Babylon: Myth and Reality (Nov 13, 2008-Mar 15, 2009) is an exhibition that changed my life – even though I had never seen it.
It was my father who visited this British Museum exhibition and brought home the catalogue (“the Babylon book”). Shortly after this, in 2010, I volunteered to teach the Book of Daniel to a class of thirty-seven 8th graders in Jerusalem, and where I was teaching as an undergraduate student-teacher. Using the resources I learned about through this book, I inspired these adolescents who were previously intimidated by the mostly-Aramaic book. This experience had made the book approachable to them, and the importance of archaeology for me – tangible.
At the end of the year, we celebrated with Nebuchadnezzar’s Ishtar Gates of Babylon – on a cake designed by yours truly.
End-of-year celebration, after learning the Book of Daniel. Jerusalem, 2010
The next part of this story was completely unexpected. Since those student-teacher days, I’ve been teaching professionally in the US for six years, and often guiding tours near the two real Ishtar Gate lions on display at the Met. Academically I’ve gone back to school, completing an M.Ed in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and currently studying for an MA in Ancient Jewish History at Bernard Revel Graduate School (Yeshiva University). It is in this context that I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Dr. Michael Seymour, co-author of the Babylon book.
Dr. Seymour moderated a symposium for The World Between Empires Met exhibition (Mar 18-Jun 23, 2019). This spectacular exhibition shows the complexities of life, religion, commerce and identity in the region between Roman and Parthian Empires; the two superpowers of the late Second Temple period to the 3rd century CE.
This was only possible thanks to my professor at Revel, Steven Fine, inviting students to the symposium.
During that symposium, I was reminded of how my journey began 9 years ago. But it was only later, as I was guiding a private tour in the World Between Empires, that I recognized Dr. Seymour as he spoke to a group, and introduced myself. We kept in touch, met again when I was guiding students, and finally sat down for an early Friday morning coffee at the museum.
We sat and told lots of stories about shared interests. It was a fascinating conversation, and hopefully just the first of many.
Dr. Seymour is an assistant curator in the Met since 2011, when he began work on the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age (Sep 22, 2014-Jan 4, 2015). This was the very first exhibition I saw, on my very first Met visit.
I had brought along my copies of the Babylon and World Between Empires books, which are now autographed in a place of honor on my bookshelf.
We never know who we will touch and how we will make an impact. Whether it’s something we say, an act of kindness that we do, or a book that we write.
The impact that Dr. Seymour had on my life in turn had an impact on my students’ learning, on my career path, and down the line – on countless other lives which were inspired and invigorated because of some old rocks someone dug out of the dirt in Ancient Babylon!
Be the change that you wish to see in the worldMahatma Gandhi
Starting from the Bottom Up
It is 2019, and the grassroots, bottom-up approach has been proving itself to be the way change happens. This is happening in so many fields, including education – and there is no reason why it should not apply to Jewish Education.
How do we adapt?
The internet, technology and social media have changed the way we interact. They are vying for our attention, and that of our children. It has a losing battle, once you allow that small device into the home – and I am not here to say that you should or should not do that. What I am saying is that, the impact on the Jewish Educational system is inescapable.
Where do we make the change?
How do we make a difference?
How can we get our school on board?
I am a firm believer in the vitality and relevance of Torah to our life. I believe that the goal of a Jewish Education system cannot be just to convey information or preparing for a BJE test. There has to be a deep commitment to, and belief in, the reality of Torah. Only with that in mind, can we proceed with confidence into the unknown future of Jewish education, learning, leadership and change.
As a jewish-educational-entrepreneur (for lack of a better title), I work tirelessly to convey this message to laypeople, parents, schools, administrations, synagogues and publications. Having spoken to many schools and rabbis and community leaders in the past three years, I realized that the change cannot come from the top down.
Schools, institutions – they are all systems that have to run a certain way. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility to their parent bodies, congregants, and general clientele. This is both a vital part of the system, and what can make it very hard to move, when necessary.
That is where I come in. I believe that with social media, today, we can engage people in new ways. Not only students. I am not talking about creating multimillion dollar online curriculum – that has its place. I am talking about inspiring educators and just simply – Jews – to respond to the call of Torah. To realize that it is real, that it can be vitalized in the classroom or the synagogue without expensive materials, without learning new curriculum but rather, with a change in approach.
This week I took action.
I spoke to several colleagues who are on board with me, and said “guys, let’s do an Instagram Live session on this De’Ara Tanach Map”. We have been trying for two years to figure out the logistics of doing this with our own school, while I am traveling the country doing this with other schools. Instead of talking about it – let’s be the change we want to see.
To find out more about the map, and see a video about it: http://foundationstone.org/Store/store.html
The results we incredible. The three teachers were super-energized and excited about the possibilities of integrating this simple and powerful tool. Social media is playing its part, and we are reaching people in new ways, bringing the change from the bottom up. Here is a short video from the excitement:
A spontaneous get-together between Brooklinian friends, celebrating a birthday on a Saturday night. And what better place to celebrate than – the Brooklyn Museum!
On the first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum is open – and free – until 11PM. It’s all a buzz, with DJs, dancing, music and lots of noise – and vibrance. We chose this need to do a casual walk-through tour, highlighting anything from #InfiniteBlue – and Lapis Lazuli, to Ancient Near East: Assyria and Egypt.
More pictures coming later. And meanwhile:
Here’s for fun: I made a brief introduction to each Aliya in the Parasha, in rhymes. Enjoy!
It can be read by two people, which is why I made it in two colors (bold and regular)
This is the Story of Avram, Sarah and Co.
From when they left Ur Kasdim, a while ago
God said “Lech-Lecha” – go to the unknown land
And when the time comes, everyone will understand
That you are a blessing for the world,
You’ll be wealthy, and your name shall be heard
In Canaan they arrive,
And to settle they may strive
But hunger struck, oh-no!
So pack up your suitcases, and down to Egypt – we go!
Welcome to Egypt, where we have the Nile and bread!
“Where can we find a good breakfast and bed?”
“Just in case something goes bad-
We really have to think ahead
– say you’re my sister, we have the same dad”
But Pharaoh had a different idea,
And Sarai to his palace, was taken to see-a
Well G-d didn’t like that at all,
And he sent plagues on Pharaoh – household and all
So Sarai and Avram back to Canaan he sent
With gifts and good stuff and lots of money he spent
Family matters – did we ever mention?
That even back then required attention?
So we’re telling you now, we can say that you’ve heard
That Lot’s shepherds fought over grazing their herds
“Let’s not have a fight, you do not have to stay
You go live in one place, and we’ll go away!”
Sarai and Avram – they went down to Hebron
And Lot and his shepherds – went to Sodom
“Now look all around you” said G-d to Avrom
The time will arrive, indeed it shall come
When you many children, this land will call home
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Kedorla’omer – or how ever you pronounce it
Has came with his buddies to squash this rebellion
Four kings against five, what a battalion
Lot – he was captured, so Avram has heard,
So in hot pursuit he and his people were spurred
What a chase it was, half the country they ran
But they rescued Lot, and every woman and man
And so with a royal banquet, to put it to rest,
The king of Shalem, Malkitzedeck, did attest:
“Thank you, Avram, G-d bless you – you’re the best”
“I am G-d who took you out of Ur Kasdim,
to inherit this land, that was the scheme”
“But how will I know, that these children, you see,
Will inherit the land, that I cannot foresee?”
Let’s make this a Covenant, A Brit, an Agreement,
For suffer they shall, working hard, with enslavement,
But they’ll make it out, very soon, you will see,
And that’s how you’ll know – because they will be free!
Avram and Sarai had no children, and were old
“So marry my maiden, Hagar” he was told
A child she bore him, his name – Yishma’el
To find out what happen, you must listen well
But one last thing must change: Avram’s designation
From now on it’s “Avraham – the Father of Many Nations”.
Now here’s the deal, G-d said, let’s not wait
When every baby boy turns days eight
You must make a Bris, it’s called circumcision
So Avraham’s household all followed this mission
Now one last thing, said the Lord, k’nain a hora
Your wife’s name, Sarai, from now shall be Sarah
With these two new names, Avraham and Sarah,
You’ll soon have your children, bli ayin ha-ra
Believe it or not,
Do not feel indignation,
So laugh all you want,
But you’ll be a great nation
Returning customers, especially for the same tour, is very encouraging. Both pictures are of today’s group at the Metropolitan Museum.
The right-hand picture is of returning customers from last year. Mrs. Gitta Neufeld, head of educational development at Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership (second from right) attended my tour in June 2017, and hired me as a teacher at Allegra Franco. I am looking forward to beginning my second year teaching there.
Take it from her:
(amidst the hustle and bustle of the Met’s closing hours – this is being cleaned up slightly, but bear with us for 22 seconds!)
This week, Parashat Tzav and the Shabbat before Pesach, is called שבת הגדול – the “Great” or “Grand” Sabbath.
Why is it called Shabbat Hagadol?
School children learn the story of how the Hebrews tied the pascal lamb to the bedpost on the sabbath before the very first Passover in Egypt. But this was a risky thing to do, as the Egyptians deified the lamb. However, G-d protected us and it was a grand display of His benevolence that not a single Egyptian tried to hurt us for holding their gods at bay.
But come now, seriously?
On a Museum tour with ninth graders from Magen David Yeshivah High School, which I lead in early March, a student discovered a Ptolemaic period deity in the form of a ram – representing the Egyptian god Amun-Re, often represented in that form.
This student will never forget that!
Interview with Tzvi (Greg) Lauren – co-founder of Heart of Israel Wines
This segment of the series of articles “Rebirth of Shomron” has been fermenting “in the barrel”, so to speak, for the last half year. In honor of Rosh Chodesh Adar – the new Hebrew month in which we celebrate Purim, specifically with wine, I would like to bring out this “vintage” article. But much has changed since…
I met Tzvi over a year ago in New Jersey. Being that I love Israeli wine, and he imports it, we instantly started thinking of ways we can integrate our entrepreneurial ideas to advance Torah and Wine. It was not until this past Saturday night (February 11, 2018), that our plans came to fruition.
Tasting and Torah was an intimate evening organized by Heart of Israel Wines, featuring a selection of wines from Shiloh Wines. Speakers included Tzvi and his partner Yehoshua, Amichai Lourie – winemaker for Shiloh Winery, Rabbi Yair Shachor -from the community of Ma’aleh Levona, and myself. We hope that this is the first of many such events.
This interview took place in the summer, when Tzvi’s company was still called “West Bank Wines”. The old name itself was controversial, and has a story you will hear about in the interview. A few notes (from Tzvi himself) about the new name:
The company is now starting to import its own wines, and with their main customers being people in middle America, it made sense to have something simple, catchy, which still bears a connection to what it is about, and is not politically charged. Furthermore, after many requests from residents of Judea and Samaria, and promises to change the name, they finally owned up to their word and changed it.
Practically, Judea and Samaria is too long a name. They went for something universal and simple. Since heartofisraelwines.com would have also been way too long, the new top level domain “.wine” adds some panache to the new website, and here it is!
Tzvi was born in Ukraine and grew up in the NYC metro area. With a background on Wall St., he made aliyah to Israel in 2010. The story of West Bank Wines started in 2015 with a chance encounter, while Tzvi was working for a an NGO called World Yisrael Beytenu. From there Tzvi began working on building an American brand for Lev Ha’olam, a company distributing various boutique goods from mom & pop producers in Judea & Samaria.
Tzvi eventually realized that the product he had a calling for was actually hiding in plain sight and pivoted the project to wine.
After looking up Israeli Wineries through Google Maps, Tzvi brought a list to his now business partner Yehoshua Werth in Monsey, NY, and they now regularly feature wines from Judea and Samaria, and you can follow their reviews and events on social media. He then set out to start visiting a few: Har Bracha, Shiloh, Hebron and Beit El wineries, all along Route 60.
Tune in for some stories about these valuable connections, and the world that it opened to him. These wineries are run by very special people, who are keenly aware of the place they live in, and the revival of Judea & Samaria through its booming wine industry. Every winery has a Biblical and Jewish history story linked with the location, and that story is the key to appreciating the wine. As Erez Ben Saadon of Tura Winery said, “When you love the Land, the Land loves you back”. A land that was mostly desolate for near two millennia becoming fruitful and productive again is a testament to the deep love of a people to their homeland.
The name “West Bank” Wines naturally had people raise their hackles, on both sides of the fence. Tzvi talks about how he arrived at this name as well as some of the reactions he has received, and the impact it had on his resolve to keep the name…which has now changed to Heart of Israel Wines.
Some fascinating research has been done into the grapes indigenous to the region, the history of how these grapes were forgotten, and how the grapes we now have in Israel, got there. That, and other areas of history, research and stories are discussed.
We hope you enjoy!
Links to content from the interview
Articles and Videos:
- Dr. Shivi Drori, Ariel University, on the revival of 2,000 year old grapes: Here is a link to a short video on the science of reviving the grape, and here is the full lecture.
- Professor Ian McGonigle, Harvard University, and his article about Israeli Wine in Times of Israel.
Heart of Israel Wines reviews:
- Review of 2000 ancient Israel wine and reenactment of the Incense ritual in the Temple
- Review of the Psagot Peak.
Three reviews by 2007 world #1 sommelier Andreas Larsson:
- Mount Hevron – Reserve Syrah 2009 – Judean Hills
- Psâgot – Single Vineyard 2013 – Benjamin Mountains
- Gvaot – Masada 2012 – Judean Hills