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Today I wanted to share a beautiful writing a fellow lover of words passed along to me. It turns out, she has an extensive collection of published writings of her own on a site I will link to below.

By Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Writer for The Times of Israel

Jerusalem is not a sound bite.

Jerusalem is sound.

Early in the morning, Jerusalem is the clang of the blue metal doors that open one by one, the hiss of the tea kettles, the sound of worn fingers turning newspaper pages, the shopkeepers calling out to one another Salaam Aleikum in Arabic or Shalom Alechem in Hebrew — Peace be upon you, and you and you.

It’s the jackhammer fixing the sewer, the plumber unclogging a drain. It’s the roar of my friend Wassim’s Harley Davidson as he drives through the Christian Quarter to open his tattoo parlor — which may be the oldest tattoo business in the world. It’s the buzz of his tattoo needle, a modern version of what his grandfather once used when he dipped his needle into ink made of soot and wine, and tattooed the faithful on their pilgrimages.

Jerusalem is the clatter of loose change in the beggar’s cup just inside Jaffa Gate.

Jerusalem is the Cat Lady from the Jewish Quarter feeding the cats. It’s the alarm clocks going off, and kids grumbling In Hebrew, Arabic, and Armenian: “Noooo, I don’t wanna go to school.” It’s mothers answering, “Too bad, it’s time to get up.”

It’s the jangle of metal keys locking doors, and unlatching bicycles, the waif officials feeding the birds and the cats on the Temple Mount, the Greek Orthodox priest and the Catholic priest both trying to out-pray the other in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the rabbi’s wife weeping against the Western Wall for her son to return safe and unharmed from his military service.

It’s the sound of the border police on their patrols through the quarters, standing guard at the intersections, the sound of their boots scuffing the stones, the static from their radios, the wail of an ambulance when a new mother gives birth.

 

 

Jerusalem is the beating of doves’ wings when they take flight.

In the afternoons, Jerusalem is much louder — a warble of so many languages, in the flow of things, of visitors and merchants, holy men and madmen. Some sing, some pray, some haggle over the price of a menorah or a stuffed camel or an olive wood cross, some laugh. I’ve seen grown men drop to their knees in humble supplication and weep, just like it’s always been since Jerusalem became a thing — that place that grew from legend, that grew through prayer, that grew because we set our sites upon it, and so it was: a holy city.

Jerusalem is church bells peeling several times a day. It is the call to prayer echoing off the stone from the minarets — each one has its own recorded voice and each one of those voices is different — some are higher, some are lower, one guy sounds like maybe he’s from New Jersey, although he probably isn’t, another sounds like he studied opera with Pavoratti. They’re all beautiful apart, and even more beautiful together, although they all start at different times so some moments are harmonious and others dissonant, but that’s Jerusalem. On Friday, Jerusalem is the Sabbath siren that sounds just before sundown and ushers in the Jewish day of rest.

Jerusalem is yeshiva boys singing on the way to the Western Wall, it’s the Armenian musician playing the duduk, and Palestinian hip-hop or Nasif Zeytoun blasting from the shops and stands. Pilgrims sing in harmony, sometimes they bang drums, sometimes they strum guitars, and even when they’re off-key — which is often — it’s still beautiful to hear, and just as beautiful as everything else.

Jerusalem is the guy who runs a currency exchange shop in the Muslim Quarter who lost his voice box, but he’ll press on his windpipe and sing something by Fairouz.

Its the thud of a basketball in the Muslim Quarter and the sound a soccer ball makes on wet grass in the soccer field tucked way in the Armenian Quarter.

It’s the click-click of high heels even on those old stones in the Christian Quarter, and God bless the women who wear them.

Its the sound of children laughing while they hang by their knees off the jungle gym in the Jewish Quarter.

Jerusalem is “Freeze or I’ll shoot!” in Hebrew.

Jerusalem is “Death to the Jews” in Arabic.

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It’s is a young father’s anguished cry when a Border Police officer beat him for no other reason, other than not having the right papers.

It’s the young mother’s anguished cry when her husband is murdered in a terror attack in front of her and sinks to the ground in a pool of blood, while the nearby merchants kick her and spit on her, until the Border Police come to rescue her.

Jerusalem is the boom of a stun grenade, and the sound my own flip flops make when I’m running.

Jerusalem is the clang of pipes, and frantic shouts — the scrape of a match and the hiss of a cigarette, all this during the riots around the Temple Mount last summer, and its the sound of my own heart beating until I looked up and realized that it was a group of Palestinian men, a nun, and a few tourists trying to dismantle a pipe where a newborn kitten was trapped inside.

Jerusalem is the kitten meow when they pulled him out — a tiny, hopeful sound, and then of all of us cheering, loud and joyful, in Hebrew in Dutch, in Arabic, in English, all together now.

Jerusalem at night is an echo — footsteps on the ancient stone. It’s couples bickering or making love, a laugh. A sigh.

Jerusalem is a colicky baby crying in the middle of the night and Jerusalem is the footsteps of the mothers and fathers who walk the floor back and forth, and the whisper, Shhhhh shhhh shhh my little one, sleep.

Jerusalem is the rooster that never sleeps and crows at midnight, especially full-throated and proud when the moon is full. It’s the wind. It’s an old man snoring, an old woman praying, and the late-night news broadcast, and the click of the radio when I turn it off and listen to her silence as she sleeps fitfully under the restless sky.


Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel’s New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.

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It’s hard to explain — or contain — the excitement I felt  when I ran across this news article today that explained how the word “partner” is becoming the growing preference for romantic couples.

What I also loved was this paragraph, buried way down in the middle:

“For a long time, a wedding was the only way to signal the depth and seriousness of a romantic relationship, said Amy Shackelford, founder and CEO of the feminist wedding planning company Modern Rebel.

“But we work with couples who get married six years, nine years, 12 years, after they started dating,” she told me. “You think they weren’t serious before then?” The word “partner,” she said, gives couples the power to publicly announce a lasting adult commitment, without an engagement or a wedding. If the couple does decide to get married, the ceremony itself serves not to solidify the relationship, but to celebrate it, surrounded by family and friends.”

I couldn’t have found a better of describing what MOST wedding ceremonies I officiate these days are like. They aren’t what solidify the relationship; they are what celebrates it!

I first was introduced to the “partner” idiom in 2004 when I was applying for rabbinical school. As always a very pro-GLBT seminary, the Reconstructionist Rabbbinical College had a concrete, unified pattern of always referring to people’s romantic partners as ‘partners’ whether they were married, cohabitating, just dating, gay or straight.

Once I got immersed in the culture, it became second nature and I never though twice about it. But I recall several instances when, talking to a stranger outside my little cultural bubble, I experienced a rude reawakening just how much of a bubble I was in.

On several occasions I remember speaking to someone out in the “real world” and almost referring to my partner as my “partner” and then having to stop myself and say “husband” because I knew if I didn’t — they would assume I was gay.

There’s nothing wrong with that assumption, of course, but if you are trying to get to know someone and reveal yourself and your life — saying something that would create such an obvious misinterpretation of that life does nothing to further the social transaction. Instead, all it does is create some awkward moment in the future when that person invariably would refer to my “he” as a “she” and I would then have to correct them with a … “oh by the way … I’m not actually married to a ‘she’ … “.

That’s the funny thing about living in social bubbles. It’s easy to forget how the rest of the world does things!

There was another time I remember making that bumble on the other side of the table. In 2005, I had been admitted to RRC but was still living in Denver — I hadn’t moved out yet to Philly. I met an RRC-grad, we were having dinner, and she made a reference to her partner (assuming, understandably, that I was “hip” to the shared understood RRC lingo.) Alas, I was not. (I mean, I knew it in my head, but it hadn’t made its way into my kishkes yet and become second nature.) Not 5 minutes later, I asked her some question about her “wife’ and she took a measured breath and had to calmly say … “Well, umm, my partner is a “he” actually”.

Whoops. Duh. Of course. But see, I hadn’t been immersed in that culture long enough for it to be second nature.

What’s COOL to me now though, is to find out that 15 years later, what was once this small little linguistic quirk — this one tiny little act of solidarity to our GLBT brethern in a tiny liberal seminary in suburb Phliadlephia — that this little “quirk” is now going mainstream.

In case the reasons aren’t yet obvious, here is why EVERYONE should use the word partner: No. 1: Because we should never ASSUME that the beloved a person is talking about is a member of the opposite sex. There’s just no reason why we have to speak in a way that constantly makes GLBT people feel like the “other.”

No. 2: In a world where legal marriage often says very little about the actual emotional reality of a relationship, designating whether any two people have legally signed a marriage document is beside the point. Why should that small legal fact alter the very language we use to describe the relationship between two people?

So let’s all just agree, here and now: Partner it is! For the good ol’ tried and true “husbands” and “wives” of yesteryore — we thank you for your years of stalwart service.

Now, if you would so kindly retire yourselves to the rafters, we have a world to transform!

 

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118b1da2d9a6c0d2fa61a19bbc348d4a--the-map-ancient-egyptRecently I heard about a fascinating community of Hebrews who lived on a small island in southern Egypt around the years 495–399 BCE.

They are a tremendously important community to anyone interested in early Israelite history because of how much we have been able to learn about the inner-workings of their society, their legal codes, and their Jewish practices, thanks to the near-perfect preservation of thousands of papyrii written in Aramaic, buried when the community was wiped out, and slowly unearthed over the last century.

The presence of the community is also narrative-shattering for Jewish historians because of the fact the Hebrews there unabashedly built a temple to YHVH in a time when building any place of worship for the Hebrew god outside of Jerusalem was utterly forbidden (think of the angry admonitions by Ezra and Nehemiah—same time period).

I began reading a great scholarly book on the topic The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD and then bee-lined for Youtube hoping to find a video that might show pictures of everything I was reading. That is how I found one lone video on the topic, produced by a British video company NWTV. They pride themselves in being the first “free-to-view TV channel online”.

I must say, however, that I was quite dismayed by the casual anti-semitism and sexism of the narrator, who never identifies himself. Suffice it to say, he’s basically the kind of old white man who that gives all the decent white men of the world a bad name.

Oh Those Stiff-Necked Jews

First, our narrator  describes the destruction of the Jewish temple in Elephantine by their Egyptian neighbors with the remark, oh those “Jews often have a knack of upsetting people.” (9:20) “The Jews here at Elephantine also made themselves unpopular with their fellow mercenaries.”

At the time these events took place, around 500 BCE, there had been a fraction of the anti-Judaism that would later flourish around the world. So to suggest this is just another case of Jewish victimization is historically completely incoherent.

But what is worse is this: If the narrator were to do even the most cursory scholarly research, he would discover that there are three very simple explanations for why these two particular groups got into conflict—and none of them have to do with any notion of “pesky” Jews reigning destruction on themselves.

No 1: The act of a majority group rising up against the minority group living among them is found in every corner of every country in the world for all of human history. It is truly endemic.

Human beings are profoundly xenophobic; even today, hundreds of years after the Enlightenment and the birth of DNA and genetic science and the scientific understanding that all human beings are interchangeably the same, we humans are still killing, marginalizing, or demonizing the “other” among us, every chance we get. (Anyone care to notice what happened in the US presidential election in 2016!?!?)

The Bible is filled with stories of one group sacking another group—oftentimes it even being the Israelites doing the sacking. That’s what human societies do. Is it so hard to imagine why, for various political reasons, the Egyptians might suddenly turn on the tiny minority living among them? Of course it isn’t.

No. 2: In the case of these two groups—the Egyptians and the Israelites—there are particularly simple explanations for the enmity.

bible-archeology-Elephantine-Egyptian-papyrus-letters-Bagohi-governor-Judea-Sanballat-governor-Samaria-Delaiah-Shelemiah-Arsames-Vidranga-rebuild-YHWH-temple-site-plan-536-410BCAt the time of the temple’s destruction, the entire region was ruled by the massive Persian empire; southern Egypt was the outer-most region of its empire. We don’t have any records of what brought the Israelites to the region initially—they were probably the poor remnants who had been left behind when Babylonia sacked the Jerusalem Temple and carted the intelligentsia off to Babylon. Rather than live under severe oppression, the survivors probably fled south.

But whatever the reason for their initial migration, what we do know is that their main purpose in Elphantine was as mercenaries—hired militiamen living in a military garrison alongside their wives and children, hired to defend Persia’s rule.

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The Egyptians’ Khnun Temple.

The two communities co-existed peacefully for 200 years. In time, however, Persia’s power began to wane, and Egyptian nationalism and desire for self-independence began to blossom. The Israelites were then perceived as just a “tool”—hired guns helping prop up an occupying force. Is it really any surprise, then, that the Egyptians would turn their swords against the Israelites – the hired army that was keeping them from self-independence?

Put another way: What else could the Egyptians have done, in light of these new desires? Kindly ask them to quit their jobs and just leave!?

Then there is an important No. 3: The main form of Israelite worship and practice at the time was to sacrifice animals, mostly bulls, which, in a terrible coincidence was the same animal their Egyptian neighbors revered as gods!

The book The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD explains it like this:

“It wasn’t as if the Jewish rites were easily ignored. There would have been constant activity from within the walls of its compound: smoke, blood, chants. And as if angrily elbowing their irreverent neighbors, the priests of Khnum [the Egyptian temple right next door] were expanding their own premises, pressing against the narrow boundary separating the two ritual houses …

At some point the priests of Khnum mobilized resentment against the Jewish troop as the hirelings of the Persians to be rid of their temple, if not of their soldiers and families. They compelled the “wicked’ commander of the island to act …”

Yet our narrator ignores all of this. Instead of pointing out how this was yet one more example of religious leaders using their faith as an instrument of terror, to grab land and resources from another group, instead he would have the audience believe this is just another case of those stiff-necked Hebrews pissing everybody off!

Khnoum temple

Because the settlement was so swiftly destroyed, the archives left behind have been a treasure trove for historians, much like the Cairo genizah.

The question of why Jews have been so maligned and targeted for so long in Western civilization is certainly a valid one—but it is one that is incredibly complex. Scholars have devoted many full-length books to the topic. To reduce such a complex question to little more than a victim-blaming statement akin to “Oh, those Jews are so good at making others hate them!” – well, it is flat-out grotesque.

It’s even more obscene given that the bulk of the real answer to that question rests with the scriptures that Christianity and Islam revere. For the narrator – a man I can only presume is a believing Chrisitian—to point the finger at the victims rather than his own church’s scripture and institutions—well, its gross. And inexcuseable.

“Oh What A G-I-R-L”

Given that bigotry usually goes hand-in-hand with other types of prejudice, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to hear what this jackass would then have to say about women. But alas, I was unprepared for his next verbal bombshell …

When speaking about the ability of Elephantine’s Hebrew women to divorce their husbands—a concept pretty novel for the Ancient Near East and not something their sisters over in Palestine could do—this anecdote is relayed with both dismissiveness and contempt. (22:20)

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The rocks lining the Nile look a bit like elephants, hence the modern name of the island.

With a smirk on his face, the narrator recounts the case of one woman, Mitbahiah, who is reported to have married three times, making the snide remark that she “must have been quite some girl!” (22:37) Oh what a nightmare she must have been to go through so many men! he implies. (And a “girl” not a “woman” no less.)

Well Herr Jackass, Mitbahiah is also written about in the above-cited book and you have your facts wrong. Yes, she married three times, but she divorced once, not twice. Her first husband died. It was only her 2nd husband she divorced, thus leading to a 3rd marriage (the documents of which were found among the Elephantine papyrii.)

But even if she had divorced twice, what of it?! Is it so hard to imagine that a person could make a bad choice in marriage more than once?! That never happens with women who grow up in abusive households especially, right … the pattern of being abused as a child, so then you get into a series of abusive marriages as an adult. Who has ever heard of that phenomenon, right!? (And yes dude, that is SARCASM.)

The point is: Would you have EVER made such a snide remark about a man who is recorded as having divorced twice?

Of course you wouldn’t.

It’s a completely sexist double standard.

51BHqWS7Y1L._AC_US218_(Oh and one more thing: The name of the Hebrew month isn’t Chisleu—it’s Kislev. Given you English-ized all the other words from Aramaic, I can only imagine leaving the Aramaic name for the month was an editing error).

The saddest part of this video is not that the narrator alone could be so pig-headed to make remarks like these—it’s all the script writers and editors who processed this film and did nothing about it along the way. How many people went through the process of making the film and thought nothing of these bigoted statements?

I don’t know when this video was made, but it was uploaded only 2 years ago, and by NWTV itself, so it’s a reasonable guess it was made around 2016. If this were made in the ’60s, heck even the ’80s, it would be too unremarkable to warrant comment. But it wasn’t. Not even close.

Dear NWTV: You folks really need to join the 21st century. Take a serious look at your implicit biases and prejudice, because they destroy whatever credibility you might otherwise have.

Dear Readers: Run out and buy Schama’s book today. It’s a wonderful, exciting read!

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Okay, okay, I admit, the headline is a little misleading. I haven’t found out a way to bring an actual bona fide cartoon into a wedding ceremony. But I can think of few humorous ways to bring cartoon humor into the wedding program!

How about adding some of these classic funnies onto your program? Credit due to The New Yorker magazine — of course.

 

wedding cartoon eye dew_cropgay marriage

 

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Now, an artist has posthumously given Sendak the wedding he never had. Gay marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania in fall 2015.

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Maurice Sendak lived with his partner psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years, though he never told his parents that they were a couple. Artist Ella German chose to posthumously give them the wedding they never had. What a lovely tribute to man who still makes children (and their parents) happy!

Born to Jewish-Polish parents, Maurice’s childhood was affected by the death of many of his family members during the Holocaust. Besides Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There.

Sendak described his childhood as a “terrible situation” due to the death of members of his extended family, which exposed him at a young age to the concept of mortality. His love of books began when, as a child, he developed health problems and was confined to his bed. He decided to become an illustrator after watching Walt Disney‘s film Fantasia at the age of 12. He spent much of the 1950s illustrating children’s books written by others before beginning to write his own stories.

Sendak mentioned in a September 2008 article in The New York Times that he was gay and had lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn’s death in May 2007. Revealing that he never told his parents, he said, “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.”[17]

Sendak’s relationship with Glynn had been mentioned by other writers before and Glynn’s 2007 death notice had identified Sendak as his “partner of 50 years.” After his partner’s death, Sendak donated $1 million to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in memory of Glynn who had treated young people there.

Sendak was an atheist. In a 2011 interview, he stated that he did not believe in God and explained that he felt that religion, and belief in God, “must have made life much easier [for some religious friends of his]. It’s harder for us nonbelievers,” he said.

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From ‘Einstein,‘ by Walter Isaacson, read by Edward Hermann

(buyable on Amazon Audible. Five stars!)

Albert Einstein bristled at all forms of tyranny over free minds, from Nazism to Stalinism to McCarthyism. Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity. The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit, he said, requires a freedom that exists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice. Nurturing that should be the fundamental role of government he felt, and the mission of education.

There was a simple set of formulas that defined Einstein’s outlook. Creativity required being willing not to conform; that required nurturing free minds and free spirits, which in turn required a spirit of tolerance. And the underpinning of tolerance was humility — the belief that no one had the right to impose ideas and beliefs on others.

The world has seen a lot of imputant geniuses. What made Einstein special was that his mind and soul was tempered by his humility. He could be serenely self-confident in his lonely course, yet also awed by the beauty of nature’s handiwork. “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble,” he wrote. In this way, the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort.

For some people, miracles serve as evidence of god’s existence. For Einstein, it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence.

“The fact that the cosmos is comprehensible, that it follows laws, is worthy of awe. This is the dalbert_einsteinefining quality of a God that reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.”

Einstein considered this feeling of reference, this cosmic religion, to be the wellspring of all true art and science. It was what guided him. “When I am judging a theory,” he said, “I ask myself whether ‘If I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way?’ ” It is also what graced him with his beautiful mix of confidence and awe.

He was a loner, with an intimate bond to humanity. A rebel who was suffesed with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.”

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Rachel and Jacob meet at the well.

Rachel and Jacob meet at the well.

When Rachel met Jacob at the edge of the well,
in that moment of their salty union,
did she divine that like the well,
there would now be no bottom to her pain?
The love.
The hate.
The separation each fortnight like the shearing of a lamb? The sons that would grasp and clamp in terror as they slid down her womb, leaving her gait forever off-kilter; like a clay plate that the Cosmic Potter could never again make lie flat.

Oh Potter of my youth; I think you forgot to warn me about the pain.
Remember? That last time we were together in the back seat of that yellow Buick LeSabre, turned brown by all those years of dangling children and muddy soccer cleats? That was the last time my soul still imagined it knew where to find you.

But your salty lips, too, stayed silent. Of course you could not have warned me. Losing my dream of you was the last act, and then, the grand entrance, to adulthood.

The heart is weak.
It can lose but one sweet fantasy at a time,
lest it break completely.

 

+ genesis 29

 

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