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Student perspectives

Moroccan Shabbat

Hey fellow Jewish Longhorns! Greetings from Morocco!

If you asked me as a freshman where I would be spring semester of my junior year at UT, my answer would never have been “living in Rabat, Morocco.” My decision to study abroad in Morocco progressed after a series of events in my own life as well as in the Middle East and Arab world. Post-Arab Spring, my choices became pretty limited to find a country where I could feel comfortable not only as a Jew, but as an American. All signs pointed to Morocco. This is not to say that it has been an easy few weeks here. In fact, in terms of my religiosity and Jewish practice, this is the single greatest challenge that I have faced. There are only about 4,000 Jews in Morocco, approximately the same as on the UT campus! Any difficulty, temptation or inherent peer pressure that I may have faced in Austin is only amplified here. Shabbat, though completely different from what I am used to and still very challenging, has truly become my weekly time to self-reflect and recharge for the week. 

So far, I have alternated my Shabbatot between Rabat and Casablanca. I live in Rabat with a religious Muslim family in what is called the Medina, which is basically long, winding streets of open market. Though there are still Jews living in Rabat, there are only about 150 in total, and they are all above the age of 60. While that may sound like a lot, think about it this way: there are about as many Jews in Rabat as there are on a large Friday night at Chabad at UT. On Shabbat, I generally will just show up at the Synagogue, which is luckily walking distance from my house, and then either join the Rabbi or a couple from the community for Friday night dinner and then again for Shabbat lunch. Not having set meal plans took some getting used to, especially as I do not speak French or Moroccan Arabic, but it always ends up working out for the best. As far as I am aware, I am the only student who keeps Shabbat strictly living in Rabat, but luckily there are a few others who either join me for services or for a meal. Explaining Shabbat to my host family was no easy task, and the combination of the language barriers and the inherent complexities of Shabbat only seemed to confuse everyone. In the end, they handed me a manual key and told me to simply be safe and let them know if I ever needed anything. From their perspective, my Shabbat consists of praying, eating and sleeping, which, in reality, is fairly accurate.

Casablanca, on the other hand, has about 3,000 Jews with Jewish schools, Kosher restaurants and many synagogues still in use. I have been lucky enough to meet quite a few families in Casablanca, and always have a great time when I spend Shabbat there. As Casablanca is only an hour train ride away from Rabat, I am able to travel to and from there easily for Shabbat, holidays or even for some great Kosher food!

In addition to my host family's tolerance and acceptance of my religious customs, my program directors have been extremely understanding and accommodating, especially when it comes to Shabbat. All of our excursions either take place on the weekend or leave on Shabbat, so I need to make special arrangements, including overnight bus experiences and even missing entire tours, in order to keep Shabbat properly. Missing out on social, touristy and learning experiences is definitely upsetting at times, but for me, having a good Shabbat translates to having a good week, and I only hope for that to continue!

The Jewish community may be small, and continuing to dwindle every year, but I am able to practice my Judaism openly and am very proud to be a Jewish Longhorn here in Morocco!

Best of luck to y’all this semester!

Shalom, Caroline

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Na'aseh V'nishma and the Importance of Faith

One of the hallmarks of the Jewish faith is the idea of Na’aseh V’nishma, that is to say, "We will do and then we will hear."  Just a couple weeks ago, in Parshat Mishpatim, this statement is uttered by the Jews as they stand at the base of Mt. Sinai, saying that they will accept the word of G-d in its entirety, without reservation.  

What is this an example of? Blind acceptance? Overzealous individuals trying to prove their worthiness? No, I believe it is a means of showing why the Jewish people are unique, treasured.

This week contains one of the four special additional parshiot in the Torah, Parshat Parah, which addresses the only means of removing spiritual impurity: the sprinkling of ashes of the red calf.

So this week we have two calves, one red and one gold. And yet, we see any interesting role reversal. Gold, the color representing the highest standard of purity, the color of the holiest tools given to the priests in the Temple, highlights a grave sin committed by Am Yisrael. While red, the color associated with blood, murder, and other evil acts, represents the only true spiritual cleansing process for a Jew. Why this reversal?  Does it not defy logic?

If we dig a little deeper into its meaning, we learn that the mitzvah involving the red calf, or Para Aduma, falls in the category of chok. A chok is a mitzvah that goes without description and has no apparent reasoning behind it, like Kashrut. Chok is a mitzvah we do because G-d commanded us to, one that requires complete faith to perform.  Na’aseh V’nishma, right?

Now we arrive to the Golden Calf. While waiting at the base of Mt.Sinai for Moses to descend with the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people miscount the forty days in which he had promised to return. They quickly lose their patience and demand that Aaron, the High Priest and brother of Moses, find a new way to appease G-d. In a clear exhibition of total lack of faith, they demand action before inquiring as to why Moses had not yet descended from the mountain. Na’aseh V’nishma, right? 

In both cases , Na’aseh V’nishma is present, yet there is one subtle difference: the element of faith. The dictionary defines faith as "belief that isn’t based on proof." Faith has been the driving force of the Jewish people since the time of Moses. It is what has sustained us throughout the generations and allowed us to become the Am Segula, the treasured nation. It is so important, that faith is one of the five cornerstones of Alpha Epsilon Pi. If we stick by our faith in G-d, our convictions, and our values, we can turn a color of moral failure into one of splendor and success.

Shabbat Shalom. 

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The Consequences of Jumping to Conclusions

At this point we’ve all heard the story of this week’s Parsha, Parshat Ki Tisa, a hundred times, and already twice tonight. The gist of it is that Moses goes up Mount Sinai, the rest of the Jews miscalculated when he was coming back and decided to build and worship a golden calf as an alternative. Moses comes back and gets so mad he breaks the tablets that hold the Ten Commandments. What struck me about this Parsha was the clear theme of jumping to conclusions. The Jews thought that Moses got lost, died, or for whatever reason wasn’t coming back, so naturally the first thing they do is to build a false idol – gotta worship something, right? 

Jumping to conclusions is one of the basest of human instincts; people have been doing it for thousands of years, as proven by this Parsha. As demonstrated by this Parsha, and as we see all the time in life, jumping to false conclusions can have serious impacts on our lives. In the instance of Ki Tisa, Moses came back from Mount Sinai and his fury results not only in the destruction of the tablets, but he had the primary culprits responsible for building the golden calf put to death. I can say for me personally, had I jumped to conclusions about many aspects of my college experience, I wouldn’t be in the great position I'm in today. 

If I had believed my future Aggie high school classmates when they told me their opinions on the University of Texas, I wouldn’t have ended up at this vastly superior school. Had I assumed that all fraternities were filled with the guys from Animal House, I wouldn’t have rushed AEPi – although it’s not too much of a stretch to compare some aspects of that movie to my fraternity experience. If I had made the assumption that on this huge campus, there wouldn’t be anywhere for me to feel at home, I would have been wrong on two fronts. It would have been another reason I didn’t join AEPi, but it also would have caused me to miss out on Chabad. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced another place on campus that evoked the feel of home more than the Chabad House. I’ve always felt welcomed here; I’ve always felt incredibly comfortable, even the first time I came to services my freshman year. Zev and Ariela have created a second home here for so many students, and I get that sense every Friday night. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the students who attend Chabad on a regular basis, which is why they always have so many students who are so willing to help them, and I am particularly proud that the men of AEPi can include themselves in that group. Speaking on behalf of AEPi, as well as the rest of the students here, from the bottom of my heart I want to thank Zev and Ariela for all that they do.

We can miss out on a lot when we jump to conclusions. The Jews in Parshat Ki Tisa missed out on the Ten Commandments for longer than they should have. Men could miss out on their future wives if they jump to conclusions about them. We can miss out on lifelong friendships if we make the wrong assumptions about people. I could have missed out on a wonderful place filled with wonderful people, and I feel enormously blessed that I didn’t. Shabbat Shalom.

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Matt Harris is pictured on the left. 

Stubbornness and the Golden Calf

This week’s parsha is ki tisa. It is the famous story of the golden calf. After seeing the golden calf created because of doubt in Hashem, Moses throws down and destroys the Ten Commandments in anger. Within this episode of the parsha, stubbornness is clear. The people of Israel are clearly very stubborn for rushing to build a golden idol when in doubt of Hashem.

Although Aaron helped build the golden calf, Rashi says that Aaron tried to delay the creation of the calf as long as he could, in order to weaken their stubbornness. Rashi says that “Aaron tried to busy them with tasks. He said "Remove the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives," and thought it would be difficult for the women to part with their jewelry, but that didn't delay them much.

Aaron further tried to weaken Israels’ stubbornness by insisting that he build the calf himself. This would take longer than if everyone helped, and Aaron hoped that Moses will return before he finishes. When Aaron states “tomorrow is the feast to G-d”, he was further delaying the celebration to the idol, according to Rashi. He believes that Aaron was talking about Hashem, since he was certain Moses would return by then.

However, according to Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the UK, perhaps this stubbornness will not always be bad. In this parsha, Moses refers to Israel as a "stiff-necked people." This is believed to mean stubborn. Perhaps, Sacks says, Moses is referring to their stubborn faith. He says "just as they stubbornly betrayed You with the Golden Calf, so too will they stubbornly keep their faith in You in the future."

Rabbi Yaakov Sinclair syas that stubbornness can be an extremely dangerous trait, for it can foil any attempt to improve our situation. Stubbornness enters a person’s mind and limits him from any other possibility other the one on which he has set his mind.

If the people of Israel had only waited longer, then perhaps the story of our people would be different. However, their stubbornness in wanting to pray to an idol overcame them. This parsha warns against such strong stubbornness, and shows what happens when it is not contained.

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