PRYING INTO PRAYER

A good many American Jews of retirement age are very much familiar with The Lord’s Prayer. Jewish, it isn’t. Pope Francis has been aware for some time now that something is amiss with the venerated Christian prayer. That is why it came as no surprise when it was reported that the Pontiff wished to tweak the text of the Lord’s Prayer. He was particularly troubled by Christians asking of G-d: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Meaning no disrespect to the Holy See, but temptation is not necessarily a bad thing. As far as Judaism is concerned, temptation comes in two flavors – good and bad. Trouble is, throughout the generations, so many Christian theologians have been stuck in the Garden of Eden, where the first couple was tempted by the cunning serpent to indulge in the forbidden fruit, that these theologians simply can’t see the forest for the tree (sic). For these theologians, temptation is synonymous with evil. “Gevalt,” exclaim our rabbis. Were it not for temptation, those who came across one small cruse of certified oil while cleaning up the Greek mess in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem would have been left in the dark. It was temptation that led them to light the oil, even though rationally they held out little, if any, expectation that the oil would last beyond twenty-four hours. Similarly, it was temptation and not intellect that led a small ragtag Maccabee army to engage in battle with a larger, better trained army that was superiorly equipped. Chanukah and (good) temptation go together like potato latkes and sour cream.

Meaning no disrespect to the Bishop of Rome, but G-d does not lead us into temptation, nor has G-d ever led us into temptation. Truth of the matter is G-d does not lead us anywhere. In Judaism we call that free will. And that’s the way it has been ever since Adam and Eve. This world is wired with free will for humans and because of this, G-d was able to say to Cain: If thou do well, things will work out just fine, but if you mess up, you’ll wish that you were never born. Just as G-d cannot lead us into complacency, so too G-d cannot led us into temptation. Some 21 centuries ago, there was any number of our people who were tempted by the Greek lifestyle that was so pervasive at the time. Those Jews earned the moniker Hellenists. And when the Hellenists went too far and brought that lifestyle into places that were off limits, the Hasmoneans took up arms against the Hellenists and civil war broke out. That’s how the story of Chanukah took root.

Meaning no disrespect to the Pontiff, but if he wishes to place G-d and temptation in the same sentence, then he might consider rewriting the Lord’s Prayer, so that the petitioner asks for strength, determination, and fortitude from HaShem to properly deal with temptation. If it’s good temptation, the petitioner should pray for strength not to have second thoughts or to shy away, but to go for it; if it’s bad temptation, the petitioner should pray for strength to fight that temptation and to overcome it. Just as there were those who succumbed to the Hellenist lifestyle, so too were there those who resisted the Hellenist lifestyle. And the rest they say, is the history of Chanukah.

As long as we live, as long as we are healthy in mind and soul, temptation will always be part of our lives. A true mentsch, perhaps even a Tzaddik is one who knows how and when to implement (good) temptation and when to subdue (bad) it. In doing so, that mentsch or Tzaddik  will succeed in bringing more light into this world than any Chanukah Menorah.

THAT REALLY TAKES THE CAKE

Yesterday, the Supreme Court met to hear the case of plaintiffs David Mullins and Charlie Craig and defendant Jack Phillips. Jack Phillips is proprietor of Masterpiece Cake Shop in Colorado. He refused to bake/create an elaborate wedding cake for Mr. Mullins and Mr. Craig, citing his religious beliefs that find same sex marriage to be at best, unacceptable.

The “Jewish response” is predictably split. Generally speaking, the Orthodox side with the baker; the Conservative and Reform side with the grooms. It seems to me however, that there ought to more to the Jewish response than denominational demarcation.
On more than one occasion, fellow Jews have “made a tsimmes” because of religious belief, or lack thereof. It mattered little to them if they took up the cudgel against government or private industry. A little over a decade ago, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky created a ruckus over synthetic Christmas trees on display at Sea Tac airport. Although he insisted that all he wanted was equal footing for Chanukah menorahs being displayed as well, his outcry was seen as indignation, resulting in Christmas trees being removed from the airport. Once upon a time, airlines in this country provided meal service on domestic flights. Alaska Airlines was one of those carriers. On the meal tray, Alaska Airlines included a prayer card. A few decades back, a (Jewish) passenger made news, as she threatened Alaska Airlines with a lawsuit, claiming that the prayer card on her meal tray was an infringement on her religious beliefs and causing her to lose her appetite, thereby preventing her from eating the meal, much less enjoying it. It mattered little to this Jewish passenger that the prayer card on her meal tray contained verses from the Book of Psalms, otherwise known to us as “tehillim.”

I may very well be a lone voice, but it seems to me, that as a people that has been denied entry into colleges and Medical Schools and Law Schools because of “beliefs”, as a people that has been denied membership into Country Clubs and prohibited from living in certain neighborhoods in any number of American cities because of “beliefs”, we Jews should be most careful in considering and weighing beliefs, including those beliefs that are seen by many as being legitimate and kosher.

As a rabbi, I am empowered to officiate at non-Jewish weddings. As a rabbi, I am empowered to preside over the marriage of two non-Jews, who for whatever reason seek my services. Among the recurring nightmares that plague me, is being approached by a same sex couple –say, on Christmas day when I am in my office doing work, minding my own business. With marriage license in hand, they ask me to join them in matrimony. Does my refusal to do so, place me in the same onerous position as Jack Phillips? (I cannot truthfully fall back on the claim that I do not officiate at civil ceremonies, because there was at least one civil ceremony that I did preside over.)

It seems to me that with Chanukah soon upon us with its message of establishing boundaries (the straw that broke the camel’s back was a Hellenist Jew who overstepped his boundaries and sacrificed a pig on the holy altar. Similarly the Greek king Antiochus overstepped his boundaries with his harsh decries interfering with the practice of the belief of a foreign people) that regardless of yesterday’s finding of the Supreme Court, it behooves us to carefully establish boundaries that will not only protects us but  respects others as well.

YOU MUST BE DREAMING

Afghanistan? No. So began the vote seventy years ago this week, in Flushing Meadows, New York where the United Nations had its temporary home. Those assembled were voting on U.N. resolution 181 whether, what was then Palestine, should be partitioned into an Arab State as well as a Jewish State. Less than a half year later, the State of Israel would come into the being. For the first time in two millennia, Jews would have a country of their own.

Seventy years is synonymous with dreaming, according to the rabbis of the Talmud. Our rabbinic sages base this analogy on the introductory verse of Psalm 126 which introduces Birkat Hamazon or the Grace after meals when recited on Shabbat and festivals. Back in 1947, Ben Gurion, Begin et al would clearly have assigned our world of today to a fantasy world or a world of dreams, as far as Israel and the United Nations.
“You must be dreaming,” the early Zionist leaders would in all likelihood have said if someone would have told them that there would come a time when an Israeli Prime Minister would be addressing the United Nations. But an Israeli Prime Minister has addressed the United Nations…more than once. And when Benjamin Netanyahu has addressed the United Nations, he has down so as a proud Israeli and a proud Jew with his head held high, commanding the respect of his friends while drawing the ire of his foes. But sympathy? World sympathy is totally foreign and unknown to the generation of Benjamin Netanyahu as well as those of subsequent generations. World sympathy went by the wayside decades ago, along with our national neuroses of Mah Yomru HaGoyim or what will the (non-Jewish) nations say or think.

“You must be dreaming,” the early Zionist leaders would in all likelihood have said if someone would have told them that there would come a time when an American Ambassador to the United Nations would be lecturing many of those assembled, wagging her finger at them, telling them that they were biased against Israel. The early Zionist leaders of the Ben Gurion generation could not possibly have fathomed an American Ambassador to the United Nation warning many of those assembled to “get off of Israel’s back” and to take their anti-Semitism which is masqueraded as anti-Zionism and to “stuff it.” But that is precisely what a bold, determined and self-assured Nikki Haley has done. For the record, Ambassador Haley previously served as Governor of South Carolina, a state not known for any Jewish cabal or similar.

“You must be dreaming,” the early Zionist leaders would in all likelihood have said if someone would have told them that there would come a time when Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations would be elected as chairman of the U.N. Legal Committee, making him the first Israeli chosen to head a permanent committee of the U.N., only to be elected a year later as Vice-President of the 72nd annual session of the UN General Assembly. Similarly, those very same early Zionist leaders would have stared in disbelief to learn that a mere two years ago, the United Nations purchased close to 98 million dollars’ worth of Israeli goods, more than double the amount purchased two years prior to that.

As one who is no great fan of the United Nations (I was at the U.N. with thousands of others, 42 years ago this month protesting their adopting General Assembly resolution 3379 declaring  Zionism equals Racism), as one who dismisses their  ceaseless ludicrous and baseless incessant condemnation of Israel for anything and everything (the U.N. women’s rights commission condemned Israel as the world’s only violator of women’s rights, ignoring real abusers of women’s rights such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many others) even I have to admit that Israel has made unbelievable strides in an organization that held a vote seventy years ago this week that would ultimately result in the birth of the State of Israel. You must be dreaming!

 

WINCE LESS BEFORE WENCESLAS

I have no idea how many of you will be offering up a prayer of thanksgiving before you sit down to the turkey and trimmings, Thursday afternoon. I truly hope that you do offer up such a prayer. In fact, I am providing you with three different prayer topics that you may wish to chew on. Feel free to use any, all or a combination of the ideas I present below:

Coming from an Eastern European heritage where our ancestors were treated as second class citizens at best, Thanksgiving is a national holiday in which we Jews can fully participate with no reservations  on our part whatsoever. Can you imagine if the Pilgrims had dined on wild boar for their first Thanksgiving? Can you imagine if no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without curds and whey? Can you imagine if the Plymouth pilgrims had chowed down on clam chowder for their first Thanksgiving? Thankfully, turkey was the fare, and even if Turkey was a strange bird to us Jews in every sense of the word, our rabbinic leaders concurred that the fowl was edible, as incredible as that might be. And the pumpkin pie along with the sweet potatoes and stuffing or dressing also comes with rabbinic endorsement, provided of course all ingredients added to the pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, stuffing or dressing are kosher.

Thanksgiving is the “wince less before Wenceslas”. Several years back in December, Sarah Moore who worked in the Tiferet office, was kind enough to run an errand with me. Sarah followed me in my car as I dropped off my wife’s car at the mechanic. Driving back to Tiferet (Sarah was at the wheel) Christmas music was playing on the car radio. “Would you like me to switch stations”, Sarah instinctively asked. I reassured Sarah that I was a fan of any number of Christmas songs, especially those orchestrated by Manheim Steamroller. I may or may not be in the minority of rabbis who has an appetite for Christmas songs. There are other rabbis no doubt as well as other Jews for that matter who wince at songs that deal with subject matter that evokes negative associations. Not so Thanksgiving. Other than not receiving a much hoped for invitation, or having to eat the meat of the Turkey you must grin and bear whenever it is served to you, there is nothing offensive or hurtful about Thanksgiving to any religion, including ours. We Jews have every reason to be thankful, that there is nothing offensive about Thanksgiving – unless of course you simply detest turkey.

There are “date sensitive” holidays and there are “day sensitive” holidays. The former refer to those holidays that are celebrated on a specific date on the calendar regardless of the day of the week that it falls out. The latter refer to those holidays that are celebrated on a specific day of the week, regardless of the date on the calendar. Christmas is “date sensitive”; Thanksgiving is “day sensitive”. As Jews, it should hardly matter if Christmas day falls on Shabbat, or the day before or after. As Jews, it matters a great deal, that Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, giving us plenty of time to prepare for Shabbat. For this too, we owe a big debt of thanks.

On Thursday, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving repast, let us be sensitive to the bountiful blessing this country affords us. Let us be cognizant of the challenges those who went before us had to deal with to secure the freedom that is ours. Let us be aware how truly blessed we Jews are to be able to celebrate a holiday that is so very “kosher” in so many ways.

 

THE NEW R&B

For the last several decades, we Jews have been privy to or heard about situations where Jewish youngsters raised in good Reform and Conservative homes, or those who were disenfranchised from our religion and heritage altogether, eschewed their upbringing and went “whole hog,” ending up in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Chabad, Breslov, or “no-name” long-beard and peyos (side locks) Judaism.

It was with a great deal of interest, therefore, that I read about how one young man from the “radical” Satmar sect of Chassidim – the grandson of the  Satmar Rebbe no less – abandoned Satmar, his family, his wife, and his infant daughter to become a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. How ironic! Satmar, a sect that totally rejects Israel, in that it believes that a Jewish State can only come into being with the arrival of the Messiah, has a descendant of its leading family prepared to give his life for the safety and well-being of that very same country.

Chaim Meisels grew up totally proficient in Yiddish, severely limited in English, and with Hebrew that revolved around  prayers such as “Ashrei,” “Barchu,” and the language and parlance of religious texts – all in perfectly intoned Eastern European Hebrew. In addition to the challenge of having to travel through time in order to update himself to accommodate present day Israeli culture, Chaim now had the task of learning to speak contemporary Hebrew. Nor is Chaim the only one ever to desert his past. There are hundreds if not more “Chaims” here in this country as well as elsewhere who have rejected and bolted. What does this tell us?

First and foremost, we can deduce that Satmar and other insular groups are not without their own internal problems. Children do not come into this world with warranties or guarantees that that, for better or worse, they will follow the footsteps of their families as well as the communities of their formative years, where they were raised and educated. Just as open communities have been known to produce children who totally reject the values of their parents, so too do secluded communities raise children, albeit in seemingly smaller numbers, who totally reject the values of their parents.

As much as some of us would like to believe otherwise, we can’t live our children’s lives for them. Yes, children lack experience, and therefore have been known to have judgement that is questionable at best. And yes, children make mistakes that can and sometimes will affect them for the rest of their lives. But as tragic as this may be, there might not always be an alternative. When Chaim Meisels displayed signs of rejection and bolting – he opened up to his rebbe and came clean, confessing that he had not observed Shabbat for years and that he no longer felt part of Satmar – the rebbe had a “brilliant” solution; all of Chaim’s problems could be solved through a wife. And so, at the age of 17, there was Chaim standing under the chuppah with a woman he had met with for 50 minutes (no need to worry, her parents questioned Chaim thoroughly – in the realm of Talmud). The only problem was that instead of bolting and rejecting parents, siblings and a community, Chaim bolted from and rejected a young wife and infant daughter as well.

Rejecting and bolting is far from a Jewish phenomenon. The Amish, along with similar sects (l’havdil or perish the comparison), face similar problems where children reject and bolt. Restraint, a basic human need, has to be implemented by parents and society with caution. Restraint is very individualistic, especially when it comes to religion. For some, the ability to restrain is synonymous with the ability to maintain. It is welcome, for it provides a framework for everyday life. Contrary to what many of us would like to believe, a healthy life is a life with a set of rules. The only questions are how many rules, and how pervasive are those rules. For others, restrain is synonymous with disdain. And that is exactly what happened with Chaim Meisels. Other than perhaps some “niggunim” (Satmar melodies) and perhaps some foods emblematic of his past, Satmar, along with its values, is quite possibly viewed with contempt and revulsion by Chaim as well as others who rejected and bolted.

For many of us, the Chaim Meisels story holds great interest; for others, particularly family and community, the Chaim Meisels story is a source of embarrassment and shame.

 

 

  • Typically, R&B is understood to mean Rhythm and Blues.
    For this article, R&B means rejecting and bolting

CHUTZPAH, ISN’T IT?

This Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Named for Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, the Declaration stated in part: “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Can you imagine such magnanimity? The British government viewed with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, when Palestine was not even under British control! It wasn’t until December 9th of that year, five weeks after the Balfour Declaration was signed, that British forces led by General Sir Edmund Allenby wrested Jerusalem from Turkish control. In fact, it wasn’t until practically a year later, on October 31, 1918, when all of Palestine came under British control. I’m sure that at that time, His Majesty’s Government viewed any number of territorial changes with favour. Who knows? Perhaps His Majesty’s Government also viewed the retaking of the expanded Thirteen Colonies with favour as well. Why, I think that Lord Balfour was simply divine – at least in his own mind. Having perused the Torah any number of times, I’ve come across HaShem promising the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants, but I’ve never come across Lord Balfour promising the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants.

But it was more than a national home for the Jewish people that His Majesty’s Government viewed with favour. His Majesty’s Government viewed fairness with favour. His Majesty’s Government knew that it had to show fairness to both the Arabs and the Jews already firmly ensconced in Palestine. And so it did. His Majesty’s Government showed fairness to the Jews and even more fairness to the Arabs. His Majesty’s government simply knew that unfairness to Jews would lead to hurt, anger and feelings of being disenfranchised; unfairness to Arabs led would lead to slit throats. Just as His Majesty’s Government viewed the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jewish people with favour, so too did the British view un-slit throats with favour. And that’s why immigration to Palestine of Jews looking to escape Hitler was curtailed and cut down to a trickle by the British, as was immigration to Palestine of the bedraggled, war torn Jews who somehow managed to defy the odds and survive Hitler.

If His Majesty’s Government viewed fairness with favour, it also viewed justice with favour – its concept of justice. And that’s why His Majesty’s Government views how it was done dirty by the very same Jews it sought to “civilize.” The savage bombing of the King David Hotel by the Igun Tzvai LeUmi will never be forgotten, nor will the kidnapping and hanging of Sergeant Clifford Martin and Sergeant Mervyn Paice (the Irgun Tzvai LeUmi threatened to hang the two kidnapped Sergeants if the British carried out the execution of Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar and Yaakov Weiss.) Apparently justice, full and complete justice, has yet to be carried out. Otherwise why has no State Visit to Israel ever taken place by any British Prime Minister? “When the time is right” remains the official response issued by 10 Downing Street.

His Majesty’s Government cedes land that is not its own, His Majesty’s Government views fairness with favor, especially when dealing with Israel’s Arab population, His Majesty’s Government has yet to put aside decade’s old recriminations against Israel, despite its own besmirched, sullied reputation between the years 1917 through 1948. Chutzpah, isn’t it?

THE MOST SERIOUS ISSUE

Thirty-seven years ago, practically to the day, President Carter, seeking re-election to this nation’s highest office,  made the following comment during Presidential Debate #2 with Ronald Reagan: “I asked my daughter Amy (then 13 years old) what the most important issue (confronting the United States) was?”

I hadn’t thought about the “Amy question” for the longest time. Last week, the “Amy question” resurfaced when a leading Jewish newspaper in this country queried 18 rabbis what they thought was the most serious issue confronting American Jews. As might be expected, 18 different answers were proffered… And then some.
At the risk of adopting a “sour grapes attitude” in that I wasn’t among the 18 (come to think of it, I would have declined comment, had I been asked), I should like to share my answer with you, my faithful readers: The most serious issue confronting American Jews is American Jews.

I offer three reasons:

A good many American Jews spend a good many hours reading a good many reports on the state of American Jewry. As a result, there are those who work themselves into a tizzy and run around spouting jeremiads that the (Jewish) sky is falling. Pish-Tosh! The sky is not falling and the earth is not shaking under our feet. Times are a changing, and a new American Jew is emerging. Yet American Jewry is no worse off than it was, say, half a century ago. As a matter of fact, in some respects, American Jewry is far healthier than it has ever been. I do not recall major American cities having as many kosher restaurants as is currently the case. Nor do I recall so many Sukkahs being constructed for the festival. The variety of food bearing kashrut symbols is simply staggering. The number of Jewish Day Schools is “naches to the nth degree.”  Sure, assimilation is spinning out of control and yes, endogamy is not what many of us would like it to be, but there are many aspects about American Judaism that even our grandparents would never have believed.

I used to think that “I’m proud to be a Jew” was a meaningless statement. I now believe that “I’m proud to be a Jew” is a dangerous statement. Unless one is a Jew by choice, being a Jew is purely an accident of birth. It requires absolutely nothing of the Jewish individual, not even a declaration of faith. What I have yet to hear is for someone to exclaim, “I’m proud of my Jewish accomplishments” or “I’m proud of the time and energy I’ve put into becoming a better versed, as well as better educated, Jew.” We live in the age of workouts and personal trainers. Shouldn’t there be Jewish workouts and trainers as well? Recently, I served as a personal “trainer” to someone who wanted to learn to lead prayer services.  In less time than one could imagine, that person achieved his goal. In doing so, he has every right to exclaim, “I’m proud of my learning how to lead synagogue services.”

It began with the slogan “a shul with a pool.” The thinking was to let the Jewish community be all things to all Jews. As praiseworthy as it was intended to be, while such thinking has strengthened the Jewish community, it has, by the same token, taken its toll on individual Jews. By spending considerable time, as well as a great deal of effort, in taking advantage of so much that the Jewish community has to offer, little if any time and even less energy is left for prayer services, education classes, and instructional programs. I’m not aware of Jewish handball or Jewish basketball, but I am very much aware of serving HaShem. Communal prayer has always been and continues to be at the top of that list. Jewish education has always been a sine qua non for our people. Individual participation has always been the most important thing.

Anti-Semitism, terrorism and all other “isms” are real and genuine concerns. None of them – individually or collectively – will destroy the Jewish people or the Jewish religion.
What I want…what’s most important to me, is a guarantee that Judaism, synagogue Judaism, prayer Judaism, home Judaism, and street Judaism will remain strong and vibrant. Such a guarantee is not as farfetched as you might think, despite all other serious issues confronting American Jews today.

SCHWEINEHUND*

Kfar Kitvin is an 87 year old Moshav, a stone’s throw from Netanya, a thriving city on the Mediterranean between Tel Aviv and Haifa. To the best of my knowledge, until last week, Kfar Vitkin had made the news only once. Back in July 1948, the Atalena, an Irgun ship filled with ammunition, docked at Kfar Vitkin for a very brief time, until it had to pull up anchor. The ship then headed for Tel Aviv, where it was summarily destroyed by the nascent Israeli army. Kfar Vitkin evokes bitter memories of David Ben Gurion butting heads with Menachem Begin – Jew against Jew.

Recently, Kfar Vitkin was in the news again. It appears to be yet another story of Jew against Jew, given the paucity of neo-Nazis in the area, as well as in all Israel. A week ago Saturday, Omri Kessler woke up only to discover that overnight, the family dog had been sprayed with a swastika. If any Jew wishes to send a message of great displeasure to his co-religionist neighbor, then he ought to be careful how he wades into the domain of the Third Reich.

Schweinhund! Swastikas are the sole domain of Nazis, neo-Nazis, and other pure-blooded Aryans. On a good day, moronic anti-Semites, as well as school age children who are at par with moronic anti-Semites in that they have no idea whatsoever as to the meaning of the swastika, might also have the blessings of the Third Reich to deface objects with swastikas. But for a Jew to paint a swastika on an object, whether animate or inanimate, is totally verboten.  Gott in Himmel! This is what happens when society becomes overly tolerant. It’s bad enough Jews sullied Germany in the 1930s with their mere presence. Now these Jews must sully the swastika that has has been sacrosanct to Nazis by painting it on a dog. How dare those Jews!

Speaking of dogs, doesn’t this miscreant who defaced the Kessler dog have any reverence for the life of an animal? The only thing that could be worse than spray-painting poor Schnuckiputzi (cutie pie) would be if the Kessler hound was a Doberman or a German Sheppard. Nazis sure did love their Dobermans and German Shepherds! In fact, as far as Nazis were concerned, any mutt off the street had far more worth than even the noblest Jew. I recall watching a short documentary of Nazis herding Jewish children into a mobile killing unit, only to interrupt the “final solution” so that a Nazi soldier could retrieve a German Sheppard that, together with other trained canines, was nipping at the legs of the children and in the process had mistakenly followed the children into the van. It was simply unconscionable for a Nazi soldier to let a poor dog meet the same fate as the wretched Jew children. Anyone who would dare deface a dog is deserving of being called Schweinehund!

“Don’t get mad, get even” is a quote attributed to the late Robert (Bobby) Kennedy. “Schweinehundt!” Adolph would have responded. “You Americans and you Israelis! You Fiji Islanders and you Liberians! You don’t know what mad is. If you want to see madness, then you must watch the way, I (Hitler) am depicted in the 2004 movie ‘Downfall’! Why my anger tantrum is so effective that it has spawned a number of parodies. Nothing gets people to quake in their boots more than being the target of the rants of an infuriated madman.  Only a dummkopf would spritz a swastika on a dog, not realizing that a spittle-flecked tirade of a madman, impossible to placate, would be far more effective.”

Can you just imagine if the aggrieved Kfar Vitkinite responsible for the swastika would have appeared at the doorstep of the Kessler residence and exploded into a harangue of a Nazi madman, all the while holding the pooch by the scruff of the neck? Omri Kessler would have immediately decided that it wasn’t worth it to leave the dog unchained. If there were other Kfar Vitkinites who felt the same way about the dog, the “madman” would have instantly become a hero.

How can Jews possibly decry swastikas when they use the same shape to get a message across? How can Jews possibly spray paint a dog with a swastika when they are totally ignorant of the canine’s political beliefs? How can Jews respond in such a ridiculous fashion when unbridled anger, while even more ridiculous, has proven to be far more effective?

*Schweinehund is a German infinitely potent expletive for calling someone a piece of garbage.

DISCOVERIES

Just the other day, a congregant asked me whether I thought that Christopher Columbus was a Jew. Truth be told, I really don’t care. Of far greater concern to me was, if Columbus did indeed discover America, then what did the largest influx of Jews to this country discover? With Columbus Day having been commemorated earlier this week, perhaps it’s time to look back and bring to mind what the two million plus Jews emigrating from Eastern Europe discovered. Aside from “streets paved with gold,” it may very well be that our Eastern European ancestors discovered three things … about themselves.

Despite our romanticized view of the shtetl where every Jew was a devout, pious, G-d fearing individual, Eastern Europeans, discovered that observance-wise, their Judaism was not in any way as unshakable as they conceived it to be. Working on the Sabbath aside (far be it for us to sit in judgement), our Eastern European (female) coreligionists quickly and quietly disposed of wearing a sheitl and immersing themselves in the mikvah. To be sure, the two observances cannot be equated, in that the sheitl was visible to all and the mikvah was both personal and private; nevertheless, it is difficult to see why the sheitl, or especially the mikvah, would be an impediment to securing employment in the new world. It is difficult to understand how their discarding of both the sheitl and the mikvah could have been for financial success. As for their male counterparts, in so many cases, neither their yarmulkes nor their tallis and tefillen seem to have made it off the ship, once that ship docked at an American port city. Working on Shabbat and Yom Tov is one thing; fitting in a fast mincha and ma’ariv is quite something else.

If religious fervor waned, then nationalist fervor waxed. As much as Eastern European Jews viewed the Czar with disdain and prayed that HaShem bless the Czar and “keep him far away from them,” Eastern European Jews, particularly those who settled in the northeast of this country – discovered that they loved the American president even more – especially if his name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. So much so that they coined the Yiddish phrase that when it comes to “velt” (Yiddish for “world”), there are three: this velt, the velt to come, and Roosevelt. American Jews may have hidden their Judaism, especially when it came to anglicizing their family names (Vinchevsky became Winston, Lipschitz became Lipton, Yankelevitch became Jackson) but they proudly displayed their Americanism. Aside from being sworn in as American citizens, the greatest accomplishment for many Eastern European Jewish immigrants was being able to join an “All-American” club, with the piece de resistance (for the upwardly mobile)  being voted in as a member of the country club.

And yet, despite their infatuation with “Columbus’ Medinah” (Columbus country), a good many American Jews discovered that when all was said and done, they possessed an unwavering nostalgia for the shetl. They may not have missed the poverty, but they longed for the incomparable fruit they fondly recalled eating. They may not have had a yen for the pogroms, but they fondly remembered the various personages that continued to live on in legend. It is of little wonder that that Landsmanschaften (compatriot clubs) sprang up in American cities of sizeable Jewish populations. In addition to monthly meetings and end of the year galas, where Jews from, say, Ludvipol (Poland) could get together with landsleit (compatriots) more often than not to reminisce, exchange notes and get caught up (landsleit were often related – however distantly), these Landsmanschaften purchased tracts of land at cemeteries, offering plots to their members at affordable prices, as well as “free loans” – that is to say, loans at more favorable rates than other institutions.

As of late, Columbus Day has gone the way of other institutions in this country that are now being seen as hurtful and offensive to certain groups. American Jews, particularly those from Eastern Europe, have good reason to associate Columbus Day with discoveries that were off the charts as far as the Italian explorer was concerned.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL

In all likelihood, it’s been close to half a century since I’ve last watched any game show on television. Quite frankly, I don’t recall ever having watched “Let’s make a Deal.” Nevertheless, “Let’s Make a Deal” has been on my mind ever since I learned of the passing of Monty Hall, the host of that show, on Yom Kippur. Although we never met, Monty Hall (Monte Halperin) was a “landsman” of mine, in that he also hails from the very same G-d-forsaken city of Winnipeg, Canada. Chances are, however, that Monte Hall remembers “the ‘peg’” in a much more positive way than yours truly.

Although “Let’s Make a Deal” premiered in 1963, the term, or at very least the concept, has been around as long as society has been in existence. Whenever you have one or both persons wanting something from the other, tangible or other-wise, chances are good to excellent that one or both will be amenable – to various degrees, of course – to making a deal with the other. The very first “let’s make a deal” took place in the Garden of Eden, when HaShem provided free board and room to Adam and Eve, in exchange for “working and guarding” the said garden and not eating from the Tree of Knowledge. It goes without saying that it was a short-lived deal. Later, when society came into being, the proposal of “let’s make a deal” typically involved (at the very least) two humans.

With the “whites” of the High Holy Days still vivid in our memories, I hope that those who attended services at Tiferet will recall that the best deal one can make is with oneself. What makes our daily lives all the more worthwhile are those deals we make with ourselves. Typically, those deals are in terms of reward and punishment. It should not be at all unusual for one to propose the following: “If I can get this project finished within this specific period of time, then I will reward myself with the following…” Conversely, one should similarly raise the following red flag: “If I fail to complete this project within this specific period of time, then I will forfeit the following…” Can you imagine how more productive each one of us would be if we were to make such deals with ourselves? Can you imagine what a paradise society would be if all would adhere to such deal-making in their daily lives?

Unless we are agnostics or atheists, the vast majority of us make deals with G-d, especially in times of adversity. Often, in moments of desperation, we humans are wont to strike deals with HaShem where we negotiate the terms. Why, Judaism itself is rife with such deal making! Abraham did just that upon learning of the imminent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Mere days ago, as we gathered in the synagogue for Yom Kippur, a good many did everything within the framework of prayer to attempt to convince HaShem (in other words, they made deals) to seal their names in the heavenly Book of Life, working under the assumption that their names were inscribed on Rosh Hashanah.

Early in his life, Monte Hall benefited from a deal that fellow Winnipegger Max Freed made with him. Much more recently, it appears that Monte Hall benefited from a deal that even he may have been unaware of. HaShem saw fit to grant Monte Hall length of days – 96 years!