A typical evening with the DCA Think Tank:
You walk into a plush room filled with books and paintings, and are immediately hit by the smell of Doritos and crackers and freshly cut up cucumbers /apples/grapes, and little plates of humus and tehina, and some variety of strange dry biscuit that no one in the world besides our coordinator Yael likes. Our other coordinator, also called Yael, immediately gets annoyed because the food tables aren’t in the right places and people would have to grow an extra arm to reach them. She starts shifting them around and getting in everyone’s way, while Rabbi Cardozo chats in a strange and unintelligible language to a TT member who is also from Holland.
Another member, Yael Sh., who travels from afar, walks in complaining about the traffic and suggesting we move all activities to Raanana, after which she makes a mysterious comment about Salonika that only those who’ve read her book will understand. One member makes a start on the Doritos, and another member makes an entrance with her toddler son, who begins playing with the toy dinosaurs that Rabbi Cardozo buys in abundance to make sure everyone knows he is a heretic.
People flock into the kitchen, which is taken up almost entirely by a treadmill, so that you can run while eating and gain no weight. People chat and make cups of tea, getting in the way of other members trying to cut up red peppers with a plastic spoon because the knife and cutting board have disappeared for the fifth time in a row.
A member who always records the sessions announces that he has forgotten his recording equipment – which is actually not recording equipment at all but just a microphone in a disposable cup – and runs off, saying he hopes to be back before the meeting ends.
The meeting begins. Rabbi Cardozo asks for ten minutes at the beginning of the session to talk about the Kotel. Two hours later, we are still discussing it.
One Think Tanker finds a way to mention the Holocaust in the first sixty seconds, and in the next sixty seconds, a gender connection no one ever thought of. Another Think Tanker keeps gender issues in the forefront too with little pointed comments every three minutes or so, said under her breath yet somehow entirely audible to everyone. In a Think Tank where men outnumber the women more than two to one, such gender maneuvers are extremely important, and these two women work tirelessly day and night for the cause, joined by one of the Yaels who leaps in protest every time Rabbi Cardozo uses the word “man” instead of humans. A certain British TT member mutters witty and sarcastic comments to whoever is next to him, even when asked to stop because he’s becoming predictable. A fierce competition rages as to who will finish the Doritos first. Another unnamed member tries to resist eating sugary things, but always breaks down and eats more than everyone else; and even Rabbi Cardozo can be seen reaching for something unhealthy from time to time (but don’t tell his wife). Yael munches happily on the dry biscuits, which remain untouched by everyone else.
After two hours of discussing why we must close down the Kotel, the break is announced. During the break, coordinator Yael turns into Robin Hood and starts chucking food around from plate to plate, in a carefully balanced calculation of one pear less, one pear more, and how many grams of humus were consumed by each table. Some members get extremely excited as the bag of Doritos emerges from the kitchen and there are still some crumbs left. Everyone goes to the bathroom to read magazines in Dutch; this is the main reason people attend Think Tank meetings. Our trusty recording Think Tanker finally walks in, and places his microphone in a plastic cup on Rabbi Cardozo’s desk. We all pretend to believe that this is recording equipment, but no one is fooled.
The second half begins. We are still talking about the Kotel. Coordinator Yael tears up her original meeting plan and sits back, hakol biydei shamayim. Finally, with twenty minutes left, we move on to discuss haredi yeshivas, Open Orthodoxy, the music of halacha, and what we can learn from the pope.
By the time the meeting ends, members have brought up the subject of “Anthrax” several times, waxed nostalgic about their days as a Meretz activist, and mentioned James Kugel and several other Jewish foods. Rabbi Cardozo has quoted a member’s famous brother; that member in retaliation has quoted Rabbi Cardozo’s brother; the gender-concerned Think Tanker wants to know if there is a sister; and the rest of us are only interested in Rabbi Cardozo’s nephew who plays a guard in the Game of Thrones (no joke!).
One of the Yaels has insisted 4 times that finding a sunrise spiritual doesn’t mean you are religious; another Yael has pushed forward the question of authenticity 25 times; and the third Yael has thrown out 12 references to Max Kadushin and 27 unintelligible analyses involving physics and organizational systems.
One Think Tanker has referred to his struggle 62 times, and sung three niggunim with great dveikus to show he is nonetheless frum, while another has located 33 more improvements to be made to the rabbinate. At least one of the holy trinity of Hartman, Leibowitz and Berkowitz has been quoted, and sometimes all three together (in one sentence, noch…?)
By evening’s end, Rabbi Cardozo has mentioned Bach and Mozart 52 times, referred to the mamzer or the conversion crisis 124 times, revoked a ban on several dead Dutch philosophers, and critiqued at least 502 people on the right and on the left (and also people who are up, down, in front and behind, so as to be yotze all six directions). Hearing the things he says, members have nodded vigorously at some, gasped in shock at others, and fairly often hollered in disagreement – but very politely. The most intelligent comments of the evening have been made by our member’s toddler son.
In the final moments, coordinator Yael asks for a doggy bag (what we call a take-home from the meeting) and member Yael Sh. has responded “woof.” After the coordinator has thanked everyone for coming and said “Good night”, a member who likes to chew things over slowly puts up his hand to make his first comment of the evening.
So this, my friends, is the DCA Think Tank. We don’t think about Tanks – just everything else under the sun. It is a home, a refuge, an incubator, a stimulator, a place where words like Cardozoid and Wabbaton are minted, doggies are bagged, arguments are made and mislaid, meetings take place every three weeks in a secret location, great risks are taken, faith can be shaken, and stirred and become absurd, bold ideas do not faze, halacha is challenged in many ways, and some become frummer and some less so, and the intellectual intoxication is such that you’re adeloyada between Baruch Spinoza and Nathan Cardozo … and speaking of which, why does our Rabbi seem intent on lifting the ban from Spinoza and transferring it to himself? We don’t want him banned. (Though it would no doubt increase his book sales…)
And so, we wish Rabbi Cardozo a happy 70th birthday, and are so grateful to have such a menschlikh, thoughtful and inspiring rabbinic figure in our lives, to learn so much from, with whom to debate and disagree, who allows us to be our complicated selves, creating a pleasant, open, and critically probing atmosphere for our growth. The Think Tank is truly unique and we are fortunate to have it in our lives. We bless you to walk the path of truth and Jewish spiritual evolution, and to fulfil ratzon Hashem; and to have health and naches from your family, your work, and the Think Tank for many years to come. L’chaim!