First, a joke I remember reading as a child in The Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten:
There once was a Russian man who received a telegram from his wife which read: "DOCTOR SAYS OPERATE OPERATE." The husband then cabled back immediately this telegram: "DOCTOR SAYS OPERATE OPERATE." This exchange aroused the suspicions of the authorities, who immediately investigated to see if this was some secret code. But the husband protested that the authorities were simply misreading the telegram. Clearly what the wife said was: ¨Doctor says operate. Operate?¨ And the reply: ¨Doctor says operate?! Operate!!¨
What sounds like one thing can mean quite another. It all depends on context.
Pesach is coming up soon, and with it culinary tradition and memory. Matza balls that float (or don't), chopped liver (here's a great recipe for a Pesadik vegetarian version), and, for me, the greatest foodstuff that came along with Pesach was chocolate. On this holiday of freedom, I and my sisters were free to indulge in lots and lots of chocolate: macaroons, jellies, nuts, creams - even orange peels. (I never really understood that one, but didn't let it stop me.)
But what sounds like one thing can mean quite another. I never thought to ask where all that chocolate came from. Perhaps I imagined Kosher Willy Wonka and redeemed Oompa Loompas creating Jewish holiday treats. But this Pesach there will be no chocolate at my Seder Table. Why? Because, as Danish journalist Miki Mistrati exposed in his heartbreaking
documentary "The Dark Side of Chocolate", filmed during his visit to Cote d'Ivoire, not only are children working in the world's cocoa fields, many are trafficked there, working involuntarily,and in hazardous conditions. There is no Kosher for Pesach Fair Trade Chocolate to date.
So what does "Chocolate" mean? It all depends on context.
Similarly, I just finished my learning with the Shorashim Hebrew School and Amitim students. I shared with them Rosten's joke, and then asked them if they had friends who did not know what the word "Netivot" meant. Most raised their hands. Then I asked the children to tell me what I meant when I used the word "Netivot." Most pointed to our shul itself. But I didn't mean our shul. I was referring to the city of Netivot in Israel where, just hours ago, a Grad rocket fired from Gaza exploded in a parking lot, injuring more than 20 people. Imagine reading the headline: "Rocket hits Netivot parking lot." You can. Just click here.
Context matters. It takes an understanding of context to truly hear, to see beyond words into reality. And we can do something about that.
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As we will say at our Seders this year about Matzah, the bread of our freedom:
All who are hungry, let them enter and eat.
All who are in need, let them come celebrate Pesach.
Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel.
Now we are enslaved. Next year we will be free!
Let's do our part in bringing this Jewish vision of universal liberation just one step closer.
I had a beautiful day today. I stood with my sister, a passionate rabbi serving the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. We remembered our grandfather of blessed memory, who fought for America and shared hard-earned wisdom with his children and grandchildren.
I looked to my right and saw the Washington Monument. Looked to my left at the Lincoln Memorial. I read quotes engraved on massive stones. And I felt, to my core, one sad feeling: too much war.
Too. Much. War.
The quotes and certain retellings of history would have me believe that we fought for pure purposes: we fought for religious freedom, we fought to end slavery, we fought for freedom for all humanity, we fought to end tyranny. But it's also true that we fought (and fight) for economic interests. It&…