Review of A Girl From There

December 29, 2015

by Jack RiemerAGirlFromThere web2

I suppose that within every adult there are the memories of childhood living inside, struggling to get out. If the childhood has been a healthy one, then the adult and the child within live together in peace. If the childhood has been horrible, then the struggle never ends.

This is a book of poems by an adult, who lives with the constant presence within her of an unimaginably awful past. These poems describe what life was like for a child who lived in the Warsaw ghetto where you had to hide every time there was a knock on the door, and you were not allowed to sneeze or cry or make a noise until it was quiet outside. These poems describe what it feels like to be an adult who, when she was a child of three, was given away for safekeeping by her mother to a Polish neighbor, and whose mother taught her how to pretend to be a Christian before she left. These poems recall what it was like after the war to be the only Jewish child in a Polish school, and then what it was like to be a foreigner in an Israeli school at a time when the other children in your class simply could not understand what it was like to come from a world so unimaginably different from theirs.   Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of The Night That Unites Passover Haggadah

April 8, 2014

by Rabbi Jack Riemer TheNightThatUnites9789655241532

How would you like to sit at the seder with three of the giants of the last century — the Rav, the Rav Harashi and the Reb — and listen to them exchange insights into the haggadah? This new Haggadah makes it possible for you to do just that.

The Rav was Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leader of Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. The Rav, as he was known to his many disciples, was the inheritor of the Brisker dynasty, which developed a whole new method for analyzing the Talmud, and he came to America with a doctorate in Philosophy that he had earned at a German university. He is the icon of those who believe that it is possible to combine an enormous knowledge of the tradition with an understanding and appreciation for modern culture and philosophy.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook was the first Rav Harashi — the Chief Rabbi of Palestine under the British mandate. He combined an enormous knowledge of the Jewish mystical tradition with a poetic soul and with an understanding of the need to appreciate and not rebuff the pioneers who were building the land of Israel.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach,ֲ “Reb Shlomo” as he was known to his followers, was a travelling troubadour who crossed the country, reaching the souls of both involved Jews and young people who were on the periphery of Jewish life with his songs and his stories. Few of us realized when we listened to him how great his knowledge of Hassidic literature was, and how serious was his desire to reach out to those whom mainstream Jews had given up on.

It is hard to imagine these three sitting at the same table, celebrating Pesach together, but this new haggadah: “œThe Night That Unites” does the next best thing. It chooses some of the very best insights of the three, edits and simplifies them so that the general reader can understand them, and puts them together side by side on each page of the haggadah.

Every year I try to call attention in this column to the best haggadah of the year. This one wins the prize this year hands down. Most of the new haggadot are based on the premise that in order to have a seder that speaks to our generation, we must make it as brief as possible, and we must spell out the parallels between the Exodus andֲ the freedom stories in the world around us. So the black spiritual: When Israel Was in Egypt Land-Let My People Go, and the story of Soviet Jewry’s liberation in our time, and discussions of America’s policy in Vietnam and elsewhere have become staples of the seder. This book is different. It leaves nothing of the traditional haggadah out, for it believes that this is a night for study, and that if we invite our guests to stretch their minds and work hard, they will respond. And this haggadah does not draw any parallels between the Exodus and any of the freedom movements of our time, because it is based on the premise that this is the night for telling our story, and that the parallels to those of others that may be in it, people can find by themselves.

I love the artwork in this haggadah, starting with the three seder plates on the cover that stand for the three thinkers whose work is found inside. And I love the fact that each unit contains questions that can be asked at the seder in order to make it a participatory experience. I started out marking the pages that I liked the best so that I would be sure to study them at the seder, and I soon found that I had marked almost every page.

So this is, at least in my opinion, the best new haggadah of the year, and I recommend that you bring it to your table on seder night. It is the next best thing to having three of the giants of Jewish life sitting there with you.

This review originally appeared in the South Florida Jewish Journal


‘Kaddish, Women’s Voices’ depicts struggle between modernity and modern Orthodoxy

November 5, 2013

by Rabbi Jack Riemer kaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

Rabbi Norman Lamm once said that when modernity fights with the liberal movements in Judaism, it is not a fair fight because modernity always wins, and that when modernity fights with the right wing of Orthodoxy, it is not a fair fight because the right wing always wins. Kaddish, Women’s Voices is a book in which modernity fights with modern Orthodoxy, and the results are fascinating.

Fifty-two women write their accounts of what it was like for them to say the Kaddish prayer for their deceased loved ones in the daily minyanim of modern Orthodox synagogues.

Two emotions wrestle within these women. One is anger. They were not feminists, and they were not asking for the removal of the mechitza or for the right to lead services. They were only looking for minimal respect for their right to be there and minimal courtesy for their sincere religious yearnings, but they report that in many places they did not receive either. They tell of places where men walked out when they said Kaddish, where the tzedaka box was never carried over to their section, and where they were made to feel unwanted and invisible. They tell what it felt like when the lights were lit in the men’s section, and no one remembered or bothered to light them in the women’s section as well.

But anger is not the only, or even the most important, emotion in this book. These women describe, as many men have, the powerful spiritual effect that saying Kaddish every day had on them.

One woman writes, “Even as I hit upon its limits, I Read the rest of this entry »