Friday, August 15, 2008

My Post CAJE 33 Post

(cross-posted from my blog on

A few thoughts on CAJE 33.

CAJE 33 was a good conference. One of the better conferences, on the whole. Good, solid programming. A great campus, and the University of Vermont staff must be the friendliest people on the planet. The dorms were nice, and the food was quite good as well (that is, for CAJE.)

The keynote speakers were inspiring. (Kudos to Joel Hoffmann for substituting on opening day when Dennis Ross couldn't make it.)

Joel Hoffmann and Melanie Birger-Bray and the entire Mazkirut can be justifiably proud.

As usual, I was so busy doing other things that I didn't get to anywhere near as many sessions as I would like to have. I particularly missed not being able to go to the "Blogging Cafe" with Ester Kustanovitch (of My Urban Kvetch.")  (She, like many others, was delayed in arrival due to the many storms that interrupted air travel last Sunday.)

The new Davis Center at UVM is an incredible space-a real model of what the "Student Union" ought to look like for the 21st century.

Jeremy Poisson from Behrman House and I led a session on getting comfortable with technology. It was an eye-opening experience for both the students and the teachers. More on that in future blog posts. As a result of what I noticed at this session, and another presentation I gave as part of Carol Starin's annual "Five Things" extravaganza, I'll be hanging up a new shingle in the area of providing technology consultation and training services for Jewish Education and Educators. I've already found a great name. In Hebrew, the word consultant is yo-eitz, so I'm calling my company "YoEitzdrian." Yeah, I know. Groan. Again, more in a future post.

Joel Grishaver and Josh Fixler from Torah Aura led a fascinating discussion on Jewish Education as a Conserving Activity.

Helene and Michael Kates had the always unenviable task of organizing the evening entertainment. A host of vatikim along with some up and coming artists made for a well-rounded program. The venues at UVM weren't the best, but the staff for MJ Productions did their best to make things sound decent.

I heard a few grumbles about how popular performers were programmed against each other, but, knowing first hand how difficult this is, having been Evening Program chair or co-chair three times, I'd say it's simply unavoidable.

This year, I had the good fortune to accompany Fran Avni, storytellers Janie Grackin and Dante Gordon, and a service led by Ellen Dreskin.

I was honored to emcee performances by Peter and Ellen Allard, Jeff Klepper, Sababa, and Stacey Beyer.

The Kusitz Mafia (we will NOT be shushed!) was back in full force. Yours truly, along with many others, kept the music going all night long (on Weds. nite, they were still going when I left at 5:30am) in the lounge of University South dorm. At one poiint, I think there were fifteen guitars being played (along with percussion, violin, madolin, and, of course, chicken.)

CAJE Rising Star was back, again hosted by Sam Glaser. Though not as well attended as last year (except for the final  evening)  we were treated to lots of talented CAJE-niks. On the final evening, hosted by yours truly as Sam had to leave CAJE early three talented performers competed: Seth Zimmerman, a teen from Charleston, SC; Todd Herzog; and Ross M. Levy. Ross was the eventual winner, but all three gave great performances to a very large crowd. While the large crowd waited for the results to be tabulated, they were entertained by comedian Yisrael Campbell. Unbelievably, Yisrael held the crowd both captivated and in stitches for an hour! How may comedians can do that?

Before the final night of CAJE Rising Star, all of CAJE 33 traveled off campus to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Burlington. It's a beautifully restored vintage cinema/vaudeville venue.

Doug Cotler organized the closing program, and he has set a new standard for CAJE Closing Programs. A host of CAJE artists-vatkim as well as rising stars performed, and the audience got to sing along to lots of songs as well --all accompanied by an orchestra!

I'm told that a highlight of the show was Doug singing "Manischewitzville" with EJ Cohen signing. Yours truly was backstage running the Powerpoint slides with all the lyrics and didn't get to see a thing, but from the laughs, it must have been hysterical.

At the closing, we were introduced to another rising up and comer-Doug's own son Kyle rocked the house with his absolutely AWESOME Oseh Shalom complete with air guitar solo performed by the audience.

Jeff Klepper and Mark Bloom led the CAJE Chorale through its paces in fine form.

The speeches were kept to a minimum, too.

All in all, a great experience. Looking forward to next year in San Antonio (yet again.)


Random Musing Before Shabbat - Va'etkhanan/Shabbat Nakhamu 5768

I've just returned from CAJE, and in just 4 more days, the moving
trucks will be here and I'll be on my way to Amherst, MA. The "good"
folks at Comcast were true to their "Move" promotion - it was easy to  ASK to have my internet/digital cable/phone services transferred. It's another matter to have them get it done in time. I'm likely to be without internet and local phone service in my new home until August 28!

With all the hubbub, there's little time for me to muse (though I
could argue with myself that making time to muse on Torah should be  more important than getting packed, etc.) so I offer up both a redux Parashat Nakhamu musing from 5764, along with, as has become traditional, my continually updating musing for Parashat Va'etkhanan, originally started in 5759, entitled "The Promise."

Spurred by comments offered at CAJE by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, I'd like to take this opportunity to thanks each and every one of you, my readers, for allowing me to share my thoughts with you, and for sharing yours with me.

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Va'etkhanan--Shabbat Nakhamu 5764--Mah Ekra?

Our solemn day of mourning, Tisha B'Av, is over, and the rabbis
cleverly present us with this first Shabbat of Consolation, Shabbat
Nachamu, taken from the opening words of the haftarah from Isaiah

Nakhamu, nakhamu ami, yomar El"hekhem
Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your G"d.

This passage from Isaiah is replete with well worn quotations. But
this year (5764) in reading the passage again, a phrase I had often
overlooked before caught my attention:

Kol omeir k'ra, v'amar mah ekra
A voice rings our: "Proclaim!"
Another asks, "What shall I proclaim?" (Isaiah 40:6a)

Isaiah goes on to provide an answer to this question. And it is not an unexpected answer. Yet it is one that bears repeating over and over, for I submit that we have, indeed, lost our perspective over time (and lost our perspective in time.)

In today's world, we're more likely to proclaim our great
achievements. Civilization, medicine, science, and more.  Each nation proclaims for itself those things it holds dear. Nazi Germany
proclaimed Aryan superiority. The Soviet Union proclaimed the virtues of communism. Yet because this country has outlived those two historical developments, we proclaim our triumph over them.
Religions proclaim their superiority. Some within the Christian
community still proclaim supercessionism. Some with the Islamic
community proclaim its supercessionism. Judaism proclaims its
longevity and endurance.

Yet, whether we measure in decades, centuries, or millennia, our
perspective remains localized in what is a rather insignificant period
of time consider the age of the Universe. And even more so considering the perspective of a Divine presence that, at least according to Jewish tradition, was around before the universe came into being, and will be there after it is gone.

The lesson Isaiah teaches us is one we find repeated many centuries
later in Shelley's poem "Ozymandias". Here's what the great and
powerful Ozymandias proclaimed:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Yet all that is left of this once mighty person are mere ruins, in a
vast wasteland.

If we have the same hubris, the same haughtiness, then Ozymandias' legacy might be our own.

Perhaps we should heed the words of Isaiah, who answers the question "What shall I proclaim?" thus:

"All flesh is grass,
All its goodness like the flowers of the field.
Grass withers, flowers fade
When the breath of the L"rd blows upon them.
Indeed, man is but grass.
Grass withers, flowers fade--
But the word of our G"d is always fulfilled!" (Is. 6b-8)

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us, Gd fulfills in Gd's time.
Isaiah continues to drive home the point in subsequent verses.

"The nations are but a drop in a bucket..." 40:15
"He brings potentates to naught,
Makes rulers of the earth as nothing..." 40:23

Yet, some ask "Where is G"d today? What has G"d done for us recently? Where is G"d's compassion, G"d's love, G"d's miracles? Why should I proclaim G"d? Perhaps I should proclaim the death of G"d, or the non-existence of G"d"

Sadly, more and more these days espouse that viewpoint. And even more sadly, more and more of us refute these proclamations with the weak and hackneyed fallback on Gd's ineffability. The "Job" answer. Where were we when Gd fashioned the earth?
Others argue that the "our perspective of time is limited" apology is
no better than ineffability.

If we are true believers, then we must confront these challenges
rather than side-stepping them.

In this post-Shoah, post Hiroshima, post 9-11 world, we need more than ever to proclaim G"d and heed G"d's messages to us. The world needs to heal, to get past the conditions that allowed the Shoah and other atrocities to occur--our response to the religious and ethical
failures that underlie these horrible events should not be a rejection
of faith, but an embracing of those very ethics that had to have been rejected or ignored for them to occur. (An argument I gleaned from the words of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg.)

What are you going to proclaim?

Shabbat Shalom,
© 2008, portions ©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester

And now, as promised, "The Promise."

Random Musings Before Shabbat- Va'etkhanan - Redux 5759ff:

The Promise

What a stunning prediction. If we don't keep G"d's commandments we shall be scattered among the nations, there to serve man-mad gods of wood and stone. (Silica isn't exactly stone, but I wonder if the computer gods we are serving kind of fit that description?)D'varim 4:26-28

And here we are. We didn't keep the commandments. Now we are scattered among the nations. And we serve man made G"ds of wood and stone. Oh yes, we keep the ancient faith alive as best we can, but I sometimes wonder if even the most pious among us are meeting the ethical and moral standards set forth in G"d's commandments?

What a depressing scenario-what a depressing situation for us. But the answer is right there in the following verses (29-31.) Even if we
search for G"d in the midst of our scattered lives, we can find G"d.
For G"d will keep the promises, G"d is compassionate and will not fail us.

I don't know about you, but when I look about the world today, and
consider all the horrible mess we have created, keeping these verses
in mind is almost a pre-requisite to being able to cope. Now, some
will claim that G"d has abandoned us, that G"d no longer responds to
our searching. To them I would remind them of the second half of v.
29, which tells us that G"d can be found even in the midst of our
diaspora, but only if we seek with all our heart and soul.

I am reminded of a discussion we had one night on Erev Tisha b'Av. The question was raised, as it often is, why we modern liberal Jews would mourn the loss of the Beit haMikdash when indeed it was that very event that precipitated the formation of portable Judaism, rabbinic Judaism, that has enabled us to survive all these years in galut.

Before the Beit haMikdash was destroyed (both times) G"d sent us
prophets to warn us that if we didn't get our act together, we'd lose
out. Both times we ignored the warning and suffered the consequences.

And here we are, almost two millenia later, and we're still not
getting it. And so we rail that G"d has abandoned us, when it reality
it may be we who have abandoned G"d. Despite all the tragic events,
the persecutions, we're still around. If we're not finding G"d amidst
all this, we're just not looking hard enough.

We mourn the loss of the Beit haMikdash to remind ourselves of the
folly of our still failing to heed the message. And to remind us to
look for G"d, even among the ruins of what once was. This anamnetical connection with our history keeps the message ever fresh in our minds.

I am also reminded of mass e-mail that was forwarded to me some years back, entitled "Letter of Intent," a whimsical piece in which the Jews explain why they are not planning to renew the covenant with G"d. It goes into a whole litany of complaints. I wrote the following response to those who forwarded the piece on to me:

"You know what's wrong with this whimsical piece? It completely
ignores the fact that, despite our perceptions that G"d has not kept
up one end of the bargain, that we have done far worse at keeping
ours, and that despite that--we're still here!!! If that's not G"d
watching over us, I don't know what is, and renouncing our covenant is sheer folly, and certain to lead to the end of even the remnant that remains of the Jewish people. We didn't listen to the prophets, and we're still not listening. Yet, somehow, mir zenen doh. When, if ever, we actually try to do the things that G"d wants us to do, at least most of the time, and we're still put upon, tortured, killed, etc., then maybe we have a right to complain. But I don't think we've earned that quite yet."

Torah tells us that G"d is always there for us to find--if we search
in the right way-with all our heart and soul.

This Shabbat, seek with all your heart and soul. G"d is there waiting
to be found. Even if you have already found G"d in your life, seek

Shabbat Shalom,


©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester Portions ©1999 2001, 2002 & 2007 by
Adrian A. Durlester

Monday, August 11, 2008

CAJE 33 is Off and Running

After a rainy morning and afternoon to complement Tisha B'Av, CAJE 33 finally got in gear, beginning with an opening keynote-that was supposed to feature Dennis Ross. As Ambassador Ross was unable to come, conference chair Joel Hoffman ably filled in with an inspiring history of the Jewish people and inspiration for the coming week of CAJE.

Later in the evening, attendees gathered in 7 locations for the first part of the StorahTelling-designed opening program transitioning from Tisha B'Av into CAJE - from Mourning to Light. Later, all the groups came together for a fine presentation from StorahTelling. Some really great music was provided by Chana Rothman and friends. Sadly though, the sound system wasn't up to the task of handling either the StorahTelling presentation or a rockin' closing song from Chana, and it was hard to hear very much.

While there were other activities following the opening, many of us drifted over to HPIM0680the University South lounge for the first of what promises to be 4 days of great informal unofficial after the official late night kumsitz late late night kumsitz sessions. I've posted a bunch of pictures of the well attended kumsi tz on cajenet. When I left around 3:15am, only a few hardy souls were left. And we'll do it again the next three nights. After all, it's CAJE. who needs sleep?

Tags: 33, caje, caje33, kumsitz

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oh What a Beautiful Morning at CAJE 33!


Here's the view out the window of the dorm room I'm staying in at CAJE 33.

What more need I say?


Looking Out my Dorm Room Window

Here We Go Again - It's Shabbat/Tisha B'Av at CAJE 33

Wow, is this place beautiful. The UVM (yes, it's UVM, and not UVT--look up the reason in your CAJE program book!) campus in Burlington is surrounded by mountains. The dorms are new and comfy. The literally brand new Davis Center, where all of the Shabbat/Tisha B'Av events are being held is gorgeous. The staff here at UVM is incredibly friendly and helpful, and their attitude is infectious even among the CAJE staff and volunteers. Food's pretty good, too.
(A personal aside-for the first time ever in all the CAJEs I have attended, I had a problem at registration. I didn't have a room assigned. Having observed the agonies others have had to go through when this happened to them, I was prepared for the worst. I was most pleasantly surprised and how the problem was taken care of quickly and efficiently. Jeff Lasday can be proud of the CAJE staff for doing a truly commendable job.)
There's a great collection of scholars on hand with a little something for everyone. Observing Tisha B'Av at CAJE is no easy task, but after the last successful attempt in Seattle, I think planners have a handle on how to make it work, and it shows.
Credit is due to Sam Glaser and Cantor Neil Schwartz who made singing Shabbat Zmirot, benstching, and some contemporary musical Tisha B'Av kinnot a truly enjoyable experience. And it's the first time I can remember being in a dining room that was actually conducive to having everyone sing and stay together!
Kudos to Shabbat co-chairs Peter Eckstein and Iris Schwarz for a pretty well oiled operation.
More tomorrow


cross-posted from my blog on­/MigdalorGuy