Posted By on April 2, 2020

What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient and happy? In the age of COVID-19, this is something all of us need to be thinking through.

These are the questions Bruce Feiler asked in a March 15, 2013, story in The New York Times. This was seven years ago, and they are even more relevant now.

Feiler illustrated that one can develop a very strong family narrative. The way to do that is by asking questions such as Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Feiler asked these questions and what he found was that The more children knew about their familys history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. They did better. According to the article, The Do You Know scale turned out to be the single predictor of childrens emotional health and happiness.

One of the things we really need to think about is why knowing the story of your family helps develop resilience. Even more than that, what kind of narratives are the strongest kinds of narratives to help tell our stories and continue in an enduring way? What Feilers research wanted to figure out was what kind of storytelling led to a reality in which the person had the most resilience?

One of the things we really need to think about is why knowing the story of your family helps develop resilience.

There are three types of narratives: the ascending family narrative; the descending narrative; and the oscillating family narrative. The ascending family narrative goes from negative to positive. For example, the story is: Son, we came to this country. In the past, everything was terrible. In the beginning, everything was awful. And at the end, now were strong, now we accomplished a lot. We started from the bottom; now were at the top.

The descending narrative starts out positive and ends negative. We had everything, then we lost everything. The oscillating family narrative vacillates between the two previous narratives. Thats when we say, Dear, let me tell you, weve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.

What those researchers found is that the group that coped best with the trauma of 9/11 was the group that had oscillating family narratives. What does this have to do with the haggadah? What does this have to do with the coronavirus?

Over the past 2,000 years, the architects of the haggadah constructed a learning experience that can help us think through questions of grit, resilience and overcoming challenges in a profound way, so I think the answer is: everything.

Act based on hope. Have spiritual courage.

On one hand, the story of the haggadah is a typical ascending narrative. The Talmud mentions matchil biginut umisayem bishevach, We start with degradation and we end with prosperity, with praise. Theres a talmudic dispute: What is this degradation of which we speak? One rabbi named Rav and one rabbi named Shmuel often had these debates. The debate here was: What was the original degradation? One perspective is that the original degradation was spiritual: Mitchila Ovdei avoda zara hayu avoteinu, Our ancestors were idolaters. The other degradation perspective is more physical, which is Avadim Hayinu, We were slaves. Both of these perspectives are included in the haggadah.

So it might seem the narrative the haggadah employs is an ascending narrative, but thats not the case. The arc of the seder experience certainly projects forward, and throughout the seder, we recognize our lives are not perfect. We say Hashta avdei, This year we are slaves, but we look forward to success, saying Lishana haba bnei chorin, Next year, we will be free.

What we see throughout the haggadah are ups and downs. One famous narrative smack in the middle of the evening is: Vehi Sheamda, Laavotainu Velanu Shelo Echad Bilvad, Amad Aleinu Lechaloteinu Ela Shebchol Dor VaDor Omdim Aleinu Lechaloteinu VHaKadosh Baruch Hu Matzilenu Miyadam; And this is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and HaShem saves us from their hands.

What is the DNA of resilience? What can the haggadah have to teach us about the resilience we all need, specifically during the coronavirus pandemic? We may like to think our stories are linear. We start from the bottom, then reach the apex; or we were at the top, then hit rock bottom. But the truest story, the most authentic story, is the story with ups and downs, highlights and lowlights, successes and failures.

Consider every individuals story. If we are honest about our stories, we all have oscillating narratives. For example, Cynthia had an incredibly successful career, then lost her job. She found a new job. Jerry worked hard to be a good father. Sometimes, he did not make it to his daughters baseball games and sometimes, he did not make it back for dinner. Other times, he was incredibly present.

When we tell these stories to ourselves and to our children, it breeds resilience and grit. When we tell that sort of story, it lets our young people know theyre going to have ups and theyre going to have downs. In his 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari expands upon the virtue of resilience, saying, Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. It is the ability to reinvent ourselves again and again that will prepare us for whatever life throws our way.

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about resilience from human-rights activist Natan Sharansky. As Jewish day schools across the country shuttered their buildings and went online because of the coronavirus pandemic, OpenDor Media launched a weekly program called Game Changers, in which I interview leading Jewish minds of our day on a variety of topics. Sharansky, who spent nine years in the Soviet gulag, has spoken to thousands of students across the world about how he survived all those years of isolation. He was talking to us about resilience. With so many things I couldnt control, with so many things not in my hands, whether or not I will be a free person in prison depends on me, he said.

How did Sharansky build his muscles of resilience? How do we build muscles of resilience? The basic elements of resilience can best be understood through an acronym my father taught me: SAFE. The first S is support. We see this throughout the haggadah. The Passover sacrifice required a sense of community. It had to be done in a haburah (i.e. with a group of others). We start off the seder by saying, Kol dichfin yetei viyeichol, kol ditzrich yeiti viyifsach, Everyone should be a part of this (to translate it pretty loosely). But the idea is there has to be support, and the haggadah teaches us how to have a narrative. A narrative should be oscillating, with ups and downs, and the way to have resilience throughout this narrative is with S, support.

This year, with many of us unable to feel that support from others, we can leverage Zoom, Skype and other technologies before the holiday or, according to a groundbreaking ruling from leading Sephardic rabbis in Israel, during the seder itself, in certain situations.

The next part of SAFE is A, action. Act based on hope. Have spiritual courage. Lets remember the Korban Pesach, that sacrifice offering, was an offering that was quite unique because it took the gods of Egypt and publicly sacrificed them. Doing that took an act of spiritual courage. Action is prevalent throughout the seder. We have so many opportunities to be active during the seder. The Yemenites have a fascinating tradition where they walk around with the matzos on their back during Avadim Hayinu because it requires action, action, action. We cant just sulk. We need to do something.

F stands for faith: faith in one another, faith in God, faith to have this relentless drive to overcome, the relentless ability to thrive as a people. We see faith through Hallel, the gratitude we show to God, which is a peak moment of the maggid section. Indeed, the whole storyline is about faith that this lechem oni, this poor mans bread, can be turned into a bread representing freedom and redemption.

The story of Pesach, the story of the haggadah, is a story of resilience.

E is express. Talk it out. Share things. What is the story were sharing? There is a reason the commandment on the evening of Passover is not zechirat yetziat mitzrayim, not remembering the Exodus, but sippur, telling the story of the Exodus. The reason for that is because were trying to express, express, express. The Talmud is so sensitive to the need to tell the story that in Tractate Pesachim 116, the Talmud teaches us the following law:

The Sages taught: If his son is wise and knows how to inquire, his son asks him. And if he is not wise, his wife asks him. And if even his wife is not capable of asking or if he has no wife, he asks himself. And even if two Torah scholars who know the halakhot of Passover are sitting together and there is no one else present to pose the questions, they ask each other.

If one is alone or in a big group, there is a demand to talk it out in the form of a story. This is no surprise given that human beings are story processors, not logic processors, to paraphrase Jonathan Haidt. When we have the letter E, are we thinking about ourselves? When were expressing our story, are we a persecuted person, or do we teach ourselves how to transcend persecution? The story of Pesach, the story of the haggadah, is a story of resilience.

The architects of the haggadah taught us how to cope with moments like this pandemic. They taught us you have to have Support, Action, Faith, Express, because now, when all of us are scared, we are wondering: Are we going to tell our story as one that was ascending we were at the bottom, now were at the top or are we going to tell ourselves the story in which we were at the top and now were at the bottom?

The answer is neither. The best way to have resilience, the best way to inspire, the best way to teach our young people to have grit is through the oscillating narrative because having ups and downs is the truest story of humanity and the most authentic story of every individual.

If we all tell that oscillating narrative, well be able to look back at COVID-19 and say, Heres how we were able to cope with it. Heres how we were able to deal with it. Because after this, our descendants are going to ask us, What did you do during COVID-19? How did you deal with it? What result did you have? Did you become stingier or did you become more generous? Did you become more isolated, or even in your isolation, did you reach out to others? Did you become more exclusive or more inclusive?

These are the questions our children and grandchildren inevitably will ask. The responsibility falls on us to provide answers and, just as importantly, to provoke more questions. Its our responsibility to pass on our stories that each and every one of us must continue to write.

May we all have a beautiful Passover!

Noam Weissman is the senior vice president of education for OpenDor Media.

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Creating Resilience in the Age of COVID-19 - Jewish Journal

How Not to Get Overwhelmed by the Pandemic –

Posted By on April 2, 2020

(RNS) Robert J. Wicks, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Loyola University Maryland, is an expert on resilience, self-care and the prevention of secondary stress the pressures we experience when reaching out to others. His book "Perspective: The Calm within the Storm" addresses how both first-responders and the general public can deal with these topics. As the COVID-19 crisis strains our ability to overcome anxiety and grief, we reached out to Wicks for some much-needed context.

This email interview with Wicks has been edited for clarity and length.

The uncertainty of this pandemic is medical, economic and emotional. What do you mean by perspective and how do we keep it?

A healthy perspective is a portal to resilience. That is, it helps us avoid unnecessary suffering and enables us to better embrace the joy and support around us. It does this by alerting us to pick up our emotions so we can stop, reflect and review our thinking, which can become distorted in a crisis. For example, we can react in extreme ways. Some panic, others fall into a sense of minimization and denial, still others project the blame onto some thing or person or foreign nation in order to maintain a distance from the reality that exists.

You frequently cite religious thinkers in your work. What does religion have to say about keeping perspective?

Buddhists speak about it as the unobstructed vision and Hindus, in the Upanishads, as a turning around in ones seat of consciousness. In the Talmud, Wisdom figures teach us that we do not see things as they are we see things as we are. The Gospel of Matthew says, If your eye is good, your whole body will be good. So long before psychologists valued perspective, religion leaders did.

We even sense it behind comments of religious teachers through the ages. The prophet Mohammed is purported to have said at one point: If you have enough money to buy two loaves of bread, buy only one loaf and spend the rest on flowers. In todays environment, we might add if you have the money to buy the one that you need, then leave the other for someone else in need.

Does keeping perspective risk blocking out whats really going on?

A healthy perspective doesnt deny the tough times in life. It faces them directly with the understanding that it is not the amount of darkness in the world or even in ourselves that matters, it is how we stand in that darkness that is crucial. And so, it is worth the effort to enhance a healthy perspective by taking a few simple but significant steps.

These include picking up your negative emotions and taking a few moments to review the thoughts and beliefs that are producing them so you can see when your thinking is exaggerated or distorted so it is possible to replace them with more accurate cognition ways of thinking, perceiving and understanding.

How do we cope with the grief the outbreak has caused, especially when we consume so much of it through the media?

A physician at Walter Reed Army Hospital once told me that I had helped him immeasurably in Q&A after a presentation I'd done at the hospital. I told you that I had come back from the battlefield and was now cutting peoples legs off at the hospital and became overwhelmed when I came home, turned the TV on and felt re-traumatized when the news was all negative.

Not remembering my response, I asked, Well, what did I tell you to do? He replied, You said, Well, when you start feeling that way, shut the damn thing off.

Staying informed is good, in other words, being overwhelmed with negative information is bad. It's important that we stay current with what is going on with the coronavirus. Concern about those who are sick or who have died is a sign of compassion and helps us put our own situation in perspective. But continuing to read or watch until we become swamped with a feeling of helplessness makes no sense at all.

You talk about the pandemic as a chance to grow personally. How?

While not denying negative events in life or playing them down through psychological or spiritual romanticism, be open to how the situation can call you to become deeper as a person. This is known broadly in the literature as post-traumatic growth.

A simple example is that, in being open to the possible new wisdom you may gain during a pandemic, you may also find that you are now more in tune with the fragility of life and therefore stop rushing to your grave while thinking you will live forever. The increased silence and solitude of being at home for greater lengths of time may also give you the space to enjoy being with yourself more, increase appreciation for the friends you have and make you value the need to reflect on what is truly important in life instead of what society may be trying to convince you is.

Pandemics are horrible and, of course, shouldnt be welcomed or made light of. Make no mistake about this. However, when they do occur, the darkness they bring need not be the last word.

When we talk about resilience or self-care, we focus on handling our emotions. How do we get past ourselves to actually help others?

Unhealthy preoccupation with ourselves as opposed to appropriate self-care and self-concern are quite different. The dangers always are the two extremes: being too much into yourself and disregarding self-compassion when trying to be helpfully present to others. The bottom line is: Being compassionate is good; ignoring our own needs is bad.

One of the greatest things we can share with our family, friends and those who need our help is a sense of our own peace and resilience, but we cant share what we dont have. And so it's important to balance care for others with the space we have for ourselves.

For instance, silence, solitude and personal care even if it is only for several minutes while we are in the bathroom is crucial for personal renewal. Creative ways of self-care help enable us to reach out without being pulled down.

We're all now very attentive to not physically catching the coronavirus from others. We should also be in tune with not becoming contaminated by others sense of negativity, depressive thinking and sense of helplessness. When we dont honor self-care, the odds of such psychological and spiritual contamination increases.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: Religion News Service/AP Photo/David J. Phillip

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‘Unorthodox’ a beautiful story about finding one’s place in the world – National Catholic Reporter

Posted By on April 2, 2020

Shira Haas plays Esther Shapiro or "Esty" in Netflix' new series "Unorthodox." (Netflix/Anika Molnar)

In the first episode of "Unorthodox," a new original series from Netflix, Esther Shapiro or "Esty" (Shira Haas) as she is known in her family and ultra-Orthodox Yiddish-speaking Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), is 19 years old. She is on her way to meet her husband, Yakov, or "Yanky," (Amit Rahav) for Shabbat dinner at her in-laws' house, or so she says. She is carrying a small plastic bag when she meets some young mothers in the lobby of her apartment house. They note that she doesn't need to carry the bag, since it is the eve of Shabbat when no work is allowed after sundown. She returns to her small flat, unpacks the bag and hides the contents in the waistband of her skirt.

Esty leaves apartment with determination and speed, lying about her destination to another acquaintance, before arriving at a house a few blocks away. She hands a woman some money, takes a passport, an envelope and, surprisingly, a small gift. She takes a cab to John F. Kennedy International Airport. There, small and alone, she boards a plane to Berlin.

We then flash back, as this series does throughout, to Esty accompanying her grandfather Mordecai (Gera Sandler) to collect rent on properties he owns. When a piano teacher cannot pay, she offers piano lessons to Esty, who, like her grandmother Babby (Dina Doran), secretly loves music. Babby secretly listens to opera while Esty studies piano for three years.

Along with her grandparents, who are Holocaust survivors, Esty lives with her spinster aunt, Malka (Ronit Asheri). Esty's father, an alcoholic, comes and goes. Her mother, Leah (Alex Reid), a German-born woman who grew up in a Hassidic community in England, is not in the picture.

Aunt Malka tells Esty that a matchmaker has paired her with Yanky. Malka takes Esty to a supermarket where Yanky's mother Miriam (Delia Mayer) and sister observe her on the sly (the market analogy is very interesting). She passes muster they set up a chaperoned meeting between Esty and Yanky, and the two are engaged. The first thing that Esty tells him, after Yanky speaks first per the custom, is that she is "different from other girls. Normal, but different." Yanky replies, "Different is good," but he does not know what this might mean nor anything about women except that their sole purpose is to have children.

Amit Rahav and Shira Haas star in Netflix's "Unorthodox." (Netflix/Anika Molnar)

After one meeting, Esty and Yanky are married. Esty is genuinely, almost mystically happy, during the feast. Yet problems start right away. The young husband and wife cannot consummate the marriage because the attempts cause Esty so much pain. Worse yet, Yanky gets angry and tells his mother everything and she interferes by giving advice and warnings that humiliate and anger Esty. There must be a child, Miriam insists.

Gossip starts to spread. A Hasidic woman, a kind of religious therapist, speaks kindly to Esty and gives her breathing lessons and "exercises" that cause Esty more pain. No one ever suggests that Esty see a doctor.

Then, after a year, just when things look up for Esty and Yanky regarding a child, Miriam nags Yanky and he asks Esty for a divorce. A few days later, she is gone.

"Unorthodox" is based on Deborah Feldman's 2012 memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. In the four-part series, as is hinted in the trailer, Esty leaves the community because, as she tells a new group of friends she meets in Berlin, "God expected too much from me."

To her credit, Esty tries to do what is expected of her in this particularly rigid Hasidic community, yet her faults are many. She has read the Talmud, something Yanky rages about. She takes piano lessons and though her husband knows, she quits to make him happy. Finally, she cannot get pregnant; she is not fulfilling her one role as a Jewish woman: to have children to replace the six million that were lost in the Holocaust.

Role definitions in Satmar Hasidism, an ultra-orthodox form of Judaism that originated in Hungary in 1905, dictate that the woman stays home and raises children and pleases her husband. The women must also shave their heads and wear wigs. While married Orthodox Jewish women do cover their hair with a scarf or wig when in public, the obligation to shave a woman's head once she is married is something unique to the Satmar community. Yiddish is their first language. When Esty arrives in Germany, she has no academic education to speak of and no skills for a job.

Some may think "Unorthodox" is a critique of Esty's religious community, its people and practices, and perhaps it is. To me, this is really the story of a young woman who wants more from her life, who bravely seeks a new way, who still loves her family and thinks even though she may be disappointing God, she must find her own direction. Her awkwardness as she sheds the cocoon of her Hasidic life is jarring. It is as if she is tearing off a layer of skin. There are also themes of diversity, community, respect, forgiveness and benevolence in the series, which, at times, can be challenging to watch.

I don't want to give away what happens in Berlin, but in Part Four of the series, Esty sings a Hebrew song, and it was one of those rare transcendent moments in cinema or television that had me in tears. I asked my Hebrew teacher and her husband to translate the first minute of the song. They told me it is a line, repeated four times, from a Jewish wedding song that is usually sung by the man: "Blessed is she who has come. He who understands the speech of the rose among the thorns, the love of a bride who is the joy of the beloved ones." Esty's singing of this religious romantic song reflects her longing for marriage to be more than sexual satisfaction for the husband in order to make children. Esty longs to be cherished, for this song to be sung to her.

And the gift the woman gave Esty when she left Brooklyn? Keep your eye on that.

Look for Haas to gain some award attention for her acting; I could not take my eyes off of her face. She has a rare ability to communicate her inner reality through facial expressions. An actress friend, Illeana Douglas, once told me that you can almost always tell the entire story of the main character through his or her hair. How Haas plays out her relationship with her hair exposes the hope, anxiety, anguish, determination and humanity of this riveting series that I watched twice.

I had the opportunity to speak with Anna Winger, an executive producer and writer for the series.

Pacatte: How did you learn about this story, and why did you want to make it into a series?

Winger: I know the author of the book, Deborah Feldman; our kids go to the same school. I read the book and found that she is so good at explaining and describing not only her home and religious environment growing up, but her interior life, her journey, at the same time. The appeal for me is that the story portrays, in such a moving way, the universal struggle between individuality and community, the rules of faith and interior freedom and looking for one's place in the world.

It seems like most of the actors are Jewish and speak Yiddish. There is a profound feeling of authenticity in the performances.

When we started to produce the series, we brought in a group of people as actors and consultants who had been part of that community and also left it. As I think you can tell, they still have a strong love for where they come from and the faith with which they were raised; they just could not line-up who they were with the practices of the community. It's interesting, but after the publication of Deborah Feldman's book, communication has been re-established between some of those who left the community and their families.

In the short documentary accompanying the film "Making Unorthodox," Eli Rosen's role as the Williamsburg Rabbi Yossele is emphasized.

Eli is an expert in Yiddish, and, as it says in the documentary, "Unorthodox" is the first Netflix production in Yiddish [and English]. Eli, who is from this community, helped us get all the details right, which was very important to all of us. Jeff Wilbusch, who plays Moische, who goes after Esty to bring her home, is also an expert in Yiddish.

Shira Haas stars in Netflix's "Unorthodox." (Netflix/Anika Molnar)

Shira Haas who plays Esty is a complete revelation and a very talented performer.

Shira is an experienced actress from Israel and comes from a mixed family, meaning that she comes from a spectrum of Jews in her extended family. Her grandparents spoke Yiddish, and she learned it phonetically for the film.*

From what I've read in Feldman's book, you've fictionalized many elements of the story.

Yes, the scenes until she flees are close to the book, but after she leaves for Berlin, that is completely made-up.

I did some online research on the book and Deborah Feldman. There is a lot of negativity from the Hassidic community online about the facts of her life as she relates in the book. Also, an Orthodox rabbi friend of mine (not from the Satmar community) said that in his opinion Feldman is not a reliable narrator.

Some members of the community feel a sense of betrayal that she wrote the book, her memoir, in the first place. Every person's story is their own and it is subjective. We focused on Deborah's story, and she has a right to her subjective truth, to what she lived. However, we have deviated so much from her book that the Netflix series is its own fiction.

When you were preparing, did you study any other films about the Hasidic communities in Brooklyn, such as the documentary "One of Us" (2017), and narrative films "A Price Above Rubies" (1998), or "A Stranger Among Us" (1992)? I thought there were thematic similarities with "A Price above Rubies."

I didn't see the other films, but I did see "A Price above Rubies" many years ago. The only film we watched was Rama Burshtein's film "Fill the Void" (2012) because it is about a Hasidic Israeli young woman and marriage. But Esty's story and this series are completely different from these films.

Esty and Yanky are so very unprepared to be married, and his mother is a third person in their marriage.

Esty and Yanky are young and very well-intentioned. But, as happens in some religious communities and cultures, it is an arranged marriage and they do not know themselves or their bodies. This story could be called a romantic tragedy. But more than anything, it is a story of a young woman growing up and becoming her own person and learning to make her own choices freely. This is the story we wanted to tell, one that was universal, one that other people in closed cultural or religions systems could relate to.

Shira Haas plays Esther Shapiro or "Esty" in Netflix' new series "Unorthodox." (Netflix/Anika Molnar)

[Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.]

*This sentence has been clarified from an earlier version.

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'Unorthodox' a beautiful story about finding one's place in the world - National Catholic Reporter

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