War of Worldcraft

Posted by Sam Glaser

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by Sam Glaser

I’m trying to understand why I’m so perturbed by my kids wasting time glued to a screen. Perhaps it’s because my wife and I brought them into the world with the hope that they might better appreciate the gift of life.  Or at least ride their bikes once in a while. As adolescents they see the “real world” as the music, videos and TV shows that they voraciously consume. All the Jewish stuff they have to deal with in day school is a burden to be endured until they can get back online. Plugging in is a divine right.  After all, they will live forever, have all of their needs met and perish the thought of having a vacant minute.  In this generation you’re nobody until you have the latest screens of all shapes and sizes.  Entertainment options from Avatar to Jackass to funny pet videos on YouTube compete for their attention on aptly named iphones, ipads and imacs.

We won the battle easily when our children were younger.  We cut off our cable and except for the occasional movie night, our home was TV free.  Then something changed about five years ago.  YouTube was founded.  Bootleg websites started up with TV and film programming including feature films still in theaters. Disney.com and Nickelodeon.com became 24/7 outlets for their shows and suddenly the computers that we had in each room for their homework became TVs.  Battle lost.

But we had not yet met our true nemesis.  My eleven-year-old daughter opened a Facebook account to shmooze with friends, play online games and post her scores.  During her one hour TV allotment each day (ha ha!) she plays the games, watches a show and chats with friends…simultaneously. I can leave for the evening and return to find her in the exact same position.  She can handle piano practice for ten minutes but as soon as it’s time to work out a tough passage I can see her desperation to unplug her brain in front of the screen.

Now I realize Facebook is for lightweights.  The real addicts have something much more powerful. It’s called World of Warcraft.  As in other role playing games, WOW allows my boys to wander an alien world populated by characters manned by players from around the world. They get credits and booty for kills and strive valiantly to get their creature up to the 85th level of power.  While it’s nice to see my boys cooperating to negotiate the game, I don’t appreciate that left to their own devices they would never leave the house.  After all, we live in Southern California.  They might as well live in Rochester.

 One flaw in the gaming action is that you can’t just shut if off mid-battle.  My kids team up with other players to take down more powerful creatures and to abandon the quest is considered disloyal.  They risk losing “honor” points.  Poor parents worldwide who are calling their sons to dinner or trying to get them to brush their teeth are faced with, “not now, Dad, I can’t get away.”  That’s right, they are honoring their faceless online teammates rather than their flesh and blood parents.  Can you imagine? We hit the breaking point last week.  My oldest had once again “forgotten” he had a test, played WOW all night and then wouldn’t turn it off when my wife was going ballistic.

When we closed their account and banned WOW from our home my younger son seethed, “I love World of Warcraft MORE than you!”  Now they are sneaking out to 7-11 to buy game playing cards and hijacking any Wi-Fi they can find.   Anything to stay in the game.  We’re thinking it’s time for an intervention.  Yes, I’m exaggerating.  They’ll grow out of this, just like they did Pokemon, b’ezrat Hashem!

I think part of my opposition to this addiction is that it is so contrary to the Jewish values we desperately are trying to impart.  It’s not just the fact that my kids are annihilating virtual humanoids for fun and profit.  My wife and I try to model altruistic behavior, helping those in need, giving tzedakah, entertaining guests on Shabbat.  I run around the globe trying to increase enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit, connecting people with each other and with God through the vehicle of music. There are not enough minutes of the day to accomplish this task, let alone keep a family together and pay the bills.  Why are my kids in such great need of escape?  How can we engage them in appreciating their legacy?

The Jewish People are players in a grand scheme I call a “war of worldcraft.”  We are in the midst of a 3500 year peer-to-peer networking phenomenon unrivaled in history.  With courage and unrivaled stubbornness, we cleave to our ancient texts and way of life, hoping to rub off on those around us.  The Torah predicts that we will be an eternalpeople and remain few in number and yet will impact all of mankind by wandering the globe. I would argue that God’s Light Unto Nations experiment is working rather well; here is one of my favorite quotes:

According to historian Thomas Cahill, “The Jews started it all – and by “it” I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick.  Without the Jews, we would see the world with different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings…the role of the Jews, the inventors of Western culture, is also singular: there is simply no one else remotely like them; theirs is a unique vocation.  Indeed, as we shall see, the very idea of vocation, of a personal destiny, is a Jewish idea.”

Pesach is a time to break free of those entities that enslave us, to get back on track with our national goal of worldcraft.  Thankfully Pharaoh is gone from the stage of history, but servitude is still with us.  We are trapped in our quest for elusive wealth, societal status, vocational advancement, material acquisition.  We are badgered by bosses, teachers, parents and peers.  We are stuck in ruts of our own making, forever battling inner demons, addictions and bad habits.  We come into this holiday well aware that the issues we complained about last year will likely be with us next year.  Does that fill you with confidence that you might enjoy real freedom this year? How can we have a breakthrough this season?

The opportunities during Pesach are manifold.  By edict of the Torah it must occur in the spring.  Renewal and rebirth are in the air.  Pesach is our national homecoming.  We press reset, reconvene with our people, reprioritize.  First we have to clear out the chametz.  All that yummy challah, Oreos, single malt…it’s got to go.  The rabbis tell us that the chametz represents our ego.  Big bread = big ego.  For a week we eat humble pie.  Humility is first base.  Humility gets you on the playing field.  When we aren’t full of ourselves and our entitlements, we create a space to allow for God’s peace, for transformation.

Next we unplug. On seder night we get together with our families, have a celebratory meal, tell our story.  Anytime I’m teaching a workshop and see people drifting off, I launch into a story.  We love stories!  Make the Pesach story real, for adults and children.  Act it out.  Wear costumes. Demonstrate the plagues with marshmallow hail, throw rubber frogs, wear animal masks and die on the floor for pestilence.  Just like Shabbat meals, the three ingredients for a great seder are fun, fun and fun. The key line is “b’chol dor vador…” in every generation we must see ourselves in the Exodus.  This isn’t a commemoration of something that happened to distant relatives.  It’s our story in perpetuity, in every age, with every enemy of our people that seeks the destruction of our holy mission of tikkun olam.

Note that Moses isn’t mentioned much in the Hagadah. This is God’s night. Pesach recalls a time when we were in our infancy as a people.  After womblike protection during the nine months of plagues we were carried through the desert by God’s grace.  We often forget that the song Let My People Go omits the end of the sentence (that they may serve me.)  In other words, on Passover, we relate to God as a tender, loving parent. Freedom is irrelevant without Torah, the instructions for life. It’s the laws, the holy pathways that God gives us that are our true freedom.  We have a simple choice: to serve God or serve man.  Choose wisely.

The classic seder songs were chosen by our sages for good reasons. Four Questions: Ask real questions! Inspire your kids to ask their own questions. Become a seeker of good answers. Dayenu: 15 steps of the seder parallels the 15 verses of the song; breaking down our salvation into multiple steps makes us more grateful for each miracle. Chad Gadya: there is a purpose to this grand arc of our history.  L’shana Haba’ah: we’re still in exile!  Don’t get too comfortable…healing the world is your responsibility. Finally, we finish the night with the recitation of Hallel.  It’s unlike any Hallel the rest of the year.  First of all, it’s at night and it’s woven into the meal. Secondly, we don’t introduce it with the standard blessing.  Why?  Because we don’t need to set up the mitzvah of its recitation like we normally do.  On the seder night, if we’ve done the work of clearing out our ego, eating the bread of affliction, drinking four cups of wine and singing at the top of our lungs, we are in such an exalted state that Hallel is a spontaneous outpouring of praise.  As natural as breathing.

If you don’t get it right the first night, well, you get to try again the next!  Holding on to the inspiration of the seder is hard work.  Make it a powerful memory!  Be a ham, drink liberally and stay up late!  A few years back I celebrated with my family in Jerusalem.  We joined my brother and his many children for a night of music and laughter that lasted until 4am. Then my brother and I wandered the streets of his shtetl; I was dressed as Pharaoh, he was my Jewish slave and our kids followed closely as we searched for lazy Jews to beat with bulrushes.  None of us will ever forget it. 

Amazing events and the resulting inspiration are fleeting.  Somehow we have to hang on to the revelations, to internalize them and allow them to transform us.  We go into Pesach overwhelmed by the cleaning and cooking, overburdened with the rat race, oversaturated by the media.  Let’s finish the week transformed and relaxed, with new focus and commitment.  Imagine getting stuck driving through a storm and walking through the dark seeking shelter. Once in a while there’s a flash of lightning that illuminates our way.  That flash is the seder.  We can use that brilliant moment to light the way through the darkness and confusion we encounter the rest of the year.

Pesach gets us back in touch with the big picture.  It reminds us to treasure humility and an open heart; that the genius is in the details: in small acts of kindness, or observing seemingly small mitzvot like not over-bakingmatzah by even a moment or dipping delicate greens in salt water.  We reinforce the concept that we were redeemed and are continuously redeemed from servitude so that we may serve God with love. The crowning moment of the Exodus is the revelation of God’s will in the Torah; this profound gift necessitates that we take the time to grapple with its demands.  When all is said and done we have to sing, at the top of our lungs, from the depths of our hearts.  And most importantly, we can’t let distractions like World of Warcraft derail us from our critical goal of serving as soldiers in the “war of worldcraft.”

Purim is a Party

Posted by Haggadot

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This Purim story creation by Richard Codor is one of the most creative and visually engaging pieces I’ve seen. It reminds me of the fact that Purim is supposed to be a lively and colorful celebration of Esther’s story about saving the Jewish people.

I’ve even heard people refer to Purim as the “Jewish Mardi Gras.” That might be a stretch, but it is our opportunity to dress up in disguising costumes, sing and dance and be a little raucous!


Let All Who are Hungry Come and Eat!

Posted by Haggadot

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At the start of the Seder, in our Haggadah, we declare that those who are hungry and in need should join us and eat. This is a wonderful gesture, but most times seems just that, a symbolic gesture…or in the least, very short notice!

How many Seders have you been to where strangers were invited as guests?

There are often times visitors who might be in town over the holiday. Perhaps someone who is on his/her own for the first time? Or a college student who can’t make the trip home?

Having new people join the holiday guest list brings new perspectives to the table and helps to keep the conversation lively. Maybe this is the year to reach out and invite those “strangers” to be guests at the Seder table - with a little advance notice, of course.




Purim Acts of Kindness

Posted by Haggadot

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A delicious treat? Yes, but there is a story with meaning behind those mishloach manot (pronounced: “meesh low-ach mah-note”) we hand out and receive at Purim. This mitzvah of handing out little “goody” bags comes from the idea of making sure that everyone has enough food to celebrate the holiday and to increase friendship between Jews. There is a line in the Book of Esther (our heroine of the holiday) that speaks to this idea:

“On those days, the Jews rested from their enemies, the monthwas turned  from sorrow     to gladness, from mourning to joy. Thus, they should make them days of feasting and exhilaration, sending portions to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22)

Traditionally, there are at least two different food items in the mishloach manot and everything is ready-to-eat (a can of soup would not work here!). Giving tzedakah, donations to those in need, is also part of this Purim mitzvah of making sure everyone has the means to celebrate this joyous holiday. This Purim, think about the holiday as an opportunity to commit some acts of kindness. If you’ve never handed out mishloach manot, here is a game-plan to help get you going:

  •  make a list of recipients to whom you plan to deliver your mishloach manot
  •  make a list of items you’d like to include (candy, baked hamantaschen and fruit are popular)
  •  decide on the container – clear baggies or tissue sealed with ribbon work well
  •  write out little cards or make labels that say “Happy Purim” from you/your family
  •  create a shopping list and pick up everything for your mishloach manot in one trip
  •  have everyone in the family or a friend help you assemble the bags
  •  enjoy handing out your mishloach manot – this should be done on Purim

Purim is coming up…it begins the evening of Wednesday, March 7th.

Call for Submissions - Los Angeles Artist Haggadah Supplement

Posted by Haggadot

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Haggadot.com and NuArt are seeking contributions for a new Passover Haggadah supplement celebrating the work of Los Angeles-based, emerging artists. The supplement will be featured for download on Haggadot.com, as well as distributed in print format at NuArt’s community “Seder” dinners, and shared with Jewish art institutions nationwide in 2012.

Artists of any medium – visual, performance, and printed word – are invited to submit existing work or proposals for new work. In considering submissions, artists are encouraged to be broad in their definition of Passover themes – slavery, freedom, oppression, redemption, ritual, etc.  All artists will have a bio & link to their websites included in the publication.

Send all submissions to info@haggadot.com, with the following information.

1)     Name

2)     URL to online portfolio, or up to 5 images of work

3)     2-3 sentences describing the work within a context of Passover

Deadline to submit proposals or portfolios: Monday, March 5, 2012

Deadline for final delivery of print-ready artwork: Friday, March 16, 2012


For more information on NuArt, go to http://www.nuartprojects.com/mission--vision.html


The Other Story

Posted by Haggadot

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Every year at Passover we re-tell the same celebrated story of Exodus so that as Jews, our children and our children’s children will know from where we came and the origins of our freedom. There is another story that we celebrate by re-telling every year, but for a different reason. On the night before March 8th (the 14th of ADAR) we will gather together, perhaps dress up as Queens and Superheroes, and listen to the story of Esther.

Although we do have the four glasses of wine and an abundance of Kosher for Passover food for the Passover seders, Purim is a much more joyous occasion – more a celebration of perseverance than a thankful remembrance of freedom. The story of how Queen Esther saved the Jews from annihilation serves as a reminder, not only to remember her bravery and the strength of the Jewish people, but also to keep our faith that with G-d’s help, every generation will have an Esther to stand up to the Haman’s of the world.

To get into the festive spirit of Purim this year, here are a few ideas for a creative holiday:

     • Make hamantaschen – create your own recipe or try one of these: JewishRecipes.com

     • Put together some small shaloch manot to hand out to family and friends

     • Make your own grogger - a plastic cup, some beans, and tape is all you need!

If this is the first Purim you are celebrating, here are a few key terms:

     • Megillah – the scroll containing the Book of Esther, read the evening the holiday begins

     • shaloch manot (short for mishloach manot) – a small bag of treats to hand out

     • hamantaschen – a traditional three-point shaped cookie with fruit filling

     • grogger – a noise-maker used to drown out Haman’s name during the Megillah reading

       Find out more at: Judaism.com

In the Final Stretch

Posted by Sara Smith

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The first seder is on Monday night. In preparation for Passover, I've been busy turning my house inside out, shlepping boxes, cleaning my car, and taking out all my Passover dishes. Meanwhile, Haggadot.com has been buzzing with activity. The variety of content on our site continues to grow and surprise me.  Here's just a sampling of the content submitted this week:


B'chol Lashon contributed recipes, customs, and more revolving around the Global seder. Fair Trade Judaica shared readings relating to Fair Trade and how it can be incorporated into the seder. The Congress of Secular Jewish Organization posted their haggadah. Rabbi Scott Gurdin shared his Rhyming Haggadah, great for kids of all ages and those young at heart. Sue Kayton posted her Monty Python Haggadah. And artist Beth Flusser shared her beautiful Passover-related pieces.


We've also received some great press recently. Check out some of the articles:

-  Jewcy.com: http://bit.ly/gmGWm3

- eJewish Philanthropy: http://bit.ly/gAlLOz

- The Jewish Week: http://bit.ly/hBWfuz

- The Forward: http://bit.ly/hP4wxS


There are just a few days left to create your own personalized haggadah. Keep checking back for new content!

Only One Week to Go!

Posted by Sara Smith

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There's so much to do during the week before Passover. Cleaning, cleaning, more cleaning…and preparing for the seder. Here are some new submissions this week at Haggadot.com:

-Sippling Seder shared some recipes for seder-related cocktail drinks.  Check these out for a good laugh and a way to literally spice up your seder!

- American Jewish World Services posted countless resources dealing with social justice and the seder.  Browse through this material for readings relating to the genocide in Darfur and other social justice issues.

Also, check out these fun, Passover related movies that have been making their rounds online:

















Passover is less than a month away!

Posted by Haggadot

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Can you believe that it's almost Passover? Some of us have already begun cleaning our houses. Some of us have begun our Passover shopping in anticipation of the holiday. And some us have begun thinking about what will make this year's seder different and more meaningful than last year's.



We can’t help you with your cleaning or shopping, but the seder happens to be our expertise! Check out the new material posted this week on haggadot.com.



-Rabbi Rosenberg from Edison, NJ has posted pieces from his siddur for Holocaust Remembrance day.



-Yoel Benharrouche, of Jerusalem, has shared some of his stunning artwork with us.



-Rabbi Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles shared his favorite seder tune along with the story of how it became his favorite seder song.



-Jewish Boston has begun posting their newly released Haggadah, which they hope will enable more Jews to participate at the seder.



-The Shalom Center in Philadelphia shared selections from the "Freedom Seder," which puts a modern twist on the issues of freedom and slavery from the Passover story.



-The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington DC uploaded pieces that reflect a contemporary outlook on various sections of the haggadah.



We can't wait to see what great content next week will bring!



Shabbat Shalom.


Bee Yourself: Aladdin and Megillat Esther

Posted by Haggadot

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Those of us who grew up in the great age of Disney animated feature films (1990s) know movies such as The Little Mermaid and The Lion King to be classics. And they are.  Their story lines are well known, their songs always on the tip of our tongues, and their characters unforgettable.  But what is it really about these movies that made them so successful (other than the cutting-edge animation)? I’d argue that we could all see ourselves in the characters. Okay, maybe none of us are as evil as Ursella and her eels. But there is a part of each and every one of us that thinks the grass is greener on the other side, that wants to be a part of something we view as fascinating and intriguing, and feels trapped by the world we’re in.

Disney, though they are creative geniuses, did not invent the idea of a narrative with relatable characters and universal themes. Just take a look at the Bible. Open up to any page. It might not be as obvious to you as the colorful, animated films, but if you think about it, you’ll see yourself reflected in every page.


In light of the upcoming holiday of Purim, I recently started thinking about the connections between the story of Esther and Aladdin.  Even without having seen Aladdin in probably over ten years, some of the parallels with the characters jumped out at me.  Haman, the evil villain of the Purim narrative, is manipulative, wants to kill Mordechai, and is a power-hungry advisor to the king. Sound familiar? King Achashverosh, according to many interpretations of the story, is not aware of Haman’s plan, allows himself to be manipulated, and only seems to care about his beautiful wife, Esther, and how others perceive him.  He may even have been in a constant state of paranoia and drunkenness.  Aladdin’s Sultan is literally hypnotized by Jafar and gives Jafar his “ring”, presumably one of the most notable symbols of his power.  Continuing on with the character parallels you can view Esther in Jasmine, Mordechai in Aladdin, Zeresh in Iago, and even God in the Genie.  We’ll leave those deeper analyses for another time.


Once I thought past the character parallels (and saw the movie again), I realized that characters’ struggles are reflective of larger themes.  Aladdin is not only about staying out of trouble, beating the bad guy, and falling in love.  It’s about taking responsibility for your own destiny. It’s about identity. And it’s about freedom.  Each one of these is a major theme in Megillat Esther.


Toward the beginning of the movie, Aladdin falls in love with Jasmine. He believes that he doesn’t have a chance with her because he is not a prince. The law says a princess must marry a prince. At first, Aladdin loses all hope.  Then, after becoming the Genie’s master, he realizes that by becoming a prince, he can win Jasmine’s heart. (Later he’ll realize he just needed to be himself!) When Mordechai hears Haman’s decree to kill the Jews, he mourns. Esther doesn’t seem to think she can take action. When Mordechai reminds her that she is in the perfect position to take action, she does. And guess what, she saves the Jews. She doesn’t allow the authority of the king or a law that prohibits her from showing up unannounced to stop her. At the end of Aladdin, the Sultan tears up the law about only marrying princes just like Haman’s decree was edited to allow the Jews to fight back.


Aladdin, the street-rat, dreams of being in the palace. Jasmine, trapped inside the palace walls, dreams of venturing outside. They both struggle with their identity. They both try to hide their identity. They both eventually are forced to tell the truth. And they both live happily ever after. Following Mordechai’s instruction, Esther does not reveal her Jewish identity in the palace. It is almost as if she is living in a parallel universe, hidden behind the palace walls with her new identity. Interestingly, it is Mordechai again who convinces her to reveal herself to save the Jewish people. And guess what? When the king finally learns her real identity, he doesn’t kick her out! He grants her all her wishes, and Mordechai becomes an even more important figure in the government.


When Aladdin learns that he can make 3 wishes, he promises Genie that on his third wish, he will set him free. Ever wonder what those bracelet-type things on Genie’s wrist are? They’re shackles, symbolizing his bondage. That’s kind of how the Jews were for most of the Esther story. They were destined to be thrown around, bullied, and even killed. And at the end, they were saved, able to defend themselves, and took over Haman’s post. Still, it’s not just the Genie who is released from bondage. Both the Sultan and Jasmine are released from the strict rule of law about her impending marriage. The Sultan is released from Jafar’s spell. Aladdin is saved from a life of poverty and thievery. In this same way, the heroes of Purim are freed from themselves and from hiding behind the facade they had create for themselves.


So you see, Aladdin can teach us a lot, but Esther taught us about these things way before Aladdin came out in theaters almost twenty years ago.  Purim isn’t just about the Jews being saved. It’s about us, today.


Don’t just continue on the course life is taking you because that’s where you’ve always been. It is up to us to take action for what we truly believe. We need to be ourselves and not try to be or wish we were someone else. Who we are is so much better than the person we sometimes pretend to be.  And, finally, let us value the freedom that we are fortunate to have in this world. Let us not allow ourselves to become slaves to our cell phones, our favorite TV shows, our emails, and our stomachs. Let us learn to listen to our hearts and our brains so that we can be ourselves instead of hiding from ourselves.