A Jewish Response?

A Jewish Response?

Jan 12, 2018 By Alisa Braun | Commentary

“And now in June 1943 something very strange is happening . . .”

Does Gertrude Stein belong on the “Jewish Bookshelf?” It probably depends on whom you ask. Alan Dershowitz accused Stein of being one of the collaborators who “made [the Holocaust] possible” since she had survived in France due in large part to a friendship with a Vichy government official. I’m guessing he would say “no.” 

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Listening to Lions

Listening to Lions

Jul 7, 2017 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Balak

[Lions] have personalities, temperaments, moods, and they can be voluble about all this, sometimes chatty, sometimes (when they are working) radiating a more focused informativeness. Nor are the exchanges and the work in question suffering-free. In particular, they are not free of the suffering that accompanies failures of understanding, refusals and denials of the sort that characterize many relationships.

Vicki Hearne, Animal Happiness: A Moving Exploration of Animals and Their Emotions (172–173)

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The Poet as High Priest

The Poet as High Priest

Mar 10, 2017 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Tetzavveh

Robert Browning, the Victorian poet, puzzled many of his readers when he called one of his collections Bells and Pomegranates. The issue wasn’t that he invoked a biblical type; many poets preceding him had seen themselves in prophetic terms. They were heroic figures whose imaginative powers could transform the world; they spoke truths to inspire others and change society. But what did the design on the hem of the priestly garment (Exod. 28:33-35) have to do with poetry? The poet as High Priest, a figure associated with rules and ritual rather than creativity and imagination, seemed counterintuitive.

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The Smell of Canaan

The Smell of Canaan

Aug 19, 2016 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The smell of Canaan he has had for all his life; that he should see the land only before his death is hard to believe. . . . Not because his life was too short does Moses not reach Canaan, but because it was a human life.

—Franz Kafka, in a diary entry from 1921

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Nothing Is Enough

Nothing Is Enough

Jan 29, 2016 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Yitro

sitting amid your litter, feet buried
by accumulated jars of buttons,
glasses lost beneath a decade of bank statements
and funny poems.

The obligation to honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12) is never simple, but it’s especially complicated when relations between parent and child are strained. In her moving poem “Mother,” Alicia Ostriker gives voice to the ethical challenge of caring for her mother when the conflicts of the past loom large.

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Revolutionaries at Home

Revolutionaries at Home

Dec 3, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Short Video | Hanukkah

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The Context of Violence

The Context of Violence

Oct 9, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Bereishit

This past week we were again confronted with horrific acts of violence across the globe, followed by a host of attempts to explain why and what should be done. Over centuries, the story of Cain and Abel became a central text through which this reality of violence was explored: how do we account for violence in our world? Can we control our rage, or are we doomed to act on our impulses? With its paucity of detail and conspicuous narrative lacunae, Bereishit’s description of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel, inspired countless visual artists—from the Old Masters to modern expressionists—to respond creatively to these questions. 

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An Offering of Love

An Offering of Love

Apr 15, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Shemini

What does a feminist reworking of Leviticus 10 sound like? The Indigo Girls song “Strange Fire” (1987) beautifully illustrates how biblical images and stories weave their way into our lives and the art we create. The song exemplifies their signature style: a second-wave feminist message wrapped in a spare acoustic sound, strong rhythms, and soft harmonies. The lyrics allude to the actions of Aaron’s sons as a way of critiquing those within organized religion who wield power and seek to silence voices of personal spiritual expression.

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Into The Wilderness

Into The Wilderness

Mar 26, 2015 By Alisa Braun | Short Video | Pesah

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An Alternative Hero

An Alternative Hero

Dec 19, 2014 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Miketz

Joseph, not Moses, torn apart
dreams snakes brothers father
sins and returns loves and is silent
wanders between the gleanings of Ephraim and the delight of Manasseh
Joseph knowledge Joseph pain
Joseph summer

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Waters of Uncertainty

Waters of Uncertainty

Aug 15, 2014 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Eikev

“If it doesn’t rain, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” commented a NASA water-cycle scientist recently on the drought that has been devastating California.

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