Shabbat shalom! Good luck with your brackets if you are following NCAA’s March Madness (basketball at its best) and, happy Purim to one and all!
Growing up, I don’t remember ever celebrating Purim, at home or at Hebrew School. That could just be my withering memory. For in Israel, it is a widely celebrated holiday, with kids dressing up in themed costumes 4 days before and 4 days after the actual holiday commemorating the saving of the Jewish people from the evil Haman by Queen Esther and Mordecai. The day of deliverance has become a day of feasting and rejoicing among Jews around the world. Perhaps this year, the story has more resonance, and we can pray that the people of Ukraine will be delivered from the evils and March madness of Poohtin, the Russian turd.
My shout out this week is to the people and government of Poland, who are working at the grassroots level on up through the government to tirelessly help the Ukrainian refugees with settlement in Poland. With the help of relief agencies from all over the world, the Polish people have built tent cities, are providing food, diapers, Sim cards, and free train services for the thousands of desperate Ukrainians entering their borders every day! Civilians are literally picking up people at the borders and bringing them into their homes.
The response in Israel is a different, more complicated story, and one which is setting off serious internal debate within the country. Israel’s public position is that they will accept all Ukrainian Jews based on the “law of return” and 5,000 other presumably non-Jews. While others opposing this policy have just said, let them all in and sort it out later. Does Israel have a moral imperative to do more? What does “never again” mean in this context? Talk amongst yourselves. But if you want to get a better flavor for this debate, listen to the last 12 minutes of this weeks “Unholy: Two Jews on the News” with this link. Unholy: Two Jews on the News.
In other news for the Jews around the world, here are some of the carefully curated stories I have selected for you, courtesy of The Forward and Times of Israel.
Can an Orthodox Jew make it to the NBA? Yeshiva University’s Ryan Turell is trying to become the first Orthodox Jew to make it in the Bigs. Of course there have been other non-orthodox Jews in the NBA (Red Holzman, Dolph Scheys, Amar’e Stoudemire, eg) but Ryan would be the first to wear a Yarmulka while lighting up the 3-pointers. “Being the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA would mean the world to me, and a dream come true, God willing,” Turell told ESPN this week. “But, just as importantly, it would mean the world to others that never saw this as a possibility.” Click here for more.
This week in history: Albert Einstein, the world’s most famous Jewish genius, was born on March 14, 1879. When traveling, he was stopped everywhere he went by photographers and autograph seekers. On a visit to Tokyo in 1922, thousands of Japanese fans took part in an all-night vigil outside of the hotel where Einstein and his wife were staying. When he walked out onto the balcony, the throngs cheered with rapture. Einstein’s mother, however, had a different opinion of her son. According to a 1947 headline from The Forward, “Albert Einstein’s Mother Thought He’d Grow Up To Be A Gornisht.” Gornisht is Yiddish for “nothing” or “zilch.”
Polish Yeshiva now houses Ukrainian refugees - The basement is now crowded with boxes of clothes, strollers and diapers for babies, as well as food and medical supplies. A swarm of volunteers fold up clothes for the Ukrainians who arrive only with the things they were able to carry. In the city of Lublin, between winding cobbled streets, stands a bright yellow building that's impossible to miss. It has eight columns out front and a wide staircase that leads to large, carved wooden doors that let out a long moan as they swing shut.
It was built almost a century ago as a Jewish house of study, but today is being used for a purpose that no one who designed it would have ever imagined. Click here for more.
🏝️ Aloha-Mitzvah - A Jewish woman who moved to Maui in 2017 is turning the island into a destination for beachfront bnei mitzvahs. It’s drawing families frustrated by COVID restrictions at synagogues and party venues, and, as the pitchwoman put it: “It’s much more spiritual than being in a space with fluorescent lights.” (JTA)
The Batman’s Jewish Origins - Batman (originally “The Bat-Man”) debuted in May 1939’s Detective Comics #27. He was created by artist Bob Kane (Robert Kahn) and writer Bill (Milton) Finger (who also co-created Green Lantern), in response to the runaway success of the first superhero, Superman, the year prior, by the same publishers. DC, Batman’s publisher, was owned by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz (Yakov Lebovitz), Jewish street toughs from the Lower East Side turned entrepreneurs. They also published nudie mags, and before that Donenfeld made his living bootlegging moonshine during Prohibition. For more on the Bat Jew, click here.
✈️ Oops, Sierra Club changes its mind - Well, that was fast. The Sierra Club has reversed its decision and reinstated trips to Israel after a backlash. The environmental nonprofit – which has long offered trips to explore Israel’s biodiversity, bird migrations and desert landscape – had canceled them under pressure from anti-Zionist groups. Then the pressure reversed. “We cannot allow an existential issue as critical as combating climate change to be derailed by toxic political infighting,” said Tyler Gregory of the Jewish Community Relations Council. (Times of Israel)
Culture tip of the week - We’ve all heard about President Zelenskyy’s previous career as an actor. Well, now’s your chance to see it for yourself. The first season of Zelenskyy’s political satire series, “Servant of the People,” arrived on Netflix Wednesday. In it, Zelenskyy portrays a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a video of him complaining about corruption goes viral. When he ran for president of Ukraine in 2019, he named his political party after the series. Watch it on Netflix here ➤
That’s all for now. And hey, let’s be careful out there. And don’t eat too much hamantaschen!