IF

There’s one practice that many engage in prior to Yom Kippur, that causes me to lose my appetite. Well-meaning individuals approach others and parrot the following meaningless phrase:

“If I have offended you in any way over this past year, I ask your forgiveness.”

The word “if”, suggests uncertainty. Not only does “if”  indicate that such an offense may or may not have occurred, “if” indicates that the one asking for forgiveness is clueless as far as having committed  the offense, whatever it may have been in the first place. I’m not aware of anyone ever having questioned the aphorism “everybody loves somebody sometime”. Shouldn’t the converse to that aphorism also hold true, namely “everybody hurts somebody sometime”? And if the likelihood exists that we have hurt somebody sometime, especially those with whom we have frequent contact, then surely there are better ways of wiping the slate clean.

If one truly wishes to make amends, one must learn to live by the following truism: “We just don’t realize the impact that we have on others…good and especially bad”. As long as we interact with others, chances are good that we will hurt the feelings of others. Most of the time, we won’t even realize it. And quite often, when a third- party points this out to us, that we have in fact hurt the feelings of another person, up go our defenses and we suddenly become a babe in the woods. “What did I say” we ask in all innocence. Short of being a saint, as long as we are alive and healthy, as long as we possess the power of speech, we will offend. The are no “ifs” about it.

The most meaningless, vacuous phrase, I’ve ever heard is: “I know how you must feel”. I have heard fellow rabbis use it. The perfect response to such inanity would be “You couldn’t possibly know how I feel”. We are individuals. We are unique. No two people respond to the same situation in the exact same way. Each person responds to hurt (or joy) in his or her very own way.

A close runner up to the most meaningless, vacuous phrase, but one that in all probability pours salt on the wounds is “I don’t understand why you are so upset”. Anyone obtuse enough to add this hurtful phrase is partially correct. Such a person does not understand. Such a person does not understand that he or she has hurt someone’s feelings; such a person does not understand how to ameliorate the situation, when told that feelings have been hurt.

If one is truly sincere as far as apologizing,  then rather than offer the meaningless “if I have offended you in any way”  it behooves that person to approach the one to whom an apology is being offered with the following: “in all likelihood, I’ve said or have done something hurtful or embarrassing to you since last Yom Kippur. Could you please point it out to me, because I’m going to make every effort not to do it again. Had I taken the time to realize the implications of my word or deed, I’d like to believe that I would have stopped myself in my tracks” Alternately, one could set things right by approaching another person with whom there has been much contact and  sharing the following: “as a far from perfect human being, I need your help speaking to HaShem on Yom Kippur. If you could just point out how I have wronged you since last Yom Kippur and allow me to properly apologize for it, you will be enabling me to present myself before my Maker as one who is sincerely looking to improve my ways”.

With Yom Kippur behind us, let’s leave the “if’s” to HaShem. Let uncertainties be left to our Maker. We so much as said so in the powerful magnum opus prayer U’NeTaneh Tokef. With an entire year ahead of us, let there be no if’s in our interpersonal relations. Chances are that we will hurt or wrong those with whom we have frequent contact. Let’s ask those who seem to be so much of our lives to point out where we went wrong so that we can make it right.

No if’s, ands or buts!

HOW SWEET IT IS

Unlike non-Jews whose lives are guided solely by the Gregorian calendar and unless we Jews give in to copy-cat behavior, we do not wish one another a Happy New Year. Instead, we extend blessings for a good year, a healthy year and a sweet year. It is this third wish that ought to appeal to our tastes more than any other wish that we either extend or reciprocate.

Wouldn’t it make for a much more interesting Rosh Hashanah, if at each meal, instead of honey, we dipped a piece of our  round challah as well as a slice of our apple into a different type of sugar? We could begin with brown sugar at the first Rosh Hashanah meal, segue into confectioners’ sugar for lunch the first day, go over to sanding sugar (coarse granules, often dyed different colors) for dinner that night and conclude by using table sugar for the final Rosh Hashanah meal, at lunch, the second day of the festival. Aside from the argument found in the Talmud that the honey in question was fig honey rather than bee honey, we would do well to wonder why, in emphasizing a sweet year, we grant honey – that is to say bee honey – an exclusive each Rosh Hashanah?

Those who insist that bee honey is not kosher are unfortunately jumping to conclusions. Savannah Bee, Busy Bee, Sue Bee are three companies that to the best of my knowledge have kosher certification. All three, sell honey derived from bees and honeycombs. Perhaps one of the reasons that honey is our dip of choice is to remind us that an essential ingredient for a a good year is not to jump to conclusions. Just as there is no foundation in claiming that honey from bees can’t be kosher, so too could many a rift have been avoided, innumerable friendships could have remained strong, and untold individuals would have been spared from looking foolish, had all the facts been assembled and carefully assessed a situation. Once someone forgoes the necessary facts and jumps to conclusions, there is simply no way of knowing where that individual will land.

Life is complex. Rarely, if ever are things straightforward. No different is the explanation that while the bee is germane to the production of honey, the bee does not actually “produce” the honey, the same way the cow produces milk. That too is anything but straightforward. Each year, we are apt to find that our pathways of life are filled with blind curves, hairpin turns, lane closures and detours, false stars, breakdowns and accidents. Perhaps for these reasons, we never wish one another an “easy” year. Life is not intended to be easy.

It might very well be that honey is the best visual lingual aid when it comes to explaining the aphorism “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Like so many other foods that any number of us simply love to eat, what is of essence is not the process, but the final product. Few, if any are interested in how hotdogs are made, how hamburgers start out and how Jell-O comes into being. Similarly, I have yet to meet anyone who has been devastated or even hurt  by somebody else’s intentions; I have yet to encounter someone who has been publicly humiliated by another person’s thoughts. It is the bee that stings, not the honey.

We ask HaShem’s blessing for a year that is mere days old. Let’s develop a taste for wishing each other  sweet times ahead. We pray that 5779 is as honey of a year. .

MOORE AND McCAIN

It’s been close to half a century since Annie Johnson planned her own funeral. Annie Johnson was the black housekeeper played by actress Juanita Moore in the remake of the all-time tear-jerker movie “Imitation of Life.” Knowing that her death was imminent, Annie – much to the chagrin of Miss Lora (played by Lana Turner) – leaves no stone unturned, as she prepares for her final journey. I thought about Annie Johnson ever since I learned that for the last several months, John McCain, two-time presidential aspirant has been doing precisely the same in anticipation of his own demise. Senator McCain’s penchant for details is both understandable, as well as justified, given the fact that for five years he was a P.O.W. where he had no control over his own life as he suffered under the most inhumane conditions, including torture. I therefore begrudge neither the fictitious Annie Johnson, nor the true to life John McCain for attending to such arrangements. In fact, their doing so has provided me with much insight and understanding.
For every Annie Johnson and John McCain who were so very particular about their own death, there are innumerable individuals who are so very carefree about their own life. Despite a culture that is built around career choice, independent of the fact that our society seems to be saturated with planners urging that we look out for our financial future, there are a goodly number in our country who prefer to cast their fate to the wind. How ironic, that one’s send off from this world, one’s farewell from the land of the living which typically lasts but a few short hours, merits such time and effort and meticulous planning, yet a life which will hopefully continue for years, if not decades, is guided by the attitude of que sera, sera!
Yes, it is true that more often than not, life is filled with the unexpected, as well as the unknown. But it is also true that playing life’s cards that are dealt us, requires forethought, as well as contingencies. Neither ought to be relegated to decisions that are made on the spur of the moment. “Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser” are quite likely among the most misunderstood lyrics. Rather than refer to the five cards dealt us, “every hand” refers to our own five-fingered hand and how we use it to respond to that which life hands us. Those of us who have taken the time to plan and prepare will come off as winners; those of us who fail to take the time to plan and prepare will come off as losers.
In less than a week, we pray that the heavenly hand will be inscribing and ultimately sealing our names in the heavenly Book of Life. Both the inscribing, as well as the sealing, ought to serve as a sign that our prayers have been answered. Yet, before HaShem affixes His imprimatur, He has every right to ask us about our plans for the future. It makes perfect sense for HaShem to turn to each of us and ask what plans, if any, we have for the year that He has granted us. It’s totally understandable for HaShem to want to know whether the plans we have are general in nature or have been thought ought to the minutest detail.  For those of you who take the exact opposite approach and cite the Yiddish aphorism “a mentsch tracht un Gott lacht” or “HaShem chuckles as we plan and prepare,” I would add yet one more component. As much as HaShem might chuckle at our planning, HaShem cries at those who fail to plan, in that it shows that they fail to take life seriously.
Let’s applaud the fictitious Annie Johnson played by Juanita Moore and the very real John McCain for planning their funerals. Despite the twists, turns and detours on the paths we take during our years here on earth, despite the unexpected pockets of turbulence that jolt us along the way, let’s laud those who plan their lives.

WHEN DEPORTING IS PROPER DEPORTMENT

I was relieved to learn that Jakiw Palij was finally deported to Germany from his home in Queens, New York. Palij had served as guard at the Trawniki Concentration Camp near Lublin, Poland. My only frustration is why American immigration authorities took so long in removing Palij from American soil. Jewish groups have been protesting Palij’s presence for years.

As an immigrant to this country, as a naturalized American, I cannot emphasize enough that it is a privilege for any foreigner to be granted citizenship. That privilege should not be taken lightly, for it is a privilege that can be and under certain circumstances should be revoked. Although I am by no means familiar with the American legal system, I cannot but feel that any immigrant found guilty of a major crime (such as murder) any immigrant who is a habitual offender and any immigrant who lies as far as a criminal (read dangerous) past while applying for American citizenship should be deported. These United States serving as a country of refuge for those on foreign soil whose lives are imperiled is one thing; these United States serving as a haven for those who are menaces to free and open societies from which they fled, is entirely something else. There were any number of times that I cringed with anger as I learned of American Jews wanted in this country for crimes such as rape, murder and extortion, hightailing it to Israel, all but certain that there was no way that the Jewish homeland would turn its back on a fellow Jew. Similarly, I offered a prayer of thanks and experienced a sense of vindication when those same miscreants were turned over to American officials for extradition back to this country. The United States would do well to follow Israel’s lead.

There is a Yiddish expression which, when translated reminds us: Little children, little tsorres (problems); big children, big tsorres. The very same hold true for countries. The size of country is usually commensurate with its share of tsorres. With a population of well over 300 million, America has more than ample tsorres without having ill-behaved immigrants adding to those tsorres. As Americans, we ought to recall, the words of Emma Lazarus that are part and parcel of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Nowhere is mention made of trouble makers or criminals by American standards, nowhere is mention made of individuals who are able-bodied as well as healthy in body and mind yet are a drain on our resources. There is an on-going argument whether America should police countries run by less than savory leaders, where because of those leaders the population suffers. Shouldn’t there be a similar on-going argument whether America should police less than savory immigrants, where, because of them, segments of the population suffer?

Short of giving up for adoption, abandonment, or worse, parents have no choice when it comes to natural born children. Democracies are much the same. They too have no choice when it comes to natural born citizen. Whether it be naches or tsorres, the pleasure brought by natural born citizens are shared by the country of birth, just as the problems caused by natural born citizens are endured by the country of birth. Close to 60 years ago, a 17-year-old teen-age cousin came to spend the summer with my family. It soon became apparent, that the cousin was too much for my parents to handle. And so, my mother placed a long-distance call to her brother, telling him to come get his daughter. What my mother was really saying to her older sibling was: “Your daughter is your problem, not ours. You deal with her.” Why should it be any different with those who are here in the United States from other countries? If an immigrant to this country cannot behave or has been found guilty of misbehaving, let their parent country deal with them. They shouldn’t be our problem. Last week, immigration authorities in New York City seem to have agreed. Even though they did not extradite Jakiw Paliy to his native Poland, they extradited him to Germany where he did “misbehave.”

“He’s your problem, not ours,” said those at Immigration and Naturalization Services to the powers that be in Germany.  For that they have earned my admiration and respect.

LIST OF ENEMIES

Up until last week, I had never heard of Heritage House. Located on 7 HaMalakh Street in the Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, this heretofore non-descript house of lodging made news, when it was discovered that the proprietors of Heritage House drew up a list of individuals who are not welcome. Among those who need not apply for a night’s stay are Senator Bernie Sanders, comedian Jon Stewart and actress/entertainer Bette Midler. Aside from the fact that all three are American Jews of notoriety, they appear to share political views concerning Israel that are not are not supportive of the government. Because of their views, they have been relegated to the category of “Soneh Yisroel” or enemy of Israel and have therefore been blacklisted.

Lists can be dangerous. Anyone who has made (read planned) a wedding, Bar Mitzvah or other life-cycle event, knows only too well that family relations and friendships have been destroyed because of lists. As a rabbi, I’ve heard more times than I care to recall, why congregants no longer have anything to do with “that side of the family” because a son and daughter-in-law never received an invitation to Mervin and Madeline’s wedding. Even though I have yet to see the list drawn up by those at Heritage House (if in fact such a list does exist), I cannot help but feel that it is entirely possible that some names on the list were erroneously added while other names that ought to be on the list, for whatever reason, never made the cut. A word to the wise at Heritage House: If you must blacklist, keep it to yourself and never, ever commit such a list to writing.

Soneh Yisroel is an elusive term. Much like Anti-Semite, Soneh Yisroel is dependent on the individual and the situation. Dare we equate one’s belief that all Jews should be wiped off the face of this earth with one’s belief that a certain segment of the population in Israel is a victim of apartheid, however naïve and reckless that belief may be? Does the fact that one takes up the cudgel for the enemy, make one a Soneh Yisroel? Provided we permit Israeli officials at Passport Control at Ben Gurion Airport to responsibly carry out their duties, neither those at Heritage House nor any other hotelier/ hostelier need be concerned about any Soneh Yisroel. And should it happen, that the officials at Passport Control are too lax in their standards at filtering out “undesirables,” for the likes of hoteliers/ hosteliers, the hoteliers/hosteliers can always resort to the age-old trick at the time of reservation and feign that they are booked solid and there is no room at the inn.

Perhaps most important of all, don’t those at Heritage House have anything better to do than make lists? Although I have never heard of, much less visited Heritage House, I feel it safe to make the following comparison: The King David, it isn’t! Do those at Heritage House actually believe that anyone on that list has any desire or inclination to stay at the Heritage House? Typically, those that made the list, receive a special “Baruch HaBa” or welcome upon arriving in Israel.

If only the purported list were for a totally different reason! Story has it that during the Civil War President Lincoln had occasion at an official reception to refer to the Southerners as erring human beings rather than as enemies to be exterminated. An elderly lady, a fiery patriot, rebuked the President for speaking kindly of his enemies when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. “Why, madam,” said Lincoln, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Perhaps Heritage House’s purported list of enemies was for the purpose of sending them Rosh Hashanah greeting cards wishing them the best for 5779. If only!

A STAIN ON HUMANITY

Israel is a stain on humanity. As incredulous a charge as this may be, there are a goodly number of Jews both in Israel as well as in the diaspora who believe this to be true. Furthermore, these Jews feel it a mitzvah of the highest order to convince you that their belief is sacrosanct. For Palestinian nationalists to hurl such a charge is expected; for anti-Semites to hurl such a charge is understandable. But what causes Jews to view Israel as being a stain on humanity?

For them, it is impossible to replace Jewish plight with Jewish might. Lessons of downtrodden, obsequious and subservient Jews of the shtetl have been firmly etched in their minds and perhaps even in their souls. It is therefore unthinkable to expect these lessons to be replaced in a mere seven decades with the existence of a Jewish state. For them, the term Jew is synonymous with underdog. Their weltanschauung is one where the Jew is the nail and not the hammer. As such, I cannot help but wonder if such Jews celebrate Chanukah, the quintessential festival where a minority population with a ragtag army musters the audacity to go up against a Roman army with state-of-the-art armament.  In their view, Jews do not rock the boat; in their view, Jews seek to ameliorate situations by begging the foreign overlord to find it in his heart to accommodate the Jew. And if such heart-searching is stimulated by financial persuasion, so be it. That’s the price one pays for being a Jew.

Jews, non-observant Jews may have abandoned the teachings of the Torah, but the teachings of the Torah have never abandoned them. It’s no wonder then, that Jews, particularly in this country have been in the forefront when it comes to social action. Show them an oppressed people, either real or perceived; show them suffering masses – it makes no difference whether that suffering was brought on by an outside force or by the sufferers themselves – and such Jews will be among the first to take up the cudgel. They view the widow, the fatherless and the stranger mentioned in Torah in absolute terms. Who turned them into widows, who rendered them fatherless and why they are the stranger is totally irrelevant. For those who recall the definition of chutzpah as being where one murders his mother and mother and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan, such Jews would find it totally incredulous how the court could remain so stone-hearted.

Jews seem to have a knee-jerk reaction when their Judaism is questioned or challenged. And so, the asinine response “I’ll have you know that I’m proud to be a Jew” came into vogue. For a born Jew, being proud to be a Jew makes no more sense than being proud to have black hair and brown eyes. Pride comes about because of what one has worked for and achieved. Pride is commensurate with blood sweat and tears. Unlike those born Jews who parrot “I’m proud to be a Jew,” I cannot help but feel that Jews who charge that Israel is a stain on humanity, are ill at ease at being Jews. Because there is nothing particularly Jewish about their daily lives, their Judaism becomes de facto synonymous with Israel. Because they are uncomfortable with their own Jewishness (Here I go playing psychologist without a license again) they are uncomfortable with the State of Israel. The very same individuals who make a conscious effort not to associate with other Jews and certainly not to incorporate any negative Jewish stereotypes into their behavior, are known for subconsciously maligning Israel on a regular basis.

As of this past Sunday, we have begun to sound the shofar daily. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the minds of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity so that they recognize that that it’s high time they held their heads high, rather than cowering at the sight of the non-Jews. As far as Mah Yomru HaGoyim – what will the other nations say? Quite frankly I don’t give a damn. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the hearts of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that those hearts do not go out instinctively to the widow, the fatherless and the stranger in Qabatiya, Qalqas and Qalqilya without first scrutinizing the reason why the widow, the fatherless and the stranger exist in the first place. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the souls who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that they become more comfortable with being Jewish through learning and doing. Only then will Israel cease serving as their whipping boy when they engage in self-flagellation. If only the blast of the shofar would cause them to see Israel as a bright spot for humanitarianism, instead of a stain on humanity.

RESURRECTED OR DEFECTED

Dan Bilefsky, New York Time’s reporter up in Canada would in all likelihood benefit from a vocabulary lesson. Last week, Mr. Bilefsky wrote an article titled “Old Houses of Worship Resurrected.” Mr. Bilefsky described how once vibrant Montreal churches are now operating as a gym and spa or a comedy club or a fromagerie (cheese shop). Excuse me? The literal definition of resurrected means brought back to life. Resurrected implies brought back to life as it once was. A house of worship that is now operating as a comedy club defies the term resurrection; a house of worship that is now operating as a comedy club is defined as desecration. Just look at what has become of a House of G-d!

Yet, it seems to me, that a house of worship need not close its doors to suffer desecration. Houses of worship have been undergoing desecration for decades now. And in some cases, synagogues; Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, have done their share to desecrate. Well-meaning rabbis envisioned that the congregation serve as a “one stop” recreation center for its people. Throughout the decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s, suburban synagogues were built with basketball courts, and exercise rooms with the pièce de résistance being “a shule with a pool!” Why, even the names of these congregations evoked the fact that all one’s needs are provided for. In the late ‘70’s, I was teaching Hebrew School at Van Cortland Jewish Center in the Bronx. Hanging on the wall in my office is a vanity license plate denoting my prior pulpit, (Temple) Beth Or. Yet, Temple Beth Or was incorporated as Clark Jewish Center!

Personally speaking, I am very much in favor of a synagogue being home to a Cub Scout pack or a Girl Guide group. I think it’s wonderful that Book Clubs take place in synagogue buildings and I would give anything if we could provide a meeting place for Jewish seniors to get together on a regular to play mahjong or Bridge.

Heaven forbid however, that all these pastimes and recreational activities be at the expense of praying! One of the saddest comments I ever heard, was from a well-meaning congregant who boasted that she was in the synagogue six days a week. What she neglected to say, is that as often as she was in the synagogue building, she entered the sanctuary a mere four times a year – both days of Rosh Hashana, Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur Yizkor. Regardless of the name on the building of a church, synagogue, or mosque; it is still first and foremost a house of prayer. People like to see synagogues active and vibrant. No one would argue that. Yet, when prayer becomes at best secondary to other activities taking place, then I cannot help but feel that it is time for the synagogue leadership to engage in some serious soul-searching.

Halacha or Jewish law was quite specific when it forbade the sale of a synagogue to a church. I cannot help but feel that Halacha or Jewish law saw the very walls of a synagogue being imbued with a sanctity that did not dissipate with the sale of the building. I also cannot help but feel that Halacha or Jewish law fell woefully short. If the sanctity of a synagogue is anything but ephemeral, then that sanctity must take presence over anything and everything that goes on in that synagogue. Let it never be forgotten that Book Clubs, Bridge Clubs, Youth Clubs, as well as all other activities are taking place in a House of Worship.

“My grandmother is happy I spend time in Church, even if I’m exercising my biceps and not my soul,” said Olivier Pratte in a Montreal gym that had once been a church.

Maybe your grandmother is happy, Mr. Pratte. Many other grandmothers are rolling over in their graves, seeing what has become of their house of worship as perspiration replaces inspiration.

CAMP IS VERY ENTERTAINING

Her name was Cheri. She was engaged to Keith and they were planning to marry. I met them in a Conversion to Judaism class that I was teaching. A relationship ensued between Cheri and Keith and me, in that they were totally dissatisfied with their Rabbi and asked if I would “sponsor them” on the road to Cheri’s conversion to Judaism and ultimately officiate at their wedding.  Other than the fact that Cheri broke her leg two weeks before the wedding and walked down the aisle with her leg in a cast, I will always remember a story Cheri told me about her childhood.

Cheri was raised in Brooklyn by a single parent. Her father abandoned her and her mother when Cherie was an infant. Cheri’s mother was Catholic. Yet, when Cheri was ready to attend Summer Camp, not one Catholic Camp in all of Brooklyn was prepared to respond to any and all pleas on the part of Cheri’s mother accept Cheri, in that Cheri’s mother didn’t have the necessary funds. Despite all attempts, virtually every Catholic Summer Camp in Brooklyn slammed the door in their face. There was, however, a Jewish Summer Camp in Brooklyn that did not slam the door in their face. This Jewish Summer Camp would in no way deny a young girl a camp experience. Her religious background and upbringing was not a factor.

I recently thought of Cheri when I read about Camp Nefesh based at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Louis, Missouri hosting refugee children. Regardless how many of us might feel about the current debacle taking place at our southern border, there are those in St. Louis who feel that the children of these refugees should not be denied a (day) camp experience. Nor are they alone.  Jewish Day Camps in Washington State, as well as in California, have adopted a similar approach toward the children of refugees.

However effusive our Yasher Koach is to these Jewish Day Camps who possess such concern and neshomeh (soul) for children of refugees in this country, I would also hope that Jewish Day Camps open their gates, their arms, and their hearts to children born into Jewish families who are in dire financial straits.  The Jewish Day School I attended no longer exists. The memories, however, live on. Among those memories are contemporaries of mine, born to Holocaust survivors who struggled to put food on the table. Yet, those contemporaries of mine were not in any way denied a Jewish education. And those contemporaries of mine had clothes to wear, even if those clothes were “hand-me-downs.” If a Jewish Day School can do this, there is no reason why a Jewish Day Camp cannot. Until Moshiach comes, the reality is that there will be those among our people who are living in poverty.

I have no idea if color wars and other similar activities are still in vogue at Summer Camps. I would hope however that the praiseworthy efforts of Camp Nefesh and other camps become a learning tool for the campers. Five years ago, a documentary was produced titled, “50 Children-The Rescue Mission of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus.” Very much attuned to the storm clouds brewing over Nazi Germany, the Krauses undertook to wrest 50 Jewish children from Vienna in the Spring of 1939. I believe that this documentary ought to be shown to campers – particularly on Tisha B’Av when the inyana d’yoma (Aramaic for topic for the day) ought to be discord among Jews – so that they be made aware of an antidote for the much too pervasive enmity that exists amongst Jewish groups. Shouldn’t the tenet Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another) be inculcated into the minds and souls of the upcoming generation?

Last but not least, embracing the stranger must not be a 4 or 6-week mitzvah. I would hope that on Parents Day, the parents of the campers be sensitized to this Jewish value. To have a refugee family at your Shabbat or Festival family is meritorious; to have a “have-not” Jewish family at your Shabbat or Festival table is one beautiful mitzvah.

Kudos to Camp Nefesh for showing us that what they offer is more than “child’s play.” Perhaps Jewish families will follow suit throughout the year to show that Nefesh and Neshomeh are virtually interchangeable.

HEY, DON’T YOU WALK OUT!

Close to 25 years ago, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, prominent American Jews known for their generosity and largesse agreed that something had to be as far as Jewish youth between the ages of 18-26 identifying as Jews. They came up with “Birthright.”

Known in Hebrew as Taglit, or “discovery,” Birthright brings Jewish youth from gateway cities in this country to Israel for a 10-day, all expenses paid trip of Israel, which includes sightseeing, lectures and meeting with Israelis. As a matter a fact, seated across the aisle from us on our recent flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, were Canadian college students beginning their Birthright experience.

Little did we know, that a mere four days later, five participants (not those on our flight) would walk off their Birthright trip and onto a tour of Hebron led by Breaking the Silence, a group sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. The five participants were also members of  If Not Now,  an American group opposed to Birthright, in that they maintained that Birthright had a “one-sided”  agenda, thereby concealing the “truth” about the “Israeli occupation”.

Pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe what took place, just as Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the behavior of the If Not Now members. If there were any justice in this world, other “friendly” Palestinians from Hebron would have greeted the five defectors with a welcoming committee, slingshots armed and ready, tires burning, while screaming “Allahu Akbar.” Heaven forbid that any physical harm would befall them, but I for one would have hoped and prayed that the experience would have left them shaken. Birthright goes out of its way to ensure and guarantee the safety of all its participants, yet a group determined to “save Israel from itself” meanders off to neighborhoods where they could very well be greeted with Arabs chanting “Itbah al-Yahud” (Arabic for “slaughter the Jew”).

Birthright is totally transparent as far as its itinerary and its goal. If that itinerary and goal is too one-sided for your tastes or political views, no one is forcing you to participate. Speaking of one-sided political views, Zehut is a political party in Israel, espousing Jewish sovereignty in all parts of the Land of Israel. Zehut encourages voluntary emigration of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Yet, I am not aware of any members of Zehut or any college age students who identify with Zehut ideology signing up for Birthright and then walking off their Birthright trip only to proceed with a tour of Hebron with the express purpose of meeting with nationalist Jewish settlers, living in a city surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. For them to do so would be an affront to Birthright. To sign up for what amounts to an all expense paid for trip to Israel, only to walk off that trip because of one’s personal political agenda is antithetical to Judaism. My upbringing instilled in me that this is simply no way for a mentsch to behave. Would these same “walkers” accept an invitation to spend an evening with a family, only to get up partway through that evening, to walk over to and visit with a problematic neighbor?

If groups such as “If Not Now” maintain that Birthright is presenting our youth with a jaundiced view of Israel, then let “If Not Now” offer our youth an alternative Israel experience, replete with their own political agenda. They have every right to do so, provided they present themselves honestly. I will be the first to applaud their integrity regardless of how I feel about their orientation. If on the other hand, the behavior of such groups is less than forthright and honest, and their constituents sign up to participate on Birthright only to undermine Birthright, then they’ve reminded me how very repulsive it is when Jews turn against each other. And that, is a shanda of the highest order.

ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION

In all probability, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews will be fasting this Sunday, as yet another Tisha B’Av is commemorated. It may very well be that the rabbinic sages who experienced and survived the horrors of the Temple in flames, would find it extremely hard to believe that the mourning over a destroyed Temple continues and perhaps in some cases has even intensified in some respects two thousand years after the calamity.

If the message of Tisha B’Av is to be truly understood and appreciated, it would seem to me that our focus as Jews not be in any way limited to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are other destructions that are not only worthy of notice, but actually cry out for our attention. Hopefully we will shed a tear for them as well.

The destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem was a two-time event. The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians occurred in the year 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the second Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 C.E. Since then, the Babylonians have not destroyed any Temples; since then, the Romans have not destroyed any Temples. Neither has any other nation, for that matter.

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and unfortunately, in some cases gone so far as to participate in, other destructions, however. Long before the destruction of the two Temples, and ever since the destruction of the two Temples, we have destroyed relationships. Intentionally or not, we have turned the priceless loyalty of friends into a worthless heap of ashes. Placing personal agenda over devotion, elevating ego over esteem, we have destroyed cherished friendships, close friendships. Our siddurim or prayer books don’t seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to the reconstructing Jerusalem and rebuilding the holy Temple. Yet, when it comes to reconstructing a relationship or rebuilding a friendship, those very same siddurim are ominously silent. How very sad!

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and, in some cases, gone so far as to participate in, the destruction of careers. One thing humans are quite adept at is character assassination. Sixty plus years ago, a lackluster senator from Wisconsin, aided and abetted by the press, as well as other media outlets, was catapulted to national fame as he fanned the flames of fear of the American people. A nation of “Chicken Littles” were caught up in a frenzy of this country being infiltrated by Communists. “We have to do something,” clucked the frightened fowl. And so, they put a kibosh on careers and ruined reputations. And yes, some whose lives were left in tatters even ended up committing suicide. Yet, lest one think that “Chicken Littles” have flown the coop, one would do well to consider the spate of sexual harassment charges that have been recently hurled. Who would ever have believed that there are secretaries who consensually misbehaved with their superiors, only to suddenly decide to take the moral high road after having been spurned and cast aside by those very same superiors as the appetites of those superiors are whetted by other women?

Speaking of suicides, did you know that suicide is the second ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age? Thanks to “cyber-bullying” otherwise known as using the internet to spread malicious gossip to ruin someone’s reputation, more and more of our youth are taking their own lives. Yet, parents from all social and economic strata refuse to even consider the possibility that their child is either in harms way as a potential victim, or is heaven forbid one of the perpetrators of such reprehensible behavior. Instead, time and energy are expended for the physical safety of the student, while the spiritual safety of that same student goes unnoticed.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem this Sunday, we would well to also mourn relationships and friendships we’ve destroyed, careers we’ve shattered and teenage suicides to which we sit by idly and do nothing.