My Graduation Speech Annotated

Below is the speech I delivered at the WYHS graduation last week. I worked on a theme that I had posted about earlier- God. The speech is in the black font. I added some of my thoughts about the speech in the red font in the parentheses.

 

The late David Foster Wallace began one of the more famous commencement addresses with a story I’d like to share with you. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,”Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What in the world is water?” (I edited the language out of concern that the word “hell” might offend. The original language though does a better job.)

The great Foster Wallace developed an idea based on this little parable. I’d like to share my own with you. As he said, the point of the fish story is that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. (I used the DFW story and referenced him not really because I needed it to illustrate my point in the speech, although it did a pretty good job of that. My main reason was to sniff out any DFW fans in the audience. I was hoping that a few people might approach me after the graduation and tell me of their fondness for DFW. Alas, no one commented.) 

 

I find it remarkable that we actually spend so little time talking about a specific type of  water that we swim in.

You may be wondering- what is he talking about? What part of our lives that we take for granted is he referring to? Some of you are guessing that I’m talking about developing an appreciation for our Jewish community which we take for granted. Yes, he’s probably going to talk about the importance of serving the community and appreciating all it offers. Continue reading

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Rabbi Avi Shafran’s dvar torah in the Forward quoting the maggid of Duluth

R. Avi Shafran posted a beautiful dvar Torah in the Forward right before Pesach.  I continue to be a  big fan of his writing and continue to be amazed at his role as the public face of the Agudah in America. Could you imagine a rav writing as the spokesman for the Agudah in Israel approvingly quoting a secular Jew who flirted with apostasy in the context of his dvar Torah: ” As a great poet sang, sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”

More on Social Orthodoxy and Engaging the Disengaged

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein posted a thoughtful if at times strident rejoinder on Torah Musings. He picks up the gauntlet and defends God‘s honor in the face of His presumed irrelevance posited by Jay Lefkowitz. R. Rothstein’s response included many excellent points. One point that particularly resonated with me: Lefkowitz’s situation is a certain type of reflection of the success of Modern Orthodoxy in America. The shul and community are so welcoming that so many different people who in the past may have felt shunned or at least unwelcome now feel comfortable. Perhaps a little too comfortable! It reminds me of a line I once heard Rav Lichtenstein quote which now thanks to Google I am able to attribute to Lord Acton quoting the Duc de BroglieBeware of too much explaining, lest we end by too much excusing. Continue reading

Social Orthodoxy

Jay Lefkowitz’s piece  in Commentary has garnered a good deal of attention. It has significant implications for the educational decisions made at Modern Orthodox yeshivot.

Thoughtful responses include:

Marriane Novak’s in the Times of Israel

Joshua Fattal’s in Tablet

Although Lefkowitz appeals to Mordechai Kaplan he may have been better off appealing to a different heterodox Jewish leader- Continue reading

#NoahMovie Update

This piece by Brook Wilensky-Lanford in the most recent edition of the New Republic gets it right. She notes that it’s pretty close to impossible to offer a literal interpretation of the Bible. It reminds me of the Ibn Ezra’s introduction to his peirush on Chumash. But what I really found interesting in her article was the link to this statement by a group called  National Religious Broadcasters (NRB)- Christian Communicators Impacting the World. They persuaded Paramount Pictures to issue the following clarification on marketing materials for the movie: Continue reading

#NoahMovie – Aronofsky Did Something Extraordinary

I wanted to love the movie and I did. It wasn’t only because of the luxurious recliner that I sat in, or more accurately reclined in, but because the movie was beautifully interpretative, psychologically compelling and surprisingly on-target in many of its bold readings of the Chumash.

The critics reviews that resonate most with me are Peter Travers’ review in Rolling Stone, and this review by YU professor Eric Goldman in the Jewish Standard- he has some good inside scoops, and this one in the Atlantic. This one in Slate is also helpful.

Interesting interviews with Aronofsky include this one in the Washington Post and this one on NPR

As I watched the movie I was transfixed by the conflict between Noach and Tuval-Cain that Aronofsky portrayed as the primary conflict of the film. Noach was concerned about God’s earth and Tuval Cain who was concerned more with man’s progress. Continue reading

Common Core Critique Creates Critical Questions

Another thought provoking piece in the NYT today. Jennifer Finney Boylan talks about common core and raises an interesting question about the purpose of education: Is it: For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Or is it: For others, education means enlightening our children’s minds with the uncensored scientific and artistic truth of the world.

There are many nafka minas to those two views. In terms of Jewish education it seems like the more traditional approach is to promote the first position i.e. perpetuating a community committed to the Torah values of the previous generation. A Modern Orthodox approach includes both positions. That makes it stronger and more complicated, no?

Creativity vs. Safety

This morning Timothy Egan wrote a provocative piece on the NY Times op–ed page. Egan laments the ubiquity of big data as it creeps into every facet of our lives, from Amazon’s aggregation of our buying habits which is used to promote those same buying habits as well as the push toward accountability in schools preoccupied with standardized test scores. Egan points out that creativity is unquantifiable and that our emphasis on numbers may be squashing it or at least ignoring it.  Continue reading