Wednesday, January 29, 2014

They have strayed

In yesterday New York Times (January 28, 2014) columnist Joe Nocera’s column “From Your Friends at the N.R.A.” quotes verbatim excerpts from emails sent by them. (For the full article

 He begins his article with these nuggets:
SEPT. 12, 2013 Subject: Obama wants to ban guns, but N.R.A. is giving guns away!
Announcing N.R.A.’s “BANNED GUNS RAFFLE.” Your chance to win 12 guns that Obama, Biden, Feinstein and Bloomberg want to Ban! 12 great guns — 12 chances to win! (Hurry — raffle ends October 21, 2013.)
SEPT. 26 Subject: Obama Signs U.N. Gun Ban Treaty
You know what this means. Now Obama and the U.N. are one BIG step closer to wiping out our Second Amendment freedom, our national sovereignty, and our American rule of law.....once and for all. Only you and I can stop Obama and the U.N., but we have to act NOW."
After reading the column, I remembered an important mitzvah God commanded us last week.  The Torah tells us: “Keep far from lies.” (Exodus 23:7) I wondered how people like Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice-President of the N.R.A. could get away with such statements. 

Last night I meditated upon Pete Seeger’s death and what he meant to me.  One of his greatest attributes was his dedication to truth and his courage to speak it at all times no matter what the consequences were.  Because of his devotion to the truth, many in our nation have come around to his point of view. While listening to his music on YouTube, he gave me the answer to my question above.  He sang his song “The Ross Perot Guide.” His song applies today to our politicians and people like LaPierre.

When something in my history is found,
Which contradicts the views that I propound,
Or shows that I perhaps am not the guy
I claim to be, here's what I usually do:

[Chorus (after each verse):]
I lie.
I simply boldly falsify.
I look the other feller in the eye,
And just deny, deny, deny.

I don't apologize. Not me. Instead,
I say I never said the things I said.
Nor did the things some people saw me do
When confronted by some things they know are true.

I hate the weasel words some slickies use
To blur the past or muddy up their views.
Not me. I'm blunt. One thing that makes me great
Is that I'll never dodge, or obfuscate

To hear him sing this song go to

To LaPierre’s credit he didn’t abandon the truth completely, but only distance himself from it from time to time.  Every year over 30,000 Americans die due to gun violence and to countless others who injure themselves and others due to their carelessness.  Instead of proposing sane gun laws like universal background checks, limiting the killing capacity of semi-automatic guns to 10 rounds, or engineering safer guns, he proposes a different solution.

JAN. 23 Subject: 3 Stories. 6 Lives. 4 Accidents. 1 Solution.
What can you carry in your pocket that can be as powerful as your gun? Frankly, it’s a card with your name on it. And a phone number. A number that will mobilize your personal “Medical Team” to come to your aid, any time day or night, anywhere in the world if you’re traveling and suddenly land in the hospital. ...
Thanks to the N.R.A.’s incredible influence and buying power, you now have access to ... 60 response centers around the world, over 1,500 air ambulances worldwide, medical teams responsible for continual monitoring of your health around the world if you should require medical attention. 40,000 N.R.A. MEMBERS TRUST EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE PLUS.
 LaPierre and the N.R.A rarely draw close to the truth.  But if we stick to the truth we shall have a safer America to bequeath our children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

And the beat goes on.

And the beat goes on.  A 12-year-old boy opened fire with a shotgun on Tuesday at the middle school he attends in Roswell, N.M., striking two among the dozens of students who were gathered inside a gym waiting for the first bell to ring, the police and witnesses said.
The victims, an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, were flown to University Medical Center in Lubbock, Tex., 170 miles east of Roswell. By Tuesday evening, he was listed in critical condition and she was in satisfactory condition, Eric Finley, a hospital spokesman, said.
The boy suspected in the shooting, whom the police did not identify, carried a shotgun inside a band-instrument bag, pulling it out once he entered the gym at Berrendo Middle School about 8:15 a.m. and stood before the first victim, identified by classmates as Nathaniel Tavarez, 11. The other victim, identified by a family friend as Kendal Sanders, 13, was struck in the chest, according to students who were there. (New York Times online dated 1/14/14)
The boy stopped shooting once a social studies teacher told him to, and then he dropped the gun on the floor, police and school officials said. He was apprehended by a State Police lieutenant whom the school’s principal had flagged as she raced to close the main door to the campus during the shooting.
And the murdering goes on.  Who can remember all the different school shooting sprees?  There are just too many of them.
This Shabbat as we read parashat Yitro we shall accept the 10 commandments again.  We relive this moment by standing during this moment of revelation as if to say "In every generation one must see himself/herself as if he or she accepted the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

I have to ask why should the 2nd amendment take precedence over the 6th commandment jmr, tk, You shall not murder?  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, a 12th century Spanish commentator, explains all the ramifications of this commandment when he writes: “You shall not murder” means with your hand or your tongue, that is by giving false testimony which results in having someone executed, or by tale bearing, or by wickedly giving someone counsel which you know will result in his death or by not revealing a secret which you are aware of, to someone who would be saved if he new what you know.  If you do not reveal the secret you are a murderer.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel was correct when he said “Morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible." (Moral Grandeur And Spritual Audacity: Essays, 2001) According to Ibn Ezra and Heschel, we're all accomplices to murder by either by our actions or our inaction." 

Since Noah was murdered, more than 30, 000 Americans have lost their lives because of gun violence. Now is the time to turn indifference into making a difference.  Now is the time to stop the murder of so many innocent children.  Now is the time to act because all of us are responsible.

Our next meeting to curb gun violence is January 27 7:45 p.m. at Marathon Jewish Center. Just be there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This time not a rock star

I have never been a rabbi to the stars because my pulpits have been in Springfield, MA, Framingham, MA, and Queens, NY. Not the center of the “Scene.” But just like 7 degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon, I have had my brushes with famous people. 

When I was a rabbi in Springfield, the local funeral director asked me to officiate at Mama Cass’ mother’s funeral.  Cass Elliot had been long dead of an overdose back in 1974, but who doesn’t listen from time to time songs from the Mamas and the Pappas.  Once at one of my Framingham’s member funeral, I saw a group of long haired, not appropriately dressed men standing in the back of the sanctuary.  I paid little attention to them.  At the cemetery one of them came over to me and complimented me on my eulogy.  He was especially interested in one of the readings (adapted from the Wisdom of Ben Sira, if you are familiar with the old R.A. manual) I read in her memory.  I asked if he would like a copy, I would send it to him. He told me he would like it very much so I asked him who he was and where should I send it.  Then he gave me such a look like “How can you not recognize me?!”  He gave me his card and it turned out that he was Steven Tyler and his mates were the band Aerosmith.  I later learned that the deceased’s daughter is married to the drummer and the band came to pay their respects. Tyler’s reaction to me just proves what I have always said about myself.  When somebody tells me to be there or be square, I tell them that I can do both!  Finally here in Queens I buried Billy Crystal's uncle.

My next encounter happened this passed Sunday.  I buried Enta Pozner.  She was born in Lithuania, then a state of the former Soviet Union.  She escaped the Nazis by being evacuated east close to the Chinese border.  Her family was eventually able to leave the Soviet Union in 1973.  By 1975 she, her husband, and her two sons moved to America.  At first I didn’t realize it, but she was the grandmother of Noah Pozner, 6 years old and one of the youngest children murdered in Sandy Hook, CT last December.

Hannah Mallck wrote :  “Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
“You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
“She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
“Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”

When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.
“Death by gun isn’t real to us because we see it only in the movies. We occasionally see photos of human beings as meat, but they are almost always meat belonging to non-white foreigners after a bombing.
And that’s why Noah’s mother asked the governor to come and see her child’s corpse. He had already been told. He had to see it for himself.”  For the full article go to

Of course the father is still reeling from that tragedy only to bury his mother a year later. I told him that the Newtown massacre truly moved me to do something.  Besides giving several sermons on the topic of curbing gun violence including one on the High Holidays, I have formed a team in my synagogue to work towards that goal.  Already another shul has joined the team and we hope to make it a regional force for good by inviting other synagogues to join our effort.  We are in consultation with the Brady Campaign and Moms Demand Action to be more effective. I hope he was comforted.

I can tell you that I have never felt prouder of my Rabbinical work as I did that moment knowing I was living out my Judaism.   Since Noah’s death, another 30,000 Americans have died due to gun violence. Abraham Joshua Heschel once said: “Not all are guilty, but all are responsible.” We are our brother’s keeper.  Consequently, all are invited to our next team meeting to reduce gun violence, Monday, January 27 at 7:45 here at Marathon JCC.