The Cave of My Imagination

By Jason K. Friedman


Ma’arat Ha-machpelah, the alliterative name sounded as magical to me as the lives of the people buried there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. I learned about the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s most ancient site, in Hebrew day school, and I still remembered the Hebrew name when I went to Israel for the first time, four decades later.

Since my upbringing as a yeshiva boy in southeast Georgia, I’d moved north to college and stayed, experiencing my own secular enlightenment. I’d become a progressive and a Yom Kippur Jew. But all my religious learning and feeling was still in there, easily recalled when needed to say the prayers over the Chanukah candles or sing the Shabbat Kiddush.

My first brush with the reality that someone with this biography might not be welcomed with open arms to Israel came in Ben Gurion airport. A reedy young woman in uniform plucked me from among the blue-T-shirted young American Christians I’d flown over with, and escorted me toward baggage claim.

She asked me questions in Hebrew. “A-nee lo mayveen,” I replied. I don’t understand. In English she asked how I learned Hebrew. “B’beit sefer,” I said. In Hebrew school. “B’beit sefer,” she repeated. [Read more…]

Confession: Yom Kippur 5774

I rise with the congregation.

I form a fist. They form a fist. We form a fist. The fist is personal. The fist is communal. We have sinned. The fist knocks on my chest. We have sinned. The fist knocks on their chests. We have sinned. The fist knocks on our chests. The fist knocks.

I chant, they chant, we chant:

We have sinned, betrayed, robbed, and deceived.

We have acted basely and caused evil;

We have acted maliciously, violently,

And have spread lies.

We have given bad advice, we have misled;

We have mocked, rebelled, and scorned;

We have acted stubbornly and perversely;

We have transgressed and acted hostilely;

We have been obstinate.

We have acted wickedly and corruptly;

We have committed abominations;

We have gone astray and have led others astray. [Read more…]

An Orchestra Against Ignorance

The alumni magazine of Brown University, my alma mater, begins its article on a unique orchestra like this:

“We are an orchestra against ignorance.” That’s how Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim describes the West-Eastern Divan, which consists of young musicians hailing from Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Picture a teenage violinist from Israel; his name is Ilya. Picture a teenage violinist from Lebanon; his name is Claude. They know nothing of one another’s lives. Or, actually, they think they do know about each other’s lives, because each has been raised on negative stereotypes about the other. [Read more…]