what would dad think?

polity not piety™

Yes, that’s a “trade­mark” sym­bol there. Why not? I con­tin­ue to tell peo­ple that I came to the rab­binate out of “poli­ty” not “piety”. My involve­ment was as a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er. A quick check on Google indi­cates that I’m near­ly the only per­son to have used it… and, at that, sig­nif­i­cant­ly more fre­quent­ly.

nathan hurvitz

Our father died 25 years ago today (29 Iyyar 5746). He was only 71. He had a weak heart from rheumat­ic fever. And he lead a stressed life as a “Type A” Per­son­al­i­ty (though while he could be hos­tile, at times, he did not express “free-float­ing hos­til­i­ty”). And then at 41 he had a mas­sive heart attack… fol­lowed by a cou­ple more in the next few years. Were it not for the fact that this hap­pened in the late ‘50s and that he had a weak­ened heart to begin with, he would like­ly have been a can­di­date for coro­nary artery bypass surgery. But life did not work that way. Instead, he lived the next 30 years, a full, but care­ful life.

Nate Hurvitz grew up in Cleve­land, OH, in the “first area of set­tle­ment” (odd­ly enough, I thought this was a com­mon­ly used soci­o­log­i­cal phrase, but I can find noth­ing that explains the phrase on the Web). His par­ents had come to the States from Chernigov, Ukraine, Pale/Settlement via Ham­burg, Ger­many on the Printz Adal­bert which arrived at Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia on April 14, 1914. (How Hil­lel Gure­witz and Fayge Brinn trav­eled from Cernigov to Ham­burg, I nev­er learned.) In Cleve­land, his par­ents were blue-col­lar work­ers who iden­ti­fied as Jews and extreme left­ists, and inter­na­tion­al­ists. Hil­lel, now Har­ry, sang in the choral group of his Jew­ish work­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion. Fayge was a seam­stress and took in piece­work. Nate’s first lan­guage was Yid­dish. In fact, he did not speak much Eng­lish until he began pub­lic school, and, even when he was in his ear­ly thir­ties, he thought the Ger­man word for “old woman” was “alte yid­deneh”. Nate was 14 years old when the Great Depres­sion began. Dur­ing the 1930s, as the fam­i­ly lore has it, Nate, a good speak­er, was able to draw a crowd while orat­ing from a soap­box. He would do this in front of a house in fore­clo­sure where the owner’s goods were being removed. As the crowd gath­ered lis­ten­ing, oth­ers would be busy mov­ing the objects back into the house. But, Nate want­ed to be a writer, not an agi­ta­tor.

nate hurvitz the writer

nate hurvitz the writer

on creativity

Dad would have agreed with Ein­stein:

Imag­i­na­tion is more impor­tant than knowl­edge. Knowl­edge is lim­it­ed. Imag­i­na­tion encir­cles the world.

Dad wrote poems, plays, songs, short sto­ries.

the word (words & music by nathan hurvitz)


I have many slips of paper on which he wrote; slow­ly I have begun dig­i­tiz­ing them so that our broad­er fam­i­ly can have access. He also wrote numer­ous arti­cles, both in his pro­fes­sion­al field and in areas of inquiry that engaged him.

Though he died 5 years before it launched in 1991, he would have loved the Web. He often used web imagery when talk­ing with us about learn­ing, a sim­i­le I now use with our chil­dren:

Learn­ing is like cre­at­ing a fish­ing net or a spider’s web. The more you weave into it the more it is capa­ble of catch­ing.

He would also say:

Don’t let col­lege inter­fere with your edu­ca­tion.

His cre­ativ­i­ty led him to work in var­i­ous media.

mom at art exhibit

faye hurvitz with one of nate hurvitz’s cre­ations at barns­dall art exhib­it, los ange­les 1973; pho­to by nate

nate hurvitz astronomer

nate the sculptor/astronomer

I’m ahead of my story

Even though he con­tin­ued to write all his life, and had projects on which he was work­ing when he died, Dad was nev­er able to make a liv­ing from his writ­ing. On his return from his “all expens­es paid tour of Europe dressed in green” he devel­oped an intense inter­est in Jew­ish his­to­ry and life… espe­cial­ly the life of the destroyed com­mu­ni­ties of East­ern Europe from which his par­ents had come. He worked, not as a writer, but as a social work­er in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and then in pri­vate prac­tice as a mar­riage and fam­i­ly coun­selor. He and our moth­er col­lect­ed arti­facts that depict­ed the life of the work­ing-class Jews of East­ern Europe. (He used to joke that this was our yerushe ירושׁה (inher­i­tance).)

our inheritance

part of our (phys­i­cal) inher­i­tance

After Dad died, Mom arranged to give their col­lec­tion of graph­ics (wood­cuts, lith­o­graphs, and etch­ings)to the Magnes Muse­um in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia which exhib­it­ed the col­lec­tion

shtetl life brochure

shtetl life brochure

and pro­duced a cat­a­log of it.

shtetl life catalog (front)

shtetl life cat­a­log (front)

nothing alien

Dad was a life-long athe­ist, and though he nev­er read Rosen­zweig (pre­fer­ring his­to­ri­ans to philoso­phers), he would like­ly have agreed with the para­phrase of Ter­ence attrib­uted to him (Franz): “noth­ing Jew­ish may be exclud­ed as alien”. Dad was com­mit­ted to the sur­vival of the Jew­ish peo­ple. Even dur­ing his years as an Inter­na­tion­al­ist (as con­trast­ed with being a Zion­ist), he and Mom sent me to Habon­im sum­mer camp and encour­aged my par­tic­i­pa­tion in Zion­ist youth activ­i­ties. As an athe­ist Jew­ish fam­i­ly, we observed Shab­bat in our home with can­dle light­ing and its bless­ings, kid­dush, and motzie. When Dad’s col­leagues would join us for Shab­bat din­ner they would won­der why “Natie Hurvitz the athe­ist” was say­ing the bless­ings. He respond­ed by say­ing that:

These are the folk­ways of our peo­ple. As the world turns toward dark­ness, it has been the role of the Jew­ish peo­ple to light can­dles in the dark. By doing so we iden­ti­fy our­selves with Jews every­where and through­out his­to­ry who have lit their can­dles.

His intense com­mit­ment to the Jew­ish people’s sur­vival, pos­si­bly blind­ed him in ways that caused him pain, and like­ly short­ened his life even more than the phys­i­cal prob­lems that he refused to allow to lim­it him.

but tweeting #torah?

How did the son of Nathan Hurvitz, the Yid­dishist Sec­u­lar­ist Inter­na­tion­al­ist Athe­ist, become a rab­bi encour­ag­ing peo­ple to do this:

”Twit­ter Torah to the top” in the “cloud” as it appears above #Sinai for #Shavuot.

first: polity

With the world’s aware­ness of the “Face­book Rev­o­lu­tion&Twit­ter Rev­o­lu­tion” in Moldo­va as well as in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and oth­er parts of the Arab World, I won­der: can the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty use Twit­ter as a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing tool. Can we “Tweet #Torah to the Top”? Can we use this it as an “orga­niz­ing project”, a test to see if some­thing more con­se­quen­tial than Justin Bieber, can draw people’s atten­tion.

As MyJewishLearning.com expressed it recent­ly in its dai­ly e‑newsletter called “Jew­ni­verse”:

The project’s imme­di­ate goal is to make “Torah” one of Twitter’s most-talked-about top­ics.

I would call that a worth­while goal in and of itself.

This effort “democ­ra­tizes” Torah. Every­one can share a thought about Torah:

  • Bar and Bat Mitz­vah stu­dents could be encour­aged to tweet a thought or two about their Torah Por­tion.
  • Con­fir­ma­tion stu­dents could be encour­aged to tweet a thought or two about the Ten Com­mand­ments (as well as the Torah por­tion from their Bar or Bat Mitz­vah).
  • Any adult edu­ca­tion class could tweet their favorite Psalm, Prophet­ic thought, Rab­binic max­im.
  • Any­one can tweet a thought about: what it means to be com­mand­ed; what “rev­e­la­tion” means in a world of infor­ma­tion over­load.
  • In 5770 Rab­bi David Levy of Suc­ca­sun­na pre­pared a tweet for each of the Parsh­iot. I know that some peo­ple write haiku, oth­ers write lim­er­icks. These short forms often fit quite well as tweets.
  • If you have ser­mons that are online, short­en the URL using a ser­vice such as is.gd and add that short URL to a phrase that describes the sermon’s theme.

I’m inter­est­ed in this as a once-a-year activ­i­ty, a sort of “pil­grim­age” or “gath­er­ing of the tribes”. After all, Shavuot is one of the three pil­grim­age fes­ti­vals. When you’re at the “be-in” unusu­al mix­es occur. I want to see what hap­pens. On pre­vi­ous occa­sions (this is the third year) I’ve “met” peo­ple who have been inter­est­ing to fol­low (which means “learn from/with”).

As part of this project, I won­dered: “How does an idea go viral?” Social sci­en­tists have stud­ied the phe­nom­e­non. Some Twit­ter users have been able to fool the world about cer­tain actu­al events such as
Think­ing bin Laden Watched The IT Crowd and Big Bang The­o­ry. And so, I’ve men­tioned:

In fact, on @TheDailyShow @billycrystal told Jon Stew­art “Jews should tweet.” Do you think he means “#Torah to the Top”? http://is.gd/nuryZj

Please join us if you have a Twit­ter account. If you have a Face­book account, you can “join” the event.

then: piety:

How­ev­er, MyJewishLearning.com takes the idea fur­ther, and in a very pos­i­tive man­ner. (Beyond: “I mean, like, who cares if you can make #Torah “trendy” for a day… doesn’t that seem to cheap­en Torah?”)

But the larg­er goal is to remind us how inspi­ra­tional the Torah can be—even if you’re read­ing it 140 char­ac­ters at a time.

From all of these per­spec­tives, I’m sure that Dad would have thought this a valu­able activ­i­ty.

and beside that…

both in rela­tion to Dad and Torah:

All his life, Dad worked for a nicer and bet­ter world. He shared those val­ues with his chil­dren who car­ry on his (and Mom’s) efforts. Though Dad rarely wore a lapel but­ton (Mom did, she had a few favorites), he would def­i­nite­ly agree with the sen­ti­ment expressed in this one. (The Eng­lish is: “a nicer/prettier and bet­ter world”.) He would also con­cur that this thought is at the core of Torah.

א שענערע און בעשׂערע וועלט

א שענערע און בעשׂערע וועלט

Date: 2000s
Size: 5.71
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text א

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.

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2 Responses to what would dad think?

  1. Frume Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for shar­ing a piece of your father with us. He was a hand­some man with kind eyes.

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