The Masks that We Wear

The Masks that We Wear

Feb 26, 2021 By Ofra Backenroth | Tetzavveh | Purim

Growing up in Israel, Purim was a wonderful experience, full of fun and games. Dressing up, putting on masks, going to parties, and attending the Purim Parade in Tel Aviv—the Adloyada. This name is derived from a rabbinic saying in the Talmud that one should revel on Purim by drinking “until one no longer knows [how to distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai’]” (BT Megillah 7b). Attending the parade was great fun, but also had a mysterious aspect. Who are the people hiding behind the masks? What are they concealing and what are they trying to reveal? It was all very colorful and happy but, in equal measure, scary and confusing.

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The Poetics of Loss

The Poetics of Loss

Sep 25, 2020 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Ha'azinu

Growing up, books were always present in our house, arranged by topic in large bookshelves. Arieli Press, an Israeli fine arts publishing company, was founded in 1922 by my grandfather, Yosef Arieli (z”l), a master printer and an author. My father, Ariel Arieli (z”l), and extended family were all involved in the printing business in some capacity. Printing has been regarded as a way to disseminate knowledge in a democratic way and it has been especially precious to the Jewish people who believed that spreading knowledge is Avodat Kodesh—holy work, akin to Moshe teaching Torah on Har Sinai.

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A Sukkah Remembers

A Sukkah Remembers

Oct 4, 2017 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Sukkot

In his poem “The Jews,” Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000) bestows on us a full typology of the Jewish people—from the standpoints of both Jews themselves and outsiders. Some of those images remain with us: the Jew wearing a Turkish turban in a Rembrandt painting, the Chagall Jew holding a violin as he flies over rooftops, and other vivid images. In the middle of the poem, Amichai mentions a sukkah—his grandfather’s sukkah, in particular. Amichai turns the memory of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert that the sukkah usually evokes on its head, and describes the sukkah as an object that itself remembers and reflects back to us the history of the Jews.

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The Freshest Grain

The Freshest Grain

Mar 31, 2017 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Vayikra | Shavuot

In a long narrative dedicated to sacrifices we find one hidden command to offer only the freshest and best grains, mixed with oils and scents. Through a multi sensory description the reader can sense the heavy kernels of grains, smell the scents, and vicariously participate in the powerful event of giving thanks to God with the offering of the first fruit.

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Teaching Jewish History and Teaching Israel: The “Other” is Within “Our” Subject Matters

Teaching Jewish History and Teaching Israel: The “Other” is Within “Our” Subject Matters

Feb 13, 2017 By Ofra Backenroth | Public Event video

Ofra Backenroth and Alex Sinclair: “‘Present Absentees’: On the Place of Non-Jewish Israeli Narratives in Israel Education”

Meredith Katz and Jeffrey Kress: “Middle School Students and ‘The Other’ in an Online Jewish History Simulation Activity”

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Making Space for New Grain

Making Space for New Grain

Jun 4, 2016 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Behukkotai

Naomi Shemer, one of the most famous songwriters and performers in Israel, is known for her thoughtful songs that touch upon universal themes. In this song, she speaks about the need for rejuvenation. Every morning is an opportunity for a new experience. As successful as our days might be, there is always a need to go back to the beginning and start again.

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Roads to Nonviolence

Roads to Nonviolence

Aug 7, 2013 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Shofetim

Is there a way to wage war in a humane way?

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Tip Toe Through Ki Tavo

Tip Toe Through Ki Tavo

Sep 8, 2012 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Ki Tavo

This week’s Torah parashah is concerned with the Israelites’ entrance into the Promised Land. The parashah emphasizes that the Israelites should obey God’s commandments faithfully, with all their heart and soul. Since the Covenant between God and Israel establishes mutually binding obligations for both God and the Israelites, God’s commitments are also reaffirmed: the promise to make Israel a holy people.

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Entering the Promised Land

Entering the Promised Land

Oct 1, 2011 By Ofra Backenroth | Commentary | Ha'azinu

What does it mean to be a leader who, for 40 long years, led the people of Israel in the desert, providing for all their needs, and, in the end, was forbidden to enter the Promised Land?

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