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!

PLANE MENTSCH

Other than being rabbi of Tiferet, most probably the next reason for me being proud to live in Dallas, would be that Dallas is the home of Southwest Airlines. It was with more than a modicum of interest therefore, that I read about the passing last week of the founder of Southwest, Herb Kelleher. I have no idea about Mr. Kelleher’s faith or religion, but from what I learned about him, Mr. Kelleher possessed certain personality traits that were in my opinion, very Jewish.

There are those, no doubt, who saw Mr. Kelleher as “the little engine that could.” I would have to disagree. Unlike “the little engine that could,” Herb Kelleher’s mantra was “I know I can, I know I can.” Herb Kelleher was the David who did not hesitate to go up against the Goliaths and give Americans “a flight for their money.” And he succeeded, well beyond and even despite the predictions and prognostications of a good many, including those in the airline industry. While other airlines were claiming to be “ready when you are,” Southwest made it their credo to be ready to turn around and take off again in the blink of an eye. While others were flying  the “friendly skies,”  Southwest was flying the “friendly 737’s.”

No different than others, rabbis… gossip! Rabbis hear of other rabbis signing contracts that they have no intention whatsoever of honoring. Should it happen that a congregation is in a pinch and turns to the rabbi to read Torah, the rabbi’s employment contact is immediately rewritten at the rabbi’s insistence. Rabbis also hear of congregations drawing up contracts that the congregation has no intention of honoring. And suddenly, the expectations of the rabbi are not those same expectations stipulated in the rabbi’s employment contract. Airlines are much the same. Within the last number of years, we have witnessed imposed luggage fees and the economy section (as opposed to first class) being subdivided into three classes: mentschen (human beings), schnorrers (freeloaders) and b’heimahs (animals). Southwest is one airline that can be trusted. There are no luggage fees, no penalties for flight change or cancellation, and everyone flies the same class. Apparently, Herb Kelleher was not only aware of Psalm 15:4 (They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost,) but made sure that it was carried out religiously on every Southwest flight.

The FAA or Federal Aviation Administration has strict and vigorous  standards  that ensure the safe (and hopefully) uninterrupted operation of each aircraft from the time it pushes back from its departure gate, until the time it comes to a full and complete stop at its arrival gate. I wish that standards were as strict and vigorous, when it comes to flight attendants and gate attendants. There are any number of stories that for whatever reason do not make the news, of uncalled for treatment of passengers, by airline employees. It has reached the point, that prior to boarding an aircraft, I begin to lecture myself over and over:  “Keep your mouth shut, Rabbi Zell.” Kevin Freiberg, who together with his wife Jackie, authored “Nuts: Southwest Airline’s Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success” writes that Herb Kelleher didn’t see being disciplined and fiercely competitive as mutually exclusive with loving people and treating them with dignity.  Perhaps that’s the key ingredient. As one who travels in my work clothes (double breasted suit, shirt and tie), I cannot help but notice, that many a traveler must have an exceedingly low self-image, based on the way he or she dresses for travel. That however never prevented Herb Kelleher from insisting that Southwest employees accord respect and dignity, even when such respect and dignity often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Maybe if other airlines would practice respecting and honoring others (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1) in the same fashion stressed by Herb Kelleher, that respect and honor would eventually be repaid in kind.

To the best of my knowledge, aspirations such as being a David among Goliaths, keeping promises even if  those promises are to your own detriment and treating others with dignity were not seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Jewish. They were seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Southwest .

INTERNALIZING AND INTERNATIONALIZING

I knew that something was missing. For the longest time, I understood the difference between January first and the first of Tishrei in the most pedestrian terms.  Uneducated greeting card producers aside, “Happy New Year” does not address Rosh Hashanah. It never did. The greeting Shanah Tovah does not mean Happy (New) Year; it means “A good year.” Not only are “good” and “happy” not the same, but at times they are close to being diametrically opposite. Few, if any, will argue that a colonoscopy or a root canal are not beneficial procedures for the good of the patient. By the same token, few, if any, will claim that such procedures bring happiness to the individual. It is entirely possible for an individual to face an excellent year, yet there will few or any moments of happiness. Just ask someone who, through the proverbial blood, sweat and tears, finally brings a project to fruition. In addition to facing what appeared to be insurmountable odds, there was never the slightest word of encouragement from those closest to him. In fact, the exact opposite was the case, with unsolicited advice being freely dispensed that he undertake a different project, one more suited to his abilities. Others will have the happiest year with nothing to show for it. We call it hedonism.

A contranym is a word with two opposite meanings. “Cleave” means to stick; “cleave” means to split apart. “Resolution” is a contranym. Few need to be reminded that January first was typically fraught with resolutions. Countless in our culture would make New Year’s resolutions concerning things they would begin doing or things that they would cease from doing in the new year. Similarly, resolutions were made concerning adopting new, beneficial behavior as well as desisting from old, harmful behavior. Rarely did these New Year’s resolutions make it through the first week of January. Resolutions are also part and parcel of the first of Tishrei. Or at least they should be. Judaism asks that beginning with Rosh Hashana and culminating with Yom Kippur, we concentrate on resolving rifts in relationships a well as imperfections in oneself. We call it “teshuvah.” Put differently (as well as simplistically), resolutions undertaken on the first of January are all about looking ahead. Resolutions that ought to be undertaken with the approach of the first of Tishrei are all about looking back. I recall speaking about how different New Years resolutions are from High Holy day resolutions during a Rosh Hashana sermon I delivered while I was still in rabbinical school.

It wasn’t until this past Shabbat, while walking to shul, that it dawned on me that there is a third difference between the Gregorian New Year and the Jewish New Year. My revelation was based on a phone conversation I had on the previous day, when I quipped, that for the non-Jewish world, the week between Christmas and New Years was in some ways, their version of our  “Asseret Y’mei Teshuvah” or  “Ten Days of Repentance”, the period of time from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur. I based my comment not only on the fact that (we wish you a merry) Christmas  and (a happy) New Year go hand in hand, but that “peace on earth” is more of a New Year’s greeting than it is a Christmas greeting. January first (provided the New Year’s message is offered and received with sincerity)  is all about the individual in this world. Greetings such as “Wishing all my friends and family a blessed New Year full of peace, laughter, prosperity and health” or  “May you have a year filled with smiles, love, luck and prosperity” center around relationships with others. Despite all the “we have sinned, we have transgressed, we have…” in the Yom Kippur Confessionals, the  message of the High Holy Days, beginning with the first of Tishrei, centers around the relationship the individual has with himself.  On the first of Tishrei, we begin to internalize. On the first of January, we begin to internationalize.

AND AN EVANGELICAL SHALL LEAD THE WAY

Meaning no disrespect, to the six million, but first it was the Holocaust. Then it was Israel. And now it is availing oneself to Torah study taught by Orthodox rabbis and Jewish educators. When it comes to our sacred texts,  Christians, Evangelicals in particular,  seem to be heads over heels with what we Jews have to offer. Donna Jollay serves as a perfect example. Donna is a 59-year-old , rags to riches American Evangelical, who made a fortune in high-tech. Recently, she moved from Hawaii to Israel.

Rather than analyze what makes “Patricia” or “Patrick” so infatuated with what we Jews along with our Judaism have to offer, perhaps it’s time to analyze why hearts of Orthodox rabbis and educators beat that much faster, when approached by Evangelicals with that pleading look in their eyes that says “teach me.”

With the exceptions of Orthodox bastions in cities such as Boston, Baltimore, Detroit and Denver, a goodly amount of Orthodox rabbis and educators deal with a Jews who are less than enthusiastic when it comes to learning about their heritage. On the other hand, the desire on the part of Evangelicals to study Torah and in some cases Talmud is breathtaking. In their Evangelical hearts and souls, hearing a Jew disseminate knowledge, is second only to hearing it from their savior. However humble rabbis and educators are, or portray themselves to be, a little appreciation goes a long way. With Evangelicals, the appreciation is at times so great, that it’s immeasurable. Faced with receiving appreciation that is typically both scant and seldom, if ever, from their own, or incessant raving reviews from Evangelicals, human nature dictates that Orthodox rabbis and educators can’t help but seek the latter.

Spiritualty and Synagogue services do not seem to go hand in hand. By our very nature, we Jews are either not spiritual when it comes to prayer, or we show our spirituality in most unusual ways. A little over 30 years ago, I attended a mid-day “Power Hour” at First Mariner Baptist Church at the tip of Manhattan. I witnessed more spirituality in five minutes at that church service, than I experience the entire year at a synagogue. Nor is this a new phenomenon. If we Jews were truly into religious fervor, Chassidism would never have entered the scene three centuries ago. Synagogue services are seldom, if ever, hotbeds of spirituality (I’ll deal with Chabad at a different occasion). Synagogue service (main stream church services as well) are staid. Evangelicals are spiritual people. So too are many non-Evangelical Christians. Not that long ago, a non-Jewish woman sitting in my office was brought to tears because of an explanation I gave her. Seeing her cry was such an awesome sight, that I myself was nearly brought to tears observing her reaction. I cannot help but feel that given the choice of staid or spiritual, Orthodox rabbis and educators crave teaching spiritual individuals.

Orthodox rabbis and educators alike do not seek converts to Judaism. They do however sub-consciously seek validation. So too does any and all clergy. Validation not only cuts across denominational lines, but religious lines as well. Appreciation aside, clergy lacks any barometer to measure validation. And unless they commit a major faux pas or achieve some sort of resounding success, rabbis will typically hear nary a word from their synagogue board. “Business as usual” is tantamount to sounds as silence. With Evangelicals, there is no such thing as business as usual. Evangelicals or any interested Christian group provide validation beyond belief. Their very presence says “what we hear from you will impact on our very being. Please teach us, so that we can strengthen our Christian faith”. How often does a rabbi or educator hear, “please teach us so that we can strengthen our faith in HaShem” from any congregant?

Say what you like about Evangelicals. Remain as suspicious of them as you have always been. By all means, question their sincerity. Realize however, that when it comes to appreciation, spirituality and validation, unlike so many Jews, Evangelicals are able to provide a diet for Orthodox rabbis and educators that is so desperately needed.

THE GREATEST CHRISTMAS GIFT OF ALL TIME

Forgive me for my tardiness. I should have written this article well over a millennium ago. Back then however, I could not have foreseen the injustice of it all. For it was a millennium ago, that anti-Semitism began to rear its ugly head within the medieval Christian community with charges and accusations that we Jews were responsible for the death of their savior. Rather than refute such charges, I should like to ask the following, with Christmas mere days away:

If medieval Christians, as well as their descendants, found it within their hearts to damn the Jews for the death of their savior, why wasn’t there room in their hearts to thank the Jews for the birth of their savior?

Granted it is most strange coming from a rabbi, but just as the Torah is patrilineal in nature, so too the Christian bible. The Book of Matthew, showing unbroken lineage, informs us that Jesus was born 40 generations after Abraham. Similarly, the Book of Luke, showing unbroken lineage, shows that Jesus was born 55 generations after Abraham. Either way, Jesus was able to lay claim to something no Jew in the world today is capable of doing! Thanks to expulsions, pogroms and Hitler, precious few Jews of eastern European descent can trace their lineage more than four generations. Yet, nary a word of thanks from Christians to the Jews for Abraham begetting Jesus.

Every self-respecting Jew and Christian should be familiar with the following acronym: INRI. It represents the following four Latin words: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorumor Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It is in the book of John, that we learn that this epitaph was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. And this epitaph stands until this very day. I would think that a modicum of gratitude be coming our way from our Christian brethren. After all, Jesus was not referred to as King of the Christians. Put differently, a world devoid of Jews would have resulted in the unthinkable, the unbelievable and the unbearable for those who rightfully celebrate Christmas.

Last week, as part of the Wednesday, Yiddish class, I was extolling the virtues  of my favorite Yiddish author, Sholem Asch. What I refrained from telling those who had assembled, is that Sholem Asch became quite controversial in the Jewish world, when he wrote the following trilogy: The Nazarene, The Apostle, and Mary. There were those in the Jewish community, who regarded Sholem Asch with a great deal of scorn, in that they maintained that Jews ought to be writing novels about Jewish themes, not Christian themes. Yet, as far as Sholem Asch was concerned, the trilogy  was very much a Jewish theme. Whereas the Book of Matthew records the final four words uttered by Jesus as Eli Eli, Lamah Zavachtani (see Psalms 43:2 Ki Atah Elohei Ma’uzi, Lamah Z’nachtani– for You are G-d of my strength, why have You forsaken me?), Sholem Asch in his novel, reports Jesus as having recited Shma Yisroel as his last words! As one who is far from convinced that there ever was a Jesus, I don’t hesitate for a moment to speculate, that if Jesus did in fact exist, I would be inclined to agree with Sholem Asch. For arguments sake, I am prepared to say that if Jesus did exist, Jesus was born a Jew and Jesus died a Jew. And for this, we Jews deserve undying Christian gratitude, certainly given the suffering and murdering that was so reprehensibly carried out in his name over the ages.

To my Christian friends and neighbors, I extend heartfelt wishes for a Merry Christmas. Similarly, I cannot help but feel, that it  would be so befitting to hear a “thank-you” in return for:

Giving the Christian world a savior who was able to trace his genealogy to Abraham,

A savior who is remembered  by the acronym INRI

A savior who, as far as Sholem Asch was concerned ,was born a Jew and who died a Jew. Forgive me my pomposity, but it may very well be that the greatest  Christmas gift of all time, was given to the Christian world by the Jews.

 

MUSEUM MUSINGS

An Israeli tour guide, I’m not, although I’ve been known to pinch hit when less than enthusiastic (plum lazy) guides were abdicating their responsibilities for synagogue tours I led, when I served my New Jersey congregation. It was with more than a modicum of curiosity therefore, that I read a recent expose in the newspaper with the title “What happens when a Holocaust Memorial Plays Host to Autocrats.” Although I dismissed the article as screed, it caused me to contemplate whether Yad VaShem, one of the most visited sites in Jerusalem for non-Jewish tourists, should be a “must see” for autocratic leaders, democratic leaders, or any foreign leader should for that matter, who is visiting Israel.

As one, whose teachers throughout my years in Jewish Day School, were Holocaust survivors, as one who regards the Yiddish Partisan Song, as our Jewish national anthem, second only to HaTikvah, as one who sees visiting Yad VaShem as a sacred duty for Jews, I nevertheless wonder, if Israeli leadership should perhaps rethink Yad VaShem being a prerequisite visit for foreign dignitaries.

With but few precious exceptions, Yad VaShem serves as an important and  necessary reminder of what was done to the Jews of Europe. As such, Jews are portrayed as victims. Yet, isn’t Israel’s alter ego, that of being masters of our own destiny? Surely one would expect Israeli leadership to bring foreign dignitaries to the Af al Pi Chen Museum of clandestine immigration in Haifa. Shouldn’t the message that Israel wishes to impart, be that during a most difficult era in modern history, Zionist leadership correctly adopted an attitude of “to hell with a world filled with countries whose borders were shut to the Jews” and “to hell with the British with their quotas,” as they sought to assuage the local Arabs, out of fear of reprisal?

Why wouldn’t Israeli leadership want to bring foreign dignitaries to places such as Rosh Pinah or Degania, or better yet, Tel Hai, which serve as a reminder of Jewish idealism and determination. Jews from Eastern Europe, who barely knew which end of the shovel was up, suddenly became farmers. Jewish pogrom survivors did not dwell for decades in refugee camps in Bessarabia, or Western Ukraine, waiting for the world to take pity on them. Even though, most Jews charted their course for the “Goldeneh Medinah,” precious few admirably returned to Zion and transformed themselves, so that they could transform the land. Shouldn’t this be the proud message, that Israeli leadership  wishes to share with foreign visitors?

David Ben Gurion, Israel’s George Washington, had a special place in his heart for the Negev. If Ben-Gurion were given over to sound-bites, he might have said: “Let’s conquer the Negev rather than let the Negev conquer us.” But Ben-Gurion did not seek to conquer the Negev in the military sense. Instead, he imbued Israelis with an attitude of transforming arid sand into arable land. He reminded them that in the Jewish state, such transformation is old hat for Israelis.

As far as I’m concerned, foreign dignitaries ought to be taken to Beer Sheva. Israel has every right to tout Beer Sheva’s renowned Soroka Hospital.  Soroka’s Department of Emergency Medicine is the leading department in the country, according to a health care survey on service and quality conducted by the Ministry of Health. Soroka’s delivery room has the most births of any in the country – over 17,000 babies are born every year, many to Arab mothers. Should Soroka Hospital leave foreign dignitaries indifferent, then a visit to Ben Gurion University with its five faculties with 51 academic departments should leave them impressed beyond words!

Why escort foreign dignitaries to Yad VaShem with its plaintive message of “look what they did to us?” Far better in my opinion, to escort foreign dignitaries to the sites I suggested or similar,  to show them “look what we have done for ourselves.”

 

APPLES AND ORANGES, IT ISN’T

For the last few centuries, if there is one particular food associated with Chanukah, at least for those of us of eastern European descent, it would be the potato. Availability and cost factor aside, I truly believe, that come Chanukah, the potato is not only rich in potassium and vitamin C, but in meaning as well.

It must not go unnoticed, that in languages other than English there exists an intrinsic connection between potatoes and apples. In Hebrew, the word for apple is tapuach. In Hebrew, the word for potato is tapuach adamah or apple of the ground. The very same holds true in French (pomme vs. pomme de terre) and (old) Yiddish (eppel vs. erd epple).

The term “comfort food” dates back at least half a century. When it comes to comfort foods, the potato is way up there on the list. When it comes to comfort festivals, Chanukah is way up there on the list as well. Victory may have a thousand fathers, but Chanukah has over two thousand years in any number of countries celebrated by countless Jews. Perhaps it’s with good reason  that come the Festival of Lights, it is the potato that greets our palate and not the onion or the beet or any other vegetable.  If the tapuach adamah (Hebrew for potato) is a comfort food, then biblically speaking, it is the tapuach (Hebrew for apple) that is the consequence food. Rabbinic discussion aside, the apple a.k.a. the forbidden fruit, resulted in consequences that were far reaching (the Adam’s apple exists to this very day). If Adam and Eve hungered for that which was off limits, the Maccabees were fed up with fellow Jews hungering for that which was off limits. Adam and Eve were the evictees; the Maccabees were the evictors.

There is however more than one way to slice a potato and an apple. As much as they serve as comfort food and consequence food, the potato and apple are both foods of choice, albeit for an entirely different reason.  The potato is food of choice, because when it comes to our history, the Maccabees ought to be seen as a clan of choice. Not once, but at least three times in the Chanukah story, the Maccabees were confronted by a choice: to go to battle against a better trained, better equipped and bigger in number enemy, or not; to go about pillaging, destroying  and raping after victory was achieved, or not; to go ahead and light a paltry one-day supply of oil, or not. Because of this, the potato, the current choice vegetable of Chanukah has become the vegetable of choice. Yet, the apple represents choice as well. Eve, and subsequently Adam were also faced with a choice, when seduced by forbidden fruit, thanks to the serpent’s sales pitch:
eat or retreat. Eve and Adam made a poor choice and paid a price. The Maccabees on the other hand made an excellent choice and profited!

Have you ever wondered why pancakes are smothered in syrup, yet latkes are dipped into apple sauce? One need not be Sigmund Freud to conclude that latkes and apple sauce represent a symbiosis of human behavior, particularly when it involves Jewish heritage. Throughout history, we have, as a people, been confronted by choices. The correct choice (the potato) brings us comfort; the incorrect choice (the apple) confronts us with dire consequences. Each time our leaders or we as individuals made the wrong choice, we paid the price, often a steep price; each time our leaders or we as individuals made the right choice, we profited. Sometimes we even enjoyed a handsome profit.

Perhaps there is more than meets the eye when considering the moniker “Festival of Lights.” In addition to miracles and wondrous deeds, Chanukah sheds light on the connection between the potato and the apple, so very much the mainstay of modern Chanukah munchies. Perhaps the message is in the medium. Perhaps the message conveyed by potato latkes dipped in apple sauce is one that the Maccabees would want us to chew on.

YOU DECORATED MY LIFE

Contemporary American culture assures us that well before the turkey has tickled our taste buds, our eyes begin to feast on a plethora of Christmas decorations that pop up in the neighborhood. Such was the case with a house on the other side of the street. “Your house is clearly in the forefront,” I said to Julia Boyce who was in my office the other day. The Boyce house had been so tastefully (professionally) decorated, that I had to stop myself from giving Julia a big “Yasher Koach.” My neighbors’ house notwithstanding, I reassessed my comment hours later. I began to think about misplaced emphasis on decorations on the part of Christians, come Christmas and given our proclivity as Jews to parrot the greater culture, our misplaced emphasis on decorations, come the Festival of Lights.

Forgive me for “jumping the fence” and preaching a Christmas sermon before a church filled with Christians on the eve of December 24th, but if a preacher  really wanted to celebrate the birth in Bethlehem, then he or she would do well to instruct his or her parishioners to decorate the world with teachings surrounding a birth that would ultimately change the world beyond wildest expectations. Joseph and Mary may have been the first Jews to be turned away and refused a night’s stay.  Subsequent generations of Jews would be turned away and refused a life’s stay.  Isn’t it time for Christians to realize that come December 25th, mistletoe misses the point?

Once the Christian world is able to discern the difference between decorations that beautify the home and decorations that beautify the world, we, their “older brothers” will in all likelihood follow suit.

“Do you see what I see” should be the lyrics of a Chanukah song. Jews should be challenged to see various Maccabean messages in the flames of the candles irrespective of the creativity of the menorah that holds those candles. Shouldn’t a rabbi, an honest rabbi, who is untouched by the commercialism that has permeated the lives of his people, be reminding his congregation that as creative as Walt Disney Chanukah menorahs are, relegating the message of Chanukah to Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy is pure fantasyland? It isn’t the menorah, or any other tangible object brought into Jewish homes for that eight-day period that decorates and beautifies, it is the very message contained in the flames of those Chanukah lights. Shouldn’t a rabbi be telling his congregants that they have it all wrong when it comes to making use of the flames of the Chanukah candles? Shouldn’t a rabbi tell his people that the flames are off limits only when it comes to physical benefit? Isn’t it time then to look into those flames and see the dark color closest to the flame and recall how Chanukah began in a dark period of time during our history, when an internecine struggle was rearing its head between Hasmoneans and Hellenists? Shouldn’t Chanukah be a time to show that the harmony of the lights more than offsets the acrimony that festered between groups of Jews?  Wouldn’t the ultimate Chanukah decoration for any home  be one where there is an emphasis is placed on the fact that no two flames are alike? Shouldn’t there be an explanation  that some flames will be larger while other flames will be smaller? Couldn’t it be pointed out that neither the size of the flame nor the intensity of the flame has any bearing whatsoever as to which flame will go out first? Doesn’t the fact that  all candles are standing together overshadow the differences of color, flame size, and burning time?

Our Christian brethren are busy decorating their homes because of a miracle that  that would ultimately change their lives, not their homes. Perhaps we Jews can busy ourselves by using the lessons found through looking deeply into the flames of the Chanukah lights. Let us make miracles happen. Let us illuminate our homes so that we ultimately bring light into the lives of those we touch. Let us decorate this world.

RESOURCEFUL RECIPE

A gourmet cook, I’m not. Quite frankly, I see myself as culinary-ly challenged. Even though I have never taken the time or expressed any interest to look at the various possibilities for the sumptuous repast that adorns the table of American homes on the fourth Thursday of November, I stand in awe at the plethora of recipes that come out each year. There is, however, one recipe that I should like to share, in the hope that one’s Thanksgiving dinner truly lives up to its name.

Having seen the how very easy it is to have those at the table lose their appetite when politics is brought up, might I suggest that rather than speak about the Democrats or Republicans, there other “parties” that deserve to be serve as the main topic of discussion for all who are present. Perhaps the host can go around the table asking each invited guest to name the best Thanksgiving meal he or she has ever attended and why. Alternately, the host could ask those present to tell about the most interesting guest that has ever graced their Thanksgiving table and what made them so interesting. Far better to have everyone involved discussing a neutral topic than see two people going at each other, as they argue the merits or the worthlessness of a political view that they hold sacrosanct. Remember, the turkey is on the platter, not someone seeking or holding political office.

A little more than two months ago, various foods, symbolic in nature (either because of taste or because of name) adorned the Rosh Hashana table in traditional Jewish homes. For example, honey flowed freely as  it coated slices of apple dipped into to it, thereby tastefully telling us that in Judaism we look forward to a sweet, rather than happy year. However, historically flawed it may be, the apple serves to remind us of the primordial fruit, as we celebrate the creation of the world. Carrots, especially in stewed form, are a staple in Eastern European homes (the Yiddish word for carrots is “merren”, a homonym for the Yiddish word “increase”) in that it is our hope and prayer that the year bring with it an increase of all things good. Why shouldn’t foods similar in intent, adorn the Thanksgiving meal as well? Rather than make a “tsimmes” over sweet potatoes, perhaps it’s time to introduce (pareve)  au gratin potatoes to the table. Served either, instead of or in addition, to the sacrosanct sweet potato, au gratin potato, by its very name, could serve as a word play for “gratitude.” As peachy keen as peach cobbler is, why relegate apple pie to July 4th? One not need be suffering from a bad head cold to realize that that there very little difference between  the sound of “apple” and “ample.” Ample food, ample comradery, ample blessings are hopefully what Thanksgiving is all about. Last but not least, the final course of the Thanksgiving meal ought to be replete with a hot toddy, given the similarity in sound of “toddy”  to the Hebrew word “todah”(thanks.)

Chances are that no one is at a loss for words at a Thanksgiving dinner, especially if there are friends or relatives in attendance. Yet, prior to carving the Turkey, perhaps a request can be made by the host, asking that those in attendance to come up with three reasons (non-compulsory) to give thanks. Better yet, set a pen/pencil with a sheet of paper at each place setting for the invited guests to jot down their gratitude, to be shared during the meal. Should the host really want to add a dash of spice, the directive may include that the reason for thanks omit standard platitudes . It would be interesting to see if anyone takes the time to thank the volunteers who helped provide the “have-nots” with a Turkey dinner or the those on the police force or those at the firehouse who are putting the welfare of others before being with family. Or airline captains, flight attendants who are miles from home. Or bus drivers and cab drivers who are helping take people to Thanksgiving dinners and bringing them home again. This Thursday….

May you savor the flavor.

May the symbolic food not elude.

May the conversation merit positive evaluation.

Happy Thanksgiving

ROOT SOURCE

I attended a kosher breakfast earlier this week, where I, along with a handful of other Jews, were greatly outnumbered by church-going Christians. The group is known as Root Source. Via the internet, its members  are taught about Jewish concepts, ideas and thought, and especially Israel. Their teachers are Orthodox Jews who have no reservations whatsoever about those to whom they impart their wisdom. Unlike other messianic groups in these United States, these Christians  do not consider themselves Jews, nor do they aspire to be Jews. They do, however, feel that their Christianity is  incomplete without learning about the Jewish roots of their faith. Kosher breakfast notwithstanding, Root Source Christians and other similar groups have no desire to begin keeping kosher, nor do they intend to incorporate any Jewish practices into their lifestyle. Although salvation for them is an entirely different path, they are not consumed with getting Jews to follow their path. Apparently, they are secure enough in their own faith and require no reinforcing from Jews who have “suddenly seen the light.” Christian groups such as these don’t proselytize. They are far too busy in their quest of spiritually enriching their own lives. They are however firmly rooted in their unwavering support and love for Israel.

Root Source Christians are not in any way unknown to Israel. Thanks to Root Source Christians and other Christian groups, there now exists a Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. For the first time, the Knesset Christian Alliance bestowed the honor of “Christian of the Year” to a Root Source Member. Apparently, the government of Israel does not see Root Source Christians as a threat. I am able to come up with three reasons why:

The Israel pipeline leading to American Jews has dried out. Fervent Jewish  Zionists from this country are no longer filling up Israeli tour buses the way they once did. Some of these supporters have died, some of these supporters now own apartments in Israel and some of these supporters have simply had their fill. A septuagenarian American Jew who has visited Israel three times over the last three decades deserves a big hug and not a lecture as to the importance of visiting Israel. The children of that septuagenarian see Israel in a different light. For them, Israel does not possess the same magic and charm it did for their parents. This next generation tends to take Israel for granted and relates to Israel in much the same way it relates to any number of other countries.  An entirely new generation that feels firmly ensconced and accepted in the United States, no longer feels the need to be in Israel to escape the self-perception of a minority, however brief that respite might be. For Christian groups in this country, Israel is a novelty. Therefore, it is the Christian groups in this country and not the Jews who are now awestruck by Israel.

Given the choice between supporters and detractors, Israel opts for the former. Given the choice between those who are easy going and those who are demanding, Israel again opts for the former. Typically, it is the religious Christian groups who comprise the former. They tend to be totally supportive of Israel when it comes to any political issue concerning the Palestinians. Moreover, Christian groups tend to be more enthusiastic and eager and easy to please than a good many Jewish groups of the same age group. Just ask any Israeli tour guide.

Anna Bartlett Warner, I’m not. But if I were to pen a new version of the well-known “Jesus loves me – this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” written by Anna Bartlett Warner close to 160 years ago, I would choose “I love Israel – this I know, For the Bible tells me so.” Israel has suddenly begun to play a major role in the lives of Root Source Christians. Yes, Root Source Christians are interested in seeing the Knesset, but they are agape while visiting Golgotha. And why shouldn’t they be? As mystical as Tzfat is for Jews, it is Nazareth and not Netanya that leaves them with goosebumps. Jewish tourists may want to get in some snorkeling in Eilat, but that pales in comparison to a Christian being baptized in the Jordan.  Just as these groups take their bible seriously, so too do they now take Israel seriously.

These groups do not seek our imprimatur. These groups don’t necessarily seek our friendship although they hold us in high esteem. These groups thirst for Israel and provided they possess no hidden agenda, I cannot help but feel that they deserve a L’Chaim from us, as they seek to quench that thirst.