Friday, October 12, 2012

I am a Jew

Written by an Israeli named Dan Sporn

Our condition, in Israel, has never been better than it is now! Only the television and the media make people think that the end of the world is near... Only 65 years ago, Jews were brought to death like wseep to slaughter. NO country, NO army. Only 60 years ago, seven Arab countries declared war on little Israel, the Jewish State, just a few hours after it was established.

We were 650,000 Jews against the rest of the Arab world. No IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) or Air Force. We were only a small group of stubborn people with nowhere to go.

Remember: Lebanon , Syria , Iraq , Jordan , Egypt , Libya , and Saudi Arabia , they all attacked at once. The state that the United Nations "gave" us was 65% desert. We started it from Zero.

Only 41 years ago, we fought three of the strongest countries in the Middle East, and we crushed them in the Six Day War.

Over the years we fought different coalitions of 20 Arab countries with modern armies and with huge amounts of Russian-Soviet ammunition, and we still won.

Today we have a beautiful country, a powerful Army, a strong Air Force, an adequate Navy and a thriving high tech industry. Intel, Microsoft, and IBM have all developed their businesses here.

Our doctors have won important prizes in the medical development field.

We turned the desert into a prosperous land. We sell oranges, flowers, and vegetables around the world.

We launched our own satellite! Three satellites at once! We are in good company; together with the USA (300 million residents), Russia (220 million residents), China (1.3 billion residents) and Europe (France, England and Germany 35 million residents), we are one of the only countries in the world that have launched something into space!

Israel today is among the few powerful countries that have nuclear technology & capabilities. (We will never admit it,
But everyone knows.)

To think that only 65 years ago we were disgraced and hopeless.

We crawled out from the burning crematoriums of Europe. We won in all our wars. With a little bit of nothing we built an empire.

Who is Khaled Mashal (leader of Hamas) or Hassan Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah) trying to frighten us? They are amusing us.

As we celebrate Independence Day, let's not forget what this holy day is all about; we overcame everything.

We overcame the Greeks,
We overcame the Romans,
We overcame the Spanish Inquisition,
We overcame the Russians pogrom,
We overcame Hitler,
We overcame Germany and overcame the Holocaust,
We overcame the armies of seven countries.
Relax chevray (friends), we will overcome our current enemies.

Never mind where you look in human history. Think about it, the Jewish nation, our condition has never been better than now. So let's lift our heads up and remember:

Never mind which country or culture tries to harm us or erase us from the world. We will still exist and persevere. Egypt ? Anyone know where the Egyptian empire disappeared to? The Greeks? Alexander Macedon? The Romans? Is anyone speaking Latin Today? The Third Reich? Did anyone hear news from them lately?

And look at us, the Bible nation - from slavery in Egypt, we are still here, still speaking the same language. Exactly here, exactly now.

Maybe The Arabs don't know it yet, but we are an eternal nation. All the time that we will keep our identity, we will stay eternal.

So, sorry that we are not worrying, complaining, crying, or fearing.

Business here is beseder (fine). It can definitely be much better, but it is still fine. Don't pay attention to the nonsense in the media, they will not tell you about our festivals here in Israel or about the people that continue living, going out, meeting friends.

Yes, sometimes morale is down, so what? This is only because we are mourning the dead while they are celebrating spilled blood. And this is the reason we will win after all.

Please forward this e-mail to all of your Jewish friends everywhere in the world. You are all part of our force to keep our existence.

This e-mail may help some of us lift our heads up and be Proud to say: I AM A JEW

BRJE Open House this Sunday

This week the Boca Raton Jewish Experience is hosting our first ever "BRJE Open House" at BRS from 3:00pm - 6:00pm in the Social Hall. During the first half, the event will showcase all of the classic beginner classes that we will continue to teach as well as a number of new classes and exciting programs that we are about to launch. There are so many benefits to hosting an open house, for one thing, there are times when people might read a flyer that lists the title of a class but the reader won't really appreciate what they might learn during the course, since it's difficult to articulate exactly will be taught with a short description. The concept of the open house will allow the participants to sample each of the course offerings and have an opportunity to ask questions about the topic to find the best learning opportunities.

At approximately 4:30pm, I will also use the time to go over the details of our upcoming trip that the BRJE is planning on taking to Israel in February. We already have an incredible itinerary planned and we will go over all of the information and take questions as well. Finally, at approximately 5:00pm we will feature the all new Boca Raton Jewish Academy, a new program that plans on running up to three classes a week for children and teenagers that are currently attending public schools or local non Jewish private schools. There are many things to discuss about this new "after school program" and we look forward to launching this important initiative that will enable students to learn Torah subjects in a professional atmosphere with best and most engaging educators in our community. I want to thank Shoshana Deaktor for coming up with the concept of the "Open House" and working with me on the program.

We are looking forward to welcoming Rabbi Philip Moskowitz to Friday Night Live tonight at 6:00pm. Come and join the program that everyone is talking about!!

Please help spread the word about the BRJE and Shabbat Shalom!

Inspire yourself to inspire others...
Shabbat Shalom

Josh & Simone
Boca Raton Jewish Experience
Rabbi Josh Broide (561) 702-3864
Simone Broide (561) 929-4568 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Purim Tablecloth

The brand new Rabbi and his wife were newly assigned to their first congregation to reopen a Shul in suburban Brooklyn.  They arrived in early February excited about their opportunities.   When they saw their Shul, it was very run down and needed much work.  They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Erev Purim.  They worked hard, repairing aged pews, plastering walls, painting, etc, and on 8th of the Adar (February 17th) they were ahead of schedule and just about finished.  On February 19 a terrible snowstorm hit the area and lasted for two days.  On the 21st, the Rabbi went over to the Shul.  His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.  The Rabbi cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Erev Purim service, headed home.

On the way home, he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in.  One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory coloured, crocheted tablecloth with
exquisite work, fine colours and a Magen David embroidered right in the centre.  It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall.  He bought it and headed back to the Shul. By this time it had
started to snow.   An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it.  The Rabbi invited her to wait in the warm Shul for the next bus 45 minutes later.  She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the Rabbi while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry.  The Rabbi could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

Then the Rabbi noticed the woman walking down the centre aisle.  Her face was like a sheet.   "Rabbi, "she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?"  The Rabbi explained.  The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there.   They were.  These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Poland. The woman could hardly believe it as the Rabbi told how he had just gotten "The Tablecloth".

The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Poland. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave.  Her husband was going to follow her the next week. He was captured, sent to a camp and never saw her husband or her home again.  The Rabbi wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the Rabbi keep it for the Shul.  The Rabbi insisted on driving her home.  That was the least he could do.  She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Erev Purim.  The Shul was almost full.  The Service was great. At the end of the service, the Rabbi and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return.  One older man, whom the Rabbi recognized from the neighborhood continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the Rabbi wondered why he wasn't leaving.  The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Poland before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?  He told the Rabbi how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a camp.  He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years between.

The Rabbi asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride.  They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the Rabbi had taken the woman three days earlier.  He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Erev Purim reunion he could ever imagine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The world is on fire and we must awake

Sermon delivered by Rabbi Schlomo Lewis of Atlanta 

I thought long and I thought hard on whether to deliver the sermon I am about to share. We all wish to bounce happily out of shul on the High Holidays, filled with warm fuzzies, ready to gobble up our brisket, our honey cakes and our kugel. We want to be shaken and stirred – but not too much. We want to be guilt-schlepped – but not too much. We want to be provoked but not too much. We want to be transformed but not too much.

I get it, but as a rabbi I have a compelling obligation, a responsibility to articulate what is in my heart and what I passionately believe must be said and must be heard. And so, I am guided not by what is easy to say but by what is painful to express. I am guided not by the frivolous but by the serious. I am guided not by delicacy but by urgency.

We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis but one wouldn’t know it from our behavior. During WWII we didn’t refer to storm troopers as freedom fighters. We didn’t call the Gestapo, militants. We didn’t see the attacks on our Merchant Marine as acts by rogue sailors. We did not justify the Nazis rise to power as our fault. We did not grovel before the Nazis, thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing and mistreating and humiliating the German people.
We did not apologize for Dresden , nor for The Battle of the Bulge, nor for El Alamein , nor for D-Day.

Evil – ultimate, irreconcilable, evil threatened us and Roosevelt and Churchill had moral clarity and an exquisite understanding of what was at stake. It was not just the Sudetenland, not just Tubruk, not just Vienna , not just Casablanca . It was the entire planet. Read history and be shocked at how frighteningly close Hitler came to creating a Pax Germana on every continent.

Not all Germans were Nazis – most were decent, most were revolted by the Third Reich, most were good citizens hoisting a beer, earning a living and tucking in their children at night. But, too many looked away, too many cried out in lame defense – I didn’t know.” Too many were silent. Guilt absolutely falls upon those who committed the atrocities, but responsibility and guilt falls upon those who did nothing as well. Fault was not just with the goose steppers but with those who pulled the curtains shut, said and did nothing.

In WWII we won because we got it. We understood who the enemy was and we knew that the end had to be unconditional and absolute. We did not stumble around worrying about offending the Nazis. We did not measure every word so as not to upset our foe. We built planes and tanks and battleships and went to war to win….. to rid the world of malevolence.

We are at war… yet too many stubbornly and foolishly don’t put the pieces together and refuse to identify the evil doers. We are circumspect and disgracefully politically correct.

Let me mince no words in saying that from Fort Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London , from Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza , the murderers, the barbarians are radical Islamists.

To camouflage their identity is sedition. To excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask their intentions is unconscionable.

A few years ago I visited Lithuania on a Jewish genealogical tour. It was a stunning journey and a very personal, spiritual pilgrimage. When we visited Kovno we davened Maariv at the only remaining shul in the city. Before the war there were thirty-seven shuls for 38,000 Jews. Now only one, a shrinking, gray congregation. We made minyon for the handful of aged worshippers in the Choral Synagogue, a once majestic, jewel in Kovno.

After my return home I visited Cherry Hill for Shabbos. At the oneg an elderly family friend, Joe Magun, came over to me.

“Shalom,” he said. “Your abba told me you just came back from Lithuania .”

“Yes,” I replied. “It was quite a powerful experience.” “Did you visit the Choral Synagogue in Kovno? The one with the big arch in the courtyard?”
“Yes, I did. In fact, we helped them make minyon.” His eyes opened wide in joy at our shared memory. For a moment he gazed into the distance and then, he returned. “Shalom, I grew up only a few feet away from the arch. The Choral Synagogue was where I davened as a child.”

He paused for a moment and once again was lost in the past. His smile faded. Pain filled his wrinkled face. “I remember one Shabbos in 1938 when Vladimir Jabotinsky came to the shul” (Jabotinsky was Menachim Begin’s mentor – he was a fiery orator, an unflinching Zionist radical, whose politics were to the far right.) Joe continued “When Jabotinsky came, he delivered the drash on Shabbos morning and I can still hear his words burning in my ears. He climbed up to the shtender, stared at us from the bima, glared at us with eyes full of fire and cried out. ‘EHR KUMT. YIDN FARLAWST AYER SHTETL – He’s coming. Jews abandon your city.’ ”

We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right -- his warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.”

We are not in Lithuania . It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No U-boats off the coast of long Island . No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack – our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.

Now before some folks roll their eyes and glance at their watches let me state emphatically, unmistakably – I have no pathology of hate, nor am I a manic Paul Revere, galloping through the countryside. I am not a pessimist, nor prone to panic attacks. I am a lover of humanity, all humanity. Whether they worship in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple or don’t worship at all. I have no bone of bigotry in my body, but what I do have is hatred for those who hate, intolerance for those who are intolerant, and a guiltless, unstoppable obsession to see evil eradicated.

Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be said sadly and reluctantly that there are unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the hands of the evil doers. Let me state that the overwhelming number of Muslims are good Muslims, fine human beings who want nothing more than a Jeep Cherokee in their driveway, a flat screen TV on their wall and a good education for their children, but these good Muslims have an obligation to destiny, to decency that thus far for the most part they have avoided. The Kulturkampf is not only external but internal as well. The good Muslims must sponsor rallies in Times Square, in Trafalgar Square , in the UN Plaza, on the Champs Elysee, in Mecca condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent. Thus far, they have not. The good Muslims must place ads in the NY Times. They must buy time on network TV, on cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeena condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent – thus far, they have not. Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam and define it.

Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.

I recall a conversation with my father shortly before he died that helped me understand how perilous and how broken is our world; that we are living on the narrow seam of civilization and moral oblivion. Knowing he had little time left he shared the following – “Shal. I am ready to leave this earth. Sure I’d like to live a little longer, see a few more sunrises, but truthfully, I’ve had it. I’m done. Finished. I hope the Good Lord takes me soon because I am unable to live in this world knowing what it has become.”

This startling admission of moral exhaustion from a man who witnessed and lived through the Depression, the Holocaust, WWII, Communist triumphalism, McCarthyism, Strontium 90 and polio. – Yet his twilight observation was – “The worst is yet to come.” And he wanted out.

I share my father’s angst and fear that too many do not see the authentic, existential threat we face nor confront the source of our peril. We must wake up and smell the hookah.

“Lighten up, Lewis. Take a chill pill, some of you are quietly thinking. You’re sounding like Glen Beck. It’s not that bad. It’s not that real.”

But I am here to tell you – “It is.” Ask the member of our shul whose sister was vaporized in the Twin Towers and identified finally by her charred teeth, if this is real or not. Ask the members of our shul who fled a bus in downtown Paris , fearing for their safety from a gang of Muslim thugs, if this is an exaggeration. Ask the member of our shul whose son tracks Arab terrorist infiltrators who target – pizza parlors, nursery schools, Pesach seders, city buses and play grounds, if this is dramatic, paranoid hyperbole.

Ask them, ask all of them – ask the American GI’s we sit next to on planes who are here for a brief respite while we fly off on our Delta vacation package. Ask them if it’s bad. Ask them if it’s real.

Did anyone imagine in the 1920’s what Europe would look like in the 1940’s. Did anyone presume to know in the coffee houses of Berlin or in the opera halls of Vienna that genocide would soon become the celebrated culture? Did anyone think that a goofy-looking painter named Shickelgruber would go from the beer halls of Munich and jail, to the Reichstag as Feuhrer in less than a decade? Did Jews pack their bags and leave Warsaw , Vilna, Athens , Paris , Bialystok , Minsk , knowing that soon their new address would be Treblinka, Sobibor, Dachau and Auschwitz ?

The sages teach – “Aizehu chacham – haroeh et hanolad – Who is a wise person – he who sees into the future.” We dare not wallow in complacency, in a misguided tolerance and naïve sense of security.

We must be diligent students of history and not sit in ash cloth at the waters of Babylon weeping. We cannot be hypnotized by eloquent-sounding rhetoric that soothes our heart but endangers our soul. We cannot be lulled into inaction for fear of offending the offenders. Radical Islam is the scourge and this must be cried out from every mountain top. From sea to shining sea, we must stand tall, prideful of our stunning decency and moral resilience. Immediately after 9/11 how many mosques were destroyed in America ? None. After 9/11, how many Muslims were killed in America ? None. After 9/11, how many anti-Muslim rallies were held in America ? None. And yet, we apologize. We grovel. We beg forgiveness.

The mystifying litany of our foolishness continues. Should there be a shul in Hebron on the site where Baruch Goldstein gunned down twenty-seven Arabs at noonday prayers? Should there be a museum praising the U.S. Calvary on the site of Wounded Knee ? Should there be a German cultural center in Auschwitz ? Should a church be built in the Syrian town of Ma’arra where Crusaders slaughtered over 100,000 Muslims? Should there be a thirteen story mosque and Islamic Center only a few steps from Ground Zero?

Despite all the rhetoric, the essence of the matter can be distilled quite easily. The Muslim community has the absolute, constitutional right to build their building wherever they wish. I don’t buy the argument – “When we can build a church or a synagogue in Mecca they can build a mosque here.” America is greater than Saudi Arabia . And New York is greater than Mecca . Democracy and freedom must prevail.
Can they build? Certainly. May they build? Certainly. But should they build at that site? No -- but that decision must come from them, not from us. Sensitivity, compassion cannot be measured in feet or yards or in blocks. One either feels the pain of others and cares, or does not.

If those behind this project are good, peace-loving, sincere, tolerant Muslims, as they claim, then they should know better, rip up the zoning permits and build elsewhere.

Believe it or not, I am a dues-paying, card carrying member of the ACLU, yet from start of finish, I find this sorry episode disturbing to say the least.

William Burroughs, the novelist and poet, in a wry moment wrote – “After one look at this planet, any visitor from outer space would say – “I want to see the manager.”

Let us understand that the radical Islamist assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes, fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the anti-Christ. Gog U’Magog. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision between civilization and depravity is on the border between Lebanon and Israel . It is on the Gaza Coast and in the Judean Hills of the West Bank . It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda Street . It is in the underground schools of Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city buses. It is in every school yard, hospital, nursery, classroom, park, theater – in every place of innocence and purity.

Israel is the laboratory – the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.

In the Six Day War, Israel was the proxy of Western values and strategy while the Arab alliance was the proxy of Eastern, Soviet values and strategy. Today too, it is a confrontation of proxies, but the stakes are greater than East Jerusalem and the West Bank . Israel in her struggle represents the civilized world, while Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda, Iran , Islamic Jihad, represent the world of psychopathic, loathesome evil.

As Israel , imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel ’s galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. Without moral clarity, we are doomed because Israel ’s galling plight ultimately will be ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first target of tyranny as the Jew.
We are the trial balloon. The canary in the coal mine. If the Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a protest from “good guys” then tyranny snickers and pushes forward with its agenda.

Moral confusion is a deadly weakness and it has reached epic proportions in the West; from the Oval Office to the UN, from the BBC to Reuters to MSNBC, from the New York Times to Le Monde, from university campuses to British teachers unions, from the International Red Cross to Amnesty International, from Goldstone to Elvis Costello, from the Presbyterian Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There is a message sent and consequences when our president visits Turkey and Egypt and Saudi Arabia , and not Israel .

There is a message sent and consequences when free speech on campus is only for those championing Palestinian rights.

There is a message sent and consequences when the media deliberately doctors and edits film clips to demonize Israel .

There is a message sent and consequences when the UN blasts Israel relentlessly, effectively ignoring Iran , Sudan , Venezuela , North Korea , China and other noxious states.

There is a message sent and consequences when liberal churches are motivated by Liberation Theology, not historical accuracy.

There is a message sent and consequences when murderers and terrorists are defended by the obscenely transparent “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

John Milton warned, “Hypocrisy is the only evil that walks invisible.”

A few days after the Gaza blockade incident in the spring, a congregant happened past my office, glanced in and asked in a friendly tone – “Rabbi. How’re y’ doing?”

I looked up, sort of smiled and replied – “I’ve had better days.”
“What’s the matter? Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?” he inquired.

“Thank you for the offer but I’m just bummed out today and I showed him a newspaper article I was reading.

“ Madrid gay pride parade bans Israeli group over Gaza Ship Raid.” I explained to my visitor – “The Israeli gay pride contingent from Tel Aviv was not allowed to participate in the Spanish gay pride parade because the mayor of Tel Aviv did not apologize for the raid by the Israeli military.”

The only country in the entire Middle East where gay rights exist, is Israel . The only country in the entire Middle East where there is a gay pride parade, is Israel . The only country in the Middle East that has gay neighborhoods and gay bars, is Israel .

Gays in the Gaza would be strung up, executed by Hamas if they came out and yet Israel is vilified and ostracized. Disinvited to the parade.

Looking for logic?

Looking for reason?

Looking for sanity?

Kafka on his darkest, gloomiest day could not keep up with this bizarre spectacle and we “useful idiots” pander and fawn over cutthroats, sinking deeper and deeper into moral decay, as the enemy laughs all the way to the West Bank and beyond.

It is exhausting and dispiriting. We live in an age that is redefining righteousness where those with moral clarity are an endangered, beleaguered specie.
Isaiah warned us thousands of years ago – “Oye Lehem Sheh-Korim Layome, Laila v’Laila, yome – Woe to them who call the day, night and the night, day.” We live on a planet that is both Chelm and Sodom . It is a frightening and maddening place to be.

How do we convince the world and many of our own, that this is not just anti-Semitism, that this is not just anti-Zionism but a full throttled attack by unholy, radical Islamists on everything that is morally precious to us?

How do we convince the world and many of our own that conciliation is not an option, that compromise is not a choice?

Everything we are. Everything we believe. Everything we treasure, is at risk.

The threat is so unbelievably clear and the enemy so unbelievably ruthless how anyone in their right mind doesn’t get it is baffling. Let’s try an analogy. If someone contracted a life-threatening infection and we not only scolded them for using antibiotics but insisted that the bacteria had a right to infect their body and that perhaps, if we gave the invading infection an arm and a few toes, the bacteria would be satisfied and stop spreading.

Anyone buy that medical advice? Well, folks, that’s our approach to the radical Islamist bacteria. It is amoral, has no conscience and will spread unless it is eradicated. – There is no negotiating. Appeasement is death.

I was no great fan of George Bush – didn’t vote for him. (By the way, I’m still a registered Democrat.) I disagreed with many of his policies but one thing he had right. His moral clarity was flawless when it came to the War on Terror, the War on Radical Islamist Terror. There was no middle ground – either you were friend or foe. There was no place in Bush’s world for a Switzerland . He knew that this competition was not Toyota against G.M., not the Iphone against the Droid, not the Braves against the Phillies, but a deadly serious war, winner take all. Blink and you lose. Underestimate, and you get crushed.

I know that there are those sitting here today who have turned me off. But I also know that many turned off their rabbis seventy five years ago in Warsaw , Riga , Berlin , Amsterdam , Cracow , Vilna. I get no satisfaction from that knowledge, only a bitter sense that there is nothing new under the sun.

Enough rhetoric – how about a little “show and tell?” A few weeks ago on the cover of Time magazine was a horrific picture with a horrific story. The photo was of an eighteen year old Afghani woman, Bibi Aisha, who fled her abusive husband and his abusive family. Days later the Taliban found her and dragged her to a mountain clearing where she was found guilty of violating Sharia Law. Her punishment was immediate. She was pinned to the ground by four men while her husband sliced off her ears, and then he cut off her nose.

That is the enemy (show enlarged copy of magazine cover.)

If nothing else stirs us. If nothing else convinces us, let Bibi Aisha’s mutilated face be the face of Islamic radicalism. Let her face shake up even the most complacent and naïve among us. In the holy crusade against this ultimate evil, pictures of Bibi Aisha’s disfigurement should be displayed on billboards, along every highway from Route 66 to the Autobahn, to the Transarabian Highway . Her picture should be posted on every lobby wall from Tokyo to Stockholm to Rio . On every network, at every commercial break, Bibi Aisha’s face should appear with the caption – “Radical Islamic savages did this.” And underneath – “This ad was approved by Hamas, by Hezbollah, by Taliban, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, by Islamic Jihad, by Fatah al Islam, by Magar Nodal Hassan, by Richard Reid, by Ahmanijad, by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, by Osama bin Laden, by Edward Said, by The Muslim Brotherhood, by Al Queda, by CAIR.”

“The moral sentiment is the drop that balances the sea” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, my friends, the sea is woefully out of balance and we could easily drown in our moral myopia and worship of political correctness.

We peer up into the heavens sending probes to distant galaxies. We peer down into quarks discovering particles that would astonish Einstein. We create computers that rival the mind, technologies that surpass science fiction. What we imagine, with astounding rapidity, becomes real. If we dream it, it does, indeed, come. And yet, we are at a critical point in the history of this planet that could send us back into the cave, to a culture that would make the Neanderthal blush with shame.

Our parents and grandparents saw the swastika and recoiled, understood the threat and destroyed the Nazis. We see the banner of Radical Islam and can do no less.

A rabbi was once asked by his students….
“Rebbi. Why are your sermons so stern?” Replied the rabbi, “If a house is on fire and we chose not to wake up our children, for fear of disturbing their sleep, would that be love? Kinderlach, ‘di hoyz brent.’ Children our house is on fire and I must arouse you from your slumber.”

During WWII and the Holocaust was it business as usual for priests, ministers, rabbis? Did they deliver benign homilies and lovely sermons as Europe fell, as the Pacific fell, as North Africa fell, as the Mideast and South America tottered, as England bled? Did they ignore the demonic juggernaut and the foul breath of evil? They did not. There was clarity, courage, vision, determination, sacrifice, and we were victorious. Today it must be our finest hour as well. We dare not retreat into the banality of our routines, glance at headlines and presume that the good guys will prevail.

Democracies don’t always win.
Tyrannies don’t always lose.
My friends – the world is on fire and we must awake from our slumber. “ER KUMT.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life

Bein Ohr L’Choshech: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life
Shabbos, September 8th, Parshas Ki Savo
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg - Boca Raton Synagogue 

Modern man places a tremendous premium on speed.  We want our cars to go from zero to sixty in as few seconds as possible.  We often upgrade our computers in order to get the fastest processors possible.   Dial up internet, which just a few years ago was considered luxurious, is today thought of as antiquated and practically obsolete.   We insist on the web-browser with the fastest speed, eat at the take out restaurant that can truly provide the fastest food.  Our oatmeal and our coffee are instant, our TV shows and movies are on demand, and our stocks and sports scores come in real time.   We daven at warp speed.  We talk swiftly, we walk briskly, and we drive quickly.  We want everything, we want it fast, in most cases, we want it now.

U’shmartem es divrei ha’bris ha’zos va’asisem osam, l’maan taskilu eis kol asher ta’asun, you shall observe the words of this covenant and you shall perform them, so that you will succeed in all that you do.”   This innocuous, often neglected and overlooked pasuk at the end of our parsha is in truth a critically important statement of Jewish philosophy.  It contains an answer to a question that plagues countless Jews, a question I have been asked countless times. 

What is the point of halacha?  Why all of the minutia, the details, the restrictions, boundaries, rules, and regulations that cramp our lives and impinge on our lifestyles? Last Shabbos we spoke about “Jewish exceptionalism” and the awesome responsibility of being different.  I understand how the mitzvos that charge us to live more ethically and care for others more deeply differentiate us.  But, why does it matter what order I tie my shoes in, or what kind of food I eat, or if I daven Mincha one minute before sunset or one minute after? 

Our parsha provides the answer.  Asks the Torah implicitly - do you want to know what is the purpose of halacha, the essence of Jewish living, the goal of mitzvosL’maan taskilu eis kol asher ta’asun.  The Ibn Ezra translates taskilu as “k’mo tatzlichu,” so that you will succeed in all that you do.  Torah, mitzvos and halacha empower us to find success in every aspect of our lives.  But how?

The Targum Yerushalmi, however, translates taskilu differently – “d’tisbonenun yas kol mah d’mis’abrin, you shall guard the words of the Torah and observe them so that you will contemplate, all that you do.”  Taskilu, for the Targum does not mean success.  Rather, it means hisbonenus, being contemplative.  You see, the purpose of Torah, the essence of a halachic life is to be a misbonein, mindful, conscious, aware and present in all that we do. 

Most people, indeed most of us, are on autopilot. We are creatures of habit, custom, tradition and routine.  It is as if our bodies are preprogrammed and know exactly what to do, whether our minds are present or not.  Perhaps you can relate to pulling into your driveway, but you can’t remember driving home.  Or, maybe you have finished an entire bag of potato chips, but you feel like you only had a couple.  Or, maybe you have closed the siddur at the end of davening knowing you said everything, though you can’t remember reciting one word.

Says the Targum Yerushalmi, all of halacha, our entire framework of living, is designed to bring us into the present, to help us be mindful and to allow us to live at a higher state of consciousness.   Kashrus is designed to make us think as we put food in our mouths, time bound mitzvos make us conscious of time, the rules of lashon harah make us cognizant of what we say, modesty makes us think before we get dressed, business ethics demand that we examine every decision we make and the list goes on.  L’maan taskilu, all of Torah is there so that we are transformed into misbonenim, from zombies mindlessly living life, into thoughtful, mindful, people living in the present.

The final al cheit that we will be reciting repeatedly a short time from now concludes, al cheit she’chatanu l’fanecha b’simhon lei’vav.  What is simhon lei’vav, I don’t even remember doing it, why am I apologizing for it?

This expression actually comes from the tochecha in our parsha.  “Yakecha Hashem b’shigaon u’v’ivaron u’vsimhon lei’vav, Hashem will strike you with madness, blindness and confounding of the heart.”  Rashi explains that simhon lei’vav means otem ha’leiv, the clogging of the heart.  Just as cholesterol clogs the physical arteries and contributes to heart disease, so too apathy clogs the spiritual arteries and contributes to hardheartedness.  This is indeed a great curse.

The great ba’al mussar, Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, known as the Alter of Kelm elaborates on the idea of clogged spiritual arteries:  He says the following: “Simhon lei’vav is the closing off of the heart, as if a deep sleep overwhelms the person.  It’s similar to when a person is put to sleep with anesthesia for purposes of an operation on one of his limbs.  While he’s submerged in a deep sleep, he feels nothing when they cut into his flesh.  So too when a person’s heart has been struck with ‘clogging of the heart,’ he is stuck in a deep sleep and doesn’t wake up even if his life is in danger.”

Put simply my friends - when we speak carelessly, put food into our mouths mindlessly, allow the passage of time thoughtlessly, when we are not mindful and present in all that we do, we are asleep, even when we are awake.  Being a creature of habit, and routine leaves us feeling as if we can’t change or grow.  That helplessness and hopelessness leaves us feeling in a very dark place.  This second installment of our sermon series of “The Courage to Make Havdalah and Lead a Life of Distinction” is focused on Bein Ohr L’Chosech, between light and dark.   This morning, I want to share with you how to light up your life in ways you never imagined, ways that will empower you to make changes you never thought you could make. 

The secret to a life of taskilu, a life of success, is a life of hisbonenus, a life of mindfulness.  Be present and give thought to every morsel of food that enters your body.  Be aware of every word you speak, every decision you make, every penny you spend, and every moment that passes.  But how?

The answer is simple, slow down.  The only way to achieve mindfulness and to find the serenity it provides, is by hitting the brakes a little bit.  Slowing down is an art, and unfortunately it is ever increasingly becoming a lost one.  

Our society encourages us to think of the winner as the one who comes in first.   But, the truth is, in life, more often than not, the winner is the one who finishes last, the one who moved most slowly and savored every moment. 

Consider the following:  The greatest pleasures in life are enjoyed most when they are savored leisurely and the important accomplishments are most meaningful and lasting, when they are achieved slowly.  We all know that the proper way to appreciate a fine wine or even a shot of single malt scotch is not to swallow it quickly, but to allow it to roll on your tongue and make contact with every taste bud while at the same time inhaling the pleasant aroma only then allowing it to slowly trickle down the back of your throat.   

We are drawn to fast food, but it is slow eating, which not only provides the best taste, but is most healthy for you as well.  The Rambam tells us we are to chew our food until it becomes liquid before we swallow it.  I challenge you to go to lunch today and not swallow one morsel that enters your mouth before you have chewed it a minimum of 5 times. 

The University of Rhode Island at Kingston found that, on average, people who ate slowly consumed almost 70 fewer calories per meal than those ate quickly. Multiply that by at least three meals a day, 7 days a week and you will be buying new clothing in no time.

Doctors often point to slower breathing as the simplest way to better your health. "Humans have two nervous systems: an accelerator, or the sympathetic nervous system, and a brake, or the parasympathetic nervous system," says Dr. Mehmet Oz. "In our hectic lives, we spend more time hitting the gas than the brake, and our breathing becomes quick and shallow."   We don't draw enough oxygen deep into our lungs, and eventually we harm our health, all because we are breathing too quickly.

But, slowing down won’t only help physical health; it will expand your mind and sharpen your memory.   Speed-readers impress us, but we never bother to find out how much they retain.  Dr. Barry Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the author of Intelligent Memory says that our memories benefit greatly by reading more slowly.  In fact, he encourages us to read important things twice.  “The first read is to absorb the general themes.  Once you have those organizers in your head, you'll be able to store more details from the second pass."

And lastly, is there an area of life that stands to benefit more by slowing down, than our spirituality.   Our parsha tells us “u’va’u alecha kol ha’berachos ha’eileh v’hisigucha, all these berachos will come upon you and overtake you.”  What does it mean to be overtaken by blessing?  The answer is simple.   In truth, there is blessing all around us.  Most of us have our health, we have families, we have a roof over our head, a job, a car, a community and more.  The problem is that life is moving at such a fast pace, we don’t even notice the beracha.  V’hisigucha is the blessing that we slown down enough to see the blessing.

Slow down and savor a magnificent sunset.  Savor a few moment with your children in the car, savor a coffee with your spouse, savor the walk home from shul, savor the book, savor the song, savor the experiences of life and savor life itself.  If we don’t learn to slow down when we cross the threshold into Shul, both literally and figuratively, we stand no chance of connecting spiritually.

The 19th century American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”  We all want to elevate our lives.  Long before Thoreau, the Torah told us how.  L’maan taskilu, hisbonenus, be conscious and mindful in all that you do.  

If we start to slow down and work to be present in every moment, our food will taste better, our bodies will become healthier, our relationships will become richer, our minds will expand larger, our memories will last longer, and our souls will reach higher.   In the future, let’s be in the present so that we can truly anticipate that the rest of our lives will be the best of our lives.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jewish Exceptionalism

Bein Kodesh L’Chol - Jewish Exceptionalism
Shabbos, September 1st, Parshas Ki Seitzei
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg - Boca Raton Synagogue

Perhaps the most repeated phrase at the Republican National Convention this past week, one uttered by almost every speaker who addressed the audience was “American exceptionalism.”  Indeed, the idea of America as a unique, special and exceptional country was a theme of the convention and part of the republican platform itself.   American exceptionalism was the centerpiece of Senator Marco Rubio’s introduction of Republican candidate Mitt Romney and it was an idea and principle that Romney himself touched on as well.

What is exceptionailism?  Is it by definition arrogant and racist to see oneself as exceptional?  These questions are particularly poignant and relevant for us as Torah Jews who remain loyal to a tradition of Jewish exceptionalism.  As uncomfortable as it may make us, and as awkward as it may be, we cannot hide or deny the concept of our chosen-ness.   Indeed, every single day of our lives, one of the first things we do when we wake in the morning is to remind ourselves that we are different, we are exceptional, we are chosen – “asher bachar banu mi’kol ha’amim, blessed are you Hashem, who has selected us from among all of the nations of the world.”

As western democratically minded people, we are naturally uncomfortable with the idea of Jewish chosen-ness or exceptionalism.  After all, isn’t it racist, bigoted, discriminatory and doesn’t it engender a sense of superiority and conceit, attributes that are supposed to be anathemas to the Jewish people?

It is somewhat comforting and reassuring to know that we are not the first to struggle with our Jewish identities, particularly as they compete and complement our secular ones.   The great Avraham Avinu, the founder of ethical monotheism and the father of our people, when purchasing a grave for his wife described himself as “ger v’toshav anochi imachem, I am a stranger and a resident together with you.”

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that in this introduction, Avraham captured the tension that ever Jew is destined to live with forever.  On the one hand, we are toshavim, residents and inhabitants of the great countries in which we have lived.  We function as active citizens participating in the fullness of the society around us.  And yet, at the same time we must remain geirim, strangers, different, apart, distinct and dissimilar.

Ger v’toshav - we are to simultaneously be part of, and apart from the general world around us.  Striking the proper balance and equilibrium between our dual identities and roles is the mission of the Jew in every place and at every time that he or she has lived.

There have been periods in our history in which we didn’t need to work hard to remember that we were different.  Through their anti Semitism, persecution and oppression, our hosts have often reminded us that we were geirim, we were different.  As badly as we tried to blend in, as hard as we tried to assimilate and much as we sought to merge with those around us, we were denied the opportunity to be toshavim, equal residents and citizens.  Indeed, I would say that the imbalance towards being geirim, towards being different, was our status for the bulk of our history, particularly in exile.

And yet, here we are in 2012, blessed to live in the greatest country in the history of mankind, a truly exceptional place that has afforded us extraordinary opportunity.  I would like to suggest to you this morning that once again our balance is off, our equilibrium between ger v’toshav, stranger and resident is out of alignment, but this time it is in the opposite direction.

For the next four weeks I would like to speak to you about how in my opinion, we are placing too much emphasis on our status of toshavim, full participants in society and we have neglected and overlooked our status as geirim, as different and distinct.   In my opinion, the challenge of assimilation is one that not only confronts those who don’t identify strongly as Jews or who are open to intermarriage.  I submit to you that many of us, particularly our children, are struggling with being assimilated Jews who happen to observe Torah and Mitzvos rather than being Torah Jews who happen to assimilate the best of contemporary society into our lives.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner, the great Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin, once stood before a Torah U’Mesorah convention, a gathering of Jewish educators from across the country.  He suggested to them that he could summarize their entire duty, their task in five words.  If nothing else, their job, their role and their mission of inspiring the Jewish future came down to their ability to communicate to the next generation “asher bachar banu mi’kol ha’amim, we are to be exceptional.”   If a Jewish child walks away with nothing else from their Jewish education, minimally they must be made to feel that we are exceptional, chosen and destined to be different.

Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Levi, the great medieval Spanish philosopher and poet, saw an allegiance to the principle of Jewish exceptionalism as fundamental and foundational to our faith.  Why?  Why did Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Levi, author of the Kuzari, see it as so critical and in what way is it the sum total of what Jewish education is all about?

Ki seitzeh lamilchama al oyvecha…our parsha is a perfect example of what it means to be an am ha’nivchar, a chosen, exceptional people.  Exceptionalism, at least in the Jewish sense, does not include arrogance, racism or superiority.  Jewish exceptionalism is not a right, a license, or a privilege, and it doesn’t entitle us to anything.  Rather, Jewish exceptionalism is a duty, an obligation and an awesome responsibility.  Our parsha contains the most mitzvos of any in the Torah.  Among the seventy-four commandments in Ki Seitzei are laws that could only be expected of a people charged with being exceptional.

Lo sir’eh es shor achicha - This morning’s parsha contains the obligation and duty to perform ha’shavas aveidah, return a lost item.  It is not simply virtuous or meritorious to pick up a lost item and seek its rightful owner. Instead, we are warned lo suchal l’hisaleim, we are not allowed to close our eyes, look the other way or pretend we didn’t see the lost item.  In Judaism, stopping, picking up a lost article, seeking its owner and going to the trouble to return it, is the law, no different than the obligation to observe Shabbos or keep kosher.  Caring to that extent about the property of others is nothing short of exceptional.

Ki yikarei kan tzipor - When you want to take eggs from a nest, you must first send away the mother bird.  Most commentators see as the root of this mitzvah the obligation to be sensitive to the mother bird.  Other legal systems restrict animal cruelty in the physical sense.  Only the Torah restricts hurting the animal’s feelings.  Legislation demanding that we care about the impact of our actions on the feelings of animals is nothing short of exceptional.

Zachor es asher asah Hashem Elokecha l’Miriam - Remember what happened to Miriam and recall the Torah prohibition against speaking ill of others.  Refraining from sharing unkind stories, information or opinions, is not just nice or ethical in Judaism, it is the law and our obligation.  Mandating that we guard our tongue and be as careful about what comes out of our mouths as what goes in them, is exceptional.

Our parsha is replete with commandments and laws that define and obligate an exceptional society.  We must maintain the dignity of debtors by allowing them to use their collateral, even after their loan has come due.  We must pay our workers on time and cannot withhold their payment, even for a moment after they have earned it.  We must show particular care, concern and sensitivity for the widow, the orphan and the convert.  When we harvest our field, we must leave something for the poor and indigent.  In Judaism, charity is not supposed to be exceptional; it is the expected norm of each of us and that is truly exceptional.  We must never embarrass someone and instead treat people with the dignity and honor they deserve.  We must use only honest weights and measures.  Indeed, the Torah describes cheating in business as to’eivah, a repulsive abomination.

Our status as an exceptional people is not intended to make us feel superior.  Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University, has pointed out that we don’t recite asher bachar banu al kol ha’amim, he has chosen us above all other nations.  Rather, we say mikol ha’amim, he has chosen us from among all the nations of the world.

Being exceptional is about feeling obligated and bound to live more ethically, act more sensitively, conduct ourselves more honestly, and proclaim our faith in the Almighty with pride and distinction, and never with shame or embarrassment.

While it may sound politically incorrect or feel awkward, the plain truth is that Judaism demands that we be different, not superior, but different.  Tragically, too often, religious Jews do stand out for being different, but not in an exceptional sense.  We must overcompensate for how their conduct sabotages our mission and undermines our mandate by striving harder to live up to the ideals, values and standards the Torah expects of us.

Jews shouldn’t be known for being cheap; we should be known for being generous.  We shouldn’t have a reputation for being rude; we should have a name for being respectful.  We must not be thought of as feeling entitled; we must be admired for acting selflessly.

It takes courage to be different.  Jewish exceptionalism demands that we dress according to the principles of modesty, not according to the fashion of the times.  Jewish exceptionalism means that we speak in a way that is distinguished, never employing the slang or profanities of the street.  Jewish exceptionalism means we have values that are unequivocal and non negotiable in our lives like honesty, integrity and honor.  Jewish exceptionalism means never wavering in our commitment to Shabbos, kashrus or halacha, no matter how we may stand out or be made to feel different as a result.

Jewish exceptionalism means we work hard to maintain a Jewish home striving for holiness and sanctity.  It means we apply a Jewish filter to all that enters the threshold of our houses.  Even though we are toshavim, participants in society, not every magazine, website, book, newspaper or TV show belongs in a Jewish home.   We must be geireim, strangers, to many aspects and elements of pop culture and of secular society.

Jewish exceptionalism means having the strength of character to do things even though there is nothing in it for me.  It means we value every moment as precious and never seek to kill time.  It means we are eager to be charitable, we are the first to volunteer, we fight against injustice, we defend the underprivileged and we answer the call of those in need.

Over the next few weeks we will develop this theme more and discuss important applications of it in our lives.  But my friends, you must understand that it is precisely this struggle, this critical balance between ger v’toshav, being a stranger and a resident simultaneously, that is at the core of inspiring the next generation.  If our children see that in truth we would prefer to be exclusively toshavim, fully immersed in the country clubs, the pop culture, the secular lifestyle that surrounds us, if they sense that we long to eat in any restaurant we want, go to the beach club on Saturdays and be unencumbered in our lifestyle, we have little chance of making Judaism exciting for them.   If they see that our yarmulkas literally and figuratively spend as much time in our pockets as they do on our heads, should we be surprised if Judaism doesn’t speak to them in meaningful ways?  If they perceive that we are prepared to observe mitzvos and keep halacha, but in truth, we wish we didn’t have to be different, we have little chance to inspire them to aspire to Jewish exceptionalism.  If they sense the difficulty, the burden and the strain of living Jewishly, why would they choose it for themselves?

Rav Hutner was correct.  The single most important value we can and must teach our children is that they are and can be exceptional.   We must tell them to stand tall, to be chashuv, to strive for kedusha, and to embrace the responsibility and satisfaction of being exceptional in all that they do.

My friends, the time has come for us to stop being assimilated, secular Americans who happen to observe mitzvos.  Beginning now, let’s commit to be observant, Torah Jews who are also proud Americans.