Dave Driskell, a crossfit celebrity, decided to do yogic handstands at the Berlin holocaust memorial. Yeah. Bad move. Here’s what Heeb had to say about the fiasco. source
Today we begin Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here at PunkTorah, we have four resources that give pause to reflect on the meaning of the Jewish community’s greatest modern tragedy.
Our Intro to Judaism course has a great series of Jewish history videos, including ones on the Holocaust. Register today for a 14-day free trial.
How could a loving God allow the Holocaust to happen? This is one of many questions Jewish philosophers sought to answer. This two part video series covers the debate, and many others.
This video made by PunkTorah was released three years ago on Hitler’s birthday.
Written by YentaPunker, a poem that demands us to “take a number”.
In 1999, a group of Kansas students began a research project dealing with the Holocaust. During their research they heard a rumor about a “female Oskar Schindler” and decided to investigate. Their investigation turned into an incredible account of a Polish woman who managed to save over 3000 Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
The 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was commemorated this year with ceremonies and speeches but some of the most meaningful commemorations sometimes take place in a more informal environment.
Such is the story of Irena Sendler which was brought to the attention of Jewish organizations and leaders by a group of non-Jewish Kansas students. In 1999 these girls began a research project dealing with the Holocaust. During their research they heard a rumor about a “female Oskar Schindler” and decided to investigate. Their investigation turned into an incredible account of a Polish woman who managed to save over 3000 Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Irena Sendler was a young Polish social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. She immediately joined the Zagota, the Polish underground which was dedicated to helping Jews escape the Nazis and, as part of that group, assisted over 500 Jews to escape from the Germans.
In 1941 Sendler moved to Warsaw where she obtained false papers that identified her as a nurse. With these papers she was able to move freely into the Warsaw ghetto to bring food and medicine to the Jews who were interned within the ghetto walls.
Sendler quickly ascertained the true intentions of the Germans and began a program of smuggling Jewish children out of the ghetto. Many of the children that she brought out of the ghetto were orphans, with no identifiable family, but others were children of parents who were still alive and had to be convinced to allow their children to be removed from their care. Sendler described her activities as “talking the mothers out of their children” and, all in all, she is credited with removing over 2500 children from the Warsaw ghetto.
Together with her Zagota comrades Sendler brought the children out by sewer pipes that ran under the city and through the old courthouse that sat on the edge of the ghetto’s border. In addition she sedated many young children and carried them out in luggage, bags and toolboxes or hid them under her legs as she traveled out of the ghetto by tram.
The children were hidden by sympathetic Polish families and in orphanages and convents. Sendler carefully recorded all of the children’s names on pieces of tissue paper along with the names of the families or institutions where she placed them for hiding. She hid these pieces of paper in jars which she buried in her garden, hoping that the children could some day be reunited with their families or, if not, with their Jewish community.
In 1943 Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. The Gestapo tortured her, breaking both of her feet, but Sendler never revealed the hiding places of any of “her” children. Her friends from the Zagota were able to bribe a German guard and secure her release and Sendler spent the rest of the war years in hiding.
In 1999 students at a Kansas City High School learned of Sendler’s exploits and, after careful research, publicized her story in a unique project — Life in a Jar. The students met with Sendler, who was, by this time, in her ’90s, and created a presentation that depicts Sendler’s actions during the dark days of Nazi rule. The play has been performed dozens of times over the past decade for audiences around the world. Later funded by a Jewish businessman, the project expanded to include a book and a website.
I arrived at the kollel, the house of study (literally – this was a house that had been emptied of everything, including interior walls, and re-purposed as a space for married men to come and study Talmud, Torah and other texts throughout the day) at 7:45pm, the usual time. I found one of the few English-Hebrew siddurs and opened it to the section for afternoon prayers and waited expectantly for the rest of the crowd to arrive.
It was all part of my routine since arriving in this neighborhood 4 months earlier. Thursday nights at the kollel: davening (praying) a quick mincha (afternoon) service and then sitting for an hour to study with my “learning partner” (a euphamism for “the incredibly patient young Rabbi who graciously volunteered to shepherd me through the painful first steps of rudimentary Talmud study”).
7:55, the normal start time for Mincha, came and went but the room was still suspiciously empty. Another 5 minutes and 2 other men arrived, but didn’t have that rushed “I’m late to pray” look I would have expected. I began to suspect I had missed something. Screwing up my courage, I approached one of the guys, a solidly-built man wearing the standard white-shirt-black-suite uniform of the frum Jew, with a thick black beard and a kind face.
“Is Mincha downstairs today?” I asked, hoping I had made the easiest of all possible gaffes.
He paused, and I could see him working hard to understand the context of my question. Which caused my heart to sink further, since this was another clue that I had missed something bigger than just being on the wrong floor.
“Mincha?” he finally answered carefully. “We davened mincha this afternoon.”
I tried to make my voice sound both unperturbed and curious, hoping it wouldn’t betray the embarrassment and frustration that crushed down on me. “Oh really? What time was that?”
“1:30. Mincha is always 1:30 after the High Holidays.” while he spoke with nothing but kindness, my insecurity mentally overlaid a patronizing tone laced with derision.
I thanked the man for the information, choosing not to mention (to yet another person, for what seemed like the hundredth time) that it’s hard to know what “always” is when everything seems to be a “first” for me.
I went back to the place where I had carefully laid out my siddur.
Closed it up.
Placed it back on the shelf.
Fought the urge to just ditch it all and leave.
Sat with myself and came to grips with the fact that I was going to miss mincha prayers entirely.
Waited patiently for my partner to arrive
What frustrates me most in these moments (and this was not the only example that led to my writing this post. Nor was it even the first. Nor, I’m afraid, will it be the last.) is not the mistake. What’s really hard for me to swallow is the feeling that there are instructions for these things, but I’m somehow not seeing them, or understanding them. I feel like an illiterate foreigner, sitting at a bus stop on a national holiday when service has been cancelled. Making matters worse, there’s a large sign next to me stating that fact but, being a stranger in a strange land, I can’t read the sign. I don’t even know the sign has anything to do with the bus service. So I wait, and wait, and wait. Until someone takes pity and tells me what’s going on.
The condition of being both uneducated and inexperienced, of having to figure out what’s going on based on “sideways clues” (the guy next to me turned a page. I better turn mine too.), of always having to put on the self-effacing humor and “oh golly shucks I messed up again” smile because pounding the table in frustration (which is what I feel like doing) will only make the situation more awkward, the effort of swimming upstream against my own ignorance is exhausting in a way I find hard to even describe.
This essay has sat on my computer for some time, and I come back to it each time there is a new embarrassment, a new gaffe that leaves me feeling demoralized. I would work at the words like one might pull at the strings in a knot, solving nothing and, in fact, only making the entire thing tighter and harder to unravel. But I kept thinking that if I could get this post just right, it would help me find a way out of the cycle.
In the end, my solution came from someone much more experienced in these matters. Not a Rabbi, not a Jewish studies professor, not a Hebrew tutor and not even a been-orthodox-my-whole-life friend. It came from someone who knows a great deal about living with, and even embracing, this state of not-knowing.
As we were standing together one Shabbat morning, I looked up from my prayerbook where I had been painstakingly sounding out yet another prayer I didn’t know, to find my 8-year-old son looking up at me. “Are you done reading that already?” I whispered.
“Nope.” he answered nonchalantly. Then he confided, “I haven’t learned this one. So I pray by watching everyone else.”
There were so many things wrapped up in his small, simple answer. Faith that he would, one day, learn “this one”. Confidence that even if he didn’t learn how to say the words, he still had options. Trust that he could still connect to God in a way that was authentic and valid.
But above all, he was unconcerned about not measuring up. To extend a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, he intuitively knew that his legs were long enough to reach the ground, and that his soul was tall enough to reach heaven.
I began to study how he experienced the world, and discovered a seemingly endless series of things he didn’t know, which he dealt with daily. I saw the way faith and trust and a sublime acceptance of the each moment -asking it to be nothing more or less than what it was – how all of that was a natural part of his responses. I realized that, in growing up and getting all sorts of amazing skills and tricks and knowledge, I lost the very thing that allowed me to acquire all those things in the first place.
That disconnect, more than anything, was my actual problem. I’m now working to fix this deficiency.
The other day, I found myself in that situation again. Asked to open the ark (twice – once when the Torah came out and again when it was being returned) I found that I had no idea about the mechanics of the job.
I didn’t know when to go up. I didn’t know when to open the doors. The leader waited (it seemed to me) until the last possible second to come up and actually get the Torah, and I stood in pure terror wondering if I was supposed to bring it to him. Instead of escorting the Torah around the entire sanctuary, I (practically) ran back to my seat and stayed there (only to be immediately informed by a well-meaning elder of the congregation of my gaff). Later, when the Torah was put back, I closed the ark too early.
But you know what?
A friend told me when to go up. The president of the congregation (who sits up front) clued me when open the ark. The gabbai, seeing my panicked expression, gave me the “it’s ok” sign so I knew to sit tight and wait for the leader. And when I started to close the ark at the end, the leader was up there and explained I was too early. I re-opened it, and we kept going.
We all make mistakes, and as much as my lack of functional knowledge frustrates me, it’s also to be expected. It is understandable for someone in my position. It is forgiven by everyone in this community, many of whom have stood where I stand. If we are brave enough to start at all, we will all have to start somewhere, and some-when for that matter. And after that moment of beginning, it’s a sure thing that there will be mistakes. The scientific term for this, I believe, is “learning”.
I got back to my seat after closing the ark (this time at the correct point in the service). My son was waiting to shake my hand. It was clear that, as far as he was concerned, it had all gone off without a hitch.
And he was right.
Our logic is not the ultimate logic. The G-d Project is the world’s first social media platform dedicated to Jewish spirituality. We bring God back to the conversation. www.theg-dproject.org.