WORTHY OF BURIAL

When the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Your people will be totally righteous” he hit it out of the ballpark. Implied, is that at present, HaShem’s people are anything but righteous. What happens then, when a Jew, a scoundrel, a low life, a “shandeh” to his fellowman as well as to his maker, dies of either natural or unnatural causes? Should that person be accorded or denied a proper Jewish burial?

I couch my question carefully, in that one must not confuse Jewish burial with a Jewish funeral.

The two, while inextricably connected, are so totally different from one another. Jewish burial – perhaps burial in all religions and ethnicities – revolves around tending to the corpse and ensuring that it is properly laid to rest in accordance with law and practice; a Jewish funeral revolves around tending to and reflecting upon the life of the one who has been taken from the world. Jewish burial requires following a checklist, mandated by halacha; a Jewish funeral calls upon clergy and other eulogizers to dig into their resourcefulness, so that the positive attributes of the deceased are brought to light, while the negative attributes of the deceased are either downplayed or overlooked. A Jewish funeral is for the living; a Jewish burial is for the dead.

When the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish law presents the halachot or laws concerning a bringing a deceased to his or her final resting place, the only reference to the character of the deceased concerns murder. A murderer – whether when someone else is the victim or when oneself is the victim (viz. suicide, assuming mental or psychological abnormalities were not at play) is not to be buried together with all others. Rather, a separate section is to be made available in the Jewish cemetery for the grave. A murderer, a dangerous thief, a miscreant, a molester, a sexual predator or any other type of “oisvorff” (Yiddish for someone who is to be ejected from society) is to be accorded a Jewish burial. No if’s, and’s or but’s. As far as according a murderer, a dangerous thief, a miscreant, a molester, sexual predator or any other type of “oisvorff” a Jewish funeral (viz. that which occurs between preparing the body and burying the body),  both the community as well as the individual have (in the words of Samuel Goldwyn) the right to say “include me out.”

I cringe when a hear someone invoke “who are we to judge.” Little does that person realize that he is restating “judge not, lest you be judged” from the Book of Matthew. Source aside, would that same individual invoke “who are we to judge” when it comes to proclaiming another person as innocent, a jewel of a person, a real sweetheart, a beautiful human being? Is that not also judging? More importantly, when it comes to burial, a far more adept, capable and equitable judgement is taking place, by a force far greater than any mere mortal. It is at that judgement, that final judgement, where we believe fitting  punishment is dispensed and just rewards are given out.

Permit me to introduce a new word to your vocabulary: moirologist. A moirologist is a professional or paid mourner, present at the cemetery when a burial takes place. At one time moirologists were common in Egyptian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures; at one time, moirologists could be found in the shtetl, bewailing a loss. I, for one, would very much like to see the reinstatement of moirologists. There are certain burials, where their presence would be most welcome, necessary and hopefully most effective. Among those burials would be that of a miscreant, a scoundrel, an oisvorff, a “shandeh” to his fellow man, as well as to his maker. I would like to hear crying and wailing, not for the deceased, but for the living. Let the moirologists evoke tears from good and decent people in society, realizing that a life was snuffed out long before the last breath was breathed. Let good and decent people mourn for the innocent lives of victims damaged and scarred. Let good and decent people cry, letting HaShem know that He is not alone in His disconsolation, that such an individual unfortunately walked the face of this earth and is now being tossed back into that earth.

BEAUTY IS VAIN

Sadie Hawkins Day, it isn’t. It’s much older with a totally different intent. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, otherwise known as Tu B’Av, which this year coincides with the 15th day of August, although mentioned in the Talmud, has received short shrift throughout Jewish history.

“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av… The daughters of Jerusalem went out dressed in white and danced in the vineyards. ‘Young man’, they called. ‘Consider whom you choose to be your wife. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; a woman who revers HaShem is to be praised.’”

Times have changed, but traditionally speaking, what makes the hearts of young men and women go pitter-patter has remained the same ever since Adam and Eve. I believe it’s fair to say “I have nothing to wear” is an inter-generational lament on the part of the fairer sex. Even if it’s true, it’s a sad commentary about (male) society. Are those one wishes to impress more likely to remember the dress of the female or the demeanor of the female? Are those one wishes to win over more apt to recall the outfits or the outbursts. Clothing and comportment are diametrically opposite. Clothing is ephemeral; comportment is enduring.

If the fairer sex frets over what to wear, the male sex frets over where to go. No different than the one they invited out for the evening, the male also wishes to make an impression. Heaven forbid that the guy comes off looking cheap! Is it really so terrible to take a date walking through a windy park or take a drive along the beach? Does going to Chez Pierre guarantee a better time than Chef’s Pizza? Even more important, at which of the two places is one more apt to see the “real McCoy.” Isn’t it fair to say, that for the vast majority of us, our daily lives are more akin to a pizza parlor than to an expensive restaurant? Doesn’t the bright fluorescent lighting of the pizza parlor shed more light on the subject than the dimly lit candle of the expensive restaurant? Doesn’t it behoove us to enter a relationship with eyes wide open?

The aging process is in many cases unkind to one’s looks. It is the exception, rather than the rule, that one becomes better looking with the passage of time. The above cited quote, “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” which is intoned at the Shabbat table each Friday night, serves as reminder that beauty must never be skin deep. Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers is famous for laying out combinations of four. One such combination that never made it into Pirkei Avot, reads as follows:

There are four types of people: Those who are attractive to behold but are inwardly repulsive; those who are repulsive to behold but are inwardly attractive; those who are repulsive, both to behold as well as inwardly; there are those who are attractive, both to behold as well as inwardly.

Yes, it is possible for people to have beautiful personalities as well as beautiful physical features, but bear in mind that personalities rarely, if ever, change. Alternately, physical features – facial  and otherwise, rarely, if ever stay the same.

Our rabbinic sages were on to something, when they designated the 15th of the month of Av as a date for establishing relationships. With Tisha B’Av still fresh in our minds, they were keenly aware that relationships (in the case of Tisha B’Av, the relationship between HaShem and His people) undergo great strain. For there to be any hope at all to withstand the strain, it is essential that those relationships be founded upon comportment and not clothing, sensation and not location, alluring and not luring. May love – true love, sincere and genuine love – conquer all.

KEYS

The Talmud records a powerful Tisha B’Av story about what took place in Jerusalem as the first Beit Hamikdash or Holy Temple was ablaze, courtesy of the Babylonians. Groups of young Kohanim ascended to the roof of the building that housed the Holy of Holies. In their hands, they held keys to the various buildings located on Har HaBayit, or the Temle Mount. Turning their faces heavenward, they exclaimed: “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe! We failed You miserably! You designated us to be the custodians of Your House. Instead of serving You with all our hearts and all our souls, we served ourselves. We were corrupt and deceitful. Of what use are these keys we hold in our hands? Neither the doors nor the chambers that comprise the Beit HaMikdash exist. And even if those doors were not being consumed by flames, we have shown ourselves to be unworthy to have been entrusted with these keys. We therefore return these keys to You.” They then threw the keys towards Heaven, from which a hand-like form extended and received them. The groups of young Kohanim then threw themselves into the flames below.

To be sure, Kohanim are still extant. The function that they once filled went the way of the Beit Hamikdash. What about the keys?

The keys did not remain up in heaven. After a brief period of time, HaShem once again directed the keys to earth. Only instead of once again entrusting those keys to the Kohanim, HaShem entrusted those keys to us.  As such, it is we – synagogue leadership and laity – who hold those keys. And because we have been entrusted with those keys, it is fair to say that we hold the key to the well-being of the synagogue. Thankfully, in most cases, we need not be troubled by corruption and deceit on the part of those who hold the keys. Nevertheless, there is cause for concern, particularly for those of us at Tiferet.

We, at Tiferet, hold the key to self-confidence. Having recently returned from Chicago, where I attended Shabbat synagogue services during the week of Shivah, only to hear a talk from the rabbi which was at best tepid, as well as a weekday morning service (prior to heading to the airport to catch a flight back to Dallas) at a different synagogue, where I was utterly ignored, I cannot help but feel that we sell our synagogue woefully short.

We hold the key to our success. As such, we need to constantly remind ourselves that Tiferet has more to offer than many other synagogues. Last week, I was at Shacharit services at a synagogue in Chicago before heading for the airport on my way back to Dallas. No one so much as said “welcome” or “Boker Tov” to me. Such incognizance would never occur at Tiferet! Aside from our nationally renowned Chili Cook Off, Tiferet provides phenomenal programs (despite the fact that the last two Sunday evening events drew a paucity of Tiferet members at best). Our education programming, such as our weekly Torah class prior to Shabbat services is stimulating, our weekly Yiddish class is entertaining, and our adult evening classes are thought-provoking. But few are aware of what we offer, because we refuse to make use of the keys we hold, to open our “public address” system. It would be interesting to find out, how many synagogues our size, continue to attract the amount of congregants who assemble at Shabbat morning services – especially during these summer months!

Many of us do not hesitate to share the latest and greatest about our grandchildren as far as how bright and what a delight they are. Why then do we hesitate, to blow our own horn when it comes to telling others about your synagogue? After all, there are those who are at Tiferet more often than they are with their families! When has self-effacement which seems to be so pervasive replaced pride?

The groups of young Kohanim of the Beit Hamikdash realized that they had no future. They surrendered their keys. We at Tiferet have every reason to build a bright future, provided we remember that the keys are in our hands.

I Did Not Cry When My Mother Died

Think of me what you will, but I did not cry at my mother’s funeral.  Perhaps it was because I had time to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, or perhaps that’s just the way I am.  It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me well, but from the very beginning to the very end, when it came to escorting my mother to her final resting place, I was forever the Rabbi.

But I did cry.  The day after the funeral when I began to sit shiva at my sister’s house in Chicago, I read a note that the flight attendant had handed me.  We were late leaving DFW and I feared missing my connection in Minneapolis to the G-d forsaken city, Winnipeg (which ultimately did happen.)  Because I was seated in practically the last row of the aircraft, I explained my plight to the flight attendant.  Not only did she move me to the front of the plane, but as I bolted from the aircraft, she handed me a handwritten note on a napkin.  It read:  “Dear Mr. Zell, I’m very sorry to hear about your recent loss, and I’m sorry that our unexpected delay has added more stress to your already difficult situation.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.  I wish I could do more.  She’lo teida od tza’ar (may you know of no more sorrow.)”

I cried the day of the funeral, when I greeted two cousins of mine.  It’s been thirty years since I’ve seen one of them. One flew in from Edmonton and the other turned his car around 120 miles west of Winnipeg as he was heading home to Banff.  There was no doubt in his mind that he would be present to bury his Aunt Ida.  Together, with four others, these two cousins from different sides of the family met to escort my mother’s casket to the hearse, as we made our way to the cemetery for the service.  Upon arriving at the cemetery, I was nearly brought to tears as I looked out and saw thirty-five people, who had come to pay their respects. Some of them family, some of them friends – going all the way back to grade school.  And there I was, having been of little faith, doubting very much that a minyan would be present so that my sisters and I could recite kaddish.

I cried when I met Harlene and Jay Pine, neighbors of my sister, who two weeks earlier, were on an odyssey to visit a grave of a great grandfather buried in the G-d forsaken city.  While there, they made it a point to visit with my mother and spend over an hour with her looking at photographs.  I cried at the daily phone calls that my mother would receive from her friend, Miriam Diamond, checking in to see if everything was okay.  I cried at the visits my cousins would make from time to time coming over to the house to spend precious moments with their Aunt Ida.

I cried at the outpouring of concern and support, the trays of food, the text messages, emails, and phone calls from Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, Israel, and of course, Dallas.  They mean more to me than anyone can possibly imagine.  They will be remembered and cherished for many years to come.

In all likelihood, I will continue to cry from time to time, not because my mother died but because my mother lived, imbuing me with priceless, as well as timeless, lessons of life that no institution of education could ever offer, and precious memories that will be cherished increasingly with the passage of time.

It is the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that Hashem will wipe away the tears from all faces.  My tears of blessing and gratitude however will remain in my heart for as long as I live.

JEALOUSY

If there is one emotion that has received a bad rap, then without doubt its jealousy. Even those who are unable to distinguish between jealousy and envy, implicitly understand that envy is “kosher,” while jealousy is “treif.” Our culture is quick to point out that jealousy is the product of insecurity or lack of self-esteem or that it is the by-product of a controlling individual.

Brace yourselves. Contrary to most psychologists, jealousy can be a most healthy emotion. For the most part, there has been failure to recognize that just as there is “bad” jealousy, so too is there “good” jealousy.

Would any true believer in HaShem concur  that HaShem lacks self-esteem?  Would any true believer in HaShem agree that HaShem is insecure? Yet, in introducing Himself to our ancestors at Mount Sinai, a mere seven weeks after extricating them from Egypt, along with the enslavement that was part and parcel of Egyptian society, HaShem was quick to point out “I am a jealous G-d.” Is this the way to begin what HaShem hoped to be a beautiful relationship? Surely those of us who are familiar with the Ten Commandments are missing something when we read that HaShem is a jealous G-d!

Jealousy, “good jealousy” is a product of dashed expectations. Jealousy, “good jealousy,” wreaks of disappointment. To suggest that HaShem is green-eyed over a piece of wood, a slab of stone or shaped metal demeans HaShem; to suggest that HaShem is devastated that His people have no problem forsaking  Him for a statue or for an idol is an understatement. Implicit is the understanding that rather than being the chosen people, HaShem chose a nation of rejects (you may wish to enrich your Yiddish vocabulary  with term  “oisvorff” – literally “throw out.”) HaShem is jealous that this group of 600,000 “oisvorffs” gave its commitment and loyalty to a lifeless object, rather than to the Creator of the Universe. How lamentable!

Jealousy, “good jealousy” is anything but an outgrowth of negative self-esteem. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Jealousy, “good jealousy” is the product of a healthy self-image. No one with a healthy self-image will brook being treated like a “shmatteh” (another Polish/Yiddish word which means rag.) And when HaShem is treated like a “shmatteh” by His people and then sees an idol or statue, a hunk of metal, wood or stone, being accorded deference, HaShem cannot help but be jealous. Jealousy in this case, expresses indignation. Jealousy is an emotional response that is the equivalent of HaShem exclaiming: How dare you accord the respect and reverence due Me to something that is My creation!

Contrary to what western civilization teaches us about how love and jealousy are antithetical, it is the Zohar that teaches us that love without jealousy, is not true love. Conversely, there is nothing sadder than unrequited love. And yet, it is in the Haftorah of (the second day of) Rosh Hashana no less,  that the prophet  Jeremiah quotes HaShem telling us “I have loved you with eternal love.” It is tragedy when that love is not reciprocated; it is a travesty when that love is showered on a third party.

The Torah reading for this Shabbat opens with Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Moshe’s brother, assuaging HaShem’s jealousy. Pinchas discerned that HaShem’s jealousy came about because of dashed expectations.  HaShem’s was incredulous at how He was being repaid by 600,000 “oisvorffs!” Pinchas was well aware of HaShem’s indignation. How dare the Israelites accord idols with the love and respect due Him! Pinchas was sensitive to the fact that as far as the Children of Israel were concerned, love was a one- way street. They readily accepted HaShem’s love, only to take that love and shower it elsewhere.

How ironic that it was Pinchas, and not his grandfather Aaron, who was served as a most suitable counterpart to Moshe. Moshe was adroit at assuaging HaShem’s anger; Pinchas was adroit at assuaging HaShem’s jealousy.

ONE GIANT LEAP

A linguist, I’m not. I am however intrigued by two Hebrew words used for that waxing and waning disc that appears up in the sky each night. As we make note of the fact that this Saturday marks exactly half a century since Neil Armstrong broadcast: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” to a television watched by riveted, spell bound American people, I should like to pay respect an honor to that earth shaking historic event by focusing on two Hebrew words, Yareach and Levanah.

Although no mention of either word is made in the creation story – the moon is simply referred to the smaller luminary in contradistinction to the sun which is referred to as the larger luminary – both Yareach and Levanah are deserving of our stargazing.
Yareach and Levanah are concepts, albeit of a totally different nature. Yareach  connotes time. When taking, a female captive, a spoil of war, we are commanded to permit her to cry (mourn) for yerach yamim or thirty days, as she mourns being wrested from her father and mother (Deuteronomy 21:13). Levanah, on the other hand, connotes color. Lavan is the Hebrew word for white. It does not take much imagination to visualize our ancestors looking up and seeing a white “disc” set against the background of a black sky. Conceptually, Yareach is imperceptible (try to define “a long, long time”) while Levanah (provided the individual is blessed with sight) is perceptible. For one celebrating and appreciating the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landing, perhaps time should be taken to ponder, whether Neil Armstrong walked on the Yareach or the Levanah?

In addition to telling us about a celestial creation, Yareach and Levanah tell us about ourselves. Among the many offhanded phrases, used by us in our culture is “make time.” We can set aside time, we can and unfortunately all too often “kill time,” but we cannot “make time.” Time is gifted and assigned to us by HaShem. Time is a stark reminder of our mortality. For those of us who are productive, each day is a race against time; for the religious among us, time serves as an invitation or a challenge beckoning us to use it wisely and productively, so that we ultimately leave this world and particularly our little world in better shape than we found it. When it comes to time, it is up to us, how to make use of the time that we have been allotted. Yareach reminds us that as humans, we are limited. Levanah is totally different. Because it connotes color, Levanah is a gentle reminder that the sky is the limit, when it comes to our resources and ability. Because new colors  are being created all the time, they are limitless. So too is our ability to continue to grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Less than a decade after President Kennedy proposed that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,”  Neil Armstrong landed on the Yareach. Only time will tell how much closer the gap remains between us and the Levanah.

Unlike English, the Hebrew language is gender sensitive. Nouns are either masculine or feminine It ought to be noted, that Yareach is a masculine noun, while Levanah is feminine.  Just as Eve was created to complete and complement Adam, perhaps the same can be said about Yareach and Levanah. Independently, each has an aura all its own. Yet, an interdependence must exist for Yareach and Levanah  to truly shine. With that interdependence, there is harmony between that which is imperceptible (time) and that which is perceptible (color). Interdependence between Levanah and Yareach, helps us distinguish between that which is beyond our control, from that which is within our control. Interdependence reminds us that in and of themselves, Yareach and Levanah are woefully incomplete. Yareach and Levanah need the other to truly shine.

As America celebrates that small step taken by Neil Armstrong fifty years ago, as America gratefully recalls that concomitant  giant leap for this country and the rest of the world, come Saturday night after the conclusion of Shabbat, I invite you to step outside and look up at a Yareach  and Levanah that is full, in more ways than one.

HURTFUL

If I hear or read that someone’s  (read: politician’s) words were “hurtful” one more time…

How did things get so far? Unless I’m mistaken, my generation was raised on “sticks and stones will break my bones, names will never hurt me.” My grandchildren’s generation on the other hand, is being raised in such a manner, that the greatest social sin is to say something “hurtful.”

I pity my grandchildren’s generation. They are being shortchange when it comes to the facts of life. “Everybody hurts somebody sometime.” Most of the time, it is totally unintentional. Some of the time, it is totally misconstrued. I recall officiating at a wedding for the Rabinowitz family. It was a family of three children. I had previously officiated at the weddings of the older two siblings. In my remarks, I made mention of the fact of how delighted I was, that each Rabinowitz child had married into a nice Jewish family. No sooner was the glass broken, when I was accosted by cousin Mel. “Rabbi, I want you to know that you stabbed me with a knife and then twisted the knife while it was in me.” It turned out, that Mel’s three children had married out of the faith. Had this wedding taken place on 2019 instead of 1989, chances are that cousin Mel would have accosted me by saying, that my remarks under the chuppah were “hurtful.”

As Jews, we bear a brunt of the responsibility for introducing the overused usage of “hurtful” into American parlance. As Jews, we have been much too sensitive and far too quick to take non-Jews to task for saying “hurtful” things, despite the fact that being hurtful was the furthest thing from their mind. Although this may very well be regional, G-d help any Christian who invokes Jesus in an invocation. There is bound to be at least one of us present, who will not hesitate to point to the one who invoked, how offended he/she was by including the name “Jesus.” As a group, we have a knee-jerk reaction whenever we hear the term “Jew” come out of a Christian mouth. Any Christian who innocently goes up to the microphone and proclaims how touched he/she is seeing so many Jews in attendance, will be pronounced guilty for not have used the phrase  “Jewish friends.”  Perhaps it’s time to give Christians the benefit of the doubt, that they mean no harm.

As Jews, we are quick to go on the defensive.  Even when a reckless comment is made, such as “Jews have all the money” or “Jews control the media,” we Jews must remind ourselves never to go on the defensive. We bear no guilt. Hence, we have nothing to defend. Rather than going on the defensive, we should consider responding in a totally unanticipated fashion.  To the former comment, we may consider saying: “If that’s wishful thinking on you part, I appreciate your comment more than you will ever know. If that’s a criticism on your part, I wish we Jews had even more money than that.” To the latter, we may consider saying: “Perhaps you should be more careful in how you treat me, because I have powerful friends in the Jewish controlled media…you wouldn’t believe what they can do for people like you, or to people like you!”

It was the great sage, Elazar from Modiin (an uncle of the revolutionary Bar Kochba), who said: “He who (negatively) embarrasses his friend in public, it is as though he sheds his blood.” Clearly, hurtful statements have been around ever since the advent of communication. But with Rabbi Elazar, it was personal. How Rabbi Elazar would have responded to thoughtless comments couched in generalizations, how Rabbi Elazar would have reacted to worn out phrases, is best left open to speculation. Remember however, if personal (negative) embarrassment is tantamount to murder, then personal accolades ought to be a boon to someone’s life.

Rather than zero in on real or perceived “hurtful” words from others, we Americans would be well advised to listen for “pleasing” words  from others. Our society and culture can only benefit from such an approach and in doing so become healthier and stronger.

 

WHOSE BROAD STRIPES AND BRIGHT STARS

Back in mid-November,  synagogue regulars read about our patriarch Ya’akov giving twenty of the best years of his life to Lavan, a “wheeler dealer” who became his father-in-law. When time came for Ya’akov to finally head home, financial obligations had to be met. Leave it to Lavan to concoct a scheme involving speckled livestock and striped livestock. Leave it Ya’akov who had HaShem’s loyalty  and support to foil his father-in law’s chicanery.

As we celebrate Independence Day, I cannot help but see an inherent message in the speckled and striped livestock that Lavan intended to use as wages. For me, Lavan’s speckled and striped livestock represent the stars and stripes of Old Glory. Unlike, Lavan who intended to separate the speckled from the striped, Independence Day serves as a reminder that the stars and stripes are inseparable.

Aside from the stars representing the 50 states and the stars representing the 13 colonies, the stars and stripes deliver a message beyond that of national pride. The stars and stripes represent heaven and earth respectively. The stars remind us that this country was founded as one nation under G-d. Despite the current zeitgeist, where countless strength and innumerable effort are being expended to cleanse America from all vestiges of the divine, our Founding Fathers saw our creator as being indispensable to the success of these United States of America. Our Founding Fathers also saw the blessings of human toil and effort. As such, Americans were encouraged to build streets and roads, pathways and thoroughfares – some perfectly straight, others with many a winding turn – to traverse the vastness of the country. Symbolical, these are the stripes so proudly displayed together with the stars on the flag of this country.

Whether deserving our not, Manhattan proudly proclaims itself as the city that never sleeps. Long before New York City helped itself to this moniker, these United States presented itself with the challenge of being a country that must be constantly vigilant. This too is emblematic of our flag. The stars are only visible during the night; the stripes (our network of roadways) are only visible  during the day. Alternately, these United States, realizes only too well that it existence depends upon how it navigates its course of action not only during the day, when stripes are so easily discernible but also, and perhaps especially during the night when all we have are the stars to guide us.

I have no idea who was credited for naming the single-seat, high wing monoplane that Charles Lindberg flew on the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris, France, the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Personally, I cannot help but feel that the “Spirit of America” would have been a far better choice. Aside from great strides in transportation, there is no question that airplanes and not ships are not only responsible for bringing continents closer together,  they are also responsible for bridging the gap between heaven and earth. Aviation aside, this too is the quest of these United States. As a defender of democracy, as a champion of human rights, as a proponent of personal responsibility and as fighter for freedom, this country serves as a constant reminder that that G-d-given rights and inalienable go side by side. Arguably the former is represented by the stars; arguably, the latter is represented by the stars.

This July 4th, the Zell home, along with countless other homes will be proudly flying the American flag. Perhaps, its broad stripes and bright stars will evoke the close ties between our heavenly Father and His children on earth, our constant vigilance during sunshine hours and starshine hours, and the narrowing of the gap between G-d given rights and inalienable rights.

 

A MEANINGFUL INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ALL!

REPARATIONS

As one who continues to venerate Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, even though it has been over a quarter of a century since he departed this world, I especially admire the stance he took as leader of the opposition, less than four years after the establishment of Israel. Leading a group of 15,000, Mr. Begin spoke out against Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and the Israeli government, as it entered into negotiations with the German government over reparations.

I may very well be a lone voice in the wilderness, but as far as I’m concerned, the term reparations is far too vague. I cannot help but feel that it was the duty of the Israeli government to point out to the German government, that there not one, but two injustices that must be addressed. The German government must answer for the Nazis confiscating Jewish homes along with precious and valuable  paintings, objects d’art and furnishings. The German government must answer for Jews being forced out of their positions and deprived of their livelihood. For all this, monetary calculations and estimations can be made. For all this, reparations can be offered, provided that those who managed to survive were prepared to receive money tainted by German hands. The German government must also answer for the murder and annihilation of six million Jews. Regarding murder, there are no monetary calculations and estimations. Because no value can be placed on human life, reparations must sadly remain totally academic.
Although I am far from fluent in German, I am very much aware that “wiedergutmachung” or “making good again” is the German equivalent for “reparation.” However, I am also concerned that the German term “reinwaschen” or “washing clean” is conceptually dangerously close to “wiedergutmachung.” Because reparations have been made, those of our people accepting reparations, run the risk of absolving the Nazis for their heinous behavior. By accepting reparations, they have effectively wiped the slate clean. As noble as “let bygones be bygones” sounds, it runs the risk of evading responsibility. Accepting reparations affords the German people absolution and complete closure of a time, that in all likelihood, most Germans would be only too happy to sweep under the rug of history.

Webster’s Dictionary offers three different definitions for “reparations.” Among those three, one finds “reparations” to mean the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. While it is entirely possible and certainly understandable that the aggrieved will demand money, I would hope that the aggrieved could realize that when all is said and done, money is the lowest form of reparation. One would be hard pressed to explain the connection between penitence and payment. True reparation ought to include taking responsibility through sincere contrition and honest commitment. It’s beyond me why, when entering negotiations with the Konrad Adenauer’s post war Germany, the nascent Israeli government did not explain that their greatest need was to build a country. And while financial reparation can be so very enticing in the short term, true reparation could produce so much more.  Can you just imagine if Israel had demanded a proto “Peace Corps” where thousands of Germans would  have signed up to travel to the fledgling Jewish State to volunteer for say, a period of six years (the length of World War II) building roads, working the land, helping out in hospitals and orphanages (which they helped create through their genocidal “cleansing.”  I for one cannot help but feel, that there would have been catharsis of true contrition on the part of the Germans, as well as a catharsis of raging anger justifiably borne by a good many Jews.

Last week, activists and lawmakers gathered for a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the topic of reparations — whether the United States government should provide compensation to the descendants of slaves. In keeping with the sentiments I expressed, I hope that much thought and foresight goes into the process, so that the outcome will be beneficial to all.

CHUTZPAH

Back in the late ‘70’s, President Carter extended an invitation to dozens of American rabbis to join him at the White House. Part of the visit included being personally introduced to the President. A handshake followed. Upon being announced, one prominent New York area Rabbi decided to air his feelings. “Mr. President,” he said. “I voted for you in November 1976. Given your shameful attitude toward Israel, my having supported you is something I have regretted ever since.”

I recall discussing the comment with Jacob Sodden, a rabbi in the neighborhood. Rabbi Sodden was outraged at the sheer chutzpah of his outspoken fellow clergy. “If you are upset with the President, you write a letter. You refuse the invitation to the White House and explain why. You stand across the way from the other Rabbis lined up to meet with the President and you hold a placard expressing your feelings. But how dare you show up as a guest and spit in the face of your host!” exclaimed Rabbi Sodden.

Rabbi Sodden has long since been taken from this world, but his words to me rang loud and clear, as I read an article about Birthright Israel participants who make it a point to walk off the program to meet with “poor” Palestinians as a form to protest the “one-sidedness” of Birthright  Israel. “Sheer Chutzpah! ” I exclaimed. If twenty- something- year-old American Jews wish to visit with “poor Palestinians” to hear their side of the story, that is their prerogative. I wish them the very best and instinctively, I lapse into Yiddish and say “gay gezunterhayt”(go visit them in good health.) But do so at your own expense and not as a participant of Birthright Israel.”

Walking off a Birthright trip to Israel to visit “poor Palestinians” is no different than accepting an invitation for a Shabbat dinner and then in the middle of the meal abruptly getting up from the table and walking out of your host’s home, so that you can resume your Shabbat meal elsewhere. To make matters worse, you show up again for dessert at the home of the host  who originally invited you and then proceed to act as though nothing happened.

If that weren’t sufficient chutzpah, the one who walked off is reported in the article as having explained  “Judaism is about love and kindness.”  Indeed, it is! Judaism is also about respect. And that’s one area where those who walked off from Birthright fall woefully short. Judaism is also about being proper guests. The same Judaism that teaches love and kindness, also teaches : “Whatever your hosts tell you, do,” (Talmud, Pesachim 86b. A variant reading adds “except walk off.”) In the words of a mentor of mine who purposely misquoted a popular, but totally incorrect proverb: “You don’t take your cake and mash it in your host’s face.” And that’s precisely what those who walk off  Birthright Israel are doing. As one who has arranged for a goodly number of Jewish young adults to participate in the program, I know for a fact, that Zionism is the agenda of Birthright Israel, not Middle East politics.

And that brings me to the epitome of chutzpah. According to that same article, those who walk off Birthright Israel and visit with “poor” Palestinians, do so at the urging and encouragement of a network of Jewish activists whose goal is to end Jewish American support for the occupation of Palestinians. Groups such as “J Street” and “If Not Now” that do have a political agenda, have every right to exist and promote their agenda. They also have every right to compete with Birthright and promote all-expense paid trips to Israel for American Jewish youth. I would however expect these groups to have the integrity and veracity to be upfront about their agenda. To interfere with the agenda of Birthright Israel, to approach participants and lure them away with their agenda – even if it’s for a few hours – borders on “gneivat da’at”  (stealing of one’s mind.)  After all, those who sign up with Birthright Israel, do so with the expectation of experiencing Israel. There ought to be no expectation of becoming involved with politics.

Let Birthright Israel continue to do what it does so well. Let those who are concerned with the “poor” Palestinians go over to the West Bank, as well as other Palestinian enclaves, and lend a helping hand at improving the lives of those Palestinians. Perhaps if they are truly occupied with helping others, they won’t have any time for chutzpah toward their own.