Monday, November 16, 2015

Will the tragedy in Paris change Europe's view in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

This past summer I had the good fortune of studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute. In one of my classes Dr. Jonathan Rynhold talked to us about the Arab-Israeli conflict in American Political culture (which happens to the title of his book.) In his the book he discusses why Americans, both liberal and conservative, have a more positive attitude of Israel than Europeans. In the light of the E.U. demanding that all Israeli imports from the West Bank be labeled that they come from the settlements (illegal in their eyes) instead of Israel, I thought I would share some of his conclusions to help understand why Europe has singled out Israel for this labeling.

Ronald Reagan summed American and Israeli special relationship saying “There is no nation like us, except Israel.” Even before the State of Israel was a reality, Americans were in favor of Jews returning to the Land of Israel thanks to their Protestant milleniailsm and understanding of Biblical prophesy. Jews returning home would signal the advent of the Second Coming of Christ. William Blackstone, a leading American evangelist organized a petition to President Harrison that the United States help restore Palestine to the Jews. This petition was signed by 413 prominent Gentile Americans.1

After World War I, universal national determination was a value held by Woodrow Wilson and the rest of the country. Since Israel is the national home for the Jewish people, America supported our return. Even the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who rejected a literal reading of the Bible declared: “The Jews have a right to a homeland. They are a nation...They have no place where they are not exposed to the perils of minority status.”2 All candidates from both parties running for the Presidency often speak of American exceptionalism. The exception is Israel as Reagan said. Americans see in the Zionist enterprise the same pioneering spirit that makes America great. Being the only democratic country in the entire Middle East reinforces America's positive identification with Israel.

More over, Americans see Israel as the only and most reliable ally in the region. The Holocaust seared into the consciousness the pernicious outcome of anti-Antisemitism and the commitment to Israel's survival. Conversely, generally speaking, Americans view Muslims and Islam itself in a negative light due to Arab terrorism after 9/11 and the Arab countries do not share the American exceptionalism like Israel does.

Pro-Israel sentiment rises and falls at any given time due to the circumstances on the ground who is more to blame for the failure of any movement towards a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, Rynhold through his analysis shows that support for the Jewish state remains high and runs through all sub groups.

Across the Atlantic, European countries are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to the Israelis for several reasons. America is far more religious than Europe. For the most part Europeans don't share those Protestant millenialism world view that has shaped Americans. Secondly, Americans are more nationalistic than Europeans. Europeans blame nationalism for all the bloody conflicts on the continent, especially the Two World Wars. “This is important in the Middle East context, because Israel emphasizes its self-determination as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the legitimacy of which the Arabs and Palestinians reject. This leads some federalist in Europe to view Israel's insistence on its national identity in a negative light and as a factor inflaming the Arab-Israeli conflict.”3 America uses its military strength to protect its interests as does Israel. Those Europeans who decry military intervention are more anti-Israel than those who back a strong military presence.

Europeans want to put the Holocaust behind them; consequently, 40% of Europeans think that Jews bring up the Holocaust too much.4 Moreover, because of Europe's class system and authoritarian past, the Old Right and the Far Left are stronger in Europe than America. The Old Right adopts a paternalistic approach to the Palestinians. In order to protect their interests e.g. the flow of oil, the Old Right is more sympathetic to the Arabs.

According to post colonial theory, all the major problems of the Middle East are the result of malevolent outside forces of imperialism, let by the United States with the assistance of its 'lackeys,' such as Israel. The West and by extension, Israel are viewed as essentially ''reactionary,' while the status of the Third World, including Palestine, as
'victims of colonialism' makes them essentially 'progressive.' There very weakness and their status as victims put them in the right. Zionism has become a code word for the forces of 'reaction' in general, and since the end of the Cold War, virulent anti-Israel sentiment has become a major unifying theme among radicals within social movements and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) The radical left has also been the major force behind the campaign to impose boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel. The BDS movement as a whole tales 'no position' on Israel's right to exist, but its core activists are anti-Zionists opposed to Israel existence in any borders.”5

Anti-Zionism is just the modern guise of anti-Antisemitism which the Radical left now employs and the liberal press has been influenced. The only national movement for self determination denied of course is Zionism. I wonder who will buy into the clearly anti-Semetic op-ed piece published Sunday in the official Palestinian Authority daily al-Hayat al-Jadida. The paper blamed Israel's Mossad intelligence agency for Friday's terror attacks in Paris, suggesting they were orchestrated in order to undermine new European moves to label produce from Israeli West Bank settlements. Will the tragedy in Paris change Europe's view in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  Only time will tell.

This book, The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture is a must read for all those who want to understand the lenses how politicians, the media, and the world view Israel and understand why the E.U. 's most recent ruling on the importation of goods from the West Bank. We now can begin to understand why Israel is singled out and not China in Tibet, Turkey in Cyprus, and nor Spain in the Basque region even though those countries export goods in occupied territory without any stigma.

1The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Culture, page 13 All further quotes come from this book
2Page 13
3Page 14
4Page 25

5Page 26

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Just a few tweaks

Whenever I visit a new doctor at his office for the very first time I have to fill out the patient information collection form.  It lists all possible ailments, diseases, and disorders.  Usually I have to check off just a couple of them like I’m lactose intolerant and I suffer from acid reflex.  When I turn back the forms, I ask the person behind the desk, “Has anybody ever scored 100%?”   Of course, nobody can be that sick.

The same is true with the confessional, Al Chet.  The traditional Al Chets lists so many sins ranging from gossip to sexual immorality to rushing to do evil.  Nobody can be that bad.  And that is the good news. We all have our faults, things that we’re embarrassed about, and transgressions we need to own up to, but nobody is that bad. 

My bike taught me what we need to do just in time for Yom Kippur.  After my crash in Israel this past May, convincing myself that I needed a new bike wasn’t that hard.  Besides upgrading to a better and newer model, I could fix up my old bike and give it to my son who will need it as a main mode of transportation in his new home.  It was a win-win situation. 

My only problem with my new bike was my knees. They began to hurt a half an hour into the ride.  The pain was almost unbearable.  My local bike shop owners tried their best to solve my problem. Even though the pain lessened, riding was no longer enjoyable.  Finally I decided I needed to return to the professionals who fitted my old bike to me and solved my problems five years ago. This past Thursday, I went to Signature Bicycles in the city for help.  I went to the right place. Almost immediate my personal fitter saw what the problems were.  First of the angle of my seat was a bit too steep.  The angle was just over five degrees when it should have been only just a bit over four degrees.  I was slipping down the seat, putting more pressure on my knees than was good for them.  Once the seat was in the right position, my clips on my bike shoes could go back to the neutral position following the natural position of my feet and legs.  To alieve the numbness in my hands, he changed the position of my handlebars a bit.  He also noticed that my shoes were worn and too wide for my feet and recommended a different shoe which will direct the power of my stroke so that I would get the maximum benefit from my peddling.  Last of all, he reminded me of the proper position when I actually ride my bike. What a difference all those little tweaks made.  My ride Friday morning was a delight because all my problems disappeared.

The same is true when we prepare for Yom Kippur.  Nobody I know is all bad.  Most of us just need a few tweaks and we can turn our lives around.  That’s the message of the New Year.  In the New Machzor, there is a wonderful responsive reading entitled To begin again by Abraham Karp. “The old year is gone. The ledger is closed.  Our Book of Life is now open to a new page. No sins blot it, no indiscretions blemish it…On (the New Year) we receive the gift of beginning again.  We now know what we did not know then. What will we do with the knowledge? How will we use the gift?” The choice is in your hands.  Small changes can make big differences.

Shana Tova

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reflections upon my Ramah Biker Ride through the Galil and Golan

 There is an old expression you may be familiar with.  “To err is human, to really screw up you need a computer.” I had the best of intentions of blogging my trip every day, but either the internet connections were poor or my ipad ran out of battery power and it took me until the very end of the ride to find another rider with a compatible charger. 

So I thought instead of creating a series of small retroactive blogs, I would reflect on my ride as a whole.

1.      It is a small Jewish world especially in Israel, even though I wouldn’t want to paint it. Before the ride began, I attended a daily minyon in Jerusalem in order to say Kaddish for my mother.  The first person, in that shul which I had never stood foot in before, who welcomed me, lived in Hollis Hills before making aliyah. For those not familiar with Queens Hollis Hills is only a 10 minute car ride from my home.

2.     Hard work does pay off. I spent the entire winter and most of the spring (due to a very cold and snowy winter and spring) in the gym.  I worked on my core muscles as well as riding a stationary bike four to six times a week.  Although the hills we climb were next to impossible, I was never developed saddle sores nor did my legs ever cramp up.

3.     If you will it, it is no dream.  A blind man joined the hikers this year helped by his daughter and another young man navigating the terrain. 2 years ago with Ramah he rode from Jerusalem to Eilat on a tandem bike! He was an inspiration to us all.

4.     No matter when and no matter where, Israel is beautiful.  This winter’s rain was more plentiful than in previous years.  The Galil and the Golan were a lush green and were covered with wild flowers like the red kolaniyot.  Blue, yellow, and purple flowers also delighted the eyes. The views were spectacular. 

5.     All beginnings are difficult. We started the ride at Akko right on the Mediterranean Sea.  Our hotel was aptly named “Palm Beach Hotel.”  The challenge was riding up to the Galil. One of the good things about living in Northeast Queens, we have some big hills to climb.  I figured that they would help train me for my ride.  To psych myself up the hill, I would say to myself that hills are my friends for they only make me stronger.  I quickly realized that the hills in the Galil made my hills in Queens look like mole hills!  Let me tell you, those hills were not my friends at all.  At one point we had a 17 klms ride almost all uphill with a 12% incline.  Every time you turned a corner you continued up without any rest. I have to admit that I couldn’t do it.  I walked up most of that hill with many of my fellow riders.

6.     There is no shame knowing your limits. I swore I was going to make it to the top of every mountain, either by bike, by foot, or by bus! And I did.

7.     But if you try to push yourself, you may surprise yourself by surpassing what you thought were your limits. I have to admit I was pretty discouraged after riding the first day and walking up those hills.  Then I realized I had to change my strategy.  Usually I attack hills, but that only tired me out quicker.  If I would just plod along and not worry how fast (really how slow), I was going I could make it up all most all the forthcoming hills.  (To tell you the truth, I didn’t even try to climb the 1000 meter hill with an 18% incline.  The walk was worth it though because the view was unbelievable.)  I rode better and stronger and did climb all those hills. I felt much better about myself.

8.     Be flexible.  One day the ride was cut short because it rained and hailed.  Another day’s ride was shorten because the temperature reached 45 C, close to 120 F.  It was so hot the water I was carrying on my back seemed to me boiling.

9.     Politics effects everything.  Earlier in the ride, we rode through Druze and Arab villages as well as Jewish towns without a thought, care, or worry. We didn’t ride through any Arab village on May 15th because it was Nockba Day. Arabs gathered to mourn their fate because on May 14th the State of Israel came into being.  Their whole world turned upside down when the predictions of the Arab world didn’t come true. All those Arab armies didn’t push the Jews into the sea and destroy the nascent Jewish state.  To avoid any possible confrontation, we avoided all Arab villages.

1You can always learn something new.  I’ve lost count how many times I have visited Israel but there is something new I learn with each trip. For example as I was riding a boat across the the Kinneret, The Sea of Galilee, our guide pointed out a kibbutz called Migdol.  She taught us that Mary Magdalen from the Christian Testament came from Migdol.  You can hear the similarities.

1When you fall off your bicycle, get right back on.  The last day of the ride the temp hit 45 C.  We had to ride down this old terrible farm road from the Golan Hts to the Kibbutz Ein Gev where the ride ended and lunch was served. The road was all torn up with plenty of pot holes.  In fact we had to get off our bikes twice and walk because the road was so torn up, it was an accident-in-waiting. No more than 20 yards from the finish line, I passed a pot hole.  I took my hand of the handle bar to signal to those behind me to be careful.  I must have hit a stone for I lost control of my bike and fell. I am happy to say that I got on my bike again and finished the ride.  Then I collapsed.

1My whole right side is bruised and torn up.  Thank God all my wounds are basically superficial, but I hurt.  I escaped real injury because I was wearing my helmet.  My head hit the ground, but the helmet saved me from a catastrophic injury.  It's getting better but I am far from pain free.  I've seen my doctors and I just need time to heal. I believe that fixing my bike will cost more than fixing my body.

1What you focus on makes all the difference in the world.  At first I felt bad that I couldn’t make it up those hills the first day.  Subsequently when I changed my hill climbing strategy and I conquered most of the remaining hills, I rode strong and felt good about myself. Well, until the last 20 yards.  I remind myself that I fell no more than 20 yards from the finish line.  I’ve chosen to focus on how great my ride was and not on the last 20 yards. The choice is mine. Why should I let the last 5 minutes of the trip ruin the entire experience for me?! 

 We are strong as individuals, but even stronger as a community.  Thanks to friends like you, I raised $5229.00 and the community together helped raise ½ million dollars for the special needs campers.  There is still time to donate and help this wonderful cause.  Go to my page in order for me to reach even higher heights.

1You don’t even realize how great an impact you are making.  Several special needs campers’ parents joined the bike ride or hike.  One night they spoke how wonderful the Tikvah, the special needs program, was to their children.  Camp was the only place in their lives they were treated as regular people where others saw them not as human beings with special needs but just as camp friends.  In all my years of teaching at Camp Ramah in New England, I took my relationship with all my Tikvah students and friends for granted.  That’s just how we related to them. In fact, when I wanted to attend the best Shabbat morning service in camp, I went to the Tikvah service.  I never realized what that meant to them and how unique and special Camp Ramah is.

1I am ready for the next ride in two years.  Who wants to join me?

Check out the highlight video to inspire you:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The essence of Jewish living

On Shabbat, the last day of Passover in the Diaspora, we shall observe Yizkor. We shall remember all our dearly departed family and friends by lighting yahrzeit candles the night before and saying special prayers along with the mourners’ kaddish Shabbat morning.  How we remember them depends upon how they lived their lives.

Let me share with you two opposing stories to illustrate my point.  Recently I buried a woman who wasn’t a member of Marathon JCC. Since I didn’t know her at all, I obviously had to interview the survivors. When I spoke to the son, he shocked me into silence.  He told me that he had a better relationship with his mother than his sister and he had nothing good to say about his mother. Since I don’t lie or exaggerate, this eulogy was rather short.

Preparing for my seder, I read about the last will of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik.

          Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s grandfather was the famed Rabbi Chaim
          Soloveitchik.  He was arguably the most brilliant Talmudic mind of the
Nineteenth century. Rav Chaim, as he is affectionately known, had revolutionized 
the study of Talmud by creating a systematic scientificmethodology 
that clarifies the entire Talmud. He himself formulated a new system 
of analysis that has been adopted by Talmud students the world over.

As Rav Chaim was nearing the end of his life, he insisted that only 
one attribute be engraved on his tombstone…not gaon, “Torah genius,” nor
“Rabbi,” or “Sage of the Jewish community”… but only the words:
rav hesed, which means “great in kindness.” As impressive as one’s
intellectual abilities and Talmudic expertise may be, these attributes do not 
reflect a person’s highest attributes.  The greatness of a Jew lies in
 hesed-how one exhibits kindness and mercy throughout one’s life. 
(from: The Night that Unites: Passover Haggadah, page 69)

We all have the ability to change for the better.  From the second seder on, we’ve been counting the omer, counting up to Shavuot, the holiday of revelation when we received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Kabbalists believe that this time is set aside for us to improve our ways and thus be worthy of receiving the Torah. Besides that, there only 6 more months before the High Holidays.  Our tradition is teaching us not to procrastinate by waiting for the High Holidays!  The opportunity to become the people we truly want to become is right now. If we seize this chance now, why then in 120 years our descendants we remember us as fondly as we now shall remember our ancestors.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Two more questions

Hesed or kindness is one of the major lessons the Passover Seder tries to reinforce all throughout the Haggadah.  For your Seder, let me share from the Haggadah The Night That Unites commentary from the beginning, middle, and end of the Seder which emphasizes the value of hesed in our lives.  Feel free to use these commentaries as conversation starters at your Seder.

“This is the bread of affliction…Let all who are hungry come and eat…”  
The Seder begins with an invitation to those in need to join us in our homes for the Seder.  This is an act of kindness and tzedakah.

Rav Kook taught that we begin the Seder this way because the moment we were freed from slavery our true essence could emerge.  We are a people of loving-kindness. Our forefather Abraham instilled this message within our Jewish consciousness (Abraham’s tent had a door in each of the four directions according to the Midrash, so that he could welcome in people into his home no matter in what the direction they were traveling-Rabbi Greene), and so at the Seder, as soon as we enact the story of our liberation, we engage in the act most characteristic of us as a people: feeding the hungry. (page 68)

“Therefore we are required to thank, praise, glorify…”
            Rabbi Soloveitchik taught that we have an obligation to respond appropriately to our good fortune.  There are times in all lives when we are faced with the painful question of how respond to suffering.  In a fresh approach, and the very reverse of times when we face suffering, the Rav suggested that a parallel question needs to be asked when we experience blessing and goodness in life. Why do I deserve this good?
            The Rav teaches:

            God’s acts of hesed, “kindness,” Judaism declares, are not granted to man as a free gift.  Rather they impose obligations, they exact ethic and halakhic demands upon their beneficiary. The bestowal of good is always to be viewed as a conditional gift-a gift that must be returned-or a temporary gift.
When God endows a person with wealth, influence, and honor, the recipient must know how to use these precious gifts, how to transform them into fruitful, creative forces, how to share his or her joy and prominence with the people around, how to take the divine hesed that flows toward them from its infinite Godly source and use it to perform deeds of loving-kindness. (page174)

“I was a youth and also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his children begging for bread.”
            Rabbi Soloveitchik taught the following explanation in clarifying this challenging verse in Grace after Meals:
            The Standard translation of this verse (Psalm 37:5) is “was a youth and also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his children begging for bread.”
            The Rav offered a new meaning to the verse.  The verb, ra’iti, “seen,” should be translated in the way in which it appears in the Book of Esther. Esther pleads on behalf of the Jewish people saying, “For how can I watch, ra’iti, the evil that shall come unto my people? Or how can I watch, ra’iti, the destruction of my kindred?” (Esther 8:6)
            The verb ra’iti means “stand as a passive witness to.” This verse in Grace after Meals, should be understood as, “When the righteous were forsaken or his children forced to search for bread, I never merely stood and watched.”
            This verse can be interpreted as a warning against being a mere bystander while other people suffer.
            As we conclude saying the Grace after Meals, we are called upon to engage in providing for those who are in need. We begin the Grace after Meals speaking of God’s goodness in feeding the hungry, and we conclude with the injunction to do likewise. (page 220)

Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the greatest 20th century American Jewish theologians and he taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York until his untimely death in 1972, He once wrote: “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” 

We should ask two more questions on top of the famous four.  Who are the hesed masters I admire as role models in my life? In what ways can I use the blessings and gifts that I have received to enhance the world around me?  If you answer those questions correctly, it was not for naught that we were slaves in Egypt.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Be Prepared is the Passover Motto

 “In the Talmud classrooms at Yeshiva University, small Hebrew signs were hung at the front of the room with the words quoting Rabbi Soloveitchik, ‘holiness can only be obtained with preparation.’ Holiness, in other words, is in the domain of man; man chooses to encounter it or not. Holiness relates to a mindset and the willingness to approach certain things and to treat time with the attitude of reverence.
“At the holiest moment in history, God’s revelation at Sinai, the Jewish people are summoned to prepare themselves.  The Torah states, ‘prepare yourself for three days’ (Exodus 19:11). Holiness is shown to be commensurate with preparation.  The Rav (Rabbi Soloveitchik) also offered the following example: When the Torah speaks of Shabbat it says, ‘Remember the Sabbath day and sanctify it.’ An explanation of the verse is that there is a mitzvah in remembering and anticipating the Shabbat all week.  We even count down to the day of Shabbat each week.  Each day at the conclusion of the morning services we say: ‘Today is the first day toward Shabbat,’ and so forth.
“This is our tradition as Jews. According to the teaching of the Midrash (Michilta Yitro 20) and amplified by the great sage, the Ramban, we do not have names of the week like other cultures do.  Rather, we call the day by its count towards Shabbat; echad b’Shabbat, sheni b’Shabbat…, ‘the first toward Shabbat, the second toward Shabbat…’ We do this becauser this is a fulfillment of the mitzvah, lezochro, ‘to remember the Shabbat.
“Rabbi Soloveitchik understood this as an act of preparing for and anticipating holiness, the greater the preparation, the greater the sanctity, the kedusha.”  (From: The Night That Unites: Passover Haggadah with teachings, stories, and questions from Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Carlebach, pages 51-2)
Everybody knows that the Boy Scout’s motto is “Be Prepared.”  If there is one holiday that needs a lot of preparation, that holiday would have to be Passover.  All that shopping, cleaning and cooking in preparation for the seder nights is exhausting. Unfortunately there is one area that is constantly underprepared. Too few people review the Haggadah before Passover to renew the seders with new insights, commentaries, and songs.  Too many seders revolve around the same old Haggadahs with archaic English and too many people read the text for the very first time sitting around the seder table. 
There is still time to prepare your seder before the onset of Passover.  Pick up a new Haggadah like The Night That Unites and uses its teachings, stories, and question to make your seder even holier!  If people would prepare the seder table talk like people prepare those delicious seder dinners, nobody would ever ask the fifth question, “When do we eat?”

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

Peter Parker as Spider-Man learned the hard way that with great power comes great responsibility.  Passover teaches us a variation of that theme.  With great freedom comes great responsibility.

Even before the seder begins, tradition teaches us to care for the less fortunate amongst us.  There is a custom of giving tzedakkah called Ma’ot Chittim or wheat money to the poor so that they may have an enjoyable and dignified seder.

Here is a touching story to demonstrate what I mean

A poor man came to the home of Rav Joseph Baer.  The man said that he had to ask a question regarding the sacred rituals of Passover.  He had a halachic question to ask, a question in Jewish law.  He told the rabbi that he could not afford to buy wine, so he wished to know if he could fulfill the obligation to drink the four cups of wind during the Seder by drinking four cups of milk.

Rav joseph Baer said that no Jew could fulfill this important command by drinking milk, but he gave the man 25 rubles with which to buy wine.

After the man had gone, the rabbi’s wife approached her husband with this question: “Why, when wine costs two or three rubles, did you give him twenty-five?”
Rav Joseph Baer smiled and said, “If he is so poor that he cannot afford wine for the Seder I doubt that he has the money to buy chicken and matzah for the Seder nights. As you know, if he is asking about drinking milk, that means he has no meat or chicken because he would not be mixing it with meat or chicken! I want to give him enough money so that he can buy the food that he needs to properly enjoy Passover.[i]

Rav Joseph demonstrated great responsibility with great sensitivity.  Not only didn’t he neglect his responsibility to help another person, he made sure not to embarrass the poor man by noting how poor he was by telling him that he was going to help him buy not only wine but also the food for the seder.  He just gave him 25 rubles to buy the wine and keep the change. 

Because we were slaves in Egypt, we know what it means to be oppressed.  With great freedom comes great responsibility.

Here is another story teaching us how sensitive we should be to other people.

Reb Levi Yitzchak was very stringent with the laws of baking the matzah for Passover. Actually every Jew is very careful when it comes to eating Passover food; but Hasidic rebbes were especially careful that there be no possible hametz.

It once happened that Reb Levi Yitzchak was sick and unable to bake his matzahs.  His Hasidim, his devoted followers, came to see him before they were to go and bake his matzahs and said, “Holy Rabbi, please tell us exactly which areas we need to be extra stringent in so that we will prepare the matzah to your liking.

Reb Levi Yitzchak answered, “Let me tell you where I am most stringent.  The women that work baking the matzah are very poor women, and some of the men who oversee the baking do not always treat them well.  They are under great pressure to prepare the matzah hastily and often the men raise their voices and get angry at these poor women.  It is being stringent about that, that is most important to me: do not get angry with them! Be sensitive to them.  Anyone who gets angry with them during the baking of the matzah makes it into hametz.”[ii]

Reb Levi Yizchak also demonstrated great responsibility with great sensitivity. Too often when the oppressed are freed and they often oppress their oppressors. Passover reminds us to be care how we act and speak to others.  Each human being is created in God’s image and deserves our respect no matter what their station in life is.  Indeed with great freedom comes great responsibility.


[i] The Night That Unites: Passover Haggadah: Teachings, Stories, and Questions from Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Carlebach, page31.
[ii] Ibid. page 32-33.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It's a small Jewish world after all

If you know Judy Greene, you know that she is a very competitive person. All her mah jong partners and anybody who has ever played cribbage with her understands exactly what I mean. When Judy and I were a young couple and visiting Israel, we had a contest who could walk down the streets of Jerusalem and bump into more people you know.  I think I won, but it was really close.

That little game taught me that you never know who you will meet at any given moment in Israel.  I had one of those moments when I flew to Israel to escort Judy home after she fell and dislocated her hip. One of the nice things about Jerusalem is that you can find a minyon any time you need one.  Because I am saying kaddish for my mother and was jet lagged, I was looking for a late morning minyon.  My good friend Peretz pointed me the way to this Sephardic shul that had an 8:00 a.m. minyon which is extremely late for Israelis.

I don't know why they daven nusach Sephard because the machers of the minyon were all North American. I can't say that this was the friendliest synagogue in the world.  Nobody really said good morning, although I got a couple of head nods, and nobody introduced themselves to me. Up to then, the closest I came to somebody interacting with me was on the second day was when a man came over to me during services and wordlessly straightened my shel rosh.

On my third and final day, somebody did come over and started talking to me.  He asked me if I had made aliyah and where I came from.  I told him that I live in Douglaston/Little Neck Queens New York. To keep the conversation flowing, I asked him where he came from.  He told me Massachusetts.  I asked him where.  He told me that I would have never heard of the place. It's called Longmeadow.  To his surprise, I asked him where in Longmeadow and he gave me a street name and of course I told him I knew the street.  He was shocked and asked me how did I know Longmeadow?  I told him that I lived in Longmeadow for 19 years and that I am Rabbi Greene who was the rabbi of B'Nai Jacob.  He said: "No Way."  

Where ever I have lived, I have started a chevruta to learn some classical Jewish texts.  When I was in Longmeadow I started studying with Rabbi Michael Miller and another rabbi Ira whose last name escapes me. This man from Longmeadow couldn't believe his ears.  He remembered me because when he was a senior in High School, he wanted to learn some Gemarrah so he joined our study sessions 37 years ago!

What a blast from the past! This "coincidence" just reinforce the halacha that one should always daven in a minyon if he or she can. You never know who you might meet there.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mel Brooks was wrong in his movie History of the World Part Two

My new Hevruta, Rabbis Ben Herman and Ian Silverman, has been studying bi-weekly Moses Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah, the Laws of Kings.  As I was studying I remembered Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton recently visit to the United States on a whirlwind 3 day tour.

It’s good to be king.  Rambam teaches that all people need to treat the king with great respect and awe. No one is ever allowed to ride his horse, sit on his throne, use his scepter, wear his crown, or wear his clothes. When the king dies, all these personal possessions are burnt so no other may use them. (Chapter 2 Halacha 1)  According to Politico, the Senate Periodical Press Gallery emailed its members with what was a timely reminder of how journalists should be expected to behave when dealing with the royal couple. These included 'not taking pictures in the wrong places, not walking backwards and not being so absorbed in a phone as to run into people'.  Other media outlets directed their staff to the Buckingham Palace website, where a strict dress code can be found for journalists wishing to cover Royal events.  The rules state: 'Journalists wishing to cover royal engagements, whether in the United Kingdom or abroad, should comply with the dress code on formal occasions out of respect for the guests of the Queen, or any other member of the royal family.  And remember the brouhaha when LeBron James dared to place his arm around the Duchess of Cambridge at that photo shoot?

Nevertheless a Jewish king is very different from the kings of the surrounding nations.  In chapter 3, Rambam enumerates a Jewish kings limitations.  He may have no more than 18 wives and some commentators include concubines in that number. (That is no great sacrifice according to my father z’l who said that any man who has more than one wife deserves it) He may not increase the number of horses that he needs for his own personal chariot when he goes out to war.  He may not seek wealth in order for his prestige or for his amusement.  He should have in his treasury only what he needs to run his country like the salaries of his army corps and his staff.  He may raise funds for the community needs but not for his own personal use.  He may not drink to excess less that leads to drunkenness and nor be consumed by lewdness with women (Take that Prince Andy).  His sole occupation 24/7 should be Torah study and the needs of the community.  The king is liable for lashes for any violation of these commandments. Although so far in our studies, Rambam doesn’t enumerate who lashes the king.

How different is the ideal Jewish king from modern day rulers whether they be royalty or just plain dictators.  They live lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous.  When a dictator is deposed and escapes the clutches of his countrymen, they usually have millions upon millions of dollars skimmed from the country’s treasury to live off the rest of their lives.

So I guess that Mel Brooks was wrong.  It’s only just ok to be the (Jewish) king.