Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Judaism and Martial Arts: What's the Connection?

I’ve almost begun to dread the question,“So what brought you to Yiddishkeit?” In truth, many things, but in two words; martial arts. The next question is, “Huh?”, which is often accompanied by a puzzled look. So what is the connection?

On a superficial level, Judaism and Martial Arts have quite a bit of overlap. Traditional martial artists practice pre-arranged sets of movements, often referred to as taolu in Chinese. The emphasis of these forms is not the external technique, but rather to transcend the technique and train a principle. There is a saying, “Kung Fu is 10% body, and 90% mind,” meaning that the key is not solely in the motions, but in the principles behind the motions. The technique of traditional martial arts is merely a vessel of expression for the intent behind each motion.

Similarly, Jews pray three times a day from a siddur (which also happens to mean “arrangement”, or “order”). The purpose of praying isn’t to get caught up in the words, but rather to transcend them, to transcend the physical and connect with Hashem. Our goal isn’t to get caught up in the physical world, but at the same time we do need to create physical vessels for Hashem’s will.

The entire Jewish year is like one giant seder, one giant martial arts taolu, performed on repeat. To get caught up in the externalities of the holidays , is to become spiritually stagnant. Likewise, if one focuses solely on the externality of the martial arts form, one becomes stagnant, and hits a plateau in training.

Now let’s examine the words, “martial” and “art.” Put the two together, and you get “ Skill in conducting fighting,” or “a studied action, pertaining to fighting.” How do we study actions, pertaining to war?

The answer is simple, yet difficult: hard work. In Chinese, the word gong fu translates as “time”, and “skill”. One can have gong fu in cooking, painting, or medicine, etc. Gong fu doesn’t always imply “external “work. In fact, most of the training done in martial arts is internal. I once read a quote “This sword is not for my enemy, I carry it to cut down myself.” Confrontation begins in the mind. Most physical and verbal confrontations begin when two egos are competing to take up the same space. By fighting against your own ego, and cutting it down, you are making more room for love, and for Hashem. Martial arts focuses on more than fighting, it encourages and gives you tools with which you can use to refine yourself.

Avodah, in many ways, is the Jewish parallel of the concept of Gong Fu. We endlessly struggle to refine ourselves, and become “vessels” for Hashem’s will. The very word “vessel” conjures up an image of something meant to contain another substance. This is the same concept of cutting down one’s ego, making room for Hashem, and other people in your life.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Alumnus of the Week: Ben Schwed aka BenYomen

Ben Schwed is rocking the world.  First he was a Mayanot student:  awesome enough.  Then he took his rap skills from back in the day and transformed them into Jewish and Chassidic art.  And now he's helping protect the Jewish people in the Israeli Army.  We are proud that Ben is part of our family.


Check out the video below for a taste of his music:


Ben Yomen - A Brand New Day from Magazino on Vimeo.


From Ben's bio:

"Ben Schwed was born in Azusa, CA and grew up between The Valley & The Antelope Valley, in California. He was one of the founding members of "Life For The Better", otherwise known as the group that created the hip hop scene in Palmdale/Lancaster.


BenYomen was member of LFTB, Ophotn Records, DVayshun and the Beat Bums crews. BenYomen is the name Ben Schwed chose for himself as it is his Hebrew name and represents his essence as a human being. BenYomen writes and performs his own lyrics and his main musical direction is Hip Hop in Conscious, Jewish & L.A. Underground style, De La Soul, Freestyle Fellowship, Gangstar, Bob Dylan and Steel Pulse are his main inspirations.


BenYomen has Toured the U.S. in the past and among his achievements is #4 most added Hip Hop record CMJ 2004. press in the Billboard magazine, on many underground websites and local publications.


Do you want more information about Ben Yomen?




Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bringing Shabbat to a Muslim Village

I grew up with my Jewish mother in the very Jewish suburb of Bondi and only started a relationship with my Indonesian father and siblings about 6 years ago. Although I grew up in a very Jewish area, I had left that path around my teenage years and only returned to my Judaism this year.

My father and half siblings are all Muslim. They live in a Muslim country, they go to the mosque, and yet they are very accepting and respectful of their Jewish sister. I had started keeping Shabbos shortly before my departure to Indonesia this year and so I had made sure to learn how to make my own challah and brought some candlesticks.

The town where my family lives in Indonesia is 100% Muslim. Throughout the day it is so common to hear the Muslim call to prayer I don’t even notice it anymore. My brother’s mother is French and lives in the ‘Kampung’ (the village). When I asked her if I could make Shabbos in her house, she was very intrigued and offered to help.

We went to the local market to buy the ingredients for the challah. When we got back to her house to begin making it, I realised she doesn’t have an oven... I hadn’t even thought about that part! Having an oven is a staple part of a kitchen isn’t it? Not in Indonesia apparently. No one in the entire village seemed to have an oven and this was a problem. We tried to think of alternative ways to bake the bread – I even suggested digging a hole in the ground and trying a Polynesian ‘hangi’ style. She suddenly remembered that she had a tin box (it had not been used for many years) and so we cleaned it thoroughly and gave it a go. We put it on the stove and lit the gas underneath it. I showed her how to braid the dough and it was a lot of fun. I took a small piece of the dough and said the bracha on the challah and we placed the challot on a tray in the tin box.

We had a meal ready, a challah in the oven, the candlesticks, but what of the wine? I hadn’t thought about that! They don’t sell wine anywhere around this village and I didn’t know what to do Kiddush over. I quickly messaged my friend in Sydney, and she told me I could do it over beer or suggested squashing some grapes into a shot glass enough to fill the entire glass.

My father took me to the market to buy some grapes but they weren’t selling nice ones at the time. We drove around on his bike looking for another place that sold grapes and finally we came across a man by the side of the road who was selling the freshest plumpest grapes I have ever seen. I bought all he had. I took them back to the house and put them in the fridge. We checked on the challah and it was perfect. We took the grapes and put them in the blender and then squished them through a sieve. There was enough grape juice to fill the beautiful crystal glass she had brought out especially for Shabbos plus an entire pitcher.

The sun was starting to go down and the mosque was beginning its call to prayer right next door. I was worried that I would be doing the Kiddush with the background noise and hoped it would end before I needed to begin. The time came to light the candles and right as we gathered together at the table, the mosque became silent again. We came to the table and I lit the candles. I said Kiddush and we enjoyed the freshest grape juice I have ever tasted, and the softest challah which was still warm from the tin box. We enjoyed the meal together and everyone commented on how nice the experience was. My brother’s mother was so pleased with our beautiful Shabbos dinner; she even told me how she would love to do it every Friday night!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Share Your Thoughts and Prayers

4 years.  4 years since an attack in Jerusalem.

Then bam.  Everything changed.

A bomb exploded by the central bus station today.  One person died.  I'm sure you already know.

It's easy to feel lost, confused and afraid in such an environment.  Easy, when all of Jerusalem was literally shaken by the blast, to feel as if there is no security, no safety to be found in our true home.

That is why it is important for the students, alumni and friends of Mayanot, for those who have been here and experienced its beauty to share their thoughts and prayers for Mayanot, Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

Comment on this post to share your thoughts, feelings, and prayers about the recent attack in Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Never Ending Apartment Search As A Metaphor For Life

I need an apartment. I came home from Israel and have been staying with my folks but this girl is about to turn (cough cough) 30 and needs her space. I love my family and I am so thankful that despite close quarters they were willing to take me in… but I need my space.

So I have been on the hunt for an apartment. First I had to get a job. Some level of stability is important, you don’t want to get a lease and then not be able to afford it but also apartment complexes and owners frown on giving apartments to people without income. So I found a job. Once I had a contract signed and was sure it was going to pay me… I started looking for an apartment.

I found every resource online (have you met me? I am, as a dear friend puts it, an interwebs ninja) and tracked down every locale. I pinpointed the areas I wanted to live in, the price range I wanted to be in, the amenities that were key:

Must have: washer and dryer, parking space, be close-ish to work and friends.

Must not: be on the first floor, have old fixtures, be in a bad neighborhood.

I thought, there has to be a place out there somewhere… within my price range. Every spare second of my day was consumed with the search. I would find places on Craig’s List and contact them immediately only to find them gone before I had even seen the post. I would call complexes offering one price online only to find out that when you spoke to them parking was an extra $80 a month, the price was only for the first floor and everything else was $400 more, or they had nothing available until May.

What was going on?! Why wasn’t my dream place just appearing like I had anticipated? I just couldn’t understand… heck, I still can’t understand why as I sit in my father’s office at my parent’s house. The final nail in my apartment coffin came this evening, when I received an email from a place that I had built up in my mind as the perfect place declining my application. It made no sense! I have a stellar rental history, solid income and employment, decent credit, and to top it all off… I WAS HIS ONLY APPLICATION! I don’t know why my mini real estate mogul turned me down… I will have to investigate with his consumer reporting agency but what I do know is this… the place was a little on the small side. The kitchen was tiny and you have to be one of those super creative space people (like my friend Morgan at Casa Cullen) to make the living room/dining room space work. But I had convinced myself that since it was in my price range, it had the amenities I wanted, it was in the perfect location for me that it was the right place for me.

But what if I was wrong? What if G-d turned me down for this place because The Big G knew that I wasn’t going to be happy there? I got tired of looking, I settled for a place that met my surface requirements.

Don’t we all do that sometimes? Don’t we all just want to find the ‘right now’ solution instead of the right one? We do this in dating, in work, in numerous situations in life. Right now, I am doing that with an apartment. With too many other balls in the air, I decided to stop juggling that one and take the superficially good one I found. G-d said no. In the form of a consumer-reporting agency… but G-d said no.

I am a big believer that G-d makes G-d’s will known in your life. With little nudges, you can see the right/better/more fruitful path. I am also a big believer that most of us ignore G-d’s signs/signals/morse code most of the time and that is how we end up in the crummy situations with 20/20 hindsight.

Sometimes life is a seemingly never ending search for the right apartment. The place where you will feel like home and safe. A search that makes you an apartment real estate expert and a very frustrated person. One where you often find yourself ready to pay more than you wanted for less than you wanted… but that rarely works out for the best.

You just have to know what you want (w&d, parking space) and what you don’t (first floor, old fixtures) and how much you are willing to give of yourself in exchange for it. And if you sacrifice on those details, it may work out… or you may come to resent your home space and be stuck with it for the next 11 months of your lease.


Note:  This blog was originally posted on Talia's personal blog.

A Brand New Day by BenYomen

Monday, March 14, 2011

Song of the Week: The Sun

Watch out Bob Dylan.  Yerachmiel Goldstein is coming.

Yerachmiel is a folk singer from New York.  His music evokes the folk music of the 60's but is heavily influenced by his chassidic learning and Jewish studies.

This music is powerful, folks.  Press play and enter his world.


[audio:http://mayanotinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/The-sun.mp3|titles=The Sun by Yerachmiel Goldstein]


The sky is fixed

In moonlit eyes

Never asking why

Nor to know


And the sea tells the sun

Who asks the one

Where did I come from

And go


But who cares!

They cried

At the limited sky

Never asking why

Nor to know



Well I’ve done my share

To all those who care

And I guess

There’s not much  more


So shouting I sighed

To the men who cried

Always saying goodbye

To the sun


Well do I go

Where the sun begins to snow

And the fun begins to go




And the thrills I sought

Were null and void

Being one of the boys

And the men


So out on my own

Where I've been trampled to the bone

That led me home



And the moon still moans

At the sun’s reigning throne

Thought it’s not its own

But pretends


And beyond the stars

And In between mars

And far within all

that grows


And Limitless light

That Hides behind the night

Withholding all its might

With a sigh

The Funeral

Editor's Note: On Friday, March 11th, 5 people, including three 2 children and one infant, were brutally killed in their homes.  On Sunday, a few students went to their funeral.  This is the story from one student's perspective.

I hadn't even heard about the tragedy until 15 minutes before the funeral. Halfway through lunch, blissfully unaware of what had happened, a fellow Yeshiva Bocher approached me and asked if I wanted to go with him to the huge event scheduled to take place on that Sunday, 13th March 2011 (7th Adar 5771). After he had hastily described to me the details of that fateful Erev Shabbat, I agreed without hesitation to accompany him and show my support.

Joined by another friend, we took the first bus headed to Givat Shaul and, luckily living only a short distance away, were able to arrive within 20 minutes. Walking down the hill in the direction of the cemetery, we were met with large crowds of people; religious, secular, soldier and civilian alike, already making their way home and marching in the opposite direction. We were late, but decided to keep going. We simply wanted to show our faces and say a few chapters of Tehillim.

Upon arrival, the gravity of what had happened suddenly hit me. Thousands of solemn faces greeted us, as the tear-choked voice of a certain Rabbi pierced the air with prayers, proclaiming the G-d of Israel as the One True King, Merciful, Compassionate and Good, despite the terrible crime perpetrated against an innocent family. Tehillim were said and tears were shed, each and every person in attendance trying to remind themselves that "HaKol L'Tova": everything that comes from Heaven (although seemingly unjust in our own human eyes) is ultimately for the good.

Later that day I found out that the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger, and a host of other rabbis and politicians had spoken that day, offering condolences to the relatives of the murdered family, and talking of Jewish unity in dark times like these. I've noticed that at ceremonies such as this (may they cease entirely with the coming of Mashiach), having attended other ceremonies commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers, and having seen on TV the violent demonstrations of the Arabs condemning Israel and burning Israeli flags, and screaming death threats to the Jewish people, that not one word is said condemning the Palestinians. When mourning our loved ones, there's just no room for condemnation. Thats not what we're interested in. This is not what we want. We simply want to live.

The funeral of the Fogel family today was a painful reminder that we are still a long way from peace, and still a hated nation. The message of the upcoming festival of Purim, celebrating the miraculous reversal of a severe decree against the Jewish people, could not have been made any more real than it was today, reminding us that it is still as appropiate a message our days as it has been throughout our grief-ridden history.

It was also a demonstration of Jewish Unity. There are few times when the Jewish people are truly united; but today 20,000 mourners in attendance and thousands more in Israel and the Diaspora, who were pained by this terrible tragedy, demonstrated that despite our petty differences in religious or political outlook, Am Yisrael Chai: The people of Israel Live.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Barach Haba

To balance on one foot

Or to balance on two

Feet like knotted roots

Digging into the ground

One step forward and then to the right

Heel then the toes


Step back from the balls, and pop

Here we go

Like trees that break up the concrete

Of sidewalks



It all comes from the hips

Hardwood center

And the body is a redwood

Don’t move the arms

Let them jive with the rest

Branches don’t move on their own

Hands become heavy

Like boulders or chiseled stones

Ivy vines up and down the arms

Mosses grow wherever exposed

Glide through and back

Up and never down

Water in reverse

On slick onyx

And smoothed quartz-stone

Upstream and not down

Around and around

Like the trunk of a tree

Spiraling up and up and up

But somehow always on the bough


Every part of the body has something to say

Some heavier, and some lighter

Hidden memories, stories from many different tomes

Dust covered, and aged

Water damaged or burned


If only it were louder

(The body has His wisdom

And He has His own)

It could speak through the noise

But silence is sought for a reason

Like a gemstone or precious morsels of food

Trees need stability

And humans need continuity.


Anyone can meditate while sitting

But balancing on one foot

is a story all its own.