By Light of Hidden Candle[lighting Custom]s

Dear Josep,

So, after ostensibly “freezing” the text of By Light of Hidden Candles¬†(my upcoming novel) for formatting, my editor found a bunch of other issues and we did another feverish round of editing on a short deadline. Now the text is frozen for real (RIGHT, DON?!)–at least, barring any issues our beta-readers and early reviewers find in the galley.

On the day before we froze the text, I became aware of a potential issue that I hadn’t even thought of before. As one might surmise from the title of the book, Shabbat candles make several important appearances. I described, in great detail, my modern Jewish character lighting Shabbat candles–twice–in the manner I am familiar with; and then it came to my attention that Sephardi tradition is different from Ashkenazi tradition.

(And here, for a change, was an issue with the book that it would be completely pointless to ask you about! ūüėõ )

…Let me back up a bit and explain how this candlelighting thing is done.

There are certain commandments that require a blessing immediately before performing them. But in the case of Shabbat candles, there’s an issue: making the blessing is sort of a declaration that I am accepting Shabbat. That means it’s Shabbat for me when I finish the blessing–and if I haven’t lit the candles yet, I can’t light them on Shabbat, right?!

So Ashkenazi custom has the following solution: we light the candles first, cover our eyes, make the blessing, and then open our eyes and look at the candles, as if they just appeared! Magic! ūüėõ

Sephardi custom, however, is to say the blessing before lighting the candles with the understanding that the blessing is not a declaration of “accepting” Shabbat; but rather, their intention is to “accept” Shabbat only after the candles are lit, or only when it enters at sunset.

Well… at least, that’s the custom in theory.

You see, I have several Sephardi/North African/Middle Eastern friends, with whom I have spent Shabbat; and I didn’t remember noticing anything unusual about their candlelighting customs. So I decided to try and find out what people actually do. I took to Facebook and took an unofficial survey among my Sephardi friends.

That’s how I discovered that the matter is actually a lot more complicated than I had suspected.

My friend Malka said her Yemenite mother-in-law makes the blessing first and then lights the candles, but doesn’t blow out the match.

My friend Shareen, who has Tunisian and Persian grandmothers, said they both lit first and made the blessing while “covering” the candles with their hands.

My friend Nora, who follows the custom of her Moroccan mother-in-law, said she lights first, covers her eyes, and makes the blessing. She mentioned, however, that she has a friend of Algerian origin who makes the blessing first and then lights the candles.

My friend Yemima, whose mother was an Italian descendant of Jewish refugees from the Spanish expulsion, said her mother lit first and then made the blessing, but never covered her eyes.

My friend Reut said her Libyan grandmother lit first, covered her eyes, and made the blessing.

My friend Shahar said her Libyan grandmother made the blessing first, then lit the candles, didn’t blow out the match, and then covered their eyes to pray; whereas her Moroccan grandmother did the same, but without covering her eyes.

My friend Yonit–who is Ashkenazi–pointed out that it doesn’t really help to ask individuals if you’re trying to determine what the custom of a particular ethnic group is. I explained that I’m not doing a scientific study here; I’m just trying to find out what people do. “I want what my character does to be at least somewhat connected to reality, so people don’t come after me with pitchforks yelling, ‘You Ashkenazi, what are you doing writing about Sephardi characters?!'”

At this point I was feeling pretty confused and felt it was time to¬†call in the real authorities. Thankfully, I knew who to call: a number of years ago, I got in touch with Yaacov Ben-Tolila, a retired professor from Ben-Gurion University who is Israel’s leading expert on Haket√≠a (the Judeo-Spanish of North Africa) and the Jewish community of Morocco under the Spanish Protectorate. He happens to have been born in the same city and the same year as my fictional grandmother character! He was an amazing resource and was very happy to tell me about his childhood in T√©touan.

So I wrote him an e-mail, and the following morning he called me. He described his mother’s Shabbat candle (only one!) in great detail, and said he was sure she didn’t cover her eyes, but couldn’t remember if she made the blessing before or after lighting. He recommended I contact Mois Benarroch, an Israeli author who was also born in T√©touan and who has written and published many books set in his hometown. (He blogs in Spanish and Hebrew with excerpts of his work; check out the Spanish one here!)

Mind you, this is all while we were hoping to have the manuscript finalized that day!

So I found Mois Benarroch on Facebook and asked him the question. To my enormous relief, he answered within a few hours. He remembered the women making the blessing while lighting the candles and then covering their eyes!

“The results of my survey,” I wrote on the original Facebook thread, “are as follows: everyone does something different! And no matter what I write, some group somewhere will find a reason to come after me with pitchforks. Conclusion: practice self-defense against pitchforks!”

And now you must be wondering, after all this confusing research, what I decided to have my character do!

I took out all reference to covering eyes, and simply listed her actions: “I struck a match, lit the candles, and made the blessing…” leaving it ambiguous whether she makes the blessing¬†while lighting the candles or after.

“But you know what I’m going to get out of this?” I said to Eitan as I got ready to pick up R2 from preschool after finally resolving this issue on the manuscript. “A great blog post!”

ūüėČ

With love,

Daniella

P.S. to Little Torah Champions

P.S. Remember the awesome after-school program I mentioned in the previous post? The one that got my kids to stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuot?

So, every week, they come home with a laminated card, often with a magnet on the back, about the value they studied that week. Last week, they came home with this:

What on earth, you may be wondering, is a picture of Messi doing illustrating a card about a value learned from the Mishna?!

R1 explained it to me: The value they were studying was¬†hakarat hatov, which literally means “recognizing the good”. The term describes a sort of humble gratitude: recognizing and acknowledging the good that someone (or Someone) has done for you, rather than taking full credit for all your achievements.

To demonstrate this value, their teacher showed them a video of a spectacular soccer game won by the Barcelona team. When Messi scores the winning goal, he points at the sky–as shown in the photo–and then points at the player who passed him the ball. Their teacher explained to them that even Messi, revered by practically every Israeli boy as the best soccer player in the world, recognizes that his accomplishments are not his alone, but are thanks to God–who gave him the talent and opportunities that brought him to where he is today–and to his team members, without whom he would never have been able to win the game.

And that is how you teach a group of soccer-obsessed Israeli boys about gratitude and humility!

I told you their teacher is a genius! ūüėČ

Little Torah Champions

Dear Josep,

So, last week was Shavuot. (If you need a refresher on Shavuot, click here!) I’ve mentioned before that there is a custom to stay up all night learning Torah on this holiday. Our town has a particularly rich and varied program for this purpose; lots of different kinds of classes and workshops and activities in different places (and different languages!) running until morning. Eitan and I usually decline attending any of them in favor of going to bed and feeling human the next day.¬†My two elder sons, however, had other plans.

H and R1¬†attend this after-school program called “Beit Yachad” (literally “the House of Together”). Each week they focus on a different value learned from Ethics of the Fathers in the Mishna. They have activities based on the¬†theme of the week, including working with the community and volunteering as well as artwork and putting on skits and stuff. The guy who runs it is an incredible and highly experienced educator who has an amazing way with children.

On Shavuot, they run a special program for children from first- through third-grade starting at 10:30pm and running, yes yes–all night. (Israelis in general and Tekoans in particular have a very blas√© attitude toward sleep hygiene. This is something that has always driven me crazy–especially as an intermittent insomniac¬†who really, really suffers when she’s sleep-deprived.) They go through all 48 values that they intend to address over the course of the year, and the children are rewarded with treats and prizes along the way.

Last year, when H was in first grade, he really wanted to go and I wasn’t sure how to make it work. I mean, he had just turned 7. What 7-year-old can stay up all night learning–generous bribery notwithstanding?! That year, I was asked to participate in an artist’s discussion panel as a local author, so we dropped H off at Beit Yachad at 10:30 and I figured I’d pick him up after midnight on my way back home. But when I got there, he begged me to let him stay.

I was torn between my American-helicopter-parent instincts–which screamed at me that it was utterly insane to leave my son here overnight and trust him to ask an adult to help him cross the street and come home on his own while I was still sleeping–and my Jewish-mother pride that my 7-year-old was begging me to let him stay up all night to learn Torah. In the end, the Jewish mother in me won, and I went home and slept very fitfully, worrying about him getting home okay.

The next morning, we discovered him asleep on the guest bed. He apparently did not have the energy to climb to the top bunk where he sleeps… but we also discovered that before he collapsed, he sat down at the table and drew, in pencil, a meticulously detailed drawing of the medal and prize tickets he had won for staying up all night. (He apparently forgot, in the fog of sleeplessness, that drawing isn’t allowed on Yom Tov!)

I posted it on Facebook last year and concluded: “My first time waking up to find my son sprawled out somewhere after a long night out, and puzzling over the bizarre evidence of his exhausted-stupor-induced activities. I had no idea it would start this early.”

He was totally psyched to do it again this year, and I was confident about letting him do it again. But I wasn’t sure about R1. He’s more sensitive to physical discomfort; he needs more rest and more space and¬†gets frustrated¬†more easily. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle an all-nighter at the tender age of 6. I wasn’t even sure he’d be awake at 10:30pm when the program started. But he was, and he wanted to go. So we told him to come home when he wanted to and to have an adult help him cross the street. Eitan took them over there at around 10:20–bringing along the remainders of H’s birthday cake–and we went to bed.

I awoke with the Muslims just before 4am, and saw that neither of the kids were home yet. I lay in bed listening to the muezzin and trying not to worry. (Always a successful tactic, as I’m sure you know.) I gave up around 5am and moved to the couch to read a book.

At 5:30am the two of them walked in the door, each with a huge trophy in hand.

I love that I live in a place where children are awarded giant trophies, not for winning at sports, but for their perseverance and commitment in pursuit of learning Torah values.

They caught up on sleep throughout the day and slept normally that night, thank God. And I am somewhat relieved to  have concluded this crazy period of Jewish holidays and family celebrations!

With love,

Daniella

Q & A with Random Strangers on the Internet, Pt. 4!

Yes, my friends! Traffic to LtJ¬†has been increasing steadily, hitting an average of over 2,000 views per month the last two months, so it’s time to celebrate with¬†yet another Search Term Q & A!

If you’re just tuning in, this is where I respond to various questions and phrases that people have typed into search engines, which then¬†led them to this blog. You can find links to previous Search Term Q & A’s at the bottom of this post.

And now, without further ado:

“orthodox jews is creepy”

Creepy?!

Look how cute we are!!!

Your face is creepy!

(That is a really stupid comeback that Eitan and I constantly say to each other and for some reason, after almost 9 years of marriage, still find hilarious.)

“psalm 23, jewish commentary”

Ahh, yes! I see you found my relevant post on the topic.

“jews living in munich”

I do indeed have a guest letter from a Jew living in Munich! And I would love more guest letters from people of all sorts from all kinds of places! Hint hint!

“what do ultra orthodox jews do for fun”

I love this question!!!

Okay–first off–I’m not ultra-Orthodox, so this isn’t firsthand. Modern Orthodox Jews like myself are somewhere between secular people and ultra-Orthodox in terms of acceptable forms of recreation. I’ll elaborate on the differences as I answer the question.

So the thing to understand about how ultra-Orthodox Jews spend their time is that the #1 most important thing in their lives is the Torah: either learning it or practicing its teachings (a.k.a. keeping the commandments). Everything they do is supposed to be oriented towards this ultimate goal. Doing anything that is not oriented towards this goal is considered a waste of time. There’s even a term for it:¬†“bittul Torah”–wasting time that should be spent on Torah.

That doesn’t mean that they never have fun!

The fact is that joy and pleasure are built into Torah life. Every week we have these festive dinner/lunch parties (a.k.a. Shabbat meals) with friends and family. In the ultra-Orthodox community there are always lifecycle events to attend, like weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc., where it is a mitzvah to dance and sing and feast! Hassidic communities have huge events with their rebbes on Shabbatot, too. There are Torah classes or concert/prayer/learning gatherings to attend… and, of course, there are holidays every 3 seconds, and we’re happy with any excuse for more feasting, dancing, and singing!

As for more “everyday” forms of entertainment: ultra-Orthodox Jews generally do not watch movies (unless they were produced by other ultra-Orthodox Jews–a very small but growing industry), surf the Internet, attend secular concerts, or go to bars or nightclubs. They do hang out in parks and resorts, have picnics, go on hikes, and–as long as men and women are strictly separated– even go swimming. Many teenagers are involved in charity and volunteer projects to keep them off the streets. Better than video games and Snapchat for sure!

Modern Orthodox Jews do watch movies and surf the Internet and may attend secular concerts, but we don’t dance or swim in mixed company either. Swimming pools and beaches in areas with a lot of observant Jews have separate swimming hours for men and women.

“what symbol was used by agagites?”

Um… that… would be impossible to know, as the only source we have on them is the Bible, and it doesn’t mention anything about a symbol. Agagites are descendants of Agag, who was an Amalekite, and the only Agagite mentioned is Haman, from the book of Esther.

“alternative origins for haman the agagite”

What am I, the expert on Agagites now?!

Again–the only source we have for Haman the Agagite is the book of Esther. So the academic argument is¬†not so much about his origins as about whether he existed at all.

“www.danniella levy sex.de”

Oy, do you have the wrong number, my friend. Unlike the British porn star who apparently shares my name, I offer the Internet my intellect, wit, knowledge, love, insight, empathy, and skill with words. I think those are far more valuable assets. But, you know. To each his own.

“what is the headgear that jews wear?”

Good of you to ask! I see you found my post on that subject exactly: A Blessing on Your Head: Jewish Headgear. In a nutshell: religious Jewish men wear kippot (skullcaps) and/or hats of various sorts, and married religious Jewish women wear scarves, hats, or wigs.

“apologize letter because you are impostor”

To Whom It May Concern,

It has come to my attention, thanks to the advice from a Random Stranger on the Internet, that I am an impostor. I am not entirely sure how or when I began to impersonate myself, but rest assured that it was never my intention to do so. I am shocked and deeply regretful to learn that this is the case.

Please accept my sincerest apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

With respect,

Daniella Levy

“just checking in letter”

To Whom It May Concern,

I am just checking in, as per your request.

Many blessings,

Daniella Levy

“yes wear your head gear 651”

Um. Okay. I… will do that. Not sure what 651 means.

images of a christian girl apply local henna in ethiopia”

Huh. Well, no, that I don’t have, but I do have an image of my friends Hadar & Yossi, the latter of whom is of Ethiopian descent, at their henna party:

But they are Jewish, and in Israel, and he’s a guy. So… sorry.

“the craziest judaism belives”/”weird judaism beliefs”

Okay look, I’ll be the first to admit that we Jews do some pretty crazy things… but¬†in the weird belief department, I think we’re actually pretty boring.

I think it’s because we’re “mother religion” to both Christianity and Islam. So many of our beliefs overlap with theirs–ones that are¬†fairly universally accepted and palatable. Plus, we’ve been accused of being overly logical when it comes to belief, and I think our penchant for thinking things through very, very, very carefully means that we don’t tend to hold on to the really “out there” stuff.

We do have a mystic tradition, the Zohar/Kabbalah, which has some pretty weird stuff in it, but precisely because it takes a lot of maturity to place it in the proper context, we’re not even allowed to study it properly until the age of 40.

“www.oldest bable qur’an holybooks.mede only skin.com”

That’s… a diverse range of interests, Random Stranger.

“jew sick religion”

I’m going to go ahead and assume that you’re using the word “sick” in its inverted slang usage, i.e., to mean “awesome”. Because I learned from my totally awesome Jewish religion that I should judge everyone favorably!¬†You can learn more about judging favorably here!

 

Any other questions?! Do feel free to ask!


Want to see previous Search Term Q & A’s? Here they are:

Search Term Q & A, Pt. 1

Search Term Q & A, Pt. 2

Search Term Q & A, Pt. 3

When God Speaks: Prophecy in Jewish Thought & Theology

Dear Josep,

One of the most interesting responses I got to my post about the Jewish view of Jesus was from a devout Protestant I know. She said most of it didn’t surprise her, but that she was “shocked… like, can’t stop thinking about it shocked… that Jews believe that prophecy stopped.” Do we believe, she wanted to know,¬†that the voice of God has manifested in other ways since then? Or that He stopped speaking altogether?

I gave her a brief answer on FB, but I’m going to use today’s post to answer her in full.

The question stems from of one of those misunderstandings between Judaism and Christianity, where a certain word means one thing to one religion, and another thing entirely to the other.

What Is Prophecy?

In Judaism, prophecy is a direct dream or vision in which God Himself appears to the prophet and speaks to him (or her. Several prophetesses are mentioned in the Bible). We believe that Moses was the only one who spoke with God really directly–like, he would¬†just be hanging out, and God’s voice would speak in his ear, he would answer, and God would answer back conversationally. All the other prophets, we believe, experienced prophecy through a vision, dream, or the presence of an angel.

Now that I mention it–angels are another one of those words that we understand entirely differently from Christians. The Hebrew word for angel, mal’akh, ◊ě◊ú◊ź◊ö, means “messenger.” We don’t believe that angels are the souls of deceased humans, nor do we believe that they have a will of their own. Only humans have free will according to Judaism. We believe that angels are sort of “channels” through which God carries out His will in the world. They’re sort of extensions of Him in a sense.

It’s all very mystical and strange and many of us don’t understand it.

But the most common way we encounter angels in the Bible is when a prophet has a vision about them, and in that case they usually appear in the form of a person–but not always.¬†Ezekiel describes them as these very odd-looking creatures with multiple wings and “wheels” and stuff. (See Ezekiel 1.)

From what I understand, the definition of prophecy in Christianity (at least Protestantism) is much broader than this definition.

So How Do We Identify True Prophecy?

If prophecy is a dream or vision in which God appears–how do we know whether a dream we had that predicted the future, or even a dream in which God or an angel appears to us, is just a dream and not a prophecy?

What about mentally ill people who claim to see God in visions or that they are the Messiah?

It’s a very perplexing issue!

Well thank God for Maimonides’¬†Guide for the Perplexed.

In the Guide and other writings, Maimonides explains that a person can only be granted prophecy if he has attained a level of intellectual, moral, and spiritual perfection. And he must prove his prophetic abilities, not by performing miracles (since these can be done through illusion), but by making accurate and detailed predictions of the future. Every single detail the potential prophet says must be true in order for us to believe that person to be a prophet. If even a small detail is wrong, he is a false prophet.

Also, Maimonides adds, if the person tells us to add or remove any of the commandments, we can know immediately that the person is a false prophet.

What Was the Purpose of Prophecy–and Why Did It Stop?

Prophecy was a kind of “direct intervention.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were prophets because God needed to guide them in a world that was still completely pagan. Moses was a prophet because his job was to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and teach them the entire Torah. We believe that much of the Oral Law comes from clarifications that God gave to Moses regarding what’s written in the Torah.

Many of our sages liken the history of the Jewish people to the life of a child. When a baby is born, he is completely dependent on his mother to keep him warm, fed, and safe. As he grows up, he gradually needs his parents less and less, gaining more and more independence from them.

So it was with us. Initially, all our leaders were prophets. After Moses came Joshua, and then the Judges. We needed a very direct connection to God to know what to do. Eventually we shifted over to a non-prophet leader: a king. The kings of Israel and Judah were guided by prophets and sometimes experienced prophecy themselves, but their primary role was political, not spiritual.

Towards the end of the First Temple period, the role of the prophets shifted from a more gentle guidance to rebuke and warning. The Israelites were not following the commandments and were worshiping idols, and God sent prophets like Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isiah to warn them to turn back to the path of righteousness or they would be severely punished. It was during this period that we received the prophecies about the future and the Messiah who would eventually come after the destruction.

But those were the last direct words God delivered to us. Once we entered the exile, God stopped speaking to us through prophecy.

We don’t really know why. But we believe that God set it up this way on purpose–for us to take a more and more active role in our ultimate mission of “fixing” humanity.

In other words, God shifted the responsibility from Himself (with the prophets representing Him directly) to us.

“It Is Not in Heaven”

There is a very strange story in the Talmud that, I think, sheds light on this shift of responsibility.

Goes like this: There’s a debate going on in the Sanhedrin (what else is new) about the spiritual/ritual purity status of an oven owned by a guy called Akhnai. So most of the rabbis in the Sanhedrin argue that the oven is impure, but one guy, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, insists that it’s pure. Now, the way the Sanhedrin worked is that they ruled by majority. So no matter how senior or wise Rabbi Eliezer was, if he didn’t manage to convince his colleagues that he was correct, he be overruled.

When he failed to convince the other rabbis that he was correct, he performed a series of small miracles to try and prove his point: making a carob tree uproot itself, making a stream of water flow backwards, and the walls of the building begin to collapse on the Sanhedrin. When his colleagues remained unmoved, he shouted: “If the law is as I say–the Heavens will prove my claim!”

In response,¬†a voice sounded from Heaven and said: “Why do you not listen to Rabbi Eliezer, as the law is as he says?!”

Rabbi Joshua then jumped to his feet and shouted: “It is not in Heaven!

The Talmud then goes on to explain: “What does ‘It is not in Heaven’ [a quote from Deuteronomy 30] mean? Rabbi Jeremiah says: Since the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, we no longer follow a voice from Heaven, since the Torah itself says [in Exodus 23]: ‘The majority rules.'”

And then the Talmud says that Elijah the Prophet was asked what God said in response to the incident. Elijah answered: “He smiled and said, ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me!'”

When I first learned about this story I thought it was ridiculous. GOD HIMSELF is supporting Rabbi Eliezer’s position!!! Isn’t the entire point of the Torah to fulfill God’s will?! If GOD HIMSELF supports a certain ruling, how can you oppose it?!

But that’s the thing.

God’s will is that we follow the precedents and rules He originally set up. Since the destruction of the First Temple, it is no longer up to God to determine how Jewish law will be upheld. He made it¬†our responsibility.

Even if we’re¬†objectively wrong.

Because this isn’t about objective truth. It’s about the spirit of the law. More than faith, more than inspiration, more than anything else, Judaism is about¬†tradition. (Cue Fiddler on the Roof. ūüėõ ) That link with our past, that responsibility to our ancestors and our descendants, is more important than the objective details.

It’s kind of a difficult concept to swallow. Still, over the years I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this story.

But Does God Still Speak?

Of course He does.

Just not quite that directly.

We believe that God speaks to us through history; through the events in the world and in our lives, from the establishment of the State of Israel to your favorite flower blooming on the side of the road.

We believe He speaks all the time. It is us who must learn how to listen and interpret the messages for ourselves–but with humility. We are skeptical of anyone who is 100% sure that “God spoke to them” and that know with certainty what He said.

I think this is a function of our “maturity” as a people. Apparently, we no longer need this kind of direct guidance. Instead, we have spiritual leaders–the rabbis and sages who interpret the Law. This system was set in place back in the days of Moses, apparently in anticipation that we would eventually reach this point. It reached its maturity in the early Talmudic period, when the Sages consolidated the system for interpreting the Law and applying it to new situations that arise.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook wrote an essay called “A Sage Is Preferable to a Prophet,” where he puts forth the argument that in our day, it is better for us to have a sage, who guides us to gently reach our own conclusions, than to have a prophet.

It’s kind of the difference between a counselor and a policeman.

Will Prophecy Be Restored?

Jews do believe that prophecy will be restored with the coming of the Messiah, who will, himself, be a prophet.

Until then, we continue to rely on the self-admittedly flawed system of rabbinic rulings, and try to figure out, to the best of our ability, how to do what God wants from us.

With love,

Daniella

A Damaged Mirror: A Holocaust Memoir Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen

Dear Josep,

What do you get when St. Jordi’s Day falls on Israeli Independence Day?

This very silly post.

What do you get when St. Jordi’s Day falls on the first day of Passover? I answered that on LtJ’s Facebook page last year:

(That’s matzah ball soup, for the record.)

So what do you get when St. Jordi’s Day dovetails with Holocaust Remembrance Day (which begins tonight)…?

Hmm.

How about my thoughts on a mind-blowing Holocaust book?

I met author & publisher Yael Shahar¬†because of another book her company published, in which a poem of mine appears: Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression & Empowerment of Women. She contacted me to give me my contributor’s copy, and we ended up meeting at Jerusalem’s First Station complex, chatting over a couple of fruit shakes and exchanging books. (This fateful meeting eventually resulted in a publishing contract for my upcoming novel. But that’s another story. ūüėČ )

Yael handed me¬†A Damaged Mirror¬†with a warning: “I brought this for you, but I’m going to let you¬†decide whether to take it. It’s uplifting in the end, but the first half… it really… really brings you to Auschwitz, in a way not many other Holocaust books do. ”

I wondered how much worse this book could be from all the other books I’d read and movies I’d seen.

“Is it… graphic?” I asked.

She chewed on that. “Not… exactly. It’s just very… vivid. I couldn’t bear to look back over it myself after compiling it.” She said that Don–her husband and our trusty editor–edited and polished it for her.

But I’m a brave soul, and I took it home and after a while of preparing myself emotionally, I read the book.

Suffice to say, it lived up to her warning.

I wrote last year about the gradual structure of my Holocaust education, from a gentle story in first grade¬†to my standing in the gas chamber at Majdanek at age 17. I wrote then that my trip to Poland was the climax of my Holocaust education. I didn’t think another level could possibly exist.

Well, it did, and this book is it.

A Damaged Mirror¬†is a “novelized” memoir that tells the story of Ovadya ben Malka, a Jew from Salonika, Greece, who was forced to serve in the Sonderkommando at Birkenau; and Yael¬†herself, who was born with memories she could not have lived.¬†Her quest to learn what and how she remembers intersects with Ovadya’s quest for forgiveness and atonement for the unspeakable things he was forced to do under the Nazis. It reads like a thriller and¬†offers a deep and very raw exploration of the unfathomable moral dilemmas of the Holocaust; of free choice & responsibility, forgiveness & repentance, memory & destiny. It’s such an important book, for so many different reasons.¬†When I thought about writing a post about it I was overwhelmed by the task because there’s just so much to say. I’m going to limit myself to two of the main things I took away from the book.

A Brutal Reality Check on What Really Happened at Auschwitz

Many of us know, in theory, what happened on the trains and in the camps. But¬†there are things we gloss over just because they are too awful to think about; things I think most Holocaust survivors never even saw, and those who did couldn’t bring themselves to describe them in detail.

For example… it seems naive when I think about it now, but before I read A Damaged Mirror, I had this image in my head that at least the Jews who were gassed died the way people die from carbon monoxide poisoning: slowly drifting into sleep.¬†I didn’t realize it, but I’d been holding on to that image as a tiny glimmer of solace in the face of the unfathomable fact that millions of Jews died this way.

Ovadya’s descriptions of what he saw while clearing away the bodies shattered my illusions. I didn’t think it was possible to be any more horrified and devastated about the Holocaust than I previously was. I was wrong.

And that’s just the gas chambers. There was more.¬†Some of the images¬†he describes literally kept me up at night. In the days and weeks after reading the book, I’d be in the middle of some mundane activity and suddenly one of those images would come back to me and I would need to breathe and ground myself, reminding myself that I am safe and my family is safe… as though it were my own trauma I was reliving.

And you thought¬†Man’s Search for Meaning was brutal. :-/

Difficult as it was, I think people need to¬†know those details. Especially these days when people compare everything from Syria to Trump’s election to the Nazi regime. Reading the book gives you a very healthy, if difficult to swallow, dose of perspective.

Questions of Agency & Responsibility Under the Worst Possible Conditions

Without giving too much away: Ovadya struggles to reconcile with the things he was forced to do under the Nazis. He feels culpable; complicit in the atrocities. Many would jump in here to say: but he can’t blame himself for the things he did. He did them under the worst compulsion imaginable.

Nonetheless, the book presents some very deep and difficult questions: is it really true that he didn’t have a choice? Couldn’t he have chosen to die rather than do the bidding of the Nazis? Would that have been the better choice?

If we say that he didn’t have a choice–that means he was completely helpless and had no agency. It means that the Nazis won, in that they completely stripped him of his humanity–the power of free choice, which, according to Jewish tradition, is what differentiates us from other living beings. We would rather believe that we always have a choice; that the Nazis could take away our rights, our freedom, and our lives, but they could never take away our humanity. I, for one, don’t want to accept that they could. I refuse to¬†grant them that victory.

But if we say that Ovadya¬†did have a choice–that makes him at least somewhat complicit in what the Nazis forced him to do.

Reading the book, I not only wanted to forgive Ovadya, I wanted desperately for him to forgive himself. I wanted to know that he could find some semblance of peace and resolution, not just for him, but for me; because who knows how I would have acted under those same circumstances? Would I have had the strength of will to walk into the gas chamber willingly rather than have to clear it out fifteen minutes later?

And who knows if that really would have been the right thing to do? What about the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who would never have been born?

Moreover, I wanted Ovadya to forgive himself because I felt that would be his one final triumph over the Nazis.

The book doesn’t offer easy answers or tidy conclusions. It really makes you think.

Kasva Press produced an excellent discussion guide called¬†Moral & Religious Dilemmas in the Holocaust¬†which brings excerpts from the book along with questions for people to think about and discuss. You don’t need to have read the book; it stands on its own.¬†You can download it for free on their website here.

Yael informs me that Kasva plans to re-release A Damaged Mirror under a new title in the next year or so. In the meantime, it’s available through their website and all the major distributors, including Amazon (Amazon.es too ūüėČ ). Yael also blogs at¬†https://www.damaged-mirror.com/blog/.

Happy St. Jordi’s Day… and a meaningful Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Love,

Daniella

It’s That Day Again!

Just taking a brief break from de-Passover-ifying my kitchen to say: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOSEP!

Mmm, cake. I could do with some cake right about now.

Unfortunately because your birthday fell on the 7th day of Passover I am very unlikely to be able to recruit many random strangers to wish you a happy birthday, as is my tradition. Especially since Jews everywhere else in the world have another 24 hours of Passover to live through celebrate. But I would not want you to think I have forgotten. ūüėČ

I think I’ve been sufficiently mushy¬†about our friendship in recent months, including in our 10-year-friendversary post and my 1-year-book-birthday post. But I was flipping through a book of quotes by Rebbe Nachman of Breslev today, and, well, there was one that jumped out at me from the chapter on friendship…

It says: “The world was created in such a way that the pieces you need to complete yourself can be found with your friends. Be his student, and he will be your student.” (Likutei Moharan 24, 7)

It reminded me of a line you wrote in the foreword to LtJ: “…She has always been the teacher, and I have always been the student.”

Not so, my friend.

I have learned more from you than you can imagine.

Thank you for being you, and I hope you’ve been having a wonderful day!¬†Wishing you a year of good news, joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

Much love from the Holy Land!

pic of Jesus statue captioned with "oy."

What Do Jews REALLY Think About Jesus?!

Dear Josep,

With Holy Week beginning today and Passover beginning tomorrow night, this is a time of year that brings up not only joy and festivity, but also some complexity with regard to Jewish-Christian relations. In the past, Easter was a deadly time to be Jewish. All the focus on Jesus’s death¬†stirred up a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment, because until very recently, Christians believed we were responsible for his death. Many of the worst anti-Jewish riots occurred around Easter time.

Eitan and I have both had the experience of¬†meeting a Christian who has never met a Jew before. (I’m sure this is news to you. ūüėõ ) Especially if that Christian is a Protestant who grew up in a very traditional community, the first question we get, almost always, is:

So what do you think about Jesus?

pic of Jesus statue captioned with "oy."

We stifle a sigh and try to figure out how to answer that question as tactfully as possible.

Look–I get it. To most Christians, Jesus is God, except he’s the “personal connection” part that feels like your buddy and friend and father and confidante. For many of the people who ask me this question, their lives and the lives of their entire community revolve around Jesus. It’s very difficult for them to fathom how somebody could possibly live a deeply religious life with no Jesus.

Well… here is my complete and honest answer.

Truth Is–We Don’t Think Much About Him at All.

If a practicing Muslim walked up to a religious Christian and asked: “What do you think about Mohammed?”, many Christians would probably answer something along the lines of, “Uh… you mean that guy people got shot in France for drawing cartoons of?”

Mohammed is not even in their frame of religious reference. He’s not a figure involved in their practice, prayers, or religious contemplation.

That’s how it is for Jews vis-a-vis Jesus. He’s just not relevant to us.

We Think He Was Just a Guy

So there are a few things Christians believe about Jesus that Jews completely reject.

The first is that he was the Messiah and a prophet.

Both of these things are believed, to some extent, by Muslims as well as Christians. So give each other a high five. We Jews are gonna just… stay out of that party.

The reason we don’t believe he was the Messiah is pretty straightforward: he didn’t fill a single one of our traditional criteria. Our readings of the messianic prophecies in Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.¬†are very different from the Christian interpretations.¬†See here for the Jewish concept of the Messiah.

We¬†don’t believe he was a prophet for two reasons: one, we believe prophecy officially ended after the First Exile and that there have been no real prophets since; two, Jeremiah explicitly warns that anyone who tells us to defy the teachings of the Torah is a false prophet, and… well. (It may be arguable that Jesus never did tell anyone to defy the Torah, and that it was only Paul who did. Paul is a whole ‘nother can of worms.)

If this was the only difference, however, Christianity would still be a messianic subgroup of Judaism, as it was at first. It was only when the theological stuff started to get weird (*cough*Paul*cough*) that Christianity split off and became its own religion.

So the second thing we reject is the concept of the Trinity, and of Jesus being the son of God.

This theological concept is totally beyond the pale of Jewish belief. We believe in one invisible, omniscient, omnipresent God. Not in one God who is divided into three “parts” and certainly not a God who ever manifested Himself in a human being. That’s just… no.

Thanks, but We’ll Atone for Our Own Sins

The third thing Jews reject about the Christian idea of¬†Jesus is this idea that he was the “sacrificial lamb” who died to atone for the Original Sin and all subsequent sins of humanity, replacing the need for animal sacrifices for atonement.

First of all–we have a very different concept of what the Original Sin was and what it means for humanity. You can read more about that here.¬†In short: we don’t believe anyone is born “tainted” with it and we don’t believe atonement for it is necessary. We believe people are judged by God according to the choices they make during their lives, not according to an ill-advised bite of fruit taken by an ancestor thousands of years ago.

Second of all–we already have a way to atone for our sins. It’s called¬†teshuva, and it is a deeply personal process that only the sinner can do for himself. You can read more teshuva about¬†here.

Third of all–atonement sacrifices were only one kind of animal sacrifice, and as far as we’re concerned, those are still “on.” Most of us (Orthodox Jews) believe that when the Temple is restored we’re going to go right ahead and do those again.¬†Replacing them with a dude who was actually God and sacrificed himself was definitely never on the agenda.

So If He Was Just a Guy–What Kind of a Guy Was He?

Right. So here’s where things can get a little hairy.

Jewish opinions on this range from the most generous: “He was a kind teacher who was misguided in his teachings, but they brought the world to an awareness of One God, more or less, and for that we can be grateful” to “He was a horrible person who defied his rabbis and tricked hundreds of people.”

The latter opinion I read in an essay in a collection of Jewish responses to missionaries, and I found it rather harsh. I tend to lean towards the liberal side, but… again, I don’t really spend a lot of time and effort thinking about this. I don’t actually care what kind of a guy he was. He’s not relevant to my life.

Why Jews Get Prickly When Christians Ask Us This Question

I really believe that most people who ask this question are genuinely curious and have the best of intentions. I’m even willing to forgive the gentle¬†missionizing I’ve gotten here or there–“You really should read the New Testament, I think it will be very meaningful for you” type things. I know this comes from a genuine concern for my soul, as according to traditional Christian theology, I’m going to end up in Hell for all eternity after I die for believing all the things stated above. They don’t want that to happen to me. I really do appreciate the concern.

But.

Let’s be frank: it was not so very long ago that Christians were burning us at the stake “out of concern for our souls.” Like, yes, I do believe many of them were genuinely¬†concerned and acting out of what they thought was kindness, but… my appreciation has limits, mmkay?

In medieval Europe Jews were forced to sit in our own synagogues and listen to preachers lecturing¬†about Jesus and salvation¬†as part of a general strategy to get Jews to convert.¬†Those days are over. If anyone, however¬†well-meaning, starts aggressively proselytizing me, I am going to walk away. Because it’s the 21st century and I can do that now without getting my throat slit.

Therefore, if I just met someone, and they ask me what I think about Jesus, I will be on edge. I never know what their next question or statement is going to be. It’s not at all unlikely that it will contain some subtle or not-so-subtle¬†attempt at soul-saving. And¬†that’s gonna be awkward for everybody.

Speaking of which, a note to our readers: any comments to that effect will be deleted.¬†You’re not going to change my mind about Jesus. Ever. Don’t waste your time.

“Jews for Jesus”

There is an unfortunate movement you may have heard of that calls itself “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Judaism.”

I prefer to call them, “Christians Posing as Jews.”

This group claims to be Jews who merely accept Jesus as the Messiah. They use Jewish lingo, Jewish symbolism, and Jewish rituals. But in practice, these people are not Jews, they are Christians. Many of them are not ethnically or halakhically Jewish and have no religious Jewish background. They claim outwardly to believe only that Jesus was the Messiah, but their beliefs about him are actually consistent with Christianity. They are aggressive missionizers and prey on lonely Jews with little knowledge. I know a few people who got involved with them and had a very difficult time getting out.

It may surprise you to hear me speak so harshly about a religious group. While I may have my disagreements with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, et al, I don’t have a problem with people who practice their faiths in earnest.

But you know me; if there’s one thing I have zero tolerance¬†for, it’s dishonesty.

These people claim to be a stream of Judaism. They are not. They are, at best, a group of people who think they are following Judaism but are actually Christians. At worst, they are a deceitful stream of Christianity that is trying to save Jewish souls by pretending that Christianity and Judaism are not mutually exclusive.

I am not cool with that.

What I am cool with, is Christians celebrating their own faith and traditions. So on that note, a blessed Holy Week to you and all who celebrate, and Chag Sameach to all our Jewish readers!

Love,

Daniella

Happy First Birthday, LtJ-the-Book!

Dear Josep,

…You may have noticed by now that I have a thing about anniversaries.

Well, here I go again.

I have this memory of sitting there, alone in my PJ’s, staring at the “publish” button.

The kids were asleep, and Eitan was off tourguiding for a few days. The morning before, I’d received confirmation from CreateSpace that the interior and cover files had been approved for printing. All that was left was to click¬†that button.

There’s this concept in Kabbalah that the holiest things attract the unholiest “covers.” It is the moment when you’re about to do something very brave that the self-doubt demons scream the loudest. When I got that e-mail, I was overcome with a sort of panic. Maybe I hadn’t had enough people look over it? Maybe I should proofread some more? Maybe I should wait a bit to see if anyone responds to my requests for reviews and endorsements? So I stalled for the next day and a half, paralyzed with fear.

But that afternoon I decided that there is no end to the perfectionism. You have to draw the line somewhere.

So on the night of March 29th, 2016, I clicked the button and sent Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism out into the world.

It’s taken me a while to comprehend the full impact of that little act of courage.

As someone who had quite a bit of experience trying (and at that point–failing) to get published by the traditional publishing industry, you’d think I’d have jumped at the opportunity to publish my own book, now that self-publishing has become so mainstream and affordable. But there were a number of concerns that held me back.

The first, and probably the hardest, was¬†letting go of the need for¬†approval from a¬†“higher authority.”

When you’ve spent so much of your life thinking you needed an editor or an agent, or a piece of paper, to claim to be good at something… it’s not easy to convince yourself that¬†you are actually the highest authority when it comes to your work. I have come to believe that, but it was not an easy paradigm shift.

Then there were practical considerations. Self-publishing can be expensive. It required a whole new set of skills, including some I found particularly daunting. I had to take a loan to pay for the editing–and I was not very happy with the editor’s work, and needed to comb over the manuscript again myself to straighten out inconsistencies, which made it feel like a considerable waste.

And then there was the issue of dealing with feedback and criticism once the thing is out there. You don’t have a publisher or agent to shield you from any of that, or to bolster your reputation with their own reputation. I mentioned in my other blog, The Rejection Survival Guide, that the only person who responded to my attempts to get endorsements or positive reviews said he thought the sample post I sent him was “nothing special.”¬†(I am still fairly stumped by that incident, as he had called previous posts “impressive” months earlier.)

But after years and years of not being good enough for all the agents and editors I’d submitted to… I¬†finally decided I’d had enough of waiting for other people’s approval.

 

Clicking that “publish” button was a public declaration to the world and to myself:¬†I am good enough.

Even if I didn’t entirely believe it.

I hardly slept that night. I woke up at 4am the next morning and discarded all hope of getting back to sleep, instead going to check the Amazon sites to see if the book was available yet. Later that day, I made the official announcement, together with a little prayer I composed for the occasion.

I’m not organized enough to keep track for sure, but it appears that I did make back at least most of what I spent–which was my primary goal. I sold somewhere in the ballpark of 240 copies in the last year. Which is very respectable for a self-published book, especially considering I didn’t put much effort into marketing the thing.

But I received so, so, so, so much more than just that.

That declaration,¬†I am good enough, resonated through every area of my life, even ones that are only marginally related to LtJ. From the upcoming publication of my debut novel to the fact that I recently revamped my resume and felt proud of it for the first time in my life–I keep discovering new ways that small act of courage set off a chain reaction that made me happier, more successful, and more confident in my abilities as a writer and a human being.

I think that when you start to believe that you are good enough, the universe responds in kind, and it becomes a positive feedback loop.

I am very grateful that I have a publisher for my next book, because I don’t know if I would have had it in me to self-publish that one. I haven’t announced this officially because we don’t have the contract yet, but Kasva Press also plans to re-release LtJ under their imprint–something many self-published authors hope will happen eventually.

Nonetheless, I am so, so grateful that I took the risk and decided to self-publish LtJ. It changed my life in ways I never imagined.

And even if re-releasing it with Kasva means it will have a newer, snazzier book design, I will always treasure that copy that sits on my bookshelf now, the one I designed and published myself, that has a dedication in your handwriting on the first page.

You wrote in there that you are proud of me. I’m proud of me too. Thank you for all your support and encouragement along the way. I’ve said it before, but you really went well beyond the call of duty, and it has meant a great deal to me.

Much love,

Daniella

Q&A with Random Strangers on the Internet, Pt. 3!

Yes, ladies and gents, it’s time for yet another Q&A with Random Strangers on the Internet!

Every so often I like to collect some interesting, funny, or strange search terms that led people to my blog and respond to them in a post. In case you missed them, here is Part I, and here’s Part II. Enjoy!

“what are the jewish people with the furry circle hats called”

Those would be the Hassidim. The furry hats are called “streimels,” and are usually only worn on Shabbat and holidays. More about Hassidism here, and more about stuff Jews put on their heads here.

“why is jerusalem most treasured”

Well, I see you found my post called Why Jerusalem Matters, which answers that question pretty well–at least, why Jerusalem is so treasured by the Jewish people. The short answer is that it was home to our Holy Temple, which was the focal point of our religion in Biblical times.

Jerusalem bears significance for Christians in the context of Jesus’s life, death, and (according to their beliefs) resurrection. It is important to Muslims because of the Dome of the Rock, where, they believe, Mohammed ascended to Heaven.

“facts about zionism odd practises” / “weird zionist jewish traditions”

Well, Zionism doesn’t really have “practices” or “traditions” because it’s not a religion or culture, it’s a form of nationalism. These days it is often used by antisemites when what they really mean is Judaism. Because apparently these days it is frowned upon to hate someone for their religion, but it is totally A-okay to hate someone for their politics. (…???)

So let me make this clear: Zionism is nothing more than the belief that the Jewish people has a right to self-determination in its ancestral homeland. You can be Jewish without being a Zionist, and you can be Zionist without being Jewish.

There are some¬†Israeli national traditions, but I don’t think any of them are particularly weird. I mean, there’s the fact that they like to have ceremonies for everything, and the thing about reading bad poetry at every event, but that’s for another time.

“what do you say in hebrew against haman and hitler”

Oh I know I know! Jews often add “yimach shmo,” which literally means “may his name be obliterated,” after saying the name of an evil person. As a kid I thought you weren’t even¬†allowed to mention Hitler’s name without adding¬†yimach shmo.

“can religious people be good at sex”

*cough*

Yes.

Better than secular people, according to research.

Next!

“jewish sexuality sheet”

OH DON’T GET ME STARTED.

Okay, you got me started.

As I explain here, there is a prevalent myth that Jewish couples have sex through a hole in the sheet, and it is absolutely, 100% false.

Jewish tradition views sex as a powerful force that can be either incredibly positive and sacred or incredibly destructive, depending on how it is used.¬†The positive aspect isn’t just about childbearing, either. In the proper context, sex creates intimacy and enhances the sacred bond between a man and his wife. It’s not that different from the way we enjoy delicious feasts during the Sabbath and the holidays. We believe that the pleasures of this world, channeled for holiness, themselves become holy.

“things jews like”

Pi√Īa coladas and getting caught in the rain?

Okay, seriously though: Jews are people (contrary to what certain headlines on CNN may imply) and as such we have as wide-ranging tastes as any other group of people.

Still, if one must generalize, we do appear to have these loves in common:

  • Arguing
  • Eating
  • Complaining
  • Trying to save the world
  • Dark humor

“jewish custom open book random”

So there is a kabbalistic thing about opening the Tanakh to a random page to help make decisions or determine things. It’s called “Goral HaGra,” the “Lot of the Gaon of Vilna.” The method involves opening the Tanakh to a random page and following the last verse on the page; or, if it doesn’t answer the question, taking the last letter of the verse, and looking for another¬†verse that begins with that letter on the same page.

The story goes that Rabbi Aryeh Levine used this method to identify the remains of 12 soldiers who were killed during the War of Independence. They were 12 of the 35 soldiers who were sent to reinforce Gush Etzion, and were astronomically outnumbered and massacred by the Arab army. They were buried hurriedly because of the conditions of the war, and later, when they were exhumed and moved to a more respectable gravesite, some of them were impossible to identify. (This was before the days of DNA identification!) The families asked the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, what to do, and he recommended Goral HaGra. Rabbi Ariyeh Levine, a well-known and beloved rabbi in Jerusalem, was assigned the task.

I wouldn’t exactly rely on it when deciding, like, what stocks to invest in, or something. But all things being equal, I guess it beats asking an 8 ball?

There is also the following Chabad custom:¬†to “ask the Rebbe a question” by writing him a letter, folding it up, giving to charity, and sticking the letter randomly into a book of his letters. They then open the book and read the letter on the page where their letter landed.

“most weird ritual in jews”

I have to choose one?

Hmmm.

I mean… this is a very subjective question. I was raised with all these rituals, so there are things that seem totally normal to me that are really weird for other people. I guess if I had to choose one, I’d point to taking the Four Species during Succot. That one is pretty weird.

“how to wrap a pashmina on head jewish”

Well, all right.

(Here’s the post I tried and failed to link to in the video: A Blessing on Your Head: Jewish Headgear)

“hourly miracles that are keeping israel safe”

I don’t know about revealed ones, but hundreds of hidden miracles are keeping Israel safe every minute of every day! Nothing else explains why we’re still here!

“i love shmita”

Oh. That’s cool. Honestly I have mixed feelings about shmita. Like, there are aspects to it that are awesome and all, but some that are a pain in the butt or downright scary.

“im not ok letter”

Oy. I hope you’re okay now.

“how to indotruce topic o holocaust to children”

I do indeed have a post that answers this question! Here it is. I hope you found it useful.

“blessings from hair judaism”

Blessings… from… hair.

…Nope. I got nothin’. Sorry.

“basically anyone israel doesn’t like is an amalekite”

Mmmmmno. There are people who toss around the word “Amalek” the way people toss around the word “Nazi” to describe anyone they don’t like, and I think this is a very dangerous and destructive overuse of both terms.
Amalek, as a nation, is extinct. But we believe that the spiritual heirs of Amalek live on. These are not just anyone we don’t like; they are people who subscribe to the worldview that is the antithesis of everything Judaism stands for: equality, justice, and compassion. I go into more detail in this post.

“rrurh pitorri de morais”

What language is that even?

When I Googled “Rrurh” I found an entry from a Google book that had mistakenly digitized the word “truth” as “rrurh.” There’s a river in Germany called Ruhr?

Perhaps it’s supposed to be a Spanish name? The “de Morais” part sounds right, “Pitorri” sounds a bit Italian maybe?

Maybe Rrurh is the German child of an Italian immigrant who married a Spanish woman?

I’m gonna write a whole novel about this.

“israeli soldiers get book of psalms”

Actually they get a whole Tanakh (which includes the book of Psalms).

When Jewish soldiers are sworn in to the IDF, they receive a Tanakh as a gift from the state. Non-Jewish soldiers receive a holy book of their choosing (usually a Qur’an for Muslims and a Christian Bible for Christians; Druze soldiers receive a medallion, because their holy book is secret!).

At least when I was a sixth-grader, we received a Tanakh as a gift from the state for graduating elementary school. I guess they expect us to lose it in the six years between?

Any other questions?! Do feel free to ask!