breathing and the א of revelation

a Zoom-enabled meditation circle

Dur­ing this time of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic “shel­ter­ing at home” Cen­tral Syn­a­gogue in Man­hat­tan has been main­tain­ing a Zoom-medi­at­ed dai­ly med­i­ta­tion prac­tice.

A dai­ly call-in med­i­ta­tion prac­tice and a lit­tle Torah to help relieve stress and cen­ter the mind.

The prac­tice began on March 23 and has con­tin­ued every week­day (except for hol­i­days). Each ses­sion begins with a brief d’var Torah and uses a “mantra” asso­ci­at­ed with the d’var Torah’s thought. An archive of the record­ed ses­sions appears on Cen­tral’s Web site.

Because this was not an essay, but a ver­bal guid­ed med­i­ta­tion, here’s a link to the record­ing at Sound­Cloud.

As she was due for a well-deserved vaca­tion, R. Buch­dahl invit­ed a few mem­bers of the cir­cle to sub­sti­tute for her. My ses­sion occurred Thurs­day, May 21, 2020 on the 42nd day of the count­ing of the Omer. My remarks fol­low. The text is expand­ed to include linked ideas and images (that could­n’t be expressed through the Zoom call).

As peo­ple arrived on the call, a tiny frag­ment of Mor­ton Feld­man’s String Quar­tet 2 played in the back­ground. (I know that is extreme­ly unfair to Feld­man.)

Good morning בוקר טוב.

I, Mark Hurvitz, am hon­ored and hum­bled to be our guide this morn­ing. Please find a com­fort­able seat­ed or reclin­ing posi­tion as we begin our explo­ration.

We focus a good deal on our breath in this expand­ing cir­cle. I invite you to join me as we trav­el through texts, times and ter­ri­to­ries. Today I want to exam­ine our breath using four Hebrew let­ters as expressed in three clas­sic texts.

The let­ters are very soft, near­ly silent con­so­nants. Their sounds are: “ ’ ”, “ h’ ”, “ wuh ”, and “ yuh ”. The let­ters names are: י ו ה א  .

These are our breath­ing build­ing blocks.

While it’s the first let­ter of the Hebrew alpha­bet, we’ll save the א for last.

Feel free to close your eyes.

the first text

Con­sid­er the She­ma. Most of us are famil­iar with the She­ma. I’ll offer my own trans­la­tion to work from:

Pay atten­tion Israel, “[ Yuh H’ Wuh H’ ]” is our God, “[ Yuh H’ Wuh H’ ]” is One.

You’ll note that I breathed the four-let­ter name we use for God. I did so, in order for us to exam­ine that word/name a bit more close­ly. As you could hear, Its four let­ters are bare­ly con­so­nants; they are more like breath­ing sounds.

I was taught long ago (and pro­duced a sim­ple one-page PDF illus­trat­ing) that we can:

Visu­al­ize the ini­tial yod י. It is tiny, a speck, as though it rep­re­sents our bod­ies, our lungs, at the moment of com­plete exha­la­tion.

Then, the first heh ה opens and can rep­re­sent our bod­ies and lungs dur­ing an inhala­tion.

This is fol­lowed by a vav ו. It looks like a length­ened, expand­ed yod י and can rep­re­sent our bod­ies at the moment they are filled with breath.

And then, again, a heh ה rep­re­sents an exhala­tion.

This process repeats and con­tin­ues.

All liv­ing things breathe.

the second text

The very last line of the book of Psalms: Psalm 150:6:

כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה, תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ הַלְלוּ־יָהּ

…trans­lates par­tial­ly as:

Every נְּשָׁמָה prais­es God; Hal­lelu­jah!


Every spir­it prais­es God; All praise God!

We know that the word spir­it נְּשָׁמָה has the same root as the word for breath נְשִׁימָה. You can hear the sim­i­lar­i­ty.

And, so, with the appro­pri­ate aware­ness we can reread the Psalm as say­ing:

Every breath­ing thing con­tin­u­ous­ly speaks (“med­i­tates on/praises”) God’s name. Praise God!

expanding our awareness

Each of our cells lives, breathes, dies and is replaced by new­ly gen­er­at­ed cells.

Our cells each come to their end. I am finite; we are finite. At some time I and each of us will stop breath­ing. Indeed, as my friend Alan reminds me one of the pri­ma­ry “terror[s] [dur­ing this time] of COVID-19 is that it robs us of our breath­ing”. We each come to our end, yet Breath itself con­tin­ues. We know that an Infin­i­ty of Breath exists and that we can bare­ly grasp an aware­ness of it and cer­tain­ly not its entire­ty (because we are only finite).

Now, join with me as we trav­el from the tini­est to the largest.

Remem­ber the phrase: “The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts”?

We each con­sist of atoms (which are them­selves com­bi­na­tions of elec­trons, neu­trons, pro­tons). All these com­bine into var­i­ous mol­e­cules, and those in turn join togeth­er and cre­ate cells. Some of those cells form my big toe and oth­er organs that ulti­mate­ly add up to me, or you. We are all “mat­ter”. And, nonethe­less, we “mat­ter”. And, one of the ways in which we “mat­ter” is that you and I are each greater than the sum of our atoms, our parts.

Earth, our bios­phere, our liv­ing globe is also built up out of all these same atoms, mol­e­cules, cells, and organs… and us. We could say the Earth itself is greater than the sum of it parts as well, it has a cer­tain “Earth­ness”.

You and I, each of us, are con­scious. We are even con­scious of our selves. So, we could say that “self-con­scious­ness” is an aspect of Earth­ness.

The Blue Mar­ble by the crew of Apol­lo 17 (1972)

I imag­ine you can feel where this is lead­ing.

If you’ve closed your eyes, please open them for a moment, take in the morn­ing light, whether it is dim or bright. Cup your hands and grasp a bit of the light that sur­rounds you in the room.

How does what is in your hands (the light that you can’t see or feel now that it is “cap­tured”) dif­fer from the chair, sofa, wher­ev­er we find our­selves? While we are “mat­ter”, what we’ve attempt­ed to cap­ture is “ener­gy”. We think of each of these (mat­ter and ener­gy) as being fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent, but we all know about that bright Jew­ish boy who fig­ured out that it is “All One” and can be expressed in the equa­tion E=mc2.

Dr. Bronner soap label
Orig­i­nal 1972 Dr. Bron­ner soap label
pho­to by Sean Flan­na­gan used with per­mis­sion

return to our first text, for a moment, the shema

Pay atten­tion Israel, This Living/Breathing is our God, and this Living/Breathing is All One.

So, we are part of one pul­sat­ing — breath­ing, self-con­scious — cos­mos.

Feel free to close your eyes again.

One of the most impor­tant Jew­ish hol­i­days (at least accord­ing to us rab­bis) is Shavuot. It tells us that we — “finite, breath­ing, ener­gized mat­ter” — are part of the Infi­nite; an Infi­nite that com­mu­ni­cates with us. I imag­ine that some in this med­i­ta­tion cir­cle have dif­fi­cul­ty with that con­cept. As we con­tin­ue our count up to Shavuot, let’s explore the idea a bit and move on to our third text.

the third text

Because we, the finite have (self-)consciousness and the whole con­sists of at least the sum of its parts, the Infi­nite must have (self-)consciousness. The “Infi­nite” which is the “that which is greater than the sum of its parts” (that is all of us and our chairs, sofas, the rooms in which we find our­selves, our friends and fam­i­ly… every­thing we expe­ri­ence)… this “Infi­nite” is aware of us: “the finite”.

Come along with me.

This Infi­nite com­mu­ni­cates with us: the finite. (Now, that may be a leap of log­ic, but, the abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate is built into the finite, and, there­fore part of the Infi­nite. When part of our body expe­ri­ences pleas­ant­ness or dis­com­fort does it not com­mu­ni­cate that plea­sure or pain to us?)

The “fact” that the Infi­nite com­mu­ni­cates with the finite, indi­cates that the Infinite “cares” about the finite. (That’s one step of log­ic beyond the pre­ced­ing state­ment, but, once again, “car­ing” is built into the finite, and, there­fore part of the Infi­nite. And, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a core aspect of car­ing. The “act” of com­mu­ni­cat­ing is an “act” of car­ing.)

In reli­gious lan­guage, we call this com­mu­ni­ca­tion “rev­e­la­tion” and we cel­e­brate its real­i­ty in the upcom­ing hol­i­day of Shavuot.

What gets “com­mu­ni­cat­ed”? Tra­di­tion­al­ly we are told that Torah is revealed on Shavuot, but how much of Torah? This was dis­cussed in detail by the ear­ly rab­bis who kept nar­row­ing down from all of Torah… to the Ten Com­mand­ments… and fur­ther. How much needs to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed or revealed. Actu­al­ly, accord­ing to R. Men­achem Mendel of Rymanov very lit­tle is nec­es­sary; only the aleph א, the first let­ter of the first word of the first of the Ten Com­mand­ments, which says “אָנֹכִי” (as in “I am”) and is essen­tial­ly the same as the breath that Moses expe­ri­enced at the burn­ing bush. The “I‑Am”; because once God makes the divine pres­ence is known, once that aleph א is “heard” (expe­ri­enced), all else fol­lows as the day fol­lows the night.

counting the omer

We are ready to count the Omer:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֺתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר׃

Blessed are You, Sov­er­eign of all space and time, who directs us to Count the Omer.

Today is the 42nd day of count­ing the Omer which is 6 weeks of the Omer

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ.

Thank you God for the Gift of this Day

our mantra(s) for this morning

For our mantra this morn­ing, we might feel our­selves as part of the breath­ing cos­mos… I sug­gest two pos­si­bil­i­ties:


Breathe God’s name: as you breathe in and out begin your emp­ty lungs with the yod י; inhale on the heh ה; till you reach the vav ו; then exhale on the heh ה and con­tin­ue…



Breathe in “praise” with  הַלְלוּ then breathe it out again: הַלְלוּ.


fol­low­ing the qui­et time of med­i­ta­tion I sang Bonia Shur’s Kol Han’shamah, except much soft­er and slow­er, and only twice through.


A wide vari­ety of Hebrew let­ter but­tons were pro­duced some­time dur­ing the 1940s through the 1950s. Since no doc­u­men­ta­tion exists for them, it’s impos­si­ble to know what their pur­pose was (or exact­ly when they were made). Dat­ing is based on their size, style, and oth­er details. It appears that these may have been pro­duced as awards for reli­gious school, either atten­dance or achieve­ment.

lapel button ה
lapel but­ton ה
Date:1940s — 1950s
Pin Form:straight
Print Method:cel­lu­loid
lapel but­ton ו
Date:1940s — 1950s
Pin Form:straight
Print Method:cel­lu­loid
lapel but­ton י
Date:1940s — 1950s
Pin Form:straight
Print Method:cel­lu­loid

This but­ton, on the oth­er hand, is one of a set of 22, rep­re­sent­ing each of the 22 let­ters of the Hebrew alpha­bet. They were sold by the Union of Ortho­dox Con­gre­ga­tions (now known as the Ortho­dox Union… after its Kashrut sym­bol, the OU (it seems that HTML does not sup­port this abbre­vi­a­tion as a char­ac­ter)) to raise mon­ey for the writ­ing of a Torah scroll dur­ing the ear­ly 1980s. When you bought a let­ter you received a but­ton. You could buy as many let­ters as you want­ed. I just bought each of the but­tons. I don’t remem­ber how much I paid.

lapel but­ton א
Date:ear­ly 1980s
Pin Form:straight clasp
Print Method:cel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lying around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

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Plagues Suck (or: Passover in a time of plague)

A friend called me the oth­er day won­der­ing why the Hebrew word ״מַכּוֹת״ in the phrase: “אֵלּוּ עֶשֶׂר מַכּוֹת שֶׁהֵבִיא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל הַמִּצְרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן:” is trans­lat­ed as “plagues”. He, an Israeli whose orig­i­nal lan­guage is Hebrew did not see why the direct trans­la­tion of “strikes” (as in hit­ting some­one, i.e. the Egypt­ian,) was­n’t used. Most of us are famil­iar with this mean­ing of the word מַכּוֹת from Chanukkah when we remem­ber the deeds of Judah Mac­cabee, who struck the Hel­lenists on our behalf.

I told him that for at least 20 years I have been using “signs” as a more mean­ing­ful trans­la­tion. Yes, the Egyp­tians were “hit” by the plagues, but that was not for pun­ish­ment, for the sake of hurt­ing. Rather, they should be seen as signs. You could say that these that they were sim­i­lar to the way a par­ent might dis­ci­pline a mis­be­hav­ing child: not to bruise, but to stress that the child must change their behav­ior.

As I wrote in A Grow­ing Hag­gadah:

The Signs

Pharaoh was unwill­ing to release his labor sup­ply.

Pharaoh thought him­self a god. He believed he could do what­ev­er he want­ed to with indi­vid­u­als or entire peo­ples. He need­ed to learn the dif­fi­cult les­son: there exists a Source of Pow­er beyond the self.

A series of signs appeared, trans­for­ma­tions of the expect­ed world the Egyp­tians had come to take for grant­ed. Some of these signs altered the nat­ur­al realm, oth­ers shift­ed social inter­ac­tions. Our Bib­li­cal text and ancient rab­bis expressed these signs as though they occurred on a plane beyond human involve­ment. Today, we under­stand that we need to take an active role in the world we encounter, and in our own trans­for­ma­tion.

In either case, whether affect­ed by humans, the divine or a com­bi­na­tion, our redemp­tion could not and did not take place with­out a strug­gle. Due to that strug­gle, and the resul­tant loss of life, we take drops from our full cups of wine—this, then, sym­bol­izes the diminu­tion of our joy.

Nonethelss, plagues are on every­one’s mind this year (in alpha­bet­i­cal order).

There are plagues that afflict us as liv­ing crea­tures on a del­i­cate and endan­gered bios­phere. There are plagues that we expe­ri­ence in the world of pol­i­tics. There are plagues that we encounter in our rela­tion­ships. There are even ways in which we oppress our­selves. Some are sys­temic, some are per­son­al.

Our ances­tors expe­ri­enced the plagues sent against the Egyp­tians. The Egypt­ian peo­ple ignored the signs. Our ances­tors heed­ed the signs they saw about them in their day.

☞ How might we rec­og­nize these signs?

☞ How will we respond?

This but­ton dates from 2014 and came in a pack­et of sim­i­lar Passover-relat­ed but­tons.

plagues suck
Plagues Suck
received from beave­but­tons, made by Tevah and Jody Platt via
Size:2.3 cm
Pin Form:clasp
Print Methodcel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or they are poked into a cork-board on your wall or col­lect­ed in a jar. If you have any lying around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point, they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see most of the but­tons shared to date.

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Queen Esther Helped Me Beat the Draft

In 1966 Tuli (Naph­tali) Kupfer­berg pub­lished “1001 Ways to Beat the Draft”. I acquired a copy, but it was of lit­tle use to me as I was (at least at the time) fair­ly safe with my 2S (stu­dent) defer­ment. A cou­ple of years lat­er while liv­ing by myself in a tiny apart­ment on Bor­land Road near Cal State U at LA I was “invit­ed” by my local draft board for a pre-induc­tion phys­i­cal.

But­tons I wore dur­ing my col­lege years

The event was sched­uled for the day before Purim, a day known as the Fast of Esther (Ta’an­it Ester תַּעֲנִית אֶסְתֵּר). I arose ear­ly, skipped break­fast, and drove to the draft board’s office some­where in down­town LA. When I arrived I joined a num­ber of young men, none of whom I knew, or even looked famil­iar. We were told to strip to our under­wear, put our clothes in cub­bies, and were giv­en lit­tle can­vas draw-string pouch­es to hold our valu­ables (wal­let and keys was all I had).

Stand­ing in a cir­cle fac­ing the cen­ter an offi­cer came around with a doc­tor and admin­is­tered the “cough test” which was my first ever encounter with an inguinal her­nia. This was fol­lowed by some­one else, writ­ing notes on a clip­board who asked each of us in turn:

Do you have any scars or iden­ti­fy­ing marks”.
I replied: “Yes, cir­cum­ci­sion.”
The offi­cer asked me to spell it.
“C I R C U M …”

At that point, the offi­cer real­ized what the scar was and (I guess) decid­ed that it wasn’t suf­fi­cient­ly dis­tinc­tive for his pur­pos­es. He looked at me askance and moved on to the young man stand­ing beside me in the cir­cle.

The fol­low­ing sta­tion on our phys­i­cal exam was upstairs. We stood in line and one by one stepped onto a large scale (about a yard square). When it was my turn, the offi­cer checked my height and adjust­ed the weights so that the bal­ance would show my accu­rate weight. I’ve been rather thin my entire life. (My pedi­a­tri­cian told my par­ents that I was “slen­der”.) At that point in my life, the most I’d ever weighed was 114 lbs. The offi­cer not­ed my weight aloud as “111 lbs.” I stepped off the scale to move onto the next part of the exam, but the offi­cer called me back and asked that I stand on the scale again so he could take anoth­er read­ing. I stepped back on the scale and asked the offi­cer if I should put down the pouch with my valu­ables. He grudg­ing­ly nod­ded his head yes. I put the pouch on a shelf beside the scale and he took his sec­ond read­ing: “110 lbs.”

I don’t remem­ber any­thing about the remain­der of the exam. It turns out that 111 lbs. is the min­i­mum weight require­ment to be draft­ed. I received a 1Y defer­ment, a tem­po­rary phys­i­cal defer­ment. I imag­ine the army thought that some­one might fat­ten me up so I could fight in Viet­nam.

I fast­ed the remain­der of the day. That evening I’m sure I ate some hamen­taschen and may have gained the miss­ing pound then and there.

Short­ly after this expe­ri­ence with my draft board, the sys­tem changed to a lot­tery and my num­ber was unlike­ly to be called.

Thank you, Esther!

This but­ton dates from the Latke–Hamantash Debate dur­ing the 2008 McCain/Obama pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign.

Cook­ies First
(based on the McCain cam­paign slo­gan “Coun­try First”)
Size:1.5″ square
Pin Form:clasp
Print Method:cel­lu­loid
TextCook­ies First

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or they are poked into a cork-board on your wall or col­lect­ed in a jar. If you have any lying around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point, they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see most of the but­tons shared to date.

Posted in holidays, judaica, lapel buttons, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cosmic Illumination

Yod, Aleph, Resh
Num­bers 6:25 ( י א ר )

May the Breath of the cosmos illuminate us and be generous to us.

May we be strong as lions (ארי)
full of awe (ירא) for the light that illumines (מאיר) us, reflects (מראה) from us,
and that others see (ראה) glowing within us.

Ana­grams and relat­ed words of

Linoleum cut pro­duced by Mark, Sep­tem­ber 2019
©Mark Hurvitz

last year’s card

the (3) sep­a­rate cuts/prints

the list of cards

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To bigotry no sanction

said the original George W.

On August 18, 1790, the orig­i­nal George W. penned eight con­se­quen­tial words that don’t receive suf­fi­cient rep­e­ti­tion. The words were not orig­i­nal­ly his. He mir­rored the text of a let­ter deliv­ered to him ear­li­er that day in New­port, Rhode Island by Moses Seixas that described the new Unit­ed States Gov­ern­ment as one that is:

gen­er­ous­ly afford­ing to All lib­er­ty of con­science, and immu­ni­ties of Cit­i­zen­ship: deem­ing every one, of what­ev­er Nation, tongue, or lan­guage, equal parts of the great gov­ern­men­tal Machine

How­ev­er, the most famous phrase and the por­tion that Wash­ing­ton repeat­ed described the Gov­ern­ment of the Unit­ed States, which gives:

to big­otry no sanc­tion, to per­se­cu­tion no assis­tance

George Wash­ing­ton’s hand­writ­ing

You can see the full orig­i­nal let­ter here.

Amaz­ing­ly enough, as of Decem­ber 2010, the where­abouts of this essen­tial doc­u­ment, guar­an­tee­ing tol­er­ance in Amer­i­ca, was unknown! The For­ward tracked down its loca­tion and wrote about in an arti­cle by Paul Berg­er in June of 2011.

In March of 2017 at the annu­al con­ven­tion of the Cen­tral Con­fer­ence of Amer­i­can Rab­bis in Atlanta, GA I saw a col­league wear­ing a but­ton with this famous text. I tracked it down and recent­ly pur­chased one for myself. I wear it reg­u­lar­ly. I’ve since bought more to give to oth­ers who appre­ci­ate it.

The but­ton has an inter­est­ing back­sto­ry. I con­tact­ed the rab­bi who wore the but­ton at the con­ven­tion. She told me that her can­to­r­i­al soloist had giv­en her the but­ton and that it had been pur­chased on Search­ing for the phrase I was able to find the but­ton there and bought one for myself. There I learned that the but­ton was made by a woman named Eri­ca Schultz Yakovetz. I tracked her down on Zaz­zle and asked her about the but­ton. She offered the fol­low­ing expla­na­tion. (Note, we didn’t get anyone’s per­mis­sion to ref­er­ence them by name, how­ev­er, all the posts are pub­lic, so we expect it’s fair game.)

Back on Novem­ber 13, 2016, short­ly after that mis­er­able Elec­tion Day, my friend Andrew Greene in Boston post­ed to Face­book that he would like to see a but­ton made of this quote. [Since post­ing this I have learned from my rab­bi friend’s can­to­r­i­al soloist that Andrew Greene is a for­mer “Zamirnik”. One of the ways he pub­li­cized his friend’s quest to send a pin to every mem­ber of Con­gress was via email to Zamir’s “tut­ti” mall list. So the Zamir Chorale and their net­work played a part in help­ing with the suc­cess of the orig­i­nal Kick­starter cam­paign and order­ing pins.]

As a graph­ic design­er, a com­mit­ted Jew, and an avowed lib­er­al hip­pie, I was hap­py to take up the chal­lenge.

The ini­tial request was just for “To Big­otry No Sanc­tion”, but a mutu­al friend from MIT (Richard Bar­balace) point­ed out that with­out more con­text, a mod­ern read­er might think it was call­ing for no sanc­tions AGAINST big­otry rather than no sanc­tion FOR big­otry. Thus I revised the design to include the sec­ond part of the phrase, “To Per­se­cu­tion No Assis­tance,” and that’s the ver­sion that has moved for­ward.

Short­ly there­after, anoth­er friend of Andrew’s, Yos­si (Joe) Fend­el of Berke­ley, CA, decid­ed that every incom­ing mem­ber of Con­gress and the Sen­ate need­ed one of these pins sent to them in time for the ses­sion open­ing on Jan­u­ary 3, 2017, and set up a Kick­starter to do so

Eighty-two (82) back­ers pledged $1,608 to help bring the project to life. [$1,500 was need­ed for the Kick­starter cam­paign.

(I placed a bulk order for him for those, of course, so he didn’t end up order­ing 500+ through Zaz­zle.)

The type­face I chose is a font called Trat­tatel­lo by James Grieshaber (now pro­vid­ed by Apple as a sys­tem font). The back­ground image is, of course, the US Con­sti­tu­tion.

I rarely make rec­om­men­da­tions for items I do not pro­duce myself. How­ev­er, since I have been pur­chas­ing and gift­ing copies of this but­ton to peo­ple I encounter, and they have been giv­en to each mem­ber of con­gress, I encour­age you to buy some for your­self to offer as gifts in this big­ot­ed and per­se­cu­tion-filled time.

The best way to pur­chase mul­ti­ple copies is direct­ly from Eri­ca Schultz Yakovetz at her Etsy site.

to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. G. Washington
to big­otry no sanc­tion
DateNovem­ber 14, 2017
Size2″ square
Pin Formclasp
Print Methodcel­lu­loid
~G. Wash­ing­ton

from “Commander in Chief” to “Bigot in Chief”

Recent com­ments by the cur­rent pres­i­dent have caused numer­ous main­stream press out­lets from around the coun­try to call out his behav­ior.

Houston Chronicle eEdition; July 16, 2019

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board; July 14, 2019

Minneapolis, Minnesota Star Tribune; July 15, 2019

The Syracuse, NY Post-Standard; July 15, 2019

The Washington Post; July 15 2019

The Day of New London, Connecticut; July 15. 2019

The Daily News of Bangor, Maine; July 16, 2019

The Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer; July 16, 2019

And it con­tin­ues. More recent­ly, the for­mer Con­gress­man Joe Walsh has a piece in The New York Times (August 14), mak­ing the case for a GOP chal­lenger to Trump. It’s part con­fes­sion­al and part indict­ment.

In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugli­est iter­a­tion of views I expressed for the bet­ter part of a decade. To be sure, I’ve had my share of con­tro­ver­sy. On more than one occa­sion, I ques­tioned Mr. Obama’s truth­ful­ness about his reli­gion. At times, I expressed hate for my polit­i­cal oppo­nents. We now see where this can lead. There’s no place in our pol­i­tics for per­son­al attacks like that, and I regret mak­ing them….

The fact is, Mr. Trump is a racial arson­ist who encour­ages big­otry and xeno­pho­bia to rouse his base and advance his elec­toral prospects. In this, he inspires imi­ta­tors.

Remember, only you can prevent (metaphorical) forest fires, and each of us can proclaim (even on our lapels), as the first Commander in Chief wrote:

…to big­otry no sanc­tion, to per­se­cu­tion no assis­tance

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple.

I have arranged for the col­lec­tion to be acquired by an appro­pri­ate muse­um (more about this lat­er).

You can see most of the but­tons shared to date.

Posted in judaica, lapel buttons, politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Growing Haggadah (2019)

New edition available for download

With Avigail’s edi­to­r­i­al involve­ment, the longer fal­low peri­ods between edi­tions of this Hag­gadah have short­ened. The pre­vi­ous print­ed edi­tion is only 2 years old. Before that, they were fur­ther years apart. While I remain fair­ly sat­is­fied, I am not com­pla­cent. I made many changes fol­low­ing Seder 5751 when Avi­gail and I vis­it­ed Reed to see if she want­ed to study there. The 2005 changes (though small) were sig­nif­i­cant and were at her insti­ga­tion. Avi­gail men­tioned at the end of Seder in 2009 that the time for a new edi­tion had arrived and she want­ed to help edit it (2010 edi­tion) and then the two of us reworked the text in 2015 and updat­ed it for gen­der ambi­gu­i­ty in 2016 which has been increased for the 2019 edi­tion). In recog­ni­tion of this, and her full par­tic­i­pa­tion in the task (both in writ­ing, edit­ing and mak­ing oth­er, often struc­tur­al sug­ges­tions), her name appears on the cov­er.

This is now a three-gen­er­a­tion Hag­gadah. I brought the box­es Jay had labeled “Passover” and “Hag­gadah” to Poway from Los Ange­les in 1989, a year after our return to Cal­i­for­nia. In those box­es were Hag­gadot and oth­er mate­ri­als Dad had col­lect­ed begin­ning in the ear­ly ’50s. Some of those tid­bits found their way into this Hag­gadah. This text has moved on. Dad’s gar­den was extreme­ly fer­tile; his pres­ence still hov­ers over this Hag­gadah. Actu­al­ly, it might nev­er have exist­ed were it not for the “HHH” (Hurvitz’s Human­ist Hag­gadah). When I last skimmed that work (now many years back) I noticed lit­tle of it still appar­ent in this one (at this point, hard­ly even the Neertza, though I have restored some of the “bit­ter­ness” he expe­ri­enced). Mom’s last type­script of Dad’s final edi­tion is dat­ed 1968, more than fifty years ago!

When I first start­ed the project in this form (a “fam­i­ly” rather than a “com­mu­ni­ty” Hag­gadah) Anne was a lit­tle girl and the only child reg­u­lar­ly at the Seder. My approach was to adults. Anne now returns to her fam­i­ly Seder as an adult. Avi­gail, Noam, and Nora are adults and more than old enough to ask the four ques­tions (a new gen­er­a­tion has begun to take their place). This year, Avi­gail will host our Seder where Nora will join us, Noam and his fam­i­ly will be in Cincin­nati with a dif­fer­ent clus­ter. Avi­gail con­tributed a cinquain which she wrote dur­ing Seder in 1991. In 1998, as I did the paste-up she asked if she could help. Both she and Noam past­ed in most of the graph­ics that year. A grow­ing Hag­gadah con­tin­ues to grow in dif­fer­ent ways. In 2016 I pro­duced “My Very Own Grow­ing Hag­gadah” which con­sists almost entire­ly of indi­vid­ual pages with the head­ing from the medieval table of con­tents fol­lowed by a text such as: “What words, shapes, col­ors, and sounds do you imag­ine when you think of bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er?” and “What words, shapes, colors,to and sounds do you imag­ine when the Matzah breaks?” By now and for many years, since the entire Hag­gadah is on the com­put­er, I’ve done all final edit­ing myself. Avi­gail and Noam now ask dif­fer­ent ques­tions that grow out of the text. Many of the new changes are respons­es to them. A num­ber of years ago Noam arranged for an ISB­Num­ber which I had hoped might facil­i­tate dis­tri­b­u­tion. Avi­gail used this text as the basis for a Hag­gadah used by stu­dents at Reed in 2003 and Noam used it as the basis for a dif­fer­ent Hag­gadah at Hamp­shire when he stud­ied there. Most of the new mate­r­i­al in the 2019 edi­tion appears in a rewrit­ing of the fourth cup… the cup of accep­tance. I deeply appre­ci­ate the thought­ful respons­es to the ideas pre­sent­ed there sought from and offered by Jay and Yoav Schae­fer.

Why matzah?

The traditional explanation goes like this:

Matzah is the sym­bol of the “bread of pover­ty,” that is, the bread that poor peo­ple eat, which our ances­tors ate as slaves in Egypt. It reminds us of the great haste in which our Israelite ances­tors fled from Egypt. So lit­tle time did our ances­tors have to pre­pare food for their escape, that they baked unleav­ened cakes of the dough they had brought out of Egypt.

Does Matzah Grow?

When we lived in Poway, CA, I saw some­thing that looked as though matzah grew out of the side of a tree.

Rabbi Meir ben Tzipporah v’Nechemia haLevi teaches:

Judith came in from the fields where it appeared as though the whole com­mu­ni­ty was out har­vest­ing the new grain crop. The rains had ceased and the ground had dried enough to enable them to walk through the plants and col­lect the ripened sheaves. The stone house still felt damp from the win­ter and she helped her moth­er emp­ty the stor­age urns of the remain­der of the pre­vi­ous year’s grains.

The mois­ture had got­ten into every­thing. They rec­og­nized the aro­ma of slow­ly fer­ment­ing wheat and bar­ley and they did not want the old to con­t­a­m­i­nate the new. Judith’s moth­er even took the lit­tle wad of dough she always removed after knead­ing to put in a cool cov­ered pot to help the next batch rise and added that also to the pile to take out and burn. They were so care­ful that after sweep­ing the stone floor with the palm fronds they took feath­ers and swept out the cor­ners.

Judith thought about how the Chametz puffed up the bread she liked so much, yet con­sid­ered how a sim­i­lar spoilage often puffed her up with pride. She always felt cleansed as she warmed her hands with the heat of the burn­ing Chametz. Both because it remind­ed her of the escape from slav­ery to free­dom, the beau­ty of puri­ty and sim­plic­i­ty and because she knew it would only take a week for her moth­er to cre­ate a new starter, Judith didn’t mind eat­ing the Matzah her moth­er would make with the brand new dough.

a matzah button?!

There are a few but­tons pro­duced for Pesach. Almost all of them are nov­el­ty items. Oth­ers use the ideas of the hol­i­day to make a polit­i­cal point. I’ve writ­ten about some of the polit­i­cal but­tons in the past. This but­ton usu­al­ly draws con­ster­na­tion. It’s a bit hard to dis­cern the image and its intent.

Shmurah Matzah
Shmu­rah Matzah
Size: 5.715
Pin Form:clasp
Print Method:cel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point, they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see most of the but­tons shared to date.

Posted in family, holidays, judaica, lapel buttons, ritual, what | Tagged , | Leave a comment

strengthen our covenantal relationships



Zocher ha Brit
Mish­neh Torah, Bless­ings 10:16; based on Gen­e­sis 9:11

May we strengthen our covenantal relationships
as we reflect and reinforce
the love of a caring universe.


Linoleum cut pro­duced by Mark, August 2018
©Mark Hurvitz

last year’s card

the sep­a­rate cuts

the list of cards


Posted in holidays, ritual, what | Tagged , | Leave a comment

keep those cards coming

chang­ing technologies

orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished Octo­ber 2011; updat­ed August 2018

Most peo­ple who know me under­stand that I am not averse to tech­no­log­i­cal change. I have been inter­ested in how com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies have been used and changed for many years. In June of 2010, I wrote about my involve­ment in the devel­op­ment of what I called “the elec­tronic leaflet”. When I was in col­lege I stud­ied music and was involved in per­form­ing “renais­sance music” on my recorder at the same time, as I have writ­ten here before, I pro­duced and was the disk jock­ey for “avant garde” music on the radio pro­gram “Catch­ing Up” on KPFK I had with my broth­er. My inter­est in chang­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies led me to write my rab­binic the­sis on ”The Rab­binic Per­cep­tion of Print­ing as Depict­ed in Haskamot and Respon­sa (con­tem­po­rary with the inven­tion of print­ing). I want­ed to learn what the rab­bis con­tem­po­rary with the inven­tion of the new tech­nol­ogy felt and thought about it (there was pre­cious lit­tle infor­ma­tion).

The Google books QR Code for my the­sis:

let­ters and cards

One item that print­ing enabled was the devel­op­ment of postal sys­tems. Once you could print on paper that had a dried glue on the back that you could use affix to an enve­lope or card, writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tions between peo­ple who lived far from each oth­er increased great­ly. It meant that the sender of an item paid for its deliv­ery in advance. Among the many items sent were cards with pho­tographs or illus­tra­tions on them: the postac­ard.

Jews around the world par­tic­i­pated in this devel­op­ment. As the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion spread across Europe to Amer­ica and beyond, the abil­ity to hold some­thing writ­ten and tan­gi­ble gained deep import. Peo­ple spoke of hav­ing papirene kinder “paper chil­dren” because the only evi­dence they had of them was the let­ters they hope­fully received. The con­cept has made it into a 2003 nov­el by Martha Blum called Paper Chil­dren, and a Yid­dish song that seems to date from the ear­li­est part of the 20th cen­tury. Deeply poignant is the movie A Briv­ele Der Mamen, the title song from which, writ­ten at least 30 years ear­lier, rends the heart and brings tears to the eyes. The song was first record­ed by it’s com­poser Solomon Smule­witz in 1908. It became pop­u­lar on its own with cov­ers by The Bar­ry Sis­ters. It begins in three-quar­ter time, but the famous lyrics, as sung by the pop­u­lar singer Al Bowl­ly are a fox trot.

A Lit­tle Let­ter to Mama

a briv­ele der mamen

Solomon Smule­witz

My child, my com­fort, you are going away.Remember to be a good son.With anx­ious tears and fear I beg you,

your loy­al, dear moth­er.

You are trav­el­ing, my child, my only child,

across dis­tant seas.

Just arrive in good health

and don’t for­get your moth­er.

Oh, trav­el in health and arrive in good spir­it.

Please send a let­ter every week,

and thus light­en your mother’s heart, my child.

A let­ter to your moth­er

you shouldn’t delay.

Write right away,

dear child.

Grant her this con­so­la­tion.

Your moth­er will read your lit­tle let­ter

and she will recov­er.

You’ll heal her pain,

her bit­ter heart.

You’ll delight her soul.

mayn kind, mayn treyst, du forst avek,
ze zay a zun a gutter;dikh bet mit trern un mit shrek,dayn traye libe muter.

du forst mayn kind, mayn eyntsik kind,

ariber vayte yamen,

akh! kum ahin nor frish gezunt,

un nisht farges dayn mamen…

oy, for gezunt, un kum mit glik,

ze yede vokh a brivl shik.

dayn mames harts, mayn kind, derkvik.

a briv­ele der mamen

zol­stu nit farza­men.

shrayb geshvind,

libes kind,

shenk ir di nekhome.

di mame vet dayn briv­ele lezn,

un zi vet genezn.

heylst ir shmerts,

ir biter harts,

derkvikst ir di neshome.

The ver­sion on YouTube by Dudu Fish­er includes (what I think is) a still from the 1938 movie (note the enve­lope on the table):

still from "a brivele der mame"

still from “a briv­ele der mame”

rosh hashan­nah correspondence

Post­cards at the time of Rosh haShan­nah played an impor­tant role. As explained in an online exhib­it Past Per­fect at the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary of Amer­i­ca:

The ear­li­est and largest num­ber of Jew­ish pic­ture post­cards were cre­ated for Rosh Ha-Shanah greet­ings. The cus­tom of send­ing a New Year’s mes­sage is doc­u­mented as ear­ly as the four­teenth cen­tury when the Mahar­il, Rab­bi Jacob of Moellin (1360?-1427) [in Mainz of all places; he died just under 25 years before Guten­berg devel­oped mov­able type there, cen­turies before post­cards], rec­om­mended that dur­ing the month of Elul one should include wish­es for a good year in all writ­ten cor­re­spon­dence. This cus­tom spread wide­ly through­out the Ashke­nazic world.

Some love­ly cards are avail­able at the JTSA site. You can see many more at the Magnes Muse­um site. You can almost always find some old Rosh haShan­nah post­cards to pur­chase on eBay. and you can buy new cards that you can write on at zaz­zle. One of the rea­sons I have enjoyed receiv­ing hard, ana­log, phys­i­cal, print­ed-on-paper Rosh haShan­nah cards is that I can dec­o­rate my Suc­cah with the cards I’ve received from friends and fam­ily that year. It is a phys­i­cal form of ush­pizin.

I find it cute and intrigu­ing that one of the old­er cards depicts a new­er mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion:

a lit­tle meta

I rarely write about the process of main­tain­ing this site. Some may notice that I change the col­or scheme on an annu­al basis. The col­ors for links, block­quotes, tables, and oth­er fea­tures are based on the col­ors of the image you see at the top of the (at this writ­ing) right side­bar. That image is a minia­ture of a linoleum block print that I pre­pare and send out as my own Rosh haShan­nah greet­ing card. Since 1996 I have used a por­tion of my sum­mer (at one time at camp (Swig or New­man)) to pro­duce a linoleum block (or oth­er visu­al). Each block rep­re­sents a verse from clas­sic Jew­ish texts. Ini­tially, (usu­ally) these texts were from the book of Psalms, but now they range much more wide­ly. Each text becomes a mini visu­al midrash. I col­lect them here for your view­ing plea­sure.

Psalm 16:8 1996 For a new year of peace
Psalm 113:3 1997 May the year 5758 bring bless­ings of peace from east to west…
Isa­iah 45:7 1998 May the year 5759 bring bless­ings of peace in both light and dark­ness.
Psalm 119:1 1999 May the new year 5760 bring bless­ings of peace as we con­tinue on our way.
Psalm 92:13 2000 May jus­tice… and with it peace flour­ish in the new year 5761.
Psalm 90:12 2001 May we gain hearts of wis­dom, so that the year 5762 will be one of peace.
Psalm 118:19 2002 May acts of right­eous­ness in the year 5763 open the Gold­en gates of Mer­cy and lead to a world of peace.
Proverbs 3:17b 2003 May all our paths in the com­ing year 5764 lead us toward peace.
Sifra to Psalm 18:11–12 and Sid­dur: Ma’ariv: Hashkiveinu 2004 May our efforts in the year 5765 spread clouds of glo­ry as we build true taber­na­cles of peace.
Lamen­ta­tions 3:52 2005 May our endeav­ors in the year 5766 release all that threat­ens to ensnare us, giv­ing wing to a world of peace, bless­ing and joy.
[In mem­ory of Faye (Faigie, Fan­nie (Avrunin)) Hurvitz Tzip­po­rah bat Meir v’Jannah 21st of Tevet 5674 — 8th of Tam­muz 5765; Decem­ber 20, 1913 (the win­ter sol­stice) — July 14, 2005]
Leviti­cus 25:10 2006 May our endeav­ors in the year 5767 pro­claim lib­erty through­out the land, cre­at­ing a world at peace.
Psalm 118:5 2007 May our voic­es spread from the nar­row places to the broad spaces call­ing for jus­tice and peace in the year 5768.
Psalm 118:22 2008 In our efforts to build a world at peace may we see the poten­tial in every stone.
Leviti­cus 19:10b 2009 As we gath­er our share in the new year may we live in a world of plen­ty and of peace.
Pirei Avot 1:2 2010 May we secure our world on a foun­da­tion of learn­ing, ser­vice and deeds of lov­ing-kind­ness.
Gen­e­sis 1:1–2 2011 May our efforts in the new year bring new cre­ation out of chaos.
Psalm 130:1b 2012 May our voic­es reach up from the depths to achieve a world of whole­ness and peace.
Deuteron­o­my 30:13 2013 May our efforts in the New Year bring a world of whole­ness and peace clos­er to us.
Psalm 23:5b 2014 May our efforts in the New Year over­flow with good­ness and help cre­ate a world of whole­ness and peace.
Psalm 27:9a 2015 May the new year be a time of hon­esty with our­selves and full pres­ence with one anoth­er, bring­ing us clos­er to a world of whole­ness and peace.
Sid­dur : Kedushat haY­om 2016 With puri­fied hearts may our hon­est efforts build a world of jus­tice and peace.
Psalm 1:3 2017 May we plant our­selves by sources of sus­te­nance and use those sources to build a world of peace and plen­ty.

I often spend the months imme­di­ately fol­low­ing Pesach think­ing of a verse that would be appro­pri­ate and could be expressed visu­ally. This year’s card is made of two blocks. I did not know it would work this way, but the shop where I usu­ally pur­chase the linoleum had a block approx­i­mately twice the size of what I want­ed. I was able to find some­one who could cut it in half, and then I had two pieces to work with. In recent years, more of the cards have reflect­ed some­thing in my life at the time; this year is one of them.

  • I took the two vers­es:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל‑פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל‑פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

  • I removed all the vow­els and dupli­cate (as well as final form) let­ters. This left me with [set one]:

    א ח י כ ל מ נ ע פ צ ר ש

  • I removed/separated those that form the phrase [set two]:

    תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ

  • I ran­dom­ized the remain­ing let­ters.
  • These two sets formed the two linoleum cuts:
    ran­dom­ized (the let­ters, and the cuts that make up the design, enclose a round­ed area):
    randomized letters

    ran­dom­ized let­ters

    remain­ing (the letters/words, read right to left, then flipped… and right to left again, form a shape in the fetal posi­tion while the cuts that extend from the let­ters shoot off in all direc­tions):

    tohu va vohu

    tohu va vohu

  • I print­ed the sil­ver-gray block and then, on top of that the red block:
    genesis 1:1-2

    gen­e­sis 1:1–2

what­ever happened?

In the days when I taught my Intro­duc­tion to Judaism class, part of the les­son for Rosh haShan­nah was to explain the val­ue of mak­ing con­tact with fam­ily and friends, as Chris­tians do at Christ­mas. In a sense, it is a way to ping some­one. I send out a card to every mem­ber of my extend­ed fam­ily for whom I have a geo­graph­i­cal address as well as numer­ous friends and asso­ciates. Often I receive a card in response. Some­times a card comes back with “address unknown” or “past for­ward­ing time”. Oth­ers respond by send­ing an elec­tronic greet­ing, or, there are fam­i­lies who send out a “this is what our fam­ily has been up to this past year” let­ter. Gen­er­ally, if I do not receive any kind of response after three to five years, I drop that recip­i­ent from the list (those of you who hap­pen to read this and are on the list… be fore­warned). Because I have includ­ed a num­ber of peo­ple with whom our par­ents cor­re­sponded I some­times receive notes back let­ting me know that a par­tic­u­lar per­son has died in the past year and I noti­fy my sibs as we take note of the pass­ing of time and gen­er­a­tions.

I usu­ally print enough cards so that our chil­dren can use them to send to their extend­ed fam­ily and friends. How­ever, oth­er than that, it seems few­er peo­ple each year send cards out on their own. This sad­dens me, but, it seems that, oth­er than mod­el­ing the behav­ior I like, I am pow­er­less to change the sit­u­a­tion.

you can send these cards as well

I have repro­duc­tions of the cards avail­able for pur­chase at my Zaz­zle store. You can pur­chase them to send to your fam­i­ly and friends.

keep them coming

I don’t know if these phras­es are used any longer, but there was a time when they played a sig­nif­i­cant role in Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Thank you for all those cards and let­ters:

Keep those cards and let­ters com­ing in

(which I under­stand was a spe­cial part of The Dean Mar­tin Com­edy Hour”) though this is from a dif­fer­ent source:

not averse to change

Yes, I do miss receiv­ing those phys­i­cal cards. But, that does not mean that I will not express my Rosh haShan­nah greet­ings in a less “tra­di­tional” man­ner. I will wish my Twit­ter fol­low­ers a Shan­nah Tovah (with a link to this page). I will also add a note to my Face­book page that I’ve updat­ed this site in hon­or of the new year, and I will even share the first para­graph of this, with a link on Google+. Beyond those vir­tual wish­es, I often wear this but­ton dur­ing the peri­od lead­ing up to and imme­di­ately fol­low­ing Rosh haShan­nah.

l'shanah tova

l’shanah tova

Date: 1970s
Size: 3.8
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­ally attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

Posted in family, holidays, judaica, lapel buttons, music, ritual, when | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Did you go to the Purim Concert?

Purim: Megilla Readings, Balls and Concerts (oh my; so many options)

As long ago as 1864, New York Jews attend­ed Purim Balls, a tra­di­tion now main­tained for the past 32 years at The Jew­ish Muse­um. And, not only in New York, but also Bev­er­ly Hills, CA, Min­neapo­lis, MN and Akron, OH where young women are pre­sent­ed as “Esthers” to await­ing (Jew­ish?) Aha­suerus­es.
The sto­ry of Esther and our under­stand­ing of Purim seems to change with the times.

Purim and Politics

The sto­ry of Purim has been asso­ci­at­ed with polit­i­cal issues (and intrigue) since the Book of Esther was writ­ten.
In our own day…
Then First Lady Lau­ra Bush seemed to insert her hus­band Pres­i­dent George W. Bush into the Esther sto­ry when she cir­cu­lat­ed a let­ter to an evan­gel­i­cal newslet­ter, stat­ing with a quote from Esther 4:14 (אִם‑לְעֵת כָּזֹאת empha­sis mine):

In Ohio, I vis­it­ed with a woman who summed up our suc­cess this way. She said, “Pres­i­dent Bush was born for such a time as this. He nev­er wavers when it comes to doing the right thing. It makes me feel so secure to know that our leader has such a love for our coun­try.”

This idea that Pres­i­dent Bush was the con­tem­po­rary embod­i­ment of Queen Esther was soon exam­ined by oth­ers.

For those curi­ous about the, par­tic­u­lar­ly Chris­t­ian, use of this phrase, con­sid­er:

A more strik­ing appli­ca­tion of the Esther sto­ry in recent pol­i­tics relates to the rise of Sarah Palin. Three cita­tions suf­fice.

Sarah Palin as Queen (Esther?)

We Jews have also looked to the Purim sto­ry and Esther’s choic­es.
In 2008, Ziona Green­wald wrote “Purim, Pow­er, And Pol­i­tics”. She used the sto­ry to point out the arro­gance of lead­ers, a trait that leads to their down­fall (her exam­ple: Elliot Spitzer).

That’s one of the many thoughts that have crossed my mind since the Eliot Spitzer scan­dal broke. Spitzer is not the first pub­lic fig­ure to fall from grace, but the hypocrisy of his actions is stun­ning, almost poignant. Behold, one of the most arro­gant politi­cians of our time, who fash­ioned him­self the right­eous zealot root­ing out cor­rup­tion in high places, resigns in a mud­bath of moral dis­grace.

In his 2016 arti­cle “In God’s Absence: Pol­i­tics in the Purim Sto­ry” which appeared (appro­pri­ate­ly) in Hadas­sah mag­a­zine, David Hazony wrote:

But looked at more close­ly, this well-known sto­ry pos­es some dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Every twist in the intri­cate plot is described as tak­ing place at the ini­tia­tive of human beings. So why does the Bible include this utter­ly polit­i­cal sto­ry in which God is nev­er men­tioned, and bib­li­cal his­to­ry and tra­di­tions like the covenant of Abra­ham and the laws of Moses are absent? Even the hol­i­day of Purim itself, which Morde­cai and Esther estab­lished, is the first Jew­ish fes­ti­val that isn’t the result of a divine com­mand. Indeed, in the Book of Esther, every­thing that God once did for Israel is now por­trayed as being done by the Jews them­selves.

A Time Such As This?

Two weeks before Purim 5778 (Feb­ru­ary 14, 2018) a young man killed 17 stu­dents and fac­ul­ty at Stone­man Dou­glas High School The Wikipedia arti­cle about the shoot­ing men­tions that the shoot­er had “anti-black and anti-Mus­lim” ten­den­cies, but does not men­tion that he also expressed anti-Semit­ic views and at one time had dec­o­rat­ed his back­pack with Nazi sym­bols. The high school’s stu­dent body is 40% Jew­ish and near­ly 30% of those killed were Jews. Nonethe­less, the memo­r­i­al site for the dead at Pine Trails Park con­sists of cross­es. A recent arti­cle in Haaretz by Natal­ie Lif­son rais­es these issues and the dis­turb­ing respons­es she received on doing so.
Lif­son’s arti­cle does not men­tion Purim. How­ev­er, the Deutch sib­lings Gab­by, Ser­e­na, and Cole, who grew up in near­by Boca Raton feel there is a con­nec­tion.

I think it’s a hol­i­day that with­in the Jew­ish world, at least with­in more lib­er­al Jew­ish cir­cles, peo­ple take a lot of mes­sages of social jus­tice from, so I think with that in mind it made sense to use it,” she [Gab­by] said.

The Deutch Siblings

The Deutch Sib­lings


In response to the shoot­ing, and in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the vic­tims, the sib­lings have orga­nized an effort among Jew­ish stu­dent groups around the coun­try to bake and sell hamen­taschen. They view this as an effort to raise aware­ness and funds on behalf of Every­town for Gun Safe­ty and the March for Our Lives. Oth­er youth groups are also involved in sim­i­lar efforts for gun con­trol.
Like Purim itself, hamen­taschen have also tak­en on var­i­ous mean­ings through the years, from “Haman’s pock­ets” to “Haman’s ears”. While trav­el­ing in Switzer­land in 2010 we saw com­pa­ra­ble pas­tries called Pfaf­fen­hüet­ti (“Pope’s Hats”).

Pfaf­fen­hüet­ti at a Pat­tis­erie in Switzer­land 2010

And, as I have writ­ten else­where, on Jan­u­ary 22, 2002, stu­dents at Reed Col­lege decid­ed to bake hamen­taschen in hon­or of Roe V. Wade day. I have since learned that the event may, actu­al­ly, have been that year on Valen­tine’s Day in hon­or of “V‑Day”. Years lat­er in Lilith Mag­a­zine, Susan Schnur wrote: “The Once and Future Wom­an­tascn: Cel­e­brat­ing Purim’s Full Moon as “Holy Body Day”.

Why Rab­bi Louis Feld­man made the wrong sign for Hamen­taschen

How Will You Celebrate Purim This Year?

By the ear­ly 1930s Jew­ish life in Ger­many was already under threat. How­ev­er, aside from deal­ing the the prob­lems of the Great Depres­sion, Jew­ish life in the Bronx con­tin­ued in a vibrant man­ner. Some­time dur­ing that decade, a Purim con­cert was held at the Ortho­dox Chevra Shom­rey Sabath syn­a­gogue at 335 Beek­man Ave. in the Bronx, NY.

335 Beekman Ave., Bronx, NY

335 Beek­man Ave., Bronx, NY

A Google search for ‑purim activ­i­ties new york 2018- brings up a pletho­ra of events. Many are child ori­ent­ed. It’s good to know that, even at a time, 80 years ago, when Jew­ish life was under assault in Europe, adults gath­ered to enjoy music at their Bronx syn­a­gogue in cel­e­bra­tion of Purim.

Some Purim resources

In 1976 I worked with Con­gre­ga­tion Beth Chay­im Chadashim in Los Ange­les. We pro­duced a fun retelling of the Megilla.

This lit­tle Purim-Shpeil is writ­ten for those small com­mu­ni­ties of dis­persed fam­i­lies that can’t gath­er on all the hol­i­days but can get toge­hter to cel­e­brate hol­i­days on the clos­est Shab­bat.
Please feel free to print and dupli­cate this text and use it in com­mu­ni­ty. It was devel­oped many years ago (Purim 1976) for BCC (Beth Chay­im Chadashim) and some­what refined a few times since then. The text has a num­ber of unusu­al puns regard­ing which I say: “HaMeivin Yavin.”
Most of the text is designed to be read by a “leader” and the “con­gre­ga­tion” (the con­gre­ga­tion’s text is in ital­ics). Peri­od­i­cal­ly antiphonal read­ings also appear; the des­ig­nat­ed groups will be so labeled.
Alter­na­tive­ly, you can assign read­ers to Aha­suerus, Haman and Esther along with a leader and “Cho­rus” (the var­i­ous indi­vid­ual read­ers’ parts are indi­cat­ed).

You can down­load a copy for reprint­ing here.
And, for some addi­tion­al fun, Can­tor Joel Cole­man adapt­ed “Who’s on First” as: Who’s doing the She­ma? (… no, Who’s doing the can­dle light­ing!)

But, why did Chevra Shomrey Sabath produce a lapel button to mark its concert?

Bronx Purim Concert

Bronx Purim Con­cert

Date: 1930s
Size: 2.22
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text ‚פורים קאנצערט ת״ת 335 ביקמאן עוו. נ,י
trans­la­tion: “Purim Con­cert T[almud] T[orah] 335 Beek­man Ave. N.Y.”

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

Posted in from the archives, holidays, judaica, lapel buttons, politics, ritual | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Be Happy, It’s Adar! (again)

On 15 Feb­ru­ary, 2018, in hon­or of Rosh Ḥodesh Adar 5778:

The Hebrew text around the edge says: MiShenich­nas Adar Mar­bim BeS­im­cha
(When Adar Comes, Joy Is Increased)
משניכנס אדר מרבין בשימחה

Date: 1980s?
Size: 4.4 cm
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid

On 23 Feb­ru­ary, 2009, in hon­or of Rosh Ḥodesh Adar 5769:

The Hebrew text around the edge says: MiShenich­nas Adar Mar­bim BeS­im­cha
(When Adar Comes, Joy Is Increased)
משניכנס אדר מרבין בשימחה

Why should joy increase when the month of Adar begins? Because this is the true end of win­ter which was her­ald­ed by Tu b’Sh­vat two weeks ago. From here on (at least in the Land of Israel), no more frosts, no more frozen ground is expect­ed. Spring and its hol­i­days are around the cor­ner. Now, when the ground will no longer freeze, it is safe to fill pot­holes. In two weeks we’ll cel­e­brate the Jew­ish peo­ple’s ver­sion of Mar­di Gras: Purim. Indeed the land and our smiles come out of the cold and warm into smiles.

Date: 1970s?
Size: 6.0 cm
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid

Juda­ic Lapel But­tons

© Mark Hurvitz

Orig­i­nal­ly Post­ed 23 Feb­ru­ary, 2009 (Rosh Ḥos­desh Adar, 5769)
Update Post­ed 15 Feb­ru­ary, 2018 (Rosh Ḥos­desh Adar, 5778)

Posted in from the archives, holidays, judaica, lapel buttons, ritual | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment