THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Pesach and Easter are not the only festivals that either overlap or fall in close proximity to one another. During a Jewish leap year, the same can often be said about Purim and St. Patrick’s Day.

With the Irish swinging their shillelaghs this past Sunday, and the Jews swirling their graggers this  Wednesday night and Thursday morning, perhaps it’s time to see that when all is said and done, St. Patrick’s day sheds light on Purim.

“The luck of the Irish” is a phrase not uncommon to many, if not most Americans. Other than being spurious, in that it is anything but complimentary – it implies that the success of the Irish came about through good fortune, rather than aptitude or know how – “the luck of the Irish” should give pause to us Jews.

Despite the multitudes of “Mazel Tovs” (good lucks) that Jews have joyfully wished one another over the ages, there is no place for mazel in Judaism. The Talmud so much as says so, when it states:  “Ein mazal l’Yisrael” or “mazel does not apply to Jews.”

Arguably, the Talmud is referring to what we now know as the horoscope. Jews, says Judaism,  ought not to pay heed to the horoscope. In true Greek or Roman fashion, the horoscope implies that the constellations play a significant role in our lives. Instead of Pisces, Virgo rising, a Jew, a believing Jew, knows implicitly that it is  HaShem who plays a significant role in his life. Small wonder then, that our rabbinic sages disqualified professional crap shooters and the like to serve as witnesses. The more one believes in the roll of the dice or the luck of the draw, explain our rabbinic sages, the less one is likely to believe in the dependability of our Heavenly Father.

Although the great sage Maimonides recognizes the presence of certain omens – for example, if a man marries a woman and begins to advance in his career, he has every reason to see his wife as a contributing factor to his success – he cautions that these omens are in no way to be seen in the context of mazel. Rather it should be understood, explains the Rambam (an acronym for Maimonides) that it was the wife believing in her husband, that served as the impetus for the  husband reason to believe in himself. It wasn’t Zodiac symbol or the spin of a wheel that brought about the change; it was the husband himself who brought about the change, all because of the invaluable support provided by his wife.

Herein lies the powerful message found in St. Patricks Day shedding light on Purim. The very name “Purim” reminds us, that aside from irrational hatred,  the arch villain Haman was guided by the luck of the draw. The very day that Haman would settle on to change the history of the Jews in Persia was chosen by a lottery! By contradistinction, Esther, after finally having been convinced by Mordechai to appear before the King, leaves the following instructions: “Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan  and fast (and presumably pray) for me”. Esther’s response to the diabolical machinations of Haman was a thoroughly Jewish one. Ultimately, Haman left it all to chance; ultimately, Esther left nothing to chance.

Last week, I watched a renowned Reform Rabbi interview Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Lipstadt revealed that as a child, Emanuel Rackman was her family rabbi.

“You were very  lucky,” offered the interviewing rabbi. “I was very blessed,” countered Professor Lipstadt

GRAGGERS FOR THE GROGGY

As a teenager, I recall reading in Mad Magazine, that Hitler was alive and well, running a used Volkswagen dealership in Bayonne, New Jersey. While I’d like to consider myself of a different caliber than the writers at Mad Magazine, I cannot help but speculate what would happen, if Haman, and not Hitler were alive today. No used Volkswagen dealership for Haman, of that I am sure. Haman in my musings, would be  serving in the U.S. Congress, having been elected by the large Iranian constituency in Nassau County, Long Island. And since a leopard does not change his spots, (Jeremiah 13:23), Haman would be voicing his utter contempt for Jews. As an added feature, Haman would also be making known his diatribe against Israel. Oddly enough, I would not be troubled by any of Haman’s comments, however factually incorrect and ludicrous they would be. What  would give me agita though, would be those who would rise up to protect Haman from well-founded criticism and well deserved reprimand.

Given those Jewish voices that were recently heard in the media, however few they have been, protecting a freshman Congresswoman’s ill-advised comments about Jews and Israel, I cannot help but feel, that  those very same Jewish voices that spoke up in defense of the freshman Congresswoman, would have weighed in similarly on Haman’s defense as well. Their comments would in all probability be not all that different than the three paragraphs that follow:

In no way was Congressman Haman anti-Semitic. He was merely pointing out how terribly unhealthy the relationship is between the United States and Israel. If Congressman Haman is guilty of anything, it is that he did not speak out four years ago, when an Israeli Prime Minister had the chutzpah to lecture Congress and tell Congress how it must deal with yet another foreign country. This was Congressman Haman’s beloved Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister was vilifying. Are we Americans so heartless, that we cannot feel Congressman Haman’s pain?

Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred nor prejudice against Jews or any other people. Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred or prejudice against Israel or any other country. Otherwise, how could he have been elected to Congress in the first place? I’m not asking that you necessarily agree with Congressman Haman’s well thought comments about American Jews and Israel. I’m asking that as Americans, you accord him honor and respect. After all, isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about in this country?

As, a Jew, I strongly condemn, anti-Semitism, whether it comes from Congressman Haman or from the person behind the counter at the bakery, where I shop. Let us not however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of  the “Shanda Government” in Israel. When Congressman Haman said, “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” his remarks were taken out of context. What Congressman Haman meant to say, is that American Jews have no right to support an apartheid, fascist, government that treats its Arab citizens worse than the way the Nazis treated our people in World War II. As an American, as a Jew, I implore you!  Let us never deny Congressman Haman, the right of legitimate debate and certainly, the right of free speech.

Congressman Haman apologized to me the other day – not only for the words he used – he apologized to me as a Jew. He did not have to. I admire him for that. I want to tell you, that being a Jew, is to be welcoming to the stranger. And I want to tell you, that Haman is from Iran. Who are we to call him out for anti-Semitism?  Yes, anti-Semitism is a huge problem, but so too is the way we view the Ayatollah, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his government. Shouldn’t we Jews serve as an example to learn from other cultures, rather than criticize them? As Jews who know only too well what it’s like to be a refugee, how dare we treat Congressman Haman, a refugee himself, in such a condescending fashion! It is we who owe Congressman Haman an apology. Let us seek to establish dialogue with Congressman Haman. Let’s work toward peoplehood, peace and good. Let us seek love, understanding and coexistence. Why can’t we all just get along?

As one who takes the message of the Megillah very seriously, I pray that next week’s grating sounds of the graggers, penetrate the auditory nerves of groggy Jews who make it a point to defend those who vilify Jews and the Jewish State, for it is they who ultimately they pose the greatest danger in what they say.

NEXT YEAR IN THE VATICAN

Having done some reading about Eugenio Pacelli, aka Pope Pius XII, my interest was piqued the other day, when I read that a year from now, the Vatican will be opening sealed archives in an effort to show how Rome responded to the systematic annihilation of six million of our people, during the Holocaust.

I am neither a historian nor the son of a historian. Nor can I profess to know what those archives will reveal. I cannot help but feel, however, that we are in for no surprises. Chances are that those who have vilified the Pontiff for “having done nothing” will continue to do so. It’s also quite  likely, that those who have defended the Pontiff for having done “more than we realize,” will continue to do so as well.

Because the vast majority of us will never get to see what those archives will reveal, perhaps we can focus on three aspects of these archives that are most revealing. As strange, unfair and inexcusable as it may seem, the Catholic church has its own agenda. The agenda of the Catholic church is not always in harmony with the interests of the Jews or any other non-Catholics for that matter. Right or wrong, the agenda of the Catholic church places the interests of the Catholic church first and foremost, as it well should. Not that there is the equivalent of a Pope in Judaism, but did you hear Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Chief Rabbi in Israel for Sephardic Jews) or Rabbi David Lau (Chief Rabbi in Israel for Ashkenazic Jews) speak out last year at this time, when scores of  Syrians being slaughtered by their own? In no way do I presume to equate slaughter of Syrians in an internecine conflict, with the annihilation of Jews by Hitler and his war machine. I do however wish to point out, that agendas and attitudes of religious leaders are by no means culture free and  transcendent of religious boundaries.

Speaking of religious leaders, no Jew should ever forget the efforts of 400 plus rabbis, who, three days before Yom Kippur in October 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, traveled to  the nation’s capital to meet with the President, to plea that action be taken over the genocide of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Rather than refuse to meet with them, the president furtively exited the White House through a side entrance, leaving his aides to tell the rabbis, that the President was not available. I am not aware of any recriminations  by Jews for such behavior on the part of the President, nor do I suggest that there ought to have been. But if pretty much all leaders of the world during that era, get a pass for their “shah-shtill” attitude which was all pervasive, shouldn’t there be a pass for Pope Pius XII as well? There is absolutely no question in my mind, that His Holiness could have done and should have done more to prevent six million Jews being annihilated. But the very same argument of doing more, can also be applied to an American President, Commander and Chief of the Army Air Corps, who could have ordered American fighter aircraft to bomb the railway tracks to Auschwitz, thereby delaying the transport of boxcars stuffed with Jews, destined for extermination, but chose not to. True, the morality expected of a Pope cannot and should not be equated with morality of a President, but let’s put saving human lives at the top of agenda. We can debate morality later.

Regardless of its authorship, in his last speech to the public, Hubert Humphrey reminded us that “…the moral test of government is how that government treats … the needy…”. That same standard applies to any society or community. For a good portion of my life, I harbored much resentment toward the church, for the way it treated Jews over the centuries. Once I discovered how the church treated its own, my resentment toward the church ceased. The silence on the part of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust was no different than the silence on the part of his predecessor Pope Pius XI a quarter earlier, during the Armenian genocide, when Moslem Turks annihilated well over a million Christian Armenians.

Let the Vatican archives be finally opened. Regardless of what those archives reveal, let us reveal, that we are aware that the Vatican has its own agenda, that other world leaders turned deaf ears to us Jews as well, and that before we expect any contrition from Rome, the Vatican has plenty of “teshuvah” to do for neglecting its very own. Next year in the Vatican!

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BABY

I was always under the impression that freshman congressman, much like children, should be seen and not heard. A goodly number of American Jews might well have agreed with me, given what transpired  earlier this month, following an exchange of tweets, between two members of Congress. In response to a fellow Congressman from another political party tweeting: “It’s stunning, how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation, even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” the foreign born, newly elected congresswoman tweeted back: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The Congresswoman was quoting a rap song from a quarter a century ago, which referred to hundred-dollar bills as “Benjamins”, in that Benjamin Franklin appears on the hundred-dollar bill.

Despite the brouhaha which erupted, accusing the congresswoman of anti-Semitism, prompting an immediate act of contrition on her part, I should like to point out that politics notwithstanding,  the neophyte nabob was not entirely wrong.

Centuries before the congresswoman’s country of birth gained its independence, our ancestors in Eastern Europe were enriching our vocabulary with the following Yiddish aphorism: Der vos hot die mayess, hot die dayess. Translated into English, it reads: “whoever has the ‘hundreds’ has the right to express opinions.” While it is highly doubtful that our ancestors even knew who Benjamin Franklin was, much less had the remotest idea that Benjamin Franklin would appear on an American hundred-dollar bill,  there is little, if any doubt, that our ancestors would have dismissed the yet to be born statement “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” as being anti-Semitic, in either spirit or tone. But then again, never in their wildest dreams, could our ancestors have envisioned  a Jewish State that would come into being prior to the advent of the Messiah, just as never in their wildest dreams could our ancestors have envisioned a close bond that would develop between the “Goldeneh Medinah” and the “Yiddisheh Medinah.”

Towards the beginning of Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers, the sage Shimon the Tzaddik (righteous) taught us that “the world depends on three things: Torah (study), Service (worship), and acts of kindness.” Leave it to our Eastern European ancestors with their sardonic view of the world, to emend that teaching as follows: “the world rests on three things: Gelt (money), gelt (money), and gelt (money). Given the abject poverty that threatened the everyday existence of our shtetl dwelling bubbes and zeides, our ancestors’ predilection for “Benjamins” is most understandable. It was only logical therefore, that Tevye, the quintessential shtetl Jew in Fiddler on the Roof, would break out in song, as he begins to muse: “If I were a rich man.”

Among the many inventions  that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this country introduced into this world, was the bifocal. Two decades after Benjamin Franklin was taken from this world, a Lithuanian rabbi of renown, was able to direct our attention to the human eye as well. It was Rabbi Israel Lipkin, better known as the Salanter Rov or the Rabbi of Salant,  who pointed out, that a small coin placed directly in front of the human eye will hide everything else from sight. Optics aside, if a small coin has the capability of blinding us to all else, one can only imagine the great power of the hundred-dollar bill, aka the Benjamin!

Short of human nature undergoing a profound metamorphosis, the task will fall to the all too precious few moralists in our society, who will continue to impress upon us that “money isn’t anything.” Unfortunately, there will be a good many in our culture, who will continue to maintain that “money is the only thing.” Like the newly elected Congresswoman, they will add their voices to the mantra, as they bleat: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!”

YOU ARE AN ERRANT WEED

“To him and to those like him, we say: ‘You are not part of the community of Israel. You are an errant weed…Judaism spits you out…You are a shame to Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.’” So spoke the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzchak Rabin, in the aftermath of  what came to be known as the Hebron Massacre. Next Monday, marks twenty-five years since Baruch Goldstein, an American trained physician, dressed in his military uniform, armed with a Galil assault rifle, entered Ma’arat HaMachpelah otherwise known as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Muslim worshippers, while wounding another 125.

So spoke the democratically elected leader of the Jewish State. Given the fact that there were those on the right of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as being heaven sent, while there were those on the left of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as deserving the most horrendous that hell had to offer, the Prime Minister of Israel, the leader of the entire political spectrum dared to deliver  an assessment of Baruch Goldstein, that no psychiatrist had yet to come up with.

A few years later, I was introduced to a woman who was a friend and neighbor of Baruch Goldstein. “He was my children’s pediatrician,” she offered. “As far as you are able to explain, what do you think happened?” I asked. “He snapped! Who wouldn’t have snapped, treating victim after victim, day after day, of Arab terrorism?” she responded.

Prime Minister Rabin could have used that opportunity to tell Jew and Arab alike, that Israel will not tolerate terrorism, regardless of the source. Instead, he chose to usurp the power entrusted to rabbis from a different time and a different place and excommunicate the deceased doctor, declaring that “Judaism spits you out” and that “you are an embarrassment to Judaism.”

As Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin could have said, “Israel is the home of Jews from all corners of the world. We invite our brothers and sister, wherever they may be, to come to Israel and to make themselves at home. We will, however, never tolerate any Jew, from anywhere, who disrupts our home or places our home in harm’s way, because our home is not in the best neighborhood of the world.” Instead, Prime Minister Rabin chose to castigate and chastise.

Twenty months after these incendiary words were spoken, I searched to find the proper words to encapsulate the Prime Minister’s life. Our synagogue was holding a memorial for Yitchak Rabin whose life was abruptly ended, moments after he addressed a crowd at a rally in Tel-Aviv. As you might surmise, I was neither a supporter nor a fan of Yitzchak Rabin. But I put political differences aside and accorded him the honor and respect befitting a Prime Minister of Israel. At the conclusion of the tribute, an Israeli, representing an entirely different political bent than mine, who had been present, approached me to thank me as well as to give me a yasher koach for my remarks. “This was not easy for me,” I confided in her. “I’m very much aware of that and that’s all the more reason you deserve a “thank you” as well as a yasher koach,” she responded.

Twenty-five years have passed since the carnage at Ma’arat HaMachpelah. I cannot help but feel that over this past quarter century, political views of the vast majority of Israelis have by and large remained the same. Those who vilified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today. Similarly, those who glorified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today as well.

Reflecting on those events twenty-five years later, I sadly shake my head, as I see how very pathetic it was for the same Prime Minister who months earlier,  extended a hand, however reluctantly, on the White House lawn to Yasser Arafat,  an individual who orchestrated decades of mayhem and murder, to then go and spit in the face of a family attempting to deal with the sudden death of a husband and father whose actions, no one may never fully understand.

BROKENHEARTED PARITY

I was still in the single digits when Sarah Vaughn’s “Broken Hearted Melody” hit the airwaves. Although the concept of brokenhearted was well beyond my comprehension at the time, the melody made an impression on me. So much so, that I thought of “brokenhearted” earlier this week, just as chocolate manufacturers, florists, and jewelers were (hopefully) enjoying their busiest season of the year. As one who lives in a Jewish world, I began to reflect on three (though there were others, as well) in the Torah who were brokenhearted.

“I will descend to the grave mourning for my son,” laments a distraught Jacob, as he identifies  a blood-stained, torn tunic. Yes, parents should not have favorites, but the Torah does not hesitate to point that what “should be” and what “is” differentiates the ideal world from the real world. And it is clear, that living in a real world, Joseph is Jacob’s favorite child. The loss of any child is a tragedy; the loss of a favorite child is a disaster. Because it was a disaster, Jacob refused to be comforted, despite any and all attempts on the part of his other children. The next time the Torah focuses in on Jacob is when he chastises his sons, exclaiming “Don’t just stand there. There’s a famine raging. I heard that there is food available in Egypt. Why don’t you make yourselves useful for a change!” Caustic, accusatory words coming from a brokenhearted father, whose ability to smile and share a kind word, died when he learned that Joseph died.

“Give me children, or I’ll die,” pleads a frantic and frustrated Rachel, as she sees her sister Leah bring four sons into this world. The bitter irony of it all! Leah, for whom Jacob had no love, ends up having his babies. Rachel, for whom Jacob’s love knew no bounds, was unable to return that love in the form of offspring.  Rachel remains barren. She also remains bitter. Yet, neither Jacob nor Rachel can be held responsible for Rachel’s plight. Jacob so much as says so, as he unleashes his anger at his beloved. “What am I? G-d? Don’t you dare complain to me. If it were up to me, you would have been a mother long ago!” Jacob may have excelled when it came to blessing Ephraim and Menashe, the two grandsons ultimately born to him and Rachel, but Jacob’s ability to provide comfort to his brokenhearted wife was an entirely different story.

“And HaShem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was nothing but evil.” HaShem was beside Himself! It was one thing to grant mankind freedom of choice. Mankind consistently choosing evil over good as a result of freedom of choice, was quite something else! Was it that mankind was inherently evil, or was it that mankind was oblivious to the multitude of blessings that HaShem set forth in this world, that were mankind’s for the taking? Either way, HaShem had second thoughts about having created mankind. HaShem was brokenhearted.

Jacob is brokenhearted, Rachel is brokenhearted, HaShem is brokenhearted. Although all three scenarios differ from one another, a certain parity exists. In all three cases, an injustice prevails; in all three cases the hurt that is felt is unmerited. Brokenheartedness is a direct result of undeserved hurt. Had Jacob’s children fawned over their respective mothers while ignoring their father, we might have made sense of it all, by accepting  what goes around, comes around. Had Leah withheld her love from Jacob, we might have found comfort knowing that you reap what you sow. Had HaShem deprived mankind of free will, because mankind did not know how to use free will responsibly, we might have been secure in knowing that justice has prevailed. But none of this happened. Neither Jacob, nor Rachel, nor HaShem deserved what they received. All three gave love which was unrequited. As a result, all three were brokenhearted.

Let true love be brought about because of Valentine’s Day. Yet, I cannot help but feel, that true love can only be celebrated when we no longer break the hearts of others.

SHTADLAN

Wednesday, the rabbi travelled to Austin. Arriving at the parking lot of the Federation building before 5:30 a.m., together with my trusted aide and advisor, Jennifer Williams, I found a seat on the bus (Jennifer and I sat together) near a rabbi from Torah Day School. Together with a female teacher, he was chaperoning some thirteen, eighth-grade girls. The girls were joining our group of fifty, as we headed south to the Capitol Building to lobby our State Representatives. “This is an excellent opportunity to teach them the word ‘Shtadlan’”, I remarked.

Shtadlan is a Hebrew term that came to the fore, in the seventeenth century in Eastern Europe. It means one who intercedes or lobbies. Despite the notion, that our Eastern European ancestors were helpless, and that their existence was dependent upon the grace and good will of the non-Jewish community, there were some (albeit all too few) precious exceptions. Chief among them was the Shtadlan. Because of their status, these Shtadlanim were capable of securing meetings with important and at times, even exalted, officials. When it comes to serving as a Shtadlan, Elyakim Zelig from Yampol (Ukraine) was among the more notable. A little over two and a half centuries ago, he traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XIV to beg that the Holy See would exercise his influence in defending local Jews against a Blood Libel.

Thankfully times have changed. The security we Jews currently enjoy in this country is beyond the wildest dreams of our Eastern European ancestors. So too is the respect that we are accorded. Nevertheless, each one of us on that Austin bound bus, by virtue of our mission, unknowingly took on the role of Shtadlan. We met with state Senators and Representatives and spoke with them about issues that were of  importance to the Jewish Community. And we were extremely well received. Even though photography was not invented until 1839, I would find it hard to believe that Pope Benedict XIV would have granted Elyakim Zelig a photo op. Unless I’m wrong, I believe that it took two decades for an Israeli Prime Minister to be accorded the honor of a White House State Dinner. Yet, there we were, being photographed with a warm and cordial Dan Patrick, our Lieutenant Governor, who took the time to chat with us.

Personally speaking, together with Laura Levy and Karen Polan (both from Plano, whom I met for the first time just prior to our separate meetings with State Representatives Justin Holland and Jeff Leach), the reception that the three of us received from Jeff Leach will be long and fondly remembered. I asked Representative Leach to support a bill that would have the State of Texas work together with representatives from Israel on improving water conservation here in Texas. Israelis who are part of a chain of agronomists who not only transformed sand into land, but also turned the Jewish State  into an exporter of water, could surely offer ideas and guidance to representatives from the Lone Star State. I find it difficult to believe that a century ago, an official of Minsk Gubernia would have been open to any advice or suggestions  from a Shtadlan. I find it incredulous that those of the regime of Tsar Nikolai II, would willing to meet with any member from the cursed Jewish community, let alone work together with him.  Back then, the attitude would have been that the Jews know their place in society and are becoming too cocky, in thinking that they can offer advice.

The State Capitol is 3 ½ hours by bus from Tiferet. For a modern day Shtadlan, it is light years away from his historical counterpart. From being looked down upon by the Eastern European government official, today’s Shtadlan sees eye to eye with the government  official of this country. From being tolerated (at best), today’s Shtadlan is warmly received. From being despised, today’s Shtadlan is appreciated for taking the time and making the effort.

It is entirely possible, that I will be traveling down to the State Capitol again at some time in the future. Would you be interested in becoming a Shtadlan as well?

PERCENTAGES

I am most likely in the minority, but in reading about International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was commemorated this past Sunday, I was not the least bit alarmed to learn that 52% of millennials cannot name even one ghetto or concentration camp that existed during the Holocaust. Nor was I dismayed to learn that 62% of millennials did not know that six million Jewish lives were snuffed out in the Holocaust. Please understand, in this case, I forgive any and all millennials for being oblivious. Quite frankly, I’m not in any way convinced that the millennials are different in any way different from any other segment of the population in this country. I would however be alarmed and dismayed if 62% or even 52% of the population in this country:

a) felt that Jews wielded too much power in this country and in doing so, had both Congress and the Senate under their thumb and that Jews controlled the media. As one strongly feels that the Holocaust ought to be sacrosanct as far as Jews are concerned, I am much more concerned about the outside world being aware of the state of the Jews in the here and now. Learning about the Holocaust, portrays Jews as victims; perceiving Jews as being in control of government as well as the media, portrays Jews as assailants.  Both  are portrayals, that are nothing short of repugnant. If I were forced to choose between being portrayed as a victim or being portrayed as an assailant, I would opt for the former. For it is the latter that creates disdain. And it is disdain and not sympathy that has historically caused us bloodshed and expulsion. I am relieved that far less than 62% or even 52% in this country do not feel that we Jews wield too much power I this country.

b) felt that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitic remarks. Close to a decade or so, I showed a group of teenagers here at Tiferet a clip from the ABC network  “What Would You Do” . It was shot a N.J. bakery, where an employee (staged) refused to put up a flyer given to him by two Jewish teenagers about a Job Fair at a nearby synagogue. While most of the customers in the bakery told the employee that he was way out of line with his attitude towards Jews as well as what he said, there was one customer who felt that there was a kernel of truth to Jews being too pushy and controlling  all the money (the customer cited Bernie Madoff). I am grateful that this was a minority view. I am relieved that far fewer than  62% or even 52% of the populace in this country do not feel that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitism.

c) felt that the Holocaust was a hoax. Unlike so many others, I am adamant that the Holocaust never be forgotten, not because of the outside world, but primarily because of the lessons it holds for us Jews. The first lesson is that no Jew should be smug enough to reassure himself  that there will never be another Holocaust. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked if he thought that “it could happen here”. Without flinching, he said: “Morgen in der frie (tomorrow morning)”. The Holocaust teaches us that we dare not expect others to take a stance and to rush to help. If we do, we will be bitterly disappointed. Perhaps most important of all, the Holocaust teaches us  about unbelievable acts of heroism on the part of the precious few – Jews and non-Jews – who dared to do what most did could not or would not. Unlike so many others, for me the Holocaust teaches us that hope peeks through when hopelessness overwhelms. Perish the thought that 62% or even 52% of the populace in this country believe that the Holocaust was a hoax.

The fact that 62% of millennials or any other segment of the population did not know that six million perished, the fact that 52% of millennials  or any other segment of the population were unable to name a ghetto or concentration camp – the same percentage would in all likelihood be unable to list ten American Presidents or ten states and their capitals – does not faze me at all. I find solace:

that when it comes to feeling that Jews wield too much power in this country

that when it comes to feeling that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitic remarks

that when it comes to feeling that the Holocaust was a hoax

and that the percentage of Americans who hold these feelings is reassuringly very low.

HOLD THE CANADIAN BACON

As one who believes that clergy should not weigh in on the partial government shut-down, I was intrigued by a news article that I came across last week concerning the current situation or crises, depending on your political views. Canadian Air Traffic Controllers have been sending hundreds of Pizzas to their American counterparts, who have been working without pay for over a month. They refer to it as a show of solidarity; I see it as a gesture of mentschlechkeit. Thanks to this gesture of mentschlechkeit, Air Traffic Controllers in Ronkonkama, Long Island received pizzas, compliments of their counterparts in Gander Newfoundland and Moncton, New Brunswick. Similarly, Air Traffic Controllers in Anchorage, Alaska enjoyed piping hot pizzas courtesy of their neighbors to the south-east in Edmonton, Alberta. Regardless of the amount of oregano and tomato sauce, the two main ingredients of these pizzas are empathy and concern.

This gesture on the part of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers isn’t really about pizzas after all. This gesture on the part of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers flies in the face of the vast majority in our society, who are oblivious to the fact that other people have feelings and because of those feelings, people have every right to feel upset, angry, dejected. Because of their gift of pizza,    Canadian Air Traffic Controllers have unknowingly passed along a much-needed recipe involving human behavior.

There is  a Hasidic tale told about two Polish peasants drinking together at tavern. Wojciech turns to his buddy Stacz and asks: “Stacz, do you love me”?
Stash replies, “Wojciech! The devil take you! We’ve been friends since we were young boys. We have been through so much together. Wojciech! I love you like a brother”!
Stacz and Wojciech return to their vodka. A moment or two later Wojciech asks, “Stacz, do you know what causes Wojciech pain?”
Stacz thinks for a moment and answers “How in the world, should Stacz know what causes Wojciech pain”?
At that point  Wojciech roars, “ Stacz! If you don’t know what causes Wojciech pain, how can you say you love me”?

Unlike, the Hasidic tale of Stacz and Wojciech, our culture has unfortunately conditioned us to approach those who are hurting with meaningless questions and vacuous comments such as: “I simply don’t understand why you feel the way you do” or “why are you so upset”?

I doubt very much if Canadian Air Controllers or Air Controllers in any country for that matter, have ever heard the Hasidic tale about Wojciech and Stash. They didn’t have to. It was imbued in them. The aim of the Canadian Air Controllers who took it upon themselves to send pizzas, wasn’t to analyze or assess. The aim of the Canadian Air Controllers was to tell their American counterparts “we care about you and by no means are we oblivious to what you are going through”. And they did so, ever so tastefully.

Canadian Air Traffic Controllers like all Air Controllers (hopefully) are top notch when it comes to providing necessary headings to those at 37,000 feet, but in no way are their heads in the clouds. They seem to realize  that unless they are prepared to ask how they can be of assistance – financially or otherwise – they would do well not to ask at all!  Instead, they chose to send a much-needed hug, that typically measures 16 inches in diameter , provides 8 slices and is available with an assortment of toppings!

May HaShem continue to bless these Air Traffic Controllers  with clarity of judgement, so that they are able to instruct as far as headings, descent and climbing. May HaShem continue to bless these Air Traffic Controllers with healthy hearts, so that they are able to cause the spirits of other Air Traffic Controllers to soar!

CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

It’s carob time again! Come Tu B’Shvat, congregants, Hebrew School students and those who attend Jewish Day Schools prepare themselves perennially to hear all about their “raisin” d’etre.

Perhaps it’s time to branch out, and leave the almonds, figs, and dates alone and look to the trees for a different source of nourishment. Perhaps its time for the trees to whet our appetite for everyday living.

It was the French philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil who taught us: “Whoever is uprooted himself, uproots others; whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” Have you ever wondered why with but one exception throughout our  history, we Jews do not seek to persuade non-Jews to see the light and embrace Judaism? Can it be that that our religious leaders have been so well rooted in the religion they represent, that it never occurs to them to try to get those of a different faith to see the light? Conversely, have you ever wondered why over the ages, Church leadership, particularly in Europe, went to such great lengths to get Jews to abandon and forsake Old Israel and embrace Christianity? Were they really that concerned in saving Jewish souls or perhaps subconsciously, they themselves were anything but firmly rooted in their own faith?

In my talk this past Shabbat, I spoke about how I “played hooky” the previous Monday morning  and traveled to Hunt County with Sue Kretchman. Our mission was to visit a nonagenarian who, as a teenager in Germany, was part of the Kinder Transport. Truth be told, my ego got the better part of me, as we set out. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t repress feelings of self-righteousness. After all, I reasoned, how many other Dallas rabbis would go out on a limb and  visit someone they had never met, who had no connection whatsoever to their synagogue? On the way back from a most delightful, eye-opening, unforgettable visit,  I realized that it was not I who went out on a limb, but the countless, remarkable, selfless strangers first in Holland and then in England who went out on a limb for Jewish children escaping Nazis. These strangers were part of a godly group who dared to refuse to succumb to the Machiavellian machinations  of the Third Reich. Amidst the many trees at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, where the Six Million are immortalized, there is the Avenue of the Righteous, a walkway where tribute and honor are bestowed upon those who saved Jewish lives. Given the many trees, I cannot help but feel that that section of Yad Vashem ought to be referred to as “Our undying gratitude to those who went out on a limb.”

If there was one thing in common shared by our prophets in the Tana’ch, it was their inability to see the greater picture. Moshe (yes, Moses is considered a prophet) saw a burning bush. Amos HaNavi or the prophet Amos saw a plumb line. Yirmiyahu HaNavi or the prophet Jeremiah saw the staff of an almond tree. None of them could see the mission that they were about to be sent on. Being able to see the bigger picture is a rare gift among humans. All too often, one small item catches the human eye, blinding that person to the bigger picture.  Adam and Eve were so focused  on the one tree that was off limits to them, that they lost sight of the lush forest full of trees bearing luscious fruits that were theirs for the taking.

As one who spends hundreds of dollars each year planting trees in Israel, I have every reason to believe that in addition to trees and fruit, the message of Tu B’Shvat ought to go far deeper. Aside from indulging in figs and prunes as well as all other fruit associated with Israel, in addition to planting trees in Israel, I ask that you see Tu B’Shvat as a harbinger of codes to live by. As we are asked to focus on trees, I ask that you bear in mind that those who are firmly rooted will not uproot others and that those who are uprooted will try to uproot others. I ask that you recall how indebted we ought to be to those who went out on limb for us. Above all, I ask that you never forget the price that is paid, when one can’t see the forest for the trees.

A meaningful Tu B’Shvat to all!