MUSEUM MUSINGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

APPLES AND ORANGES, IT ISN’T

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU DECORATED MY LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCEFUL RECIPE

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

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

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

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

May you savor the flavor.

May the symbolic food not elude.

May the conversation merit positive evaluation.

Happy Thanksgiving

ROOT SOURCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

KRISTALLNACHT, A WINDOW TO OUR EXISTENCE

Kristallnacht (the night of shattered glass) ought to take on greater significance this year. Not just because this Friday and Shabbos  mark the 80th anniversary of what Adolph Hitler hoped to be “the beginning of the end” for Jews of Europe, but it brings with it a powerful message to each and every one of us, especially the “oy vey” Jews who, as a result of a lone lunatic in Pennsylvania, are all of a sudden beginning to question their physical safety at synagogue services.

Numbers aside (close to 100 Jews were murdered, while windows were shattered and buildings, including synagogues were set ablaze), Kristallnacht serves as a stark reminder that not only did the German government not protect the Jews, but it was Nazi officials themselves, who ordered German police officers and firemen to do nothing as the riots raged and buildings burned. Unless  blazes threatened Aryan-owned property, firefighters were forbidden to extinguish any flames. Yet, here in this country, immediately following the disaster in Pittsburgh, community-wide programs were held, including one here in Dallas, where the Chief of Police spoke, and a letter of support was read from the Mayor. A cogent argument can be made that random acts of mayhem and carnage notwithstanding, Jews living in the United States of America ought to feel more secure than Jews living in any other country, outside of Israel.

The flames of Kristallnacht shed light on yet another catastrophe that was very much evident in Germany. Whether out of zeitgeist or fear, many non-Jewish Germans either stood idly by, as the wanton destruction took place or cheered the frenzied mobs on, as those mobs wreaked havoc on synagogues as well as stores and homes owned by Jews. While I can only speak for Dallas, the outpouring of support and solidarity from non-Jewish friend and stranger alike, has been most heartening. For far too long throughout our history, when confronted by the deadly deed and venom of the anti-Semite, we Jews knew only too well, that we had no one to turn to but ourselves. Yet, within these last two weeks, it was the outside world who turned to us! I, for one, cannot help but feel that it is so very unfortunate, that we Jews do not show greater appreciation to this outpouring of solidarity.

Close to three decades ago, Reuven Bulka, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Canada, published a book about misconceptions of Jewish life. One misconception concerns the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding. According to Rabbi Bulka, there is no connection between the breaking of the glass under the chuppah and the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, the breaking of the glass finds its origin in the Talmud, where a rabbi, an invited guest at a wedding, deliberately threw his glass at the wall, thereby shattering that glass, in an effort to temper the level of joy that had gotten out of hand. I should like to add yet another reason for the breaking of the glass under the chuppah.

Eighty years ago, in Germany, the breaking of glass signified destruction of a past, hatred of others and lives in turmoil. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents the exact opposite. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents building a future, love of each other, and a life of harmony.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, a rabbinic sage who lived at the time of the Bar Kochba revolt (135 C.E.) reminds us that 80 is synonymous with strength. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a country where the government protects Jews. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a society where non-Jews are genuinely concerned about us and Israel. Let’s draw strength, knowing  that we are part of a tradition where, provided it is done under the chuppah, the shattering of glass is among the most beautiful sounds we ever hear.

PITTSBURGH APOPLEXY

“Know that my church and I cherish Tiferet Israel and all our Jewish neighbors and friends. We will hold space tomorrow in our worship service as we recognize the pain that is so present and fresh for you”. These sentiments were expressed by our next door neighbor, Pastor Mike Gregg of Royal Lane Baptist Church in an E mail I received Saturday night, amidst the plethora of other E Mails I quickly read and discarded from any number of Jewish organizations falling over each other as they raced to inveigh their feelings about the mass murder that took place at Shabbat services in a Pittsburgh synagogue earlier that day.

After responding eloquently to Pastor Gregg for his touching words, a silent, yet powerful “gevaldt”  rang through the air and invisible steam rose from my ears, as in my typical fashion, I reacted apoplectically to what was occurring as a result of the carnage in Pittsburgh. I cursed and damned Fox, CNN along with all the other sensationalist media outlets as they gave fodder to any number of border line “whack jobs” throughout the nation, who harbored similar thoughts and feelings towards Jews and could very well pull off a copycat carnage at another synagogue . Watching television news and reading about the massacre, pretty much guarantees these poor excuses for human beings the notoriety they seem to crave.

For those who felt the need to express solidarity and went and participated in  programs; for those who gathered to recite tehilim(psalms) I hope it soothed the wounds that they seem to feel were inflicted upon them. I for one fail to see any connection between these efforts and the mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim or comforting the bereaved. Obviously, I am the minority, but for anyone who initially felt at a loss for words or actions, I would urge that the following three suggestions be taken to heart:
Write Fox, CNN as well as any other media outlet and express outrage for their capitalizing on Jewish blood. Reporting the incident is one thing. Exploiting it to increase viewership and inadvertently risking further Jewish blood being spilt by psychos in society is quite something else. Jewish blood is not for sale! And damned be those who contribute to such spillage!

The names of the victims have been publicized. For those for whom it was important enough to take the time and make the effort to attend the solidarity gatherings, I would hope that equal time could be taken and equal effort could be made to  find the addresses of the bereaved families and come Chanukah, a note be sent expressing the feeling that our heritage is one where neither flames nor souls can be snuffed out. If such an effort is for whatever reason not doable, then send those letters to Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.

Last but not least, remember that we Jews are stiff-necked people. It’s in our DNA. We Jews are contrarians! If what took place at Shabbat synagogue services in Pittsburgh was so devastating,  has it occurred to anyone that the best response would be to attend Shabbat services this coming week and the week after that and the week after that? Let’s see how much coverage the news media gives us, thereby showing all Americans as well as those living in other countries how we respond to travesty. Shouldn’t we be done, wringing hands and beating our breasts? Let’s put the “Oy Vey’s” of the previous generation in the past. Seventy-five years ago, Hirsh Glick also responded to a carnage of our people. Here’s what he wrote: “un vu gefaln s’iz a shprits fun undzer blut, shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut”!
Wherever any drop of Jewish blood is spilled, there our bravery and courage will come to be filled.

May the souls of the victims find immediate repose up in heaven together with countless other souls whose lives were snuffed out over the centuries simply because they were Jews. May the victims of the families know that we are thinking of them, long after the emotional response of these past few days has been consigned to history.

BANKRUPTCY

“Na (sic) ha (sic) can you compete!” exclaimed my late Uncle Morris in his Polish accented English, as he commiserated with my father over their plight as small independent clothing store owners, attempting to eke out a livelihood in a city with more top notch retail stores than one could have imagined.

My Uncle Morris’ words came to mind last week, as I read about Sears recently filing for bankruptcy. Given the current retail climate in this country, Sears simply couldn’t compete.  My Uncle Morris’ words came to mind however for yet another reason. As a congregational rabbi, I’ve come to realize, that although in all likelihood I am a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, when it comes to competing, unlike retail stores,  synagogues shouldn’t compete.

Yes, competition is part and parcel of human nature. Communism was destined to fail from the start, because it did away with the individual as well as competitive spirit of the individual. I’ll be the first profess  that competition, if correctly executed (and it hardly ever is), is quite healthy and even desirable for humans. The intent and goal of Judaism however, isn’t to make us more human; the intent and goal of Judaism is to make us more humane. Competition is part and part of human nature. Judaism on the other hand, challenges us to rise above human nature. How else can we explain the basis of kashrut, which by its very essence, is designed to suppress human urges and to ask of us to work on rechanneling human nature? Judaism asks that each of us incorporate a non- compete clause into our very nature.

“Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people” according to David Sarna. Recently, I returned a call to someone from the greater New York City area who was looking to relocate to Dallas. It didn’t take long to realize that I was falling prey to the very competition against which I am inveighing. “I’m sure that you’ve reached out to other rabbis as well” I said in my phone conversation to the gentleman. “And how many rabbis have taken the time to get back to you”, I smugly asked. Implicit in my question of course, was the fact that I provide better service than do other rabbis. By asking about other rabbis, I succumbed to the very worst aspect of competition; I showed that I was there for him by pointing out that other rabbis were not. Mea culpa!

Yet as uncalled for as my question was, I was mild in my condemnation of those “competing” against me. One need only watch political commercials being presently aired to see the very worse aspect of competition. We call it negative campaigning. Rather than present their attributes and explain why one should vote for them, political candidates  point out the shortcomings, drawbacks and faults  of their rivals. In Judaism, we call that Loshon HaRa or slander. As far as our sages were concerned, Loshon Hara is about as low as one can go.

How did it ever happen that synagogues capitulated to clichés and worn out phrases such as “warm congregations,” “friendly services” and “caring rabbis”? How is it that congregations  deigned to respond to the repugnant term “Shul shopping” ? Recently, I heard a speaker tell us how Jews are defecting from Modern Orthodoxy, because it does not fill their needs as far as women’s participation and involvement. Politically, the current trend of Modern Orthodoxy is also not to their liking. Excuse me? I was always under the impression that religion was for prayer and connecting with G-d. How did it happen that religion must now compete for our political comfort as well as our personal view of the world? The real travesty however is that so many rabbis and so many congregations will spare no expense to keep the shul shopping congregant, real or perceived,  satisfied.

There is however one type of competition that congregations would do well to embrace. And that is competition against oneself. Rather than worry about what other synagogues are doing best, congregations are better served when they are concerned about their own performance, and constantly looking to live up to their potential and seek new spiritual challenges.

Perhaps it’s time for congregations and rabbis to show what they stand for. Perhaps it’s time for congregations and rabbis to no longer fall prey to merchandising. When all is said and done, since its inception, Judaism has shown itself to be impervious to bankruptcy.

 

PORITZ

I think that it’s fair say that a significant segment of the Jewish population  here in these United States as well as in Israel and elsewhere, reacted with a despondent “say it ain’t so”  when we were informed that Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United States tendered her resignation last week. I also think it’s fair to say that more than a few articles have already been written praising the former South Carolina Governor to the hilt, as she unfailingly and staunchly supported and defended Israel.
In keeping with my philosophy that rabbis should remain apolitical, I choose to neither to praise nor to bury Nikki Haley. Rather it is the Jewish community here and throughout the world that I have in my crosshairs.

The Yiddish word “Poritz” denotes Polish (or Russian) aristocracy who were landowners. In the mid-seventeenth century there were a goodly number of these landowners living in Eastern Poland, who, much to the consternation of the local peasant population, owned tracts of land just over the border in Western Ukraine. Typically, the land housed a “tzerkveh”  or a Ukrainian Orthodox Church as well as a pub. Typically, the Poritz leased this tract of land to a Jew, placing him in the unenviable position of a middle man between the poverty-ridden Ukrainian peasant and the wealthy Polish landlord.

The acclaimed Yiddish novelist Sholem Asch in his book “Kiddush HaShem” depicts a gathering of “Arendarren” or Jewish land lessees, where the discussion soon centers itself around the Poritz. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for a competition to unfold among the Arendarren, with each attempting to out-boast the other as to who had the better Poritz and why.

I cannot help but feel that subconsciously, many Jews in these United States, especially those in leadership positions look upon the United States Ambassador to the United Nations as a modern day Poritz. As such, Nikki Haley was regarded as a most benevolent Poritz.

Just as the physical wellbeing of the “arendar” as well as those Jews who in time settled around the Polish owned land was largely dependent on the attitude and nature of the Poritz, so too is the political wellbeing of Israel largely dependent on the attitude and nature of the American Ambassador to the United Nations (as well as the administration that the Ambassador represents).

The very fact that the United States has a seat on the U.N. Security Counsel serves to underscore the position played by the Poritz . Should it happen that the American Ambassador even abstains when the Security Council holds a vote to censure Israel for the unforgivable crime of defending itself against terrorism, American Jewish leadership  immediately prepares to sit Shiva. Soon after Nikki Haley assumed her position at the United States, American leadership put all orders for Shiva platters on indefinite hold.

Obviously, I have no way of knowing, but I cannot help but surmise, that at present, a good many American Jewish leaders are finding it hard to sleep and, in some cases, even holding their breath until an announcement comes out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, informing us of Nikki Haley’s successor. I also cannot help but surmise, that behind the scenes, messages are being sent, hints are being dropped and ears are being whispered into by these very same breath-holders in an attempt to persuade our Commander in Chief to take a good look at and consider individuals that would rise to the same Poritz position as did Nikki Haley. When all is said and done, what we have here is a different country, a different culture, a brave new world, but the same old Poritz.

CLEAN MEAT

Clean meat is a term I recently added to my vocabulary. It refers to meat that is grown in laboratories from animal cells. Environmentalists and animal activists are proponents of clean meat because it could produce the flavor of hamburgers and sausages without the greenhouse gases and animal suffering of the factory farming system. Jewish consumers are proponents of clean meat because it could produce kosher bacon et al.

Because I am neither a scientist nor a nutritionist, I find the technological reasoning behind clean meat to be beyond my purview. As a rabbi, as one who believes that I have a fair understanding of American Jewry, I cannot help but feel that the interest – mildly put – in the ability to artificially produce bacon and other heretofore forbidden food products is rooted in the following three reasons:

American Jews, observant American Jews do not seem to be concerned about the prohibition found in the Torah adjuring us not to act according to the abominations of foreign nations. Rather than expand the prohibition to include all foreign nations, our rabbinic sage strove to show that it applies to the seven Canaanite nations and that kosher is solely limited to ingredients. Therefore, from a kosher standpoint, rabbinic authorities seem to have no problem giving their seal of approval to chemically laced, nitrate loaded and artery clogging  nutrition free foods. Apparently, contemporary rabbinic greats as well as those who oversee kashrut agencies are not in any way troubled that we have succeeded in mimicking American culture as far as fast food (hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza), nor do they seem to be concerned that more often than not, observant Jews consume these fast foods in “animal position” that is to say, while standing up (as Jews, we are mandated to eat like a mentsch, in a seated position). Having shown that we are halachically (in accordance with the dictates of Jewish law) capable of duplicating Big Macs and Big Whoppers, it’s only logical to segue into duplicating an Egg McMuffin and  a (Whataburger) Breakfast Platter using clean meat.

I believe that it’s fair to say that there is a disproportionate number of American Jews  in the fields of law, medicine, accounting and comedy. I cannot help but wonderer if there is a disproportionate number of American Jews when it comes to being curious. Even though Adam and Eve had no religious affiliation (we read about them last Shabbat) did their sense of curiosity filter down more to American Jews than to any other people? Are observant American Jews more infatuated in foods that are verboten, than say observant American Moslems? Does Mohammed crave bacon and eggs as much Menachem? As apt an addage as “curiosity killed the cat” may be, perhaps it doesn’t apply to Jews when it comes to heretofore forbidden foods that are suddenly deemed kosher because they constitute clean meat.

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) forbids us to remind a person of his past deeds. Heaven forfend that I should single out any one person, but we are living in an age of “Ba’alei Teshuvah” or those who began to observe the dictates of Judaism at some point in their lives. They constitute a sizeable portion of the Orthodox community in contemporary America. Unlike the “Frum from Birth” or those born into  observant Jewish family, “Ba’alei Teshuvah” gave up a great deal, including in some cases forbidden foods when they embraced their new lifestyle. Those “Frum from Birth” never tasted shrimp, bacon or cheeseburgers. Frum from Birth Jews neither long for the taste nor savor the flavor. Not so, the “Ba’alei Teshuvah community. The Ba’alei Teshuvah community has every reason to anticipate the day when clean meat hits the market. However private a matter it might be, upon tasting clean meat kosher bacon or similar, “Ba’alei Teshuvah will have every right to silently intone “Chadeish Yameinu K’Kedem” or renew our days as of old.