Category Archives: Judaica

Books and movies of interest to the Jewish community

“Apeirogon: A Novel” by Colum McCann–Love, Loss, Conflict and Life and a Plea for Peace

McCann, Colum. , Random House, 2020.

Love, Loss, Conflict and Life and a Plea for Peace

Amos Lassen

An apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. It is also the name of Colum McCann’s new novel about  those living through the conflict between Palestine and Israel as told through two families whose outlooks and lives were changed when the lives of their two daughters were taken. It all began on a regular kind of day but ended with two families dealing with the grief of loss. Through sharing their stories of the loss of their daughters, they were more able to see the infinite sides to each other’s story and this led which led then to understanding and a friendship. 

The novel is based on the lives of real people, Rami Elhanan, an Israeli and his daughter, Smadar, and Bassam Aramin,  a Palestinian and his daughter, Abir. When Abir was ten years old, a rubber bullet ended her life. Smadar was thirteen. The focus here is on their fathers, how they met, and how they helped each other find some degree of peace.

Moving back and forth through time and memories, we get the story of the characters. These memories and stories differ in length and some of them come with photographs and some have few words; some are political while others offer varying perspectives. We get a view of the ways these lives were personally affected and that the journey here lead to a  beginning of a sense of personal peace. The reader gains a broader view of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Rami Elhanan had served his obligatory military term as a youth. His service had been during wartime when he had to shoot to kill. Now he just wanted to live a regular life –working at his career in graphic design and enjoy his home with his wife and four children. But that was not to be.  In 1997, Rami’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber as she was walking in Jerusalem with a friend. Rami’s initially felt hatred and wanted revenge. He remained like this for a year until a rabbi invited Rami to the Parent’s Circle (a support group for both Israeli and Palestinian parents who had lost children). Rami went reluctantly and there he first saw a Palestinian woman holding a photograph of her dead daughter. He realized that his was the first time in his life he had thought of an individual Palestinian person as a fellow human being. As he dealt with his hatred and vengeance, it disappeared and he eventually sought out the organization, Combatants for Peace, where he would meet Bassam Aramin; a Palestinian man who would teach Rami what life is like in Occupied Palestine.

Bassam grew up on the West Bank  that was controlled by Israeli security forces. The area was subject to house raids, humiliating checkpoints, and armed soldiers on patrol. Bassam and his friends liked to raise the Palestinian flag at their school even though it was outlawed and when soldiers would come to take it down, they would throw rocks and run away. As a teen, Bassam and his friends found some grenades, and threw them at a convoy causing him to be labelled as a  terrorist and sentenced to prison for seven years when he was just seventeen. In prison, Bassam became quite radical, but while watching a documentary on the Holocaust, he found himself thinking of the Jewish people as fellow human beings for the first time in his life. When released from prison, he  cofounded Combatants for Peace, and two years after meeting Rami for the first time, Bassam also became a member of an organization that no one wants to join, the Parents Circle,  when his own ten-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of the skull with a rubber bullet that was fired by an eighteen-year-old Israeli soldier from the back of an armored jeep while Abir was buying candy for herself and her sister. The two fathers, Rami and Bassam, suddenly became Joined forever in grief. Now they meet meet times a week and are as close as brothers.

Writer McCann goes into the struggles of two fathers left mourning their young daughters who are determined to prevent these tragedies from happening again and again and again… The depiction of violence here is explicit and without compassion. The stories are complex but the reward for reading this is great— a better understanding of what is going on in the Middle East.

Even though Rami and Bassam had been raised to hate one another,  when they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss it connects them. Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict. McCann met the real Bassam and Rami on a trip with the non-profit organization Narrative 4 and he was moved by their willingness to share their stories with the world. They felt that if through their hope they could see themselves in one another, perhaps others could the same.
 
With their blessing, McCann began to write and uses real-life stories to begin another story— one that “crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. The result is an ambitious novel, crafted out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, with these fathers’ moving story at its heart.”

Over the course of the day, these two men’s lives intertwine as they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace. Through telling the men’s stories via short vignettes, McCann goes from the present to the past, sharing the lives of these men, the lives of their daughters, and their experiences.  McCann writes with emotional accuracy, sensitivity and beauty. I often laughed and wept on the same page.

“The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus (Hebrew and English Edition)”by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks— Innovative and Refreshing

Sacks, Jonathan. “The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus (Hebrew and English Edition)”, Koren Publishers, , 2020.

Innovative and Refreshing

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brings us a new, innovative and refreshing approach to the Hebrew Bible. He brings findings by modern scholars on the ancient Near East with the original Hebrew text and a brand new English translation together in “The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel”. The commentary clarifies and explains the Biblical narrative, laws, events and prophecies in context with the milieu in which it took place. 

This is the first in a multi-volume series and it is dedicated to the book of Shmeat (Exodus). We get wonderful visuals of ancient civilizations including artifacts, archeological excavations, inscriptions and maps, brief articles on Egyptology, geography, biblical botany, language, geography, and more. Much of this material has been unknown to earlier generations of Torah scholars.

In order to use this volume to best advantage, one needs to have the context in which it all came together and thus means understanding the realities of the time, including social and political realms and how they worked in Egypt.

Editor in chief David Arnovitz’s work here is extraordinary in that we see the stories in the context of the milieu in which they took place. The commentary explores and explains the Egyptian context of the stories and narratives here.

Ten academic contributors with expertise in Egyptology, Assyriology, plants, animals, geology, ancient near east, tabernacle, and priestly garments Biblical scholarship and Biblical Israel are found here and “explanations based on the following eight categories: archeology, near east, language, flora, and fauna, Egyptology, Mishkan, Geography, and halakha.” With these we gain a much deeper and meaningful understanding of what was happening in ancient Egypt.
We see that many of the Torah’s laws revolutionized concepts of workers’ rights, slaves’ rights, care for the poor and resident alien, women’s rights and so much more.

While there is a lot here, we still do not have all the answers we might want. We have no evidence from Egypt nor from Sinai as to whether that Israelites actually were part of an exodus in the desert. We do, however, have several possible explanations for the reasons for not having evidence.

The book reveals a lot, but there is still is a lot to be answered. As with all that, there is still no direct evidence from within Egypt, or in the Sinai peninsula that testifies to an Israelite sojourn in the desert. The editor’s note several plausible explanations for the lack of evidence. What we really see here is that the Book of Exodus is both radical and revolutionary. The translation here follows what Maimonides said to his translator of “Guide of the Perplexed” into Hebrew. This is not a word for word translation because what seems fine in one language does not always make sense in another language. By inserting the intent, this is easier to understand.

 The commentary is quite extensive and provided by highly respected Modern Orthodox rabbis. It is rational and contains and many comments and essays on ancient Egypt and other Near Eastern countries. We learn why the numbers used in Scripture must be understood metaphorically. We have histories and customs of surrounding nations and “maps, charts, timelines, dates, articles on language, Egyptology, the plagues, the Ten Commandments, what is the Masoretic Text, comparing the Torah to ancient Near East law collections, geography, biblical botany, pictures of the Tabernacle and items used during its service, and detailed discussions on subjects such as an introduction to the book of Exodus, archaeology items found in and near Israel such as the Mesha Stone, the story of the Golden Calf, the power of ancient covenants, the idea of a seven-day week with a day of rest being introduced by the Bible, and the purpose of the tabernacle with detailed pictures.”

“The Passover Mouse” by Joy Nelkin Wieder, illustrated by Shahar Kober— Kindness, Community, Tradition and Forgiveness

Wieder, Joy Nelkin. The Passover Mouse”, illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2020.

Kindness, Community, Tradition and Forgiveness

Amos Lassen

A little mouse disrupts a town’s preparations for Passover when it steals a piece of leavened bread—just as all the houses have been swept clean in time for the holiday. On the morning before the start of Passover, the villagers have swept their homes clean of leavening, one of the traditions of the holiday when a small mouse steals a piece of bread and runs through the town, ruining the hard work done by everyone. It seems that the townsfolk will never be ready on time for their Seder but what the little mouse has done is to bring them all together to work as a group to save the holiday. 

This is a beautiful rendering of a  story based upon one of the tales in the Talmud and it is all about community and friendship. The prose with its refrain, “A mouse! A mouse! Brought bread into our house!”—and the wonderful illustrations by  Shahar Kober assure that this will become a children’s Passover classic.  Not only is it a fun and creative read, it opens the Talmud to children at a young age and focuses on Jewish tradition as it  highlights community and cooperation. While “The Passover Mouse” is a Jewish story, it is a wonderful way for children of all religions to learn about Seder and the many traditions and details associated with before Passover.

.As the widow Rivka works hard to clean up her house in preparation for Passover, piling up the bread that is still in her kitchen, a little white mouse sneaks in and grabs a piece of bread. There is no way for the people of the village to know if the mouse didn’t bring the bread into their house. It becomes even more complicated when a black mouse runs out of one of the houses with a piece of bread in its mouth. Then a cat runs out of another house and it has a piece of bread in its mouth. The villagers go the town’s rabbi to find out what to do. The rabbi tells them that these houses must be searched for chometz (leavening) once again. Passover is about to begin and suddenly there is more work to be done. The villagers soon realize that when help ing one another, this is not something that is easy to do and we see that working together is the only way.

 In the Author’s note, we get an explanation of the Talmudic debate about a  possible situation when a mouse brings chometz into a clean house. This debate remains undecided toddy. A glossary gives us definitions and the correct pronunciation of the terms is the story.

 

“The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Ethical Life” edited by Barry H. Block— Analyzing the Parshot

Block, Barry H., editor. “The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Ethical Life”,  Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2019.

Analyzing the Parshot

Amos Lassen

This Mussar-based commentary is an important resource for Torah study. It provides a thoughtful analysis of each reading of the 54 week Torah cycle. Each essay in this anthology brings a portion into juxtaposition with one of the character traits as described within the Jewish school of ethics known as Mussar), giving an applied lens of teachings that allow us to go deeper into the Torah and the middot with mindfulness and intention.

The authors featured here regularly engage in both Mussar study and practice and they provide a valuable means to deepen their exploration of the middot that are part of each weekly Torah portion. For those who are new to Mussar, this is a helpful informative introduction and helpful guide to the middot and the literature of Mussar. For all those who are already involved in Torah study, this commentary adds to the resources that are commonly used and  shed new meanings the Torah.

As a whole, the book  gives structure to explore the Torah in a new and fresh and lets us bring Torah into daily life. Our study of Torah usually sees the Torah in one dimensional  as the story of the Jewish people and from it we learn the responsibility to God, the Jewish community and the larger world. With Mussar commentary we can see the text as not only as our people’s story, but also as each of our personal story. Each weekly portion can therefore guide our own spiritual and moral growth. The essays here explore the personal qualities that are our aspirations and by we build lives that are filled with meaning and beauty.

 

 

“How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish” by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert— Influences and Inspirations

Stavans, Ilan and Josh Lambert. “How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish”, Restless Books, 2020.

Influences and Inspirations

Amos Lassen

I think that most of us are aware of the contributions the Yiddish language and culture to American life—just think bagels, delis and brisket. Yiddish voices in America have been “radical, dangerous, and seductive, but also sweet, generous, and full of life”. Award-winning authors and scholars Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert have collected these voices in their new anthology “How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish” from Restless Press.

Yiddish is a language that has no country yet it has influenced this country tremendously. “Is it possible to conceive of the American diet without bagels? Or Star Trek without Mr. Spock? Are the creatures in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are based on Holocaust survivors? And how has Yiddish, a language without a country, influenced Hollywood?”

We look at these and other questions in this wonderful collection of essays.  We learn that the influence of Yiddish begins with the arrival of Ashkenazi immigrants to New York City’s Lower East Side and  then we follow Yiddish in Hollywood, on Broadway and in literature, politics, and resistance. Cuisine, language, popular culture, and even Yiddish in the other places of the world are  examined. Aside from essays, the book includes memoir, song, letters, poems, recipes, cartoons, conversations, and much more. Among the authors are Nobel Prize–winner Isaac Bashevis Singer and luminaries such as Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Grade, Michael Chabon, Abraham Cahan, Sophie Tucker, Blume Lempel, Irving Howe, Paula Vogel, and Liana Finck. 

Here are personal stories of assimilation and stories of people from a diverse variety of backgrounds, Jewish and not, who have made the language their own and that it is a language “full of zest, dignity, and tremendous humanity.” Yiddish is not an endangered language; it is more vibrant than ever.

“Yiddish is so deeply woven into the fabric of the United States that it can sometimes be difficult to recognize how much it has transformed the world we live in today.”

Some of what you will find here includes ““Oedipus in Brooklyn”, a story by Blume Lempel (1907-1999) that begins with the line, ‘Sylvia was no Jocasta.’ Emma Goldman (1869-1940) [who] writes fiercely about marriage, which she compares to an ‘iron yoke.’ There is a poem about Coney Island [in which] Victor Packer (1897-1958) writes, ‘Beauty and crudity / Go hand in hand and / Launch a united front / Right there are on the sand.’ [Cynthia] Ozick (b. 1928) compares Sholem Aleichem to Dickens, Twain, and Will Rogers. ‘He was a popular presence, and stupendously so. His lectures and readings were mobbed; he was a household friend; he was cherished as a family valuable.’”

This is the story the “epic survival story of a singular culture, requiring no foreknowledge of Yiddish”.  The editors provide portions of some of the major works of Yiddish literature, poetry, comics, and political thought as well as a chapter on culinary offerings with some recipes included. There is a chapter about the influence of Yiddish in Canada, Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, and Columbia, that gives us a peek at “Yiddishkeit outside Eurocentric views”. It is impossible not to love this anthology and not to respect its contributions to  Yiddish culture, Jewish history, and linguistics.

 

 

“All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen” by Bernice Lerner— Fighting for Life

Lerner, Bernice. “All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen”, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020.

Fighting for Life

Amos Lassen

Rachel Genuth, a poor Jewish teenager from the Hungarian provinces, and Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughes, a high-ranking military doctor in the British Second Army, meet in Bergen-Belsen, where she fights for her life and the doctor struggles to save thousands on the brink of death.

On April 15, 1945, Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes entered Bergen-Belsen for the first time. What he found were 10,000 unburied, putrefying corpses and 60,000 living prisoners who were starving and sick. One month earlier, 15-year-old Rachel Genuth came to Bergen-Belsen; with her family from Sighet, Transylvania, In May of 1944, Rachel had by then already endured Auschwitz, the Christianstadt labor camp, and a forced march through the Sudetenland. Bernice Lerner’s “All the Horrors of War” follows both Hughes and Genuth as they move across Europe toward Bergen-Belsen in the brutal last year of World War II. 

The book begins at the end with Hughes’s testimony at the September 1945 trial of Josef Kramer, commandant of Bergen-Belsen, along with forty-four SS (Schutzstaffel) members and guards. “I have been a doctor for thirty years and seen all the horrors of war,” Hughes said that he had been a doctor for thirty years and has never seen anything like what he saw at Bergen-Belsen. We  then go back to the spring of 1944 and follow both Hughes and Rachel as they deal with their respective forms of wartime hell until they are forced to confront the worst which included Christianstadt’s prisoners, including Rachel, are deposited in Bergen-Belsen, and the British Second Army, having finally gained control of ghastly camp after a negotiated surrender. Though they never met, it was Hughes’s commitment to helping as many prisoners as possible that saved Rachel’s life. 

Using many sources, including Hughes’s papers, war diaries, oral histories, and interviews unites scholarly research with narrative storytelling to disturb the suffering of Nazi victims, the horrible presence of death at Bergen-Belsen, and characters who represent and symbolize the human capacity for fortitude. Lerner who is Rachel’s daughter, has special insight into what her mother suffered. This is first book to bring together the story of a Holocaust victim and a liberator allowing us to see the complex humanity of both.

We feel the traumatization of the liberator as well as that of the survivor in two fascinating and original stories.  

Lerner humanizes an event that is often described only from one perspective: either that of the liberators, “for whom the survivors were often dehumanized ‘living skeletons’ because of their deplorable living conditions”, or that of the survivors, “for whom the liberators were angels of mercy descended from heaven after months and years of utter dehumanization by their tormentors.”

The narrative takes us into the depths alongside its central characters and gives us the strength of their respective forms of courage and generosity that allows us to rise from it. The research is staggering.

We see how luck, courage, and factors outside her mother’s control allowed Rachel to survive. The story of two people who never met is Lerner’s way of documenting  “the ways World War II made allies of strangers and transformed forever the lives of those caught in the maelstrom.”

 

“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”— Meet Yiscah Smith

“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”

Meet Yiscah Smith

Amos Lassen

·Yiscah Smith was living as an ultra-Orthodox married man with six children and deep ties in the community before coming out as a gay man and leaving Israel. Once she was back in the United States, Yiscah come out as trans, underwent gender transition and took her current name. It took twenty years for Yiscah to return to Israel, where she became a religious educator and spiritual mentor. The film shows her incredible journey to self-acceptance, compassion, and, finally, to her home in Israel. It alternates between past and present, where she helps clients on their own paths of awareness and self-discovery.

This is probably one of the most intriguing transition stories we have ever seen.  Born in a devout Observant Jewish family in Brooklyn as Yakov Smith, he was picked on and bullied for being effeminate.  As he grew into a teenager and young man, he became increasing desperate to fit in with society.

By the time the he was 24 in 1971, he was  totally immersed in the Chabad Hasidic movement in Brooklyn, and was then married an Orthodox woman. They had three sons and three daughters, and in 1985 they decided  to immigrate to Israel.

Where Smith taught at a synagogue in Jerusalem, he was considered a rising star and was made chairman in the Chabad house where he was in charge of Shabbat and entertained guests from around the globe. Everything seemed great on the outside but all the while, Smith did not questioning their own identity.  But after a Shabbat dinner, a guest drew Smith to aside and told him that he could see through his act.

This is what brought Smith to take s good look at life and he decided to come out as gay with the result that  his wife started divorce proceedings.  This also led to Smith being fired and shunned by his community. This eventually caused him to return to New York alone.

In New York, Smith  led a secular life and ending up in California, working at Starbucks and living with a boyfriend.  The relationship ended when the boyfriend said that Smith was too much like a woman. This was an important moment.

Becoming Yiscah Smith did not men just undergoing gender reassignment surgery but also finding her faith again and  coming back to Orthodox Judaism. After having a brief relationship with a man from Texas man and coming to terms with her estranged mother, Smith returned to re-settle in Israel and has been successful as an educator, spiritual advisor  and speaker in the “post-denominational Jewish experience.  She is confident and happy and even while knowing and reluctantly accepting that only 2 of her 6 children will speak with her and then, occasionally.  We see Smith as a woman who usually overthinks things and some of her decisions are still surprising.

She does not  accept that she is a trans woman and demands that she has always been a straight woman who is attracted to men.  She firmly believes this and when questioned about she is quick to dismisses her involvement with any transgender community. With Smith, the real transition is finding her way back to Judaism and her religion is the one and only identity that accepts her with unquestioning faith.

“I Was Not Born A Mistake” is the directorial debut of Israeli filmmakers Eyal Ben Moshe and Rachel Rusinek. I would have liked a few more interviews/comments from people who had shared parts of Smith’s life.  Nonetheless, this is an important film that makes valuable contributions to the dialogue about the transgender community.

“Pavel and the Tree Army” by Heidi Smith Hyde, illustrated by Elisa Vanvouri— A Personal Journey

Hyde, Heidi Smith. “Pavel and the Tree Army”, illustrated by Elisa Vavouri,  Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019.

A Personal Journey

Amos Lassen

In “Pavel and the Tree Army”, Heidi Smith Hyde introduces us to Pavel, a Russian-Jewish immigrant to America who is intent on finding his way in his new home. He becomes very excited when his rabbi tells him that the Civilian Conservation Corps, a new program established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is hiring young people. The Corps teaches him how to plant trees, build dams, and take care of the land, things that all good Americans should be interested in. Pavel was interested in bringing together his new home and his religion and looks to his rabbi as a mentor. We can how really hurt he is when there are those who feel that he does not belong in the Corps as an immigrant. He becomes more determined to become an American and not have to deal with the prejudices of others.

To be a member of the Corps means that Pavel will have to leave his new home of New York City and this worries him a bit. Arriving in Idaho, everything seems strange until he meets Anatoly, another Russian immigrant who shows him friendship and comfort. Anatoly assures Pavel that they will learn how to plant trees, build dams and become good Americans. But then another member of the Corps says that to be a good American, it is necessary to learn the words to the country’s national anthem (and we all know that are some very difficult words and strange structure in it). Learning the anthem becomes very important to the boys and, in fact, learning it becomes an important goal they want to reach. Learn it, they do along with other immigrants in the Corps and proudly sing it at the Fourth of July picnic. Pavel’s sergeant shares wisdom by comparing Pavel and his friends to planting trees. He tells him that the young trees they planted are like immigrants: new to the land but they will grow roots and become part of the and land in which they have been planted. ‘It will take time for the saplings you planted to take root, but they are now part of this land.

The illustrations by Elisa Vavouri are wonderful and through them we get to know Pavel. They are rich in color and it is obvious that a great deal of thought when into depicting the immigration experience.

I so identified with Pavel having left this country to begin a new life in Israel and remember that first year when I saw myself as an Israeli and coping with a way of life that I had been far removed from. Just speaking a language that was not yet my own was terrifying and having been an American pacifist, I was part of an ongoing war and facing military service. The fact that immigrants were separated at first from Israelis for army duty (at first) heightened mt feelings of alienation and made me question my decision to move to Israel. But, I also soon had roots and could not imagine being anywhere else. Reading of Pavel singing the anthem brought back memories of the first time I sang Hatikvah in Israel and the tears that flowed with that experience.

Pavel’s wondering how he can prove that he is just as American as his co-workers in the Corps is the major theme of the book. Learning “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the catalyst that brings Pavel to be a true American. We see how Pavel’s work “allows him to feel rooted in his new country just as his plantings grow and thrive in today’s national parks and forests.” What a great way to stress what American can be to those who come here. I love that Heidi Smith Hyde’s story and Elisa Vavouri’s illustrations give us the sense of how just one person can encourage many to build a community and how we can connect with each other.

 

“Tarot and the Gates of Light: A Kabbalistic Path to Liberation” by Mark Horn— Integrating the Tarot and Kabbalah

Horn, Mark. “Tarot and the Gates of Light: A Kabbalistic Path to Liberation”, Destiny Books, 2020.

Integrating the Tarot and Kabbalah

Amos Lassen

Mark Horn’s “Tarot and the Gates of Light: A Kabbalistic Path to Liberation” is an innovative, spiritual workbook that integrates the Tarot and the Kabbalistic tradition of Counting the Omer. In it we explore the origins and meaning of the 49-day Kabbalistic meditative practice of Counting the Omer and how it can lead to spiritual revelation, personal insight, and connection with the Divine. Horn reveals the correspondence of the Tarot’s minor arcana with the Sephirot of the Tree of Life and explains how both relate to the Omer meditation. We gain a daily practice workbook that explores the related Sephirot and Tarot cards for each day, examines their Kabbalistic and spiritual meanings, and provides questions for daily reflection and meditation guidance

The 49-day mystical practice known as Counting the Omer is an ancient Jewish ritual observed between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot (also known as Pentecost). As practiced by Kabbalists, it is meant to cleanse and purify the soul in preparation for spiritual revelation and a personal connection with God. The ritual takes us on a spiritual inner journey that follows the path of the ancient Israelites from their physical freedom from slavery in Egypt to the establishment of their spiritual freedom forty-nine days later when they arrived at Mt. Sinai.

By integrating this mystical practice with the transformative symbolism of the Tarot, Mark Horn uses the ritual of Counting the Omer as a template for a guided meditative practice that gives readers insight into their personal life journey and help in overcoming the issues that hinder their growth and spiritual awakening. He examines the correspondence of the Tarot’s minor arcana with the Sephirot of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and shows how using the cards in connection with Counting the Omer can unlock a deep experience of the sacred. In the detailed daily practice workbook section, Horn gives a day-by-day description of the 49-day meditative practice of Counting the Omer. He divides the journey into seven week-long segments, which are broken down into seven daily practices. For each day, he explains the related Sephirot and Tarot cards and their Kabbalistic and spiritual meanings, providing the reader with questions for daily reflection, guidance for meditation, and insight from traditional Jewish texts as well as teachings from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim traditions. By showing the relationship between Tarot and the Kabbalah, Horn gives readers how uniting these two practices can open them to a deeper experience of the Divine.

The book provides spiritual guidance in a very practical way. The Tree of Life is brought into real-world terms that make it truly relevant to spiritual pursuits. We gain easy access to the complex worlds of tarot and Kabbalah and a solid framework in the physical world from which to explore the things that cannot be put into words.

Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, the book is a bridge between Buddhist and Jewish mysticism. It is encoded with the power to add to and deepen any tarot practice. Horn applies language to a mystical technology for daily transformation. The book goes into linking traditional Jewish Kabbalistic ideas and, more importantly, practices, with Tarot this giving Tarot users a way into Jewish Kabbalah and the contemporary Jewish Renewal movement a way to give concrete form to some of the more abstract ideas about the Tree Of Life.  Horn is knowledgeable on the material of the Tarot, Jewish Kabbalah, and Rabbinic tradition of the meditative practice of the Counting of the Omer. His  examination of how to match up the suits of the Minor Arcana to the Four Worlds of the Kabbalah is genius and he gives it to us along with a deep and insightful examination of the card’s meaning as they related to using them to understand the sefra’s of the Sefiroth.

As a gay man, Horn found a complicated path back to Judaism. As he struggled, he found tarot and again, like so many of us who were self-disenfranchised, it brought him back into the world of his religion of birth through an esoteric back door. Whether you are interested in tarot or Kabbalism or both, what you will find spiritual guidance in a very practical form here. Horn brings The Tree of Life, into real-world terms that make it truly relevant to spiritual pursuits. By relating it to the tarot, things fall into place in a way that makes sense.

“THE GERMAN NEIGHBOR”— Observing Eichmann

 


“THE GERMAN NEIGHBOR”

Observing Eichmann

Amos Lassen

Six psychiatrists had certified that Eichmann was a “normal” man. But, can one of the biggest criminals look like a “normal man”? World history shows us yes; the little stories, the testimonies of everyday history, confirm it. Hannah Arendt postulates again and again how the normality of a man can subsume the most atrocious and stark, horrifying and criminal acts towards the human race:

In Eichmann’s case, was precisely that there were many men like him, and that these men were not perverted or sadistic, but were, and remain, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the point of view of our legal institutions and our moral criteria, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities together, because it implied that this new type of criminal.

The movie “The German Neighbor” shows this. It mixes history and fiction as we watch the daily life of a genocidal monstere. Under the pretext of the translation that a young woman, Renata Liebeskind is a translator for the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for the crimes perpetrated during the Nazi totalitarian system and through her part of the history of Eichmann is reconstructed, framed and related, in multiple ways. The plot of the film also draws a path to rebuild the identity of Renata herself. The times of the film story overlap with the different moments in history and alternate to show the greater future.

Responsible for the logistics of deportations to concentration camps, Adolf Eichmann became one of the main responsible for the catastrophe. He dared to present himself (and was convinced that he was) as a simple gear in the machinery of such a managed massacre ; According to him, “I only carried out orders.” After fleeing Germany, he found refuge in Argentina, where he lived between 1950 and 1960, the year in which he was captured by “Operation Garibaldi”. He adopted the name of Ricardo Klement here. Renata begins to enter these issues through the investigation of her stay in Buenos Aires and in a small town in the province of Tucumán. Philosophers, researchers and specialists in the subject are other figures that Renata uses to analyze part of the story. One of the great merits of his work (and that of the directors Rosario Cervio and Martin Liji) is the reconstruction of history through Eichmann’s neighbors in Argentina: it is about searching for the living word that allows composing, first hand and from everyday life, the essence of Eichmann, or Ricardo Klement.

The phrase repeats itself in the testimonies that the film gathers is, as Hannah Arendt said, is that “He was a good person.” This “double consciousness”, as the directors point out, is what reconstructs the film. Able to break the normality of human life, in the macabre border between the two spaces, we see Eichmann as a “normal man.”

Adolf Eichmann speaks this film. But of him and much more: of the history of the Nazi genocide on a global level, of the judgment, of the after such history on the individual level, of the facts of a daily life after the events of macrohistory, of the reconstruction of the stories — the testimonies, of the perceptions, of the language, of the memory, of the memory, of identity (s). It is impressive to see Eichmann in the images that the film recovers: to watch him declaring, to hear him speak at the trial as an ordinary man, taking the floor to defend himself from the indefensible. The film leads us to think about the ways of horror, memory, memory, identity, language, human conscience and subjectivity of the victimizer. This film let us see that narration and fiction are, as Arendt believed, one of the privileged ways of studying, investigating and questioning history.