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August 24, 2012

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 24, 2012 Is By Ben Greenfield (Jewish Ideas Daily)--The 15th ofAv, which fell lastweek, is the happiest day of the He- brew calendar. Tu B'Av, as it is known, was, according to the Mishnah, a joyous occasion on which the unmarried women of ancient Jerusalem would dance in the vineyards, hoping to find a match. In modern Israel, Tu b'Av has been revived as a holiday of romantic love, the sabras' Valentine's Day. But is it "Jewish" to cel- ebrate romantic love? It is one thing to encourage singles to marry, but quite another to endorse the kind of rapturous lust that saturates Western culture. And yet, there is no better record of vivid--tor- rid, even--romance than the Bible's Song of Songs: Oh, let him kiss me with the kissesofhis mouth, foryourlove is better than wine You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride! You have ravished my heart with but one of your eyes, with but one bead from your necklace! I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine. But it is this very passion that the rabbis seem to erase from the work. Across the Talmud and Midrash, they read the Song of Songs' amo- rous verses as an allegory--a figurative representation of God's relationship to Israel. Breasts are not breasts, but synagogues; velvet lips are pious deeds; and restless, lovesick nights are the fate of an exiled people. In other words, a sexual saga is but the vehicle for the expression of God's love for His people. By the 19th century, a symbolic reading, and an attendant denigration of romantic love, had gained widespread acceptance. This was so much the case that a Baghdadi rabbi, Yosef Hayim ben Eliyahu, rebuked a school- teacher for tasking his pupils with copying the Song of Songs into Arabic, for fear the children would think the text was "erotic verse, God forbid." God forbid indeed--to- day's ArtScroll editors have gone one step further, denying that a literal interpretation of the "love story" is even a pos- sibility: "The literal meaning of the words is so far from their meaning that it is false." In their mind, allegory res- cues the tale from potentially profane misunderstandings: The Bible would never stoop so low as to endorse romance. On the surface, an alle- gorical reading of the Song of Songs appears to neutralize its erotic content, bringing it into line with the rest of the canon and confirming an anti-romantic bias. But as the scholar Jon D. Levenson points out, an allegory points in two directions. By infusing a romantic relationship with aspects of the divine, the rab- bis correspondingly infuse the divine with aspects of a romantic relationship: the passion in the Song of Songs may be spiritualized, but the passion between God and Israel is eroticized. This potentially surprising notion of Godly romance in fact permeates the works of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Hosea. Throughout these later prophetic books, God is depicted as a devoted husband to His bride Israel. Though the entire world may call Is- rael filthy and despised, God sees her beauty, wrapping her in His cloak and bejeweling her with rings and bracelets. When Israel betrays Him, using His cloak and jewels in pursuit of different lovers, God is heartbroken, yet cannot restrain His love: "The wife of one's youth--can she ever be spurned?" One day, He imag- ines, Israel "will call me Ishi, my Man, and no longer Ba'ali, my Master I will betroth you unto Me forever and you shall know the Lord." As many readers will intuit, this "knowledge" is not merely-- or not at all--cognitive. And this allegory is not merely a rhetorical device or literary flourish. For the rabbis, like the prophets, it is the very substance of the Jewish story. Rabbinic glosses of the Song of Songs treat the ro- mantic allegory with utmost seriousness. The rabbis pine to know which day in Jewish history was akin to lying in the arms of one's beloved; which part of our Exile can only be understood as a cold and lonely bedroom; in which exact quality lays our irresist- ible attractiveness to God. It is through the lens of the ro- mantic that the rabbis finally make sense of the God-Israel relationship--and across an eternity of wilderness the Jewish people carried these love poems, knowing their Beloved was singing them too. Ben Greenfield is a gradu- ate of the Johns Hopkins Uni- versity. He recently concluded a Tikvah Post-BA Fellowship. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (www. and is reprinted with permission. By Ben Sales KEREM SHALOM BOR- DER CROSSING, Israel (JTA)--Drivers who reach the end of Israeli Route 232 purportedly face a choice: A sign points them either northwest, toward the Ra- fah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip or southeast, toward the Nit- zana border crossing between Egypt and Israel. But the intersection---lo- cated at the meeting point of Israel, Gaza and Egypt~is really a dead end; drivers cannot proceed in either direction. Rafah has been under Egyptian control since Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005. And a year ago, Israel closed off the road that runs to Nitzana along the country's southern border. What drivers do meet at the end of the route is a simple red and white roadblock. To the left is the beginning of Israel's security fence on the border of the Sinai Desert that is set to be completed this year. To the right is Israel's Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza, which is closed to civilians. Next to that is a concrete wall separating Gaza and Israel. Litter dots the immediate area. The Israeli army has stepped up security in the Ben Sales Tami Muyal has operated a food truck for Israeli soldiers at the intersection of the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Israel for more than three years that reads on the side, ~To soldiers with love, from the loving Tami Mommy." area since Egypt's revolution began last year, and Israel issued a travel warning this month regarding the Sinai. On Aug. 5, terrorists killed 16 Egyptian soldiers and crossed into Israel down the road from the Kerem Shalom crossing, where they were killed by Israeli security forces. But across the street from the concrete wall, one woman sits smiling in a purple food truck. Bold letters on the side of the truck advertise: "To soldiers with love, from the loving Tami Mommy." Tami Muyal, 62, has been operating the truck for 12 years, including the past 31/2 years in this location. "There's no way a soldier gets to me and leaves hungry or thirsty," she said. From 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m Muyal offers soldiers any- thing from popsicles to baguette sandwiches at a discount or even for free, depending on how much cash they have on hand. She knows many of them by name. "I had a dream to open a rest stop for soldiers," said Muyal, formerly a book- keeper. "It's a challenge, not like sitting in an office. There's sand, dust, heat, and it's great." Muyal has moved her truck around Israel's South, at one time stationing it in Gush Katif, Israel's former settle- ment bloc in Gaza. "A sniper could hit me right here," she said, pointing be- neath her brown, curly hair at a slightly wrinkled forehead. Muyal doesn't feel safe where she is on the Egyptian border, either. She says the border crossing has seemed abandoned, save for increased Israeli army traffic, since trouble began in the Sinai last year. She lives in the area, where she raised four children. "I ask myself, 'What am I doing here?'" she said. "The situation is scary. I don't think anything is clear. I'm here alone. Where would I go?" Born in Tunisia, Muyal moved to Israel with her family when she was 10, in 1960. Since then she has lived in this area, for the past 40 years in the nearby town of Yesha. Despite the frequent threats of violence, Muyal declares confident faith in the Israeli army--"an army I'm proud of." While Muyal has inserted herself in the middle of the army's activities, the nearby Kibbutz Kerem Shalom less than three miles away is striving to continue a normal routine despite the unrest across the border. The area was the site of the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, the terrorist organization that governs Gaza. Ben Sales Residents of Kerem Shalom, near where Gaza, Egypt and Israel meet, have painted bright pictures on the concrete wall that surrounds two-thirds of their kibbutz. Now the concrete wall that divides Gaza and Israel surrounds two-thirds of the kibbutz. Bright murals cover parts of the wall, but most of it remains gray. "When you live here, you don't see it," Ofer Kissin, who heads the kibbutz's secu- rity, said of the wall. "We've returned to routine life. It takes time, but we're used to situations like this." Kissin said that five fami- lies had recently joined the kibbutz, bringing its total to 30. The collective nature of the kibbutz helps residents weather the attacks, Kissin says, but the true source of the community's secure feel- ing comes from the military presence nearby. "The army takes care of us,"he said. "Kids run around here at night." Kissin declined to give specifics on the Israel Defense Forces' presence around Kerem Shalom, nor did the IDF provide details on its operations there. Muyal also says the IDF allows her to stay calm even while working at the inter- section of two tense borders. "The soldiers are brave, they love the land, nothing scares them," Muyal said. "I'm not ready to give in." By Neil Rubin ST. LOUIS (JTA)--Meet 22-year-old Jeremy Moskowitz, the poster child for what Hillel hopes will be a revolution in campus Jewish life. The catch: He didn't spend much time at Hillel during his four years at Duke University. Moskowitz attended Jewish day school before college, but chose Duke in part because it was "less Jewish." Once on campus, he stayed away from Hillel except for a few Shabbat dinners, instead throwing him- self into Greek life as a leader of the AEPi chapter there. But a Hillel staffer chal- lenged him to reach out to students uninvolved or little involved in Jewish life. By his senior year he had agreed to serve as a Hillel Peer Network engagement intern, a key role in the international campus organization's thrust to use students not very involved in Hillel to reach other students not very involved with Hillel-- with programs having little if any overt connection to Hillel. In Moskowitz's case, this meant building his own 12- by-12 sukkah and inviting 28 people over for a meal, and hosting a Passover seder for 73 fellow students--Jews and non-Jews--in his backyard, not to mention cooking 80 or so matzah balls and creating his own hagaddah that includ- ed photos, jokes, traditional prayers and Mad Libs. Hfllel provided kosher chicken and seder plates. "A friend called her mom after and said, 'You'll never guess where I just was. I was at a Passover seder," Moskowitz says with a grin while taking a break from a recent HiP iel Institute, a gathering at Washington University here of about 1,000 Hillel profession- als, student leaders and guests. For Moskowitz, the confer- ence was the star of a post- graduation yearlong stint as the Bronfman fellow at Hillel's Schusterman International Center, the operation's head- quarters in Washington, where he will serve as an assistant to Hillel President Wayne Firestone, learning the ins and outs of running a high-profile international organization based in the nation's capital. For the wider Hillel move- ment, the gathering in St. Louis served as a rollout venue for a new five-year strategic plan that the organization's board approved in May. The plan, pushed by Firestone, looks to build on the work of Moskowitzandtheother 1,200 peer outreach interns on 118 campuses--and moves fur- ther away from the traditional model of focusing primarily on improving programming inside the walls of campus Hillels for the most Jewishly engaged students. It has an ambitious man- date: The 800-plus Hillel professionals active to varying degrees on more than 500 campuses are now supposed to "engage" 70 percent of identi- fied campus Jewish students, having "meaningful" interac- tions with 40 percent of them and turn 20 percent of them into Jewish leaders. "Jews are leaders all over campus, but we had to come back to teach them about what it means to be Jewish," says Hillel on page 19A Jonathan Pollack College student outreach leaders came to the Hillel Institute at Washington University in St. Louis to learn the ins and outs of engaging their less engaged peers.