Archive by category "Musings"

A Cautionary Tale: “Washington Is Burning”

A Cautionary Tale: “Washington Is Burning”

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

My musician son-in-law, Ira Brown, a brain cancer survivor, has just released his digitally re-mastered, iconic statement-song, “Washington is Burning.” It is intended as a cautionary tale, originally written twenty years ago at the cusp of a new century. Hopefully our current, articulate, caring, post-millennial generation, at the threshold of their adult lives, will prevent a societal breakdown from happening in their own time.

When “Washington Is Burning” was first released in 1998, it was played repeatedly on many College Radio stations across the nation, charting in the top ten and rising to Number One on College Radio stations for many weeks.

What Happened in 1998?

For starters, an American President was impeached. Unsparing of the sordid details, radio and television stations and the print media (we did not yet have Facebook, launched in 2004, or the Social Media that accompanied its growth) relentlessly dissected President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House Intern Monica Lewinsky. Paula Jones accused him of sexual harassment. Finally, in December of that year, he was impeached. (The American public, however, still loved Bill because he loved them, and eventually he was forgiven.)

All this was happening against the chaotic, controversial background of the Iran disarmament crisis in the face of Iraq’s refusal to end its nuclear program. Nuclear tests took place in India and Pakistan. There were bombings at U.S. embassies abroad.

At home, nature was also taking its revenge through the devastating winter storms, destructive tornadoes, and floods caused by El Nino in a number of states. Gay rights issues came to the fore after a gay college student was tied to a fence, tortured by his classmates, and left to die. As if this were not enough, a number of killings, mass murders, and plots to kill took place in the U.S.:  an abortion clinic bombing in Alabama in which people died; two white Nevada separatists plotting bio-warfare on the N.Y. City subway system; military grade anthrax threats; teenagers opening fire on classmates in Jonesboro, Arkansas; sentencing for the Oklahoma bombing;  in Oregon a mentally-deranged boy with a semi-automatic rifle killed two and wounded 25, after killing his parents at home. In Los Angeles, there were the riots. And so on.

1998 was a year in which many good things happened too, but they were overshadowed in the public mind. Metaphorically, for most people, Washington, the embodiment of the American dream, was burning.

And now?

Now it is 2018. Sadly, “Washington is Burning” has become socially relevant again. Yes, it’s a cautionary tale, musically brought home. The post-millennials have been bombarded with images of horrible events on their computers and smart phones since they were born. In 2001, as babies, they experienced 9/11 and its aftermath. They began lock-down drills in nursery school. This is not the fearful atmosphere in which my grandchildren’s generation want to build their bright futures. It’s our job as a nation to give them the inspirational support to make a difference in our society.

Topical Artists, the record label launching “Washington is Burning,” was created by husband and wife team, Shelley Spiegel (my daughter!) and Ira Brown to support socially relevant music and art. In this new Alternative Rock version, Ira and his talented, teenage daughter, Rachel Genna, create a seamless vocal performance inspired by the call to action of millions of American voices in the midst of the turbulent political climate. Rachel is an anti-bullying activist in her own right.

Purchasers can opt to make a donation to Brain Cancer Research when they buy a copy of the song (


©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.





By Rabbi Corinne Copnick


Photo: Stoneman Douglas High School website Home Page Banner

Like so many viewers across the country, I listened transfixed to deeply saddened but articulate young people tell personal stories about the traumatic school massacre at the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that has impacted their lives. They spoke about their firm resolve to prevent such an event from occurring ever again in America. Their slogan “#Never Again” resonates, of course, with the remembered horror of WWII’s Holocaust. What occurred at the MSD High School in America was a Holocaust of a different kind in a different era in a different country, but it was similarly the outgrowth of a hatred, callousness, and cruelty that has been allowed to surface and grow in this country. A divided house cannot stand. Our country is crying out for a unified vision of putting love, not hate, into practice — a country where misguided people do not have the opportunity to bear arms against their fellow citizens. It’s time to stand up and speak out for the values we cherish in the interest of effecting legislative change. Perhaps my generation – the grandma and grandpa generation with adult grandkids – is getting too old, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it when he marched alongside Martin Luther King – to “pray with our feet,” but we can still function in a supportive role.

In the mid-1970s, with a professional background in Theatre Arts, I returned (some 20 years after my first degree) to McGill University to write my Master’s thesis about role-playing, sociodramatic simulations that were taking place in the Montreal area. At the time, a simulation game called “Guns or Butter” was often enacted (in person, not on video screens as they are today) in educational circles. During the play-out, participants had to make intelligent choices as to how their money would be used in a way that benefited society rather than their own personal greed. In another popular simulation game, “Starpower,” the economic elite would invariably develop a fortress mentality; the lower classes could only rise in society when an educated middle class gave them leadership. Later, together with my team, I created and directed my own large-scale, role-playing simulation “game,” “Future Directions,” supporting the unity of Canada at a time when talk of Quebec’s separation was rampant. Again people had to make choices that were larger than their own personal interest. Sociodramatic simulations have to be used with great caution, however, because they seem so “real” and evoke such deep emotions in the participants.

What is happening now in America is not a dramatic simulation. It is real. The emotions are real. The life-changing memories will remain. I am so proud of the teenagers of Parkland for the way in which they are conducting themselves in the face of real horror, real choices to make for the future. Our combined future.

I am also very proud of my own granddaughter, Samantha, just turned eighteen, and a senior in high school. She was attending a conference in Sacramento, California through the program called “Youth and Government” the same weekend the shooting at Parkland, Florida took place. Four thousand young people attended with the goal of learning how government works, how legislation works, how the courts work. She has been participating throughout the year in a local chapter of this group, which is sponsored by the YMCA. (Incidentally, she won the mock legal case she presented as a “lawyer” in front of a real judge.)

The day after my grand-daughter returned from Sacramento to L.A., her school went into lockdown because a credible threat had been received in the area. Like the students in Parkland, she texted her mother from her classroom in disbelief.

Yes, there are lots of ways to murder people in all kinds of venues – knives, bombs, ramming cars into crowds, chemical attacks – and for all kinds of demented reasons. Somehow our society has lost its way. As a country that professes to revere God, even on our currency  – “in God we trust” — too many of us have forgotten to remember the biblical commandment, “You shall not murder (the Hebrew word is “murder,” not “kill”—so that, for example, you can “kill” someone in self-defense). It’s time to tie a string around the finger of our collective memory.

Not so incidentally, Jews are not supposed to hunt. In metaphorical recognition that human beings have been carnivores since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and had to forage for a living, we can eat domestic animals. Even then, every single time that we do, we sanctify the animal first in order to remind ourselves that we are taking a life. But we do not eat animals that eat other animals, or those that are scavengers – or consume their blood. Those injunctions are intended in part to prevent us from cultivating our own blood lust. The kosher laws exist within a moral framework we do well to honor.

May God bless our nation and bring healing, togetherness, and the spirit of goodwill back to our society.


©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.


What Kind of Triumph are we Talking About?

What Kind of Triumph are we Talking About?

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick


One good thing about getting older is that your memory is long, in this case historical memory based on facts, on events you have experienced. You remember things that are new to a millennial generation, and to the even younger people who are succeeding them. For example, the media announcements that our current leader is envisioning a military march to showcase our American strength set off warning bells for me. Liberty bells, you might say.

I was born in 1936. The first, never forgotten, military march I ever witnessed was in the arms of my father in Canada in 1939 when I was three years old. As we viewed the march of young soldiers parading in unison in Montreal’s streets through the slatted venetian blinds of his dental office, my father said to me, “I’ll soon be a soldier along with those young men, Corinki” (his pet name for me). “I’ll be in a uniform like that.”

And soon he was. Although he was a married man with two children and didn’t have to go, my father volunteered to fight Hitler along with other Canadians who answered Britain’s call for help from their allies in the Commonwealth (if you’ve seen the movie, “The Darkest Hour,” you’ll understand why). Canada – then the Dominion of Canada — entered World War II in 1939. The U.S., isolationist at the time, really didn’t want to be part of a European War, but was compelled to do so after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I still remember my mother almost collapsing when my father — now in military uniform instead of a white lab coat — told her he would be deployed overseas, and my father scooping her into his arms and carrying her into the living room. Children remember things like that long after the event has faded into history.

The next march that is engraved in my memory took place on a movie screen when I was a student at McGill University, which I entered at age 16. Our class was shown an infamous, controversial movie in order, despite its content, to demonstrate the best propaganda film ever made. An artful film made specifically in 1935 by writer/producer/director Leni Riefenstal as highly effective propaganda for the Third Reich, it was called “The Triumph of the Will.” It documented the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. When I close my eyes today, I can still see the mesmerizing, filmed waves of uniformed men marching or raising their hands in a synchronized Nazi salute.

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In 1932, before this propaganda film was made, my school teacher mother toured Europe with her graduating Macdonald College classmates. Along with another Jewish teacher, she was barred by German authorities from attending a celebratory party in Berlin given in the Canadian teachers’ honor. At the time, she didn’t understand why, but by the next year, 1933, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party had already come to power in Germany. By 1936, Berlin was showcasing Germany’s victorious athletes as its government hosted the memorable Olympic games. Last night, I watched a current generation of superb Olympic athletes as they were televised competing in South Korea. Among the global athletes from over 170 countries, were those of the U.S., Canada, Israel, the U.K., Australia, Germany, Italy, Russia (under the banner of the Olympics instead) and, of course, the many countries of Asia, including Japan, China and both Koreas.

So that is how my personal memories of marches (aside from the annual Santa Claus parade in Montreal) are associated with imminent warfare, war in which thousands of valiant young people would be killed or wounded, sometimes beyond repair. That is why my warning bells are sounding.

Historical memory is a good thing. It can be very helpful to have some elders around to caution against the dangers of nationalistic pride taken to an extreme, especially when expressed in needless, costly marches to demonstrate a military strength of which the world is already, often sadly, all too aware.


Shabbat shalom!

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

A Generational Implication: We Need Kids

A Generational Implication: We Need Kids

Image credit:

Dear Friends,

We are living in such a divisive and potentially violent period, politically and environmentally, that I hope, one day soon, we will individually and collectively come to our senses and realize the spiritual strength we can gain from setting some common goals. Hopefully, we will once again remember one another’s needs and, ultimately, bond together in maintaining this incredibly beautiful world – if only we take the time to look – that surrounds us.

In that hope, I offer this poem, which I wrote originally for a marriage ceremony — an age-old bonding our free-wheeling society should also remember to honor. Keep the bonds of a covenantal relationship safe. They need to be nurtured. And, if you can, however you can, have some kids (or take care of some or help them have a better life) to carry on our Jewish tradition. There is a generational implication in the privilege of being alive. Do I sound like a rabbi? You bet!

Shabbat Shalom!


The Bond

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick


Amidst frankincense and myrhh,

budding spring flowers color

the air with an ancient song.


“I am for you and

you are for me,”

the most fragrant lyric ever sung.


And in the scented forest,

tall trees inhale

resounded notes and

rebreathe new memories.


Old roots clasp gnarled

hands more deeply in

the rich, red earth,

their bonds long-forged

leafing freshly toward

a misty, blueing sky,

as gentle sun showers

envelop a bridal



Butterflies dance from

trees to celebrate this

covenant of winging



©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2009, 2017. All rights reserved.


Rewriting the Exodus

Rewriting the Exodus


By Rabbi Corinne Copnick


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“Ours is a tradition that insists that God has spoken – yet is open to a variety of possibilities of how God spoke and what, in fact, God said,“writes Daniel Gordis in Revelation, Biblical and Rabbinic Perspectives [1]. It is this tradition of explication and interpretation of the written Torah, compiled over many centuries” that is continued by Richard Elliott Friedman in Who Wrote the Bible? [2], a scholarly book that reads like a detective novel.  Now he has a new book out, The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters [3], which promulgates a brand new theory.

The Sources and the Questions

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman – building on the Deuteronomistic theory first advanced by Christian scholars in the 18th century, maintained that the Hebrew Bible was compiled by a general editor (called a Redactor) mainly from four entwined sources, defined as: J for the document that called the deity Yahweh; E for the document that referred to God as Elohim; P for the large legal section that also dealt with priestly matters, and D for the book of Deuteronomy. He lays out his basic issues very clearly, explaining in a detailed and methodical way how each of the sources contributed to a Torah composed of many genres and many documents. Historical interpretation, Friedman claims, is dependent on the point of view of the person or persons telling the story and raises many questions:

  • How did the social, geopolitical, and religious influences of the time affect the teller?
  • What did successive editors censor in and out, and from what perspective?
  • How have scrolls that were lost and some of them found been combined over time to form the Torah we have today?

This last question is an essential consideration in reading Friedman’s book because it is the final editor, the Redactor (what might be called the General Editor — Friedman thinks he was likely Ezra, probably aided by his scribe, Baruch), who, as he attempted to reconcile the different sources, shaped the text that we have today. It is this editor (R) who is really the “rabbi,” Friedman says, telling the biblical story that itself has been a page-turner for centuries.


A New Take on the Exodus

However, the piece de resistance of Friedman’s new book, The Exodus, is this: We have learned, in the decades since Who Wrote the Bible? was written, that the four biblical streams (J, E, P, and D) were enhanced by the interwoven, much smaller documents of at least 75 additional writers and editors, and sometimes the Redactor. Then, at the end of The Exodus, Friedman cites the specific biblical verses that make up each of the four streams. So by looking them up, we can actually read the story threads that make up each of the original streams separately. Exciting stuff!

The biblical text itself has long represented a giant puzzle that biblical investigators have been trying to solve through their different disciplines – historical, linguistic, literary, and architectural analyses – all vying to make each one preeminent. Each discipline has professed to have the most likely answers, and the validity of the Bible as an historical source rather than just literature has been disputed. But now that the disciplines have pooled their knowledge, their combined investigations support one another’s findings – and, in the process, also shed light on much of what we read in the biblical text.

It is a welcome departure from some earlier biblical critics (who, believing that Christianity had superseded Judaism) seemed almost to take pleasure in discrediting the Hebrew Bible’s account of the Jewish people’s encounter with God. Then, in more recent times, various, politicized “experts”(and some serious scholars who are influenced by their findings) have taken to calling the Hebrew Bible’s account a fairy tale. The Exodus didn’t happen, they say; it’s just a great story. Also, the Jewish people have neither a claim to the Holy Land nor to Jerusalem. (It’s usually illuminating to discover who is funding the research of these self-proclaimed authorities.)


The Exodus Happened!

In fact, one of the latter day misreadings of the Bible that Friedman’s new book, The Exodus, dispels is that it did not happen. The Exodus did indeed happen, he asserts, but a little differently than we had formerly thought. Historians have documented, he explains, that there were many groups of Western Asians in Egypt at the time of the famine, and among them were a people called the Habirus (Hebrews), probably descended from the seventy Jews (Levites, since Joseph’s family were Levites) who originally came to Egypt seeking food when Joseph was the Pharaoh’s right hand man. So these Jews, who unfortunately multiplied too quickly and consequently were enslaved in Egypt 400 years after Joseph was long gone, comprised a tribe that derived from a single biblical ancestor, Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. It was not nearly as large a group of oppressed Hebrews to leave Egypt as previously estimated; rather, the Jews involved in the Exodus comprised only one tribe  — the Levites – not twelve tribes. If this hypothesis is correct, then the hurried departure of Jews from Egypt fits in very well with current architectural, historical, linguistic, and literary analyses.


The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

This theory (it is still only a theory) provides the missing piece that fits the puzzle, Friedman claims: If the Levites were the only Hebrew tribe to have traveled to Egypt (in North Africa) at a time of great famine – and later fled enslavement – where were the other 11 tribes? In Israel (Canaan), of course. Many historians of what used to be called the Near East [4] agree that the ancient Hebrews were a semi-nomadic, shepherding people that gradually settled in the land of Canaan as farmers, keeping separate from pagan tribes [5]. After the Exodus, the Levites rejoined their brethren in Israel.

In other words, Friedman is positing that eleven tribes of the ancient Israelites were indigenous to Israel centuries before the tribe of Levites fleeing from Egypt, and bringing with them the moral precepts of the Ten Commandments, arrived in Israel after the Exodus. The other 11 tribes had already divided the land, however. The latecomer Levites didn’t get any – just a few cities. But from this group came the priestly class and the establishment of a society that valued holiness, enacted laws to preserve it, looked after the widow and orphan, and welcomed the stranger.


[1] Daniel Gordis. “Revelation: Biblical and Rabbinic Perspectives.” Biblical Religion and Law, 1398.

[2] Richard Elliott Friedman. Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Harper Collins, 1987).

[3] ——————————. The Exodus. Kindle edition, 2017.

[4] Today we refer to Israel as being situated in the Middle East, which is a region, rather than referring to its location in Western Asia, which is a continent.

[5] It is rather the story of “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho” that never happened. In the revised version of Exodus, there is no conquest.


©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 201 7. All rights reserved.