Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My brother George's eulogy

I have to admit I wasn’t always best older brother when George and I were kids. I thought that he was smarter then me and cuter than me. And I knew for sure our parents loved him more. Because I was so jealous of him I was really mean to him. For example, since I was taller and stronger than he, I would often punch him. Once I found my own path in life and felt good about myself I was no longer jealous of George and I could appreciate all of his wonderful qualities. But don’t worry George got back at me. Every so often as adults he would say “Do you remember punching me like this? And then he would smack me in the arm knowing full well would never retaliate.

As we grew older we grew closer. We shared some special times together. He was at my house sleeping the morning of Kol Nidre when I told my son Ami to wake up Uncle George because Emma was having a baby! I had the honor to officiate at George and Merrie’s wedding. At Asaf’s bar mitzvah we named Tova

As I matured, my jealousy of him turned into admiration. I admired the way he and Merrie built a strong, warm, and loving family. He would do anything for his family.  Merrie was the love of his life. She is the rock of the family. Merrie not only took excellent care of my brother during his entire illness, she continues to care for Hannah with her medical needs as well as supporting Tova to reach her goals as a normal teenager

He was the best father Hannah and Tova could have asked for. He helped them find their own passion in life whether it was American Jewish history and kabala or the theater. He was so proud of them for their individual accomplishments.  He wrote in Facebook: “As my older daughter Hannah Greene reminded me, she begins her fourth year in graduate studies. She too I love very much. She does not know her own strength, physically, morally and spiritually. She too is the real thing.” At Tova’s bat mitzvah he told the entire congregation “It is this light that I see in you which makes Tova Tova, makes you good. I’ve seen this light in you since the moment of your birth. I see the light of my grandmother Gertie in you, whose Yiddish name was Gittle, which also means good. You have her strength and goodness. You have her sense of being fearlessly fair. You have her joy in living. You have a sense of care.”

He shared with them his passion for reading and music.  He threw his whole soul into his music. After he discovered Andy Statman’s mandolin music, he bought a mandolin to learn how to play and then even have one made especially for him.  The family would take the most amazing vacations together going to a jazz festival or bluegrass Festival and visiting different authors home. I heard his daughters comfort their father in the hospital by thanking him for nurturing them and sharing his passions with them. Although George won’t be able to attend Tova’s high school graduation, I know that he was pleased, happy, and comforted to know that she has been accepted at Sarah Lawrence as an incoming freshman.

George was a good brother to have. He indeed was smarter than me. He was really a brilliant man. He had a deep love of learning and want to learn as much as he ever could and as long as he could. He was wonderfully curious and paid a great attention to detail. There was hardly a subject matter he wasn’t familiar with. As the best man at my wedding, he gave a philosophical toast based on Jerusalem (Revelation) and Athens (Western rational philosophy). I don’t think too many people understood what he was saying. I thought he was just given me travel advice so the following year when we took our honeymoon Judy and I went to Jerusalem and Athens.

One of the first things he would ask me when we got together was “what am I reading?”  You can see on his bookshelf some the books I recommended and you certainly can see some the books on my bookshelf that he recommended to me. He introduced me to the Todo Institute and Naikan. I’ve used Naikan with my congregation, with brides and grooms, and introduced it to my colleagues.

He was a good uncle to my four boys and now their wives.

I’ve always admired George’s passion for social justice. I recommend going back to his Facebook page and see how many issues he passionately wrote about like healthcare, reducing gun violence, and the redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to very rich. He truly wanted to make America greater by advocating that our country become a more compassionate, fairer, and just society.

He not only talked the talk but walked the walk. I introduced him to Danny Siegel’s tzedakkah work and by the end the directors of The Good People fund knew me as George Greene’s brother From Danny he learned about Songs for Love an organization that creates free, personalized, original songs to uplift children and teens currently facing tough medical, physical, or emotional challenges.  So for his 50th birthday he commissioned a song for an ailing child. His family recorded this song and sent it along. Instead of presents he asked for a donation went to support this wonderful tzadakkah. His daughters told me it discreetly he would buy food and given it to a hungry street person in order not to embarrass him. He helped found his synagogue’s Israel action committee and social action committee. He started many drives food, clothing, and more to be delivered to the needy amongst us.

I admired George’s passion for Israel. He couldn’t visit Israel as often as I did, but he worked tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish state. He collected wedding dresses for the Rabanit Bracha Karpach as well as school supplies toiletries baby clothse and baby supplies to be sent to those in needy in Israel whether they be Israeli soldiers or poor families.

Today is the first day of Hanukkah. There is a disagreement between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. The school of Shammai taught than the first day of Hanukkah you light all eight candles. Each day you diminish the light by removing one candle. The school of Hillel disagreed and said each day you add light by adding one candle. Of course we follow the teachings of the school of Hillel by adding light each day of the holiday.

The world is a darker place because my brother no longer walks amongst us. Hanukkah’s root meaning in English is dedication. If we rededicate ourselves to those things that George held dear, our families, social justice, and Israel we can make this world a little bit brighter. If George inspires us to unleash the hidden light within us why then he hasn’t truly died but will be an everlasting good influence upon us, our children, and our grandchildren.

There is my hope and prayer, and let us say amen.

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 U.S.by 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

[1] https://thinkprogress.org/climate-change-will-have-big-effects-on-spring-and-winter-b52148172817#.ezyeb7odu