Wednesday, April 15, 2015

זה היום עשה ה

I've been using Koren's books for decades- I think my first ever was their Tikkun, with which I prepared for my bar mitzvah- and I've become a huge fan of theirs in recent years. So when they asked me to review their new Yom Haatzmaut Machzor, I was very happy and honored to accept.

Celebrating Yom Haatzmaut back in the old country- more on that below- I remember a somewhat limited selection of printed materials to follow along the tefillah chagigit. YU would have a tekes every year that combined Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, and the tefillot were generally handed out as a photocopied sheet that literally copied and pasted various segments of the tefillah together. At best, there would be an actual printed and stapled pamphlet that would do pretty much the same (using selections from Siddur Rinat Yisrael and printed by the WZO), but usually with directions that essentially read, "Turn to regular Maariv in your siddur now, and turn back here when you're done." The next morning we were pretty much on our own. (YU's official minyanim all say Hallel without a bracha, but I once went to a renegade minyan that said the bracha, layned the haftarah, the whole nine yards.) It was enough, I guess, but obviously lacking. Of course, both Rinat Yisrael's and Koren's regular siddurim had all the material, but in much the same way as they had, say, the amida for Chol HaMoed.

There were some full, or almost full, siddurim for the day. The WZO produced one, again based on the Rinat Yisrael, that was also available with an English translation. They were still not much, but much better than the alternatives- the whole tefillah for night and day, together with some notes and an essay or two. The Kibbutz HaDati had its own version of the tefillot, as opposed to the "standard" one set by the Rabbinate. Still later, much more complete works began to appear of late- there's a work called "Goel Yisrael," a siddur with lots of extra material, and a siddur that came out recently called "Beit Melucha." There have, of course, been many more (and better quality) pamphlets similar to those described above released in the last few years, as well as Yom Haatzmaut tefillot as appendices to works on Zionism, and the like.

Last year, however, Koren released its Yom Haatzmaut Machzor, and this year has released the English/Hebrew counterpart. I will review these here.

As I wrote above, I'm a big fan of Koren. First, it's clear from their products that they put a lot of thought into each book, not just in terms of content but also into layout, presentation, appearance, and so on. This is not a minor issue- it's very nice to be able to use something attractive, and of course a huge help to both tefillah and general reading and learning if the print is easy on the eyes, the text is easy to follow, and so on. And here, I think it would be very hard to argue that Koren excels over most if not all other publishers. It's probably a major key to their success, and it shows in these machzorim, which of course adapt the texts from their siddurim and Tanachs.

I suppose if that was all, it would be enough to establish Koren's machzorim as a gamechanger in this field. No more sheets, pamphlets, or small books, but a respectable sefer that makes no apologies and makes it easy to say the tefillot. But, of course, these are much more than that.

The sheer amount of content puts me in mind of something I thought of only last week, during Pesach, as I considered the many haggadot we have (and, of course, the huge number we don't): There isn't enough time in the seven-day chag to digest it all, let alone in one (or, I suppose, even two) seder nights. That doesn't mean you can't start reviewing this material from, say, the end of Pesach and keep going through Yom Yerushalayim (these machzorim cover both days, as well as Yom HaZikaron). We live the miracle of Israel every day, so why not? And, of course, there's always next year...

The Hebrew version (available in the three major nuschaot) is edited by R' Benny Lau and Dr. Yoel Rafel. It contains an introduction and extensive, Yom Haatzmaut-specific notes on the tefillot by the former, and appended essays by the latter as well as others. The essays deal with various matters related to the days celebrated, focusing on the tefillot themselves but covering much more as well. Each is a small gem, and again I only wish there was more time to digest them all fully.

The English/Hebrew edition, which I've just received (available in Ashkenaz for now; sponsored by World Mizrachi and other local organizations), is even more massive. Of course, the English translation (Rabbi Sacks', as in their siddurim) alone doubles the size, and there is again a chagim-specific commentary to the tefillot, this time by R' Moshe Taragin with contributions from the Hebrew edition authors. The tefillot, by the way, are remarkably complete- as Koren has done elsewhere, for example in its Chumash, you have pretty much everything you need, even Birkat HaMazon and Sheva Brachot. There are even multiple versions of Al HaNissim to add, if one's practice is to do so. (The propriety and history of doing so is also discussed, as we will see.) The Hebrew version even has zemirot for the day.

The translated version seems, logically enough, a bit chutz la'aretz-centric. I used the Sacks Siddur a bit before I made aliyah, but I will confess I find the format of a translated sefer a bit hard to follow now. That's just me, of course- many have told me that you get used to it quickly. The tefillot of the translated version are formatted for use in chu"l as well, with the minor differences between the American and Israeli Ashkenaz noted.

Of course, the tefillot are only one reason to use the Machzor, and even those in Israel who already have the all-Hebrew version handy will still want to use this sefer. There's the commentary, as said, but even more so, there are essays. There's an introduction by R' Riskin which I found very moving in a number of places (although he could have held off on including some less-universally held opinions, not that I necessarily disagree with him), and over 250 pages of essays on the other side of the book. (This brings the total size to close to a thousand pages. You get your money's worth.) These are arranged into two broad categories- "Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael" and "Yom Haatzma'ut and Yom Yerushalayim," and cover a very broad range of topics, and are written by a great range of luminaries, both past and present. Many have appeared elsewhere- including, of course, the all-Hebrew edition- but they are here gathered in one convenient location- and some seem to be original as well. I can't say that I have thoroughly read each one yet, but I have gone through them and see much to be delved into.

One topic, covered in an introduction, the commentary, and some essays, is the tefillah itself. The origins of the tefillot (and the religious nature attributed to the days) is gone into, but there is also a lot about what it is proper to say, what various opinions are, and so on. I will admit this (which I have seen almost predominate other Zionist discussions of Yom Haatzmaut outside of Israel, such as some of those published by YU) is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, especially after seeing the admirable lack of thought put into the question by many Israelis- Yom Haatzmaut is a chag, on a chag we say certain things, and that's it. (Although the Machzor makes clear there were and are such discussions in Israel as well, but they don't seem to affect the hamon am.) What put my mind to rest, however, was some of the content of the Machzor itself. The commentary, for example, at one point quotes R' Yosef Messas implying that this is an Ashkenazi (or galuti, or right-leaning) problem: Be a Sephardi, he says, and simply accept the miracles and pray as your heart tells you.

It's summed up even more nicely as part of the essay contributed by Dr. Erica Brown. She points out that the best way to experience Yom Haatzmaut is to do so in Israel. I imagine it's to be expected that the most commendable, but still somewhat constrained, celebrations in chu"l may lend themselves to such concerns. Here, as she writes, the natural and so much different celebration will put the foreign observer in a whole different state of mind.

Of course, that's a minor point. Considering that the alternative- as the publisher points out in his preface- is not people quibbling over a half-perek of Hallel here or there but people who prefer to ignore the State entirely or worse (I once heard someone bizarrely mocking the fact that observance, and Hallel, that year had been moved because of Shabbat, seemingly not noticing the obvious point of how much a miracle a State that does so as part of official policy is- although that reminds me that the Machzor could have used a clear statement of when the dates are moved, unless I missed it), the very existence of this Machzor is a huge leap forward. Even these discussions on the tefillah may be seen as part of the greater miracle- we are at a point where, yes, we have to discuss and decide such things, and we accept and embrace history rather than run from it. The addition of this Machzor to the bookshelf is a fine indicator of that, and hopefully will only add to the stature of these days all over the Jewish world.

As a side note, Koren, whether intentionally or not, seems to have become the model for such things. I remember when the Sacks Siddur first came out, people were actually happy simply to be using a Modern Orthodox siddur. (I imagine I don't have to spell out the history that led to those feelings.) The same seems to be true of their new Talmud and other projects. Of course, making an ideological statement wouldn't be enough of a reason for success, so it helps that the books in question are of such high quality as well. And the new Yom Haatzmaut machzorim are a worthy addition to that list in both senses of the word- very well done, useful, and informative works that will also contribute to a wider positive movement in Israel and the Jewish world.

Ah, here are the links. You can toggle between currencies and languages at the top. Also available at your local bookstore, as they say:
Hebrew (links below for other nuschaot)

And here's a video about the new Machzor:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

How to End a War

The American Civil War ended (effectively) 150 years ago this week. I had a Pesach-related anecdote last week, herewith is a series of anecdotes relating to the surrender at Appomattox Court House specifically (as, I see, I promised years ago). The first tale is a bit bizarre:

Wilmer McLean was a businessman who lived on a farm in Manassas, Virginia, south of Washington, D.C. The First Battle of Bull Run, the first major engagement of the war, took place on his land on July 21, 1861. (Southerners call it First Manassas, as they name battles after towns, as opposed to Northerners, who named them after physical features, in this case Bull Run Stream- perhaps because the Confederates actually lived there. This is reflected to this day on United States military battle streamer flags- units that fought for the South, and there are still some in the U.S. Army, use the Southern names and put grey over blue.) His home was requisitioned for use as headquarters for Confederate General Beauregard's staff, which naturally made it a target for Union artillery. A cannonball dropped down his kitchen fireplace chimney and exploded in a pot of soup. No one was hurt (in the house, that is- among all these light touches, let's not forget that over 800 were killed and 2,700 wounded in the one day battle alone), but McLean decided that the neighborhood was too dangerous and that (for that reason and more prosaic ones) he had to get his family out of there.

He took enough time doing it that he was still in the area when the Second Battle of Bull Run/ Second Manassas took place just over a year later. (Over 18,000 killed and wounded in a three-day battle. My God, that war was horrible, not that any war isn't.) McLean then packed up and moved much further south, deep in Virginia, to a sleepy little out of the way town called Appomattox Court House.

You can guess where this is going. The Battle of Appomattox Court House took place on April 9, 1865, as Robert E. Lee's fleeing Army of Northern Virginia was finally pinned down there by Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac. (It wasn't such a major battle as battles go, but well over 600 were still killed or wounded.) Lee decided to surrender, and a suitable location had to be found. McLean had a nice large house with a nice large parlor, and the knock came at his door. He wasn't happy about it, but the surrender took place there, and Union officers took anything that wasn't nailed down for souvenirs, tossing cash at the protesting McLean to attempt to make up for it. Some minor skirmishes and lots of other surrenders followed, but Lee's essentially marked the end of the war. McLean later said, "The war started in my front yard and ended in my front parlor."

McLean couldn't maintain mortgage payments on the house (which is now a museum, the furniture recovered or replicated) and moved back to Manassas after the war. He later moved to Alexandria, worked for what is now the IRS, and died and was buried there in 1882.

Of course, what happened in (and, as we'll see, what didn't happen in, and what was said in) the parlor is far more important.

Lee arrived at the McLean house with his aide. He was dressed in his best uniform, neat and clean and honorable. Grant's only thought (as he told an admirer years later) was that, his luggage having been misplaced, he was wearing a muddy private's uniform on which he had stuck his two shoulder straps with his three-star rank insignia (the highest at the time), and was worried Lee would think he was insulting him. He therefore apologized, and the two chatted for a bit. They had served in the Mexican War together, although Grant was considerably younger and assumed, correctly, that Lee wouldn't remember him. It took them a bit of time to get down to business. Grant was not happy: "I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse," he later wrote.

Lee wasn't just wearing his best uniform- he was wearing a sword. Traditionally, surrendering generals hand over their swords. And he wasn't wearing any old sword that he could afford to lose- he was wearing a beautiful one, with a lion-headed pommel, gold-plated hilt, and ivory grip, that a Maryland admirer had commissioned for him in Paris. And Lee could have offered the sword, and Grant could have taken it, and no one would have said anything, and Grant could have given it to a museum or his children, and would have been remembered as having behaved in a completely proper fashion.

Or Grant could have returned the sword to Lee, as was sometimes done by magnanimous victors. And again, there wouldn't really have been anything wrong with that, although it certainly drives the symbolism of defeat home a little more, and would have been somewhat humiliating to Lee, the gentleman.

But Grant did none of those things. As soon as he saw the sword, he had one thought in mind: How to keep Lee from even offering it in the first place.

Grant had his adjutant, Colonel Ely S. Parker (much more on him later) write up the surrender terms. They were very generous, especially considering that they were coming from "Unconditional Surrender Grant": The Confederate soldiers were all free to go home provided they pledged never again to rebel against the United States. When Lee mentioned that many of his men were farmers and that planting season was upon them, Grant said that any Confederate soldier who claimed a horse or mule could take it to plow his farm. He also ordered that the Union Army provide food for the starving Southerners. Lee reviewed the terms, and said they would go a long way to reconciling the two halves of the country- which was, of course, the point. And then Grant took a pencil and added one line: The surrender, he wrote, "will not embrace the side-arms of the officers". No one said a word, but everyone knew what that meant. Lee never offered his sword, and rode off with it still strapped to his side.

After the surrender was signed, Grant introduced his officers to Lee. The most important words said that day were said at that point.

I got a lot of this information from a series of articles Grant's grandson wrote for National Geographic fifty years ago. The magazine featured a painting that had been made just for the article, which now hangs in their Society's headquarters in Washington. Here it is; the artist has done a masterful job conveying the emotions of the moment. The Union (brevet) general on the far right is the famous George Armstrong Custer; Parker is next to him.

As you might be able to tell from the picture, his real name wasn't "Ely S. Parker." Here's his story:

Among the people Grant introduced to Lee was Colonel Parker, essentially his top assistant. Parker had dark skin, and Lee at first thought he was black- that Grant was trying to make a symbolic point about the fight against slavery by having him there. But then he realized that Parker was, in fact, an American Indian.

Parker (who, in fact, was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General that very day, one of only two Indian generals in the war- the other was Stand Watie, a Confederate) was a Seneca from Upstate New York. He was named Hasanoanda at birth; Ely Samuel Parker was his Christian name. He became a lawyer and then a civil engineer, and represented the tribe in their dealings with the government. He eventually became the Chief of the Seneca (and the Six Iroquois Nations as a whole), with the name Donehogawa, "Keeper of the Western Door of the Long House of the Iroquois." He moved out West to supervise engineering projects, where he met and befriended Grant, who commissioned him a captain. He served as an engineer in the siege of Vicksburg before Grant made him his adjutant. At the McLean house, he wrote the surrender documents. (I got some of the ideas below from A History of US, a history series for kids.) Later he recounted his encounter with Lee:

"General Lee stared at me for a moment. He extended his hand and said, 'I am glad to see one real American here.' I shook his hand and said, 'We are all Americans.'"

Let that sink in for a second. Lee said what today would be considered the perfect politically correct statement- only American Indians are "Native Americans," the only "real Americans." Maybe Lee thought that he didn't have a racist bone in his body, all that fighting for slavery notwithstanding. (And maybe, indeed, he didn't. We just don't fully "get it" sometimes.) It took the real colorblindness of Parker to set him straight- all Americans are "real Americans," no one- not even a minority- is more privileged than another. You start holding one group up, and soon you start holding others down. 150 years later, I fear that the "enlightened" and damaging view of Lee (great as he was) is prevailing over what held the country together.

Did it help Lee, at least? Maybe. Read on. Lee put on his hat and gloves, bowed, and he and his aide went outside and mounted their horses. Grant and his officers came out onto the porch and saluted them; when he heard the Union soldiers start to cheer, Grant ordered it stopped immediately. "The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall," he later said. At the actual surrender of the troops, the Union side provided full military honors. Lee gave a farewell address to his men, who didn't want to give up. They loved Lee, and told him that he should encourage the Army to head to the hills and carry on guerrilla warfare. Lee refused: He told them the war was over, that the two parts of the country should reconcile, and that he was happy slavery had been abolished- it would even be better for the South. What should his men do? "Go home," he told them, "and be Americans." It seems Parker's words had sunk in.

Parker remained in the Army for a few more years, assisting Grant and negotiating with Indian tribes. After Parker left the service, Grant (by then president) appointed him Commissioner of Indian Affairs- the first Indian to hold the position. He worked to end the military actions against Indians in the West. He then left government service, moved to New York City, made and lost money in the stock market, and ended his career as an official with the NYPD. He became close with the reformer Jacob Riss, who wrote a cute short story (trigger warning: very un-PC language), featuring Parker at this stage of his life. He died and was buried in Connecticut; as this was considered Algonquin territory, his widow, at the request of his tribe, had him reinterred in Buffalo. Look him up on Wikipedia and follow the cemetery links for a fascinating tour through history. Speaking of history, Parker had one daughter who died in 1956. Sometimes history isn't so far removed from us after all.

Grant went to meet the Confederate Army and then sat with Lee on the McLean porch receiving visitors. Lee then went home, and Grant got on a train to Washington to submit his final report. The coda for the whole war took place on that train.

I previously mentioned that Grant's grandson, Ulysses S. Grant III (himself an Army general) wrote a series of articles for National Geographic for the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. I drew on the final article for this post, and conclude them with the same anecdote he did. He had been told the story by his father, Major General Frederick Dent Grant (you notice how generalships traveled in the family), who in turn had been told it by his father, Ulysses S. Grant himself. Grant was on the train back to Washington from Appomattox:

"In the railroad car, two or three seats ahead of General Grant and across the aisle, sat one of Lee's soldiers, evidently on the way home. A man- apparently a planter who had not been in the war, dressed in corduroy breeches, boots, and wearing a broad hat- sat down by the Confederate soldier and started a conversation.

"'Well,' he said. 'So you have all surrendered. Couldn't you have taken to the hills and carried on for a year or more?'

"To which the soldier indignantly replied: 'Look here, my man. I have been in this war for nearly four long years. I have been in eight pitched battles, innumerable skirmishes, and have been wounded three times- and I am plumb satisfied.'"

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Brother Against Brother

Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. I hope to have a series of posts about it then, but here's one that links that event with Pesach:

150 years ago tomorrow (on the Jewish calendar), Philadelphian Myer Levy, a Union Army corporal, was walking through a captured Virginia town, thinking he had no place- and nothing, really- to eat for Passover when he saw a boy sitting on the steps to a house eating something that looked familiar.

He went up to him: "Hello, young man! May I have a piece of that matzah?"

The boy ran into the house shouting, "Mother! There's a damn Yankee Jew outside!" The mother came out and politely invited Levy to join them for the seder.