Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Thanksgiving challenge, my sermon at the interfaith Thanksgiving service 2017

I’m happy to be here tonight. Perhaps most of you don’t know that I was on a charity bike ride this past May. Riding around Jerusalem we went up a short steep hill to see a brand-new 9/11 memorial. The memorial was very impressive. Looking at it one way it looks like a flame; looking at it another way it looks like and unfurled American flag. The base of this monument was made out of materials taken from the twin towers. On a wall behind it listed all the names of the people were murdered on the day. It’s the only place outside New York that lists the names like that.
Going down the hill I was going very fast and was afraid of bumping into somebody so I moved towards the left, hit some gravel, and lost control of my bike. Because of this accident I spent four weeks in the hospital, six weeks at Mount Sinai’s acute rehab for spinal injuries, and another four weeks in a regular rehab. So let me say I’m really happy to be here tonight.

In the hospital I had to make a major decision. I could focus on all my problems. I looked terrible. I was in great pain. I was so debilitated, I couldn’t even push the call button to summon a nurse. Or I could count my blessings. I quickly realized by dwelling on all the negatives would not help me move forward. I would be stuck in time, unhappy, and never make any real progress. By counting my blessings, I would be able to overcome most if not all my obstacles and develop a gratitude attitude
These are some of the blessings I enumerated.

The fall didn’t happen that far from Hadassah Hospital. I had the best spinal surgeon at Hadassah operate on me. The fall could have damaged my spine even worse. I could have become a Quadra paraplegic. In fact all my doctors both in Israel and America have been great.

My family and friends have to be one of the biggest blessings in my life. Without the love, help, and support I would not be able to stand before you today.
I have had great therapists. When I first came to America I can sit up by myself let alone stand and walk. Because of my therapist I can now walk with and without a cane.
I am blessed because of my interfaith community. Synagogues and churches have been praying for my recovery. I literally felt the love and support of my community. Let me tell you prayers to work.

I am not unique. We all have experienced problems throughout our lives. God never promised us a rose garden. For some of us it has been a death of a loved one, for others it has been a health problem, and for still others it has been a divorce or loss of employment.

I don’t minimize the pain and hardship you felt going through these crises.  I once read about a woman who suffered one terrible blow after another and she told her friend I know God doesn’t send us any more burdens than we can bear.  But I just wish God didn’t have such a high opinion of me.

I’m convinced though if you look back upon your life taking the long view, for most of us you too can count more blessings than the difficulties.  That’s the challenge that I challenge of Thanksgiving. Count your blessings one by one & I am sure you will discover that the blessings outnumber the difficulties in your life. David Steindl-Rast observed, “You can’t be grateful for everything but in every given moment you can find something to be grateful for”. Your gratitude could be for things as simple as the air you breathe, the love you feel in your heart, or seeing the change of seasons.

Let me add though, counting your blessings is just the first step. Once we become grateful for all God’s blessings, Thanksgiving obliges us to share this bounty with all who are in need. When we help others every day can be a thanks giving day.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I'm mad as hell and not going take it anymore!

All we can say about the Harvey Weinstein case is “there is nothing new under the sun“ especially when it comes to sexual impropriety and worse.

Last week’s Torah portion ends with a very strange story. Divine beings “bnai Elohim” saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from amongst those that please them (6: 2) Prof. Sarna in his new JPS commentary comments on the phrase ”saw how beautiful they were” “the implication is that they were driven by lust so that external beauty, and not character, was there so criterion…” 

This week’s Torah portion begins with ”when God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh…” (6:12- 3) The verb corrupt is key to understanding this story for the Hebrew stem ,ja appears seven times. Rashi defines this corruption as sexual immorality.

The rabbis didn’t have a term for sexual harassment, but that didn’t mean it didn’t happen. Lin Farely wrote in October 18, 2017, New York Times “It wasn’t until April 1975 that women had a word for talking about what their male bosses were doing to them.It was that month that I first used the phrase “sexual harassment” in public, during a hearing on women in the workplace by the New York City Human Rights Commission, at which I was testifying as an instructor at Cornell University. The New York Times covered the hearing in an article that was reprinted across the country. And thus, a concept was born.”

One out of every six women have been sexually harassed. Too many women are ashamed or afraid of reprisals to lodge complaints.  In a campaign to break the silence in less than 24 hours more than 12 million women posted #MeTo from countries all around the world and in every language.

The media world is staggering under all the recent disclosures. Fox fired Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly for their sexual harassment of women in the workplace. We have a president who has said on the air in the past that basically he is a sexual predator grabbing women’s pussies and going into the dressing room where teenage beauty contestants were dressing in order to see them naked just because he could. And now we become aware of Weinstein’s criminal behavior that has gone on for decades.
This problem won’t go away because some people write off statements like our president’s as just boy’s locker room talk and most of the sexual predators never pay a heavy price for their crimes. For example, although Roger Ailes lost his job at Fox, he immediately became a senior advisor to Pres. Trump.

Perhaps you read the article by the actress Mayim Bialik and the pushback found in this week’s Jewish News. Even though Mayim who dressed modestly was never harassed, the article cited too many Orthodox women who dressed modestly and still were sexually harassed. To blame the women for the advances of men because of the close they were seems to me a classic example of blaming the victim instead the perpetrator.

Remember the 1970s movie Network? The news anchor Howard Beale was going crazy starts yelling on the air “I’m mad as hell and not going take it any longer.” That becomes a catchphrase for the common citizen unhappy the way things were. In one scene people leaning out of their apartment windows start shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it !” I’m mad as hell am not going take it any longer has to be our response when it comes to sexual harassment. No one institution and nobody including religious figures is immune. We need a zero tolerance policy to ensure the God given dignity to each human being which means women too needs to be protected. We need to do more than just post #MeTo. We need to yell at the top of our lungs I’m mad as hell and I’m not going take it any longer because they are sisters, wives, and daughters, and granddaughters.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What do you wirh a problem like Lifta?

Jane Jacobs was a very famous urban planner. She wrote a book The Life and Death of Cities which is required reading for all urban planning students.  Walking tours of cities in her memory have been organized all over the world.  There were at least two walking tours in Jerusalem this past Frirday.

My friend Marc Render and I went to the walk around Lifta. Lifta is an abandoned Arab village atthe entrance of Jerusalem.  It is literally built on the slopes of a mountain.  The  origins of the village go all the way back to the Canaanite period when Egypt ruled this land.  The village has been preserved up to now for two reasons. In the the 50's the government moved Jews from Kurdistan there when they made aliyah. Condequently the Arab homes weren't destroyed as in many other places. Even when they the Jews left, nobody else wanted to live there because of its inaccessibility. No modern roads, electricity, water, etc. Now there is a movement to develope it with luxury apartments.  That would destroy one of the last if not only site like this. There is a whole movement to save Lifta.

Lifta became a prosperous village throughout the ages because it was on the main Jaffa-Jerusalem road. We saw 2nd Temple era ruins. Those large type of stones with the edging as seen at the Kotel were uncovered. Agriculture was a major industry.  There were at least 5 olive presses from the Crudader period with a couple very wellpreserved ones  inside some buildings. In the 16th century the population was 400  in the 16th century and by 1948 the village grew to 2000 people.

UNECO  has declared a landmark site how a geographical site influeced the population and how the population influenced the land by the urging of the Save Lifta group. I believe it should be developed but not as a modern site.  It should be preserved as a part of Israels history dating back to the time when Egypt ruled Canaan through the modern period.  You don't have a future if you don't remember the past.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Even designer genes didn't help me

Thanks to my Greene skinny genes, I've never had to worry about my weight.  Now that I train all year round for my bike rides in Israel, I worry even less. I exercise daily and watch what I eat.  The lighter I am, the less I have to carry when I bike up hills. But all my skinny genes and exercise were almost to no avail on my flight over to Israel on El Al.

I understand all the flight rage going on that has been reported in the news media.  The seats are getting smaller and smaller with less and less leg room.  I felt squished into my aisle seat. What made things even worse, the aisle was narrower too.  I have to admit that many of my fellow pasengers were not as svelte as I am.  Without meaning to, they would brush against me as I was trying to sleep.  Even the food cart rammed into my knee once

I have two recommendations.  First the airliines have to reverse this trend of making us passengers feel like sardines. Give passengers more room especially on long flights. Sqeezing every nickle and dime out of us for an unbearable ride is just criminal.  Secondly, to all my fellow frum co-travelers, you need to loose weight by dieting and exercising. Rambam taught a healthy soul needs a healthy body.  You will feel better and there is a better chance we all will be able to sleep on the plane.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Yom Hashoa and Elie Wiesel teach us: My remarks at the community Yom Hashao service 5777

World War II and the Holocaust ended 72 years ago and some people question why we commemorate this somber day as the events we recall recede into the mist of history.  More and more survivors and liberators no longer walk this earth.  For our young people who I teach in Hebrew School, President George W Bush is ancient history to them.

I believe we must continue to mark this day and make it holy for the following 3 reasons.  The first is to keep our promise to those who perished.  They wanted us to remember them and never forget what happened.  We know the names of some of these martyrs because Yad Vashem has been collecting these names and preserving them. But there are others who will always remain nameless.  When I visited the Warsaw Jewish cemetery with teenagers on Ramah Seminar, we stood by a mass grave with no markers, no tombstones.  There were too many who died of starvation, disease, and deprivation to bury one by one with the dignity each one deserved.  Elie Wiesel warns us “anybody who doesn’t remember them betrays them again.” Today we remember those we know the names and those who remain nameless and say a kaddish in their memory.

Who would be believe that anti-Semitism would be alive and well 72 years after the Holocaust and into the 21st century, but we’ve seen an increase of anti-Semitic hate crimes both here and in Europe.  Yom Hashoa reminds us that the battle against prejudice hasn’t been won and we must fight on.  And just like Elie Wiesel we not only fight on behalf of our own people, but human beings everywhere they are scapegoated, persecuted, and murdered.  Wiesel reminds us: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps only the oppressor, never the victim. Silence only encourages the tormentors; never the tormented.”

Finally the third lesson Yom Hashoa imparts is we must be brave to speak to power and stand for what is right and just. Once again Elie Wiesel encourages us by teaching “There may be times when are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

World War II and the Holocaust ended 72 years ago. That’s quadruple Chai, a hopeful sign for a better future.  I’ll conclude with one last bit of wisdom from Elie Wiesel, “Hope is like peace. It’s not a gift from God. It’s a gift we can give one another.” Let’s give the gift of hope and peace to all who need it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What does Climate Change have to do with Purim, Passover, and Yom Hashoa?

President Trump has proclaimed that climate change is a Chinese hoax.  The newly confirmed director of the E.P.A., Scott Pruitt, is a climate change skeptic and has begun to stack the E.PA. with fellow skeptics. Nevertheless, facts on the ground don’t change when an administration changes. 2014 was the warmest year on record until 2015 broke it.  2016 broke 2015’s record and it looks like 2017 will the hottest year on record.  The overwhelming majority of scientist disagree with climate change skeptics.  A survey found 97% of scientist agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years; 84% say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring, and 74% agree that "currently available scientific evidence" substantiates its occurrence

Climate change is also impacting us here in Queens. Last October Marathon JCC planted 360 daffodil bulbs around our Holocaust Memorial Garden.  Those yellow were supposed to bloom by Yom Hashoa to remind us of the yellow badges the Germans made the Jews wear. As I write this blog, Purim is still 5 days away and the green shoots have broken through the soil and are 3 inches tall. The weather has been crazy.  The temps have reached the 60s and even once in the low 70s and has dropped as low as 19 degrees.  Snow has been forecasted for this Friday. I worried that the cold weather would kill our flowers.  We learned though our bulbs will be all right as long as they don’t flower.

I’ve been thinking how will climate change causing earlier and earlier springs effect Passover? As you well know that Passover is the holiday of spring time. On the seder plate, we place parsley or some other greens to symbolize spring.  Did you know that there is a special one-time-a-year blessing recited in the month of Nisan?  When we see buds flowering for the first time in the spring, we recite: “Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who has withheld nothing from his world, and has created in it beautiful creatures and trees for human beings to enjoy.” (See page 223 in the Weekday Siddur Sim Shalom) Erica Brown in her Haggada, Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggada writes:  “The season of spring reminds us that just as nature renews itself, so does humanity.”

I’m worried with climate change nature may not be able to renew itself. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, looked at the onset of spring and the flower blooms and leaf bursts that come along with it. springs will arrive on average 23 days earlier in the 2100.
“Our projections show that winter will be shorter — which sounds great for those of us in Wisconsin” lead author Andrew Allstadt said. “But long distance migratory birds, for example, time their migration based on day length in their winter range. They may arrive in their breeding ground to find that the plant resources that they require are already gone.”
Any increase in false springs is bad news for the environment and for some businesses, the researchers note.
“Sub-freezing temperatures after spring onset can damage vulnerable plant tissue, and reproductive growth stages later in spring typically make plants more susceptible to damage from cold,” the researchers write. “Damage due to false springs is often observed in natural systems, and lost plant productivity can negatively impact dependent animal populations. False springs can also strongly affect agricultural systems. For example, the false spring of 2012 caused $500 million in damages to fruit and vegetables in Michigan.[1]
There could also be miss-matched timing between bees and other pollinators and flowers disrupting pollination which are food supplies depend upon.
The conclusion is clear. If we want to celebrate Passover as our holiday of springtime, we need to take care of our environment. Not only does our renewal depend upon it, our very lives are at stake


Monday, November 21, 2016

My derashu on Psalm 104 given at the 2016 Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, Marathin JCC

Here is another story that proves that behind every great man is even a greater woman.
Rabbi Meir, the second century Talmudic scholar, had a serious problem. The thugs in the neighborhood were making his life miserable. Desperate for a way to escape their harassment, Rabbi Meir decided that drastic measures were called for. He decided to pray that the ruffians would die.

But Rabbi Meir’s wife, Bruria, wasn’t pleased with this solution. Bruria quoted to her husband a verse in our psalm 104:35  “Let sin be uprooted from the earth, and the wicked will be no more.”

It doesn’t say “Let the sinners be uprooted,” Bruria pointed out. It says “Let the sins be uprooted.” You shouldn’t pray that these thugs will die; you should pray that they should repent! And then, automatically, “the wicked will be no more.

Rabbi Meir followed his wife’s advice. Sure enough, the neighborhood hooligans changed their ways, due to the scholar’s prayers. 

Shouldn’t we follow Brurua’s advice too! Let us pray this Thanksgiving that all of the dwellers of our beloved country live up to tis highest ideals and aspirations as George Washington wrote to the members of the Turo Synagogue in Rhode Island: 

“everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”  For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

If we can realize his words in our lifetime, then every day will be a thanks giving day